Our Turkish Family Adventure: A Fall Fling in Istanbul

Thrifty Travel Mama | Family Adventures in Istanbul - Tips on Taking Your Kids to Turkey

Are y’all ready to check out the sultan’s sweet digs, savory street food, and a super cheap sea cruise? My family-friendly Istanbul recap is finally here!

An effort nearly a year in the making, sharing our family’s Turkish adventure with you is obviously long overdue. In between spelling tests and science experiments, I’ve been editing photos and typing up posts in my rare spare minutes over the past few months.

We enjoyed such a marvelous last major travel fling in the Middle East before moving to America, a trek complete with marvels and mishaps, that I couldn’t keep it all to myself.

After a trip like this, the first thing I want to do is capture the essence of the adventure in words and pictures (which, unfortunately takes for-stinkin’-ever these days). Following that, I wish to share what we experienced and learned with you and all my fellow traveling families.

I personally rely on these kinds of recap and bucket list posts from other travelers and especially family travel bloggers. So, without further ado, here are the treats awaiting you in the next few weeks. Links will be added to the list below as posts are published.

Istanbul Bucket List

All that, and….

As always, I’ll discuss my thoughts on whether I found Istanbul to be kid-friendly or not. I’ll be handing over my best tips for taking your family to Turkey including valuable advice on what to know and prepare before you even leave home.

I also have a harrowing hotel tale to share in hopes that you’ll avoid any potential arguments with your own accommodation arrangements. Plus, I’ve got a review of our experience flying Turkish Airlines with kids in the works.

It’s both thrilling and slightly depressing to be reliving our Turkish adventure here in words and pictures. Thrilling because, hello, we went to Turkey with our kids and had a blast. Depressing because of the whole being regular Americans now with real jobs and commitments who can’t travel whenever they feel like it (whine, whine). But, whatever.

Down with the reverse culture shock dumps, I say! Every day, this new life gets a bit more bearable. Meeting fellow expats helps. Making new expat friends helps. Using my passport again REALLY helps. And, writing here helps. It reminds me that we traveled before, and we can travel again. It may not look the same as it used to, but travel is different for every adventure-seeking family.

So, let’s do this Turkey trip recap thing together. I’ll write the posts. You plan, scheme, and dream up your own version. (And, failing that – just pin it all for later.)

See you back here in a few days when we explore the 8th wonder of the world! In the meantime, if you have a hankering to browse other bucket lists, you can find our Tuscan one here and our Croatian one here.

Which part of the bucket list are you most looking forward to? If you’ve been to Turkey and have a story or link to share from somewhere not on our bucket list, would you share it in the comments below? Signature Thrifty Travel Mama


Reverse Culture Shock: The Four-Month Mark

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: A Series of Posts our Family's Repatriation ExperienceHere’s a post I jotted down in February 2015 during a particularly nauseating bout of reverse culture shock. I’ll be moving on to other topics next week, but the struggle I’m writing about today is an ongoing one for repats.

Culture shock – it hits you like a heatwave, a revolting smack in the face. What starts as a lovely dip in the sunshine (hooray for being back in the land of Target!) often ends in a full-scale meltdown… no toddler required (I can’t actually find a single thing on my list in Target).

In general, everything seems to be fine. That’s a loaded word, though, isn’t it? “It’s a fine day to fly a kite” is completely different from “I don’t need your help – I’m fine” or “Fine, have it your way.”

None of the children cry themselves to sleep or refuse to speak English or constantly blabber on about “the way things were in Germany.” (That’s just me.)

Eventually, driving ev.er.y.wh.er.e. seems normal again. I SO hate that. I’m sure I’ve told you before, but just to cover the bases… I hate that. I want my bike back.

And then, one fine day, you are bitten by “the bug.” This species often preys on repats and expats, but anyone is susceptible because this bug doesn’t discriminate (how P.C. of the devious little thing). The bite doesn’t seem severe, just a bit of a sting and no more serious than pricking your finger on a spindle.

You feel a bit of pain in your chest as the poison works its way to the center of your being. Before you know it, the full-fledged symptoms of this nasty sickness appear. You’ve now got oh-my-gosh-I-will-forever-live-in-the-land-of-the-free-but-oh-so-dull-and-never-travel-again-itis. Yep, that’s totally an official medical term.

The venom of envy courses through your veins, paralyzing your mind and wounding your heart. Your symptoms increase significantly when looking at Facebook posts featuring your friends and their holidays in Spain, Austria, and South Africa. Even browsing travel blogs leaves you in bitter agony.

America is so… boring. Going from one state to another isn’t nearly as exciting as hopping over to France or Belgium. Everything is SO far away here. And flying to another country is too expensive.You’ll never travel like you used to….

And on and on the deceit goes.

The problem in all of this is that this line of thinking is extremely, well, bratty.

I mean, how much of the total world population even has the ability to travel beyond where they can walk or ride affordable public transport? Are those who stay home and lead a “typical” existence, are they living worthless lives?

No, no, no.

But, the bitter taste of culture shock pollutes your point of view, and all of a sudden any possibility of remaining positive withers up and disappears as you mourn.

Discontent makes herself comfortable, and then you’re really in for it.

I’ll never travel out of this country again. I’ll never have that kind of vacation time. It’s so expensive to leave the US; how will we ever afford it again? I’m losing my second language. I know there are a zillion and one things to see in the US, but I just can’t get excited about any of them because America is so LAME.


These thoughts – shameful, repulsive, distressing, appalling, ugly, depressing – are nothing but lies.

Over the highs and lows of the last year, I’ve come to realize the antidote to this illness is thankfulness. I found I could fight the travel-homesickness like this…

Remember, self… you have an incredible husband and a strong marriage even after all you’ve been through in the past decade. Hello, you two even still LIKE each other, and that’s got to count for something. You have amazing children: handsome, smart, and healthy.

That last one should never be so easily discounted, and everything else probably pales in comparison. Travel can buy experience and perspective, and money can buy travel, but no amount of either one can cure illnesses of the chronic or terminal kind.

Today, you have each other. You have shelter, clothing, food, friends, love – and you have these in abundance. Give thanks over and over again, self, until that gratefulness defeats the ugly monsters of envy and desire.

With each outbreak of bitterness, longing, confusion, sadness – I will allow the surge of emotion to come. Fighting or denying is useless anyway.

I will remind myself these mourning waves are only temporary, even if it seems like they will never end. I will not always feel this way. I will remember emotion does not trump fact. Truth is truth, and no mere feeling can shake it.

And, I will pray. I will plead for contentment, for perspective. I will practice gratefulness and count my many, many blessings.

Have you pricked your finger on the spindle and fallen prey to homesickness? What’s your antidote for waves of irrational feelings or travel envy?

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama


Leaving On a Jet Plane.. Destination TBD

Thrifty Travel Mama | Leaving Freiburg: where do we go from here? I’ve been a very bad internet friend lately. To all the really fantastic blogger friends I have out there, I just want to say… I’m sorry.

You have read my posts and commented and shared and tweeted and sent smoke signals. And I, well, I haven’t done much to return the favor.

I’ve read your posts on my phone in the five-minute pockets of time I can find in my day, but you don’t know that because I haven’t left any e-trails. My Feedly is full of your saved posts, ready to comment, pin, tweet, and all that jazz.

The thing is, for the past six weeks or so, we’ve been in the painful place of deciding our next step.. or rather, waiting for the next step to be decided for us.

Doc Sci has interviewed over the phone and in person for several jobs in the US, the majority of them in places we hadn’t really considered or even imagined. We’ve been on the proverbial roller coaster, screaming on the inside, for weeks. We didn’t have anything concrete to say, but we could feel the tension rising. The need to start purging, selling, planning, scheming was overwhelming.

I don’t know how I managed to post, let alone get through the chaos of kids finishing kindergarten and transitioning to staying home all day every day in the midst of planning a move with only one known variable..

But, friends, it’s happening.

The only thing I can tell you now is that we’re leaving Germany, and soon. The date, route, price, and beverage of choice is still TBD.

Because I can’t give any exact details (I’m not being cryptic; I don’t know them myself), I need to leave space open in my day to sort out the finer points of all the pieces that will eventually become part of the grand plan of moving back across the pond.

Even while I’m reeling from the enormity of this move, I have something else to consider: this blog.

I started Thrifty Travel Mama in 2010 as a way to tell friends and family back home about the quirks and adventure of our new life abroad. TTM morphed into something I never imagined: a full-fledged family travel blog. You guys, we have been to over 71 cities in 16 countries (not including the US), and I haven’t even written about all of them.

At it’s core, TTM is about budget family travel, but it’s also heavily influenced by my life as an expat (hence the tagline, “an expat life of marvels, miracles, and mishaps”). And now, I won’t technically be an expat. I’ll just be an alien, a stranger, a triangle.

I might be without reliable internet and time to write for months. After that, will I be able to rally and write about all travel stores I haven’t yet told? Or will I be too forlorn, mourning the loss of 28 vacation days, low expenses, and cheap childcare?

Only time will tell.

But, I would very much like to hear from you, my friends. What would you like to see happen to this blog?

Would you like to continue to read about our adventures, even if they’re fewer and not as exotic?

Would you prefer to hear more about how we were able to go so many places and practical tips for you to do the same?

Are you intrigued as to how reverse culture shock might manifest itself in our family and all the things we will find different / strange / just plain WEIRD when we go back to the US?

Do you have another idea that I haven’t even considered? Point me in the direction you’d like to see TTM go by leaving your ideas and thoughts in the comments.

And, in between booking flights and shipping boxes, I’ll do my best to clean out that Feedly and drop in on your adventures.Thanks for being awesome readers and amazing bloggers.

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Our Croatian Family Adventure: Ten Days on the Dalmatian Coast

Thrifty Travel Mama | Family Adventures in Croatia on the Dalmatian CoastFinally, (finally!!) I’m giving you what you’ve always wanted – tales of our travels in Croatia! Admittedly, what you’ve always wanted is probably more like the opportunity to actually go to Croatia, but since I’m not giving away any trips today (boo!), this will have to do.

In April, we spent ten days in Croatia, overnighting in Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik. We usually prefer to just stay in one place and do day trips to surrounding attractions, but the driving distances were too great for our norm to be realistic this time around.

When I visit a new destination that I’ve always wanted to see, I often make a list of the must-see sights (you too?). I ask myself, what will I regret not seeing or doing if I don’t make it happen this trip? I know the usual travel advice is to assume you’ll be back. But life gives us no guarantee, so see what you want while you’re there. However, don’t stress yourself out by doing so much that you don’t enjoy the trip. I know, I know… it’s a delicate balance.

Now, I must admit, I feel a bit ridiculous talking about our travels in Croatia. SJ of Chasing the Donkey has put together such an incredible blog filled with gorgeous photos, fascinating sites, and fun things to do in the country. If you have not yet had the chance, I highly encourage you to hop on over to her blog, and follow her straightaway. She’s an Aussie expat living in Croatia with her husband and son who is the same age as our little Charlie.

With SJ’s help, I put together an itinerary that I hoped would be a balanced diet of sightseeing, driving, and rest: three nights in Zadar, three nights in Dubrovnik, and four nights in Split.

Like our trip to Tuscany last summer, I created a (much shorter) bucket list for our Croatian holiday. Follow along as I write about the highs and lows of each of our adventures in Croatia with three boys. I’ll add links as I post about each place.

Our Family’s Croatian Bucket List:

I’ll also answer the inevitable question… “Is Croatia kid-friendly?” I searched high and low for this kind of information before our trip, but I came up empty-handed most of the time. Look for my answer and some tips on taking the kiddos to Croatia here.

Taking your family to Croatia outside of the high summer season requires some special consideration and advance planning. Read my pros and cons of visiting during the off-season here.

And, it wouldn’t be right not to include some Supermarket Souvenirs that you can enjoy while in country or take home to friends and family. SJ wrote a post on Croatian candy, and I’ll report back with our taste test results.

So, to the Dalmation coast we go.  First stop, Zadar!Signature-Marigold

An English Speaker in an English Speaking Land… and a Little Announcement

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life: The English Speaking Bubble, Edinburgh

At the top of Arthur’s Seat, overlooking Edinburgh.

Before Paris, we had the most lovely whirlwind of a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.  We had gorgeous weather and a marvelous time together, just the five of us.  I long to tell you all about it – oh, how I do – but, for now, let’s just have a little peek into the wide, weird world of an English-speaking expat.

When you live in a foreign country and don’t speak the language, you get quite used to living in a bubble.  You may think the description cliché, but it’s spot on.

Inside the bubble, things are quiet.  Others may chat, giggle, debate, argue, or whisper around you.  But the funny thing is… you don’t really hear any of it.

There’s no picking up a snippet from the teenagers here or a stray comment from the elderly couple there.  You have absolutely no idea if the person next to you is gossiping about her best friend or discussing the finer points of Nietzsche.

When you open up your mouth to speak in your native language (because, of course, that’s what tumbles out first), those outside the bubble either stare or ignore you.  It’s impossible to tell whether you’re understood or not because interaction simply does.not.happen.

In some ways, you’re… invisible.

In other ways, you’re on display for all the world (okay, the train) to see.  Eating out, grocery shopping, waiting for the bus.. these are all relatively quiet affairs.  It’s a silent phenomenon, one that sneaks up on you and becomes firmly ingrained while you remain oblivious, until…

One day, you find yourself in another place, a land where everyone hears, understands, and -gasp- speaks to you.  This isn’t a forced exchange full of necessities and awkward pronunciation.  No, here the conversation is effortless.

The bubble bursts.  And suddenly, everything just got a whole.lot.LOUDER.

You try to finish your lunch, but the girl in the booth next to you just won’t shut up about her problems with the landlady. 

The college kids sitting behind you on the bus are bragging about how many countries they’ve visited (three), how cultured they now are, and how that one time they… was just SO funny!

A man stops on the street mid-stride to suggest you try the coffee shop (his favorite) around the corner because you’re discussing where you should go to warm up on this chilly morning. 

You ask the bus driver to help you figure out which stop is closest to your holiday apartment, and he agrees, smiles (!), and gives a shout when you’re nearly there.

It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never experienced it, but going to a foreign country and hearing English spoken is really very strange.

We’ve come to expect this hokey-smokes-we-can-understand-everyone-and-CRAP-they-understand-us phenomenon when we go back to the US.  We become a bit disconcerted on the plane when flight attendants greet our children and make conversation. (Can you imagine someone talking to your child on the street and completely excluding you because they can tell you don’t understand?  For us, this is our normal.) This disorientation grows until we finally recoil in utter shock when the cashier at the sparkly, big-box grocery store chats us up.

“How y’all doin’ today?”

Say, what?!

This is reverse culture shock, and we live it every time we go to America.

But it was a new thing for us to experience a foreign country without a foreign language.  It was… fantastic.  Comforting.  Therapeutic.  Welcome…

Since we know it will be our last year to live in our current city, we often try to imagine ourselves as residents in the places we visit.  Could we live here?  Would we want to?

And while Scotland would take a lot of getting used to (I’ve never stared at traffic, drivers, and cars so much in my life – how do they drive on the left?), at least we would be insiders in a way.

Language.  We miss so much being outside the deutschsprachig circle here in Germany.  We cannot fight or fend for ourselves in many situations.  ‘Tis true that I have only myself, my lack of time, commitment, and determination to blame.  It is our/my struggle, and often brings me/us shame.

So, in between language blunders and fragmented exchanges, we wonder.  How important is it?  Should we make every effort to become fluent?  Is it time to pop the bubble and live out loud?

My answer… is yes.

And so with this long-winded attempt to explain the freakish feelings we experienced in Scotland, I have a small announcement to make.

I’m taking a break.

It’s not you.. it’s me.

I love this blog for many reasons.  It’s been my creative outlet for nearly four years.  It’s pushed me to explore some really random corners of the world as well as to find the marvels and miracles amid the many mishaps of (my) expat life.

But, most of all, I have loved meeting all of you.  I have made real life friends because of this blog, and truth be told, I don’t intend to stop.  While I need to set aside the time I normally spend here at Thrifty Travel Mama to study German, I don’t plan on disappearing completely.  I may post sporadic updates and quick recaps of our trips.  But, I won’t be able to create regularly scheduled content for at least a few months.

I still plan to answer comments (though you may have better luck with email), and I will still be reading your posts and cheering for your adventures.  I hope, when I’m finally able again, that you’ll be back to champion mine as well.

Wish me luck – it’s going to be DEAFENING out there.


Our Tuscan Family Adventure: Two Weeks of History, Culture, Food, and Fun in Italy

Thrifty Travel Mama | Our Tuscan Family Adventure: Two Weeks of History, Culture, Food, and Fun in ItalyDear September, I’m so glad you’re here.  I sure do love me some fall food, soft scarves, and crisp leaves crackling beneath my boots.  But, hang on.  I’ve still got summer on the brain.  So forgive me; I feel the need to revel in the warm sunshine just a wee bit longer.

What about you?  Was your summer vacation a tad too short?  Are you already drowning in lunch boxes, laundry, and loads of commitments?  Then escape the grind for a moment, and dream with me about Italy.  Italy!  Eeek!!

After spending two contemptibly boring Augusts in southern Germany, I vowed to venture out this year and experience a true European “holiday.”  Destination of choice?  Italy in general, Tuscany specifically.

Unfortunately for me, Italy is terribly expensive and crowded in August.  It seems the whole world loves this country and shows its affection by turning up once the sun starts burning the hills with her summer heat.  Somehow, I managed to secure two somewhat affordable weeks of lodging – in villas with pools, no less – and the itinerary planning began.

In reading through my guidebook (more on that in a moment), a bucket list of sorts emerged.  As our travels have increased, our appetite has changed.  We’re no longer simply interested in seeing a place, adding a country to our list, snapping a few photos, and moving on to the next overcrowded attraction.  Now, what we crave is the experience. 

What does Italy smell like near the sea?  Taste like when you make regional food with your own hands?  Look like from a medieval tower?  Feel like inside the stone walls of a hill town?  Sound like in the bargaining chatter of the open market?

From these questions, I came up with a bucket list.  Even with two weeks, it’s quite impossible to fully discover all that Tuscany was and is.  Add kids in the mix, and you’re lucky if you get to do anything that doesn’t involve a pool and pizza.  This bucket list is my happy place.  It’s only a taste of Tuscany, but for now it’s enough.

Our Family’s Tuscan Bucket List:

If you’re planning your own Italian adventure, you might be curious as to how I came up with this list.  Several items on the list have been personal dreams for years (Cinque Terre, the Uffizi, a cooking class).  But I owe a great deal of gratitude to my friend Audrey (hi, Audrey!) who recommended the guidebook, Frommer’s Tuscany, Umbria and Florence With Your Family.  Not an affiliate link – just an honest recommendation!

I’ll touch on this in later posts, but Tuscany is not exactly “kid-friendly” (which is not to say that it’s unfriendly toward kids).  The Frommer’s Tuscany guidebook highlighted activities and attractions that my family could and would actually want to do.  The budget restaurant recommendations were spot on.  When I tried to squeeze in some extra research time for “Tuscany with kids”, I can’t think of anything I found online that was not in that book.  Prices were out of date, but that is to be expected.  The advice is still solid.

So, to Tuscany we go!  Enjoy your weekend, and I’ll be back with some sun and sea at the Cinque Terre on Monday!Signature-Marigold

Make It Yourself: Travel Journal

Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalI’ve long ogled the amazing travel journals littering Pinterest, and I finally decided it was time to make one myself.

Honestly, I haven’t used travel journals much, and I think that’s probably a big mistake.  I have to write down each and every little nit-picky thing that must be accomplished for the day in my planner.  If I don’t put pen to paper, I’m lost without a thought in my sleep deprived brain about what I need for the day.  So why not use the same strategy when I’m traveling?  Doh!

Before now, a travel journal was just one.more.thing that I had to remember, pack, keep track of, and protect from flying food and other luscious infant substances.  But since I seem to want to keep traveling and telling you about our adventures, maybe I oughta make a note or two.  Just sayin’.

And, just maybe making a pretty place to put my thoughts will help with that?  Fingers crossed!

Here’s how I made my journal – you should make one too.  Don’t have any trips coming up?  Make one anyway.  It doesn’t have to be just for traveling.  Your journal could be anything you want it to be – thoughts, notes, grocery lists, whatever.  Just make sure you like it, so you’ll be more inclined to write in it.Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalFirst, you’re going to need some materials: cardstock, paper, scissors, tape, glue, ruler, pencil, eraser, and, oh right, a notebook.  Actually, you probably could just staple a stack of plain white copy paper right smack in the middle and fold it over to create a little booklet.  But my stapler is teensy weensy, so I went with a ready-made notebook that cost me a whopping 49 cents.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalNext, you need to make a cover for your notebook.  Since I only had one sheet of desirable cardstock, I decided to make a template from IKEA packing paper.  Better to completely bomb out on something I’m going to recycle anyway than to irrevocably trash my one and only piece of pretty (thick) paper.

To make a template, trace the outside of the piece of cardstock you will be using.  Then, line up the notebook inside of the cardstock and trace the edge of one side, then the spine, and then the other.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalLop off each of the corners and a v shape at the spine so that the cardstock cover will wrap around the notebook’s existing cover.Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalWrap the template around your notebook, and make sure the cover will fit the way you’d like.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalEven if you’re satisfied, I’d recommend expanding the outline of the notebook’s cover by an additional 1/16″ or 1/8″ all the way around the outside.  Better to have a little extra than to have the card stock fit too tightly. Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalNow, lay your template on the card stock.  Trace the areas to remove in the corners and at the spine.  Grab the scissors and snip, snip.  Gently fold the cardstock around the notebook’s cover, and glue the edges.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalFind some complimentary (or contrasting!) cardstock and cut it to fit over the ugly old notebook cover.  We can’t have that ruining our travel journal vibe.

Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalNow it’s time to have some fun, and really make the design your own.  Think about how you will use your journal.  I am always collecting receipts, ticket stubs, product tags, etc., and I never know where to put them.  An envelope inside the cover is a great place to stash these items to write about later.

Create an envelope for these treasures by folding a piece of colored paper as shown.  Cut off the top with decorative scissors.  Use regular scissors to cut out the squares in the corners.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalFold over the two side edges and place a little glue near the bottom flap in the corners.  Next, swipe your glue stick around the folded edges, and then press it down inside the front cover.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalBut, we don’t want to stop there, now do we?  Let’s add a bigger envelope in the back.. and while we’re at it, let’s make this one with a flap.

Fold the paper the same way we did with the front envelope.  Then grab another piece of paper (either the same or mix it up with a different color or pattern) and fold to be the same width as the bottom piece.  Fold it in half to create the top flap portion.  Cut the corners in a triangular fashion, if desired, to cut down on bulk.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalBefore gluing the envelope to the back cover, poke one brad through the top piece, and one brad through the bottom piece.  If your envelope paper is thin, strengthen the brad with tape on the back side.

Attach the top flap with glue first and then the bottom piece.  Add a pop of color underneath the lid if you’d like.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalFinish with a thin ribbon or string to keep the envelope fastened.Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalMany of the travel journals I’ve seen have themed pages (what we ate on Tuesday, our top 10 on Saturday).  This stifles my creativity.  I find I have more to say if there’s just one question to start, and not a whole template to fill in.

If you’re more of the template persuasion, have a gander at my Pinterest board featuring loads of travel journals and other Vacation Memory Makers.

I found these really, REALLY good prompts at GoNOMAD.com, and when I get ten kid-free moments, I’ll scribble them on the front page. Then, it’s just a matter of picking a prompt and doodling about our day.  (Full disclosure: the link above does have a few words in it not suitable for children, so use with caution.)http://pinterest.com/thriftytrvlmama/vacation-memory-makers/You’re almost done!  Just add embellishment to your little heart’s desire, remembering that the prettier your journal, the more likely you are to use it.  Later on, I plan to add tabs to separate the different trips using this tutorial.

I’m looking forward to filling this notebook up with memories, starting with a trip to the Netherlands next month.  Yay!

Have you made a travel journal?  Leave a link in the comments so we can see your creation!  Signature-Marigold