Liebster award nomination for Me!

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“The Liebster Award has German origins. The word liebster has several definitions: dearest, sweetest, kindest, nicest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, welcome, sweetheart and boyfriend.

It aims to discover new bloggers and welcome them to the blogosphere. Bloggers award other bloggers.”

My friend over at Love Shack Baby nominated me a loooooooooooooong time ago, but she nominated me all the same – it’s time to catch up! Thank you! I’m flattered and honoured, it’s always good to hear nice things about your blog!  Sounds prestigious right? Well, I guess it is in blogging circles. The award is sort of like a chain letter of the blog world.  (The ‘rules’ are at the bottom of this post)

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10 Random facts about me:

1. I am left handed.  I believe that some day, lefties will conquer the world.  Ok, ok, that last bit was for dramatic effect.  Mostly.

2. When I was little, I was published in Bunty Magazine.  I used to collect every issue, I won a bubble Barbie and, if I look really hard in my parents ‘stuff’, I’ll find the issue that I’m published in.  Just a letter to the editor or something, but it totally made my whole year!

3. I want to be a doer of good deeds – on a super hero level.

4. I’m big in to word association.  I often find that when I talk to people, they’ll say a buzz word or trigger a word association that will bring me to a song.  If the person I’m talking to is my husband, I may even burst out in song.  If it isn’t my hubby that I’m talking to, I’ll likely have the song stuck in my head all day.

5. In school, I was a klutz.  Every fall, I’d go back to school and teachers would ask me what bones I’d broken over the summer.  Roller blading, my sister learning Tae Kwon Do, tripping up steps…I was ridiculous.  I’m still klutz-esque, but I’ve hopefully, outgrown the worst of it.

6. Keanu Reeves was my first boy-crush.  I must have watched Speed about 500 million times.  I’m not even joking.

7. My favorite movie is The Mighty Ducks.  All of them.  I cry at the end of the second one, it’s where my obsession with hockey began, I fancied Banks, and Charlie Conway and I can recite a lot of the words from them.  They make me irrationally happy and I can’t wait to share these films with my son!

8.  Two of my favorite friends in life, have already passed away.  One of whom was my first love.

9. I have an overactive imagination.  I can’t read or watch horror stories/films, because my mind runs away with itself.  Like checking behind the door and shower curtain, leaving lights on kind of running away with itself.

10. I’m a lucid dreamer.  I can tend to remember what I’ve been dreaming about the night before.  Pregnancy dreams were hell.

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10 Questions from Billi to answer:

1- What is your favorite thing to blog about?

Houston, and Texas.  People tend to slate on Texas, Texas gets a bad rap within the USA.  It’s not seen as a vacation destination, it’s not seen as having much to offer the world – but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Texas is rich in culture and history, it has a wide palette of foods and flavors and the people are polite, welcoming and friendly.  I love exploring our home state, I love discovering things that even Houstonians haven’t seen or heard of, and sharing my amazing experiences with the people both here in Houston and further afield.

Like the train ride we took through the East Texas forest, in November, or the food truck sub-culture.  Texas has something for everyone, you just have to be open to finding it.

2 – What are your feelings about dogs sleeping in bed with their owners?

I don’t really have feeling about dogs sleeping in bed with their owners.  Whatever floats your boat.  When we’ve dog sat, I find they are too hot and territorial and I end up dangling off the end of the bed if they sleep in bed with me.  As a child, we were never allowed to have our pets upstairs, or in bed with us, they weren’t even allowed on the sofa most of the time.

3 – What is your favorite memory ages 13-16?

School plays and choir.  I have always loved singing, our school choir was competitive, fiercely competitive.  We competed in Fees competitions, we competed in the UTV School choir of the year and my school and drama group plays were pretty spectacular for amateurs.  I think back on all of our musical accomplishments, the dancing, the singing, the costumes, the relentless rehearsals, the tonsillitis, with serious nostalgia.  I loved every second of it and miss it!

4 – Could you see yourself as a life coach?

I don’t think so, I wouldn’t know the first thing about being a life coach.  My friend Marie is a life coach and she’s wayyyyyy better at that kind of thing than me.  In fact, I think most people are!

5 – Are you looking forward to anything in particular in 2015?

Yes! Color me predictable, but since we now have an additional family member, I’m looking forward to a lot of things with him.  His first birthday, showing him parts of the world, and all of the milestones in between.

6-  What is a must-have in your kitchen?

Kitchen Aid mixer.  Without a doubt it’s my Kitchen Aid mixer.  Ok, ok, rewind.  A good cooker/oven/stove – I don’t have that.  Our stove is older than I am, it’s awful.  It has a metal element on top and bottom and it over cooks some things, under cooks others and sets parchment paper on fire.  It’s a riot – no really.  If you have a reasonably modern and fully operational stove, then a Kitchen Aid is a must-have, mine is five years old and I use it ALL THE TIME.  Col loves when I use my Kitchen Aid.

7 – Favorite mode of transportation?

Driving, or, being driven.  Preferably in a 1994 black Toyota Supra with the roof off, along the coast of Northern Ireland on a rare sunny day.  Driving is something we both miss here, the scenery isn’t very scenic, the drivers are largely bat-sh*t crazy, and driving is here, is just to get from point A, to point B.  I miss leisurely drives with Col, along beautifully picturesque countryside in a beautiful car.

8 – Have you ever had a nickname that you really hated?

YES! I went through a phase in school of making people call me Lassie, because I hated my first name.  Once that phase of my life was over, I went back to my first name and HATED when someone called me Lassie.

9 – What was your happiest moment today?

Watching my son sit and play happily with four other little infants.  He hasn’t been exposed to many other kids, we haven’t yet found a mothers day out scheme with an open spot for a baby of his age, so it’s normally just the two of us, and occasionally Eloise, or Oliver or an older little person.  Today, today he sat and played and shared his toys and tried to plant open mouthed kisses on the other little boys and girls.  It warmed my heart.

10 – Would you rather decorate handmade cards or cut out snowflakes?

Cards.  Always cards.  I love, love, love card making, I haven’t done it in a while as firstly we were moving country (then not-moving) and then I got sick during pregnancy and was in and out of hospital and then came Lewis, so my crafting time is practically non-existent, but I do love making cards.

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My nominees

Lekki at A Scientists Life

Brandie at The Rambler

Liz at Letters to a baby bear

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My Questions for my nominees:

1. Name three things that are on your bucket list.

2. Name one food that you can’t possibly live without.

3. What was your favorite toy as a child?

4. Name one app that you can’t live without and why.

5. What is your favorite movie?

6. What is your biggest pet peeve?

7. Why did you start blogging?

8. What is one of your fondest memories?

9. What is your favorite recipe?

10. What is your theme song?

The Rules:

If you have been nominated for The Liebster Award AND YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT, write a blog post about the Liebster award in which you:

1. Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.

2. Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”. (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)

3. Answer 10 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.

4. Provide 10 random facts about yourself.

5. Nominate up to 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 1000 followers. (Note that you can always ask the blog owner this since not all blogs display a widget that lets the readers know this information!)

6. Create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.

7. List these rules in your post (You can copy and paste from here.) Once you have written and published it, you then have to:

8. Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!)

Baking and Babies (SSA)

Today, I did something that I’ve been meaning to do more of since Lewis was born.  I made a new friend.  In fact, I made more than one.

It’s been a lonely summer, a combination of people travelling, having family in town and so many people having left my ‘inner circle’ over the last couple years, it was quiet.  Too quiet for my social butterfly self.  So, to combat this, I had joined a ‘Meet-up’ group, and aside from one lady Danielle and her little one Gigi, I just didn’t feel like I fitted in with that group.  I gave some thought to how to go about meeting some new friends, and I decided to join the SSA play groups, I stepped up to lead the Lunch Bunch activity and, after pondering my interests, decided to start a new group, a baking group.

A baking group with a slight twist.  A friend of mine, Frances, had created a ‘baking and babies’ group after she moved home from the US to the UK.  Mums and their babies come along, they share in the baking process of making one recipe, and share it at the end of the session.  If a baby kicks-off, another mum takes over and the baking continues, need extra hands? Have no fear, other mums are here!

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Having SSA Funding to purchase the ingredients, enough interested generated to warrant holding the activity, I picked a really simple Mary Beryl spiced treacle sheet cake recipe for our first gathering.  Simple, quick, tasty and it would give us time to chat about what we wanted to bake next, and other details surrounding the group.

We had a group of five mums and five babies, a nice number of ladies and the process was easy (essentially throw everything in to the mixer, mix, pour and bake).  For snacks while we waited for our bake, we ate what my Great Irish Bake Off buddies and I baked yesterday at our monthly get together, a Gluten Free chocolate slice and a raspberry cheesecake brownie bar – deeeelicious!

The little ones are all fairly close in age, ranging from around seven months to around seventeen months, they played well, didn’t cry or fuss and that’s just the moms ;) haha!

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Next month we are meeting at one of the other ladies houses, we are hoping to make a GBBO recipe, chocolate and salted caramel Swiss roll – yum!

Things to do in Texas: Texas State Railroad (Fall Foliage Brunch Train)

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It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, we went home to the UK for a few weeks, I’ve been under the weather (before and since), and Lewis is keeping me on my toes.  But, we recently embarked on a fun activity here in Texas, that I wanted to share with y’all, in case you are interested in doing the Polar Express train before Christmas.

Col and I have been married for five years as of October, the traditional gift is wood, and, after having bought him his record player (affectionately named ‘Maggie’), I wanted to find something for us to do together, to mark the occasion.  As many of you know, we love our little getaways, a weekend here, an overnight there, we love exploring Texas and think, as a state, it has so much to offer.  To get to the train ride took exactly three hours from Houston (though, on our way TO the train, it took five hours, an hour in traffic, an hour stopped for lunch, plus the three hour journey – yawn!)

We went up the day before, spent the afternoon in the hotel pool (the Hampton inn and suites, if you’re interested, was excellent, and we’d go back without question and, while I’m at it, grab a delicious pizza in a restaurant called ‘Switch’).

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For those of you who say that Texas doesn’t have a ‘fall’ season, you’re wrong.  I just saw it, out the window of a hundred year old steam train as we traveled across East Texas ‘Pineywoods’ forest country.  You pay $55 per person, you board the train at one of two Victorian-style train depots at either Palestine (where we boarded), or Rusk.

They ask you to be there almost an hour early, to pick up your tickets from the ticket desk – don’t groan – that gives you plenty of time to watch the steam engine come out of her little shed, down the track and connect to the carriages, and to take pictures of the train, the depot and the surroundings, it’s very picturesque.

Once on board, we found the table with our family name place card, took a seat, and enjoyed a delicious platter of fresh fruit, fruit dip, orange juice, apple juice, water and coffee, as we waited for the train to disembark the station.

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The journey through the trees was glorious, the sun shone, the trees were a multitude of colours, and the atmosphere onboard, was excited anticipation.  The family carriage, was filled with both adults and kids alike, I was amazed to find linen table cloths, real glasses and cutlery on the tables and fully uniformed staff ready to wait on us hand and foot.  It was a real experience, we even traveled through a rainbow – which was pretty darn cool!

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As we approached our one and only stop at Rusk, Texas, they brought us slices of quiche (bacon or veggie), with a side salad and some dressing (in hindsight I should have ordered a third portion because Lewis decided he loved it and ate a chunk of mine and Col’s!)

We disembarked for our forty-five minute pit-stop, watched the engine disconnect, and pass the carriages to reconnect.  In Rusk there are bathrooms (though the lines were seriously long, I’d say just go on board the train whilst no one is on board!), the men’s bathroom had a koala care station – which is definitely worth noting for those with little ones, as many restaurants, even ‘big name’ restaurants don’t have facilities in even the Women’s toilets, let alone the men’s.

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There is a gift shop for you to peruse and some nice grounds if you’d like a wander around.  When we got back on the train, there was a platter of crackers, cheese and tomato/cucumber waiting for us and about half-way back to the Palestine depot, they brought out a selection of muffins and cinnamon rolls.  Informing us that we could ‘pick two’ (and then offered us a cinnamon roll separate), Col had the blueberry muffin and the mini lemon and poppy seed muffin, I chose the banana nut muffin and a mini lemon and poppy seed and we picked up a cinnamon roll to share.  What we actually ate, on the other hand, was half the cinnamon roll, Lewis and I shared the mini muffin and Col had his mini muffin – so much food! (We bagged the two larger muffins to take home with us on our journey home).

The thing that surprised me on this journey, other than the food being really tasty (for some reason I always expect those type of things to be quite Ming), was the service, the servers on the train were exceptional – better than many of the restaurants I’ve been in lately.  They were friendly and warm, interested (mostly in Lewis, obviously!) but not imposing, efficient and generous (one lady even gave me some diet coke and offered more if/when I fancied it).  They definitely added to the whole experience and were full of smiles the whole time.

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We both loved this experience, it was romantic, fun, different and we got to see a part of Texas that, previously, had been uncharted for us, and the train was pretty damn cool – I won some serious wifey points to boot.

Their 2015 calendar includes a romantic Valentine’s night dinner and an Easter train ride – both of which sound fun.  If Lewis was a little older, we’d take him on the Polar Express Christmas train ride for sure!

Y’all should check this train out, really - it’s worth it!!

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Five museums for five bucks in Houston, Part III: Houston Fire Museum

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This ain’t our first rodeo (or, fire museum), in fact, we’ve been to at least TWO other fire museums on our various travels, in much smaller cities than Houston.  We have put off going to the Houston Fire Museum (Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 4pm Adults $5, children $3) a number of times, just to make sure we left enough time for this place – but we really didn’t have to do that at all.

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What a disappointment.  We barely spent thirty minutes here.  UGH! For such a major city in the USA, we expected something a little more grand than a two-room museum with only two engines to look at.  My ’147 Fun Things to Do in Houston’ book says that this place has a large collection of artifacts to look at, either the author has a poor definition of large, or they never visited this museum.  It was a poor reflection of Fire memorabilia, and we both left deflated.

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It was the first, paid Fire House in Houston, the Fire House itself is small, so they built an extension (also small) and they have a room set aside for kids parties (of which there seemed to be a hundred under one roof today, there were kids everywhere and it was louuuuud!)

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There really wasn’t a lot to look at, upstairs, the AC unit was leaking on the floor as a result of some storm damage.  There were a few glass cases up there, with some memorabilia throughout the decades which was interesting to look at, but we really expected more.

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This is the first $5 museum where I felt like I got short changed.  I don’t think it was quite worth the entrance fee.  They had some cool T-shirts and kitsch on sale, but unfortunately, I can’t recommend the Houston Fire Museum as something to do on a rainy afternoon in H-town, as it just doesn’t have the substance!

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Five museums for five bucks in Houston, Part II: Railway museum (Rosenberg)

We FINALLY got back to working on this segment, and investigating the wonderful, rich culture that Houston has to offer – and for only five bucks!  This museum was visited almost six months ago (shame on me for taking this long to share it with you!) and, considering that Houston’s Railroad museum is currently ‘under construction’, this is the closest alternative available to you.

I had planned on visiting a few museums towards the end of my pregnancy, but when Lewis came a few weeks early, that flew right out the window!  Having little to do this weekend other than prep the house for visitors arriving, I decided that it was time.  Time to bring Lewis on his first McMaster mini-adventure.

A quick chat with Col later, and we were on our way to Rosenberg, a quirky, small town about twenty minutes south of here, to visit the Railway museum.  We took just over an hour in here, and that was probably a stretch.  We weren’t hugely bowled over by this museum (in my mind, I guess, I compare it to the free Railroad museum that we went to in Memphis, TN) but it was a nice place to spend an hour.

The components of the museum are:

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My hubby is interested in trains, railroads and all things train-y, (yes, I may have made up a word), we like checking out railroad museums, and, while watching the 8 minute dull-as-watching-paint-dry movie surrounding the purpose of the museum and its history, you can see there’s a lot more they could show in this place, a lot more history that they could delve in to – I get that it’s a non-profit museum and can only do so much, but it was a bit disappointing as far as adult interest and education goes, but the kids certainly seemed to enjoy it.
They have a room for kids parties, that seemed wholly unimpressive – or, in any way connected to the museum (it’s a room with folding table and chairs, next door to a play room) – quite disappointing, it would be way cooler to have an empty train car with the tables and chairs and make it a real experience.
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Once you go outside, there’s a few great photo-ops, even our little six week old son enjoyed it ;). Definitely worth the $5 entrance fee!
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Things to do in Houston: Art Car Museum (free)

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“Get into the left lane and aim high, but keep one eye on the rear view mirror for the black and whites. Art cars are a grass roots movement. Change your vehicle, improve it, personalize it and make your own statement with it so that you can once again become one with it. Art cars are an expression of your freedom and above all, of the God-given American right to be yourself and flaunt it on the highways and byways of America.”

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We have been meaning to check out the ‘garage mahal’ for almost the whole time we’ve lived here – I kid you not.  However, it’s in that ‘trendy’ part of town that the hubby deems to cool for him to frequent (LOL!) where the roads are crap and parking is crappier.

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That said, when my girlfriend Courtney came to town in August, I wanted to take her along to have a nosy – it’s a free, quirky and kitschy thing to do here in Houston, and, my ’147 Things to do in Houston’ book, has it listed – I’m not sure what that has to do with the price of milk, but, go check out this museum.  DO IT!

“But Las!” I hear you cry, “What IS an art car?”

From their website: An art car is a motor-driven vehicle which a car artist alters in such a way as to suit his own aesthetic. In other words, the artist either adds or subtracts materials of his own choosing to or from the factory model or he may renovate an earlier model to revive a beauty and stlyle that once was. The result is a vehicle which conveys new meaning through design, mechanical or structural changes, renovation, and/or the addition of new images, symbols or collage elements.

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The content and meaning of these changes vary with each art car and may express either political, social, personal or purely decorative objectives. All art cars are subversive and have in common the transformation of the vehicle from a factory-made commodity into a personal statement or expression.

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It’s not a phenomenon that is specific to the USA, art cars can be found all over the world.  But, every month, right here in Houston, four or five of these amazing artistic creations can be found, right here at the Art Car museum.  The cars on display change each month, and, once a year – they have a huge parade, where the cars are driven around the streets of Houston.

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Before you get to the cars on display, there’s a couple of small art exhibits for you to ponder.  I’m not sure if these change too, but they were definitely worth a glance.

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“Often considered the ‘Art Car Capital’, Houston has the largest number of art cars of any city. Art cars are fine art essentially free of the conventions and contradictions of the marketplace and the art world. The Museum’s distinctive scrap metal and chrome exterior was created by car artist David Best and provides an imaginative indication of the extraordinary constructions to be found inside.   The museum’s goal is to encourage the public’s awareness of the cultural, political, economic and personal dimensions of art.”

Art Car Museum Information

HOURS: OPEN: Wednesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm CLOSED: Monday & Tuesday Admission is always free.

Things to do in Houston: National museum of Funeral History ($10)

I know, I know – it sounds drab, dull and hugely morbid, right?

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But, in actual fact, this museum was one of my favourite museums ever! It was a little far away for us Missouri City folk (up in The Heights), but the National museum of Funeral History was well worth the trek.  It’s a rather large museum – with something for everyone to enjoy.

Presidential Funerals

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We started our museum experience at the Presidential funeral section, this area has memorabilia used in the state funeral and burial services of some of America’s most famous Presidents.  Including original news reports taken from museum’s archives this section of the museum provides a historical perspective on the chain of events, procedures and practices set in motion upon the death of a US president.

Even for non-Americans like us (ok, we’re poly-sci peeps, but still) it was a fascinating part of the museum, with lots to read and look at.

Coffins and caskets of the past

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This section was pretty cool – and crazy at the same time.  A modest collection of the different kinds of coffins and caskets used in funerals throughout the generations, among the lot, is a casket built for three people (a mother, father and son with a tragic story for you to read), a glass-paneled coffin created to look like the one in Snow White, and even a casket made out of money – I kid you not!

Historical hearses

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Around the perimeter to one side of the museum, is a collection of the vehicles used in ’olden day’ horse-drawn funeral carriages of the 19th century, some, very rare indeed.  They also have the actual hearses used in the state funeral services of US Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford as well as the funeral of Grace Kelly.

Thanks for the memories

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Curious about the funerals of celebrities? In this section, you can see how the world has said farewell to some of the largest names in the business.

Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Star Trek actors, Astronauts, even Disney – the stories of their lives and deaths are in this interactive room, complete with quizzes, music, and interesting memorabilia.

History of Embalming

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To those of you with an interest about mummification, embalming and ancient Egypt, to the first techniques used in America during the Civil War and up through the early 20th century, this section is fascinating.  You get to read about the mummification process, the tools involved and the mythology and beliefs behind the whole process.  There is plenty to look at here – we found it very interesting.

Celebrating the lives and deaths of the Popes

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This section was surprisingly interesting, fascinating, with an air of reverence as we walked around.  Celebrating the Lives and Deaths of the Popes includes a full-scale replica of Pope John Paul II’s crypt, an exact reproduction of the coffin used in the funerals of three previous Popes as well as replicas of other Papal vestments.

This section shows you the many stages of preparation for the final services and burial of a Pope.  The different stages of a popes journey to his final resting place, the coffin and history behind it.

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There is also a section for ‘custom made’ coffins, those off the wall coffins that people have had made in the past – some are rather ‘out there’!

Museum Information

Hours:

Monday – Friday 10am to 4pm
Saturday 10am to 5pm
Sunday 12pm to 5pm
Pricing:
Adults: $10
Seniors/Veterans: $9
Children (under 12): $7
Children (under 3): Free

Things to do in Houston: Museum of Printing History (free)

IMG_5542Another unusal and ‘off the wall’ museum that we dug out in the depths of Houston’s recesses, The Printing Museum.  This was one of the museums listed on my ‘free stuff to do in Houston’ list and it piqued my husbands interest, in particular.  It wasn’t hugely far away for us to get to, it has ample parking, it’s not a huge place – so you’re not spending hours and hours here, but it’s definitely interesting, it’s indoors, air conditioned and somewhere neat to spend an hour or so out of the Texas heat and learn a little about Printing history at the same time.

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From their website: As far as their permanent exhibit goes, the Museum of Printing History narrates the story of written communication and the ways in which the technologies of printing have transformed our lives.  Their galleries trace significant developments from ancient Mesopotamian clay tablets, to the Chinese invention of movable type, to Johann Gutenberg’s printing press.  American history is dramatized through newspaper accounts of major events from the American Revolution to the Civil War; Texas history is told through the life of the state’s first printer, with a press he owned and a display of the documents and newspapers he printed.  The Hearst Newspaper Gallery demonstrates the emergence of modern printing, and our exhibit of historic newspapers documents pivotal moments in recent history.

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The Museum features artifacts such as:

Mesopotamian Cylinder Seals

Ancient Papyrus Fragments

Asian Movable Type & early Asian Printing

Illuminated Manuscripts

1450 Gutenberg Press Replica

Old Master Etchings & Engravings

Ben Franklin’s “Pennsylvania Gazette”

Historical Newspapers

Documents printed by Samuel Bangs, first printer in Texas, with one of his presses

1830 Star-wheel Oak Lithography Press Letterpress & Type Collection Antique Bookbinding Equipment

Aside from the Printing machinery and exhibits, they also show other, various art exhibits in the building as well.  When we visited, they had a number of exhibits for us to ponder, Col, in particular, liked this one by Russell Maret.

Russell Maret: Interstices and Intersections or, An Autodidact Comprehends a Cube

The latest fine press publication by New York City-based artist Russell Maret. Comprised of the artist’s notes, sketches, watercolors, proof prints, in addition to tools used in contemporary letterpress printing practices, this exhibition illustrates the creative process of producing a hand-printed, hand-bound edition from sketch to completion. (June 26, 2014 – September 20, 2014)

They also host educational and entertaining programs, lectures, and special events, as well as offering up a substantial function room for hire, for various events – like I said, this is a neat little place that most people have never heard of in Houston!

Museum info:

Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 A.M.-5:00 P.M.

Admission is free for self-guided tours. For a guided tour, the fee is $7 for adults, $3 for students, and $5 for seniors.

Parking Two Museum parking lots hold a capacity of approximately 50 cars. Additional free street parking is also available.

Wheelchair Access The building and facilities are wheelchair accessible.

Motherhood: Breastfeeding

Today is the day.

My baby boy is twenty weeks old.

 

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Twenty weeks was the personal breastfeeding goal I set when I got pregnant.
I made it.

 

I may have shed a few tears of joy, for if you’d told me nineteen weeks ago, that I would still be breastfeeding him, even at six weeks old, I’d have laughed in your face.

 

My breastfeeding journey has been bumpy to say the least.  It started rough, got rougher, and, even a couple months ago, we were still having some issues.
It’s very hard to have an opinion on feeding your baby.

 

Let’s just take a moment for that to sink in.

 

It’s very hard to HAVE an opinion on feeding your baby.

 

It’s even harder to share it.  Even with your nearest and dearest.

 

Regardless of how you feed your child, people will judge you.

 

Let’s just take a moment for THAT to sink in.

 

Judged for how you feed your baby? What has this world come to?

 

You may say that you don’t care what “people” think.  But when you’ve just delivered this teenie tiny, wholly dependent on you, baby, and you’ve been catapulted into the throws of parenthood, for the first few weeks, it’s tough.

 

Choose breast, and there’s an overwhelming pressure to succeed.  Whether actual, fictional or solely from yourself, expectations are high.

 

Choose breast, and, while I’m told it’s best, it’s certainly not easiest.  (Though, having had to solely bottle feed Lewis for two twenty four hour periods in the last twenty weeks, I’m not convinced bottle feeding is exactly easy.  That screaming while he was waiting for his bottle to be made, was heart wrenching).

 

It’s the most natural thing in the world, ‘they’ say.
It’s a beautiful thing, ‘they’ say.

 

However, from the minute Lewis was born, it wasn’t ‘natural’ at all, our little 7lb 6oz bundle of joy, dropped to 6lbs 8oz, and, instead of helping me, all of our medical professionals were pushing formula.  Not just offering an alternative, or supplementation, no, I mean pushing, hard.  Which, for a first time mother with breastfeeding issues, who was originally resolved to breastfeed, no matter what – is a VERY attractive back door out.

 

I had no support from my nurses or doctors.

 

None.

 

That left me in a scary place, and I came dangerously close to quitting, more than once.

 

Almost every day.

 

I wouldn’t have ever described myself as a ‘lactivist’, or ‘crunchy’, just some chick who wanted to give breastfeeding a fair shot.  Not because I believe formula is the devil, (I was raised on it and I turned out grand) but, firstly, I’m cheap and begrudge paying for a can of formula, if I have the means to feed my child myself, and, two, having a pediatric dietician as a best friend who has educated me on the medical benefits of breastfeeding – I was resolved to try, or have her turn up on my doorstep and slap me!

 

I have pretty much bucked every trend or piece of advice they tell you, exclusively breastfeed for at least eight weeks, don’t give them a pacifier, don’t take milk ‘enhancers’ to bulk up your supply, don’t do this, this, this or this.  Well, I have pumped from day one and Lewis has not only fed from me, but he has had a pacifier, a nipple shield and bottles – thankfully, with no nipple confusion.  I’m aware that we are very lucky with this, though, had he developed nipple confusion, on top of our existing issues – I’m pretty sure I’d have quit.  That would have been the straw that broke the camels back.

 

I think a lot of my success has been due to a very easy going baby.  As long as he got his food, he didn’t care about the process of how.

 

He did have 8oz of formula.  My pediatrician gave my husband a bottle to give to him, because ‘he’s lost too much weight’, she said.  Well if he didn’t chug that bottle down, and if I didn’t cry my eyes out at being such a failure at something ‘they’ said was so very natural.

 

The second bottle, was just going in to day four, middle of the night, my milk hadn’t come in yet, he was constantly feeding every second (cause the colostrum just wasn’t enough to fill him) and he was SCREAMING.  He wouldn’t take a pacifier, and I was at my wits end, again, admitting defeat, proclaiming myself a failure, I picked up one of the many, many formula samples I’d been given in his short existence, and fed him.  The next morning, my milk came in and we have never used formula again.

 

Two things.

 

Firstly, using formula, supplementing or solely, is NOT a failure.  Many people get pregnant and there’s not a second thought in their mind, it’s totally normal for them to feed their babies formula – yet, when you want to breastfeed and you have to ‘resort’ to supplementing, there’s this undertone of pressure, failure, like you couldn’t hack it or let your baby down in some way.

 

Well, let me tell you something, my baby was hungry, and I fed him the only way that was available to me.  That, does not make me a failure.  That, makes me a good mother.

 

As of this morning, Lewis is 18lbs 2.5oz and I have 200oz of breast milk in the freezer (I pump once a day) and I’m nursing in public with no cover (which is a huge accomplishment for me!).  Aside from 8oz of formula in his first week of life, he has been solely on breast milk – either from me, or from a bottle.

 

48wIn no way is that a failure.

 

My son is healthy, happy and, at his four month check up, two weeks ago, he aced his percentiles – 64% height, 82% weight and 90% head circumference.

 

I dare you to tell me that those 8oz of formula, was in any way a failure.

 

Feeding your child – however you so choose, it not failure.

 

Breastfeeding is not for everyone, I can honestly say I’ve never done anything so entirely selfless in my whole life.  It hurt (for months!!), it is time consuming (even now!) and, if you have a child with reflux/gerd, it’s messy.  He’s recently transitioned, from copious amounts of projectile vomiting that didn’t really have time to hit his tummy, to smaller amounts of vomit, but it’s been partially digested, so I spend my days smelling of curdled milk.  Yummy.

 

Not.

 

The major thing that bugs me about breastfeeding is, that I really wasn’t encouraged to do it by my healthcare professionals and wasn’t offered donor milk either.  If it wasn’t for Col, Amber and Magz texting me multiple times every single day, and night, I’m 100% sure I’d have quit.  It was all just too much.

 

Not only that, but we must have been given hundreds of dollars worth of formula freebies, from the nurses in the hospital, from the pediatrician, and, almost, from my OBGYN (they had bags lined up along their desk).

 

It’s not about freebies.  I know that.  But, as a breastfeeding mother, I was offered zilch – and, let’s not say that there isn’t anything they could have given.  There was plenty – mostly support (you are medical professionals after all, and I was struggling so hard in the beginning that I cried, a LOT, to the nurses!!)

 

But there are any number of things that we use as nursing mothers, or exclusively pumping mothers, that big companies could give out in the hospital in goody bags, like the formula companies put together.  For example: Breastfeeding literature (what is normal/usual, local contacts for support groups, like new mums breastfeeding groups, local La Lecher group etch), Lanolin, breast pads (disposable, or reusable), breastmilk storage bags/collection and storage containers, Medela quick clean wipes, portable cooler carrier for transporting breast milk, nipple shields (for inverted nipples/babies struggling with latching), nursing cover (for those who aren’t comfortable without one), granola bars, ice packs/Lansinoh soothies gel pads, vitamin supplements (especially Vitamin D), Vitamin D supplements for baby, muslin squares, sample of baby laundry detergent… the list of suggestions for a breastfeeding goody bag, is endless.

 

Why don’t these exist?

 

Opinions are like backsides, everyone has one – a sentence, never more true in my life than after having a wee’un.  You should do this, you should do that, you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that.  UGH! The advice, solicited or otherwise, is constant.

 

But, moreso, people also seem quite misinformed, and lack an education on the facts surrounding breastmilk vs formula.  I was surrounded by “why don’t you give him formula? it has more calories!” Or “you should start him on cereal, it’ll do him the world of good”.  I truly believe that if there was more support and help while you were in hospital and the first few days at home on your own, more women would choose to breastfeed their babies.

 

I’m all about individual choices, those choices just weren’t for us – and, in spite of being aware of my choice, friends kept making “alternative” suggestions.  Can’t we all just respect one another’s choices, and support each other when we need it?  Please?!

 

Either way, we prevailed, against all odds, twenty weeks, and going strong.

 

42w
I am so, crazy proud of myself and our little bubba for sticking at it, but I honestly couldn’t have done it alone.  Magz and Amber – my two best friends in the world, were at the end of the phone every single feeding time, supporting me and dragging me through to the next feed.

 

Short of coming down from Iowa, Amber was amazing, she sent me some baby weighing scales to ease my mind (the doctors were saying he wasn’t gaining enough weight, he wasn’t gaining quickly enough, he wasn’t eating enough etc etc etc and the best way to keep track of that was to weigh him pre and post feed and figure out where my issues were).  She came pretty close to sending a private lactation consultant to my door – but stopped short, when I discovered the Lactation Foundation in the Medical Center, Houston.

 

I can’t begin to tell you just how much help Alisa, at the Lactation Foundation, was to me.  I walked in to that office building, terrified and constantly bursting in to tears.  The medical professionals I had dealt with, had me so convinced that I was a total failure and that I should just give up, that I was pretty afraid of what she would say when I sat down in the chair and poured my heart out to a total stranger.

 

She was utterly fantastic!

 

She helped me figure out what my issues were with pumping (wrong sized flange), she worked with me a number of times per week on Lewis’ latching and feeding, she didn’t rush me, answered both Col’s and my questions on feeding.  She listened to me crying about my horrible hospital experience, and patiently told me it would all be ok – and she was right!

 

And let’s not forget Col.

 

41w
Col, who was there for me in the middle of the night when I was wailing and sobbing about how much of an utter failure I was to myself and my baby.

 

Col, who was there to talk me out of hitting the free samples of formula when I was crying in pain and dreading the next feed.

 

Col, who was there to keep me awake when Lewis was cluster feeding, night after night.

 

Col, who is there for me and loves me.  Always.  In spite of my tough times and misery.

 

He has been invaluable to me, holding my hand, drying my tears, cleaning my pump, bringing me drinks and snacks while I feed and just being a presence when I need him.  The list is endless.

 

I love my two boys with all my heart and I hope that our breastfeeding journey is a message to those of you considering breastfeeding, or who have started breastfeeding and are struggling – stick at it.  It wasn’t easy for me, but all journeys are not the same.  If you are having trouble, search for a local breastfeeding support group, new mums group or a lactation consultant to talk to – don’t be embarrassed or self conscious, it’s their job to help people like you – and, trust me, once you get some help from them, you’ll be kicking yourself and wondering why you didn’t seek them out sooner.

 

Life is all about the lessons, but I wholly believe that this breastfeeding journey was WAY more difficult than it had to be (and I am still composing my letter of complaint to the hospital we gave birth in).

 

Take control of your own journey.

 

Make it what you want it to be.

 

It’s ok to cry and be frustrated.

 

Lean on those around you.

 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

 

You are stronger than you ever thought possible.

 

44w

The great Gluten-free Irish Traybake – part III

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It’s been a while since we did this tray bake morning, but I wanted to share it with y’all anyway.  This time, however, we did something a little different, we opened our ranks *gasp* to a few friends who were visiting, who wanted to come along and see what we got up to in our normally closed-door tray bake sessions.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I love these get-togethers.  If you’ve ever contemplated starting or joining a baking group – do it! The way we work is, every month or so, we get together in someone’s house (it rotates each time).  We each turn up with a recipe and ingredients and make whatever tray bake dish we have chosen.  We then share the fruits of our labours, and go home with some of each of the four dishes – even though we only made one – genius, eh?

For our recipes this month, I chose to do some Crunchie bars, Joanne made some Malteaser bars, Alison made some coconut jam slices and Eileen made some caramel pecan bars – we also threw together some rice krispie nests for Easter – and as something fun for our littlest baker, Averie, to join in on.

Our husbands also appreciate our get together’s too – that’s for sure! ;)

Coconut Jam Squares

Ingredients

1.5 cups plain/gluten free flour
160g butter
0.5 cup icing sugar sifted
0.3 cup jam (Alison used raspberry)
2 eggs
0.3 cup caster sugar
2 cups desiccated coconut

Method

Preheat oven 180oc/360of
Line 16x26cm pan with baking paper
Process flour, butter & icing sugar in a food processor until mixture come together. Press into pan. Bake for 15 mins until golden. Cool for 5 mins.
Spread jam over base. Put eggs and sugar in a bowl, then whisk together until smooth. Stir in coconut. Place & spread coconut mixture evenly over the jam. Bake for 20 mins, allow to cool and cut into squares.

Crunchie bars

Ingredients:

  • 200g butter
  • 400g  milk chocolate (I used Cadbury’s Dairy Milk)
  • 6 tbsp golden syrup
  • 200g  digestive biscuits/Schar shortbread cookies – crushed
  • 6 Cadbury’s Crunches – crushed

Method:

The easiest way to crush the biscuits and the crunchies – or, at least, the way I do it, is to stick them in a Ziploc bag and beat on them with a rolling pin!

Add the butter, syrup and milk chocolate (broken into chunks) to a microwavable dish. (or a pan on the hob if you don’t want to use the microwave) and melt – be careful not to over cook.  I did this in 20 second blasts, stirring at each break – you’d rather go a little ‘under’ and have the heat of the bowl melt the remaining lumps, than go ‘over’ and have a gloopy, unusable mess on your hands!

Add the biscuit and crunchie crumbs to the chocolate and stir together.

Turn out in to an 8×8 baking pan lined with parchment paper – and flatten with a spoon or spatula until even.

Place in the fridge for at least an hour to set.  Once hardened, cut in to squares.

Malteaser buns

Ingredients

200g milk chocolate
200g butter
4tbsp golden syrup
250g digestive biscuits (crushed)
175g malteasers
250g white chocolate
50g butter
1tbsp golden syrup
75g malteasers (crushed)
Recipe
Melt together the milk chocolate, butter and golden syrup
Mix in the crushed biscuits and malteasers and stir well
Spread out in a pan and compact the mixture
Melt the white chocolate, 50g butter and 1tbsp golden syrup and pour over the top of the biscuit mix and spread evenly.
Sprinkle the crushed malteasers over the top of the white chocolate – pushing gently into the melted chocolate.
Leave to firm up in the fridge for a couple of hours and slice in to portions.

Rice Krispie nests

photo

Ok, so we didn’t *exactly* measure the quantities of these, but next time, I’ll be sure to measure so it’s all very scientific (and, y’know, helpful!!)

Ingredients:
8oz/225g of chocolate (white, milk or dark – it’s a personal preference, we went for milk)
3-5 cups of rice krispies (we used gluten free rice krispies)
A few handfuls of mini marshmallows
2-3 Cadbury’s mini eggs per bun
Sprinkles (optional)
Cupcake cases
Method:
Break chocolate in to squares and melt in a double boiler or in the microwave.
Gradually add the rice krispies to the melted chocolate and stir well to ensure the rice krispies are totally covered in the chocolate.
Add the marshmallows (once the rice krispies are coated, so the marshmallows don’t melt!) and stir.
Spoon a heaped tablespoon of the mixture in to each cupcake case and push the mini eggs slightly in to the mix, so they look like eggs sitting in the nest.
Sprinkle with sprinkles – allow to set, either at room temperature, or, if they don’t harden at room temp, stick them in the fridge for 30-60 minutes like we did.
Caramel pecan squares
Ingredients
3 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup butter, cubed
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2/3 cup butter
3 tbsp. Whipping cream
Method
Preheat oven to 350F.  Arrange pecans in a single layer on a baking tray.  Bake for 5-7 minutes or until lightly toasted.  Leave aside to completely cool.
Pulse flour, powdered sugar and 3/4 cup butterin a food processer until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Press crumb mixture evenly on bottom and 3/4 inch up sides of a lightly greased heavy-duty aluminum foil-lined 13×9 pan.
Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned.  Cool on a wire rack until completely cool.
Bring brown sugar, honey, 2/3 cup butter and whipping cream to a boil in a saucepan over a medium-high heat.  Sir in toasted pecans and spoon hot filling into prepared crust.
Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until golden and bubbly.  Cool on a wire rack until completely cool.  When cool, use foil as handles, carefully lift from the pan and transfer to a serving tray.  Cut in to squares.

Our first two tray bake sessions can be found here and here respectively and our baby shower tray bakes can be found here - if you try out any of the recipes, make tweaks or substitutions, please let me know! I’d love to hear about your own tray bake experiences and your favorite tray bake recipes.  We love to try new things in our group and I find myself looking forward to the next get-together, for the good food ad good craic!