I woke up one morning, and my baby was suddenly a toddler!

Well, it happened.  I turned 30.

Whilst I was momentarily afraid to face the big 3.0, I quickly realized that I’m more terrified of Lewis turning one, than I am of me turning thirty.

I think it helps that I’m the younger one in our marriage, Col hits all the landmarks before I do.  That helps.

But, upon closer inspection, and reflection, I quickly saw, that actually, I’ve achieved a lot by the time I hit 30.  So, really, it ain’t all that bad.

Right??

Let’s recap: I graduated college (huge personal achievement), I met Col, moved to Houston, volunteered (for four and a half years so far), helping other expats here, got married, travelled to some amazing, bucket-list kinda places, and after a three year battle with infertility, we had Lewis.

It ain’t too shabby.
And, after reflecting a little on the last year, I’m slowly coming to realize that Lewis turning a year old, isn’t all that bad.  We tried for three years to conceive. I wanted him so very badly, and I spent my whole pregnancy afraid to go to the bathroom, in case disaster struck.
I wanted him so very badly.
When he was born, I bawled.  I couldn’t believe that he was ours and that we could really take him home.  I cried at the smallest thing.  He opened his eyes, I cried, he yawned, I cried, he grabbed Col’s finger and I cried.
He is simply amazing.
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I’ve definitely changed.  This year has changed me.
Motherhood is a juxtaposition.  Fo’ sho’!
I’m more relaxed (baby led weaning and mess), yet more highly strung (danger and injury to my precious cargo) than before.
I’m more calm (trying not to over react to every little bump or fever), yet more emotive (I seriously cry at everything!) than before.
I’m more patient (teaching him things), yet more impatient than before (saying no two hundred times to the same thing).
And I’ve learned.  A lot.
Let’s start with the boobs, if you’d told me, this time last year, that I’d have made it a full year Breastfeeding, I’d have laughed in your face.
FACT.
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This little “leech” stuck to my boob 24-7.  I’d finish one agonizing feed and it would be only a matter of minutes til the next one started (feed every three hours my ass!) The screaming agony of his latch (that no one could fix), that resulted in me crying at every feed for months on end, the bleary eyed night feeds, the leaking, the boob pads, the lansinoh, the panic attacks and stressing when he needed fed and we were out in public, the time spent in the car when I didn’t feel confident nursing in public, the double shirts (pull one up, pull one down), the teething, the fish hooking, the nose poking, the pumping, the pump and dumping (I had an MRI with contrast, and surgery with narcotics and couldn’t feed Lewis for two x twenty four hour periods) and feeling like Daisy the dairy cow.
Its all behind me, and I’m almost mournful that our journey is nearing its conclusion (he’s down to morning and night feeds and is self-weaning).  Almost.  It’ll be nice to have my boobs back to myself, for sure.  But, more so, the sheer pride of getting him to this milestone, when so much didn’t work right from the get-go, I’m thrilled.
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I can’t begin to tell you how your perspective changes when you have a child.  You watch something on TV and you cry. Nay, sob. Because it tugs at heart strings that you never knew existed.  Your whole being becomes about protecting and raising this beautiful slobbery, stinky butted kid, who just has to look at you and your insides turn to goo.
You perceive a whole new level of security and risk.  You’re like a member of the secret service, everywhere you go, checking, double checking and triple checking. Everything. Twice.
You become a multi-tasking genius.  No, really.  You’re keeping the kid on the changing table, who has suddenly morphed into Usain Bolt, while dealing with poop, potential projectile and spontaneous pee, hands that are fascinated with boy parts, changing and dressing him? It should be a bloody Olympic sport.  Fact.  And don’t get me started on people telling you to practice dressing a teddy bear!!
My advice? Practice dressing a 200lb Labrador, while he’s chasing a squirrel down a motorway.  That’ll learn ya!
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And the poop? THE POOP! It’s only poop! It’s only puke (he had reflux so bad that he had to sleep in a swing for six months)! It’s only squished up, two day old Mac and cheese in your hair.  Today, for example, Lewis had a blow out.  They are infrequent, but we needed to change his clothes and in the clean-up process, he kicked out his leg and got poop all over his foot, ankle, calf, knee and thigh, he stuck his hand in it and then grabbed my, already poop-tainted arm. It’s only poop.  Just keep telling yourself that.  It’s only poop!!!!!!!!!!
Showering is a novelty, going to the loo (especially solo) is a novelty and hobbies are a novelty.
But holy shit I’ve never known a love like it.  The love I have in my heart cannot be contained.
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This child can make me cry, just by looking at me.
He’s smart, he’s funny and he’s a sponge.  Watching the cogs turn in his head fascinates me.  When he figures something out, he’ll check to see whether we are watching, and if we aren’t, he’ll do it again.  One night he had started using his walker by himself, the walker was out of reach and dada hadn’t seen his new monkey truck yet, so he started walking around the living room pushing along the basket of laundry.  He’s currently using his daddy’s table as a walker, after having used the nappy bin.  Resourceful kid.
He’s inquisitive, likes exploring and figuring stuff out.  He likes testing boundaries to see just how much mama means the ‘no’ she’s just said three times.  His favorite toys are the unsuspecting ones, a spoon on the tiles, an empty egg carton or one of his plastic plates to bang against the bin.  We should have just returned all these toys people got him and bought eggs.
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He is FULL of love and he’s such a happy kid, he gives smiles generously, he gives kisses unprompted, he waves at, and makes friends with strangers, he loves his daddy (who can’t leave the room without a scream-fest when daddy gets home from work), he claps his hands when I sing, he loves to dance, and he’s just cut his sixth tooth.
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Being a parent has being the biggest blessing I could ever have hoped for, and it is multiplied exponentially, by the fact that we got blessed with such a shamazing little boy! <3
Happy birthday little one, I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store for our little family <3
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From fat…to less fat.

I haven’t always been fat.

I had a few rare years of dramatic theatre time when I was svelte.  But one tends to remember being fat, more than not.  Especially when fat is the current state.

Those are the hardest times.
I can already hear my sister and my coach Taylor, screaming at their screens.  “You are NOT fat! You HAVE fat”, it’s a mindset I’d love to have, and that I’ve vowed to try and adapt, however, for now, I am fat.
I am aware of it, every single minute, or every single day.
I see it every time I look I the mirror, or catch my fat ass reflection in a window, or see my rotund shadow when it’s sunny (which is a lot in Houston).
I see it, always.
I hate it, always.
I’ve written blogs like this, at least once a year.  New beginning, new me.  It trails off.  It flops.  I quit.  And I’m normally not a quitter.  I HATE to quit.
This time it’s different, this time it’s for real.
It never is.  I stay fat.
Since Lewis was born, I’ve lost 33lbs and counting.  It hasn’t been easy, or quick (he’s nearly a year old).  Breastfeeding seems to be hindering, rather than helping and, since January 5th, I’ve been working so hard that I almost expected the weight to fall off me.  But I’ve been here before, I know the drill, sometimes you just have to put your faith in the science.  Eat less, move more and it will happen.  It WILL.
But it’s hard.
I’m trying so hard to eat cleaner, high protein, low carbs, low sugar, and as of this week, no carbs after 3pm.  I’m doing my best, for once, I’m giving it my all.  I really am.  No kidding myself this time.  It’s a struggle every time I open my mouth to eat.  At every meal.  It’s a conscious choice to self improve, to make the better choice, and to inch just a little closer to my goal.
What’s my goal? Well, I started at 268lbs, my first major goal is 180, and I’ll reevaluate the next one, when I get there.  My first interim goal, however, is to lose 30lbs by our wedding anniversary cruise in October.  I want to be 213lbs, (which is the weight I was on my wedding day), for my anniversary.  It’s an achievable goal, theoretically, and bet your ass I’m going to give it my all.
I have an inspirational chart taped to my pantry (aka the infamous pantry penis) that I color in with my Crayola markers every time I lose 1lb.  I have photos from my wedding taped to it, to constantly remind me of my goal.  Where I want to be.  Who I want to be.  So every time I go in to that cupboard for food, I have a choice to make.
What do I want more? The chocolate, or to color in the chart.
What’s my food plan? Like I said above, high protein (lean meats), low carb (100g rice/potato or a tortilla wrap), low sugar (berries rather than citrus).  Three meals (I’m not a breakfast person so this is tough) two to three snacks (nuts, Greek yoghurt, rice cracker, small Apple with peanut butter) and prayers.  ‘Cause, I love my food, I hate any sniff of feeling deprived.  I’m doing my best to feel satisfied and occasionally allowing myself a ‘treat’, cause while although I’m not a dog, it needs to be sustainable for this to work for me.  The odd pizza, or the wings, I still indulge in my diet coke and I’m trying to keep it reasonable, sustainable.  A lifetime thing.
What are my activities? I went back to Body Attack 2-3 times a week for a few weeks, put my back out, got the flu, and got really weak.  So started walking with my boys, and C25K last week, to try and ease back in to working out.  I’ve signed up for not one, but TWO 5k walks/jogs this summer, both at night (oy vey! I couldn’t handle the day time heat!!) with my girl Taylor and I hope to do them in a ‘respectable’ time, but I’ve not yet set a goal, because snails are currently faster than I am.
I’ve stuck to it for fifty days.  5-0.
That’s a record.
What’s my secret weapon? My secret weapon is three-fold.
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Firstly, my crazy sister, she has this knack of ‘bigging me up’ *right* when I need ‘bigging’, sending food suggestions, meal ideas, encouragement and most importantly, she’s always there to kick my ass when I’ve found my way to the wrong side of the tracks, or, often more importantly, to keep me from straying before it happens.  I talk to her daily, not always about food, but she’s there, like a strong silent, rock, waiting to hit me in the face if I go near a pizza ;)
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Secondly I have a great ‘coach’, she helps me set realistic goals, she helps me learn about food, she encourages me when I am feeling weak, she cheers me when I do good and she bucks me up when the scales don’t move.  She gives me exercises to do at home when I can’t get out, or one of us is sick.  She guilts me into taking Lewis for a walk when the weather is glorious and she’s stuck in an office – oh, yeah, did I not mention she has a full time job?
She is nothing short of amazing.
Her name is Taylor, I met her by accident a few years ago when I needed a door prize donation for an SSA event and she is FAB.  I send her photos of all my food, she texts at least once every single day, if I’m wavering, I’ll text her and say ‘I want to eat crap’ and she’ll have a come to Jesus meeting.  She keeps me focused, asks about the progress of my pantry penis and pushes me.  Pushes my limits.  I need it, cause some days I’d be like ‘f*ck it!’ but she reminds me of my goal, and helps me get there.
My most important secret weapon, is my eleven month old little boy – I almost wrote baby – but he’s no longer a baby.  He’s transitioning into ‘toddler mode’ and he’s doing it quickly.  He’s crawling, sure, but he’s also pulling himself up, walking with a walker, moving between objects and as of today, he’s started to stand up solo for a few seconds – this kid will rule the world.
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He will soon be running, chasing, kicking a football, playing sports – and I don’t want to be the lard-ass trudging mother who can’t keep up with her toddler (and beyond).  I don’t want to have to watch him play in the park, wondering why mama can’t chase him, or why she needs to sit down every few minutes.
I want to be healthy, for my boy.  I want to be active for my boy.  I want to be FUN, for my boy.
8lbs down, 22lbs to go by October 30th.
This time I won’t quit.  I can’t quit.  I won’t let my son follow the same path as me, I want to teach him healthy choices, healthy activities and I want him to enjoy family time, walking, cycling, swimming…I want him to have a healthy relationship with food, understand its purpose and eat the right things.  I can’t expect him to do it, if I don’t do it.
The buck stops here.
It’s on, like Donkey Kong*…
…*and if I fall down, Taylor (and a few other people) will drag my ass up off the dirt and help me dust myself off, and start again.  Cause that’s what badasses do.

Being an expat is an endurance sport.

One of the hardest parts of being an expat, for me, is saying goodbye.  People will tell you that it’s more “see you later” than g’bye, but, in reality, it’s often just plain ole g’bye.

And it’s hard. And it hurts. And sometimes, you start all over again. Because you have to. I’ve told this story a million times, and I’ll probably tell it a million more…When I came to Houston almost six years ago, I didn’t know anyone.  I had no kids to meet other parents at school, I had no pets to meet other parents of furries at the dog park, I didn’t work, I didn’t drive, our neighborhood wasn’t the fruit basket for newbies kinda place, and I was alone, save for my then boyfriend, who went off to work every morning.

I was alone.  It’s a horrible feeling.  Being alone, feeling trapped in a house with no escape, in a foreign country, where everything is different and all that you know to be familiar, is five thousand miles away.  It may sound dramatic to those of you who have never been in the situation before, ’cause after all, it’s “just” America, it’s not all that different, right?  But to those of you who have experienced it , you know.

The more you stare at your four, rented, magnolia walls, the more you find wrong with them.  The more you start questioning your decision to move away from “comfortable”. The more you start to question yourself.  I can’t begin to emphasize how important friendships are when you’re an expat.  They form quickly, they strengthen even quicker, and perhaps even form with people you wouldn’t normally form friendships with under ‘normal’ circumstances.

But you’re not under normal circumstances, normal is a loooooong way away.

So you make friends, ignoring the little voice in your head screaming at you not to get too close.  Screaming at you, that, in reality, you’re more than likely making a short-term friendship, that will be intense and amazing for one to three years, and will be, all of a sudden (even though you know it’s coming) surprisingly yanked away from under you, as one of you will be transferred.

It’s a blessed life we live.  We have a gorgeous house, in an amazing city, we have the opportunity to travel and see some great places, bucket list kind of places, we have good friends, our families love to come here and there’s no end in sight to the many, many things to do.

Make no mistake, it’s a blessed life, I know this.

But for those non-expats out there, the people looking in from the outside, they often don’t see the drawbacks, or understand the negatives.  “You live in AMERICA! What could be bad about that?”

But they are there.

And, for me, the worst of the negatives about this lifestyle is, when people, who have become like family to you in those three years, leave.  It’s hard.  When I stood and watched my best friend board a plane with her husband and my Goddaughter, I had my game face on, they were off on a new adventure, to a new place and we’re excited and anxious.  But when I got back to the car, my stomach fell, my heart broke and I cried.

I still cry occasionally, almost two years later (and we’ve seen them a few times since they’ve left).  I miss them terribly, through my fertility, my pregnancy, the birth of Lewis and soon his first birthday, I’ve wanted them to be a mere twenty minute drive away.

“But, it’s the life you choose,” people say.

“People” don’t understand.

Last week, I said “goodbye” to another friend.  She found me just over a year ago via this blog and a Google search.  She said she was coming to Texas, and events unfolded to reveal she was moving a couple miles down the road from me, and that her mister worked for the same company as Col.  Small world, eh?

She came here and we met shortly after Lewis was born, she always helped get the pram out the boot, was always up for anything and didn’t let the fact that I have a baby stall or slow our friendship.  We still got up to all kinds of mischief and often only decided on the mischief, twenty minutes before leaving the house.

Unfortunately, her time here in Houston was cut short and she flew home last week.

She will be missed.  She made a mark on my life here with Lewis and we did lots of fun things together.

She’s moving on to her next adventure.

And I’ll start over.

Again.

Such is the life of a nomad.

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Your argument is ridiculous and you look like a moron. Just another breastfeeding blog.

10155429_10154008946020411_2849197473228545034_nI’m apologizing in advance, this blog post may be a bit all over the show.

I’m not a happy mama bear.

These last few days have spiked a rather large saturation of Breastfeeding stories in the media, in the UK, a lady was asked by Claridges hotel to cover herself with a napkin to feed her baby (story: here).  In response, Nigel Farrage (Ukip) saying that restaurants should ask breastfeeding mothers to sit in the corner so as not to upset anyone (story: here) whilst Nick Clegg (deputy prime minister) has come to our defense (story: here).

The law in the UK is much more vague than here in the US, but, the Equality Act 2010 has made it illegal for anyone to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave a public place such as a cafe, shop or public transport.  We definitely need more lobbying for more stringent, protective laws for breastfeeding mothers, as well as greater education and support, for mothers.  This article from today, is very interesting and suggests some positive, possible ramifications of an increase in support, education and breastfeeding (story: here)

In the US, things aren’t much better, this week alone, stories have come out about Qdoba (story: here) asking a lady to cover up while she breastfed (saying it was ‘store policy’ and clearly ignorant of the FEDERAL LAW), Rural King (story: here) firing a lady who needed to pump milk at work every day and in Denver a Deputy told a lady to ‘stop it’ in the foyer of the police station (story: here) resulting in nurse-in, after nurse-in after nurse-in.

Last month it was ihop, where’s it gonna be tomorrow? Or the day after that?

I’m pissed.

How long do you plan on breastfeeding Lewis? To be fair, a question that really is none of anyone’s business.  But also a variation on questions that I’ve been asked a lot recently – since we started ‘weaning’ Lewis on to solid food.

‘Is he still breastfeeding?’ They want to know.

Here’s a novel idea, quit asking and mind your own damn business.

As much as you’d like to think that the decision to breastfeed is a personal matter, it’s anything but personal.  People are curious, people have opinions and you’re surrounded by it everywhere you go.

This is not about you, or I.  This is about equal and fair treatment for a mother who is doing what is best for her child’s health.

Well yes, Lewis IS still breastfeeding, and, here’s why.  Firstly – cause it’s working for us.  The pain I experienced over those first few months has dissipated and it’s become much quicker than it was, so it’s not as arduous.

But also, for the first year of a child’s life, they get all of their nutrition from either formula or breast milk.

Think back to when your own kids were little, how long did you give them formula for? At least a year, right?  Lewis may be eating some solid foods at meal times with us, but, it’s really not *that* much, it is increasing in size, but the calorie content from the food he’s eating just isn’t enough for him (food before one is just for fun!)  So his nutrition, growth and weight gain, is not from his new hobby of destroying the dining room with pieces of food.  In actual fact, it’s from his continued main source of nutrition, breastfeeding.

Many people breast feed until their child is two, three, or even four (or more!) years old.  It’s called extended breastfeeding, and, while I’m not sure that’s a choice I will make for Lewis and I, I am fully vested in attempting to get Lewis to that one-year mark – not least of all, because it’s now flu season, and the best way for me to protect him from the flu (aside from getting him the flu vaccine), is through giving him regular high-dose antibodies to fight such bugs.  If only there was a way to do that – oh wait, there IS, by my BREASTFEEDING him.

There’s so much ‘stuff’ surrounding breastfeeding, pressure to do it, guilt if you don’t, and, if you do, there’s still guilt and pressure – when are you going to stop? Is he still feeding as much? Surely it’s time for him to stop?

I’m so shocked and disgusted that so few people understand basic biology.  I find myself wanting to bang my head off the desk when I read the comments written in response to a news article about yet another nursing mother, who was asked to cover or leave a place because she was ‘offending people’, or that ‘people were complaining’, or because another woman got fired from her job because she wasn’t prepared to pump her breast milk in a few minutes in the public restroom of a that gets more traffic than grand central station.  It’s despicable.

Need cheering up? Head over to any breastfeeding related story and read the comments, they’ll both amuse you and concern you.  It makes me wonder about the future of humanity.

Y’all need Jesus.

Hey wait – you know Jesus didn’t have formula, right?

Let’s talk BS.

  • BS is news outlets saying ‘Breastfeeding is not illegal’, when in actual fact, what they should be saying that breastfeeding mothers is a protected class of citizen.  It’s our legal and protected RIGHT to breastfeed.  Wherever, whenever.
  • BS is when you tweet, Facebook, Instagram or send a picture of a nursing mother to any form of social media.  Saying how wrong it is for her to be feeding her child in Starbucks/Ihop/the Mall and how this offends you.  Answer: close your eyes, turn your head, play with your phone and leave this mother alone.
  • BS is when you say, ‘I support breastfeeding, but…’ doesn’t matter how you finish that sentence, whether it’s ‘it should be done in private’, or ‘it freaks me the hell out’, you should simply end your sentence at breastfeeding.  Period.
  • BS is when you say, ‘why can’t she just cover herself?’ Not that she should have to, but there’s any number of reasons, she may not want to, it may be 110F plus humidity and she doesn’t feel like cooking her child, or, maybe, here’s a novel idea, the child doesn’t like having a blanket over its head? How about this, how about you pay less attention to what she’s doing, and cover yourself with a blanket whilst you eat.  Cosy, huh?
  • BS is when you say, ‘Can’t she just feed him/her in the bathroom/in her car?’ or ‘can’t she just pump in the bathroom/in her car?’ We can’t control when or where our baby wants to eat (cue a very nervous and unsure nursing Las, panic-feeding Lewis in a funeral museum, close to tears cause he wouldn’t latch and he was getting very frustrated!)  Also, public bathrooms are festering breeding grounds for Ecoli and other types of disgusting and dangerous diseases.  Why don’t you take your dinner into the restroom and eat it from the toilet seat, or the floor? No? Why ever not? If it’s good enough for my baby, surely it’s good enough for you? No? What do you mean NO?
  • BS is when you say, ‘Why does she need time out of work to pump?’ AGH! Educate yourself, how about, for any number of reasons?  If you don’t regularly express milk (either by pump, or your baby eating) your milk supply can diminish, how about your boobs getting boulder-like, hard, and freaking’ painful, increased risk of infection and clogged ducts, ruining your shirt at work because you’re leaking boob-juice everywhere… hey, no, why DOES she need time out of work to pump? I have no idea *eyeroll*
  • BS is comparing breastfeeding in public to having sex in public, or taking a dump in public.  This one is just plain wrong.  You have GOT to be kidding me.  It’s not even – I just can’t.  I just CAN’T.  If you’re making this comparison, you’re too much of an idiot for me to waste my time on.  Shitting in public and eating in public are not the same.  Either is getting laid.
  • BS is saying ‘People shouldn’t have to see that sh*t’.  Here’s the thing – you don’t! Avert your eyes!!! Most places are big enough that you don’t have to sit face to boob with a nursing mother and watch her nursling have his lunch.  Look away – it’s that simple.  OR, again, cover YOUR head.
  • BS is when you say ‘you’re psychologically damaging your baby by breastfeeding him at that age’.  No, they aren’t.  YOU are psychologically damaging the mother by giving her shit.  Doctors say the best thing for my baby until he is at least a year old, is boob-juice, so boob-juice he shall have damn it!
  • BS is when you say, ‘Well, I did this’, or ‘I never had to do that’, or ‘I never had a problem with x, y, z’.  No two breastfeeding experiences are the same, no two babies are the same.  Comparing, contrasting and competing aren’t cool.  Move along.
  • BS is for judging people for HOW they decide to feed their child.  Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone, but, sometimes, breastfeeding comes in other forms, exclusive pumping or donor milk for example.  Hey mums, give other mums a break, k?
  • BS is when you gender-blame, victim-blame, or criticize a nursing mother for relying on her FEDERALLY MANDATED RIGHTS to feed, or provide nourishment for her child.  “She just wants money”.  Bit me.  She just wants to be able to feed her baby without being stared at, mocked, taunted, or bullied because of it.

The law varies from state to state within the US, and can be quite vague, but, generally speaking an employer must provide a room other than a toilet for a nursing mother to pump in work.  And they must allow you to have a break, as often as you need to pump (though it doesn’t have to be paid-pump-time).

While I’m at it, let’s talk benefits of breastfeeding,

  • It’s quick.  My milk is the perfect temperature for Lewis and is available any time, any place.  The only wait he has, is the time it takes me to get my shirt up.  I don’t have to make up bottles, or warm milk.  I don’t have to listen to Lewis crying in hunger while he waits for me to get organized.  I’m good to go – always.
  • It’s cheap. I’m cheap.  I really begrudge paying for formula, when my boobs produce the same thing – for free!
  • It’s good for Lewis.  People WAY more intelligent than me, have done years and years of studying, researching and learning on the subject.  If the smart people tell me that it’s what’s best for my son – who am I to disagree? Especially when it’s not like you have to DO something to tell your body to do, in most cases, the milk comes – whether you want it to or not.  It’s just what our bodies were built to do.
  • Health benefits.  Now, I dunno nothin’ about nothin’, but ‘they’ say that babies who are fed solely breast milk for the first size months of their lives, have fewer ear and respiratory illnesses, as well as fewer trips to the doctor.  Lewis has been to the doctor – unscheduled – once.  It was around 8.30pm at night, a few days before a major flight, we were convinced it was teething (typical symptoms) but we wanted to exclude the possibility of an ear infection before flying.  One doctors visit in eight months (Thank God) – I can live with that.

I just don’t get it, not at all.  What is the big deal? You see more skin at the beach – in fact, men can walk around totally topless, and that’s not, a woman can feed her child, and that’s offensive?  Gimme a break!

Do you have issues with breastfeeding? Have you been harassed by someone while publicly feeding your baby?

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.