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.

 

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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.

 

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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

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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!

Joanne’s turquoise and yellow, ‘Owl’ Baby Shower

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It’s been a long time since this party - and, even longer since I’ve done any party planning.  But, when Jo told me that she was pregnant – I immediately claimed the planning of her baby shower – y’all know that I just can’t help myself! So, Jo picked a colour scheme (turquoise), I picked an accent color (yellow – I was going to pick lime green, but I figured that people would then think she was having a boy, so I went with something a little more gender neutral, though, as it turned out, people still thought ‘boy’ anyway!) and I asked her if she had any ‘animal preference’, and after a little thought, she chose ‘owls’.  Not only that, but we decided to theme the food around an ‘afternoon tea’ type menu, I created a Pinterest inspiration board, and got planning.

Decor

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I think it’s safe to say, that the piece de la resistance of the baby shower (clearly a stroke of genius on my part ;)), was ordering this masterpiece from my good friend Lindsay.  Not only was it a gift for the expectant mother, but it was so beautiful, that it was our centerpiece and was a very functional part of the décor.  For those of you interested, Lindsay makes these, ‘cupcakes’ and pacifier clips (and can ship them), her page can be found here on Facebook, ‘Chicky babe creations’.

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Aside from the typical matching coloured table cloths, cutlery, napkins, cups, my new love of patterned paper straws and my homemade dollar store food label chalk boards, decorations were sparse – I would have loved to do more, but I ran out of time (and had a little person in tow).  I picked up some paper lanterns (which my lovely hubby strung up around Jo and Mark’s living room for me) a banner to match the baby shower sign that we stuck in the front yard to let people know where the shower was taking place and some matching ‘streamers’ to hang next to the lanterns.

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Games, guestbook and favours

IMG_3789We didn’t embark on a lot of ‘typical’ American baby shower games.  For us folk from the UK, we tend to want to reign it in, nothing OTT, nothing involving chocolate bars being melted in diapers etc.  So, I chose a few interactive games and brought along a small prize for the winner of each.

There was a ‘guess how many lemon drops’ game, a ‘say baby’ game, and a set of four baby shower games by Fisher Price that I got here, on Amazon.  A word scramble, a word search, a baby animal name game and baby shower bingo (I filled in each of the bingo cards myself to make it a fair fight!) I wasn’t sure how they’d go down, but everyone took them seriously, their sense of competition took over, and you could hear a pin drop when the games were handed out.  It was good fun!

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I saw this guestbook idea on Pinterest, with links through to Etsy stores, charging $35-$45 for various forms of this canvas.  As much as I love Joanne, I wasn’t paying that for it, and thought, hey, I can make that – and I have all of the necessary stuff, on hand in the house.  So make it, I did.

I LOVE how it came out.  I started off the ‘leaves’ with a few blank fingerprints, for those who didn’t want to get their fingers messy, and, when everyone had signed it, Lindsay and I went over the tree again with our fingerprints, filling in some extra leaves and making it look a little fuller.

IMG_5219For favours, I kept it simple.  I got a box of chocolate truffles from Costco, some tulle circles and ribbon from Hobby Lobby and got to work.  It was quick, easy – and, a yummy favor for people who came to the shower.

Food

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Since Jo is from Northern Ireland, I wanted to incorporate elements of a traditional ’afternoon tea’, with elements of Texas/America – considering she’s about to have an American baby, I thought it was fitting.  My own contributions to the food side of things, was limited, I’d had surgery less than two weeks prior to her shower and wasn’t up to doing a lot of manual labour.  So for food stuffs, I enlisted help and delegated different elements of the menu to close friends who were only too keen to help. IMG_3847 Let me just note, we had WAY too much food.  Even if everyone in attendance had taken home a doggy bag (which we should have made them do!) there still would have been way too much food.  It all looked rather impressive though! IMG_3849Quiche (two fillings), sandwiches (egg salad and ham and cheese), whole wheat scones, white scones, veggie tray, wheaten bread and pasta salad.

Dessert and drinks

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I had planned on making a delicious Victoria sponge, but time got away from me – I’m claiming ‘Newbornitis’ for this one – there are only so many hours in the day when Lewis is sleeping, and, instead of the sponge, I made some Northern Irish tray bakes.  There was no shortage of sweet treats!IMG_3841 Fruit tray, Trader Joe’s frozen macaroons, caramel squares, coconut squares, biscuit cake, Butterfinger slices and Reeses peanut butter cup slices.

IMG_3839For drinks, we kept it juicy – orange, lime, lemon, raspberry lemonade and cranberry – all from the ‘Simply’ range.  Truly simple (open and pour) and refreshingly delicious - I haven’t yet found a ‘store brand’ or another name brand that is comparable to the Simply range, so, why bother? LOL!  Joanne also had tea, coffee, water and diet coke on hand, for those who didn’t want to partake in the fruity juices.

This was one of my favourite baby showers, EVER!  The group was a nice size, the morning was fun – there was no cooking in a hot oven on the day, there wasn’t much for me (as organizer) to do other than the original set-up and it was nice and laid back – plus Joanne sent me a beautiful bunch of flowers to say thank-you :)

I had a few other ideas for this baby shower, a candy bar, serve the fruit in mason jars, Oreo baby rattles, a balloon and streamer back photo backdrop, messages for the baby/parents on a twine washing line, tissue poms – the list goes on.  But I did what I could and I think it looked fab – and Jo loved it, so it mustn’t have been too bad at all ;)

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Baby shower tray bake recipes

A few of my friends have asked me about the sweet treats that were available at Joanne’s baby shower a while back.  Well, please find below, the recipes we used to bring you those delicious sweet snacks – so you can make them at home yourself!

If you add anything to them or tweak the recipe, let me know – I love hearing alternate versions of recipes!

Butterfinger squares

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Ingredients:

  • 100g butter
  • 400g  milk chocolate (I used Cadbury’s Dairy Milk)
  • 6 tbsp golden syrup
  • 200g digestive biscuits/Schar shortbread cookies – crushed
  • 1 ‘pouch’ of Butterfinger mini bites crushed (keep aside a little for the topping)

Method

Melt together the milk chocolate, butter and golden syrup
Mix in the crushed biscuits and butterfingers and stir well
Spread out in a pan and compact the mixture
Sprinkle the kept aside crushed Butterfingers over the top of the chocolate – pushing gently into the mix
Leave to firm up in the fridge for a couple of hours and slice in to portions.

Reeses peanut butter cup squares

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Ingredients:

  • 100g butter
  • 400g dark chocolate (I used Ghirardelli’s)
  • 6 tbsp golden syrup
  • 2-3 cups gluten free rice krispies
  • 1 pouch of Reeses peanut butter minis cut in quarters (keep aside some to sprinkle on top)

Method

Melt together the milk chocolate, butter and golden syrup
Mix in the rice krispies and peanut butter minis and stir well
Spread out in a pan and compact the mixture
Sprinkle the kept aside peanut butter minis over the top of the chocolate – pushing gently into the mix
Leave to firm up in the fridge for a couple of hours and slice in to portions.

Biscuit cake

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Ingredients

  • 285 g half dark chocolate half milk chocolate (melted)
  • 1 tin of condensed milk
  • 225 g unsalted butter (1 packet, melted)
  • 500 g digestive biscuits
  • 300 g rich tea biscuits
  • 4 crunchie bars
  • 1 packet of mini marshmallows

Method

  • Put the biscuits and crunchie bars into a freezer bag, or between two pieces of cling film and using a rolling pin roughly crush. If you don’t have a rolling pin, use an unopened tin of baked beans, tomatoes etc.
  • Pour the crumbs into a bowl and mix in the mini marshmallows. Stir in melted butter and then the condensed milk. Mix well and then add the melted chocolate.
  • Line a 13inch Deep roasting tin or a 9inch Square with cling film. Spoon the biscuit mixture into the tin and flatten with the back of a spoon. Place the cake in the fridge for 24 hours to set.

Coconut jam slice

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Ingredients

1.5 cups plain flour (I used GF flour)
160g butter
0.5 cup icing sugar sifted
0.3 cup jam (I 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.

The other tray bake at the baby shower came from previous Irish tray bake recipes.  Caramel squares - yum!

Pregnancy and depression: Sad and Blue.

Another old post, written during my last few days of being pregnant!

“What the hell are you doing here?” I asked incredulously as my best friend of ten years stood in front of me in the parking garage of George Bush Intercontinental Airport, having given me ZERO indication that she was coming.

“You sounded sad and lonely lately,” was her only reply.  As though it told me everything I needed to know as to why she up and left her 4-year-old and hubby-to-be in Iowa and hauled her ass to Texas, and, I suppose, in some ways, it did.  (Read more about her trip to see me, here, on her blog!)

These last few months have been a very trying time for me, being pregnant and away most notably, from my two bestest friends, going through this move-not-move crap with Col’s company, and, most recently over the last month or so, my health issues whilst pregnant.  Trips to the ER, hospital stays, tests, bloods, urine, scans etc – it’s been trying, scary and exhausting.

I wasn’t doing so bad at all, until the ‘rest’ thing was mentioned.  I don’t do good with resting, especially when I have a four page, room-by-room, ‘before the baby comes’ to-do list staring me down every day.  I get frustrated, I get cabin fever and I feel trapped and caged – it’s bad enough as it is that we can’t go flying, sailing or on a long road trip somewhere, never mind, ’one store per day, max, no long walking, no rodeo, no this, no that, no the other…’

I was starting to get pretty down about the whole situation last week, the list wasn’t getting done, the house was getting worse, not better and I couldn’t do anything without getting scolded, or spiking my blood pressure readings, so I just had to sit there.

Staring at everything that needed done, and making a new list of things that weren’t on the original list to begin with!

Thankfully Col stepped up over the weekend, on Saturday he (with limited help from me) halved our list, so I started to feel better, but given the high BP, the swelling, the potential that baby could come any time, I just wanted to have things done.

Between that, drama, and being so far away from people who would bend over backwards to help us.  Friends here in Houston moving, away for Spring Break, sick, with have guests in town, or just too busy to play ‘distract Las from her misery’, I’ve just been slowly disintegrating into a pool of self pity and sadness.

It kind of came to a head the other night, we were sitting watching TV and I got up to get a bowl of ice cream (Col had brought home ice cream with the groceries earlier that night).  He said something like, ‘Wow! Moving fast on that ice cream!’ and I replied, ‘well, it’s a pretty good cure for depression’.

‘You’re not depressed!’ he gave a half-laugh, until he looked at me, stopped what we were watching on TV and asked, ‘What’s wrong?’

I just burst in to tears.

Maybe I wasn’t depressed, maybe I wasn’t *yet* depressed, maybe I was just sad and hormonal, but it was a scary place to be and I’d tried hard to be brave, I’d tried keeping my fears to myself, but it just wasn’t working.

I told him I was frustrated, upset, lonely, afraid and when your newly hired cleaner tells you, ‘I’m here to help you’ and you burst in to tears – something is most definitely wrong.

I physically felt like crap, my blood pressure was all over the place, my feet were so swollen they hurt, I was seeing stars, having headaches and feeling generally miserable.  It’s bad enough feeling miserable, but when you’re ‘confined to quarters’, it serves as a constant reminder that you’re feeling miserable, and then you start to feel emotionally miserable too.

At that point, there’s not much that hubby could say, or do.  He just held me (after saying he didn’t know what to say or do) and reminded me what we’ve accomplished recently.  He told me that for him, the measure of this pregnancy, has been the water bill – that by the time the next water bill arrives at the house, we’ll have our baby home, to keep my eye on the prize and how women draw the short straw in life – lol!  He’s an amazingly calming influence in my life, but not even his kind words could keep my tears from flowing.  It was tough, and, thankfully he totally had my back.

Maybe it was early onset depression, maybe it was just a severe case of the blues, but, it got me thinking.  Depression while pregnant is more common than you think.

You think it’s normal, everyone says that hormonal changes can also make you feel more anxious than usual. But depression and anxiety during pregnancy can often go undiagnosed for many women – because they often dismiss their feelings, chalking them up to the temporary moodiness that often accompanies pregnancy.

According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, between 14-23% of women will struggle with some symptoms of depression in pregnancy.

For more information about depression during and after pregnancy, call womenshealth.gov at 800-994-9662 (TDD: 888-220-5446) or contact the following organizations: