About icemaiden013

A blog about my life in Houston! Moved here in 2009 with my then-boyfriend, now hubby's job. This blog is about our expat life here, things to do in Houston, recipes, our fertility journey and a lot of other things too :)

Viva Las Vegas!

“Can you back the hell up outta my space please?”

That.

That, right there?

Is my lasting impression of Sin City.

I think my personal experience was a little skewed.  Firstly, during the day, I was by myself, my travelling buddy was at the hackers’ conference and I was wandering the streets of sin all by myself.  I think that makes a big difference – people see single women wandering aimlessly around, and it’s like dangling a zebra to a freakin’ lion.  Complete with overwhelmed, ‘Holy crap am I really witnessing all of this?’ doe-eyes, my first day really was spent wandering aimlessly up and down (and back up, and back down) the strip.  I was taking everything in (mostly heat stroke and golf-ball sized blisters over both feet) and everyone took this as an open invitation to get up in my business – It wasn’t.

Secondly, I’ve obviously had my wicked-cool ninja training from Houston.  My ‘be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to everyone and everything’ training.  From the second I woke up and stepped out of the hotel on to the strip, I was mentally exhausted.  I felt uncomfortable, constantly on edge, needing to stay focused and keep my wits about me, I had one hand free at all times and my phone wasn’t ever tucked too far away in case I needed to call for help.  I get that this sounds an extreme over reaction or an exaggeration, but it really did put me on edge and get my back up.

Here’s the first of my travel tips for Vegas – hydration is key.  Especially in the height of summer.  People tell you this all the time and you’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I got it.  No biggie.’ But it IS a biggie – if you’re drinking enough water to sink the Titanic and you’re not peeing? Drink more.  Carry a water bottle with you at all times.  If you get one of those novelty margarita glasses and you empty it? Before you refill it, down a round of H2O.  I landed myself with some (albeit mild) sunstroke, and it knocked me for six.  I thought I was drinking enough water, I wasn’t drinking all that much alcohol, and I didn’t feel too badly in the moment until it caught up with me.  Then I felt rough as hell.

Sunscreen – use it.  In ABUNDANCE. Usually I’m that idiotic pasty white Irish girl who doesn’t apply enough sun cream and winds up with second degree sunburn – and everything that goes with it, the peeling, the itching, tea baths, old wives’ remedies, aloe up the wazoo, and any amount of whining and moaning about my negligent-inflicted wounds.  But this time? I was ON POINT.  The Nevada summer sun overhead is intense, probably the most intense sun I’ve ever felt – and I lived in Texas for seven years.  But Vegas is hotter than Satan’s front porch, and it’s a dry, overwhelming, OMG I CAN’T BREATHE, kinda heat.  I could almost feel my skin cooking when I wasn’t in the shade, so I was on top of my sunscreen applications, I was applying in the middle of the street every half hour to an hour while I was outside.  Don’t be caught on this one, it’s painful and it’s dangerous.  Especially if you’re drinking, dehydrated and your mind isn’t at 100% – set an alarm on your phone if you have to.  Remind yourself.  Protect yourself.

Now those important things are out of the way, let’s talk about the fun things.  What to do, where to go, what to see and what to eat.

I gave a friend of mine completely free-reign over which shows I should go see.  They were comp tickets, she knows me well enough to know what I’d like, what I wouldn’t like and if it was left up to me I’d never have been able to narrow the BAZILLIONS of shows down to just the three nights I was there.

X-Burlesque

I guess most girls tend towards getting tickets to the Thunder Down Under, or some testosterone-filled male strip show.  But, having a friend as a burlesque dancer, having seen her troupe a couple times I was excited by this one.  I love burlesque.  That said, I was somewhat disappointed by this one.  I felt like a sardine in a tin can, kinda smushed up in behind the line of tables in front – so much so that my friend was able to manage some master level photobombing of the girls in front of us.  The venue is small, sure, but there was no real need to feel like my knees were wrapped around my neck.  Secondly, it was cold, freezing cold.  I get that the girls are constantly moving and they are hot under the lights, but I shivered the entire time – maybe that’s why the feeling of sardines in a can, so you can huddle together for warmth? I’m not sure.

So, from my previous experiences, I’d have said that the art of burlesque is about the seduction, the tease, the big-reveal.  It’s not necessarily always slow, but its sensual, tells a story, makes you use your imagination for a lot of it…it’s not just getting your clothes off, or from zero to bare boobs in 0.01 seconds.  This was more a naked dance show, and some tracks were just a little on the side of weird and totes awkward moreso than anything.  I mean, it was entertaining, and of course the dudes like it, naked girls getting their kit off multiple times to different genres of music, but I can’t in good conscience dub it ‘pure burlesque’.  I think I preferred the entertainment of watching the reactions of the men in the crowd, to the display of the dancers on stage.

Burlesque University

My friend thought she’d push me out of my comfort zone and pick me up a ticket to a burlesque class.  I was equal parts terrified and intrigued.  I’d jumped out of my comfort zone when I stepped in to Krav, so thought ‘What the heck?’ and walked in to the Burlesque studio with an open mind and a thumping heart.

Let me first say, that the majority of my problems with this class, wasn’t at all to do with the organisers, other than the fact that they didn’t interject much, they were WAY too polite, the other participants of the class spoke up before the ‘teachers’ did.  We had a boy in our class, a straight, heterosexual boy, with a full beard, learning to apply make-up and to do burlesque dancing – which is fine, but go with it.  He spent over twenty minutes asking questions about the waiver, legal questions, please explain this, what does this mean, well I’m not signing this type deal.  At one point the dancer turned and said, ‘look, I’m just a burlesque dancer, not a lawyer, we can’t go ahead with this unless you sign it’, so he amended it and finally signed it.  Then the make-up portion of the class started and he kept asking questions, what is blush? What is lipstick? What does this do? Where are my cheek bones? (Not even kidding here) Seemingly all deadly serious too – DUDE.  Give it up and GO WITH IT.  By the time we got to the dancing part, there wasn’t much time left for the dancing – the dancer even told me that if I wasn’t leaving a couple days later, she’d give me free tickets for a show the following week, because this guy was such a colossal disruption to the class.

Dancing wise, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the content, but, again, we didn’t have enough time cause of Mr-Questions.  So I think I’d need to do a do-over before I could give a fair and balanced review of this class.  The choreographer and the dancer were both lovely though!

Cirque du Soliel

I admit, I was a disbeliever.

I didn’t buy in to the hype, I didn’t buy in to the cost, I didn’t buy in to the experience, I just didn’t buy it.  And then I got handed tickets to the LOVE, Cirque du Soleil – the BEATLES Cirque du Soleil.

For me, the Beatles are almost a religious experience.  On my first trip to the US in 1999 to visit my big brother in Atlanta, Georgia, I was exposed to a campfire version of ‘Let it Be’ – I was besotted.  I hadn’t heard the Beatles before, and, horrified, my brother bought me the ‘Hard Day’s Night’ album as a Christmas gift later that year.  I listened, I repeated, I obsessed, I loved.  I was officially a Beatles fan.  Over the years, I listened to more of their back catalogue and, had a random guy stood on stage with a plastic bucket and sang Beatles songs – I’d probably have given him a shot.

This? This was SO. MUCH. MORE. Than that.

I’m not going to ruin it for you, but it was interactive, it was 360, it was audio, it was visual and it was utterly incredible – I got choked up a time or two, and – despite her objections to the same, I’m sure I saw my girl Courtney get a lil choked up too.  If the Beatles aren’t your jam – find something that is, and go see it.  I do want to see the Mystere show now that I’ve popped my Cirque cherry.  Though, that would require a return trip to Vegas and I’m not sure it’s my kinda thang at all.

Tenors of Rock

Lastly, (but by no means leastly), I got tickets to see the Tenors of Rock – the ‘in house’ act at our hotel, Harrahs.  Being a choral singer, I was curious – just, how *does* one put on a Vegas level show, singing contemporary rock songs, with classical Tenor voices.

I’m not quite sure what I expected, but I got goosebumps, I cried, I sang, we danced – and Courtney, who didn’t have high expectations to begin with, admitted to being blown away too.  These guys were great!

Another up-side was that after the show, the guys came out for a meet and greet, picture and autograph session – being largely from England (and the lone Aussie) it was nice to have a quick chat and get a few snaps and signatures before we headed on our way.  Don’t dismiss the idea of going to the ‘lower’ level shows, I really did enjoy this one a lot, even though it’s not something I would have maybe chosen on paper.

Let me take a second here to mention the hotel.  It was a decent enough hotel and all – on the flight to Vegas, a lady was very snooty to me about the hotel I was staying in (Courtney’s work picked it) and I couldn’t figure out why.  It was perfectly nice – ok, it is one of the ‘older’ hotels on the strip and needs a bit of a facelift, and, if you compare it to the other, bigger, brighter hotels on the strip, you’ll be disappointed.  But it was nice.  Aside from restaurants on the ground floor, they had an in-house Starbucks and a little bar-type area, that had a GREAT in-house act.  Dave the Sax Man and his brother played there the few days that I was staying there – I loved them so much so that I set an alarm on my phone to call in for a drink and listen the next day too.   Gorgeous soul singers and great sax playing had strangers (including me) dancing together on the dancefloor.  It was a really nice way to pass a couple hours and take refuge from the blazing sun.

Between the pan-handlers, the pick-pockets, the people trying to get in your space about going to different clubs and venues in the evenings, those peddling wares from shirts and hats, to margaritas and henna tattoos (that they claim will last for a month, but DON’T!) and the dudes and dudettes dressed in character garb wanting a few bucks for selfies – the concept of personal space just DOESN’T exist in Vegas.  Everything is very much in your space.  If you want some ‘me time’, it’s probably not the right place to go – especially as most people are drinking, so there’s stumbling and bumping elbows, there’s also THRONGS of people – even in the skin-frying-height-of-summer.

That said? There were some pretty cool things we did, places we went and things we saw – things I enjoyed (other than the amazing shows of course!)

Food

First real night in town, we had dinner in a cute little Mexican called Canonita – deep in the belly of the Venetian hotel.  You should nab a reservation – especially if you want a river-side seat to watch the gondolas sail past you (we did!)  The food was delicious, we had some thick cheesy starter and I got some yummy fajitas, but it was more about the atmosphere and just watching the world sail by to be honest.  It was a lovely place to eat dinner, and I’d happily go back there again – even though it takes FOREVER to get to it from the street – plan an extra 20-minute walk or so in to your ‘walk to the restaurant’ journey – cause you don’t wanna end up arriving a big ole sweaty mess, to such a lovely place!

After picking up tickets to my Burlesque dance class, I went in to Gordon Ramsay’s Fish and Chips, which was RIGHT next door to the Flamingo.  I had high hopes.  I wanted British sausages, I wanted British chips – not American sausages and American ‘fries’.  Being disappointed on the sausage (not British sausages) and being told they were ‘fries’, I was disappointed.  But I loaded my fries with cheese and bacon and got the fish – aside from the fact that it was all swimming in grease, it was pretty darn good.  The fish, in particular was light and flaky and delish!

While waiting for our number to be called for the dinner buffet, Courtney and I went to the Payard Patisserie and Bistro in Caesars Palace.  I bagged a delicious hot chocolate and we split a lemon tart, it was really tasty – though a little on the expensive side, a tasty treat for sure.

Most people typically hit up the all you can eat buffets in Vegas – and we were no exception to that stereotype.  We tried three buffets while we were there, Cravings buffet (Mirage Hotel), Bacchanal Buffet (Caesars Palace hotel) and Flavors Buffet (Harrahs hotel) and of the three, Cravings was my favourite – the bottomless wine and beer helped for SURE, but I also preferred the food selections and quality in the Mirage.  I know, I know, Caesar’s Palace is THE BOMB of buffets – right? Hell, we had to wait over an hour for our number to be called.  And, sure enough, if I was in to seafood, I bet that this buffet would be my favourite, but I wasn’t impressed.  It was grossly overpriced compared to the other buffets, it didn’t include wine or beer, and while I loved the lamb and potatoes, I wasn’t thrilled at the stale bread and the clumps of fat posing as beef in the beef dishes.  Flavours rotisserie pork and rosemary potatoes were good, but the crème brulee was more like crime brulee, plus the service was grumpy and I didn’t like how sweet the pasta sauce was.  Cravings, on the other hand, I liked.  The staff were friendly and made solid recommendations of food, the wine was free – did I mention that the wine was free? And bottomless 😉 and we liked the chef station, Courtney asked the chef to throw together a pasta dish (his choice across the board) and it was delicious! Worth it.

I didn’t drink much alcohol while I was there, but the margarita I got from La Salsa (on the strip close to M&M world) was delicious!

To do

So.  The M&M store may be one of, if not my *favourite* store in ALL THE WORLD.  There’s, like, FOUR FLOORS of M&M stuff.  From a WALL of M&M’s – in a variety of flavours and colours, to everything from t-shirts and pjs, to cups, glasses and aprons.

Of COURSE there’s a mark-up on, well, EVERYTHING.  I’ve NEVER spent so much money on a single bag of candy in my entire life, but you get totally caught up in the moment, and in the desire to test the fact that M&M’s are resistant to the Vegas heat (the crunchy shell prevents them from getting all melty and smushed – it’s pure genius.)  That said? My pj bottoms got a hole in them, before they even hit the wash for the first time – can you believe that? The most expensive pair of pjs I own and they got a hole.  UGH.  I spent a lot of time in here, I explored each floor, looked at ALL THE THINGS and came away with a bit of a haul of goodies.  It’s a great place to stop in and have a poke-around.  Plus? Who doesn’t want to get their picture taken with a giant M&M?

The Coke store didn’t really impress me much at all, but it may be worth poking your head in for a bit of a look-see.  They had a couple of cool things to see – plus, y’know, aircon.

The day we left, I had a late flight – Courtney wanted to head to the airport and hang out, however, upon arrival to the airport, we discovered we were in different terminals and we went our separate ways.  Being WAY too early for even bag-drop, I decided to pay an EXTORTIONATE amount of money for a taxi from the airport to Fremont Street (and back).  It was a quick trip, cause of traffic and the time of day and it was one of my fave parts of the trip.

This is what’s known as ‘old Vegas’, it used to be the old strip – and I felt MUCH more comfy and at home here, than on the current strip.  It was, I dunno, something.  More relaxed? A little more at home.  If you need souvenirs – go here.  Much better selection, and certainly a better price than on the strip.  I got a glimpse of somewhere I’d have LOVED to visit while I was there, the Mob museum, totally my cup of tea and very accessible from Fremont street.  If I ever go back to Vegas, I’d go to the museum, and probably spend my time in town, on Fremont street for sure.

I didn’t gamble a single penny while I was there, I wasn’t even tempted, I think if I hadn’t gotten sunstroke and busted up my foot (I truly thought for a moment it was broken) I may have been a little more inclined, but I think I was quickly over the ‘scene’, the cat calling and whistling, the propositioning and the indignation at being turned down.  It was off-putting.

I dunno, I guess I was over Vegas, before I was under it.  I didn’t have the same experiences that a lot of other people have in Vegas, I wasn’t blinded by the seafood or the gambling or the glitz and glam.  I enjoyed it, but different aspects to those that typically love it.

Would I go back? Maybe.  To see and do specific places and things, with specific people.  But.  And this is a BIG but.  It wasn’t, anywhere near close to my fave city in the US and I feel like for the same money you’d spend there, there’s any number of *better* places you could go – so, I’d rather go to those places instead.

‘Dipping my toe’ as a tourist in Pune!

While my first week here was largely defined by drowning in Amazon boxes, my second week? Well, there were yet more boxes.  What can I say?  I find it much easier to just Prime some chocolate chips, sprinkles and food colour to the door, from the comfort of my bed when I’m sick, than have to get up, face the world and have to go hunting.  Ok, so someone has to stay home to receive it, and, ok, their delivery dates haven’t yet been right a single time out of the 3498752304985723094785230 packages I’ve ordered – however, most of them come early and they are delivered *right here*, so I’ll cling to my Amazon obsession until I can cling no more.

Alright, that’s not *completely* accurate, Lewis is in school from 8.45am-11.15am, by the time I get back to the house it’s after 9am, shops don’t open til 10am and the types of shops I need to go to for international stuff, meats, baking supplies etc are a little further out, traffic here is simultaneously unpredictable, but terrible, I need to wait til Col’s home, or figure a longer time for Lewis to be in school before I can do much venturing out for a good hoke.

The power has just gone out – not the first time, not the last time.  It never lasts very long at all, but there’s no warning, it stays out for a few seconds, or minutes, and then it reboots and comes back up.  During those moments, I find myself, of course, scratching my head and wondering why my internet connection isn’t working.

Last Saturday, we had to wait in for deliveries (and to sort out the hire car).  Just like the US, they don’t group together all of your Amazon deliveries, so they turn up in dribs and drabs, multiple deliveries.  Sometimes they deliver one box, sometimes they deliver ten.  The days they tell you they’re delivering, aren’t always the days they deliver.  The tracking on your order says it’ll be here Saturday, and while nine times out of ten it comes early – which should be great, right?  It’s hard to plan your life when you don’t know whether your packages are coming today, tomorrow, or the day that it’s due to be delivered per the order info.

Anyways, we were waiting in, for packages, and for the car hire people to come by and pick up the car – our new car is officially legal – yay!  But once all the grown-up, boring admin was done, I got in to the car and asked Harish to show us something in the city.  He took us to Shinde Chhatri, the little fell asleep en route, so Col and I got to check it out by ourselves – just as well, cause he’d have run rings around that place.  There was a small fee to enter, and a slightly larger fee for foreigners, the sign made me giggle – not quite something you’d see in the very PC US of A.

Shinde Chhatri is a memorial dedicated to the 18th century military leader Mahadji Shinde who served as the commander-in-chief of the Maratha army under the Peshwas from 1760 – 1780.  It is one of the most significant landmarks in the city and is reminiscent of the Maratha rule. It is a hall that marks the spot of Mahadji Shinde’s cremation on 12 February 1794.

The major attraction of the Shinde Chhatri of Pune is its exquisite architecture, reflecting the style used in Rajasthan, India. The Anglo-Rajasthani style of construction exhibits a fine blending of two different cultures. The architectural grandeur of the building is appreciable with beautiful carvings and the building is the lively specimen of a structure constructed following the Vaastu Hara rules.  The memorial retains its architectural design and beauty till date.

The fine carvings and idols of saints on the steeple of the Shiva temple are made of yellow stone and the base and the sanctum sanctorum are constructed in black stone. The Chhatri (hall) not only has carvings and painting, but also houses a gallery in it. Coloured window-panes used for the windows are of English style.  The hall is beautifully adorned with paintings and photographs of members of Shinde family.

Chhatri means umbrella in Marathi. As a sign of respect to the great warrior, visitors are required to close their umbrellas inside the premises, even if it is raining.

This place was tranquil and serene.  It was calming and peaceful – and on the grounds we happened upon a Crossfit gym, complete with battle ropes out front.

It was a nice way to dip our toes in to the ‘Temple scene’ here in Pune.  If you go on the Trip Advisor website and look up ‘Things to do’, here in the city – you’ll find a long list of various temples, I’ve made a short list to get started on over the coming weeks and months.

Sunday was our first driver-free day since we got here, Harish very kindly worked the first Sunday we were in town so we could get our feet under us a little more quickly.  So we did some home-y things, hung pictures and sorted out some things around the apartment.  Monday was another big day, we went to the Police Commissioner’s office to sort out or foreigners registration – which took over three times as long as it did the first time Col did it (he had to do it again with an updated address).  Once the sweaty, waiting round with an impatient and crabby three-year-old in a crowded building was done, I hopped in to a car with a lovely lady called Ayesha, who works for the relocation company, Lexagent and off we went on a shopping spree – I mean, tour of the city.

Local bakery I need to try!

As we drove around, Ayesha pointed out places of interest, things I need to try, places to find everything from baked goods to jewellery and fabric.  We stopped off at a couple places and I came home with a trunk full of shopping.  Everything from the tall-sized squeegee and brush that I needed to find for Rani but I’ve been coming up empty on, to a kilo of cookies (in four different flavours) that we got at a stand in the biggest mall in town, Phoenix Mall.  I went to both Natures Basket and a three storey Dorabjees – two internationally inclined grocery stores (I’ve been to a smaller Dorabjees, but didn’t know this one existed!)

I had fun, I thought it would be like a red-bus-tour, when it actual fact, it was like a spin around the city with a BFF (though we didn’t selfie together – you can tell I’m off my game!)  Ayesha was fun, but also knowledgeable – she answered all my questions, she knew where to find what and even recommended a spa for me to try (I’d picked a couple out, but she said this one is better) and I definitely feel like I have a better feel for the city now that I’ve driven around it.

Thursday night I went to my first Schlumberger Spouses Association (SSA) event, here in Pune.  The group is in its infancy for sure, as it’s only recently that there has been a large influx of SLB transfers to the city, but the chapter has totally hit the ground running.  I also finally got together with the lovely Sylviane, my successor at the helm of SSA Houston when I stepped down as coordinator.

We went to a local restaurant called ‘Farzi’, which describes itself as an Indian Bistro – when we got there the maitre D informed us that they specialise in molecular gastronomy, well, my interest was piqued.

I’ve never been to a place like that before, somewhere that takes traditional dishes (for example, a Caesar salad) and adds a twist to it (butter chicken, instead of chicken).  Nor have I ever been somewhere were the tempura shrimp comes out with ‘bubble bath’ on top of it (foamed egg white), or where my cocktail requires pouring one liquid in to another to create a reaction.

It wasn’t just fun and quirky food – it was absolutely delicious.

Shina (the chapter coordinator) ordered an umber of small plates for us to share and try, I’m glad we put our trust in her, because they were all delicious (and mercifully not too spicy!)  Maryam ordered some lamb shanks to try too – holy crap, they were delicious! Served with garlic naan and in a tasty curry gravy-sauce, it was exceptional.

For dessert, I’d read a review that said I needed to try the Baileys lollipops (and, to be honest once I’d tried them I was unhappy that I hadn’t gotten a couple orders of them and hidden in the corner to eat them all by myself).  We also got a ‘chocolate dirt pile’ which was deliciously rich and luxuriously elegant at the same time.

From the staff, to the menu, from the food to the atmosphere – not to mention the company of twenty-odd SLB wives, this was a great first night out for me in Pune.

Friday after Lewis came home from school, we decided to check out the local indoor play area – coincidentally named the same as the place round the corner from us in Larne, ‘Funky Monkeys’ at a local mall called Nitesh Hub.

I think this is the biggest (ok, not true, Glasgow was the biggest), cleanest and absolutely the best indoor play area that we’ve ever taken Lewis to.  He and Col stayed there for just over an hour (when I got back Lewis was drenched in sweat) while I went out and around the rest of the mall for a look-see.  It’s an older mall, largely filled with Indian shops, not much for the Westerners, but I still managed to pick Lewis up a couple outfits for his upcoming Indian Nights night at school and whatever other ‘local dress’ days come up along the rest of the calendar year.  I did try on a couple things for myself, however, the Indian lines seemed to be more tailored towards those a little more flat chested than myself, so I’m gonna need a tailor!

Our second week was much busier than our first, we did a little more of the touristy check-some-local-things-out stuff.  Tried to find a little ‘normal’.  We seem to at least have our weekend routine down.  Saturday seems to be our big ‘tourist’ day, we get in the car and Harish takes us somewhere to visit (he’s already picked out this Saturday’s location, and the Saturday after that, too!) and Sunday is Harish’s day off, so it is our day at home.  We Skype family and friends, Lewis does creative play with things like his new easel or building vehicles with his magna tiles, there’s outdoor football with daddy and often a movie of some kind.

I’ve registered Lewis for Lego Club in the apartment building across the street, I have the name of a swim instructor for him in a local hotel, I’ve found a choir for me to try and a sports shop to go grab a punch bag from – I just need to call and arrange lessons and get my butt out the door and do things…but, I’m the queen of delay and procrastination right now – and I’m ok with that, I’ll shake it eventually, maybe staring at all the pink things on my calendar for a while will make me more inclined to actually go out and do it all!

Week one and done – in Pune, India!

Today (Friday), is our one-week mark here in India, on one hand it seems to have flown by, and on the other, it feels like we’ve been here longer.  I have to admit, when we first got off the plane in Delhi and were met with a seriously crappy administration faff (due to the fault of the booking agent) and, when we further discovered that the employees from the ‘best airport in the world’ were a) all military, b) none of them spoke English, and c) none of them had any desire to help, my heart sunk a little.  I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to find, but the lack of warm, fuzzy, hospitality and helpful natured staff at the airport was a little jarring.
We got off the plane and followed the sign for connecting flights.  We had a six-hour layover and were hoping to grab a ‘by the hour’ room for us all to decompress, shower and nap before we boarded our third, and final flight to Pune.  However, none of the armed forces along the way were helpful, friendly or approachable, yet, their entire job was to deal with people.  Travellers, tourists, people who don’t know where they are, where they need to be, nor who speak the language.
When we got to the entrance of the ‘connecting flights’, the military presence said ‘ticket?’, which, we didn’t have.  He repeated, ‘you need ticket’ and that was that, he turned his attention to the people behind us and it was as though we no longer existed.
Confused, Col left Lewis and I to go find some help, while Lewis and I sat and kept ourselves entertained awaiting his return.  An hour later, I see him trying to negotiate with another military presence, his way BACK in to the departure area of the hotel, through an exit door.  Thankfully upon recognising he really WAS with us, he let him back in.  But, to get our ‘ticket’, Col had to go public-side of the airport, and leave us air-side.  The booking agent had booked the last leg of our flight on a separate itinerary altogether and we didn’t have boarding cards for it, nor, could we get them airside.  It was a nightmare.
Add to that, the fact that we got to the check in desk and were told that due to it being an entirely separate itinerary? That our baggage allowance was 15kg per person – for a family total of 45kg.  Us? Well, we had 115kg of luggage, plus Lewis’ car seat.  And it was here that my hope for a warm and friendly India returned.  The lady at the desk was originally supposed to charge us 41,000 rupees for our ‘excess baggage’ that had only been checked through to Delhi.  Col asked if Lewis got a ‘cute discount’ and she laughed, asked an only too compliant Lewis for a hi-five and reduced our fee to 19,000 rupees – thank you, lady, you made me think that things weren’t gonna be so bad afterall.
Once we got to security, I was greeted by another cultural difference – male and female security scanners.  Once you get through the scanners, there’s a *secondary* scanning done by a TSA-similar-agent – the women get to go behind a curtain for this – but to do this, you need your boarding card.  In every airport I’ve ever been to, there’s been a passport and boarding card check as you approach security.  You’ve never needed your boarding card *through* security, so I got to the curtained area and she abruptly and rudely demands to know why I don’t have my boarding card.  Back to the boys-line I go and get my boarding card and re-join the girls line to go back through the security scanner and get scanned by Ms Congeniality.
I think what I’m trying to say is that my first impression of this place was an almost hostile one, high security, multiple checks, an overwhelmingly visible armed presence – Northern Ireland is a war-torn country, with much more recent terrorist attacks than here in India, with a highly visible police force, but you’ll at least get a smile, a nod, help if you need it.  These dudes (and one girl) seemed intent on their work, no help, no deviation from their script, no compassion or guidance.  Just security.  It was a little intimidating, and frustrating.  No ‘protect and to serve’ here.
As soon as we got through security? All of that changed.
I needed to pee, walked in and the cleaning lady said ‘Namaste’, she asked me to wait a second, grabbed toilet paper, cleaned the toilet, flushed and held the door open for me to enter.  Not only that, but when I went to tell her I’d no money for a tip? No jar was to be found, it was just cause she was helpful and kind.
After that, the little had fallen asleep on his dad’s shoulder as we sat at the gate waiting for boarding (I may or may not have fallen asleep on the chairs too).  We managed to wrangle him in to his chair without waking him, strap him in and I took off my hoody to fold up and use as his pillow.  Before long, the air hostess came by with a blanket and pillow for him, she gave Col a cookie for him during the flight, she brought us water, and they actually woke me when it was time for the meal we didn’t know we were having.  Like, hey, do you guys want fed? I kinda blinked at them in confusion as to why I was being woken up, and they were pretty nice about my grumbling at them.  The crew were very sweet.
When we disembarked and got our luggage, the hotel ambassador who was waiting outside the airport, was very sweet and insisted on moving our trolleys of luggage etc, and was very apologetic that they didn’t send a bigger car to accommodate all of our luggage.  It was nice, warm, friendly and eager to please.  They all ask how your day is, they all insist on carrying your bags and to let them know if you need anything at all.
The drive to the hotel was interesting, Lewis sat in the back seat between Col and I like a big boy – no car seat, just a seatbelt.  He was excited.  He kept pointing out the many scooters, mopeds and motorbikes and waved out the window at some of their drivers.  The number of stray dogs stood out right away.  There’s graffiti writing on almost every visible wall.  There’s no lanes painted on the roads and seemingly some kind of ordered chaos as you’re driving, there’s a lot of car horns (a lot).
At the hotel? The car gets to a barrier, and is subject to a search by the guard, under the hood, under the car, with a mirror – searching for what? Not sure.  I’m guessing explosives.  Your bags are taken away off to the side and put through a scanner and you are subject to a metal detector screening to get in to the hotel.  See what I mean about high security?
Upon check in though? We got chocolate truffles on sticks and they couldn’t do enough for us.  They comped our dinner, sent fresh juice to the room, no one ever let us carry our own baggage and the cleaning crew – the one time I met them – were so sweet to Lewis (one of them even took a selfie with him!)
I thought, for just a second, that I’d left the security presence at the airport, until, however, we went to the shopping mall, same security checks.  Pop your boot/trunk, pop your bonet/hood and get a quick mirror underneath – anywhere with big crowds or anywhere that could potentially be a target for an attack has this level of checks.  The road to Lewis’ school and the other schools in the area, has a barrier and security manning it, the guy asks where you’re going before you are allowed to pass.  It’s all a little paranoid if you ask me, but, as Col said, perhaps the rest of us are just way too lax.  Indians also have the added benefit of labour being cheap.
We finished our stay at the hotel, Friday through Monday.  We took possession of our bigger-than-our-house-in-Texas apartment on Monday, in spite of it not being anywhere near ready to be lived in just yet.  No toaster, no kettle, no other appliances, no utensils, like six pieces of cutlery and crockery, we’re using Lewis’ plastic Lightening McQueen cups left over from his birthday party as glassware, our rental furniture isn’t the best – Lewis’ bed and the guest beds are decent enough, but I’m pretty sure the sofa will give us haemorrhoids, so I opt to sit at the rented dining room table – which is also decent enough.
So far, since we moved in to the apartment, I’ve walked face-first in to a glass door, Lewis has had dirtier feet than I’ve ever seen, I’ve interviewed two maids (file this under ‘things you never thought you’d do’), I’ve ordered a fifty-three item Amazon order, that took days to piece together (and subsequent smaller orders) – (I’m frustrated with the Amazon here, but as people keep reminding me, I need to be grateful that I still have Amazon).
During the week, we placed our first ‘Big Basket’ home delivery order for groceries – let’s see what we can find.  I’ve been to one grocery store, Col has been to two, and I’m hoping to make that a third soon.  I really do need *stuff*.  I’ve received a number of social invitations (I’m just not sure what to do about the 3.5-year-old horror just yet) and I cooked eggs with a metal spoon ‘cause I have no spatula and toasted bread in my Le Creuset pan because our toaster didn’t arrive from Amazon.
The AC unit in the bedroom is leaking, the TINY freezer door doesn’t close, the maids door can be forcibly opened when locked, Lewis’ tap keeps coming apart and the drawer in the bathroom is banjacksed.  Amazon doesn’t leave packages at the door, or with the concierge – and will refund over doing redelivery, so someone has to be home the entire day you’re expecting a package (yes, yes, I know, be grateful I have Amazon).
So far I’ve seen pigs, goats and any amount of stray dogs in the street, I’m horrified no one wears leathers or a helmet on their bikes and I can’t find cheese or diet coke (I think this ones been remedied) and not to mention, everyone wants to touch my son.  He’s blue eyed, blonde haired and everyone wants to put their hand on his head, cheeks, give hi fives, fist bumps – one hotel worker even grabbed him for a hug.  Lewis was not thrilled at his boundaries being compromised.  He’s jet-lagged, he’s in a new place, with new people, everything is different and he’s just a little overwhelmed right now.
But, it’s all good in the hood.  Just taking each moment in my stride and hoping to climb out of the expat transfer-fog soon.
Sunday, we went to Seasons Mall to pick up some groceries from the first of many grocery stores, Star Bazaar – where we happened upon a huge group of ladies doing Bollywood dancing in the mall.  It was pretty impressive to watch and hundreds of people crowded round the balcony on each floor to watch.
Tuesday, I did something I don’t think I ever had on my ‘to-do’ list before.  I interviewed for a maid.  That was interesting.  She came by way of another SSA lady, who got the recommendation from the relocation company, her name was Mary and she was late to the house.  Not a great first impression, I thought, that was, until our driver took her back home after the interview, and Col was there to witness just how far she had walked to get to our apartment.  Born and raised here in Pune, Mary had never been to this side of town before.  She came recommended by an employee .  I didn’t hire her, for a number of reasons, but primarily because of the daily trek she’d have to make, even in a TukTuk or cab it would have been a decent journey and I’d have feared she’d leave for a closer gig if one came up.
Wednesday, (day 5 of our time in India) was a landmark day for Master Lewis.  Day 1 at nursery.  It’s only a two-and-a-half-hour curriculum, 8.45am – 11.15am, but he took it like a boss.  I stayed with him until 10.15am and then headed home.  They said he was very good and didn’t cry or try to come after me at all – and when Col went to pick him up from school, he was having so much fun that he needed physically picked up and taken home!
Maid #2 interview also happened on Wednesday.  A lady and her daughter (?) came by when Col moved in, and again during the week to offer the daughters services for cleaning.  They clean in various apartments around these parts and although she wanted to haggle on salary (despite my offering *more* than she requested) I opted to hire her and see how things go.  (I’ll write a separate post about maids and drivers and bears – oh my! At some point in the near future).
Wednesday night, we had our first grocery home delivery experience.  We went with a store called ‘Big Basket’, and it went much better than we expected.  It was quick, painless, free delivery and we got a variety of things that I hadn’t seen in Star Bazaar the previous week that we were there.  It will definitely be a repeatable experience for sure.
Thursday morning, I ran in to my first ‘major’ Las-needs-to-clip-her-wings moment, and it stung. I had, while in the US, picked up few packages of cartoon themed pencils for Lewis’ class, in the UK I’d picked up a multipack of Milky Ways and was going to give each of the nine kids in his class a treat for Lewis joining his new school.  The principal, very diplomatically, informed me that while Lewis could eat it, he wasn’t allowed to share, even if they were individually portioned.  Some kids have chocolate allergies (yet we weren’t told not to send chocolate, or nuts, or eggs or any of the common allergens) so she couldn’t permit it.  Then I brought out the pencils and she said no, that it’s not fair on other parents for me to give out gifts and treats to the kids who would maybe feel obliged to ‘keep up with the Jones’.
I wasn’t expecting this at all and, admittedly, I think it hit my ‘Pinterest Mom’ self, harder than it perhaps should have done, but expats fresh from transfer, can tend to be somewhat sensitive souls.  This hit me in my sensitive soul.  I tried not to let it bug me, but it did.  No holiday treats, no baked goods, no parties, no birthday celebrations other than a small, modest cake – I’m not sure I can work under these conditions.  Maybe I’ll pick up some SSA volunteering and sort some kids events or something, cause otherwise every trip to the US will have to cover some kind of holiday for me to get my kids party fix somehow.
Thursday, was my ‘home fixin’ day’ -ok, otherwise known as shopping.  Fine.  I went shopping.  Firstly, I went to @ Home, a home furnishing store and picked up things we need, everything from crockery (60% off), to glasses, cooking and baking utensils, bath mats, toiletries organisers and even a comforter for Lewis, since duvet covers aren’t quite the ‘done thing’ here.  True to form, I went over my cash on hand, I don’t have an Indian bank account yet, no Indian cards, so I found myself standing crossing my fingers and toes that my US Mastercard would work – thankfully it did, there was no international incident because Las couldn’t get her bath mats and could finally stop using a towel on the floor – crisis averted!
After @Home, I went to my second grocery store of the week, (third if you count online shopping) Dorabjees, it was pitched as being a more international-friendly grocery shop, and I wasn’t disappointed.  My third, full trolley of the day came home from here.  I got everything from babybel cheese and Hot Wheel cars for Lewis, to baking supplies and a tin opener for me!
Aaaaaand that’s pretty much our first week in review.  Overall though, it’s been a good week.  Those I’d spoken to had warned me that it was an assault on the senses, and, in many ways, it is.  It will take some getting used to.  My hair hates the water and is constantly greasy, my skin feels clogged and dirty, I’m not drinking enough water, despite sloshing every time I move.  It’s loud – all the time – Indians don’t typically do quiet.  There’s always hustle and bustle, horns honking, dogs barking, to-ing and fro-ing.  Our driver, Harish says it’s because Indians don’t have any patience.  He’s right, you only need to look out the window and watch the traffic for ten seconds to see that everyone always has somewhere to be, and it’s more important and urgent than where *you* need to be, so they’ll be trying to pass you, make you go faster and inching over the traffic control line at lights so they can get away from the red light fast.  He also says ‘This is India, ma’am, anything is possible’, and, while I’d like to believe that, it’s hard when you look around and see the overwhelming poverty, the trash strewn around the streets, the stray dogs (and goats and pig).
It’s colourful, vibrant, (especially the women and children’s clothing) and busy, always busy I truly don’t think I’ve ever seen more hard-working people.  From women carrying all manner of things on top of their heads, to men selling fruit or building furniture at the road side or pulling carts of various ‘stuff’.  Even TukTuk drivers busying about the city – they sit in hour long (or more) lines for the gas station to fill their tiny tanks, daily, and they all hate standing still.  They always want to be moving, and doing things.
They are typically polite, especially those in the service industry, our driver, Harish, insists on opening the doors for us, carrying our bags and calling all of us sir/ma’am – including the little.  This morning he even walked me down to Lewis’ school (there’s a little bit of a walk from where the cars must stop as it’s all private property and the residents get mad at people driving down past their houses).  Our maid, Rani, is incredibly patient and kind with Lewis, who stood for a full five minutes this morning quizzing her on how she got to his room.  She also let him help her wheel the laundry to the laundry room.  She’s keen and eager to learn and to please, she asks for direction on what I’d like her to do every day and made suggestions today about where I could find things that I needed.  Downstairs? At the main door to the apartment block, we have a security guard, every time I walk past him, he stands up and says hello or nods.
At the same time? They seem to also be a somewhat paranoid race, they have security
everywhere to ‘scare’ terrorists in to not attempting to place bombs.  Harish told me it’s to give the appearance of force.  Everything here is so built up, and they have a lot of big-businesses around and if they were to have a ‘bomb blast’, it could take out a lot in one fell-swoop.  They also fear germs and sickness, upon entry to Lewis’ school you must use hand sanitizer, and the principal chases the kids around the playground with a thermometer to take their temperature – every day.
You can have just about anything delivered to your house.  Groceries, Subway or McDonalds, donuts – whatever you need, they’ll deliver, often for no delivery charge.
The roads are a crazy, yet, beautiful kind of chaos, I guess the same could be said for the country as a whole, but, to watch the traffic?  You find yourself wondering how anyone could ever survive navigating even the simplest of intersections.  Bikes laden with three, often four people, or supplies, pedestrians walking out in to busy traffic, no lanes and, as Harish says daily, the only rule of the road is that there are no rules.  It’s both fascinating and terrifying to watch.
It’s Friday and I think that it bears noting that all of the issues I mentioned at the beginning of this post (the freezer door, the AC unit etc) are currently being fixed by the fixer-dude who showed up to fix it all, and Col managed to get someone to come clear the heaped pile of cardboard and trash bags in our entrance area that have been gathering cause our trash area was full!
Next week is going to be interesting, on Monday I have an appointment with the relocation company to go and get myself registered and get my ID card (which will take a couple hours) at the Police High Commission, our new car is fully registered, so as of Monday it will be the first day in ten months that we do not have a hire car in our name – we are excited to get going in our new motor – plus? I have committed to attending my first SSA ladies event – dinner out on Thursday evening.  I’m excited to meet the local chapter – it’s in its infancy, but seems to be a very busy group of ladies indeed! My goal for next week is to register with the doctor and book appointments for shots for Col and I, and to register all of us with a dentist.
  If I don’t get it done, though, I won’t crucify myself – just taking it day by day here in the near East, that is about as far from resembling ‘near’ to my Western self, but, we’ll see what this place has to offer, and go from there.

Texas Strong

Here’s a tip – grab a cuppa, this is gonna be a long one.  It’s been almost two weeks since hurricane Harvey hit the great state of Texas and I still keep bursting in to tears every time I look at my Facebook feed, or try and write this damn blog post – so, please, be gentle with me.  I’m a sensitive and fragile soul right now.

Unless you witnessed it first hand? I don’t think you’d believe me if I told you there was a time in my life that I didn’t love Houston as I do now, because, to look at me, you’d see me sharing about forty thousand Houston/Texas/Flood related posts on my Facebook page every day.  You’d hear me whining, daily, weekly – sometimes by the minute, about how much I miss my home, my people, my life there.

Home.

Yes, while I’m Irish and lived here in N. Ireland for most of my life, my heart just isn’t here.  I won’t apologise for it, and I’m growing *really* tired of defending it.

‘Ireland is your home’.

No.  Houston is my home, Texas is my home.  It always will be.  And now that I mention it? After my month-long trip to the states last month, I’ve had so many people say to me, ‘wow, Houston really IS your home, isn’t it?’, yes, it is.

But I haven’t always liked it, in actual fact, I all-but hated the place when I first moved there.

In September 2008, I hopped a plane to H-town for my first trip.  A two-week visit with Colin for business.  There’d been whispers of a transfer, but at this stage it was still two-week business trips every now and then across the Atlantic.  So, off I went excited at the prospect of two weeks in Houston.

We arrived on the first company-approved flight in to the city after Hurricane Ike.  Having never experienced a hurricane before, I was clueless, but it wasn’t long before we saw the devastation around us.  Glass and dead birds littered the streets, Target and Walmart had no water, milk or toilet paper, roads were flooded, we went in to Ihop for food and were presented with a printed piece of paper, informing us that due to the hurricane and the inability to get supplies in to the city, they were serving a restricted menu ‘this is the stuff we can serve you based on the supplies and staff we have available’ type deal.  I remember sitting in the restaurant wondering why in the name of all that is Holy, would I even consider moving to somewhere that could be so cripplingly devastated by a bit of wind and rain.

(I can feel the eye-rolls and abuse from my Texas peeps already happening here)

We’d missed the storm and were just in town for the aftermath, the inherent definition of ‘blow-ins’ as we say here in Ireland.

I didn’t understand.

I didn’t understand that Hurricane Ike was a tropical cyclone – the costliest tropical cyclone on record in Texas.  The third-costliest of ANY Atlantic hurricane to date (coming in behind Sandy and Katrina) and taking at least 195 lives.

I didn’t understand that winds reached up to 145mph.

I didn’t understand the term Category 4 Hurricane.

I didn’t understand how quickly this place floods, or the devastation flooding can do – to people, to lives, to infrastructure.

I just didn’t understand.

That is, until 2009.  Another two-week trip to Houston.  Col was moving out ahead of me, and I was over on break from uni for two weeks to do some house hunting, furniture and car shopping, and we got caught in one of the worst storms I’ve seen.  We were heading up I45N towards Gallery furniture, the weather got so bad, we had to pull off the main road and in to a car park at a paint store, where we sat in our car for over six hours – with no water, no food, no phone signal (we pretty much spent our time in the car sleeping, and watching cars attempt to wade their way out of the parking lots and through the over-the-car-bonnet-deep water on the feeder road, to get back up on to the main road).  It was also at this point that I first discovered the Houston spirit, the Southern Hospitality and the pulling together that Texas is somewhat renowned for.

I needed to pee.

In Ireland, most toilets are for customers only, in the US, many major shops have toilets in store, I held it as long as I could and waited for a lull in the absolute chucking-it-down rain before I darted in, ready to beg and plead to use the toilet.  When I walked in, the staff had laid out tea, coffee, lemonade and snacks on a table.  They’d pulled out every chair they could find and sat it round the table and a handful of people, like Col and I who had been stranded in the carpark, were taking refuge of the storm, having a drink, using the facilities and just having a chat to a group of strangers in the same position as they were.

It wasn’t a hurricane, it may not even have been a tropical storm, I can’t remember, but I watched devastation, confusion and was living the impact, first hand, of severe flooding in the greater Houston area.  At this point, I once again questioned my sanity, and wondered why I’d want to move somewhere that had such poor drainage and was seemingly prone to this type of weather.  But once I saw the positivity of the people and how quickly the city rebounded from, what at home would have been a rather devastating flood, I was given hope.

And so, in June of 2009, a couple months after Col made the move, I hopped a plane to join him.  From the second I landed in Newark Intl airport, I was miserable.  I was put on a tourist visa without us knowing, I’d spent ‘too much’ time in the states prior to my visa being issued and I was quizzed for a while as to why I needed to be in the states and then told in no uncertain terms that I had to change my departure date from the US, by 24 hours.  Yep.  We had to pay to change my flight home for Winter Graduation at Uni, by 24 hours, because they said so.  I had just left my friends, family and the comfort of home to become an expat in the states, filled with excitement, and I was greeted by, ‘you need to leave by this date, or else and if you leave in the meantime, you can’t come back’.  I was heartbroken.

Once here? Having no kids to meet parents at school drop offs and events, having no dogs to meet fellow dog owners at the dog park and no car to drive myself anywhere, I spent most of my time at home, alone, staring at four walls.  I’ve said it many times over the years, that the more you sit staring at four walls, the more you find wrong with them.  I was depressed, miserable and Col didn’t know what he was coming home to most days – he even sat in the driveway a couple evenings when he got home from work, just to have a few minutes quiet, in case he got home to my fury-filled, tear-streaked self.  I don’t blame him – I was a bit psycho, right enough.

Six months.

That’s how long it took me to acclimate to H-town.  I came ‘home’ to Ireland for Christmas in 2009 and found myself missing Home.  It was a weird sensation, one I hadn’t expected.  And, when I returned in January 2010, everything just suddenly fell in to place.  I found my groove, came in to my own, started to lay down roots and blossom.

Something an old friend, Cindy, (who is sadly no longer with us), used to say resonates with me til this day, ‘Bloom where you are planted Las,’ she’d say to me.  And so, I did.  And Houston has been home ever since.

As the old adage goes, ‘I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as quickly as I could’, that’s me.  And when it came time to leave? I cried the entire flight to the UK, and beyond.  I didn’t want to move, to Ireland, to India, to anywhere.  Ok – maybe I wanted a new house within Houston, but beyond that, I didn’t want to move.

So you can perhaps imagine how difficult and traumatic it was to open Facebook (I almost said, ‘to turn on the news and see’ – but we all know, most people now get their news from their Facebook feed 😉 LOL!) and see that my home of seven and a half years, was about to be ravaged by a Category 4 Hurricane.  Harvey.  Even the name makes me mad to type, I find myself thumping the letters out on the keyboard in rage.

Harvey. 

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last week?  You’ll have read about the sheer devastation across the gulf-coast region of Texas, from Victoria to Houston, Rockport to Beaumont, Port Arthur to Conroe, to Corpus Christi.

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last week? You’ll have seen many homes and businesses levelled, many more partially, or completely submerged in flood water.  You’ll have seen footage of people and animals, on top of houses and cars awaiting rescue.  You’ll have seen the footage of the buildings in ruin, of cars stranded, of people flocking to shelters by the hundreds.

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last week, you’ll have seen my Facebook feed, saturated with stories shared, statistics on the storm, hero stories, cries for help – rescues, donations and volunteering.

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last week, you’ll have seen ugly tears of joy shed for the first glimpse of sun in the state post-storm.

Photo Cred: Becky Rivero

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last week, you’ll have seen crisis, tragedy, and disaster.  But, aside from the stress, worry, some weird form of ‘survivors guilt’ at not being there and suffering through it with friends, side-by-side, what you’ll have ALSO seen? Is the best that humanity has to offer, you’ll have seen kindness, compassion, selflessness.  You’ll have seen community spirit that rivals none other, you’ll have seen incredible fundraising efforts and people rallying around Texas like I’ve never seen.

You’ll have seen, hope.

Ok, let’s throw some stats in here – so you can gain some perspective on precisely how messed up this freakin’ storm was.  53 counties affected by Harvey, over 11.5 million people, that’s 46% of the population of Texas.

By August 29th, there were 86 TRILLION litres of water dumped on the Gulf Coast – with a predicted 95 trillion being the final count – Katrina? Yeah, she brought 30 Trillion with her.  That’s an estimated 56 inches of rain in 4 days.  In short? Harvey is a dick.

There have been around 50 confirmed deaths – including a Houston PD officer, there are also a number of people still missing.

Photo credit: The Marvelous Michael

More than 48,700 homes were affected by Harvey throughout the state, including over 1,000 that were completely destroyed and more than 17,000 that sustained major damage; approximately 32,000 sustained minor damage.  Nearly 700 businesses were damaged and over 300,000 people were left without electricity.  Preliminary estimates of economic losses range from $10 billion to $160 billion, with a large portion of losses sustained by uninsured homeowners

Several tornadoes were spawned in the area, one of which damaged or destroyed the roofs of dozens of homes in Sienna Plantation – Sienna Plantation is a subdivision a couple miles away from my old house in Missouri City.  If we were still on Edgewood drive (and we didn’t evacuate before the storm hit) – our home of seven and a half years? We’d have been under mandatory evacuation, days after the hurricane hit.  And would likely have been stranded and unable to adhere to the mandatory evac because that area doesn’t take heavy flooding well at all.

Photo Credit: Micah Morrison

In short? Lots of rain, lots of flooding, lots of damage.  Catastrophic.  Horrible.  Life changing.  Life destroying.  Deadly.  Some folks lost everything.  BUT.  (And this is a BIG but.  And this is an emotional but.  And this is a but that I’ve been procrastinating over writing about, because it’s a but that’s had me in hysterical, ugly tears for a week or so now.) there has been light.

Light? I hear you ask? Yes, there has been light.

There has been hope and have been heroes. 

Picture from the wonderful Chizzy.

There has been overwhelming selfless, benevolent, humanitarian, noble, generous, open-handed, self-sacrificing people who have done nothing short of AMAZING things for the disaster relief effort in the Lone Star State.  From pizza place workers paddling kayaks through flood waters to deliver free pizzas, to high school sports teams volunteering in grocery stores to help with bag packing, shelf stacking and helping people carry their stuff to people’s cars, to bakers stranded in a Mexican bakery baking food with almost every supply they had on hand, through the night to give to victims, you name it – Texas has it.  The outpour of support from across the country for Texas, has been incredible – there’s even been a contingent of vessels come across from Louisiana to help rescue people from their homes – it’s amazing.

Aaaand here’s where we get choked up and feel-y, cause I’m about to tell you about some of them.

JJ Watt

“The Worst times, bring out the best in people”

Where can you donate? youcaring.com/JJWatt

Firstly? Lemme tell you about my boy JJ – some of you are probably like ‘huh? Who? That dude from the HEB ads’, yes, the guy what plays for the Houston Texans?  He’s a Texas treasure (which is ironic since he’s a Wisconsin boy) and he’s an all-out freakin’ hero!

He started an online fundraiser, almost as soon as the hurricane hit, his goal? $200,000, and he got the ball rolling with a whopping $100k donation from his own pocket.  His goal was smashed in a matter of hours – in fact, we all blinked and he’d hit a million, he upped the goal by one million at a time, until he got to six million and decided that he’d rely on the ‘everything’s bigger in Texas’ adage, and aim for ten million.  He’s currently just sitting shy of $28m dollars, collected over less than two weeks, not months, weeks.  Donations have poured in from celebrities and civilians alike, with big names like Walmart, Ellen Degeneres and Drake throwing their support behind superstar JJ, as well as some of his sporting peeps like the NRG arena, The Green Bay Packers, and Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk.

Not only that? But, back in his home state of Wisconsin? His mum steered the ship for his charitable foundation as they called out for donations from his home town, and state, to send down to needy Texans who’d lost everything.  They broke everything down (which was a stroke of organisational genius), various collection points located in different places, each collection point had a list of items they needed the masses to donate (and ONLY from the list).  For example, one collection point requested peanut butter, crackers, fruit cups etc., while another requested cleaning supplies – and, before you knew it? They were asking for more semi-trucks to be donated to the cause, because they had so much STUFF and not enough trucks to transport it.  As of today, Sunday, 9 semi-trucks are Houston-bound packed to the rafters with supplies.

What people love most about JJ’s fundraising campaign? Is that he promises that this money will go directly to helping the people who are affected (no red tape, no administration fees) and that he will ensure it’ll go to more than just the greater Houston metro area – he’s going to make sure small towns like Orange, Rockport, Corpus Christi and Port Aransas are taken care of too.

Mattress Mack

“Houstonians have a safe, dry place to take shelter at Gallery Furniture so if they can get here they are welcome, we hope to give them some comfort in this incredibly difficult time.”

Owner of local furniture store chain, Gallery Furniture (GF) and fondly referred to as Mattress Mack, Jim McIngvale, opened the doors of his stores for use as refugee shelters – for both humans and their fur-babies.  He also opened up his mattress showroom to members of the Texas Army National Guard, so that they could get some well-deserved rest between missions.  The stores were stocked with food, water and mattresses. Each store could accommodate a few hundred people comfortably and Jim was on-hand to help people out, if and when they needed it.

When some of the storm’s victims couldn’t make it across flooded streets, Mack sent out his delivery trucks and drivers to collect people and bring them to safety.  ‘We put out a Facebook feed that we were going to rescue people, because there was so much need,’ he says.  ‘The city and the local authorities did a great job, they just couldn’t get to all the 911 calls’.

Since the hurricane? He’s been offering three square meals a day, seven days a week, combined with boxes of water and cleaning supplies to the victims – I’m starting to think there’s no end to this mans kindness!

If you go to GF on a regular weekend to look at furniture? You’ll often find Pizza and lemonade, fruit, cookies and some exotic animals – to make the entire process of buying furniture a lot more fun for the entire family.  We enjoyed many’s a day there just having a look.

Every single piece of news footage, or interview by Mattress Mack has left me sobbing.  The guy, while he claims not to be a hero (he saves that term for those emergency responders and the employees who worked in his stores) he truly is.  He’s a blessing to the city of Houston and I’m hoping to be relocated back to Houston at some point, so I can furnish my house with furniture from his stores – as it stands? I’m sat on my GF bed and mattress, my clothes are in my GF chests of drawers and Col and Lewis are sat on my GF sofa – right here in Ireland.

Watch this (and grab a tissue!) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/houston-businessman-jim-mcingvale-opens-furniture-stores-to-evacuees/

HEB

For those of you who don’t know, HEB is a Texas grocery store chain, I had one across the street from my house in Missouri City and I’ll always remember them for great quality deli meat, good music and very friendly staff – oh, and those Texas shaped crackers they do.

You may or may not have seen the memes doing the rounds on Facebook ‘I’ll see your Red Cross and raise you a Texas Grocery store’, and things that never let Texas down, type memes, but why?

I’ll tell you why!

A convoy of HEB trucks laden with supplies, made their way out to Victoria, TX to bring them much needed relief.  Carrying food, water, and generators, over they headed 100 miles southeast, navigating the aftermath of what was a Cat 4 hurricane to help those who were all but destroyed by it.  They brought tools, expertise, an ATM, a mobile pharmacy with pharmacy staff to hand out prescriptions – and over 100 HEB employees made their own way to Victoria to volunteer.  The convoy included mobile kitchens – one of their mobile kitchens can serve up to 6,200 meals per hour.  Two units cooked 2,000 plates each for every meal.

Now that the worst of the storm has passed and people are starting to get more mobile as the floodwaters recede, they can start rebuilding and recovering.  HEB’s heroism knows no bounds as they are offering bread products for 10c each – loaves of $3/$4 bread, for 10c.  My friend Mike told me that in his local HEB, all of their own brand products were on excellent sales, some were even buy 1 get 2 free – with signs around the store encouraging you to take the extras to your friends and family who needed it who couldn’t get to the store.  My friend Cathlyne said that the HEB on Buffalo Speedway was giving bread away.  Literally giving stuff away for free.

Add to that? Today they just gave a whopping five million dollar donation to JJ Watt’s fundraising efforts – What generosity from this Texan chain!

Sugar Land Skeeters

The Skeeters came to Sugar Land during our tenure in Missouri City – I loved going to Skeeters games.  Especially the all you can eat family nights (most of our guests loved these games too, especially my 12-corn-dog-eating brother).  It’s an excellent family night at the ballpark, they’ve got a lot of stuff geared towards kids, families, parking is cheap, food is good and the tickets are cheap, too.  If you haven’t been, you should go.  Especially post-Harvey.

Since the hurricane? They’ve been amazing! They opened their doors to flood victims in the early stage of evacuations, to use the ball park as a shelter from the storm.  They took in both people, and their pets.

They’ve kicked off a generous fundraiser, their aim is to raise $50,000 – $25,000 from fans and $25,000 matched by the team.  They’re selling their $15 tickets for $5 each, but are encouraging people to donate over and above the ticket cost, because they are donating the overage to disaster relief efforts in the area.

They’ve also opened up to the First responders, letting them attend games for free and are putting together a blood drive at constellation field.

The Cajun Navy

Donate here: https://www.paypal.me/cajunnavyrelief

Prior to this disaster, I’d never heard of this group, an informal organization of volunteers with boats from Louisiana, deployed to Texas to assist in high-water rescues.  These heroes have been out in force rescuing people from rooftops and pulling people to safety, helping them to escape rising flood waters and impassable roads.

“The Cajun Navy was formed during the Hurricane Katrina relief in New Orleans in 2005. It’s comprised of volunteers from Louisiana who have their own boats. These boats are not like the highly secured, fancy Coast Guard boats. By and large, the Cajun Navy boats are fishing boats, hunting boats and kayaks – usually camouflaged for duck hunting – and small but mighty. In times of flooding disasters, any boat helps. Often, these smaller boats are just what is needed to navigate in shallow waters around flooded homes and deliver residents to higher ground.”

The group sent 20 boats on a 300-mile trip to Houston on the back of trucks.  These guys are just regular people like you and I, who packed up their boats and travelled 300 miles to Houston to help other people like you and I, whose lives had been turned upside down.  They paid for their own food, their own gas and upkeep, and just did their thing rescuing stranded victims.

I also feel that I need to throw an honorable mention to our local gas-station chain, Bucees – they let emergency personnel in to their stores to stay over and rest – they could also eat and drink, on the house.

Photo credit: Sandra Showalter

And while all these big names came to the aid of our city and state? I think the *most* impressive and commendable heroes?  Are the unnamed ones.  The non-famous ones.  The ‘Joe soap’ types around the corner, who just dusted off their boots and got stuck in helping their neighbours.  The volunteers, who, after the storm, called round to their friends’ houses to help them pull apart their flood-damaged homes, the good souls who cooked two hundred meals for a local town whose town no longer exists, the kind spirits who volunteered or donated at food banks, or blood banks – those are the people we need to take a moment for.

Photo Credit: Sandra Showalter

Those are the people who remind us that there IS still good in the world.  That the good does outweigh the bad, that when in times of great trial, destruction and seemingly all-engulfing darkness, that light still shines strong.  I’ve had an outpour of good will on my Facebook feed, from my friends and their kids.  From ladies cooking hundreds of meals and taking them to victims, to bulk-kolache buying for first responders, to donating time, money or resources to various charities, from blood banks to animal shelters, I had a friend whose son paddled around the neighbourhood in his kayak, helping out his neighbours and another friend whose little boy packaged up Hot Wheels, PlayDoh and snacks for the kids less fortunate than him and helped his mama prepare meals for delivery.

Photo Credit: Becky Rivero

You guys.

I can’t EVEN with this kindness and generosity right now!!

THAT is the America I know and love.

That is my town and those are my people.

Good, selfless people, raising good selfless people.

The effects of Hurricane Harvey will be far-reaching and long-lasting for Texas, and, in some ways, (gas prices and the like) for the entire US.  And while we sit here telling Texas to hang in there, that we got your back?  We barely have time to catch our breath before the next major hurricane gears up to come in and strike from the gulf – this time, a category 5 storm, Irma, is making a bee-line for Florida.  While my heart is heavy, and 46% of my state is soggy and trying to wring themselves out, I’m reminded of a meme I saw yesterday, ‘If you think Texans are obnoxious with pride now? Wait until this shit is over and we dry our boots off’.

Turoe Pet Farm

Right, so, I’m in Clifden, Co. Galway for my Uncle Robbie’s wake and funeral not too long ago, and I’m sat in the hotel foyer, waiting for my parents to get changed out of the funeral garb and come down for dinner.  Lewis is with me, doing his usual ‘running round like a hurricane’ kinda thing.  To be fair, he’d been pretty great for the travel, wake and funeral and was just crying out to burn off some energy – so where better place to do it than the hotel lobby?!

All of a sudden, he appears next to me, with a flyer from the stand of tourist leaflets sat in the lobby.  ‘Mama, this looks fun’, he says to me sincerely.  Taking the leaflet from him, I expected some fuddy duddy tourist place, or a local beach or what not.  In actual fact? He’d picked a leaflet for Turoe Pet Farm – which had a ginormous bouncy castle on the front of it – and, true as his word? It looked like a lot of fun.

“Can we go mama?” He asked eagerly.

“Let mama check that it’s open first and that it’s on our way home,” I replied.

As it turns out, from November to April they only open on weekends, from May to November they’re open all week – AND they were only a few short Kms out of our way on our journey back up North.  The weather was due to suck, so our original Lettergesh beach plan had been shelved, and I decided that since Lewis had been AMAZING on the six hour car ride, and at both the wake and the funeral that we’d take him and give him some time to blow off a little steam.

It was very easy to find off the motorway (ok, so my GPS found it, but we didn’t get lost), two adults and two kids cost around thirty Euro – and, considering that granted you access to all areas in the place, bags of animal feed, and you could stay til closing? That was excellent value for money.

The place starts with a little ice cream shop, right next to a wee park, with a rather large sand box – it was pretty tough to convince Lewis that there was anything better to go play with, or see, than the sand box – the kid LOVES sand.

This leads you to a one-mile loop that you can walk around and feed the animals.  From cows and calves, to goats and donkeys – they’re all hungry and incredibly friendly when they see those white bags of feed.

At the end of the loop, there’s another park – a little bigger, and more modern.  We had a quick swing, before we headed over to check out the indoor side of things. The jungle gym section was totally packed, so Lewis didn’t go off exploring.  We ordered food at the restaurant/café – and, in spite of there being, like, ten kids parties there at that moment, the food was quick, hot and delicious – it, again, cost us maybe thirty Euro to feed the four of us including drinks and it was tasty.

Lewis’ favourite part of the whole day, was the indoor bouncy city.  He LOVED it.  The pictures don’t quite do it justice – it was ginormous! After his first trip down the sheer-drop slide, he didn’t want to come out.  He just kept going up those steps and sliding down the slide.

When it was time to go home, I had to go ask one of the women working there to go nab him for me.  The facility was excellent.  Spacious, plenty to do, reasonably priced, plenty of toilets and fascilities, on site restaurant with lots of seating and a total of three hours from us here in Larne (and two hours from my parents in Newry) – and it was worth the trip, for sure!

If you’re looking for something to do this summer – that covers both Summer and potential downpour, Baltic, winter weather? Half-term getaway?

Check this place out!

It says ‘Galway’, but it’s the nearside, about 110 miles from Newry for those of you in the hometown!

To the lady on the Boston Harbour boat tour…

Dear stranger-lady on the Boston Harbour boat tour, 

My son was an out and out horror today. 

He was so epically, UNBELIEVABLY, naughty, that after our brief encounter on the tour boat, we made our way back to our hotel – where, I admit, the day momentarily picked up with games of hide and seek, milkshake (cause no where delivers margaritas to my hotel room) and a dance party to Fat Man Scoop, but, when bed time rolled around, he was just as bad as ever.

I don’t know what his deal is, or where I’ve gone wrong…he was such a good two year old, but three? Three is…well, it’s…it’s…something.  Someone told me a couple weeks ago that I was essentially a bad mother to my son, those words have rung in my ears every day since they were written to me, and make me question myself constantly.  

Especially today.

At some point, I sat with my son in my lap, carefully pinning his arms to his legs to avoid him hurting himself, or, from being on the receiving end of one more punch, kick, or elbow from this tiny ninja and waiting out the storm.  I had, against all odds, kept my cool and was trying to reason with him, shush him, calm him – I think I even offered him cookies at one point, bribery? Whatever it took.  Trying to explain my desire to keep him safe, trying to encourage some deep breathing, and assuring him that once he exorcised the shrieking, thrashing demon from inside of him and listened, with his listening ears, that I’d let him sit, nicely, on his bottom (not standing jumping on a chair next to an open window) and leave him be.

You see, the three year old demon, clearly did not want to obey regular human being rules today, the rules that strongly suggest that when you’re on a moving boat you don’t run like Ussain freaking Bolt, in circles, up and down flights of stairs and generally put yourself in dangerous situations, or, essentially run any which place your parents are not – thinking this careless and reckless behaviour is funny, it is not.  

Prior to the boat tour he had also not taken heed of those other tricky little regular human rules, y’know, like, 

• Thou shalt not run on the train platform.  Never.  NEVER run on the effing train platform.

• Thou shalt not drop hands and bolt from your parents in a busy tourist area for any insane person to kidnap, or car to smash in to – or, for that matter, in any public place.

• Thou also shalt not clobber thy parents with moves that have clearly come directly from Conor McGregors back pocket.

And here’s where the double standard lies for parents. Let your kid run away from you on the train platform and get smushed by a train? Or jump out the window of a moving boat? Terrible parent.  Neglectful.  Absent minded.  Tut tut.  Head shake.  Clearly an utter hot mess who deserves to be burned alive at the stake.

Shout (or use that STOP FUCKING RUNNING YOU’RE IN IMMINENT DANGER” yell that parents have), put your kid in time out, or make any threats about tech-time, toys, candy or grounding them til they’re 35? and you’re too heavy handed, too strict, that poor child.  Terrible parent. 

Anywhoo, I digress.  After enduring more punches than I have in the ring, I tagged daddy-C in to the fight and sat longingly gazing in to Boston harbour wishing the waves could open and swallow me up and praying his, inexplicable and monumental meltdown would pass quickly, then you appeared.  

“Mama, I’ve been there,” you said to me quietly over my shoulder as I bit my lip and fought back my second wave of tears of the day, “could I maybe try to help?” you asked.  “Perhaps I could play a game with him and distract him somehow?” You suggested, your voice filled with empathy and understanding.

“Sure” I said, defeated, go for it” 

“Hey buddy,” she said confidently, “would you like to play a game with me to distract you?” She asked him.  

He instantly stopped melting down, looked at her curiously, and nodded.  His wet-with-sweat hair was matted to his forehead and his crocodile-tear stained cheeks were hotter than the Red Sox logo.  But he was listening.

“Let’s distract you,” she continued, “because I’m not mama or daddy and you may even listen to me.  Can you play patty cake?” She enquired,

He nodded to the affirmative (even though he cannot) and she requested he put his hands up.  He stared at her as she demonstrated her expectations.  “I’ll just leave my hands here until you’re ready to do it too”, she said to him calmly.  

He pauses for a second, glances at me, glances back to the lady, and double hi-fives the stranger.
She began singing and clapping with him, explaining the process as she went along – and for maybe 30 whole seconds he was my happy little boy again, before he plopped off the chair he was calmly sitting on and made a bee-line for the stairs to the upper levels on the boat.
I wanted to cry.  I wanted to curl up in a ball, admit defeat and have my parenting pass withdrawn.  I wanted to offer my small child up to this, clearly superior-to-me parent, and say ‘Hey, go for it’.  He’s yours to fuck up now.
“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong”, my voice quivered at her.
“You’re going to be fine”, she replied, “you’re doing great, mama.”
“It doesn’t feel like it” I sighed.
“You gotta love an independent, strong-willed child.  It will serve him well when he’s older, but it’s so hard to endure right now.  Stick with it” she encouraged.
Turns out, she has two girls herself, 6 and 8 year olds and was one of the most genuine, least “other mother”-y type parents I’ve ever met.  She’s been there, done that, and enjoying a little nice-time before gearing up for puberty and the bitchy-ville wars that she’s soon to be staring down.
Ok, the rest of our day was blown to shit, our hundred dollar day passes to the kids museum, swan paddle boats and trolley tour, among other things were completely wasted.
Ok, I had to physically hold him in his bed to stop him climbing, jumping, running and causing mayhem and throwing things at bed time.
Ok so I wanted the ground to swallow me up from embarrassment, anger, frustration, resignation…but for an instant, this absolute stranger, sat in my space, reached out a little branch of calm and made me feel even just a teeny tiny little bit better about myself in that awful moment.
So, thank you, lady on the Bostonian boat tour, in the chaos I didn’t even catch your name, for agreeing with me that 3 years old, is a whole nother level of hell, than 2 was.  For taking a moment out of your sight-seeing trip, in blissful solitude all by yourself, away from your own children, to try and help better my day, even just for an instant and to give me some relief from the hellish demon that has seemingly all but replaced my loving and kind little boy.  For making me feel better about my defeated-feeling self, when all I really wanted to do was drink, eat chocolate, cry and disappear.
As I stepped off the boat behind Col, who was getting his glasses smacked off his face for the 38559295th time, I received a text from a friend, “I get that he’s an asshole kid right now.  But you fought hard to have that little asshole and you’ll fight hard to figure out what his damn problem is and set him straight.  Even if it’s emotionally exhausting and there are days that you just want to quit.”
Today? Today I want to quit.
And so, I’m going to bed, teary and deflated, I don’t want today to last even another second.  And considering Col and I both all but passed out on the bed the second we got back in to the hotel room, I don’t think a good sleep in the bank is a terribly bad plan.  Hopefully tomorrow is a better day, because I can’t take another one like today so soon on its heels, especially since tomorrow? We fly again. Lawwwwd in heaven, help me.
Today was a bad, bad day.  I’m praying that tomorrow is better.
He wasn’t all bad – see? This cute, adorable, sweaty-faced, sun-kissed smile? Yeah.  He was grinning because he went running around the sidewalk next to a busy bus pick-up/drop-off area at the airport like the Tasmanian devil.  Causing high blood pressure, severe heart palpitations and shrieking.  All the while yelling ‘Ha Ha! You can’t get meeeeee!’ at Colin and I – and he’s right, we typically *can’t* get him, unless we cut him off from different sides and swoop him up when he can’t see us coming.  He’s a slippy one.
Why do kids gotta be such little a-holes sometimes?  All we have tried to do on this trip is bring him fun places and do fun things.  Screw it, our next vacation will be spent at Presidential libraries, WWII ships and state capitols and he can just live with it.
Ugh! He’s lucky he’s cute.

There’s shit, everywhere.

I need liquor.  

This is not for the faint hearted and contains swearing.  You got an issue with that today? and I suggest you look the other fucking way.

Where was I? Oh yes, liquor.

Tequila preferably.  

It’s not even 10.00am and my kid is headed for the bath. 

My breakfast is currently Haribo strawberries and Diet Coke.

I can’t quite give enough kudos to military families, o&g families and all other flavours of single parent life households – this single parent shit is HARD.

ESPECIALLY when you’re sick.  

I’ve been sick for 3 days and counting.  I feel like something has died in my intestines and if the dehydration doesn’t kill me, the stomach cramps and spasms may.  It’s a relatively frequent occurrence for me – starting to think it’s my bodies reaction to stress or some shit.

Lewis has been a gem for the last few days, and aside from some granny and grandad help yesterday, I’ve soldiered through alone – granted he had, like, 8 hours of TV on Saturday when I couldn’t sit upright, let alone parent. 

Anyways, he’s been great – until this morning.  When I’m woken out of my “I was up at 5am glued to the loo with cramps and JUST got back to R.E.M. sleep” to 

“Mama, I have poop” 

“Ok son, I’ll be right there”

“Mama, its all over my legs, it’s everywhere mama”

Fuck.

“Ok, don’t move” 

“Ok, mama”

I go in, no glasses on, feeling like I was awakened by the fire alarm – you know, The “Who am I, where am I, who are you and why are you calling me mama?” feeling, and from the waist down he’s COVERED in poop, right down to between each, and EVERY fucking toe.  

I ask where his nappy and pj pants are and he points to behind the bed – they ain’t going anywhere, so I deal with the problem in front of me.  The walking turd. 

I ask him to lie down on his back so I can clean it and he’s chosen to not be able to comprehend English in this moment and lies on his side.  He knows I’m pissed so he’s also crying.  I clean him off with wipes – like, 15 of them – and for those of you who know me? Know I’m a one-wipe wizard.  Every time I think I’m done, he shows me more, faeces covered flesh.  When I’m finally done with this self replicating poop all over my child, I turn my attention to the nappy and pj pants.

Picking them up gingerly, careful not to spill out the conten- wait, where the fuck is the poop?

I open out the pull-up, and his pj pants, they’re clean.  I mean, his pull-up is wet, but there’s not a trace of poop in either.  I look around the room, and, even with no glasses on, I can tell that the scene of the crime isn’t visible.

“Lewis?”

“Yeah?”

“Where’s the poop?”

“Under there mama” he replies, pointing to his new favourite hiding spot, under his train table.

Fuck.

Cue my voice being raised.  PRAYING he’d misunderstood the question.  Lewis, WHERE IS THE POOP?

Same answer.

Fuck.  Cause I haven’t had enough SHIT over the last few days?!

The way the table is sitting, you cant see in to it, or get under it unless you move it (or, are three years old), so I pulled it out to get a better look, and, you guessed it, left a lovely long skid mark across my carpet.

Double fuck.

I get on my hands and knees, start crying myself and do a pick-up and surface clean of the toxic waste.  I look under the train table, clean the cause of the skid-mark and the visible crap, pour half a bottle of febreeze on it, say ‘fuck it’, pick up the still crying and upset toddler and take us both back to my bed for cuddles and to warm up – cause the poor kid is still pant-less.

He’s lucky he’s cute!

After a little bit, he’s playing with my snapchat, it’s dark and the flash-light comes on.  I notice he’s got poop around some of his fingernails and over his wrist.

Fuck it anyways.

Out we get from the bath.  Do a surface clean with disinfectant wipes.  Clip his fingers AND toe nails and head back to the crime scene – avec glasses – to see what other damage has been done under the mother fucking train table.

Here I find a once presumably steaming, now room-temp turd, that has infiltrated one of his Thomas toys – between two layers of plastic that don’t come apart.  I can’t get the kid to shit in any toilet on the planet, but he’s LITERALLY shitting through the eye of a fucking plastic needle.  If I was a greater human being? I COULD get the poop out, by scooping and gouging, and using cotton buds and all manner of disinfectant.  But? Being the lesser human being I am right now? I picked up the toy, and dumped it in the bin.

“Is my toy broken, mama?”

I’m not normally one to brazenly LIE to my child, but “Yes my love, it is” came forth from my lips.

Fuck this.

I run a bath, dump him in and scrub him til he’s pink.

He’s currently a happy boy, splashing in the bath.  He’s (hopefully) learned his lesson, but, as I’ve CONSTANTLY been informed this morning? “He’s only three, he doesn’t know any better” – in spite of the fact that he knows perfectly damn well that he was being naughty dropping a hot shit under his train table, and thought he was being a smart ass when he recited my rule of “No poop in the pants mama”, well, yes, I guess you didn’t shit in your pants darling, but you forgot my OTHER rule, “We ONLY poop in the toilet”.

And me?

I’m over here waiting for the two of us to get stricken by pink eye, wondering if I can carry an industrial carpet cleaner up three flights of stairs by myself while choraling a three-year-old and longingly eyeballing a chilled bottle of muscato for elevenses.

Throwing the ole 1,2 for the Southern Area Hospice…

“It’s not about winning, it’s about taking part”.

What absolute bollocks.

Everyone wants to win, and if they say they don’t? They’re lying.

That said? There’s any number of things to be said for taking part.  In Krav, our mentality is that if you can breathe, you can fight.  It was one of the first lessons I learned, and one that was repeated to me on manys an occasion during training.  Most notably? When I wanted to lie in the corner for an hour, panting uncontrollably and sweating in places I didn’t realise I could sweat.  If you can breathe, you can fight.  In many ways? The outcome is often irrelevant, it’s not about the outcome of the fight, it’s about stepping up to it.  In Krav, we learn many techniques and tools to throw in our tool belts to defend ourselves, and help us stay alive.  Even if you’re matched unevenly against an attacker, you learn how to defend yourself.

Earlier this year, my first cousin put up a post on Facebook, she was looking for people to join her in a fundraiser.  She was putting together a White Collar Boxing event, in memory of her mother, my aunt, Olive – who died late last year of cancer.  It was my aunt Olive’s dying wish for her family to raise money for our local hospice, as it helped her, and many other of our family members, through the end of her tough fight against cancer – my cousin Bernadette rose to the challenge and asked people to join her.

Picture credit: Paula Ann Curran

The Southern Area Hospice, provides invaluable support and care to people living within the local area who are suffering from Cancer, MS, MND and AIDS.  Their aim is to provide the best quality of life for their patients and their patients families.  According to research, approximately 1 in 3 people in Northern Ireland will develop cancer at some time in their lives and 1 in 4 will die from it.  Within the Newry locale? There are 30 (!) new cases of cancer diagnosed each week.

Their services are provided completely free of charge and they rely heavily on donations and volunteering to provide their care.  The hospice costs/spends almost seven thousand pounds per day to function – that’s a huge, huge, sum of money to raise to keep the place ticking over and providing their specialist care to those who need it most.

Having had family members live out their last weeks and days in the hospice, I can tell you, that it’s an extremely worthy place to send your spare change.

To find out more information about Newry hospice, how to fundraise, donate, or volunteer – please hit up their website here at www.southernareahospiceservices.org.  Any one over the age of 16 can volunteer can help, if you have time to spare, hours are flexible, some training may be needed (and provided) and references are required for all volunteer roles.

Having volunteered for 6 of my 7.5 years in Houston, I can tell you that it’s a very fulfilling thing to do.  My mum volunteered for the hospice a while back, and she loved it.

When I read Bernie’s Facebook post, I was hugely curious about participating, my Krav instructor in Houston, previously encouraged me to try some ‘pure boxing’, and when I saw this on my Facebook page, I took it as a sign to join up.  I was hesitant, though, self-deprecating and unsure.  While I’d trained in Krav in Houston, nobody on this side of the Atlantic really knew about my being an official badass.  I was concerned about stepping in to *another* new gym, I was concerned about the ‘fat girl assumptions’ based on my size and the derogatory looks, maybe even some comments and I was almost put off by the fact that I’d know, pretty much everyone in the room.

However, I got over myself, and I put my name forward.  I drove from Larne to Newry three, sometimes four nights a week and I hit the fundraising.  I took the training seriously, but, not too seriously, because, at the end of the day? It was a charity fight.  The aim of the game was to raise money for a worthwhile, local charity, but it was also about standing shoulder to shoulder with my family, The Currans, in my home town – it’d been a while since I’d done that.

Living in the US has made it hard for me to feel very connected to my family over the years, missed weddings, missed funerals and family events – it’s part and parcel of being an expat.  But, this? Especially having already had some training under my belt?  This was a no-brainer.

Picture credit: Paula Ann Curran

While I was beaten on the night? (I dread to watch back the footage, I should have adjusted my game-plan quicker as soon as I was told in the ring that our rounds were going to be shortened).  I learned a lot for my next fight, and will go in to things with a better understanding and expectation next time I take up a White Collar fight – or, any kind of fight, really.

As a system of training, I’m not sure I’m completely fully qualified to give an opinion on ‘pure’ boxing.  For the most part, training sessions were everything I hate.  A five-minute group warm up run, conditioning and fitness training, with only 10-15 minutes being on the bags, or pads with trainers – the technical stuff that I love.  In Fight Back Fit (Houston), it was the opposite.  A brisk 10-15 minute warm up to get the heart rate up, followed by an intense technical training in any number of offensive and defensive techniques.  Plus, the techniques for White Collar boxing versus ‘regular’ boxing, aren’t exactly the same.

That said, I most certainly liked the gym, the trainers and the group of people who came together to raise funds for the hospice.  And, without a shadow of a doubt, there’s not a snowballs chance in hell that I’d have signed up for the white collar in Newry, had it not been for the excellent (confidence) training in Houston.  Jeanna and the team truly coached me to believe that I could achieve anything I put my mind to – including a white collar boxing fight, in a ring, in the Canal Court in Newry with THOUSANDS of spectators.

This time last year, I’d have laughed in your face if you’d suggested any such thing as doing boxing training – legitimately.  Never mind a real-life fight, or some glam-boxing pictures.  I’ve grown and changed so much in such a short period of time.  I feel like these days, I’m in a constant state of personal development.

Credit to David Barr (lmp-pictures.co.uk)

Not only did I learn a lot about myself and the sport, though, I truly fell in with a good crowd.  Going to the group training sessions was the *single* best thing to come out of the entire process for me.  Going to the 7pm class meant that I met all of the Fit Club ‘regulars’, I got to train with a small group of good people, a good coach who didn’t mind a bit of banter and I wound up aching after training.  The actual White Collar training, was 8-9pm twice a week and had anywhere from 30-50 people in the room.  It was crazy, it was chaotic, it was hard, but most of all? It was fun.  And I got to meet and hang out with some really, really amazing people – most of whom had never thrown a punch in their lives before.  Some of whom? Actually wound up becoming pretty damn good fighters, too.

I surprised myself, I expected to fall apart and be a bag of nerves.  I expected not to be able to sleep, I expected to be beaten black and blue.  My aim was to not get knocked out, not fall on my face, and not need stitches – sounds simple enough, right? LOL!  I went in having missed 3/10 weeks of training (due to illness and travelling), I drove one hundred and twenty miles round-trip for every, single, training session I attended, I wound up getting home around 11pm every night with a two year old – who truly took it like a champ.  I ate more McDonalds and crappy meals in Newry than I care to admit (and that’s not even counting my weekly standing Friar Tucks date with Liz).

I went with good intentions, and determination not to let my family name down – considering that it was to raise money for the local Hospice in memory of my Aunt Olive and her husband, my father’s brother, Harry, it was important.

I went in wanting to raise five hundred pounds for the charity.

I went in thinking I was having a moment of insanity, that there was no way I could step in to a ring and fight in front of over twelve hundred people.

I came out with over a grand, over one thousand pounds, for Newry Hospice, I came out having boxed three rounds in front of over twelve hundred people, and I’m pretty sure my uncle Harry would have approved just fine – even though the result didn’t go my way.

What now?  Now I continue my search for some self defence training that’s local to me, easily accessible to me and helps me move forward.  It’s proving difficult and my faith that I’ll find somewhere is wavering, but I’m still trying.

To anyone who has the opportunity to try something they may think is beyond them, or just a little bit insane, or ‘out there’? Do it. Take the leap – especially if it involves something as epically badass as training like this.

Bernie recently presented a cheque to the Hospice for just over 34k – that’s a HUGE achievement for the entire Fit Club gang and White Collar Boxers!

On a final, and most important note, I’d like to take a moment to add a ginormous ‘thank-you’ to every single person who sponsored me – ESPECIALLY my Krav-Crew at Fight Back Fit in Houston – they sponsored me big, and they sponsored me the SECOND I put my name down, it was HUGE encouragement and a great show of support and faith in my skills, and some days it carried me through when my self-confidence waivered.

Thank-you all <3

Simon Says – In Car Safety Centre (Belfast)

Safety isn’t expensive – it’s priceless.

Did you know that over 70% of children’s car seats are either inappropriate for the child, incorrectly fitted or incompatible with the car?

I didn’t.

Just let that sink in – over 70% of people, driving around the roads in the UK, are driving around with the WRONG car seat for their child/car.

Did you also know that children travelling in rear facing seats are FIVE (!!!) times safer in an accident?  FIVE!!!!

Did you know that each year, over 200 children in the UK are killed, or seriously injured in car accidents?

Did you know that, in the UK, the law stipulates that children up to the age of 12 are to be in a suitable seat for their height and weight?

Having just moved back from the US in October (2016), and our two-going-on-twenty-two year old being over 100cm/1m tall and being right at the 40lb mark – the max for his ‘old’, rear facing (and American, so not legal to use here in the UK) car seat we suddenly found ourselves in the market for a new car seat.

I’ve always been a proponent of extended term rear facing seats.  My friend Magz, still rear faces my Goddaughter, Eve and Col’s Godson, Alex, car seat safety has always been of paramount importance to me.  I can’t ever understand why people opt for the cheap option, or an ‘it’ll do’, or, the worst? They just don’t research at all and pick the pretty lookin’ one.  The safety of my child when he’s in a moving vehicle and surrounded by distracted and idiotic drivers on the road? Nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth more to me – and I’ll pay whatever it takes for him to be as safe as he possibly can be.  I will also vehemently protest anyone who disagrees with me that the ONLY reason that Lewis wasn’t hurt in our car accident in Iowa the year before last, was because he was rearward facing (the other three of us in the car came away hurt).  How’s that for being up on my soap-box? LOL!

We went up to the In Car Safety Centre in Belfast, a place that many people don’t know about it, they don’t realise *quite* how lucky we are here in Northern Ireland, to have one of only THREE of these centers in the UK at our very doorsteps.  They are the country’s leading experts in children’s car safety, and they are an invaluable – and a completely FREE – resource.

You drive your car up, either with, or without your child (bring their height and weight details along) – or even just sit at home and call up with the details of make and model of your car, and the details of your child – and Simon, or Stuart, will tell you which car seat is the safest for your child, for your specific car.  You have three kids and a tiny car? No problem – they’ll do car seat Tetris and tell you what three seats will fit.  Not only that? But they have a full-range of Britax car seats, including special needs seats, in-house, for you to try in your car, they manufacture car seats here and they take their time in helping to educate you on what is the safest option for your child.

When you find one that you’re happy with? Simply cart it out to the car, and Simon will fit it, un-fit it, re-fit it and even show YOU how to correctly fit it in your car, multiple times if necessary.  If it comes lose, or you’re unhappy with it some day after you’ve detailed your car, or you just have a nagging feeling that it’s not in there right? Simon will check and fit your car seat for you – rain or shine.

People have started asking why he’s rear-facing, when he’s turning, isn’t he too big to RF? Isn’t he uncomfortable? Aren’t his legs always all bent and isn’t that dangerous? Couldn’t he break his legs?

My answer? He’s below the height and weight restrictions for his chair, so it’s SAFER for him to rear-face.  He’s not uncomfortable – in fact he’s happy as Larry back there, and as for breaking his legs? I’d rather he broke his legs in an accident, than snapped his spinal cord, crushed his sternum or something equally harrowing and much worse than a broken leg.

It’s been over six months since we got home and bought Lewis a new seat through the ICSC, it’s been a couple months since I told the speaker at Larne Baby Club about ICSC (she’d never heard of it and was a bit miffed I was more educated on it than she was! LOL!) and it’s been a month or two since my sister took my nephew up to visit Simon and get him a new ‘big boy’ seat, too, and I figured it was high-time that I gave them a shout out on my blog to try and get the word out to the locals, that this little gem of a resource is right in our midst, and Simon is a fountain of pivotal information about car seats and everyone should go pay him a visit!

Like a Queen – with Constance Hall.

For those of you who haven’t previously heard of Constance Hall – go forth and Google, (or Facebook, or Instagram) – actually, here, just go to www.likeaqueen.com – thank me later.

To some, she is the first contestant to be kicked out of BB5 (Aus), she’s a mum of four, blogger, Author, massive fundraiser (check out her amazing work with Rafiki Mwema – www.Rafikimwema.com ) and that woman who wrote that post on Facebook about ‘three-minute parent sex between nappy changes’ last year that went viral. 

To some of us, though, she’s just a rad bitch who tells is like it is. 

I’ve been following her for well over a year now, laughing hysterically at her frank and genuine posts about motherhood, about being a woman, about accidentally buying adult diapers instead of sanitary towels, about how, if she’s caught scratching her girl-parts during a national interview – that it’s not, as we may all assume, crabs – rather intimate area eczema (who even knew that was a thing?), about parental guilt, sleep deprivation, body image, about self-love, about all love, about life and about relationships.

I’ve found myself nodding in agreement to the list of things she’s written about that ‘they’ don’t tell you about having a child, or the crappy day she’s had while her kids have had a public meltdown comparable to a nuclear explosion – all the while shoving chocolate in my face and slugging down a diet coke – wishing it was wine, wishing I had a closet to hide in, wishing I could JUST POOP ALONE, or wishing I could teleport to a Caribbean Island for a *real* margarita (not Northern Ireland’s idea of what they think a margarita should be) for just an hour of peace and quiet.

In some moments, I’ve found myself truly grateful to read that I’m not the only imperfect mother out there, and not only that, but she wears her imperfection on her sleeve like a badge of badassness.  Shouting from the rooftops about things that are deemed the taboos – she’s my kinda gal.

On days my three-year-old says ‘mama’ half a dozen times in one second, for no apparent reason other than to have me pull my hair out – from the root – or asks ‘why’ four hundred times in an hour. 

On days where he has crapped his pants three times in a row after JUST having gone for a wee in the toilet. 

On days he draws on the wall with Crayola ‘magic markers’ – I think the magic is that you can’t get the damn things off the freakin’ wall. 

On days where my laundry basket is overflowing, dishes are piled high, I haven’t showered, or cooked in two days – have no inclination to either – and I just want to have the TV parent my child for a couple hours so I can nap. 

On days where I just hand him a box of Honey Monster Puffs (because apparently we can’t call them Sugar Puffs any more – damn kale and quinoa warriors!) and say ‘Hey kid, knock yourself out’.

On days where I’m at the Goddamn end of my zen-rope and snap at my three-year old for no reason, then cry at him about how sorry I am for being only human.

Con is there, to remind me in ways only a kindred spirit can, that this too shall pass, that this too, is normal, that this is the side of motherhood that mothers are typically shamed in to keeping quiet about – one must have a spotless house, one must present oneself immaculately, one must have an amazingly behaved child – ALL.OF.THE.FUCKING.TIME. 

But here’s the thing, that’s a pipe dream.  A fantasy.  An unrealistic expectation.  Because no one – NO ONE can keep their shit together 100% of the time, no one is infallible, and I’m sure that even the Dali Lama himself gets to the end of his zen rope sometimes! 😉

So, Con announced a book tour and we all looked longingly at those saying they snagged tickets on her FB posts – I didn’t think she’d come to the UK and Ireland, but she announced UK dates and, from the front seat of my car (while I was out for lunch one day with Col and Lewis) snagged a couple tickets for my friend Liz’s birthday and off we went to check out her Q&A/book signing – thankfully, I didn’t hesitate, because the venue was sold out within, like, an hour.  Neither of us knew quite what to expect, I mean what was the format? Was she just going to talk at us for a while and then we got to ask questions? How did it work? Were we going to be the only people there? And, most importantly, would there be food?

We got there early, too early, 11.30am early for a 12.30pm start – which would have been fine if it had started at 12.30pm like it was supposed to – it did not.  They had a limited menu at the bar (Liz just wanted a freakin’ scone for breakfast! LOL!) I got the smallest and least margarita-like margarita I’ve ever had (don’t mess with this honorary Texas girl’s margaritas) so I quickly gave up on those and hit up the beanie-dude at the gin stand.  Now, I’m not a gin kinda girl, but the herd of fish-bowl-esque glasses filled with orange peel and a clear liquid that HAD to be alcoholic based on the volume of glasses round the room, peaked my attention, so off I went to try his wares.

Why am I talking about gin? Because this is locally distilled gin.  Because I’m not a gin person and I liked it so much I had multiple cocktails.  Because this gin is da bomb!  ShortCross gin, small batch, distilled in Downpatrick – find it, try it – and again, thank me later.

Anyways.  The room was cosy, there was maybe two hundred and fifty people, max, I’m not sure if that was more or less than I expected, but it was a nice sized crowd, many of whom were wearing flower crowns (Con’s signature headgear).  I can’t quite think of an accurate way to describe what we were a part of yesterday, it was less about the words, more about the emotions.  The emotion in that room was tangible, women from all over Northern Ireland had gathered together with like-minded women of Con’s ‘tribe’, to share stories, support each other, listen and just, exist.

The ladies shared some of their deepest and most secret life happenings, from abortions to divorce and separation.  The content was largely heavy – though at times we laughed a lot, too.  From abusive husbands to partners who had been caught cheating on them only days before the Q&A, or they were pregnant with child number four and struggling to find the strength they needed to leave their husband – it was shared.

It wasn’t quite the sharing of stories that surprised me.  I think if you were in that room, you know what Con is about, you know her ethos and you feel safe and as though you can share anything to her without fear of judgement.  That said? It totally saddens me that sharing stories about you, about your personal life, about your pain, or joy is still deemed taboo in today’s society.  You talk about infertility? Body image? The inner workings of the female body during pregnancy? And you’re considered brave – when really? You’re just human.

What I was *more* surprised at, was the overwhelming sense of ‘good human’ in the room.  You see so much crap in the news every day about such horrible humans out there – in that room? The GOOD in people was clear, my faith in humanity was restored a little. 

‘You can have my number and call any time’

‘Can I come and give you a hug?’

‘You are not alone’

Complete strangers walked up the room and down the rows, to hug women hurting, in pain, in tears telling their stories – some of which hadn’t ever even been said allowed to anyone but their nearest and dearest, most bestest friends, but was now shared to two hundred-odd women, and more than that? Received with love, support, acceptance.

It was quite beautiful.  And moving. 

I think I even saw Liz wiping a stray tear out of the corner of her eye at one point – though she’ll probably tell you it was an eye lash or something! LOL!

When we got home? One of the ladies who’d shared in the group, had made a Facebook group page for the ‘Queens’ of Belfast who met yesterday, and it’s nothing more than a page for the Irish Queens to unite and hang out virtually, give recommendations, provide strength when it’s needed, share our blogs, our lives, our loves – and not be judged. 

It’s quite a cool group already, and it’s only twenty-four hours old.

If Con is coming to your area, there happens to be tickets left and you’re on the fence about going? Do it.  Get off the fence before you get splinters in your arse.  It’ll be a worthwhile, interesting, fun and emotional (it seemed for some it was even a spiritual) experience.  Plus? There may be gin!!  Though I’d probably recommend that you skip the ten quid burgers at the BBQ out back 😉

Keep on being rad bitches ladies!