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

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!

Choo Choo! Lewis is two!

It’s been almost a year since I started this blog post.  You know how I know that it’s been almost a year? Because Lewis’ THIRD birthday has been and gone, so i’m clearly just a little behind.

Let’s do a quick recap…For his first birthday party, we settled on planes as the theme (blog post can be found here), I had originally wanted to keep the ‘train’ theme for when he was a little older and more involved with trains, so he could enjoy it a little more.  But I couldn’t help myself. I’d settled on the theme for his second birthday a before he began his obsession with trains, thankfully though, his obsession was in full force by the time his party came around.

There are worse things my son could be obsessed with these days, I hear Caillou and Peppa Pig are absolute head wreckers (I wouldn’t know, they’re banned under my roof! LOL!) Curious George bugs the hell out of my friends and I don’t think I could face a Dora the Explorer obsession for that matter either.

In spite of the fact that Lewis is currently, whole heartedly obsessed with Paw Patrol, I had already decided that his third birthday party theme would be cars (following the Planes, Trains and Automobiles path), and had already set wheels in motion for the theme before the obsession with the heavily gender-biased dog show came along.

Anyways, back to his second birthday, originally, we were going with a generic train theme, not specifically Thomas.  However, it wasn’t long before our little toddler was Thomas on the brain, so it became a non-starter, a Thomas party it would be.  The colour theme was red, green and blue – after James, Percy and Thomas.  If you search for Thomas and friends party on Pinterest, there’s an abundance of ideas and suggestions, to fit every budget and creative flare.  Everything from train cookies, to ride along hay-bale trains for the yard (which I momentarily considered before I decided that it was, perhaps, a little OTT).

I skipped out on the invitations for his second party, with my best friends wedding only two weeks before, life was a little crazy and so I opted for a Facebook event invitation (a trend I opted to do again this year) and didn’t bother with a photo-booth either (I know, right? What kind of pinterest party mother AM I?)

Essentially, this party was as minimal effort, maximum effect, as I could physically manage.

Party Bags

 

I LOVE party bags, they’re one of my favourite things to put together for a party.  I decided that last year, the party favours would be two-fold, upon arrival to the party, children were directed to the ‘Uniform Pick-up’ station, where they donned a hat, bandanna and picked up their train whistles.

As they left, they picked up one of these goody bags, the bags themselves I got a couple years ago in a closing down Birthday’s on a random trip to Scotland – figuring that I’d use them some day, whether for a grown-up ‘little boy’ obsessed with trains, or a son.  I paid pittance for them (like 15p a pack) and they fit right in.

Inside these goodie bags, kids found a train lollipop, star shaped bubbles, a Thomas and friends Mini ($1 each in Walmart, $1.50 in Target), a pack of Thomas stickers (Amazon) and a Thomas and friends stamp – I was pretty happy with this little goody bag.

Decor

Decorations for this party were pretty simple, the internet is coming down down with Thomas decorations.  I opted for this Thomas the tank ‘Scene setter’, which came in five pieces, two went on the front door, one went above the favour table and the two biggest pieces went behind the drinks station and served as a ‘faux wall’ between the party room and the dining room.

I picked up a pack of these Thomas table centerpiece decorations and confetti, a railroad track table runner, last year’s three-piece little blue suitcases were, this year, joined by a red set for holding favours and table decoration.  I opted for healthier snacks this year, and decided to have some popcorn, coincidentally I stumbled upon this cute popcorn stand, which was both practical and added to the table decoration.  The food was also served in foil containers that I’d glued oreos to, to give the impression of a train car – and that, was pretty much that.

The Cake

The ‘Cake’, was something i’d seen on Pinterest.  It was a ‘2’ made out of cupcakes, topped with kitkats, feigning railway track for his little Thomas minis to sit on as decoration.  It was a simple, yet effective ‘cake’, I ordered the cupcakes from a local bakery, and Lewis had any number of mini trains around to go on the ‘track’.

Food and Drink

Having made ombre rice krispies treats for my BFF’s wedding a couple weeks prior, I figured it would be fun to make them again for the party, dipped pretzels became our ‘log car’, poorly homemade train shaped sugar cookies, popcorn and various fruits, macaroons and oreo truffles made up the sweet table.

On the savoury side we had squares of cheese (dairy cars), chips and dip (grain cars), veggies and dip (produce cars), mini quiches, mini sausage rolls, min vol au vents, and train shaped sandwiches with various fillings.

The drinks table had mini waters, capri suns, orange juice and lemonade, with 99c Thomas cups from Walmart that the kids got to take home at the end of the party too.

This was Lewis’ last birthday party for a while in his hometown of Sugar Land, Texas, and it was quite a fun, at-home party.  Lewis’ toys were all on-hand for the kids to play with, so as far as party activities were concerned? I didn’t really need to do anything.  The kids busied themselves just fine, and when they weren’t playing with the toys, they were filling their faces with a mix of healthy and unhealthy treats, while the mama’s all had a chinwag and a bun!

To the mother of the autistic child…

I saw you.

I didn’t realize he was your son, or I’d have come to you first. I couldn’t fathom the idea that perhaps he belonged to you, considering you sat intently watching as your five year old child, repeatedly assaulted my two and a half year old without intervening. But had I known? I’d have taken your damn head off your shoulders.

Let me rewind.

I’m sitting in Funky Monkeys, as usual – vaguely watching my kid happily playing by himself – as he’s prone to doing. I see an older boy go and shove him. Lewis looks at him with a confused look on his face and tries to pass again. The boy slaps him. Throws one of those swinging foam punch bags in his face and runs off laughing.

A few minutes pass, Lewis slides down the slide and tries to do a second pass. He’s shoved and smacked again, and having watched this child’s interactions with other children after the first altercation, I had my suspicions that this child was perhaps somewhere on the spectrum, but I wasn’t quite sure, while I’m aware of ASD, I’ve had no direct experience with it.  I bit my tongue, gave him the benefit of the doubt and, thus far, he’d just been a bit overly boisterous with Lewis, so I held my ground and just paid a little more attention to them both – my ‘vaguely watching’, instead became ‘must have a 20 on both of them at all times’.

Lewis then proceeds to actively try and avoid this child for a few minutes. He’s decided he’s had enough, and he wants to stay away. But the child pursues him. Relentlessly.

And then? He shoves Lewis, off a set of foam stairs, causing him to fall a couple feet and hit the deck, on his back/head. Lewis gets up, rubs his head and tries to climb back up. He’s only little and didn’t quite understand what was happening, another sharp shove later and Lewis is back on his back on the floor.

At this point I bound up from my seat, cross the floor of tables and chairs and approach the pair.  As I approach, I notice a lady intently watching them, shaking her head with a disapproving look in her face. We make eye contact. She gives me that “where’s that wee bully’s parents” look and I continue on my way. I get to Lewis, pick him up before this older kid had a chance to shove him a third time (he was winding up to do it), ask him if he’s ok, turn to the offending child and (calmly, though I’ve no idea how I kept my cool at this point) say “can you stop shoving him please? He’s only little”.

“Sore face mama, sore arm” Lewis tells me and it’s about now that the VERY SAME LADY I just made eye contact with, over this child’s behaviour comes over shouting at me, demanding to know what he’d done. What has he done? You’ve been WATCHING what he’s been doing.  I SAW YOU.  FFS! I watched you, watch them.

I tell her, calmly, (though being accosted like it was my child doing the shoving off steps really got my goat up). She snaps at me “he’s got autism, just tell me next time. This is why I don’t take him out to places like this” and tried grabbing at the child’s arm and shouting at him to apologize to Lewis.

I (still calmly, and quickly) tell her it’s ok, to leave the child (Jose) alone and not to shout at him – it wasn’t necessary.  But that things had just escalated to the point of my being concerned for Lewis’ safety and I had to say something.  I realise the sensitivity of having an autistic child, I’ve had friends in the past with autistic kids, I’m aware that a symptom of the disorder is that the child often does not understand personal space boundaries, but I’m even more aware that raising your voice, getting angry at them and physically pulling them out of a situation? Is NOT the best way to deal with the situation.
For the rest of their time in the play area, Lewis kept going over and trying to make friends with the little boy, and both of his parents.  That’s just who he is.  You take his toy? He’ll let you.  You push him and he falls and hurts his head? I teach him to forgive.  I don’t teach him to be angry and bear grudges.  I don’t teach him revenge.  I teach him love.  I teach him kindness.  I teach him patience.
My childminder has said that he’s ‘too soft’, that being around other boys will ‘toughen him up’ and that he ‘needs to harden up’, and for a moment? I *almost* conceded that perhaps, just, maybe, he *does* need to be a bit more tough.
Until today.  Today marks five days post-incident with this little boy with autism in the indoor play area, and I’m back in indoor play with Lewis.  I’m sat watching him push a little baby, less than half his age, around in one of those red and yellow cosy coupes.  Prior to the pushing around? He went over to the little boy – whom we don’t know, and said ‘hi baby’.  He crouched down to his level, got a little in to his personal space to say hi, and the little baby touched his face (and eventually started slapping him a little and pulling on his nose).  Lewis didn’t hit him back, he didn’t argue or get angry.  He simply said ‘mama, baby touch the face’ and the babies mum intervened to ask him to stop pawing at my kids face.
Tolerance.  Patience.  Forgiveness.  Love.
Stand up for yourself when you need to, but pick your battles, you can’t, nor should you, fight them all.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Keep perspective.
Let bygones, be bygones.
However cliched, or fortune cookie-esque that sounds, I think the world is sorely lacking in these qualities right now, and I find it a little sad that people think that a little boy with more gentle qualities than ‘storm in a teacup’, or a ‘have your toy snatched, snatch it back’ mentality, is a negative thing.
The way it should have been for Jose’s mother the other day.  SHE, who sat WATCHING her child, hurt my child, REPEATEDLY, should have intervened.  SHE was more educated and better equipped to handle and diffuse the situation that I am, and she just stood by and watched him hurt another child.
I don’t typically fight my child’s battles for him.  I often fight my instinct to ‘helicopter parent’ him.  If he falls, I don’t make a rushing scene to his aid, I ask him if he’s hurt, if he’s going to make it, and, as such, he only cries when he actually hurts himself.
Perhaps I didn’t deal with the situation the best by addressing the child directly, but you? You have been immersed in his daily life, you’re experienced living with a child with autism, he’s clearly had similar experiences prior, considering your ‘this is why we don’t take him places like this’ comment and I, my no experience self, handled the damn situation better than you did.
YOU, lady, should be ashamed of yourself.  And I imagine if tables were turned? If Lewis had returned even ONE of his smacks, or shoves? You’d have been down my throat like a bullet.
Newsflash? Just because your child has autism, does NOT mean you can stand idly by while he hurts another child.
Aaaaand there ends my angry mother rant.

Bloom where you are planted.

250269_10150733801935411_2742472_nI’m struggling with words this morning, forgive me, please.  I’ve had a bit of a “creative spark” drought as of late, and I’ve not blogged in a little while.  But I got a phone call a couple weeks ago, that has changed my life forever, and it’s prompted my catharsis….

My dearest Cindy,

(I was very tempted to start this with ‘hey girlfriend’ but I resisted – kind of.)

Do you know how hard it is to explain to a two year old why you’re crying?

“Mama crying?”
“Yes Lewis, mama is crying.”
“Mama sad?”
“Yes bubba, mama is sad.”
He hasn’t learned the concept of “why?” quite yet, but the confusion on his face as to why his usually chipper mother has tears free-flowing down her face is clear.
I can’t quite break down into small enough words, or comprehensive terms for a two year old, so I just repeat, “mama’s sad, my love.  Mama’s gonna make it, but mama is sad” to try and reassure my concerned little man.
He reaches his wee arms up above his head, says “cuddle mama?” and rubs my tear stained cheeks when I pick him up.  “Wet, mama” he announces as he snuggles in to give me a hug.
318464_10150846251215411_703757683_nIt’s been over a week (more now that I’m actually finishing up this post) since you’ve gone and I don’t think I’m in any way more used to the idea that you’re no longer on the end of a text.  I tried to put some words together on the day that Tim called to tell me you had passed away, but words failed me – and we both know how unusual that is.  I think I needed those twenty four hours in Nawlins for your funeral, to be able to absorb, process, and string something coherent together, I’m just hoping that auto-correct is picking up typos through my tears.
A friend suggested that I write you a letter, I guess, this is my hybrid, both writing to you and sharing with everyone else just how wonderful a friend, but more so an amazing human being you were, because I couldn’t get myself together in time to put something in your casket with you.
45870_10152542173410411_310981353_nLet me rewind a little and tell everyone about my cherished friend…
Seven years ago, give or take, I was fresh out of college, I was dating Colin and his company offered him a transfer to Houston, ‘Let’s go!’ I enthusiastically exclaimed.  I’d always wanted to live in the US and this was a great opportunity for him, career wise, so off we went.

When I got here, I quickly realised though, that I hadn’t quite thought through the entire process of this expat malarkey, it wasn’t easy.  Culture shock (trust me, it happens even for people moving between states or provinces within the same country), not driving, not having kids or dogs to meet people at schools and dog parks, missing my family, my friends, birthdays, especially, being difficult.

Not long after I arrived, I joined the Spouses organisation – you know, the one that I tell you all about ALL. THE. TIME.  and I met, who I can only describe as this ginormous ball of positive energy, crammed inside a teenie tiny petite little frame.

I think this was the 1st (or maybe 2nd) time I ever met Cindy!

I think this was the 1st (or maybe 2nd) time I ever met Cindy!

Her name was Cindy, she was a bit older than me (think around my mums age), so not someone that you’d typically think of as falling under my ‘friend’ umbrella, but she quickly became a very dear friend to me.  I called her ‘mama Cindy’, her husband ‘daddy Tim’ and she took me under her wing.  She was sort of new to the Houston area (she’d been here before for a time) she was one of the first people I met in Houston and she was, without a doubt, one of the best.  Neither of us wanted to be here, she’d spent thirteen years in Denver, CO and that was home.  She loved having four real seasons, being close to her son Alex (I’ve heard so much about him that some days I wonder if he’s actually related to me somehow) and she hated Houston.  In spite of that?  She jumped in with both feet and wasn’t afraid of the splash.

Over the past seven years, our friendship has grown and I am nothing short of honoured to be able to say, that she’s been a large part of my inner circle, one of the original, old guard, ‘renegades’, who was truly up for anything.  Many’s a day have we cleared out cafes and restaurants by giggling obnoxiously loudly, we’ve eaten together (and for a little un she could surely put it away), we’ve laughed together, we’ve cried together, we’ve gossiped together and we’ve explored together.

She helped me picked my wedding dress, she was at my wedding, she helped both Col and I out after not one, but two surgeries, she co-hosted my baby shower, she never missed a sing-star party (or any kind of party) that I threw, she was always game for a good feed (and boy, could she put it away for someone so little) and she loved on Lewis and helped me out once he was born.  She was a true friend.

1010281_10152955364060411_1665002835_nWhen she got sick, almost ten months ago now, she was so full of hope, fire and determination that she couldn’t possibly succumb to this disease.  When she rang the exit bell at MD Anderson after her first round of radiation, she was so proud of herself, happy and excited about what was yet to come.  When the cancer came back? She took it in her stride, gloved up and said ‘Let’s do this’.  There has never been a single moment in the last nine months, where I didn’t think she would and could fight this – in spite of her prognosis, in spite of being stage 4, I figured that miracles happen, right? And if anyone was deserving of a miracle? It would be our Cindy, and she’d beat this thing.

You can imagine, then, how ill prepared I was for Tim’s phone call telling me that she was gone.

1484201_10153512435330411_1969890155_nSome days? I’m not wholly convinced that there’s a God, others? I’m not really sure he knows what he’s doing.  But if anyone needed convincing that God really does exist and indeed know what he’s doing, just look at Cindy’s story.  Tim mentioned it in his eulogy and brought us all to tears, he was right, things in Cindy’s life were definitely falling in to place, rather than falling to pieces, even though, in some ways it may have seemed like things were falling to pieces.

Her son Alex marrying Brittney when he did, her granddaughter Avery being born when she was – all big milestones that, had they happened at later stages of her life, she may not have been around to witness.  This extends to us too even, my friend Shelley wasn’t supposed to be transferred back to Houston when she was, instead, she got to see Cindy before she died, another friend and I are at the end of our seven year visas, had she died even six months down the line? We may not have been here to say goodbye.

The day before her funeral, I flew in to New Orleans with my sista-friend and Godmother to my son, Sheri.  We decided to go the day before, stay in a hotel in the ‘Quarter and pay homage to our girl Cindy in an amazing city.  We started with dinner and a hurricane at Pat O’Briens, a hand grenade at Tropical Isle, dancing and singing at a couple bars on bourbon street and finished up with a trashy hot dog in the street between pictures with minions and doing some guys advertising job for him.

IMG_6241The morning of her funeral, we met up with a couple of our friends who flew in early, we had breakfast, shed some tears as we walked through the French quarter, shopping a little for momentos and listening to a jazz band play ‘Amazing Grace’ (a song that the priest actually sang at the end of her funeral).

It was hard, but none of us fought our tears and I think a tradition was institutionalised.  In the future, when we lose one of our group (and I’m hoping it’ll be a long, long, time before that happens again), that’s where I’ll go, to honour, to drink and to say goodbye.

Miss Cindy’s visitation and funeral service was one of the hardest I’ve ever been to.  While it was beautiful and fitting, there were pictures of our fun-loving Cindy and beautiful smelling flowers at every turn, it was just hard.  I knew that with Tim doing the Eulogy, I didn’t stand a chance.  I was doomed to be a sobbing, ugly crying mess, before long, and I was right.  I was – and rightly so.

1511490_10153913529365411_953168089_nThe world is missing a very special person right now and I think many lives have been changed forever with her passing.  That said? Many lives have also been changed forever with her having been part of their lives – and I’m honoured to say, that I’m one of those people.  For a little’un, she’s left ginormous footprints on my heart and I’ll hold her memory dear forever – maybe some day we’ll all get together and tell little Miss Avery how ace (translation: cray cray) and full of love her grandma Cindy was.

397960_10151198854695411_185557443_nRest sweet, dear Cindy and I hope you’re dancing in heaven with the angels among the stars and we’ll all keep dancin’ down here, blooming where we are planted.

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That one friend…

This blog has been incredibly difficult to write.  I started it when I arrived in Iowa, and have been deleting it and re-writing it ever since.  Some things are just hard to put into words, and my friendship with ‘The Girl’ is one of them.
I’m feeling a bit of a fraud this week.
I’ve had people far and wide tell me they’re so grateful for me being here for Amber, what they don’t know, is that she’s been there for me, every step of my life, for a very, very long time.  She owes me nothing, I owe her everything, and being here, helping out her family in whatever small ways I can, is as much for me as it is for her.  I’m enjoying my time with my niece, Averie, don’t get me wrong, she’s a drama queen, diva, 6 year old, but she’s so full of love and cuddles that I could burst.  Let me tell you a little back story…
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5k colour run, Cedar Rapids IA, 2015

 Everyone’s got “that one friend”.
The ‘Do you remember…’ friend.
The ‘This one time…’ friend.
The ‘Hold my hand and pretend to be my girlfriend cause I *really* don’t want anything to do with that guy’, friend
They may not be your longest serving friend, or maybe they are, but they are most certainly your very bestest.
The kind you have a suitcase full of stories about (that typically all come out in quick succession when you’re talking to other people).  You’ve got a basket of dirty laundry together, a basket of secrets together and the biggest basket of all is reserved for the giggles, and hysterical laughter. The kind of laughter that comes with tears pouring down your face, the kind of laughter that gives you hiccups cause you can’t breathe, the kind of laughter that hurts your ribs and has people looking at the two of you wondering why the hell you found what you’re laughing at, so hilariously funny.
Which just makes you both laugh harder.
They’re the kind of friend you can sit up talking to all night, plan world domination with, karaoke with, shop with (and always find way more to buy when you’re together!) drink with, dance with, cry with, get questionable haircuts with, take a bazillion selfies with (you’re the same people, in the same clothes, with the same facial expressions, but bet your ass you’re taking alllllllll the selfies) and drive across country or fly across continents to be with.
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First trip to IA 2006 – ice cream, pjs and movies!

They’re the kind of friend you can often tell what they’re thinking, just by the look on their face, or the subtle inclinations in their voice (or texts, or emails) or the un-subtle inclinations of them smacking you or throwing an inanimate object at your head.
There’s no better comfort than hugs from a friend like that, no better joy than from the shared love and laughs and no greater sorrow than when one of you are hurting.
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Amber’s 1st trip to Ireland 2005

I’m asked at least half a dozen times every year, how I met my ‘that friend’ Amber.  I’m asked a dozen more than, that if we’re sisters.

She’s American, I’m not (though having lived here for approaching six and a half years many people think I am, or at least Canadian) and we’ve known each other for ten and a half years.
On December 31st, we’ll hit our eleven year mark, and, we’re so close, that even her daughter Averie thinks we’re sisters.
Houston 2014

Houston 2014

I met her online (I’ll give you a moment to get past the shock and audible gasps), on a website called ‘LiveJournal’, an online journaling community.  You can post daily (hourly for some people) journal posts about anything/everything, join communities full of people with shared interests and add friends, who can comment on your posts.  Amber commented on my ‘Friends only’ post asking if I wanted to be her friend.  Little did I know that when I added her back, my life would change forever.
And then some.
A mutual friend said to me a very long time ago, ‘You guys are cute, you’re like sisters, mushy sisters, “I miss her” and “She’s having a hard time” and “I love her” and etc that’s all I ever hear.’. They also said ‘Good friendships prevail even in the shittiest of conditions.  I bet even your arguments are lame, I don’t think I can picture you two in a full out brawl, you know each other too well that you’d walk around and word things in a way that would keep each other from getting angrier’.
Our ‘arguments’ are about the only thing about us that is in any way boring, and oh the stories I could (and probably will) tell.
Chicago 2006 my first trip over to IA.

Chicago 2006 my first trip over to IA.

In the beginning, we were pen pals, with real, honest to goodness, pen to paper letters.  Pages upon pages, that we snail-mailed across the Atlantic.  Usually embedded in some kind of care package, a shoe box filled with the most delicious treats and snacks our countries had to offer.
We emailed about 239874529384729384572398 times a day.
Yes, that is a real number.
No, that is not an exaggeration.
That number doubled when she was on 3rd shift overnight at Yellow Book – we were on the same schedule for a while there.
My first visit to see her, came a year later, we’d even had a couple phone calls by that point, but I flew Dublin to Chicago, leaving a pair of anxious parents at home, praying to God they’d see me again.  We started in Chi-town (where I met Heather), drove through Madison (where I met Ange) and into Cedar Rapids (where I met a list as long as your arm of her friends, most notably the Stacks and Liz).  It was an amazing trip, I cried the whole way home, and I knew that I’d be busting my butt to save up enough so I could come back again soon.
Dublin 2005

Dublin 2005

A standard visit to Iowa consists of many basic elements, or, at least used to when we were younger, before children.  We’d bake cookies – something that’s ‘typically’ American to an Irish girl, we’d watch High School Musical (singing into hairbrushes or bottles – or just at the top of our lungs – poor Aaron!) while in our pjs and sharing a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Karamel Sutra (she’s allergic to chocolate, so she gets the vanilla, I get the chocolate and we fight for the caramel core! 😉
There’d be a least one trip to Buffalo Wild Wings, more than likely two.  If we were visiting a city with a Chipotle, we’d go there too (Cedar Rapids just got one recently! Whoop!)
Before I moved to Texas, we’d visit WalMart and the Dollar Tree – taking at least an hour, sometimes three (right Col?) to do a thorough inspection of things I couldn’t get here, but absolutely ‘needed’ to take home.  We’d visit Michaels, Joann’s and, in Texas, Hobby Lobby – and buy any number of craft materials that neither of us ‘needed’, but more so ‘we could totally do this, with this’ – and, Lord knows, that Ireland isn’t overflowing with scrapbooking materials, and, as a knitter/crocheter, cheap yarn was never to be passed up.
The other thing we’d do? We’d drink.  Pretty much one night of my trip was spent drinking, occasionally with karaoke, though that bit isn’t a prerequisite (though I maintain it should be).  And when I say drink, we DRINK.  LOL!
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Six years ago, my niece Averie Rose was born and we got a little more responsible, marginally more sensible (translation: our drinking was upgraded to cheap wine) and exceptionally good at our new found addiction of Pinterest parties.  I was her wing-woman for most of Averie’s birthday parties and have been to Iowa for four of her six to date, normally with some form of craft or food-creation in my suitcase that I’ve worked on in Texas to help out from afar.
We’ve road tripped together, we’ve baked together, we’ve sung together, we’ve gotten drunk together, we’ve gambled together, we’ve ice skated together (it’s possible I clung on for dear life to the arm of a poor unsuspecting Rough Riders goalie), we’ve camped together, we’ve been through drive-thru’s together, which may sound pretty benign to you guys, but to us they often end up with us crying with laughter for one reason or another.
Stephen Kellogg and the Sixes gig

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers gig

She’s responsible for about 75% of my music tastes and approves of the other 25% cause that came from Col (and she and him share an affinity for the 80s/classic rock), she’s responsible for my curly hair being as awesome as everyone tells me it is (seriously, I laughed at her when she told me about the Curly Girl routine, yet it’s kept me sane while battling the Texas humidity for years!) she’s responsible for my Midwestern accent (‘Las, you need to slow the f*ck down or people won’t be able to understand you’ and I’m responsible for her horribly poor Irish accent that’s passable enough to get her free drinks on St Paddy’s day) she’s responsible for my scrapbooking hobby, my obsession with Target, my baking and most of my wardrobe really, since there’s not really a fitting room I’ve been in, where she’s not been in with me (via snap-chat, pictures or even in real life when I come to visit).
We truly have had the best of times together and not to mention she’s a Godmother to my little boy Lewis.
Lewis' Christening 2014

Lewis’ Christening 2014

She’s been there for me through the toughest times in my life too.
Boyfriend break-ups, college, health troubles, bereavement, fertility treatments, becoming an expat and moving away from home and even though there has always been a geographical distance between us (originally Iowa – Northern Ireland ~ 6,000 miles and now Iowa to Texas ~ 1,000 miles), we’ve never let that interfere with the strong bond that we have.  We’ve never let distance get in the way of being best friends, of confiding in each other, supporting each other, loving each other and generally being pretty inseparable – which, let’s face it, is a pretty great achievement, right?
Averie's 2nd Birthday party 2010

Averie’s 2nd Birthday party 2010

 So, I’ve told y’all how amazing she is, I’ve told y’all how much she’s been there for me, how she’s bugged me to eat, sleep, take meds and see doctors when I need to for the last decade.  I’ve told y’all I almost peed on her once – oh, wait, what? I didn’t?
Ok, back up the truck.
There was this one night in our more recent history, where we went out drinking, on the way home, we made Aaron stop the car on a gravel road so we could pee.  It’s slightly possible that we may have been a little liquored up.  Amber went off on safari into the ditch and I stopped right next to the car to pee.  Before I could do my thing, she’s yelling at me that she’s standing ‘down stream’ and to get my ass down to her level so I didn’t pee on her.  As I was headed her direction, I fell on my arse and slid down the bank to land almost at her feet – thankfully, she hadn’t peed either, cause that’d have been unfortunate too.  More so really, cause I’d have been the one covered in pee.
We really do do everything together! LOL! 😉
I’ve told y’all I consider her to be family, because, when you get down to brass tacks? That’s what she is.
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Amber came to Houston 2008

Basically we’re thick as thieves and I’m sure some days even our mothers wonder if we’re twins.
So, having laid a little of the foundation and given you some of the backstory of my friendship with this girl (really though? How impossible is it to tell an audience like y’all how much this girl means to me? As I’ve discovered in the last week, pretty bloody impossible!) I think you all have at least a vague idea of the kind of friendship we have.
Averie often despairs at the two of us ;)

Averie often despairs at the two of us 😉

Well, eleven days ago, she went in to labour at 37 weeks gestation, with her second baby.  We said goodnight around midnight I think? And I slept pretty soundly – which is unusual at the moment – but I was woken up around 6am by Col saying ‘it’s go time’, to which I replied ‘What’s go time? Where am I going?’ and he said ‘AJ is coming’.  The plan of action had been that when Amber went in to labour I’d leave my phone volume on, but considering the amount of international phone ‘traffic’ I get on my phone, we figured that her best bet would be to text or call Col and he’d wake my butt.
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She labored at home most of Sunday night, because with Averie, she was sent home from the hospital like three times before it was really ‘go time’, so she waited for a while before heading in with AJ.  As it happened, she was 5cm dilated, admitted, epiduraled (only just, she almost missed that window) and had AJ by 10.45am on Monday morning.
It wasn’t long before they suspected something was a little off and they were running tests.  Test confirmed Trisomy 21/Downs Syndrome, as well as three congenital heart defects, he has hypoplastic left heart syndrome, an unbalanced AV canal and coartication of the aorta.
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The last ten days have been an emotional rollercoaster.  He was ambulanced to the University of Iowa hospital (go Hawks!) where he has been ever since, hooked up to machines and on a fine balance of medication to keep his ticker working.  After a back and forward with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) they gave us markedly improved odds (compared to U of I) of survival from the first of his (at least) three surgeries that he will require to repair his specific series of heart defects.
He showed signs of infection, had trouble with his IV sites, a swollen tummy and an issue with keeping his blood pressure stable – not all at the same time mind you, but he’s given us a couple of heart-in-mouth moments over the last few days which led us to wonder if he’d still be a viable candidate for the surgery at CHOP.
11204414_10155947491130411_634803832216868452_n (2)Today we heard the great news, that CHOP would take him, but they don’t have a bed available for him just yet, and we’ll likely have to wait through the weekend before Amber heads up with AJ and before Aaron road trips the 18 hours up to PA to be with AJ for his first surgery.
As you can imagine, I’ve felt pretty helpless over the last week and a half.  I came up to Iowa last Friday and have spent the majority of my time with my niece.  I’ve had a cough (and didn’t want to risk giving germs to AJ if it wasn’t ‘just allergies’) so the hospital has been out of bounds and we figured that she needed a little stability and ‘normalcy’ in her life while everything is going on around her.  We’ve had a pretty good time.  I mean, she’s had her sassy moments, her moments of sliding on to the floor in a puddle of ‘I don’t want it to be bath night tonight’, but, considering what’s going on in her life right now, she’s doing better than most of the adults I know would in her situation.
IMG_2657What else can I do?
Not much really, it’s a waiting game, and, while I wait, I’m doing a spot of fundraising for AJ’s medical expenses and for his family’s travel expenses to and from PA, recovery time up there, gas to and from the hospital in IA City etc etc etc.  We’re doing pretty good, too.  My first major goal is behind us, $10k!! That’s incredible – let’s keep the momentum going!
If you shake your sofa cushions and happen upon some cash you didn’t realize you had and have been happily living without, you should consider donating it to my nephew, if you could take a time-out from your daily Starbucks for the week and donate that money? That would be great too.  If you have any cash at all spare, we’ll take it – no donation is too small.  Every dollar counts!
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Donate here:
https://www.gofundme.com/m43qcu5k

[Breastfeeding buddies] Courtney and Sophia.

Oh! It’s been an age since I got to sit at my surface and type out some blog posts for the masses.  Visitors, a malady plagued house and more visitors have left me with very little ‘down-time’ to churn anything out.  Or even stop for a breath.  I promised a long time ago to share some real-life breastfeeding stories, from my nearest and dearest friends.  I think I’ll restart my blogging kick there.

No better person to start with than this story from my girl Courtney, living in Cali.  Court is one of my very favorite people in the whole wide universe and I miss her face.  We’ve been pen pals for a long time, but she came out to visit us last year for a few days and, in that time, we became BFF’s.  We clicked.  She is AWESOME and she’s a FAB-tactic mama.

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I am going to be upfront with all of you and admit from the start that writing in detail about my breastfeeding journey was extraordinarily hard for me to do. Though, (for the most part) I’ve come to peace with the outcome of it all (SPOILER ALERT: I failed. Miserably.). I have been able to reflect on the experience with a positive outlook, but it was still difficult to find the words to describe everything without going on side tangents. So I will try my hardest, dear reader, to report just the facts and save the rants for another time.

This was my first pregnancy and like all first mothers, I gorged myself with all the baby related reading material I could get my grubby hands on. I was determined to breastfeed my baby. My husband and I went out and bought all the necessary supplies; we got a pump, creams, pads, containers, wipes, ointments, and anything else related to breastfeeding. We even got two of everything so we would be doubly set. I was ready for this!!!

My due date came and went and still no baby. This little girl was in it for the long haul. Finally, two weeks later I had to schedule a C-section.

I should also pause here in the story to note that at the time of my pregnancy, we were living in Wyoming. My husband, not being fond of the health care provided in the state, wanted to have the baby in California where we were from and where we had family. For some reason, still unknown to me, I agreed. Two weeks before the due date and with the Dr.’s blessing we drove to California and scheduled an appointment with a doctor I’d never worked with.

From the get go I was very upfront with my feeding plan. And I have to give credit to the hospital and all their staff for being supportive of my wishes and listening to my requests. I was lucky to have a good breast feeding consultant who ensured that the baby’s latch was good and I found out that she liked to cluster feed. With that knowledge, I took it to be the norm when feedings were lasting up to an hour or more on each breast. Other than that I did not have any other type of training. I felt like I was getting enough nourishment to my baby and from what the staff at the hospital told me, that was the case. During our stay at the hospital there were no issues and the Dr.’s were happy with our daughter’s progress.

Though my baby was a champion during the first week of her life, I was just beginning a free fall plummet to a mental breakdown. Unbeknownst to me, postpartum depression was playing a part in all of this, but the biggest push down the hill was the pain medication that was prescribed to me. The side effects of this drug was huge; I was unable to stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time, nodding off in the middle of texts or on conversations on the phone. The worst of the side effects were the night terrors, they were so dark and twisted even the most creative (or demented) person couldn’t think up the nightmares I was having. A combination all of this was taking a toll on my mental health.

After our hospital stay, we went back to my husband’s parent’s house. To their credit, they were very hospitable and made every effort to make our stay comfortable. My husband was going through his own adjustments and was very distant as he processed the emotions and change of being a new dad. I was in my own mental state of crisis with the pain meds messing with my head and dealing with postpartum. Staying at the house with a new baby was just plain rough. Everything else made for the perfect storm for failure and despite it all, I was trying my best trying to breast feed our daughter.

Feeding was getting extremely difficult and unimaginably painful. One does not realize the love a mother has for their baby until they are experiencing excruciating pain in their breasts. True love is, despite all impulses and instinct to throw their baby across the room to make the hurt stop, when you keep breastfeeding and holding on to your baby. I was cracking, chapped, bleeding, red, and sore. No amount of cream or ointment was going to heal me. I decided to switch to pumping to try and give myself a chance to heal.

Pumping in its own self was an adventure. While I had read everything about breastfeeding and the consultant at hospital guided me on breast feeding, never did it once occur to me to learn the logistics about pumping! So I did what any first time mother not in her right mind did, I just winged it. On the fly pumping, if you will. I mean honestly how hard could it be? You just hook them up to your milk dispensers and it ends up in the little containers! Working mothers did this every day, sauntering into the barn and letting the farmer hook up the pumps to their utters. If cows could be milked this way, why couldn’t I?!

I found out that, though in theory pumping is very easy, in practice it is not. I sat on my In-Law’s couch for hours in vain and only coming up with a few ounces of liquid gold in each breast. My journey into breastfeeding was looking very dismal. We were leaving back to Cheyenne in a few days so my mind (which was doing better after getting off the meds that were making loopy) was focused on the trip and I felt like finding a breast feeding consultant in a town we would be leaving was pointless. Supplementing with formula was our only option at that time, which we took because at the end of it all our baby needed to be fed.

I worked very hard at processing this failure in a positive way. It was not easy, as my first inclination was to beat myself up for failing my baby, being a mother, and in some ways a woman. But I was able to excuse my shortcomings at the time with the understanding that not all people were cut out for it (my mom was not able to produce enough milk as well) and at the very least my baby was able to get the most nourishing part (though all parts of breastfeeding are important) from the colostrum.

So there you have it, my breastfeeding journey. It was a difficult, though short lived trial, and it was ok for me to fail. The best way to handle that failure for me was to learn from it. Breastfeeding is challenging if you are not properly prepared for it. Despite my failures, my daughter is strong, smart, and healthy. My experiences and short comings have made me better prepared for our next child. To be honest, now that I am a little wiser, I am looking forward to trying breastfeeding all over again.

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Lewis’ ‘Time Flies’ first birthday airplane party.

The theme for this blog post, guys and gals, is ‘OTT’.  No, no really.

11010629_10155279509765411_8605921233011560039_nBut he’s super cute – and I just couldn’t help myself!

It’s no secret that I’m a Pinterest party person. I love event planning, hosting parties and crafting up a storm to make for an amazing party. Having helped my BFF out for the last five years on my nieces birthday parties, I felt confident that I could take doing one for Lewis by myself.

With the help of our photographer, we narrowed down a theme (I’ll probably use the runner up for next year!)  Airplanes.  She mentioned that she had happened upon a cute plane prop and could totally make an amazing set around that theme.  So we ran with it.

Invitations

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I had bought him a cute flight jacket at a local Just Between Friends consignment sale, wayyyyyy before he was born (Col thought it was cute) and after having gone to the Galveston Flight Museum (and Amazon), I grabbed some patches and send the whole thing down to my trusty seamstress, who turned out a FAB jacket for our lil guy.

His first birthday photo shoot was one of my faves, he was a lot more mobile than before, he was curious and yet hesitant to pick things up, so gave us unsure little looks, to make sure he could pick up the planes and letters around.

I ordered them (and the thank-you cards) from Tiny Prints (photo above was the one I used!), I had a coupon for a huge discount, but needed urgent shipping cause I stupidly left it too late.  Tip: schedule your pictures early, and order your invitations early.  BE EARLY! LOL!

Party bags

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I went with brown paper bag ‘suitcases’, in keeping with the travelling/flying theme.  I got the bags and brown card for accents in Michaels.  The vintage travel stickers, and the thank-you tags came from Amazon, and the pilots wings I got from eBay.

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Inside each bag, kids got a little aviator duck, a ‘grab bag’ from Target (either a Planes one, or a Minions one), mini bubbles, Disney Planes/Cars tummies, a foam glider, half a sheet of stickers (I couldn’t get a sheet each, Target was cleared!!) and some white chocolate covered pretzels.

Photo booth

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I’ve wanted one of these for ages, and this OTT first birthday party, was the perfect excuse 😉 I decided to go with a fabric back drop.  I ordered a photographers stand from EBay for $30, it came in a little fold away bag for easy storage, it’s easy to step up and take down (if I can do it anyone can) and it worked out being cheaper, or at least as cheap as making a plastic pipe one from piping from Lowe’s or Home Depot.

For the back ground itself, I wanted a sky-theme, I had grand plans of making a cardboard plane for Lewis and his friends to sit on, in front of it, so I bought two yards of four different colors of fabric, which Col and I tore into 2″ strips one night while watching NCIS.  The clouds are made from $1 clearance tulle Pompoms from Michaels and fish wire/clear thread.

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My props, aside from Lewis’ flight jacket, and a pilot hat from Amazon, were hand-held wooden props that I got from Michaels and painted one evening (glasses, mustaches, crowns, top hats) that were all $1-$1.50 each, but are so versatile that I can use them every year, regardless of the theme of the party!

I ran out of time (and thought I’d have more hands to help) so I ordered an inflatable red airplane from Amazon.

Décor

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Using my ‘old faithful’ cricut, I cut two different banners – out of regular, 12×12 card stock from Michaels.  In their ‘discount bins’, I got some matching twine and in their scrapbooking aisles, I picked up some coordinating clothes pegs, to make my lovely ‘Time Flies’ banner.  The intention was to have a plane pulling the banner, but it just didn’t get done.

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The other, was a Happy Birthday Lewis banner – pretty simple, but cute!

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I picked up 48 WWII foam gliders on Amazon for $8, I didn’t realize there was 48 when I bought them, but, after putting one in each party bag, I didn’t want to waste the leftovers, so decided to do a hall of gliders – stringing them up onto fish wire was pretty bad, considering the string is INVISIBLE, but I think the hall looked cute.

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Even now, weeks later, Lewis LOVES our hall of gliders.  Every morning we go downstairs and from the very top step, you’ll hear him exclaim ‘wow!’ They amaze him!

Cake

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I considered having a cake made by a local bakery, but, in a moment of stupidity, decided to do it myself.  I usually HATE boxed cakes, but, I haven’t find a white/vanilla cake recipe that I love better than the box (I will NEVER buy a chocolate box mix, for example) – if you have one, please feel free to share!

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I went with a five layer orange ombre cake, covered in a light ‘sky’ blue butter cream, buttercream clouds and topped with a Sesame street cake topper (from Amazon).  It was pretty tasty – if I do say so myself, but, unfortunately, most of our guests were seemingly health conscious, and I was left with well over half of the cake! (This totally wouldn’t have happened in my home country!!)

Food and drinks

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The ‘in-flight service’ savoury menu, was pretty simple.  I went with two crock pots of ‘mains’, I had BBQ pulled chicken in one, and meatballs and smokies in a BBQ-tomato sauce in the other.  I had burger buns, with cheese, onions and lettuce on the side.

The sides were a veggie plate, crisps from home, chips and salsa and caprese bites (mozzarella cheese, basil leaves and cherry tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinegar – I should have made more of those, they went very well!).

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I even put together some cutlery/silverware packets, with Lewis Air labels that my BFF designed for me.

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IMG_4749The ‘in-flight beverage’ drinks table,  had some orange punch (Hawaiian punch and sprite zero), Koolaid drinks and small bottles of water (with personalized labels).

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Our dessert table, was fun! I had my sister pick up a bunch of kiddies sweets from home, my best friend baked some Airplane cookies, I dipped some Oreos and made propellers from M&M’s and Jelly Beans and had some jars of color coordinated M&M’s and Jelly beans.

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I’m very proud of this party, not least of all cause I did it myself, but also cause it came together very well.  I’ve already given thought to his next birthday party theme, and will be keeping my eye out for ‘stuff’ to stock pile for it! 😉

What was the theme for your little one’s first birthday party?

Being an expat is an endurance sport.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But they are there.

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

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

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

“People” don’t understand.

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

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

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

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

She’s moving on to her next adventure.

And I’ll start over.

Again.

Such is the life of a nomad.

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

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

Decor

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

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

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Games, guestbook and favours

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

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

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

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

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

Food

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

Dessert and drinks

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

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

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

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

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