Smells like Krav spirit…or is that sweat?

How in the world do you blog about a group of people who have quite literally changed your life?
13606656_10156979276515411_756404044872232427_nI wasn’t going to write this just yet.  I’m not 100% sure why, exactly.  I have a few reasons I guess, I wanted there to be more of a change in me, I wanted to make sure I stuck at it for an extended period of time and I wasn’t convinced that eight weeks was enough time to gauge, well, anything really.
Plus? Let’s just throw it out there now, but when it comes to talking about my amazing little Krav family? I get hit square in the feels (as long as it’s not the jaw, right?)

But, my time here in Houston is drawing to a close over the next couple months, and this new lifestyle and these new people have already had such a profound impact on my life, I thought “screw it”.  I figure that there’s really no harm in sharing this new chapter of my life on this blog.  Especially considering that the mental changes within myself, far outweigh any current visible, physical changes.  I’ve even gone so far as to have already looked up somewhere to continue my training when I go home, and Col has looked for somewhere in India.

I officially have “the bug”.
13516350_10156973497185411_7002291917759849473_nOn Thursday, May 5th, (so just over a month ago as I start to write this), I, in what felt at the time, like a moment of utter insanity, drove North of the city to try a free Krav Maga class.  I didn’t know much about the self defense system, other than it was more instinctual and less “organized”, than say, Tae Kwon Do, and really a little more akin to street fighting even.  So, off I went.
I got there a little early so I could watch the end of the previous, intermediate/advanced class, train and had I listened to the not-so-quiet voice screaming loudly in my ear to think again about what in the name of all that is holy I thought I was doing, I’d have bolted.  Part of me wanted to.  Not a small part either.  There was absolutely no way in hell I could ever do what those people were doing, right? But they’d all seen me come up the stairs, there was no escape – believe me, I considered it.
Hold up.  Let’s rewind a little, we all know that I’ve posted any number of fitness, weight loss, or healthy eating posts since I started this blog.  I’ve yoyo-ed the same 10lbs for years and my self-image hasn’t ever been stellar.
I abhor exercise.  Despise it.  I’ll leave a collection of things on the stairs that needs taken up, because I’m just too out-rightly lazy to add an extra flight of steps into my day.

And then something clicks.

It’s the same process every time, right?
I’ll get so sick of seeing my reflection in the mirror and I’ll hit something full pelt.  I’ll eat 1600 (-1800) calories a day (GP approved before any of you give me grief), drink 2 liters of water, eat 5 a day and start some form of exercise, Les Mills Body Attack or C25K have been the most notable favourites to date.  I’ll go 3-5 times a week, give my all, and after the first week or two of quick body-shock progress, eating like a hangry ankle-biting rabbit and working out more than any sane person should, in my lazy land of couch potato, I’ll hit some dumb plateau, the scales won’t move and I’ll lose my patience with it.  Or? Better yet? I’ll get my period, use it as the worlds lamest excuse to curl up in the corner and avoid the gym like the plague.  It really doesn’t take much for me to quit and go back to being unhappy with myself.
Typically.
I know myself, I know my patterns.

Or so I thought.

Anyways, back we go to Las, sat on the floor of the Krav loft, trying to look calm – when all she really wanted to do was jump in the car and drive home – stretching, because from the look of the intermediate class, it seemed like that was a smart thing to do, and praying, praying hard, that no one laughed at my mere presence there.
Then it occurred to me, the (I’m reluctant to call them educated, but on the subject matter I guess they are) person (people) who encouraged me to go to Krav in the first place? Wouldn’t have done so from an unkind place, or to make fun of me somehow.  They encouraged me to go because they thought I was capable – in spite of enjoying my couch potato lifestyle.  They thought that it was, perhaps, something I would enjoy, and maybe even go to a second class.  They believed in me, even if I didn’t believe in myself.
13510781_10156955669315411_8653724555621343230_nMy first class was pretty “low-key” (I’m also reluctant to say low-key, because I still ended up a sweaty mess and my calf hurt for three days after training).  It was all footwork, (stance is the most important thing!) and I spent most of the 60 minutes face to face with an orange belt, called Jen, who I’d seen training at the end of the previous class.  Neither she, nor Mike (the instructor), laughed at me for being there, they didn’t scoff, or ask what I thought I was doing, and, despite us giggling for the guts of an hour, Jen taught me more than I realised.
In spite of not being able to walk very well the next day (my calf protested being off the floor for an hour), I was sufficiently intrigued.  I signed up for a monthly, unlimited class membership and attended a two-hour monthly women’s self defense seminars, just two days later, that Saturday morning.
13319719_10156865174375411_9113199934113673980_nIn the eight weeks since that first night? My goal in May was 9 classes (two per week) I finished the month on 13.  I’ve attended a 3 hour Kali/Escrima (knife skills) workshop, two (soon to be three) 2-hour women’s self defense seminars and a 3 hour Muay Thai workshop with the best Muay Thai coach in the US.  I’ve not only tried an intermediate class, but I’ve done a number of back to back inter/beginner classes in the last few weeks, and I’m hungry for more.  Why? Not just because I enjoy it – sure, that’s a huge chunk, but these people I’m training with? They help me find belief in myself that I’m CAPABLE of more.
Crazy as it sounds, (and I know it’s a long shot, but we all need goals, right?) I’m training with the aim of testing for my yellow belt before we leave the US.  My goal for June was 13 classes, 3 per week and I finished on 22 Krav classes and 1 cardio combat class, I’ve not skipped a single class simply because I have ovaries (as a friend’s better half pointed out “an attacker doesn’t care if you’re sick or have your period”) and I’ve even managed to simultaneously train through a chest infection, just fine.
13307453_10156865174365411_3685887745969475778_nIt’s incredibly hard to capture, on a computer screen especially, the kind of people, or atmosphere, that Fight Back Fit has managed to harness, and I find it just a little laugh-out-loud-funny that I’m getting ‘totes emosh’ about a group of seriously bad ass fighters, however, I really am.  Last week? I trained for two hours before we went out for post-training tacos.  We typically close out the places we go to eat, mostly, I think, because the other patrons are afraid that our special kind of crazy is contagious and don’t want to be within a city block of our hysterical giggling.  Anyways, I had a not-so-minor breakdown on my way home, worked up and upset that I’m leaving this great group of people in a short matter of weeks.  It bothers me, a lot.
In class, no matter who I pair with in training, I learn something.
Everyone has something to teach.
Everyone is vested in everyone else’s training.  Everyone wants to make you a better fighter and no one cares that you’ve only been there a short number of weeks and suck at hooks, your left elbow flares when you strike, or that you punch with the wrong part of your fist – they just want you to be better.

Every class.

13528802_10156942683145411_1999757221268620819_nFighting and fitness aside? The folks I train with have a pretty social element to their training, they typically eat out after class a couple times a week (this has become after every time I train because I have a long drive home and am so hungry I could eat an entire cow when I’m finished), we’ll sit, laugh (there’s always lots of laughing), talk, share stories and re-fuel after a tough work out that we push each other to kick ass in.
I know you’re skeptical, I would be too had I not experienced it first-hand, there’s no way anyone could accidentally happen upon such a ready-made group of great friends, right? Wrong.  Aside from the Krav-ing, and the post-Krav eating (which, in the interest of being up front if you’re thinking of joining us, can last for hours), we have also hung out socially, I’ve been shooting with them, we’ve had lunch together on non-Krav days, and we’re working on throwing together a bucket list for my last eight weeks here in Houston and have a few fun things like karaoke and go-karting on the list for us to try our hands at.
13615046_10156987121315411_4232918578577866323_nWe even landed around to my Krav friend Kathy’s house (toddler and all!) and invaded for a bbq for the 4th, with two of my other fave Krav friends (Kate and Jen) with Kathy’s sister and her family.  If someone starts a sentence with ‘Hey, why don’t we…?’, or ‘Does anyone want to…?’ chances are at least four of us will be there.
They pick me up when I fall (literally), build me up when I’m low, push me through when I feel like I can’t do something and tell me I’m getting skinnier while punching me in the chest – what’s not to love? 😉
13606503_10156989125330411_3121260125936346466_nWanna know how hard I love these folks? Sunday night on my way to my volunteer shift at Ronald McDonald, I hit a pot hole – and I was scared to my core that I’d busted out my tyre, was going to get stranded at the hospital (I had the car seat in my car, so Col couldn’t come rescue me, had I been in trouble), but I knew that without a doubt, I could have called any of a handful of Krav people and they’d have busted their behinds to help me get myself figured out.  Thankfully, I didn’t need it, but it’s a very, very reassuring feeling to know that someone’s got your back.
While a large part of me is devastated that I didn’t meet these people seven years ago when we first moved to H-Town, a larger part of me is so damn thankful that I got to meet them at all.  That I got over myself, my inner demons, my self-hatey and crappy self esteem to take a chance, try something new, and that I get to spend my last four months in Houston, doing something I love, with people I love even more.
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My first ever Busy Bag Swap!

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Being an avid Pinterest-er (yes, I may have made up a word) I can safely say that I was overwhelmingly curious when I stumbled upon a pin about a ‘Busy Bag’.  I liked the concept, it was simple.

What is a busy bag? A ‘busy bag’ is a simple activity, that typically fits inside a Ziploc bag. It’s designed to keep your little ones entertained, teach them about things (shapes/colors/numbers/fine motor skill), but also be cheap (the aim is to make them around $1-$2 each), and fun.

The idea, is so simple, in fact, that you can reduce it to a five-point-plan.

Step 1:  Pick a date (leave enough time for your attendees to buy supplies and create their bags).

Step 2: Invite mums.  I invited about 20-25 mums.  The more mums that attend, the more bags you get.

Step 3: Chose a bag to make – this could take a while.  There are any number of bag ideas on Pinterest, Google searches etc.  Consider the age of the children attending, and try to pick something age appropriate, or something they will ‘grow in to’ before long.  I made two bags, as I wanted to receive two full sets of bags.

Step 4: Make one of your bags for each mum in attendance.  Make an extra one or two in case you have any last-minute additions to the guest list.

Step 5: Get together and swap your bags.

It’s THAT simple.

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We ended up with eleven bags, and we kind of turned the swap in to an impromptu play date.  It was during the day, each mama brought shareable snacks, their kids, and we spent the morning having fun, explaining how to work our bags and eating good food – what more could you want from a morning?

Our Bags:

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Top Row: Paper chain, personalized door handle, create your own caterpillar

Bottom row: Thread straws on yarn, put pipe cleaners into a container (both fine motor skill)

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Build your own pizza and learn shapes with car tracks.

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Counting and colors (pegs, buttons and pompoms)

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Aren’t they FAB bags? I had a lot of fun, and I’m already planning the next busy bag swap for our group – there are hundreds of bags out there for us to make 😉 and you can be sure these little ones all slept well that night too!

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?

Brazos Bend State Park (15 things to do in Houston for under $15)

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Alright, so, my parents came to town a few weeks ago, and they wanted to do EVERYTHING that this great city had to offer.  I tried telling them that we couldn’t quite fit EVERYTHING into a small two-week window, I would, however, give it my best shot.

This has inevitably resulted in me putting together a series of blog posts about various things to do here in Houston.  Some I’ve done before (and perhaps just not blogged about), and some that are new for me to share with y’all.

I made a very specific itinerary, each day was packed full of something to do, and we even managed to try a few ‘new places’, that neither Col, nor I, had ever been to before.  One such place, was the state park, Brazos Bend.

Having heard good things about this place, most notably from my bird watching friend Adrienne, I was excited to take my parents to the ‘alligator park’.

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After a false-start in one of the smaller loop trails, we came back to the entrance of the park and went to the 40 acre lake – read the information sheet that you get when you arrive, we didn’t, the best place to see gators, is right here, at one of the first trails you pass when you come in – and we were not disappointed.

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We saw close to a dozen or more alligators, ranging from about a foot long itty bitty little gators, to some pretty large, fully grown gators.  Passing a couple, within only a few feet.  It was simply amazing.

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The loop around the lake isn’t all that long, but there is enough to keep you busy and interested, from fish and ducks, to the most beautiful selection of birds.  We spent our afternoon watching cardinals, and, what I was told at the park, a rare American Bitten (or three) catching their lunch.

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As this is a park, you can always bring your bikes along with you.  We brought a picnic of sandwiches, drinks and snacks to enjoy under the shade of the trees.  If the weather is right, this place is a glorious spot to spend a day.  If the weather is ‘Texas summer’, then you can easily get cooked to a crisp, eaten by mosquitoes and dehydrated.

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Bring water (lots if its a hot day), sun cream, bug spray, a hat, comfortable shoes, your favorite camera (you will see a LOT that you want to shoot).

The park is open daily (gates lock at 10pm) the office is open Sunday – Thursday 8am – 4.30pm and Fri/Sat 8am – 9.30pm.  Entry fees are (as of April 2015) $7 Adult, children under 12 are free.

My brother arrives in just over six weeks, Brazos Bend state park has been put on his itinerary too, as long as it’s not too hot.  But it’s definitely an amazing place, even for someone (like me!) who isn’t a big outdoors-y person, who hates the sunshine and heat, and isn’t very active.  If I can go, walk and enjoy it – anyone can!

Getting to know my new blogging buddies!

My main reason for updating today is I received a blog baton from my friend Becky over at If all the world were apple pie a while ago, and it’s now time to pass it along.   The idea is simple. You receive five questions from someone’s blog. You answer the questions, then send five more on to other people’s blogs.  My questions from the lovely Bex are…

1. You can only eat one meal for the rest of your life – what is it and why?

Curry chips! Man, oh man! I have been DYING for a proper curry chip for about two years now.  Alright, Americans, you may not have a clue what I’m talking about.  A curry chip is french fries, covered in curry sauce.

However, now your slim-jim excuse for french fries, proper, thick-cut french fries, with REAL curry sauce.  Ugh.  I’m drooling over here.  It’s my favourite food, ever and, as soon as I got off a plane at home, I practically camped outside a chip shop til it opened so I could have one for breakfast!

2. Tell me about the last film you watched. Did you like it? Why/why not?

Col and I went to see The Hunger Games a while back.  I did like it, I didn’t LOVE it.  I liked it because it stuck close enough to the book to be enjoyable, the actors were well chosen, the production itself was pretty good and, just like the book, it sucked me in.

I *didn’t* like it, because it left important parts out of the book.  In the beginning, the back story about the red headed girl (who later in the story appears as an Avox), the relationship between Gale and Catniss, there wasn’t enough Gale to make the Gale/Peta ‘inner struggle’ believable enough, the Peta/Catniss dymanic wasn’t, well, dynamic enough, the relationship with Catniss and Rue was rushed, the bread that Rue’s district sends to Catniss in the arena etc etc etc.

I’m really sick of this, excellent books turned into mediocre at best, ‘blockbuster hits’. I’d rather ‘the biz’ took each book and made two films a piece, just to incorporate all of the important stuff.

There’s a reason we take more than two and a half hours to read the damn book!!

3. What’s your favourite book of all time? Why do you like it?

Flowers in the Attic series by V.C Andrews.  I can’t really explain why I like it, I read these books while I was growing up, I’ve read them a number of times, and it’s just a story that sucked me right in.  They were creative and descriptive and, although tragic fairy tale, they’ve got a special place in my heart!

4. What do you value most in a person? Is there something that makes you think less of people regardless of other good characteristics?

I value honesty, can’t be surrounding myself with people who’d tell me I look a million bucks, when I’ve got lumps and bumps showing now, can I? 😉  I also value loyalty, it can be someone’s greatest assest, and, in the same breath, disloyalty can be someone’s biggest downfall.

5. You win a very large amount of money, enough that you’d never need to work again, but not so much you could buy the planet! What do you do with it?

I’d start at home, I’d clear our debt and mortgage, buy some property, and buy Col a ‘better’ car (he gave me the good one 😉 lol!) I’d buy my parents, brother and sister a house each and reliable cars and I’d make sure both Col’s family and mine would be comfortable for as long as I could.

I’d put enough in savings to pay for any future kids schooling.  I’d donate to charity, I’d travel…man, I suck at this…it’s just as well I don’t have enough money to buy the planet, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

I guess it’s cliched, but it’s also true that I wouldn’t want more money than I need (if that makes sense).  I’d like to be out of debt, comfortable, own our own house outright and have our families comfortable, that’s it.  Anything beyond that is icing on the cake, you always get ‘used’ to whatever your standard of living is, if you become a bit more affluent, you get ‘used’ to that, but I’m not sure if it’s ever enough, I think you’d always want more.

Though, now I think of it, I could own my own pro-hockey team…

Now for my questions…pretty well-used and boring, but they’re all I got and I always find the answers interesting!

1. If you could have dinner with any famous person (alive or dead), who would it be and why?

2. If you were an animal, what would you be, and why?

3. When you were little, who was your favorite super hero and why?

4.  If they made a movie of your life, what would it be about and which actor would you want to play you? (and why?)

5. If you could visit any place in the world, where would you choose to go and why?

And who I’m ‘tagging’…(maybe a few more than five!)

Calliefornia over at Second on the Lips
Meghan over at Infertile Myrtle
Johnny over at Feed the piglet
Sera over at Sera’s Slimspiration
Hanna-Lou over at The H Duct
Jenni over at Another Fat Chick Blog
Danielle over at Journalitico

Days 9 and 10 – Cupcakes and catch-ups!

Friday, Col and I started our day in Larne town.  We had a list of things to do, pick up a package from the sorting office, pick up an N.I driving license application, pick up a cable for the tv.  Y’know, just every day errands.

We stopped off for lunch at a place called, Ann’s Pantry.  Since there’s only a few cafe’s down Larne’s main street, we figured what could go wrong, right?

WRONG.  It went very, very wrong!

It was lunch time, and the bakery had run out of white bread for Col’s toasty, my food was microwaved in front of me, the service was slow, their ‘vinegar’ bottles, were malt vinegar, but had been emptied and replaced with white vinegar (I’m sure Sarsons would love to hear that!), my chicken and ham pie was made with thin sliced packet ham – not chunky, proper ham, y’know, the ham that you make a chicken and ham pie with?!?!?!  The list was extensive, including the extractor vent thing in the bathroom being covered with an inch of grime and dirt.  Disgusting!!!!!

Back at home, after doing all our errands and picking up a clothes horse, we were FINALLY able to embark on doing some laundry (having a broken tumble dryer, is getting old, I’m bullying Col in to getting someone down to fix it!) while watching the afternoon TV trio (“Deal or no deal”, “Come dine with me” and “Four in a bed”.)

Dinner, was from the chippy formerly known as the Frying Squad in Larne.  I had a battered sausage supper, Col had fish’n’chips and, the reason, dear readers, you don’t have a picture of said dinner, is because it disappeared faster than ice cream on a hot day!

Saturday morning was one I’d been looking forward to for a while.  I got to see one of my fave Scottish lass’s and one of my oldest and dearest (hockey) friends.

Us three 😀

The location was ‘The Little Cupcake Cafe‘ in Belfast.

“Belfast’s first cupcake cafe, specialising in gourmet cupcakes, cookies, traybakes and desserts”

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Bags o'fun!

Last week was a bit of a mixed bag, some days were slow, some days were pretty insane.  Monday, I spent the day cleaning and tidying our spare room.  Our spare room is the home of our ‘gift cupboard’, and the gifts had spread out over the floor, the spare bed and all over.  This was the day I took a note of what I had for everyone, who I needed to buy for and I tidied it all up.  I now have a list!

For those of you who don’t know, I tend to start my Christmas shopping, the day after Christmas – I tend to be pretty organised!

Wednesday (9th), I picked up one of the SSA Newcomers, Natalie (from Scotland) and took her to Magz’s house for lunch with Frances and Crystal.  It was a lovely lunch, we love greeting new ladies in to our group and when you add food, it can’t get much better! High-light of my lunch, was, by far, the delicious pork pies that Frances made.  Talk about a taste of home!!! *drools*

Thursday, Col and I had planned on going to Ikea before we picked up newbie Natalie and her hubby Jamie.  However, the traffic was chaotically bad and meant we couldn’t get anywhere NEAR Ikea.

We ended up doing a weird and wonderful work around back to back accidents, and decided to quit trying to battle our way to Ikea and just let the traffic disperse while we had a delicious dinner in Lupe Tortillas.  Can you believe, that there is at least a $10 difference between our Lupe Tortillas in Sugar Land, and the Lupe Tortillas that we ate in on Kirby? What the hell?! I wasn’t happy!

It went from bad traffic to worse hockey, Natalie and Jamie decided to come with us to the Aeros game.  However, we were so abysmally bad, I’ve never seen the Aeros play that bad before.  It was terrible! In spite of the awful hockey and the even worse score, Natalie and Jamie have said they enjoyed it and would like to go back – score!

Friday morning didn’t go to plan, again, however, I got dropped off at Magz’s house, we picked up Natalie and we headed up to the Nutcracker Market, for my 2nd time in two years.

I can’t begin to tell you just how fantastically festive this place is! It’s a huuuuuuuuuuge hall, filled end to end with stalls of sellers, some, most in fact, related to Christmas or the holidays.  Gifts, foods, decorations, wrapping paper, they have it all!

Last year, I fell in love with ‘The Write Plate’ while I was at the market with Col’s parents.  I talked myself out of buying one, I couldn’t justify the expense, didn’t think I’d use it, I thought the prices might have been comparable online to those at the market.  I kept going back to the stall, but I kept walking past it.

It’s haunted me all year, all freakin’ year I’ve thought about this plate and how wonderful it was and I was determined this year to pick one up, come hell or high water!

And so I did!!

I got their basic square plate at $35.95

They had a show special on, buy 5 get one free, so Magz and I (since I’d sold her on the concept as well) decided to do the buy 5 and get 1 free deal and split it between us, you can see my ribbons in the picture above!

As for my magnets, I picked up the Glory magnet, the gingerbread house magnet and the cute little make a wish magnet.

I also (yes, I was here for a while at this stall picking out my products, I could have bought them all!) went home with their ‘Days to Christmas‘ reusable sticker for my plate.

I got it home and started to assemble it only to find out that there was a hairline crack in the bottom left hand corner of the plate.  It’s tiny and you can only see it when you’re absolutely looking for it, but it’s there, (and hubby correctly told me that I paid enough for it to be perfect) so I wrote off to their customer care people (after a little difficulty finding an email address to contact) and their customer service is fantastic!

I just have to take a picture of the crack (which I still need to do!) and send it to them and they’ll help me sort out my issue!

Here’s how it currently looks,

The bow is strategically hiding the crack, though it’s proving hard to photograph, so you’d probably not see that anyway!

I love it, it was worth every penny and I’m looking forward to being creative with it and hanging it on the wall!

Another stand I love to visit at the Nutcracker market, is that of a friend of mine, Ness.  She’s with EnviroTrend USA and they sell (among other things) these adorable SAKitToMe range of reusable bags.

“SAKitToMe is a durable,compact polyester bag perfect for shopping. With its sewn in pocket, metal key ring and double sided printing, SAKitToMe is the wisest choice in compact bags. The SAKitToMe bags come in a range of colorful patterns suitable for any eco-wise individual.”

These bags are GREAT! I started my collection with this ‘owl’ bag (which I also bought for a friend too!)

It’s been with me to Malaysia, Singapore and various places over the US and I love it!

One I’ve been eyeing since last year’s Nutcracker market, is this Dandelion Bamboo,

…once again, when I saw it this year at the Nutcracker market, it jumped out and spoke to me (plus, as it’s made of Bamboo it’s so stinkin’ soft!) so I had to take it home with me – I’ve already used it twice since and it hangs proudly on my handbag!

I think this new Orchid bag, or Cherry blossom

And in case you missed it, these make EXCELLENT stocking stuffers! Check them out here, at www.envirotrendusa.com and tell Ness that Las sent ya 😉

Perhaps I’ll try and team up with Ness for my next giveaway – now there’s a great idea!

Quilting and shooting – a classic combination!

Sunday was the yearly Houston quilt festival, I’d never previously been, but I have to admit, I was curious!

It's a quilted car!!

Emily, Magz, little Eve and I all headed up to the quilt festival, whilst Col, Luke and Sam headed out to the firing range for Col’s first ever attempt at shooting a gun.

The quilts themselves are gorgeous, and enough to make anyone want to learn how to do it, though at $400+ a pop, it was way out of my price range!

Some of the quilts on offer

Some of the quilts were seriously old, one was more than 100 years old – so old in fact, that they weren’t sure who made it.  It was a very interesting dander around the hall!

Magz being hypnotised!

I loved both of the Texas quilts 🙂

They even had a ‘Husbands lounge’ where the football lived! LOL! There were chairs and football, away from the throngs of many, many women at the quilt show! What a smart idea, eh?

We had fun, and I didn’t buy a single thing (other than lunch), we just had a nice time strolling around the George R Brown convention centre, looking at all the pretty quilts!

Emily made friends with a hand puppet!

Col, on the other hand, was having a completely different Sunday afternoon!

Col's gun and bullets!

He and ‘the lawds’ were out at the Memorial Shooting Centre for an afternoon of shooting.  Col tells me that it’s very intimidating when you’re handed a pile of paperwork and disclaimers, you’re about to use a deadly weapon.

Coming from Northern Ireland, guns have nothing but a negative connotation.  Guns are bad.  End of.  Living in Texas, guns have a slightly different connotation, to many, they are a hobby.  Col was curious to see whether he could break through a lifetime of being taught that guns are bad and to see if he could look at shooting as a hobby.

He tells me that he hasn’t broken through the barrier in his mind, the one that says guns aren’t a hobby, they’re bad news, but he did enjoy himself once he got going.  He’d go back.  As would I, I’m much more keen to learn to shoot than he is!

Later that night, Col and I decided to use one of our Groupons to go to the Studio Movie Grill and watch a movie – it was a busy day!

A Whale of a time! Ok…so, an Elephant of a time, but that doesn't have the same ring to it!

Saturday 15th October (yes, I’m so far behind I need to date the days that I’m writing about!) was a busy day in the kitchen, it was a pre-Baby shower day, so that meant only one thing, it was an ‘athon’ day, cleanathon, cookathon, bakeathon… I had my work cut out for me!

By the end of the day, I was so exhausted, and so short on time, that even the thought of getting showered and dressed to go to the Aeros game, brought tears to my eyes.  Thankfully, my very understanding husband, agreed to try out the Aeros webcast, we ordered Chinese (from a new Chinese) and plonked in front of the game…ok, sort of, I still pottered about while the game was on, but I at least plonked for our dinner!

Gift table ready to go!

It's a girl!

The game didn’t do much for my nerves, we lost during penalties (which, in itself sucks cause I HATE OT and penalties!), while I cleaned the kitchen and started to set up decorations etc, Col made a diaper cake (yes, my husband pitched in and helped with the baby shower stuff and I love him forever for it!)

Hubby's diaper cake topped with our Singapore Flyer elephant gift

By the time midnight rolled around, the Grand Prix coverage was starting, and I’d gotten to a point where I could sit and wrap presents for Heather and baby!

Sunday was the big day!

It was only my second ever baby shower, and this time, not only did I have a theme to work with, but, I had a gender, everything was PINK!

This baby shower was a lot less stressful than the last one, I think I’d learned a lot from Magz and Sam’s baby shower, it was smaller – Heather and Jeff haven’t been here very long, so they don’t know a whole lot of people, and, I learned that it’s quite ok to delegate some responsibilities to other people.

Cupcakes!

Dessert/sweet/drinks table

My delegating, was pretty substantial, more than I’d ever delegated before, so it’s definitely progress, firstly I had Amber do all my graphics (as always), signs, cupcake toppers etc, then I put in a request with Emily to do the cake.  She’d done such a fantastic job of Magz and Sam’s cake, and cakes are something I’ve not dared to attempt!

Cake! Courtesy of the lovely Emily!

Next up, Ana Maria offered to do the favours, she saw mine at Magz’s baby shower and said she’d love to do something similar.  They turned out EXCELLENTLY!  I love the little pink baskets, I had to ask her where she got them so I could go and pick up a few for Christmas presents!

Favours - courtesy of the lovely Ana Maria

And finally, I did accept a little help with the food!

Food table!

Ana Maria brought the veggie tray, Magz sorted the fruit and Coronation chicken, the quiches were store bought *gasp* and the rest of it was all pre-made the day before, it really did take a weight off my shoulders and meant I could enjoy myself too!

As a result, there was less ‘on the day’ prep and it meant that we could hang out with friends instead of cooking around people!

Ana Maria with Juan Diego and Danny

Jeff taking pics in the background!

Present time!

Julie and Alison

Elephant!!

The happy couple! <3

My buddy Heather and I <3

I was worried she’d think I went OTT on the party (she’d given me strict instructions not to do too much!), thankfully, though, she loved it all and couldn’t thank me enough!

While I’m on the subject of thanks, both Heather and Magz got together and plotted a special ‘Thank you’ gift for me, for doing their baby showers.  Magz got me a ‘500 cupcake recipes’ book and a ‘how to start your own event planning business’ book and Heather got me an apron and a gift certificate for a spa pedicure – I’m psyched! They both also wrote the sweetest messages EVER in their cards for me – I was very touched and may have even shed a wee tear!

Painting pottery, laughing out loud and, as always, more food than ye can shake a stick at!

I was back at it on Wednesday (12th) morning, and by ‘it’, I of course mean my hectic to-ing and fro-ing life!

Today it was an SSA activity that I’d volunteered to plan, pottery painting, in a little place around the corner, The Glazery.

When the alarm went, I momentarily considered just not going, but I was excited by this activity and I couldn’t wait to go.  I’d originally planned this activity for 15 people (that’s the standard SSA group number for activities), however, due to the overwhelming interest, we increased it and, on the day, 23 ladies arrived to paint things in the Glazery.

My table, Magz, Lori and Julie!

Me painting my little hockey box

Cindy concentrating on her vase

Helen picked a plate that she decorated for Santa’s cookies, Magz picked a giraffe, Cindy picked a vase, Lori did a Halloween decoration, Julie did a Mickey Mouse bowl and I, of course, did something relating to hockey!

Magz is growing bananas out of her head!

It’s very cute and I can’t wait to get the fired product back!

When we’d finished, Magz, Lori and I, headed over to the Panda Garden for a yummy Chinese lunch before we parted ways.

Once I got home, I broke out a big pot and started in on another homemade Christmas project, chutney – fresh ingredients, LOTS of them, chopping, slow cooking and canning – it took a while, but I now have a few jars of canned chutney ready to break out over Christmas!

After dinner, Col and I drove to Pearland (for footie) and I decided to try part II of my couch to 5k programme, it started well, though, before long, my calf ‘went’ again, it wasn’t pretty, it hurt like hell and I almost fell on my face on the treadmill.  It wasn’t fun, I had to quit and sit on a bike for a while.  UGH.  There’s only one thing worse than getting an injury and that’s re-injuring it, worse than the first time!

Thursday morning is not our normal board meeting day, however, it was time for our monthly pilgrimage, a merry trip to the Schlumberger office, (where the big wigs up in San Felipe hang out for a change this month, though!)

I’ve decided I want a chair like the ones they have in some of the SLB offices, they may cost over a grand, but they are FAB – seriously comfy! Now how to convince the hubby to hide a couple up his jumper 😉

For lunch, Magz and I went across the road to pick up a breakfast burrito at the Trotter YMCA cafe (that place ROCKS!) and then it was back home to do some online research for a number of events I’m planning.

I also threw the head up at my back hall, it was an utter disaster, baby shower stuff everywhere, canning stuff everywhere, party planning stuff everywhere, stockpiles of food and cleaning stuff everywhere, I could barely get to my washer and dryer, so I blitzed that bad boy! I now have a clear path to the washing machine and dryer – whoohoo!! It’s also pretty tidy to boot!

Friday morning (14th October) continued the cleaning and tidying buzz I’d gotten, I started the day with a cleaning, tidying, laundering (clothes, not money!) binge.  After straining my fruit flavoured vodka (which, I think went to plan!) it was time for some food prep for Heather’s baby shower, chicken pie filling a-go-go!

The busy day continued (I almost wrote ‘busy busy’, but that’s what you tell Magz’s dogs to go to the toilet! LOL!), I headed up to Emily and Luke’s place, to pick up the wonderful, spectacular cake that Emily made for Heather’s baby shower.

Seriously, isn't this GORGEOUS?!

That night was another SSA Activity night, that I’d planned, a few of us started out having dinner in Ruggles Green, in Town and Country boulevard.  It was an odd experience, kind of like a posh cafeteria, you get in line, order your food and it’s brought to you by a rather miserable looking server.  My food was ok, the chips were cold (I complained, they took my plate away, brought my plate back, with an extra side of chips – that were also cold) and my grilled chicken sandwich was soggy.  Not the best, and certainly not worth the inflated ‘casual dining’ prices!

After dinner, it was over the road to Comedy Sportz Houston for the SSA comedy night that I’d arranged.  Ok, so the turnout wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped for, but, that said, the 6 ladies (plus 6 hubbies) seemed to have quite the fun time of it.

It was just as good as I remembered it being and, once again, we came away with sore ribs! I even won a prize for ‘Best Suggestion’ (Duran Duran, for ‘name an 80’s band’!), Ana’s husband Mauricio got picked on all night and Magz volunteered to help out with one of their games! It was a great night and we all came away saying we want to go back!

When the show was over, we took a wee dander through town square, (I wanted ice cream), so we tried another new place, Red Mango a frozen yoghurt place across the square from Ruggles Green.  It was lovely, self serve froyo, guy behinds the counter adds toppings, weighs it, you pay and you eat – simple, relatively quick (the guy in front of me took FOREVER so it was a bit mushier than I like) and yummy!

Magz and Sam were the first to go home, Magz’s back was aching, and standing around in town square wasn’t particularly conducive to making it better.  As for the rest of us, Ana Maria, Mauricio, Heather, Jeff, Col and I, we decided to go to Ihop (around midnight!) as Ana Maria wanted pancakes! LOL!

It was around 1am when we finally got home – it was a great night, kinda old skool, where you sit for ages and ages just talking to your friends…we both really enjoyed the evening and I almost didn’t want it to end (but for the exhaustion and all!)

The gang!