There’s shit, everywhere.

I need liquor.  

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

Where was I? Oh yes, liquor.

Tequila preferably.  

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

My breakfast is currently Haribo strawberries and Diet Coke.

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

ESPECIALLY when you’re sick.  

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

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

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

“Mama, I have poop” 

“Ok son, I’ll be right there”

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

Fuck.

“Ok, don’t move” 

“Ok, mama”

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

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

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

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

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

“Lewis?”

“Yeah?”

“Where’s the poop?”

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

Fuck.

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

Same answer.

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

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

Double fuck.

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

He’s lucky he’s cute!

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

Fuck it anyways.

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

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

“Is my toy broken, mama?”

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

Fuck this.

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

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

And me?

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

Lewis’ Disney Cars 3rd birthday party!

I was determined not to take an entire 365 days to get my sh*t together and post about Lewis’ 3rd birthday party this time around.  I mean, I get that life got in the way last year, but his 2nd birthday post was *so* entirely lost in the recesses of my blog drafts that I utterly forgot ALL about it.

This was Lewis’ first birthday party at home, and, considering his parties are something of legend from our last two years in Houston, and our apartment here isn’t big enough to swing a cat in, that I was going to book a community centre hall, here in Larne.

Since we’ve barely been around much since we bought the apartment, I had no idea where to go.  I put a call out on a local mums page and got the recommendation of The Cliff, 60 quid, two hours, hall rental and a bouncy castle – sorted! I opted to add an extra hour (30 before, 30 after) for set up and tear down, cause I knew the 30 minutes that came with the package (I was right).

The theme was Cars, when I picked it, we were going for a planes, trains and automobiles theme, so Disney cars wasn’t the specific choice at the time, but Lewis became quickly OBSESSED with Disney Cars (especially the tractor scene) and the decision was an easy one.  The colours were red and yellow, and daddy ensured there was as much Mater presence as we could cram in to the party.

We have a much smaller circle here in the UK than we did in Houston, so the number of kids was less, the number of adults were less, but the amount of food and effort put in to the party was probably more – I can’t help myself! LOL!

And those that came along? Seem to have had a blast, and went home happy, full and most of the kids were well tired out from all the running around.

The Cake and Cupcakes

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat.  I didn’t want a cake – no one really eats it, it’s always way too big for the amount of people you have, regular sized cupcakes wind up half eaten or in the bin, so I wanted mini cupcakes.  I have a cupcake lady here in NI and I opted to get three flavours, twenty cupcakes per flavour. Chocolate with chocolate buttercream, vanilla cupcake with lemon curd middle and lemon buttercream, vanilla cupcake with raspberry filling and a coconut vanilla buttercream – with edible, themed toppers.  Delish.  Sixty mini cupcakes.  A bite, maybe two, limited waste and everyone goes home happy.

This was fine until Col insisted we needed a cake.  We were going to go for a simple, buttercream covered cake and being quoted fifty pounds for a cake that I *could* have made, but was just a little too lazy to make, I opted for a Blaze cake from Asda for a tenner – it’s another current favourite of the birthday boys and it’s close enough to a car to pass in an automobile birthday party.

The decorations

Being a community centre, the room is ginormous, so there was no way I was going to be able to decorate the entire thing.  I didn’t have a rail to act as my back drop for the yellow curtains that I picked up in Target on clearance before we left the states.  So we got a similar plastic back-drop/poster decoration as we had last year for his Thomas party.

The table cloths were a mix of party colours and, a late addition, checkered flag table cloths, as we had more tables than we did tablecloths.  Col grabbed a helium tank and inflated a couple of helium balloons that he tied around the room.  We picked up some checkered flags that were thrown in some Disney Cars cups as last second centre-pieces and I bought some little rubber wheels from Amazon on a whim, to stack and scatter around the food and dessert tables – turns out, these were quite a hit and became toys for the kids to play with during the party.

We had a Cars Happy Birthday banner for out the front door of the community centre – there’s no sign on The Cliff, to say ‘hey you’re at the right place’, so it was just a wee marker to let people know they weren’t lost.

We also had a food labelling kit (most of which wasn’t used), but we had little food flags, straw flags and stickers for things like the jar of salsa and dips.

The Food and Drink

Not-Las made cupcakes and store-bought cake aside, the dessert table comprised of two flavours of oreo truffles (mint dipped in milk chocolate, and strawberry dipped in white chocolate), as well as banoffee balls.  I threw together some of Godmother Sheri’s date crumbles so a little bit of her would be at his birthday party too.

I had various crisps, and sweets from the sweetie aisle in Tesco (seriously though? Who doesn’t love giant strawberries, strawberry laces and sweetie teeth?!)

Going on parties from Houston, where parents are increasingly health conscious, I had fruit and veggie trays with multiple dips, caprese skewers and sandwiches.  Bringing up the unhealthy (and hot food) side of the table I had buffalo chicken dip, cocktail sausages and cocktail sausages.

Drinks wise, kids had ‘Thank you for coming to my party’, personalised Lewis labels, adults had soda/pop/fizzy juice – I was supposed to pick up water, but with the crazy of the morning it evaded my memory.

Party Bags

This years party bags, were my best to date! I got some Paw Patrol fabric totes on valentines clearance for 39c a piece, I had Disney Car’s plastic cups from Walmart (99c), Disney Cars bubbles with a puzzle on top, Disney Car’s self inking stamp, a Disney Cars jigsaw puzzle, a Disney Cars play pack and a Matchbox car for each party bag.

Edible treats consisted of Paw Patrol edible gumies, Halloween haribo (I got on clearance at Tesco, wotsits, raisins, a Paw Patrol chocolate lollipop, mini Cadbury fingers and a little pouch of buttons.

Clothing

Aunty Magz was on the ball this year with ordering a themed t-shirt, daddy forgot to order one for his second birthday, but his 1st and 3rd birthday parties involved a shirt,with the theme, his age and his name – I LOVED this years Cars shirt.  A LOT!

As for me? I did a little ‘unicorn hunting’ within the realms of Lularoe and came up with these car leggings (couldn’t get a pair for Lewis to match!) and I was comfy and theme-fitting for the day!

Finishing touches.

When I was growing up, my parents always went all-out on our birthday parties.  Whatever they could afford, but always a little ‘more’ than our friends.  All my friends wanted invited to my parties.  Birthdays were always very important in our home.  The day you were born? It’s a pretty freakin’ huge deal.

I’ve always been the same when it comes to Lewis’ birthday parties.  He was so very wanted, and he is loved more than I knew was possible, and I believe in celebrating his little life to the max on his birthday, as I’d like to think that for the rest of the year (aside from when he’s in Grannies house), he’s not too spoiled at all.

So, with that in mind, in an addition to the bouncy castle, on a whim I priced a face painter – I’d seen their information advertised in the community centre only three days pre-party, when I went to extend our reservation.  I emailed them, fully expecting them to be booked up.  When they replied and said that they were not only available for the party, but they were only 45 quid for the hour, for around a dozen kids, probably some stray big-kids who’d want their faces done too, for face painting, glitter tattoos and balloon animals, I jumped on it.  I wanted this party to be a little special for the kids, but also? Things like a bouncy castle and face painting in Houston would have cost exponentially more than that, so it was an easy sell.

Not only was she prompt in arriving and setting up, but she was detailed in her face painting, and good.  The boys stuck to getting all Spidermen, the girls went butterflies and a princess – it was a great level of skill, not just stars and flowers and I’d highly recommend them to anyone in the mid-East Antrim area for their parties (info@carnivalpromotions.co.uk).

Lastly, but, most importantly, I asked my cousin Paula to come along to take some snaps on the day at the party.  I’d had my friend Sandra take pics of his first party, we didn’t have a photographer at the party last year and I missed it.  So I asked her to make the trek up from Newry and join us with her camera – I am so very glad I did.  We got some updated family pictures, some great snaps of my party planning wizardry for the blog and she captured some lovely pictures of my friends, their kids and just ‘in the moment’ memories that I’ll cherish forever.

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.

Larne Baby Club

This morning I did something brave.

In Houston, I wouldn’t have called it brave, and I’m hoping in a few weeks, I won’t be calling it brave either.  However, right now, where I’m at? It felt, just a little bit brave.

Having done a little research about playgroups in Larne, I discovered that online, there wasn’t much information around – did that mean there were no playgroups? Kinda looked like it, but you never know.  Larne isn’t a huge city and typically a lot of things happen on Facebook and it gets a little tricky to search for church play groups or people’s names, when you don’t know what they are.  I happened upon the Larne Baby Club after talking to a family member, and have had it on the calendar for a couple weeks.

That’s been the way, you see.  My calendar? It’s full.  It looks as busy as it did just before I left Houston to move home.  I didn’t miss a beat on paper.

About a week after we landed home, I got organized, I found a choir (Larne), knitting group (Larne and Belfast) and some self-defense options for me to try out in Larne, Belfast and Newry.  I found Lewis play groups to try out in the same cities, and I even made a nice and pretty schedule.  Days of the week, cities and what options they have on offer – all on a white board in Lewis’ room.

Theoretically, I’ve been set for a fortnight.  I’ve had options in three cities, I’ve had my name on the car insurance for just over a week now, so I’ve had the capability and freedom to actually attend these things, and I just….haven’t.

I’m a social person, I’m an extrovert, I miss my large social circle in Houston every single day.  I’m not exactly shy, I’m outgoing and love meeting people, but since moving home? I’ve gotten caught up in my own mind, my ever growing to do list and stuck in the expat-repat haze, that I just haven’t taken the first step and walked through a door.

Until this morning.

This morning, I decided ‘screw it’, my kid needs to go play with other kids, and I decided to take him to the Larne Baby Club (LBC) after I dropped Col at the train station.

img_9380LBC meets weekly, on a Monday morning, 10am at the All Saints Church (131 Linn Road), and while they have a donation bowl sat out, it’s a free, ‘Sure Start’ program (with connections to the Action For Children Charity.)

I was tempted to stay in bed, hand my kiddo his tablet and let the screen parent him for the morning.  I was tempted to take him to indoor play, instead.  And even for a split second sitting in the car park outside the church? I contemplated not going in and just driving off.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, when I arrived there was only one other mum (Nicola) and her twin two year olds (Ellen and Johnny) and she quickly informed me that there was normally way more people there (it quickly filled out).  It took Lewis a few minutes to come around, but once he realized there was food on the go – he was set and sat to have breakfast with the twins.  And food there was! Cheese cubes, grapes, bananas, pancakes and two (!) types of swiss rolls, milk for the kiddos and tea for the grown-ups.

The two leaders of the group, Alison and Diane were lovely, very warm and welcoming, and any time Lewis was playing by himself, they dandered over to him to keep him company.  They knew all the kids names in the room, recognized that I was new and came over to talk to me a bit about Lewis and the other programmes offered, and before I left to go home, I got handed a little person goody bag (complete with face mask for mama!) and Alison had put together a list of other toddler groups in Larne for during the week for me to try – so nice!

img_9375Lewis enjoyed being there, he played on his own a little, but interacted well with the other kids – especially a couple of the infants, and he LOVED painting with the twins.  And I enjoyed spending time with grown-ups, mums, chatting and getting some information about nursery programs, play groups and even a kickboxing class I’m going to go try out soon!

Looking forward to getting to know the people at this play group better, and to trying out the other playgroups on the list, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll drag my butt out to try my local choir tomorrow night too.  Since I’m feeling brave and all 😉

img_9370PS: If anyone is doing a pre-Christmas purge of their kids toys – I know a playgroup who would love to have them! 😉

A Funky little Monkey.

img_8496I wrote this post last week – just haven’t had a moment to scratch, to finish it up and edit it.  Needless to say, this will be the first, of what I’m sure is many blog posts about being a mum here in Northern Ireland, facilities available for kids and other such things.

——————

As I look out over this magnificent vista… wait.  Wrong show.

img_8467As I sit here, on this hard plastic throne and listen to the screams of a hugely disgruntled child as his grandmother attempts to drag him from whatever life changing toy he was playing with, as I watch the two poles of ‘human experience’ unfold before my eyes and am impatiently wait for my chicken goujon lunch to appear, I thought, perhaps, that it was high time I wrote my first ‘mumsy’ post from sunny Costa del Larne.

For the record, by ‘human experience’, I mean both the best and the worst.

I’ve just witnessed an older girl, completely unprovoked, grab an older boy by his head and smash his head into the floor of the play area, while he was howling in pain, I, simultaneously, watched a little girl – who had previously been doing some epically good round kicks on those punch bag looking things – take my sons hands over top of an obstacle he was trying to scale, and attempt to help (gently) pull him across.

img_8483While it didn’t work, and I sat for a good eight or nine more minutes, patiently watching him try to figure out how to get his little self, up and over this foam blockade (you can just about make out his wee head over top of the blue foam thing in the picture), he figured it out himself and I gave him a quick thumbs up, before heading over to thank the mother of the little girl, for not raising a face-smashing little wench, but a caring and helpful little girl, a stranger to my son, who tried to help him when she saw him struggling.  I imagined her heart leapt when she saw someone coming over asking if that little girl was her little girl, but instead I got a ‘yeah, she told me’ and a ‘what the hell are you doing over here talking to me, lady’, kinda look.  Screw you.  Ugh.

img_8479While living in the US, we had a few indoor play areas that we loved, nine bucks (ish), unlimited play time, typically an in house café – with varying successes in food provided – and a very happy, exhausted and sweaty toddler at the end of it all.

Coming back to Northern Ireland, I quickly became aware that we weren’t in Texas any more Toto.  The going rate for indoor play here, is around five pounds, which, in ‘real money’ is about $8 before the pound tanked.  Sounds on par, right? Well.  When that $8 only covers 90 minutes, you see, friends, we have a problem.

The problem here is, friends, that I have a boisterous and energetic little boy.  I have a little boy, who could easily burn through three hours in an indoor play area, doing the same thing over and over, and over again, to his little hearts content.  Who would cry, and scream, and protest were I to try and remove him from his fortress of fun.

And then I read about Funky Monkey’s membership.

  • $12 per month (that’s pounds, but I’m on an American computer and can’t figure out where in the name of all things, the GBP sign is).
  • UNLIMITED entry to the center, 7 days a week.
  • UNLIMITED access to activity programmes
  • 10% off birthday parties
  • 10% off at their café

img_8476Not only that? But you can use this membership in ANY of their locations around the north, there’s one in Larne, Newtonabbey, Banbridge, Dondonald…I’m not sure where else.  All I know is that the ‘city pass’ as I’d call it in a Houston context, means that I can use any of their branches under my monthly membership.

Sunday, we took Lewis to the one in Dundonald.  We had Halloween activities planned, but the weather didn’t comply, so we opted to cross the car park from the place we had breakfast and throw him in to Funky Monkey’s for a while.

img_8500I’ve been sick since Sunday, til yesterday (Thursday) and today, we’re back, here at the one in Larne, where we have already made friends with one of the girls who work here, Megan – which, brings up another point, the staff in Funtastics were verging on being rude, even, not just standoffish.  I’ve not found the funky monkey’s crew to be like that at all.  They’re friendly, kind and helpful.

So, my advice to the mums of Northern Ireland? Grab a membership to Funky Monkeys – it’s worth it.  You cover your monthly membership, with less than one trip to indoor play a week.  And, if you happen to see your local blogger sitting trying to wrestle her hot chocolate out of the hands of her toddler? Come say hi.

img_8502But for now? I’m going to enjoy the dregs of this mug, that he graciously left me until it’s time to convince this child that a quick trip to Asda is more fun than those swinging punch bags – when all this Krav mama *really* wants to do, is go throw some combos! 😉

Learning to love my plus-sized self.

12642992_10156387774010411_2556516841211561801_nGrab a cuppa, this is a long’un.

Before I start? Let me get a couple of things out of the way, cause I’ve been saying some variation of these points, a lot, since I shared the photos:

1.  You see more at the beach, in a nightclub, or after 11am at your local Walmart.  If you’re offended by these pictures, or think I should be ashamed of myself? Bite me.
2. Before you comment and call me brave, or bold, or daring.  Please take a moment to consider where that comes from inside you, am I brave cause I’m a fat chick showing some skin? Am I brave cause I’m showing a vulnerable and exposed side of myself with the entire internet? Am I brave cause we aren’t used to seeing women empowering themselves? WHY is it that you think I’m brave?
3. No, I didn’t have these pictures taken as a gift to my husband, that was an added perk.  I had them taken as a gift to myself.  I’ve spent way too long feeling like crap about myself and wanted to do something to feel beautiful for a change.

Let me explain;
I typically spend most of my days chasing around an energetic, almost two year old boy.  A boy, who, for the record? Doesn’t like having his hands dirty, so will wipe his Nutella, cheese puff, or paint covered fingers on my clothes if I’m not careful.
And? While I am trying to get into running, I don’t run.  So anything other than flats on my fallen-arched flat feet? You can forget about it.  Chasing a toddler in anything other than my comfy gel-soled Asics, sounds like the seventh circle of hell to my chubby-legged and unfit self.

I live in denim capris, some kind of graphic T-shirt and flip flops.

A friend of mine recently described me as dressing like a college kid.

He wasn’t wrong.

He didn’t stop there, he went on to say that almost my entire wardrobe needs thrown out.  “Maybe keep some stuff for when you go hiking” (no, really, he does know me, I swear!) “but the rest needs to go”.

Again, he wasn’t wrong.

I’d love to say that being a stay at home mum (SAHM) is the reason to blame for my college “style” wardrobe.  Alas, I cannot.  My poor relationship with clothing and fashion began much, much, earlier than I’d care to admit.  I’ve always been overweight, fat, obese, having always had a waist much smaller than my hips and bum, I have what you’d politely refer to as a classic “hourglass” shape, but I never learned to dress for my shape, love my curves, or, without sounding too pathetic, like myself, in spite of my size.

Instead, I learned to dislike, often hate, the reflection I saw in the windows of shops and the mirror.  It wasn’t the same as the images I saw in magazines, on TV, in shop windows.  It was different.  The only time I saw people who looked in anyway like me, was for Weight Watchers adverts in January when people had over indulged over Christmas.

Hot damn girl!

Don’t draw attention to yourself!

I learned to abhor shopping.  No kidding – I mean panic attacks, palpitations and hysterical breakdowns at the mere idea of needing new clothes.    At my smallest I was a 12-14 on top (UK) but on the bottom I never got below a 20.  I was grossly out of proportion.  My narrow waist meant you could always see my knickers when I sat down in jeans or trousers cause I always needed bigger sizes to accommodate my rotund arse.  I lost patience at myself when I could find anything to wear, I’d cry angry tears in dressing rooms wondering why things didn’t look, on me, like they looked on the stick thin models standing in the windows as I walked in the door.

I learned to wear the same half-dozen outfits in rotation (I’m pretty much still wearing the same outfits, decades on), never be “brave” or “daring”, only have “nice” clothes, look “pretty” for special occasions.  If I found something that fit, and looked passable, I’d buy one in every colour and call it good.  Shoes (ok, flip flops) too.

I learned to be ashamed of my body.  To never dare look at bikinis, anything knee length or higher, anything low cut, bright or bold patterned either, for that matter.  Not only that? But you can’t shop at “normal” shops, you have to go to “plus” shops, for “bigger girls”, where the selection is crap, the prices are higher and you almost wonder aloud as to why companies can’t just make the same damn clothes they make for skinny people, just, y’know, bigger?

Dark colours flatter, don’t wear anything that shows your flab or calls attention to your “not normal” shape.

Right? That’s what “they” say.

As a result? I learned to hate and hide my body.  Black dress trousers, then jeans, paired with “cute” graphic tshirts conveying my love for the TMNTs, or the Care Bears, paired with oversized hoodies (at least in Ireland) that covered as much of my shameful plus sized figure as I could manage.

Then you think all your prayers will be answered if you could just lose a bit of weight.  You go on a diet.  You work out.  You drop thirty or fifty pounds, only to realize that your shape? Is still a Goddamned hourglass.  That the weight you so fervently tried to lose, is coming off your pinky finger, your ear lobes, your ankles…everywhere that ISN’T your fat arse, or thighs, or double chin, or bingo wings, or wherever else you’d spent nights praying to God to take it from.  That unless you take a hacksaw to your hips (believe me, I even contemplated that a time or two) those bastarding hips aren’t gonna budge.  “Childbearing hips” they call them, and while they served me incredibly well during a blessed, easy and quick labour, they make clothes shopping painfully frustrating.

Then you find routine.  You get lazy.  Or, you have a baby, your body shape changes, but not in the ways you’ve dreamed about your whole life and you suddenly have the added dismay of a “mummy tummy”, cause life wasn’t unfair enough with your big hips, big arse and big thighs, I guess at least now a big tummy completes the set, and so you hide behind your baby for a couple years.  You justify it to yourself, saying “I’m a mum”, like that excuses you from taking a moment to think about what you put on to wear outside, in front of other people in the mornings.  Like that means you can’t justify carving out some extra cash to treat yourself to an outfit here and there, like it means you don’t deserve to feel girlie or pretty any more.  Like you’re resigned to sweats and hoodies forever, because you don’t have the time, the money, the energy or the wherewithal to go shopping and treat yourself to something that makes you feel human.

And here we are.

wm1I turned thirty-one this year and I still dress like a college kid.  I still wear jeans and flip flops, I still self-hate, am ashamed of and hide my body, I still lust over pictures in magazines wondering if there will ever come a time when I can walk in to a “normal” clothes shop and not end up with hot tears of frustration down my cheeks in the fitting room cause I just want to find something decent to wear out the door in the mornings.

Enter plus sized fashion bloggers.

Ok, one fashion blogger really.  Georgina Horne over at Fuller Figure, Fuller Bust.  I’ve had her on the periphery of my radar for a few years, but lately, she’s been ALL up in my ‘bidness’.  She’s a sassy, loud, occasionally rowdy lady, with large cleavage, a rockin’ waist and an ginormous heart.

She takes a genuine interest in real, every day people (seriously though, the first time she tweeted me back I was all fan-girlie) and she gives great advice (on any manner of things!)

Without realizing it, her “f*ck it” attitude kinda rubs off on you, and you suddenly find yourself believing that maybe you could look half as hot as she does in front of the camera, and suddenly you’re off out down the town, squishing your boobs in to a corset named after an Addams Family character and booking yourself a boudoir photoshoot.

What possessed me?

I’ve toyed and flirted with the idea for years now.

Around my wedding, I even momentarily SERIOUSLY considered the idea, and at 35lbs lighter than where I am right now, and feeling a little more self confident, it probably would have been a more “sensible” time to act.  But I shelved the idea and buried it under ALL of my jeans and hoodies.

My “everyday” photographer, liked a picture on Maribella Portraits Facebook page that appeared on my Facebook feed and I liked it.

I liked it a lot.

So much so, that I went back the next day and stared at it.  And the day after that, too.
It was a picture Maria had taken at dusk in downtown Houston of some beautiful curvy women.  The more I dug into her page, the more I discovered she was keen to empower women, make them feel strong and show to them their beauty – both inside and out.  Her work, her page, her mantra spoke to me.

houston photographerI booked a consultation, had a chat with Maria about what we both expected from the shoot, pencilled it in and hit up Pinterest for inspiration before hitting the shops to frantically search for pieces of clothing to wear to my shoot.

After WEEKS, yes, weeks of searching, I finally had my outfits.  My corsets, sports shirts and underwear for boudoir, a couple of dresses and an outfit or two for Downtown glamour, jewellery, hot rollers, props and heels.  I was good to go.

On the morning of the shoot I was overcome with nervous excitement.  More nerves to be honest, but those quickly dissipated as Maria and my friend Sandra kept telling me I was doing great and looked hot.  They stole my glasses so I couldn’t see my reflection (that’s not why, but it worked) and although at certain points I felt somewhat unnatural and a little ridiculous, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of getting dolled up and, I guess, almost being someone else for the morning.

Maria was excited by the results, her original two-week turn around, became only days, as she was inspired by the shots she had on-film.  I, on the other hand, felt sick to my stomach.  What if the pictures didn’t come out good? What if they weren’t what I had expected? What if, what if, what if.

There was even a moment of “Dear Lord, what have I done?” Was I absolutely crazy to think that my chubby self could look as good as the other plus size women I’d seen in similar photo shoots?

And then Maria showed me my film.

1151_10156373441335411_5141502942695401336_nThe same friend I mentioned above (who told me to dump my wardrobe) asked me if I learned anything from this experience, and I guess my answer to him, is yes.  I learned a lot.  I learned a lot about myself.  I learned a lot about other people and I learned that you don’t need grand changes to make yourself feel pretty or confident.  Even the smallest of changes, mentally, more so than physically, can make a huge difference to your every day life.  My friend Amber has asked me three times this month if I’ve lost weight, I haven’t.  Maybe it’s because I feel even just a little more comfortable in my own skin.  Maybe it’s because, as she says, “you’re carrying yourself differently”, or maybe it’s because I’ve realized that being fat, isn’t the end of the world.  There are people out there with real, honest to goodness problems and maybe I just need to get over myself a little.
untitled-213Houston friends, I know some of you have said in passing that you would love to do something like this, quit thinking, here’s her website, call or Facebook Maria, now. 
Non-Houston friends? Research photographers in your area.  Interview with them, study their work.  Find someone who ‘gets’ you, whose vision you love.

Don’t delay – everyone should feel beautiful, even just for one day!

Since my photo-shoot with Maria, I’ve worn all the clothes I bought for it.  I’ve even worn two out of three pairs of heels I got too – wonders never cease.

I’ve tried to take a little more care in my appearance.  I’ve continued to shop for clothes – not like a woman possessed – but I’ll saunter in to a clothes shop and casually  browse, which is something I never did before.  I don’t seem to have the same core-melting fear about shopping that I had before.

Most of all? I’ve tried to give myself a bit of a break.

 houston curvy girl glamourI’ve already stated, that I’m fully aware I’m plus-sized, over weight, obese, chubby, fat, whatever label you’d like to stick on me.  I’m an unhealthy weight, I’m unhappy with my size, it’s something I’ve been working on, and will work on, for a long time.

There’s no quick fix.

That said?

Maybe who I am right now? Isn’t quite so bad after all.

IMG_1110Maybe? Instead of frantically trying to change who I am every day and being soul destroyed that I haven’t found a magic cure for being fat yet, maybe I should more frantically try to find a way to like myself a little more?

As is.

Maybe? Being fat isn’t the worst thing in the world.  I’m not a criminal, or a murderer, I don’t kick babies, or burn animals (nor do I share those God-awful burned animal photos on Facebook).  Being fat doesn’t make me a terrible person.  It doesn’t make me “less than” because I’m bigger, because I’m different.

A friend described me as being “not societies definition of beautiful”, who said society was right?
Can’t we all just be beautiful?
untitled-1bw84-2“I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine”

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

Fireman Lewis to the rescue! (Free fire station tour, Sugar Land, Texas)

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A friend of mine mentioned a while ago, that a few years back, SSA Houston organized a visit to a fire station.  After a brief search I found the information, sent out the invite, and, before long, I was making the reservation for a group of forty strong (any more and we’d have had to split it in to two groups, so keep that in mind if you’re going to be looking at this event).

Ok, ok so it’s still pretty hot and sticky out there, and there’s more mosquitoes than you can count but although it wasn’t an indoor in the AC kind of activity, it was shaded, educational, fun and it was enjoyed by both adults and kids alike.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest, but I was pleasantly surprised as to how the whole thing was set up. Lack of on-site parking aside, when we got to Station 3 in Sugar Land, we were met by an ambulance, a fire engine and a crew of five fire people.  After introductions, warnings and reminders that we are, after all, standing in a live fire house and a little history, they began to talk to us a little about fire safety. Who to call, what to do, where to go etc.  it was equally as educating for the adults as it was for the kids.

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Next at up we learned a little fire procedure.  The suit, the air tank, the number of firemen who go out on a call, how they search for and find any fallen firemen during a fire, what to do if you’re trapped in a room during a fire.

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After the talk (which was interactive, so feel free to ask questions) the kids each got to take turns at sitting in the fire truck.  We all got to pose for photos with the truck and one kind fireman even took a group shot of our crazy gang.

11060005_10155472524550411_4838108004485431527_nThe kids got sent home with fire hats and safety information goodie-bags. It was a great experience for everyone.  I’d highly recommend you visiting your local fire station and meeting some of the bravest men and women in Sugar Land.  For more information on this free tour, go here.

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!