‘Dipping my toe’ as a tourist in Pune!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local bakery I need to try!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week one and done – in Pune, India!

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

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

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

What absolute bollocks.

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

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

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

Picture credit: Paula Ann Curran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture credit: Paula Ann Curran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank-you all <3

A Woman, in a Man’s world.

img_0042A friend presented me with UFC Fight Night tickets as a “congrats you passed your yellow belt in Krav, here go watch live fighting for a night” gift.

I was THRILLED when my “kid” brother was able to get the night off work to come with me. I’ve taken him to WWE as a kid, but I had no interest in wrestling and didn’t know a damn thing back then, but, he enjoyed it, and I enjoyed watching him, watching something he loved.

Now we’re both older, and we’re both “in to” fighting, I was even more excited to share this experience with him. As adults, and having lived across the pond for so long, we haven’t, and don’t get much “just us” time, and this meant a lot to me.

img_0159The night was going well, and took an unexpected upturn as Rowan came back from a trip to the loo and announced that he had just walked past Amanda Cooper as he was coming back to his seat. Just casually milling around the concourse at the Odyssey, still in her kit, after having won her FIRST EVER UFC fight. He said he contemplated stopping for a picture, but there was a crowd swarmed around her, so he thought better of it.

I didn’t go to the toilet right away, and when I did, I had no expectation of seeing Amanda on the concourse, but as I was walking back to my door, I caught her in my peripheral. She was walking pretty quickly, flanked by two guys and I thought to myself, nah, I’ll leave her be.

I walked in my door, got to the top of the stairs and was one foot ready to descend, when I had a whole slew of thoughts that prompted me to quickly turn on my heel and go back out to see if, just on the off chance, I could catch up with her for a picture.

You see, my gifted tickets were for some pretty epic seats, Row B, in fact, and Amanda had walked past us (we were sat on the exit route from the octagon) after her fight, just as a bunch of lads sat down behind us.

One of them had clearly never seen a fight before in his life. He asked his friends if this was the “sport for people having a midlife crisis”, and while that comment was mildly funny to his friends, what got me and made me want to punch him (and all of his friends in their boy parts) was the fact he was a blatant objectifying, misogynistic douche bag – and they egged him on and found him hilarious.

I sat there, listening to him, my blood slowly boiling from a simmer, loudly objectify the octagon girl. Announcing any number of derogatory comments about her and how he wished he’d sat closer so he could see her, rather than the fighting – because of how “f’ing hot” she was.

And you know what? For the longest time? My entire goal in life was to BE that octagon girl. Skinny, pretty, big boobs – the epitome of everything society and the world tells you that you should BE as a woman.  Plus sized is a dirty word.  You need to BE beautiful.  Plus sized is NOT beautiful.

Even nowadays.

Sit pretty.
Look nice.

Be skinny.

Another guy behind me, boxed for Ireland. He boxed for eleven years and when I asked him if he coached or taught when he was done fighting, he replied no, he had three daughters. He was taken aback by my exclamation of “SO???” and said he’d never have LET them get in to boxing.

Girls don’t fight.
Sit pretty.
Look nice.

He asked us if we came to UFC often and a third member of their group said “well, she (referring to me) is a pro, she knows a lot about this” and I’ll never forget the pride in my brothers voice when he informed them, “she does this” (meaning fight) and the shock on their faces and in their voices when I said, “yeah, I fight”, and told them about my new found love of Krav.

The boxer also said (when the heavyweight class came up), that being hit by a 245lb dude would be like being hit by a “fucking bus”, and sniggered like 245 was so. Damn. Heavy.

And as my 245lb, fitter than I’ve ever been in my entire life, recent yellow belt/level 1 achiever in Krav Maga self, stood at the top of those stairs, ready to return to my seat, I was struck by a lightening bolt.

If the last six months of self discovery and badass training have taught me anything? It’s that I’d rather be a strong, capable badass that men at the very least fear and question my capabilities, but at most, respect.

Than be a woman who’s gawked at, drooled over and talked about like I’m a stupid, piece of meat whose whole existence is to “stand and look f*ckable, like a good girl”.

I’ll admit, the results of the recent US election are weighing on my mind of late. With the president elect being so outwardly degrading to women, and my mounting fear of contraception, abortion and other “women’s things” becoming harder and harder for women to access, rather than easier. I find myself, almost glad, that I don’t yet have a daughter, because my rage and pain for how backward and thinly veiled the worlds attitude towards women remains, isn’t easily translated into comprehensive speech right now.

But bet your bollocks to a barn dance, if I ever have a daughter? I will help her smash through that bloody glass ceiling with our boxing gloves leading the way and shouting a big F U to the men like those I successfully tried not to groin kick tonight at the arena.

img_0072So yes, I walked my butt back out on to the concourse and thankfully, Amanda hadn’t gotten too far. I walked up to her and she made a few guys who were ahead of me, wait a second, so I could take not one, but two pictures with her – my hand was shaking (so sue me, I got a little nervous walking up to her) and I hit the cancel button on snap chat instead of the save button and she graciously granted me a do-over.

In that moment I wanted to hug her, to tell her that she had inspired me, empowered me, and had given me pause to think about things for just a moment.

I wanted to tell her that she was the kind of woman I wanted my future daughters, nieces and Goddaughters to aspire to, pushing the boundaries of what society deems “acceptable” as a woman. Taking societies expectations of what a woman should be, and do and saying screw you, I want to do this instead, and doing it.

I wanted to tell her, that in that moment, she gave me the courage to do something I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise, and snapped this picture.

img_0098Which will forever remind me, that, I too, wish to, (and should) push those boundaries and challenge those expectations, vehemently, and for my kids (of either gender) to learn from example and do the same.

That girls can be both beautiful AND badass at the same time – the two aren’t mutually exclusive like we’ve all been led to believe from an early age.

And mostly? That fighting like a girl? Is a pretty epic compliment after all.

b82a0769copy

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! 😉

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.
13521842_10156955669410411_8167052263224450380_n

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”

From fat…to less fat.

I haven’t always been fat.

I had a few rare years of dramatic theatre time when I was svelte.  But one tends to remember being fat, more than not.  Especially when fat is the current state.

Those are the hardest times.
I can already hear my sister and my coach Taylor, screaming at their screens.  “You are NOT fat! You HAVE fat”, it’s a mindset I’d love to have, and that I’ve vowed to try and adapt, however, for now, I am fat.
I am aware of it, every single minute, or every single day.
I see it every time I look I the mirror, or catch my fat ass reflection in a window, or see my rotund shadow when it’s sunny (which is a lot in Houston).
I see it, always.
I hate it, always.
I’ve written blogs like this, at least once a year.  New beginning, new me.  It trails off.  It flops.  I quit.  And I’m normally not a quitter.  I HATE to quit.
This time it’s different, this time it’s for real.
It never is.  I stay fat.
Since Lewis was born, I’ve lost 33lbs and counting.  It hasn’t been easy, or quick (he’s nearly a year old).  Breastfeeding seems to be hindering, rather than helping and, since January 5th, I’ve been working so hard that I almost expected the weight to fall off me.  But I’ve been here before, I know the drill, sometimes you just have to put your faith in the science.  Eat less, move more and it will happen.  It WILL.
But it’s hard.
I’m trying so hard to eat cleaner, high protein, low carbs, low sugar, and as of this week, no carbs after 3pm.  I’m doing my best, for once, I’m giving it my all.  I really am.  No kidding myself this time.  It’s a struggle every time I open my mouth to eat.  At every meal.  It’s a conscious choice to self improve, to make the better choice, and to inch just a little closer to my goal.
What’s my goal? Well, I started at 268lbs, my first major goal is 180, and I’ll reevaluate the next one, when I get there.  My first interim goal, however, is to lose 30lbs by our wedding anniversary cruise in October.  I want to be 213lbs, (which is the weight I was on my wedding day), for my anniversary.  It’s an achievable goal, theoretically, and bet your ass I’m going to give it my all.
I have an inspirational chart taped to my pantry (aka the infamous pantry penis) that I color in with my Crayola markers every time I lose 1lb.  I have photos from my wedding taped to it, to constantly remind me of my goal.  Where I want to be.  Who I want to be.  So every time I go in to that cupboard for food, I have a choice to make.
What do I want more? The chocolate, or to color in the chart.
What’s my food plan? Like I said above, high protein (lean meats), low carb (100g rice/potato or a tortilla wrap), low sugar (berries rather than citrus).  Three meals (I’m not a breakfast person so this is tough) two to three snacks (nuts, Greek yoghurt, rice cracker, small Apple with peanut butter) and prayers.  ‘Cause, I love my food, I hate any sniff of feeling deprived.  I’m doing my best to feel satisfied and occasionally allowing myself a ‘treat’, cause while although I’m not a dog, it needs to be sustainable for this to work for me.  The odd pizza, or the wings, I still indulge in my diet coke and I’m trying to keep it reasonable, sustainable.  A lifetime thing.
What are my activities? I went back to Body Attack 2-3 times a week for a few weeks, put my back out, got the flu, and got really weak.  So started walking with my boys, and C25K last week, to try and ease back in to working out.  I’ve signed up for not one, but TWO 5k walks/jogs this summer, both at night (oy vey! I couldn’t handle the day time heat!!) with my girl Taylor and I hope to do them in a ‘respectable’ time, but I’ve not yet set a goal, because snails are currently faster than I am.
I’ve stuck to it for fifty days.  5-0.
That’s a record.
What’s my secret weapon? My secret weapon is three-fold.
IMG_3769
Firstly, my crazy sister, she has this knack of ‘bigging me up’ *right* when I need ‘bigging’, sending food suggestions, meal ideas, encouragement and most importantly, she’s always there to kick my ass when I’ve found my way to the wrong side of the tracks, or, often more importantly, to keep me from straying before it happens.  I talk to her daily, not always about food, but she’s there, like a strong silent, rock, waiting to hit me in the face if I go near a pizza 😉
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Secondly I have a great ‘coach’, she helps me set realistic goals, she helps me learn about food, she encourages me when I am feeling weak, she cheers me when I do good and she bucks me up when the scales don’t move.  She gives me exercises to do at home when I can’t get out, or one of us is sick.  She guilts me into taking Lewis for a walk when the weather is glorious and she’s stuck in an office – oh, yeah, did I not mention she has a full time job?
She is nothing short of amazing.
Her name is Taylor, I met her by accident a few years ago when I needed a door prize donation for an SSA event and she is FAB.  I send her photos of all my food, she texts at least once every single day, if I’m wavering, I’ll text her and say ‘I want to eat crap’ and she’ll have a come to Jesus meeting.  She keeps me focused, asks about the progress of my pantry penis and pushes me.  Pushes my limits.  I need it, cause some days I’d be like ‘f*ck it!’ but she reminds me of my goal, and helps me get there.
My most important secret weapon, is my eleven month old little boy – I almost wrote baby – but he’s no longer a baby.  He’s transitioning into ‘toddler mode’ and he’s doing it quickly.  He’s crawling, sure, but he’s also pulling himself up, walking with a walker, moving between objects and as of today, he’s started to stand up solo for a few seconds – this kid will rule the world.
10929970_10155036334840411_1508632594994772018_n
He will soon be running, chasing, kicking a football, playing sports – and I don’t want to be the lard-ass trudging mother who can’t keep up with her toddler (and beyond).  I don’t want to have to watch him play in the park, wondering why mama can’t chase him, or why she needs to sit down every few minutes.
I want to be healthy, for my boy.  I want to be active for my boy.  I want to be FUN, for my boy.
8lbs down, 22lbs to go by October 30th.
This time I won’t quit.  I can’t quit.  I won’t let my son follow the same path as me, I want to teach him healthy choices, healthy activities and I want him to enjoy family time, walking, cycling, swimming…I want him to have a healthy relationship with food, understand its purpose and eat the right things.  I can’t expect him to do it, if I don’t do it.
The buck stops here.
It’s on, like Donkey Kong*…
…*and if I fall down, Taylor (and a few other people) will drag my ass up off the dirt and help me dust myself off, and start again.  Cause that’s what badasses do.

Being an expat is an endurance sport.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But they are there.

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

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

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

“People” don’t understand.

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

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

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

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

She’s moving on to her next adventure.

And I’ll start over.

Again.

Such is the life of a nomad.

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Pregnancy: Glucose Challenge Test (1hr) and Glucose Tolerance Test (3hr)

Alright, it would seem that I need to shake off my squeamishness about taking pictures in medical buildings.  When I was reading about these tests, I found a number of bloggers who photographed every stage of their tests.  I’m not that blogger – but I should be.

First of all, this is not as bad as it’s made out to be.  Well, the drink itself isn’t at least.  Depending on how your body processes sugar, the rest is up to the glucose Gods!

The day I hit twenty-six week mark, was also the day I took my ‘Glucose Challenge Test’, again, we’d moved the date to accommodate the transfer to Dubai, but I was happy to get it over and done with nonetheless.  Varying doctors have slightly different procedures, what I write about below, is my doctors procedure, so don’t freak if it’s different to yours!

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Drink the 50g of glucose drink within five minutes of starting (which they’d given me to take home at my last appointment), wait an hour, have blood drawn.  The one-hour test has no official dietary guidelines except eating nothing between the glucose drink and your blood draw. Most practices and online pregnancy forums will tell you to watch your sugar and carb intake the day of the test and to stick to a lot of protein.  The results came in a few days later, (though I had to chase a little for them) and my glucose was ‘a little elevated’.

They wanted my glucose level to be below: 135 (130 – 140 for most OB’s offices)

Mine was: 165

I think this was largely to do with the fact I had two sliced of toast with a little peanut butter and two clementine oranges for breakfast, washed down by the glucose drink.  Although they tell you not to fast, be careful not to sugar-overload your breakfast.  Stick with something like eggs and toast.

This means that I had to go back for a three-hour ‘Glucose tolerance test’, a fasting test.  No food from midnight the night before, be at the doctors at 8am (so you can go get lunch as quickly as possible after you’re done!) have fasting blood drawn, drink a drink twice as sweet (100g glucose) in the same five minute window and have blood drawn at one hour, two hours and three hours after drinking the syrupy liquid.

After doing a little reading online, I came across this;

“The truth about this test is that the 1-hour test is pretty easy to “fail” and many people do! They make the threshold low enough so that they catch anyone who could be having an issue, just in case. The levels on the 3-hour test are much more reasonable and easier to meet. Your odds of actually having gestational diabetes is very small, between 2 and 10%, so try to relax and just eat normally for the few days before your test (unless your doctor tells you otherwise) and think positively.”

For some reason, this didn’t settle me, not one little bit and I was pretty worked up.

We (hubby came with me in case of vomiting, fainting and/or being too woozy to drive home) arrived, as instructed, at 8am for my fasting glucose blood draw – the phlebotomist was 25 minutes late so I was peeved (and hungry!)  Blood was taken, drink was consumed (I got offered the choice of orange or fruit punch!) and it was out to the waiting room for my first hour-long wait.

The first time I did a very similar test (diagnosing insulin resistance for PCOS earlier in 2013), it was horrible, I was almost sick (numerous times), I was woozy and faint and spent the long part of two hours, in the disabled bathroom, clutching on to the rails so I didn’t pass out.  It was pretty harrowing!

This time, it wasn’t as bad, I felt woozy, a little queasy, hot, sweaty, told Col that I felt like I was dying at one point and couldn’t concentrate on the book I’d brought with me to read, but after the first 45 minutes and a short walk down the corridor (the waiting room was pretty freakin’ warm) I felt much better and didn’t have a single issue for hours two or three (other than them struggling to find a vein in both arms and then my vein collapsing on the 3rd jab to it and some rude cow rather loudly talking on her phone).

In order to pass the tolerance test, your blood sugar scores must be below set levels at each hour.  Two or more, out of four over these set levels and you are considered to have a diagnosis of Gestational Diabetes.

My phlebotomist told me to give the office a call after 24-hours, (so noon Friday), which I did.  I left a voice-mail for my nurse to call me back, told her what I wanted (results, with numbers, unlike the 1-hour test where she just said it was elevated!!) and waited.

While I was waiting, I discovered that with LabCorp in some states (including Texas) you can register for their online patient results system, they will even email you when your blood has been processed, to let you know the results are available – excellent! Right? Let’s sign right up!

So I did.  Or at least I tried to.  Until the form asked me for the last four-digits of my social security number – which, I don’t have.  I tried 8888, didn’t work, I tried leaving it blank, didn’t work, I tried the last four digits of Col’s SSN, didn’t work, I tried the last four digits of my tax identification number, didn’t work.  I tried submitting an IT help-desk ticket, tried calling the local branch of LabCorp – got a wholly unpleasant cow on the other end, who gave me a different number to call, knowing full-well that it’d be closed and I wouldn’t get anywhere.  Didn’t work.  And I was pissed.

By this time, it was 4.15pm, so I decide to call my OB’s office back and see if I can catch my nurse (website said it’s open til 5pm), only to discover the office had closed at 4pm and my nurse didn’t have the courtesy to call me back – whether she had results or not.

Also, I discovered that my friend had blood taken earlier in the day and her results took less than an hour.  So my blood was boiling (my first instance of irrational pregnancy-rage).  I cried.  And spent the next few hours panicking about my test results.  I also filled in an online survey about the Southwest OBGYN clinic, stating that I wasn’t happy that the nurse didn’t return my call that day and had left me to worry all weekend.  An hour later, my phone rang, it was the clinical manager of SWOBGYN, Andrea, calling to put my mind at ease for the weekend, that my test results were ‘normal’ and I wasn’t in the bracket for ‘Gestational Diabetes’.  She didn’t give me any figures, but said enough to save me from climbing the walls all weekend.

Some OB’s test as you go and give you results throughout the test.  I wish my OB’s office did that, a little education of the masses doesn’t cost all that much, especially when you’re doing the test anyways, right?

Blood values for a 3-hour 100-gram oral glucose tolerance test (in MY OBGYN’s office) are:

  • Fasting: must be less than 95 (Mine was 93)
  • 1 hour: less than 195 (Mine was 165)
  • 2 hour: less than 165 (Mine was 95)
  • 3 hour: less than 155 (Mine was 93)

OBGYN said that they’re going to keep testing my urine (which is normal), and that if any glucose starts appearing in my urine, she’s going to make me repeat my 3-hour glucose test (yuck!)  She said that around 28 weeks gestation, your placenta does something (there’s a medical term, beginning with ‘H’ that I can’t for the life of me remember) that increases your glucose levels and for someone with existing glucose resistance (I.E PCOS), it’s important to keep an eye on it.  She also wants me to go back on the Metformin that my fertility specialist prescribed for me – though at 1000mg, not the 1500mg that I was on before I got pregnant.

I’m also keeping a closer eye on my diet going forward, attempting to regulate my CHO/Carb levels, instead of the peaking and valleying that I know is going on in my body.  Also, having chatted to my very own BFF dietician, she said that your body shouldn’t take 3-hours to get back to your fasting sugar.  Ideally that should be done within an hour.  My body is taking three-times as long, not cool – and something for me to work on, going forward!

Some tips for the 3-hour fasting glucose tolerance test

Glucose-Challenge-Accepted-2

– Firstly, DO NOT Google how to pass this test.  DO NOT try and fake or influence the results.  Do not artificially amend your diet for the days/weeks leading up to your test.  Eat normally – like *really* normally, not how you think you should be eating.  If you DO have Gestational Diabetes, it’s best for both you AND your baby that you find out ASAP and get the treatment you both need.  Why would you mess with that?

You may think that this is a crazy thing to advise, but, seriously, have a poke around the internet, you will find TONNES of women who are asking for tips to pass the test.  It’s more common than it should be, in spite of being ridiculously stupid!

– If you fail the one-hour test by only a point or two, some people request to re-do the 1-hour blood draw.  Advocate for yourself – you may be able to have a do-over, for me, I didn’t know my exact figures when she booked my 3-hour test, but based on my weight issue alone, I’d have not been granted a do-over.

– Shake the bottle.  You don’t want super-sweet sediment lying at the bottom of the bottle, you want equal pain the whole way through! haha! 😉  Also, if you aren’t given the bottle to take home (I was at the 1-hour, not the 3-hour), request that it’s chilled, it’s MUCH easier to go down if it’s cold!

– Pack a snack.  You will need it.  You will be starving – especially if your OB requests you fast from 8.30pm the night before.  I packed two clementine oranges and a small snack bar from Target, I ate one of the oranges in the elevator on my way down to the car and went straight to lunch.

– The night before your test, get up around 11.20-11.30pm and have a protein-filled snack.  Milk and/or cheese was what was recommended to me, I had milk (with a little sugar free chocolate Nesquick powder to make it go down easier) and a few crackers and cheese.  This is to help with the ‘OMG I’M STARVING’ feeling you’ll undoubtedly feel after having fasted for the night/morning.  For me, I’ve been waking up lately ready to eat an entire cow.  Whole.  So I was quite afraid that I’d be nibbling on the plants in the waiting room while I was there.  Thankfully, however, thanks to my protein snack advice, I woke up feeling fine and wasn’t hit by hunger until hour three of the test!!

– From reading the interwebz, some OBGYN’s offices take a simple pin-prick blood draw, mine, however, wanted quite a hefty sample in a vial.  My left arm is problematic to my phlebotomist (thankfully another gal was available to do one-draw in that arm, so I didn’t have to do all four in one spot!) and after having stuck my right arm twice already, on the final draw, my vein collapsed and wouldn’t play nice.

The day before your test, drink excessive amounts of water, hydrate your veins so they are plump and easy to find – for yourself, moreso than the phlebotomist.  I admit, while she was fishing around in my arm with a needle, that I considered offering her my boob to draw from – as they are pretty vein-y since I got pregnant, so she couldn’t have missed! LOL!

– Hope for the best, expect the worst.  Especially if you have PCOS, hypothyroidism, or some other condition related to insulin resistance.  Try not to stress-out.  This was a big one for me cause I was freakin’ the hell out.  Once they said I’d ‘slightly elevated glucose levels’ from my 1-hour test, that was me off the stress-cliff.  Try and stay calm, rumour has it that stress can affect your blood sugar.  Realistically, around about 15% of women fail the 1-hr. Your chances of failing both are really rather low (I should have read all this stuff BEFORE the event, eh?)

– Ask if you can drink water and move around.  Typically, you don’t tend to consume food/sugar and sit still for three hours afterwards.  It was OK for me to use the restroom, walk around a little (I did a couple laps of the corridor outside the waiting room), but they won’t want you going outside, or straying too far in case you pass out, but if you’re with hubby/partner, you should be OK.  I was not allowed to drink water, I guess they wanted a pure reading of how my body deals with the sugar, not how quickly I could flush it out of my system with gallons of water 😉

– Go to the office for your test as early as you can! My OB’s opened at 8am, I was told to be there at 8am (and the staff was late).  Sooner you get the test over and done with, the sooner you can eat again! LOL!

– Take a buddy, just in case you react poorly, or faint etc.  It’s nice to have someone with you, even a friend – this also helps with the three hours of boredom you’re going to endure and in case you become too weak to drive yourself home.

– Schedule a nap for when you’re done with the test and lunch.  You may feel groggy and sleepy.  I felt emotionally drained too, as I had worked myself up all over New Years for the 3-hour test.  I went to bed at 2.15pm, didn’t get my brain to shut up til 3pm and slept for an hour.  It helped.  So did the copious amounts of tea my lovely hubby made me all afternoon!

Next time if/when I get pregnant and am in the US (at home this glucose test isn’t mandatory!!) I’ll request to skip the 1-hour test and go right to the 3-hour test.  Why? Because they don’t take a base-level glucose read before the 1 hour test, so they have nothing to compare it to, which bothers me.  Also, since it was non-fasting, it meant that I ate my breakfast and pretty much washed it down with the glucose drink – I’m not unconvinced that that didn’t affect the blood glucose levels either.

A big issue for me is that mom can be pushed into induction and interventions that could lead to a C-section that simply are not necessary due to slightly elevated blood sugar levels, especially since every woman is different and many women have slightly elevated blood sugars during pregnancy anyway.

This is an important test, it’s horrible and people complain and moan about it whenever the topic is mentioned, but it’s one of those tests that are generally done for a reason.  In my home country, it’s not a ‘standard’ test, meaning that not everyone gets, even the one hour test.  Don’t try and influence it, don’t fake it and just try and suck it up as best you can, because ultimately, it really could be THE test during your pregnancy that helps you and your little one.  Be sensible!