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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!

1: Sarah, from Belfast, now in Houston

Three years ago, I was interviewed by a very special and wonderful lady Marie Brice, she is someone who did a lot for me when I first arrived in Houston and who helped me realise a lot of my own inner strength. (Find my interview, here.)

She put together this interview framework that I stumbled upon a month or two ago and, with her permission, I decided to pick up the baton and interview a few of my own expat friends, to share some of their experiences and thoughts on being an expat themselves.

971447_10151437944482651_232976494_nSarah hasn’t lived in Houston very long, but you’d never know to look at her.  She is one of the fastest people I’ve seen assimilate in to a new country and culture.  She’s outgoing, has her fingers in many pies and volunteers much of her time to doing good in the community.

Where were you born? Belfast, Northern Ireland

Where are you currently? Houston, Texas

How long have you been there? I’ve been in Houston for a whole three months now….(four now that I’ve finally gotten around to posting this!)

How long do you expect to be there? Who knows but we think perhaps around 3 years

Where else have you lived? Stavanger in Norway and of course, Belfast

What you love about where you are living? Houston has a lot to offer in terms of the arts, entertainment, volunteering and careers. I’ve been impressed by the vibrancy of the city and how truly international it is. And after three years in Norway, its nice to wear flip flops rather than snow boots for a while.

What is the worst thing about where you live? Distance – Houston is a big, sprawling city so getting around takes time. What I really am missing from both Ireland and Norway are lovely walks just outside my front door.

The hardest part of living where you live? Not being able to step outside the front door and head out for a walk and I do miss my amazing friends in Norway and Ireland. Working out the time difference for skyping home is also proving a challenge but my glass is pretty much always half full so I’m happy with my lot.

What has surprised you most about where you live? The cost of healthcare – I thought I was prepared but apparently not!

Your biggest lesson learned? Bloom where you’re planted – wherever you are, you can choose to make the most of it and make yourself happy.

One reason you wouldn’t have missed living there for the world? Much like Norway, I am meeting the most amazing people. And I’ve discovered yoga – worth it for that alone so far.

The best food? Usually the last thing I ate though I’m pretty excited by the choice at my local HEB in terms of fruit and vegetables. I love to cook and Texas offers pretty much every ingredient you’ll ever need.

The best sight? Probably too soon to answer this but I’m a big fan of the Museum District in Houston and Galveston is hard to beat. I’ve never lived more than 15 minutes from the shore so a day by the beach is always welcome.

Your biggest fear for the future? Being either bored or boring! (no hope of that love!)

Funniest incident? Our relocation advisor had to explain to me that a garden tub wasn’t something that you planted shrubs in – its a bath tub. That was fairly funny. And I have some good stories from Norway but we’ll save those for another time….I suspect there are many more Houston stories to come.

What NOT to do in your location? Be complacent about the heat – I’ve visited Houston in July in the past. You really do need to be prepared for the summer.

The person who has inspired you most where you live and why?  Its really too soon for me to answer that for Houston as I’ve met so many interesting, amazing people. That said, in Norway, I was part of an amazing group of expat runners, hikers and bikers, all of whom were extraordinary in their own way and from whom I learned a lot. One of the huge bonuses of being in Houston is that many of them are now moving back into the city or reasonably close by. I’m also so grateful that I’m now only a short flight from my best friend in Michigan who is hands down the most inspirational person I know and who doesn’t laugh at me when I call her to ask how to work my washing machine!

Best piece of advice you could give to newbie expats? You can take control of this experience – decide what you want it to be about for you and then put down some little roots and get blooming. Don’t focus on what you can’t have but what you can have and choose to be happy!

Anything else you want to add? Did I mention that the margaritas are really good here?

New member: International connections of Houston

Last week, my new friend from the ‘motherland’, Sarah, (who I’ll undoubtedly be blogging lots about in the future) mentioned an expat group here in Houston that I hadn’t heard of before.  It’s a group called ‘International connections of Houston‘, (ICH) is a non-profit organisation that through regular meetings, informative programs, fun activities and lively discussion groups aims to help and connect expatriates arriving in Houston.

The annual membership fee is $40.  This includes:

  • Informative and interesting speakers at the monthly meetings
  • A monthly newsletter sent via email, it’s also available on the members section of the website
  • Tours around the Houston area
  • Participation in activities which include book club, bridge group, craft groups community volunteering, walking and cycling groups, tennis and more!
  • Develop friendships with people who understand what it’s like to live in another country

Having a husband who works for a huge, global oil and gas company, with a rather large ‘wives’ group, I never really had a ‘need’ to go searching for an ‘external’ expat group.  It was pretty much inbuilt into our transfer, we moved to a busy, transient hub, where the spouses total over 500 strong.  For the last few years, since we got here really, I had everything I needed, and, due to my volunteering, I have been kept pretty busy – plus, I didn’t know anything ‘public’ existed, so I had no real curiosity either.

Lately, however, with so many gals transferring out of our circle here in Houston, with a bunch of moves on the horizon and after hearing about the organization and reading in to it a little, it definitely piqued my interest.  What actually happened, was that Sarah mentioned an outing ICH had organised (will blog about that soon enough), that sounded totally up my alley and I wanted to go.  In order to go, I needed to join the group, and once I read the description and learned what they were about, I stuck my cheque in the mail and emailed the lady responsible for the outing I wanted to go on.  In spite of the fact that I was a few weeks after the deadline to sign up, they made room for me and allowed me to tag along.

I’m very excited about being a member of this group.  In spite of the fact that I have been in Houston for over 3 years now, I am keen to get to know some new people and experience some new things.  Especially if my first outing with them is anything to go by – as always, I’ll keep you posted!