Texas Strong

Here’s a tip – grab a cuppa, this is gonna be a long one.  It’s been almost two weeks since hurricane Harvey hit the great state of Texas and I still keep bursting in to tears every time I look at my Facebook feed, or try and write this damn blog post – so, please, be gentle with me.  I’m a sensitive and fragile soul right now.

Unless you witnessed it first hand? I don’t think you’d believe me if I told you there was a time in my life that I didn’t love Houston as I do now, because, to look at me, you’d see me sharing about forty thousand Houston/Texas/Flood related posts on my Facebook page every day.  You’d hear me whining, daily, weekly – sometimes by the minute, about how much I miss my home, my people, my life there.

Home.

Yes, while I’m Irish and lived here in N. Ireland for most of my life, my heart just isn’t here.  I won’t apologise for it, and I’m growing *really* tired of defending it.

‘Ireland is your home’.

No.  Houston is my home, Texas is my home.  It always will be.  And now that I mention it? After my month-long trip to the states last month, I’ve had so many people say to me, ‘wow, Houston really IS your home, isn’t it?’, yes, it is.

But I haven’t always liked it, in actual fact, I all-but hated the place when I first moved there.

In September 2008, I hopped a plane to H-town for my first trip.  A two-week visit with Colin for business.  There’d been whispers of a transfer, but at this stage it was still two-week business trips every now and then across the Atlantic.  So, off I went excited at the prospect of two weeks in Houston.

We arrived on the first company-approved flight in to the city after Hurricane Ike.  Having never experienced a hurricane before, I was clueless, but it wasn’t long before we saw the devastation around us.  Glass and dead birds littered the streets, Target and Walmart had no water, milk or toilet paper, roads were flooded, we went in to Ihop for food and were presented with a printed piece of paper, informing us that due to the hurricane and the inability to get supplies in to the city, they were serving a restricted menu ‘this is the stuff we can serve you based on the supplies and staff we have available’ type deal.  I remember sitting in the restaurant wondering why in the name of all that is Holy, would I even consider moving to somewhere that could be so cripplingly devastated by a bit of wind and rain.

(I can feel the eye-rolls and abuse from my Texas peeps already happening here)

We’d missed the storm and were just in town for the aftermath, the inherent definition of ‘blow-ins’ as we say here in Ireland.

I didn’t understand.

I didn’t understand that Hurricane Ike was a tropical cyclone – the costliest tropical cyclone on record in Texas.  The third-costliest of ANY Atlantic hurricane to date (coming in behind Sandy and Katrina) and taking at least 195 lives.

I didn’t understand that winds reached up to 145mph.

I didn’t understand the term Category 4 Hurricane.

I didn’t understand how quickly this place floods, or the devastation flooding can do – to people, to lives, to infrastructure.

I just didn’t understand.

That is, until 2009.  Another two-week trip to Houston.  Col was moving out ahead of me, and I was over on break from uni for two weeks to do some house hunting, furniture and car shopping, and we got caught in one of the worst storms I’ve seen.  We were heading up I45N towards Gallery furniture, the weather got so bad, we had to pull off the main road and in to a car park at a paint store, where we sat in our car for over six hours – with no water, no food, no phone signal (we pretty much spent our time in the car sleeping, and watching cars attempt to wade their way out of the parking lots and through the over-the-car-bonnet-deep water on the feeder road, to get back up on to the main road).  It was also at this point that I first discovered the Houston spirit, the Southern Hospitality and the pulling together that Texas is somewhat renowned for.

I needed to pee.

In Ireland, most toilets are for customers only, in the US, many major shops have toilets in store, I held it as long as I could and waited for a lull in the absolute chucking-it-down rain before I darted in, ready to beg and plead to use the toilet.  When I walked in, the staff had laid out tea, coffee, lemonade and snacks on a table.  They’d pulled out every chair they could find and sat it round the table and a handful of people, like Col and I who had been stranded in the carpark, were taking refuge of the storm, having a drink, using the facilities and just having a chat to a group of strangers in the same position as they were.

It wasn’t a hurricane, it may not even have been a tropical storm, I can’t remember, but I watched devastation, confusion and was living the impact, first hand, of severe flooding in the greater Houston area.  At this point, I once again questioned my sanity, and wondered why I’d want to move somewhere that had such poor drainage and was seemingly prone to this type of weather.  But once I saw the positivity of the people and how quickly the city rebounded from, what at home would have been a rather devastating flood, I was given hope.

And so, in June of 2009, a couple months after Col made the move, I hopped a plane to join him.  From the second I landed in Newark Intl airport, I was miserable.  I was put on a tourist visa without us knowing, I’d spent ‘too much’ time in the states prior to my visa being issued and I was quizzed for a while as to why I needed to be in the states and then told in no uncertain terms that I had to change my departure date from the US, by 24 hours.  Yep.  We had to pay to change my flight home for Winter Graduation at Uni, by 24 hours, because they said so.  I had just left my friends, family and the comfort of home to become an expat in the states, filled with excitement, and I was greeted by, ‘you need to leave by this date, or else and if you leave in the meantime, you can’t come back’.  I was heartbroken.

Once here? Having no kids to meet parents at school drop offs and events, having no dogs to meet fellow dog owners at the dog park and no car to drive myself anywhere, I spent most of my time at home, alone, staring at four walls.  I’ve said it many times over the years, that the more you sit staring at four walls, the more you find wrong with them.  I was depressed, miserable and Col didn’t know what he was coming home to most days – he even sat in the driveway a couple evenings when he got home from work, just to have a few minutes quiet, in case he got home to my fury-filled, tear-streaked self.  I don’t blame him – I was a bit psycho, right enough.

Six months.

That’s how long it took me to acclimate to H-town.  I came ‘home’ to Ireland for Christmas in 2009 and found myself missing Home.  It was a weird sensation, one I hadn’t expected.  And, when I returned in January 2010, everything just suddenly fell in to place.  I found my groove, came in to my own, started to lay down roots and blossom.

Something an old friend, Cindy, (who is sadly no longer with us), used to say resonates with me til this day, ‘Bloom where you are planted Las,’ she’d say to me.  And so, I did.  And Houston has been home ever since.

As the old adage goes, ‘I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as quickly as I could’, that’s me.  And when it came time to leave? I cried the entire flight to the UK, and beyond.  I didn’t want to move, to Ireland, to India, to anywhere.  Ok – maybe I wanted a new house within Houston, but beyond that, I didn’t want to move.

So you can perhaps imagine how difficult and traumatic it was to open Facebook (I almost said, ‘to turn on the news and see’ – but we all know, most people now get their news from their Facebook feed 😉 LOL!) and see that my home of seven and a half years, was about to be ravaged by a Category 4 Hurricane.  Harvey.  Even the name makes me mad to type, I find myself thumping the letters out on the keyboard in rage.

Harvey. 

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last week?  You’ll have read about the sheer devastation across the gulf-coast region of Texas, from Victoria to Houston, Rockport to Beaumont, Port Arthur to Conroe, to Corpus Christi.

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last week? You’ll have seen many homes and businesses levelled, many more partially, or completely submerged in flood water.  You’ll have seen footage of people and animals, on top of houses and cars awaiting rescue.  You’ll have seen the footage of the buildings in ruin, of cars stranded, of people flocking to shelters by the hundreds.

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last week, you’ll have seen my Facebook feed, saturated with stories shared, statistics on the storm, hero stories, cries for help – rescues, donations and volunteering.

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last week, you’ll have seen ugly tears of joy shed for the first glimpse of sun in the state post-storm.

Photo Cred: Becky Rivero

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last week, you’ll have seen crisis, tragedy, and disaster.  But, aside from the stress, worry, some weird form of ‘survivors guilt’ at not being there and suffering through it with friends, side-by-side, what you’ll have ALSO seen? Is the best that humanity has to offer, you’ll have seen kindness, compassion, selflessness.  You’ll have seen community spirit that rivals none other, you’ll have seen incredible fundraising efforts and people rallying around Texas like I’ve never seen.

You’ll have seen, hope.

Ok, let’s throw some stats in here – so you can gain some perspective on precisely how messed up this freakin’ storm was.  53 counties affected by Harvey, over 11.5 million people, that’s 46% of the population of Texas.

By August 29th, there were 86 TRILLION litres of water dumped on the Gulf Coast – with a predicted 95 trillion being the final count – Katrina? Yeah, she brought 30 Trillion with her.  That’s an estimated 56 inches of rain in 4 days.  In short? Harvey is a dick.

There have been around 50 confirmed deaths – including a Houston PD officer, there are also a number of people still missing.

Photo credit: The Marvelous Michael

More than 48,700 homes were affected by Harvey throughout the state, including over 1,000 that were completely destroyed and more than 17,000 that sustained major damage; approximately 32,000 sustained minor damage.  Nearly 700 businesses were damaged and over 300,000 people were left without electricity.  Preliminary estimates of economic losses range from $10 billion to $160 billion, with a large portion of losses sustained by uninsured homeowners

Several tornadoes were spawned in the area, one of which damaged or destroyed the roofs of dozens of homes in Sienna Plantation – Sienna Plantation is a subdivision a couple miles away from my old house in Missouri City.  If we were still on Edgewood drive (and we didn’t evacuate before the storm hit) – our home of seven and a half years? We’d have been under mandatory evacuation, days after the hurricane hit.  And would likely have been stranded and unable to adhere to the mandatory evac because that area doesn’t take heavy flooding well at all.

Photo Credit: Micah Morrison

In short? Lots of rain, lots of flooding, lots of damage.  Catastrophic.  Horrible.  Life changing.  Life destroying.  Deadly.  Some folks lost everything.  BUT.  (And this is a BIG but.  And this is an emotional but.  And this is a but that I’ve been procrastinating over writing about, because it’s a but that’s had me in hysterical, ugly tears for a week or so now.) there has been light.

Light? I hear you ask? Yes, there has been light.

There has been hope and have been heroes. 

Picture from the wonderful Chizzy.

There has been overwhelming selfless, benevolent, humanitarian, noble, generous, open-handed, self-sacrificing people who have done nothing short of AMAZING things for the disaster relief effort in the Lone Star State.  From pizza place workers paddling kayaks through flood waters to deliver free pizzas, to high school sports teams volunteering in grocery stores to help with bag packing, shelf stacking and helping people carry their stuff to people’s cars, to bakers stranded in a Mexican bakery baking food with almost every supply they had on hand, through the night to give to victims, you name it – Texas has it.  The outpour of support from across the country for Texas, has been incredible – there’s even been a contingent of vessels come across from Louisiana to help rescue people from their homes – it’s amazing.

Aaaand here’s where we get choked up and feel-y, cause I’m about to tell you about some of them.

JJ Watt

“The Worst times, bring out the best in people”

Where can you donate? youcaring.com/JJWatt

Firstly? Lemme tell you about my boy JJ – some of you are probably like ‘huh? Who? That dude from the HEB ads’, yes, the guy what plays for the Houston Texans?  He’s a Texas treasure (which is ironic since he’s a Wisconsin boy) and he’s an all-out freakin’ hero!

He started an online fundraiser, almost as soon as the hurricane hit, his goal? $200,000, and he got the ball rolling with a whopping $100k donation from his own pocket.  His goal was smashed in a matter of hours – in fact, we all blinked and he’d hit a million, he upped the goal by one million at a time, until he got to six million and decided that he’d rely on the ‘everything’s bigger in Texas’ adage, and aim for ten million.  He’s currently just sitting shy of $28m dollars, collected over less than two weeks, not months, weeks.  Donations have poured in from celebrities and civilians alike, with big names like Walmart, Ellen Degeneres and Drake throwing their support behind superstar JJ, as well as some of his sporting peeps like the NRG arena, The Green Bay Packers, and Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk.

Not only that? But, back in his home state of Wisconsin? His mum steered the ship for his charitable foundation as they called out for donations from his home town, and state, to send down to needy Texans who’d lost everything.  They broke everything down (which was a stroke of organisational genius), various collection points located in different places, each collection point had a list of items they needed the masses to donate (and ONLY from the list).  For example, one collection point requested peanut butter, crackers, fruit cups etc., while another requested cleaning supplies – and, before you knew it? They were asking for more semi-trucks to be donated to the cause, because they had so much STUFF and not enough trucks to transport it.  As of today, Sunday, 9 semi-trucks are Houston-bound packed to the rafters with supplies.

What people love most about JJ’s fundraising campaign? Is that he promises that this money will go directly to helping the people who are affected (no red tape, no administration fees) and that he will ensure it’ll go to more than just the greater Houston metro area – he’s going to make sure small towns like Orange, Rockport, Corpus Christi and Port Aransas are taken care of too.

Mattress Mack

“Houstonians have a safe, dry place to take shelter at Gallery Furniture so if they can get here they are welcome, we hope to give them some comfort in this incredibly difficult time.”

Owner of local furniture store chain, Gallery Furniture (GF) and fondly referred to as Mattress Mack, Jim McIngvale, opened the doors of his stores for use as refugee shelters – for both humans and their fur-babies.  He also opened up his mattress showroom to members of the Texas Army National Guard, so that they could get some well-deserved rest between missions.  The stores were stocked with food, water and mattresses. Each store could accommodate a few hundred people comfortably and Jim was on-hand to help people out, if and when they needed it.

When some of the storm’s victims couldn’t make it across flooded streets, Mack sent out his delivery trucks and drivers to collect people and bring them to safety.  ‘We put out a Facebook feed that we were going to rescue people, because there was so much need,’ he says.  ‘The city and the local authorities did a great job, they just couldn’t get to all the 911 calls’.

Since the hurricane? He’s been offering three square meals a day, seven days a week, combined with boxes of water and cleaning supplies to the victims – I’m starting to think there’s no end to this mans kindness!

If you go to GF on a regular weekend to look at furniture? You’ll often find Pizza and lemonade, fruit, cookies and some exotic animals – to make the entire process of buying furniture a lot more fun for the entire family.  We enjoyed many’s a day there just having a look.

Every single piece of news footage, or interview by Mattress Mack has left me sobbing.  The guy, while he claims not to be a hero (he saves that term for those emergency responders and the employees who worked in his stores) he truly is.  He’s a blessing to the city of Houston and I’m hoping to be relocated back to Houston at some point, so I can furnish my house with furniture from his stores – as it stands? I’m sat on my GF bed and mattress, my clothes are in my GF chests of drawers and Col and Lewis are sat on my GF sofa – right here in Ireland.

Watch this (and grab a tissue!) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/houston-businessman-jim-mcingvale-opens-furniture-stores-to-evacuees/

HEB

For those of you who don’t know, HEB is a Texas grocery store chain, I had one across the street from my house in Missouri City and I’ll always remember them for great quality deli meat, good music and very friendly staff – oh, and those Texas shaped crackers they do.

You may or may not have seen the memes doing the rounds on Facebook ‘I’ll see your Red Cross and raise you a Texas Grocery store’, and things that never let Texas down, type memes, but why?

I’ll tell you why!

A convoy of HEB trucks laden with supplies, made their way out to Victoria, TX to bring them much needed relief.  Carrying food, water, and generators, over they headed 100 miles southeast, navigating the aftermath of what was a Cat 4 hurricane to help those who were all but destroyed by it.  They brought tools, expertise, an ATM, a mobile pharmacy with pharmacy staff to hand out prescriptions – and over 100 HEB employees made their own way to Victoria to volunteer.  The convoy included mobile kitchens – one of their mobile kitchens can serve up to 6,200 meals per hour.  Two units cooked 2,000 plates each for every meal.

Now that the worst of the storm has passed and people are starting to get more mobile as the floodwaters recede, they can start rebuilding and recovering.  HEB’s heroism knows no bounds as they are offering bread products for 10c each – loaves of $3/$4 bread, for 10c.  My friend Mike told me that in his local HEB, all of their own brand products were on excellent sales, some were even buy 1 get 2 free – with signs around the store encouraging you to take the extras to your friends and family who needed it who couldn’t get to the store.  My friend Cathlyne said that the HEB on Buffalo Speedway was giving bread away.  Literally giving stuff away for free.

Add to that? Today they just gave a whopping five million dollar donation to JJ Watt’s fundraising efforts – What generosity from this Texan chain!

Sugar Land Skeeters

The Skeeters came to Sugar Land during our tenure in Missouri City – I loved going to Skeeters games.  Especially the all you can eat family nights (most of our guests loved these games too, especially my 12-corn-dog-eating brother).  It’s an excellent family night at the ballpark, they’ve got a lot of stuff geared towards kids, families, parking is cheap, food is good and the tickets are cheap, too.  If you haven’t been, you should go.  Especially post-Harvey.

Since the hurricane? They’ve been amazing! They opened their doors to flood victims in the early stage of evacuations, to use the ball park as a shelter from the storm.  They took in both people, and their pets.

They’ve kicked off a generous fundraiser, their aim is to raise $50,000 – $25,000 from fans and $25,000 matched by the team.  They’re selling their $15 tickets for $5 each, but are encouraging people to donate over and above the ticket cost, because they are donating the overage to disaster relief efforts in the area.

They’ve also opened up to the First responders, letting them attend games for free and are putting together a blood drive at constellation field.

The Cajun Navy

Donate here: https://www.paypal.me/cajunnavyrelief

Prior to this disaster, I’d never heard of this group, an informal organization of volunteers with boats from Louisiana, deployed to Texas to assist in high-water rescues.  These heroes have been out in force rescuing people from rooftops and pulling people to safety, helping them to escape rising flood waters and impassable roads.

“The Cajun Navy was formed during the Hurricane Katrina relief in New Orleans in 2005. It’s comprised of volunteers from Louisiana who have their own boats. These boats are not like the highly secured, fancy Coast Guard boats. By and large, the Cajun Navy boats are fishing boats, hunting boats and kayaks – usually camouflaged for duck hunting – and small but mighty. In times of flooding disasters, any boat helps. Often, these smaller boats are just what is needed to navigate in shallow waters around flooded homes and deliver residents to higher ground.”

The group sent 20 boats on a 300-mile trip to Houston on the back of trucks.  These guys are just regular people like you and I, who packed up their boats and travelled 300 miles to Houston to help other people like you and I, whose lives had been turned upside down.  They paid for their own food, their own gas and upkeep, and just did their thing rescuing stranded victims.

I also feel that I need to throw an honorable mention to our local gas-station chain, Bucees – they let emergency personnel in to their stores to stay over and rest – they could also eat and drink, on the house.

Photo credit: Sandra Showalter

And while all these big names came to the aid of our city and state? I think the *most* impressive and commendable heroes?  Are the unnamed ones.  The non-famous ones.  The ‘Joe soap’ types around the corner, who just dusted off their boots and got stuck in helping their neighbours.  The volunteers, who, after the storm, called round to their friends’ houses to help them pull apart their flood-damaged homes, the good souls who cooked two hundred meals for a local town whose town no longer exists, the kind spirits who volunteered or donated at food banks, or blood banks – those are the people we need to take a moment for.

Photo Credit: Sandra Showalter

Those are the people who remind us that there IS still good in the world.  That the good does outweigh the bad, that when in times of great trial, destruction and seemingly all-engulfing darkness, that light still shines strong.  I’ve had an outpour of good will on my Facebook feed, from my friends and their kids.  From ladies cooking hundreds of meals and taking them to victims, to bulk-kolache buying for first responders, to donating time, money or resources to various charities, from blood banks to animal shelters, I had a friend whose son paddled around the neighbourhood in his kayak, helping out his neighbours and another friend whose little boy packaged up Hot Wheels, PlayDoh and snacks for the kids less fortunate than him and helped his mama prepare meals for delivery.

Photo Credit: Becky Rivero

You guys.

I can’t EVEN with this kindness and generosity right now!!

THAT is the America I know and love.

That is my town and those are my people.

Good, selfless people, raising good selfless people.

The effects of Hurricane Harvey will be far-reaching and long-lasting for Texas, and, in some ways, (gas prices and the like) for the entire US.  And while we sit here telling Texas to hang in there, that we got your back?  We barely have time to catch our breath before the next major hurricane gears up to come in and strike from the gulf – this time, a category 5 storm, Irma, is making a bee-line for Florida.  While my heart is heavy, and 46% of my state is soggy and trying to wring themselves out, I’m reminded of a meme I saw yesterday, ‘If you think Texans are obnoxious with pride now? Wait until this shit is over and we dry our boots off’.

Choo Choo! Lewis is two!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Party Bags

 

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

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

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

Decor

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

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

The Cake

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

Food and Drink

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

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

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

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

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

No perfect people allowed! (The Bridge Fellowship MDO)

13240491_10156832052615411_2207768648830933834_nI’m ugly crying.

Y’all know ugly crying, right?

Red face, puffy eyes, complete with buckets of snot and enough Kleenex that makes you wish you’d bought shares in the company? Yeah, that’s me right now.

I’m inexplicably emotional right now – no, it’s not just cause I now have to have my multi-faceted toddler home with me full time again, but, I guess, it’s because it’s the end of an era.

12002877_10155970090180411_6231317509495296900_nThis time last year, Lewis was on a waiting list for a Mother’s day out program at The Bridge Fellowship, here in Sugar Land.  I had inner-battled back and forth on this one for a while, I suffered from, what I believe in the ‘biz’ they refer to as ‘mama guilt’.  As a stay at home mama (SAHM) I found it very hard to justify to myself, a ‘need’ to send my child away for nine hours a week.  It wasn’t overly expensive, don’t get me wrong – as MDO’s go in the area, The Bridge is certainly the most reasonable that I’ve found ($150 a month plus a quarterly supplies fee were the fees for 2015/16), but it was still an ‘unnecessary’ outgoing, considering I’m a SAHM, right?

Then a friend of mine sent me this email for Mother’s day – this isn’t it in it’s entirety, but you get the idea, and it got me *really* thinking.

A lot of articles online bash parenting today – especially mothers. We judge each other too much, who has time for all that Pinterest crap, here’s why you should feed your baby this way, cloth diapers FTW, never spank a child, don’t yell, stay away from GMO’s, organic food is best,  is your 4 year old really standing next to the hot stove OMG call cps…. Etc.  This has to be the hardest era to parent in yet.  And for the most part it’s focused on the moms.  You don’t really see “daddy” bashing articles or see dads whispering across the park and confronting each other in stores.  I don’t know if it’s because men just inherently aren’t used to being the focus of this stuff or if women are just more emotionally wired to be protective of the village, or they’re more judge mental and bitchy or what.  One things for certain though – being a mom today is f*cking hard.  Harder than I think any of our previous generations of mothers before us.  Not because of all the physical labor, but because as a society we make it hard on each other. 

As much as I dislike this holiday for the feelings of sadness that it brings up from my past, I also think it’s one of the most important holidays that we have for people like you and my other friends with kids.  Every one of you all parent very differently. Your kids all have different rules and lifestyles.  But you all very clearly love your kids and work to be the best parent you can be, regardless of what all those damn parenting articles say, garnering from your parents lessons (and either striving to be more like them or nothing like the, depending on what the case may be). And for that you should all be celebrated hugely. 
11921796_10155917686515411_17310299548217551_nI thought about why *I* wanted to put him in to ‘day care’, I mean, really thought about it.  It’s not like I was going to go drink margaritas, have mani-pedis and shop til I dropped every day (though, Lord knows, most days I’d totally love that!) it was more for every day things, doctors, dentists, chiropractors, OBGYN’s – unencumbered by a curious little boy who wants to touch everything, doesn’t want to hold hands crossing the road or car park, wants to hit every button in the elevator and who will stubbornly go off in whatever direction his little mind decides it wants to.
It was more grocery shopping without having to rationalise to a two year old, why mama doesn’t need 14 types of Goldfish crackers in the trolley.
It was more taking care of laundry without having ‘helping mama’ hands pull out clean, dry and folded laundry and run around the house while I was chasing him – cursing under my breath.
It was more about having grown-up conversation at least once a week, that didn’t involve telling a toddler to stop trying to climb out of his high chair, or to eat his vegetables – or no, he couldn’t have the sharp steak knife that the server left all too close to his mac and cheese covered little paws.
I thought about other friends children and quickly came to the realisation that socialisation – with other kids, other adults and some parent-free time, has overwhelmingly benefited many of my friends children and that it would be good for him to learn things like sharing toys, routine and being disciplined by someone who wasn’t Colin or I.
11951751_10155917686560411_2189568573678727582_nSo, I signed him up to The Bridge.  Two mornings a week.  Tuesday and Thursday, 9.30am – 2pm in a class of twelve children.  One Tuesday a month they have Chick Fil A days, one Thursday a month they have pizza days (where you pay $4 and they feed your little lunch), they have all kinds of parties (Rodeo, Easter, Christmas, End of year – for example), they do all kinds of crafting, they come home with Mothers day AND Father’s day gifts (even though Father’s day is after the term finishes), they had both the police and fire departments visit the school (he got his picture taken with the fire truck and police car) and they do various things from music class, playing with toys to learning.
Bear in mind, I hadn’t got very high expectations for the amount of learning he’d actually do, he was just shy of 18 months old, he went to his first day of school with a bald head (don’t ask – we had a pre-photoshoot haircut boo boo) a cast on his leg (again, don’t ask) and for the first couple of months he cried at drop off.  Some days, he even cried a lot, but the girls insisted that he calmed down shortly thereafter and settled in to his day.  The crying meant I couldn’t linger or chat to his teachers much, I handed him over and walked very quickly – the first few days, even fighting tears myself, and wondering what kind of awful parent I must be to leave my sobbing leg-cast toddler with strangers.
10448730_10155917686660411_197839715295224187_nBut, each drop-off got easier, and at each pick-up, our shy and quiet little Lewis was always a happy chappy.  Which made me happy – not only because I was actually accomplishing something (some days that may only have been grocery shopping in Target with a skinny hot chocolate), but also because he was enjoying himself.
12246753_10156149454300411_282857918153111900_nFeedback was always good, he’s a great eater, he’s a very calm, placid and happy baby and he’ll let any of the kids have what he’s playing with, with no retribution.  A little time passed.  I’m not sure quite at what point things started to reveal themselves, but I distinctly remember him asking, very nicely, one afternoon, for Elmo to be on TV.  I obliged, Sesame Street bought me some time to do SSA work for the afternoon and out of nowhere I hear, ‘Why mama’, I say ‘Why what bubba?’ and he says ‘Why’.
I look up at the screen and sure enough there’s the letter Y dancing across the screen.  I think I had some kind of episode, I started clapping and cheering that my smart little boy had identified the letter Y.  Over the coming months he came home showing off all kinds of wicked skills, he learned his numbers 1-10 (and even attempts beyond), he knows his colours (though he often gets yellow and green muddled up on the first pass, but gets pink, purple and orange just fine), he learned how to sing the alphabet (which is more phonetic noises with the occasional letter being thrown in at this point, cause he sings it way too fast, but we are working on our diction) and the other day he even told me about a triangle – I about fainted.
I can’t imagine two women handling eight ‘terrible two’ toddlers on the best of days, but actually educating them, teaching them things that he has clearly retained? It’s nothing short of a miracle, cause I can’t even get him to listen to me when I tell him to stop balancing on the back of the sofa, standing on one foot and holding a freshly sharpened pencil in his hand.
13239395_10156832064720411_2027101294490036828_nHe’s come on leaps and bounds in The Bridge MDO program, he’s become more confident and outgoing when it comes to other kids, his vocabulary and speech have exploded, turns out he’s quite the chatterbox (no idea where he gets THAT from, eh?) and going by his goodbye hugs to his teachers today, he’s pretty fond of them too.
13220810_10156825914310411_8152288480293823026_n

Bloom where you are planted.

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

My dearest Cindy,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_5605

Learning to love my plus-sized self.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He wasn’t wrong.

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

Again, he wasn’t wrong.

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

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

Hot damn girl!

Don’t draw attention to yourself!

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

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

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

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

Right? That’s what “they” say.

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

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

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

And here we are.

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

Enter plus sized fashion bloggers.

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

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

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

What possessed me?

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

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

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

I liked it a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then Maria showed me my film.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s no quick fix.

That said?

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

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

As is.

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

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

That one friend…

This blog has been incredibly difficult to write.  I started it when I arrived in Iowa, and have been deleting it and re-writing it ever since.  Some things are just hard to put into words, and my friendship with ‘The Girl’ is one of them.
I’m feeling a bit of a fraud this week.
I’ve had people far and wide tell me they’re so grateful for me being here for Amber, what they don’t know, is that she’s been there for me, every step of my life, for a very, very long time.  She owes me nothing, I owe her everything, and being here, helping out her family in whatever small ways I can, is as much for me as it is for her.  I’m enjoying my time with my niece, Averie, don’t get me wrong, she’s a drama queen, diva, 6 year old, but she’s so full of love and cuddles that I could burst.  Let me tell you a little back story…
11145049_10152879116161431_3303426685567350964_n

5k colour run, Cedar Rapids IA, 2015

 Everyone’s got “that one friend”.
The ‘Do you remember…’ friend.
The ‘This one time…’ friend.
The ‘Hold my hand and pretend to be my girlfriend cause I *really* don’t want anything to do with that guy’, friend
They may not be your longest serving friend, or maybe they are, but they are most certainly your very bestest.
The kind you have a suitcase full of stories about (that typically all come out in quick succession when you’re talking to other people).  You’ve got a basket of dirty laundry together, a basket of secrets together and the biggest basket of all is reserved for the giggles, and hysterical laughter. The kind of laughter that comes with tears pouring down your face, the kind of laughter that gives you hiccups cause you can’t breathe, the kind of laughter that hurts your ribs and has people looking at the two of you wondering why the hell you found what you’re laughing at, so hilariously funny.
Which just makes you both laugh harder.
They’re the kind of friend you can sit up talking to all night, plan world domination with, karaoke with, shop with (and always find way more to buy when you’re together!) drink with, dance with, cry with, get questionable haircuts with, take a bazillion selfies with (you’re the same people, in the same clothes, with the same facial expressions, but bet your ass you’re taking alllllllll the selfies) and drive across country or fly across continents to be with.
1929528_21570550410_6110_n

First trip to IA 2006 – ice cream, pjs and movies!

They’re the kind of friend you can often tell what they’re thinking, just by the look on their face, or the subtle inclinations in their voice (or texts, or emails) or the un-subtle inclinations of them smacking you or throwing an inanimate object at your head.
There’s no better comfort than hugs from a friend like that, no better joy than from the shared love and laughs and no greater sorrow than when one of you are hurting.
1914323_275028945410_7507752_n

Amber’s 1st trip to Ireland 2005

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

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

Houston 2014

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

Chicago 2006 my first trip over to IA.

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

Dublin 2005

A standard visit to Iowa consists of many basic elements, or, at least used to when we were younger, before children.  We’d bake cookies – something that’s ‘typically’ American to an Irish girl, we’d watch High School Musical (singing into hairbrushes or bottles – or just at the top of our lungs – poor Aaron!) while in our pjs and sharing a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Karamel Sutra (she’s allergic to chocolate, so she gets the vanilla, I get the chocolate and we fight for the caramel core! 😉
There’d be a least one trip to Buffalo Wild Wings, more than likely two.  If we were visiting a city with a Chipotle, we’d go there too (Cedar Rapids just got one recently! Whoop!)
Before I moved to Texas, we’d visit WalMart and the Dollar Tree – taking at least an hour, sometimes three (right Col?) to do a thorough inspection of things I couldn’t get here, but absolutely ‘needed’ to take home.  We’d visit Michaels, Joann’s and, in Texas, Hobby Lobby – and buy any number of craft materials that neither of us ‘needed’, but more so ‘we could totally do this, with this’ – and, Lord knows, that Ireland isn’t overflowing with scrapbooking materials, and, as a knitter/crocheter, cheap yarn was never to be passed up.
The other thing we’d do? We’d drink.  Pretty much one night of my trip was spent drinking, occasionally with karaoke, though that bit isn’t a prerequisite (though I maintain it should be).  And when I say drink, we DRINK.  LOL!
23687_10150102470045411_2848957_n
Six years ago, my niece Averie Rose was born and we got a little more responsible, marginally more sensible (translation: our drinking was upgraded to cheap wine) and exceptionally good at our new found addiction of Pinterest parties.  I was her wing-woman for most of Averie’s birthday parties and have been to Iowa for four of her six to date, normally with some form of craft or food-creation in my suitcase that I’ve worked on in Texas to help out from afar.
We’ve road tripped together, we’ve baked together, we’ve sung together, we’ve gotten drunk together, we’ve gambled together, we’ve ice skated together (it’s possible I clung on for dear life to the arm of a poor unsuspecting Rough Riders goalie), we’ve camped together, we’ve been through drive-thru’s together, which may sound pretty benign to you guys, but to us they often end up with us crying with laughter for one reason or another.
Stephen Kellogg and the Sixes gig

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers gig

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

Lewis’ Christening 2014

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

Averie’s 2nd Birthday party 2010

 So, I’ve told y’all how amazing she is, I’ve told y’all how much she’s been there for me, how she’s bugged me to eat, sleep, take meds and see doctors when I need to for the last decade.  I’ve told y’all I almost peed on her once – oh, wait, what? I didn’t?
Ok, back up the truck.
There was this one night in our more recent history, where we went out drinking, on the way home, we made Aaron stop the car on a gravel road so we could pee.  It’s slightly possible that we may have been a little liquored up.  Amber went off on safari into the ditch and I stopped right next to the car to pee.  Before I could do my thing, she’s yelling at me that she’s standing ‘down stream’ and to get my ass down to her level so I didn’t pee on her.  As I was headed her direction, I fell on my arse and slid down the bank to land almost at her feet – thankfully, she hadn’t peed either, cause that’d have been unfortunate too.  More so really, cause I’d have been the one covered in pee.
We really do do everything together! LOL! 😉
I’ve told y’all I consider her to be family, because, when you get down to brass tacks? That’s what she is.
10400790_33205181430_23_n

Amber came to Houston 2008

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

Averie often despairs at the two of us 😉

Well, eleven days ago, she went in to labour at 37 weeks gestation, with her second baby.  We said goodnight around midnight I think? And I slept pretty soundly – which is unusual at the moment – but I was woken up around 6am by Col saying ‘it’s go time’, to which I replied ‘What’s go time? Where am I going?’ and he said ‘AJ is coming’.  The plan of action had been that when Amber went in to labour I’d leave my phone volume on, but considering the amount of international phone ‘traffic’ I get on my phone, we figured that her best bet would be to text or call Col and he’d wake my butt.
IMG_2634
She labored at home most of Sunday night, because with Averie, she was sent home from the hospital like three times before it was really ‘go time’, so she waited for a while before heading in with AJ.  As it happened, she was 5cm dilated, admitted, epiduraled (only just, she almost missed that window) and had AJ by 10.45am on Monday morning.
It wasn’t long before they suspected something was a little off and they were running tests.  Test confirmed Trisomy 21/Downs Syndrome, as well as three congenital heart defects, he has hypoplastic left heart syndrome, an unbalanced AV canal and coartication of the aorta.
12019790_10155947490505411_6588613727493917160_n (2)
The last ten days have been an emotional rollercoaster.  He was ambulanced to the University of Iowa hospital (go Hawks!) where he has been ever since, hooked up to machines and on a fine balance of medication to keep his ticker working.  After a back and forward with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) they gave us markedly improved odds (compared to U of I) of survival from the first of his (at least) three surgeries that he will require to repair his specific series of heart defects.
He showed signs of infection, had trouble with his IV sites, a swollen tummy and an issue with keeping his blood pressure stable – not all at the same time mind you, but he’s given us a couple of heart-in-mouth moments over the last few days which led us to wonder if he’d still be a viable candidate for the surgery at CHOP.
11204414_10155947491130411_634803832216868452_n (2)Today we heard the great news, that CHOP would take him, but they don’t have a bed available for him just yet, and we’ll likely have to wait through the weekend before Amber heads up with AJ and before Aaron road trips the 18 hours up to PA to be with AJ for his first surgery.
As you can imagine, I’ve felt pretty helpless over the last week and a half.  I came up to Iowa last Friday and have spent the majority of my time with my niece.  I’ve had a cough (and didn’t want to risk giving germs to AJ if it wasn’t ‘just allergies’) so the hospital has been out of bounds and we figured that she needed a little stability and ‘normalcy’ in her life while everything is going on around her.  We’ve had a pretty good time.  I mean, she’s had her sassy moments, her moments of sliding on to the floor in a puddle of ‘I don’t want it to be bath night tonight’, but, considering what’s going on in her life right now, she’s doing better than most of the adults I know would in her situation.
IMG_2657What else can I do?
Not much really, it’s a waiting game, and, while I wait, I’m doing a spot of fundraising for AJ’s medical expenses and for his family’s travel expenses to and from PA, recovery time up there, gas to and from the hospital in IA City etc etc etc.  We’re doing pretty good, too.  My first major goal is behind us, $10k!! That’s incredible – let’s keep the momentum going!
If you shake your sofa cushions and happen upon some cash you didn’t realize you had and have been happily living without, you should consider donating it to my nephew, if you could take a time-out from your daily Starbucks for the week and donate that money? That would be great too.  If you have any cash at all spare, we’ll take it – no donation is too small.  Every dollar counts!
11999078_10155960811205411_2190813634773414350_n
Donate here:
https://www.gofundme.com/m43qcu5k

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

19418_10155472544025411_805021043204784375_n

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

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

11260370_10155472544085411_7595562745757191299_n

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

10478994_10155472524005411_8659257138637491297_n

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

11205028_10155472523465411_4773065151004549093_n

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

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

Battleship Texas (15 things to do in Houston for under $15)

IMG_6610

“Commissioned in 1914 as the most powerful weapon in the world, the Battleship Texas is credited with the introduction and innovation of advances in gunnery, aviation and radar.  She is the last surviving Dreadnought as well as the only battleship in existence today that fought in both World War I and World War II… In 1948 the Battleship Texas became the first battleship memorial museum in the United States.”

IMG_6606

The USS Texas is our third adventure aboard a WWII ship, and, if I’m honest, I think the USS Kidd (Baton Rouge) and the USS Lexington (Corpus Christi) have her beaten.  That said, it was still a very enjoyable trip aboard.

Time and nature have taken a serious toll on this poor Dreadnought, she needs some serious repairs (and some kind of shield from the harsh Texas sunshine!), the deck is rotting and the wood is coming up in places, I believe they’ve submitted a request for a rather large sum of money to do some fixing.  It’s needed.

Open 10am – 5pm daily, and at $12 per person entrance fee for anyone over 12 years old, it could get expensive to take your whole family.  It makes me wonder what the entrance fee is used for, if not to improve and repair the ship?

Anyways, my mum and I went on board for a nosy, in April, and it was HOT.  Especially in those lower decks.  Top deck has any amount of weaponry on display – some of which you can even climb up on to and pretend to aim and shoot.  If, like me, you have limited upper body strength, it’ll make you wonder just how strong and fit the sailors of the War’s were – those suckers take a LOT of work to turn!

IMG_6614

You can climb pretty high up too, my mum was sad she couldn’t go all the way to the top, but she loved the climb and view from up in the rafters.

One deck below, they have a deck dedicated to the sailors lives, how they lived, ate, what they did in their spare time.

20871_894051240617116_2995116445702182060_n

The deck below that, is the engine room deck, where you can get a real good look at the innards of this beautiful ship though, embarrassingly, neither of us went to that deck, we were both too hot and the ship was quite busy.  We opted to go back on shore and get some water!

My mum, who has never been on board a ship like this before, was very impressed and said it was worth every penny to visit.  We had good fun poking around, I’ll be excited to see her after her (hopefully soon) restoration.

IMG_6624

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

IMG_5775

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

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

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

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

IMG_5873

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

IMG_5902

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

IMG_5805

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

IMG_5899

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

IMG_5847

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

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

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