Viva Las Vegas!

“Can you back the hell up outta my space please?”

That.

That, right there?

Is my lasting impression of Sin City.

I think my personal experience was a little skewed.  Firstly, during the day, I was by myself, my travelling buddy was at the hackers’ conference and I was wandering the streets of sin all by myself.  I think that makes a big difference – people see single women wandering aimlessly around, and it’s like dangling a zebra to a freakin’ lion.  Complete with overwhelmed, ‘Holy crap am I really witnessing all of this?’ doe-eyes, my first day really was spent wandering aimlessly up and down (and back up, and back down) the strip.  I was taking everything in (mostly heat stroke and golf-ball sized blisters over both feet) and everyone took this as an open invitation to get up in my business – It wasn’t.

Secondly, I’ve obviously had my wicked-cool ninja training from Houston.  My ‘be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to everyone and everything’ training.  From the second I woke up and stepped out of the hotel on to the strip, I was mentally exhausted.  I felt uncomfortable, constantly on edge, needing to stay focused and keep my wits about me, I had one hand free at all times and my phone wasn’t ever tucked too far away in case I needed to call for help.  I get that this sounds an extreme over reaction or an exaggeration, but it really did put me on edge and get my back up.

Here’s the first of my travel tips for Vegas – hydration is key.  Especially in the height of summer.  People tell you this all the time and you’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I got it.  No biggie.’ But it IS a biggie – if you’re drinking enough water to sink the Titanic and you’re not peeing? Drink more.  Carry a water bottle with you at all times.  If you get one of those novelty margarita glasses and you empty it? Before you refill it, down a round of H2O.  I landed myself with some (albeit mild) sunstroke, and it knocked me for six.  I thought I was drinking enough water, I wasn’t drinking all that much alcohol, and I didn’t feel too badly in the moment until it caught up with me.  Then I felt rough as hell.

Sunscreen – use it.  In ABUNDANCE. Usually I’m that idiotic pasty white Irish girl who doesn’t apply enough sun cream and winds up with second degree sunburn – and everything that goes with it, the peeling, the itching, tea baths, old wives’ remedies, aloe up the wazoo, and any amount of whining and moaning about my negligent-inflicted wounds.  But this time? I was ON POINT.  The Nevada summer sun overhead is intense, probably the most intense sun I’ve ever felt – and I lived in Texas for seven years.  But Vegas is hotter than Satan’s front porch, and it’s a dry, overwhelming, OMG I CAN’T BREATHE, kinda heat.  I could almost feel my skin cooking when I wasn’t in the shade, so I was on top of my sunscreen applications, I was applying in the middle of the street every half hour to an hour while I was outside.  Don’t be caught on this one, it’s painful and it’s dangerous.  Especially if you’re drinking, dehydrated and your mind isn’t at 100% – set an alarm on your phone if you have to.  Remind yourself.  Protect yourself.

Now those important things are out of the way, let’s talk about the fun things.  What to do, where to go, what to see and what to eat.

I gave a friend of mine completely free-reign over which shows I should go see.  They were comp tickets, she knows me well enough to know what I’d like, what I wouldn’t like and if it was left up to me I’d never have been able to narrow the BAZILLIONS of shows down to just the three nights I was there.

X-Burlesque

I guess most girls tend towards getting tickets to the Thunder Down Under, or some testosterone-filled male strip show.  But, having a friend as a burlesque dancer, having seen her troupe a couple times I was excited by this one.  I love burlesque.  That said, I was somewhat disappointed by this one.  I felt like a sardine in a tin can, kinda smushed up in behind the line of tables in front – so much so that my friend was able to manage some master level photobombing of the girls in front of us.  The venue is small, sure, but there was no real need to feel like my knees were wrapped around my neck.  Secondly, it was cold, freezing cold.  I get that the girls are constantly moving and they are hot under the lights, but I shivered the entire time – maybe that’s why the feeling of sardines in a can, so you can huddle together for warmth? I’m not sure.

So, from my previous experiences, I’d have said that the art of burlesque is about the seduction, the tease, the big-reveal.  It’s not necessarily always slow, but its sensual, tells a story, makes you use your imagination for a lot of it…it’s not just getting your clothes off, or from zero to bare boobs in 0.01 seconds.  This was more a naked dance show, and some tracks were just a little on the side of weird and totes awkward moreso than anything.  I mean, it was entertaining, and of course the dudes like it, naked girls getting their kit off multiple times to different genres of music, but I can’t in good conscience dub it ‘pure burlesque’.  I think I preferred the entertainment of watching the reactions of the men in the crowd, to the display of the dancers on stage.

Burlesque University

My friend thought she’d push me out of my comfort zone and pick me up a ticket to a burlesque class.  I was equal parts terrified and intrigued.  I’d jumped out of my comfort zone when I stepped in to Krav, so thought ‘What the heck?’ and walked in to the Burlesque studio with an open mind and a thumping heart.

Let me first say, that the majority of my problems with this class, wasn’t at all to do with the organisers, other than the fact that they didn’t interject much, they were WAY too polite, the other participants of the class spoke up before the ‘teachers’ did.  We had a boy in our class, a straight, heterosexual boy, with a full beard, learning to apply make-up and to do burlesque dancing – which is fine, but go with it.  He spent over twenty minutes asking questions about the waiver, legal questions, please explain this, what does this mean, well I’m not signing this type deal.  At one point the dancer turned and said, ‘look, I’m just a burlesque dancer, not a lawyer, we can’t go ahead with this unless you sign it’, so he amended it and finally signed it.  Then the make-up portion of the class started and he kept asking questions, what is blush? What is lipstick? What does this do? Where are my cheek bones? (Not even kidding here) Seemingly all deadly serious too – DUDE.  Give it up and GO WITH IT.  By the time we got to the dancing part, there wasn’t much time left for the dancing – the dancer even told me that if I wasn’t leaving a couple days later, she’d give me free tickets for a show the following week, because this guy was such a colossal disruption to the class.

Dancing wise, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the content, but, again, we didn’t have enough time cause of Mr-Questions.  So I think I’d need to do a do-over before I could give a fair and balanced review of this class.  The choreographer and the dancer were both lovely though!

Cirque du Soliel

I admit, I was a disbeliever.

I didn’t buy in to the hype, I didn’t buy in to the cost, I didn’t buy in to the experience, I just didn’t buy it.  And then I got handed tickets to the LOVE, Cirque du Soleil – the BEATLES Cirque du Soleil.

For me, the Beatles are almost a religious experience.  On my first trip to the US in 1999 to visit my big brother in Atlanta, Georgia, I was exposed to a campfire version of ‘Let it Be’ – I was besotted.  I hadn’t heard the Beatles before, and, horrified, my brother bought me the ‘Hard Day’s Night’ album as a Christmas gift later that year.  I listened, I repeated, I obsessed, I loved.  I was officially a Beatles fan.  Over the years, I listened to more of their back catalogue and, had a random guy stood on stage with a plastic bucket and sang Beatles songs – I’d probably have given him a shot.

This? This was SO. MUCH. MORE. Than that.

I’m not going to ruin it for you, but it was interactive, it was 360, it was audio, it was visual and it was utterly incredible – I got choked up a time or two, and – despite her objections to the same, I’m sure I saw my girl Courtney get a lil choked up too.  If the Beatles aren’t your jam – find something that is, and go see it.  I do want to see the Mystere show now that I’ve popped my Cirque cherry.  Though, that would require a return trip to Vegas and I’m not sure it’s my kinda thang at all.

Tenors of Rock

Lastly, (but by no means leastly), I got tickets to see the Tenors of Rock – the ‘in house’ act at our hotel, Harrahs.  Being a choral singer, I was curious – just, how *does* one put on a Vegas level show, singing contemporary rock songs, with classical Tenor voices.

I’m not quite sure what I expected, but I got goosebumps, I cried, I sang, we danced – and Courtney, who didn’t have high expectations to begin with, admitted to being blown away too.  These guys were great!

Another up-side was that after the show, the guys came out for a meet and greet, picture and autograph session – being largely from England (and the lone Aussie) it was nice to have a quick chat and get a few snaps and signatures before we headed on our way.  Don’t dismiss the idea of going to the ‘lower’ level shows, I really did enjoy this one a lot, even though it’s not something I would have maybe chosen on paper.

Let me take a second here to mention the hotel.  It was a decent enough hotel and all – on the flight to Vegas, a lady was very snooty to me about the hotel I was staying in (Courtney’s work picked it) and I couldn’t figure out why.  It was perfectly nice – ok, it is one of the ‘older’ hotels on the strip and needs a bit of a facelift, and, if you compare it to the other, bigger, brighter hotels on the strip, you’ll be disappointed.  But it was nice.  Aside from restaurants on the ground floor, they had an in-house Starbucks and a little bar-type area, that had a GREAT in-house act.  Dave the Sax Man and his brother played there the few days that I was staying there – I loved them so much so that I set an alarm on my phone to call in for a drink and listen the next day too.   Gorgeous soul singers and great sax playing had strangers (including me) dancing together on the dancefloor.  It was a really nice way to pass a couple hours and take refuge from the blazing sun.

Between the pan-handlers, the pick-pockets, the people trying to get in your space about going to different clubs and venues in the evenings, those peddling wares from shirts and hats, to margaritas and henna tattoos (that they claim will last for a month, but DON’T!) and the dudes and dudettes dressed in character garb wanting a few bucks for selfies – the concept of personal space just DOESN’T exist in Vegas.  Everything is very much in your space.  If you want some ‘me time’, it’s probably not the right place to go – especially as most people are drinking, so there’s stumbling and bumping elbows, there’s also THRONGS of people – even in the skin-frying-height-of-summer.

That said? There were some pretty cool things we did, places we went and things we saw – things I enjoyed (other than the amazing shows of course!)

Food

First real night in town, we had dinner in a cute little Mexican called Canonita – deep in the belly of the Venetian hotel.  You should nab a reservation – especially if you want a river-side seat to watch the gondolas sail past you (we did!)  The food was delicious, we had some thick cheesy starter and I got some yummy fajitas, but it was more about the atmosphere and just watching the world sail by to be honest.  It was a lovely place to eat dinner, and I’d happily go back there again – even though it takes FOREVER to get to it from the street – plan an extra 20-minute walk or so in to your ‘walk to the restaurant’ journey – cause you don’t wanna end up arriving a big ole sweaty mess, to such a lovely place!

After picking up tickets to my Burlesque dance class, I went in to Gordon Ramsay’s Fish and Chips, which was RIGHT next door to the Flamingo.  I had high hopes.  I wanted British sausages, I wanted British chips – not American sausages and American ‘fries’.  Being disappointed on the sausage (not British sausages) and being told they were ‘fries’, I was disappointed.  But I loaded my fries with cheese and bacon and got the fish – aside from the fact that it was all swimming in grease, it was pretty darn good.  The fish, in particular was light and flaky and delish!

While waiting for our number to be called for the dinner buffet, Courtney and I went to the Payard Patisserie and Bistro in Caesars Palace.  I bagged a delicious hot chocolate and we split a lemon tart, it was really tasty – though a little on the expensive side, a tasty treat for sure.

Most people typically hit up the all you can eat buffets in Vegas – and we were no exception to that stereotype.  We tried three buffets while we were there, Cravings buffet (Mirage Hotel), Bacchanal Buffet (Caesars Palace hotel) and Flavors Buffet (Harrahs hotel) and of the three, Cravings was my favourite – the bottomless wine and beer helped for SURE, but I also preferred the food selections and quality in the Mirage.  I know, I know, Caesar’s Palace is THE BOMB of buffets – right? Hell, we had to wait over an hour for our number to be called.  And, sure enough, if I was in to seafood, I bet that this buffet would be my favourite, but I wasn’t impressed.  It was grossly overpriced compared to the other buffets, it didn’t include wine or beer, and while I loved the lamb and potatoes, I wasn’t thrilled at the stale bread and the clumps of fat posing as beef in the beef dishes.  Flavours rotisserie pork and rosemary potatoes were good, but the crème brulee was more like crime brulee, plus the service was grumpy and I didn’t like how sweet the pasta sauce was.  Cravings, on the other hand, I liked.  The staff were friendly and made solid recommendations of food, the wine was free – did I mention that the wine was free? And bottomless 😉 and we liked the chef station, Courtney asked the chef to throw together a pasta dish (his choice across the board) and it was delicious! Worth it.

I didn’t drink much alcohol while I was there, but the margarita I got from La Salsa (on the strip close to M&M world) was delicious!

To do

So.  The M&M store may be one of, if not my *favourite* store in ALL THE WORLD.  There’s, like, FOUR FLOORS of M&M stuff.  From a WALL of M&M’s – in a variety of flavours and colours, to everything from t-shirts and pjs, to cups, glasses and aprons.

Of COURSE there’s a mark-up on, well, EVERYTHING.  I’ve NEVER spent so much money on a single bag of candy in my entire life, but you get totally caught up in the moment, and in the desire to test the fact that M&M’s are resistant to the Vegas heat (the crunchy shell prevents them from getting all melty and smushed – it’s pure genius.)  That said? My pj bottoms got a hole in them, before they even hit the wash for the first time – can you believe that? The most expensive pair of pjs I own and they got a hole.  UGH.  I spent a lot of time in here, I explored each floor, looked at ALL THE THINGS and came away with a bit of a haul of goodies.  It’s a great place to stop in and have a poke-around.  Plus? Who doesn’t want to get their picture taken with a giant M&M?

The Coke store didn’t really impress me much at all, but it may be worth poking your head in for a bit of a look-see.  They had a couple of cool things to see – plus, y’know, aircon.

The day we left, I had a late flight – Courtney wanted to head to the airport and hang out, however, upon arrival to the airport, we discovered we were in different terminals and we went our separate ways.  Being WAY too early for even bag-drop, I decided to pay an EXTORTIONATE amount of money for a taxi from the airport to Fremont Street (and back).  It was a quick trip, cause of traffic and the time of day and it was one of my fave parts of the trip.

This is what’s known as ‘old Vegas’, it used to be the old strip – and I felt MUCH more comfy and at home here, than on the current strip.  It was, I dunno, something.  More relaxed? A little more at home.  If you need souvenirs – go here.  Much better selection, and certainly a better price than on the strip.  I got a glimpse of somewhere I’d have LOVED to visit while I was there, the Mob museum, totally my cup of tea and very accessible from Fremont street.  If I ever go back to Vegas, I’d go to the museum, and probably spend my time in town, on Fremont street for sure.

I didn’t gamble a single penny while I was there, I wasn’t even tempted, I think if I hadn’t gotten sunstroke and busted up my foot (I truly thought for a moment it was broken) I may have been a little more inclined, but I think I was quickly over the ‘scene’, the cat calling and whistling, the propositioning and the indignation at being turned down.  It was off-putting.

I dunno, I guess I was over Vegas, before I was under it.  I didn’t have the same experiences that a lot of other people have in Vegas, I wasn’t blinded by the seafood or the gambling or the glitz and glam.  I enjoyed it, but different aspects to those that typically love it.

Would I go back? Maybe.  To see and do specific places and things, with specific people.  But.  And this is a BIG but.  It wasn’t, anywhere near close to my fave city in the US and I feel like for the same money you’d spend there, there’s any number of *better* places you could go – so, I’d rather go to those places instead.

Week one and done – in Pune, India!

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

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

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

What absolute bollocks.

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

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

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

Picture credit: Paula Ann Curran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture credit: Paula Ann Curran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank-you all <3

Like a Queen – with Constance Hall.

For those of you who haven’t previously heard of Constance Hall – go forth and Google, (or Facebook, or Instagram) – actually, here, just go to www.likeaqueen.com – thank me later.

To some, she is the first contestant to be kicked out of BB5 (Aus), she’s a mum of four, blogger, Author, massive fundraiser (check out her amazing work with Rafiki Mwema – www.Rafikimwema.com ) and that woman who wrote that post on Facebook about ‘three-minute parent sex between nappy changes’ last year that went viral. 

To some of us, though, she’s just a rad bitch who tells is like it is. 

I’ve been following her for well over a year now, laughing hysterically at her frank and genuine posts about motherhood, about being a woman, about accidentally buying adult diapers instead of sanitary towels, about how, if she’s caught scratching her girl-parts during a national interview – that it’s not, as we may all assume, crabs – rather intimate area eczema (who even knew that was a thing?), about parental guilt, sleep deprivation, body image, about self-love, about all love, about life and about relationships.

I’ve found myself nodding in agreement to the list of things she’s written about that ‘they’ don’t tell you about having a child, or the crappy day she’s had while her kids have had a public meltdown comparable to a nuclear explosion – all the while shoving chocolate in my face and slugging down a diet coke – wishing it was wine, wishing I had a closet to hide in, wishing I could JUST POOP ALONE, or wishing I could teleport to a Caribbean Island for a *real* margarita (not Northern Ireland’s idea of what they think a margarita should be) for just an hour of peace and quiet.

In some moments, I’ve found myself truly grateful to read that I’m not the only imperfect mother out there, and not only that, but she wears her imperfection on her sleeve like a badge of badassness.  Shouting from the rooftops about things that are deemed the taboos – she’s my kinda gal.

On days my three-year-old says ‘mama’ half a dozen times in one second, for no apparent reason other than to have me pull my hair out – from the root – or asks ‘why’ four hundred times in an hour. 

On days where he has crapped his pants three times in a row after JUST having gone for a wee in the toilet. 

On days he draws on the wall with Crayola ‘magic markers’ – I think the magic is that you can’t get the damn things off the freakin’ wall. 

On days where my laundry basket is overflowing, dishes are piled high, I haven’t showered, or cooked in two days – have no inclination to either – and I just want to have the TV parent my child for a couple hours so I can nap. 

On days where I just hand him a box of Honey Monster Puffs (because apparently we can’t call them Sugar Puffs any more – damn kale and quinoa warriors!) and say ‘Hey kid, knock yourself out’.

On days where I’m at the Goddamn end of my zen-rope and snap at my three-year old for no reason, then cry at him about how sorry I am for being only human.

Con is there, to remind me in ways only a kindred spirit can, that this too shall pass, that this too, is normal, that this is the side of motherhood that mothers are typically shamed in to keeping quiet about – one must have a spotless house, one must present oneself immaculately, one must have an amazingly behaved child – ALL.OF.THE.FUCKING.TIME. 

But here’s the thing, that’s a pipe dream.  A fantasy.  An unrealistic expectation.  Because no one – NO ONE can keep their shit together 100% of the time, no one is infallible, and I’m sure that even the Dali Lama himself gets to the end of his zen rope sometimes! 😉

So, Con announced a book tour and we all looked longingly at those saying they snagged tickets on her FB posts – I didn’t think she’d come to the UK and Ireland, but she announced UK dates and, from the front seat of my car (while I was out for lunch one day with Col and Lewis) snagged a couple tickets for my friend Liz’s birthday and off we went to check out her Q&A/book signing – thankfully, I didn’t hesitate, because the venue was sold out within, like, an hour.  Neither of us knew quite what to expect, I mean what was the format? Was she just going to talk at us for a while and then we got to ask questions? How did it work? Were we going to be the only people there? And, most importantly, would there be food?

We got there early, too early, 11.30am early for a 12.30pm start – which would have been fine if it had started at 12.30pm like it was supposed to – it did not.  They had a limited menu at the bar (Liz just wanted a freakin’ scone for breakfast! LOL!) I got the smallest and least margarita-like margarita I’ve ever had (don’t mess with this honorary Texas girl’s margaritas) so I quickly gave up on those and hit up the beanie-dude at the gin stand.  Now, I’m not a gin kinda girl, but the herd of fish-bowl-esque glasses filled with orange peel and a clear liquid that HAD to be alcoholic based on the volume of glasses round the room, peaked my attention, so off I went to try his wares.

Why am I talking about gin? Because this is locally distilled gin.  Because I’m not a gin person and I liked it so much I had multiple cocktails.  Because this gin is da bomb!  ShortCross gin, small batch, distilled in Downpatrick – find it, try it – and again, thank me later.

Anyways.  The room was cosy, there was maybe two hundred and fifty people, max, I’m not sure if that was more or less than I expected, but it was a nice sized crowd, many of whom were wearing flower crowns (Con’s signature headgear).  I can’t quite think of an accurate way to describe what we were a part of yesterday, it was less about the words, more about the emotions.  The emotion in that room was tangible, women from all over Northern Ireland had gathered together with like-minded women of Con’s ‘tribe’, to share stories, support each other, listen and just, exist.

The ladies shared some of their deepest and most secret life happenings, from abortions to divorce and separation.  The content was largely heavy – though at times we laughed a lot, too.  From abusive husbands to partners who had been caught cheating on them only days before the Q&A, or they were pregnant with child number four and struggling to find the strength they needed to leave their husband – it was shared.

It wasn’t quite the sharing of stories that surprised me.  I think if you were in that room, you know what Con is about, you know her ethos and you feel safe and as though you can share anything to her without fear of judgement.  That said? It totally saddens me that sharing stories about you, about your personal life, about your pain, or joy is still deemed taboo in today’s society.  You talk about infertility? Body image? The inner workings of the female body during pregnancy? And you’re considered brave – when really? You’re just human.

What I was *more* surprised at, was the overwhelming sense of ‘good human’ in the room.  You see so much crap in the news every day about such horrible humans out there – in that room? The GOOD in people was clear, my faith in humanity was restored a little. 

‘You can have my number and call any time’

‘Can I come and give you a hug?’

‘You are not alone’

Complete strangers walked up the room and down the rows, to hug women hurting, in pain, in tears telling their stories – some of which hadn’t ever even been said allowed to anyone but their nearest and dearest, most bestest friends, but was now shared to two hundred-odd women, and more than that? Received with love, support, acceptance.

It was quite beautiful.  And moving. 

I think I even saw Liz wiping a stray tear out of the corner of her eye at one point – though she’ll probably tell you it was an eye lash or something! LOL!

When we got home? One of the ladies who’d shared in the group, had made a Facebook group page for the ‘Queens’ of Belfast who met yesterday, and it’s nothing more than a page for the Irish Queens to unite and hang out virtually, give recommendations, provide strength when it’s needed, share our blogs, our lives, our loves – and not be judged. 

It’s quite a cool group already, and it’s only twenty-four hours old.

If Con is coming to your area, there happens to be tickets left and you’re on the fence about going? Do it.  Get off the fence before you get splinters in your arse.  It’ll be a worthwhile, interesting, fun and emotional (it seemed for some it was even a spiritual) experience.  Plus? There may be gin!!  Though I’d probably recommend that you skip the ten quid burgers at the BBQ out back 😉

Keep on being rad bitches ladies!

A Woman, in a Man’s world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even nowadays.

Sit pretty.
Look nice.

Be skinny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Funky little Monkey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I read about Funky Monkey’s membership.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lewis’ ‘Time Flies’ first birthday airplane party.

The theme for this blog post, guys and gals, is ‘OTT’.  No, no really.

11010629_10155279509765411_8605921233011560039_nBut he’s super cute – and I just couldn’t help myself!

It’s no secret that I’m a Pinterest party person. I love event planning, hosting parties and crafting up a storm to make for an amazing party. Having helped my BFF out for the last five years on my nieces birthday parties, I felt confident that I could take doing one for Lewis by myself.

With the help of our photographer, we narrowed down a theme (I’ll probably use the runner up for next year!)  Airplanes.  She mentioned that she had happened upon a cute plane prop and could totally make an amazing set around that theme.  So we ran with it.

Invitations

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I had bought him a cute flight jacket at a local Just Between Friends consignment sale, wayyyyyy before he was born (Col thought it was cute) and after having gone to the Galveston Flight Museum (and Amazon), I grabbed some patches and send the whole thing down to my trusty seamstress, who turned out a FAB jacket for our lil guy.

His first birthday photo shoot was one of my faves, he was a lot more mobile than before, he was curious and yet hesitant to pick things up, so gave us unsure little looks, to make sure he could pick up the planes and letters around.

I ordered them (and the thank-you cards) from Tiny Prints (photo above was the one I used!), I had a coupon for a huge discount, but needed urgent shipping cause I stupidly left it too late.  Tip: schedule your pictures early, and order your invitations early.  BE EARLY! LOL!

Party bags

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I went with brown paper bag ‘suitcases’, in keeping with the travelling/flying theme.  I got the bags and brown card for accents in Michaels.  The vintage travel stickers, and the thank-you tags came from Amazon, and the pilots wings I got from eBay.

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Inside each bag, kids got a little aviator duck, a ‘grab bag’ from Target (either a Planes one, or a Minions one), mini bubbles, Disney Planes/Cars tummies, a foam glider, half a sheet of stickers (I couldn’t get a sheet each, Target was cleared!!) and some white chocolate covered pretzels.

Photo booth

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I’ve wanted one of these for ages, and this OTT first birthday party, was the perfect excuse 😉 I decided to go with a fabric back drop.  I ordered a photographers stand from EBay for $30, it came in a little fold away bag for easy storage, it’s easy to step up and take down (if I can do it anyone can) and it worked out being cheaper, or at least as cheap as making a plastic pipe one from piping from Lowe’s or Home Depot.

For the back ground itself, I wanted a sky-theme, I had grand plans of making a cardboard plane for Lewis and his friends to sit on, in front of it, so I bought two yards of four different colors of fabric, which Col and I tore into 2″ strips one night while watching NCIS.  The clouds are made from $1 clearance tulle Pompoms from Michaels and fish wire/clear thread.

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My props, aside from Lewis’ flight jacket, and a pilot hat from Amazon, were hand-held wooden props that I got from Michaels and painted one evening (glasses, mustaches, crowns, top hats) that were all $1-$1.50 each, but are so versatile that I can use them every year, regardless of the theme of the party!

I ran out of time (and thought I’d have more hands to help) so I ordered an inflatable red airplane from Amazon.

Décor

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Using my ‘old faithful’ cricut, I cut two different banners – out of regular, 12×12 card stock from Michaels.  In their ‘discount bins’, I got some matching twine and in their scrapbooking aisles, I picked up some coordinating clothes pegs, to make my lovely ‘Time Flies’ banner.  The intention was to have a plane pulling the banner, but it just didn’t get done.

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The other, was a Happy Birthday Lewis banner – pretty simple, but cute!

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I picked up 48 WWII foam gliders on Amazon for $8, I didn’t realize there was 48 when I bought them, but, after putting one in each party bag, I didn’t want to waste the leftovers, so decided to do a hall of gliders – stringing them up onto fish wire was pretty bad, considering the string is INVISIBLE, but I think the hall looked cute.

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Even now, weeks later, Lewis LOVES our hall of gliders.  Every morning we go downstairs and from the very top step, you’ll hear him exclaim ‘wow!’ They amaze him!

Cake

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I considered having a cake made by a local bakery, but, in a moment of stupidity, decided to do it myself.  I usually HATE boxed cakes, but, I haven’t find a white/vanilla cake recipe that I love better than the box (I will NEVER buy a chocolate box mix, for example) – if you have one, please feel free to share!

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I went with a five layer orange ombre cake, covered in a light ‘sky’ blue butter cream, buttercream clouds and topped with a Sesame street cake topper (from Amazon).  It was pretty tasty – if I do say so myself, but, unfortunately, most of our guests were seemingly health conscious, and I was left with well over half of the cake! (This totally wouldn’t have happened in my home country!!)

Food and drinks

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The ‘in-flight service’ savoury menu, was pretty simple.  I went with two crock pots of ‘mains’, I had BBQ pulled chicken in one, and meatballs and smokies in a BBQ-tomato sauce in the other.  I had burger buns, with cheese, onions and lettuce on the side.

The sides were a veggie plate, crisps from home, chips and salsa and caprese bites (mozzarella cheese, basil leaves and cherry tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinegar – I should have made more of those, they went very well!).

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I even put together some cutlery/silverware packets, with Lewis Air labels that my BFF designed for me.

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IMG_4749The ‘in-flight beverage’ drinks table,  had some orange punch (Hawaiian punch and sprite zero), Koolaid drinks and small bottles of water (with personalized labels).

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Our dessert table, was fun! I had my sister pick up a bunch of kiddies sweets from home, my best friend baked some Airplane cookies, I dipped some Oreos and made propellers from M&M’s and Jelly Beans and had some jars of color coordinated M&M’s and Jelly beans.

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I’m very proud of this party, not least of all cause I did it myself, but also cause it came together very well.  I’ve already given thought to his next birthday party theme, and will be keeping my eye out for ‘stuff’ to stock pile for it! 😉

What was the theme for your little one’s first birthday party?

I woke up one morning, and my baby was suddenly a toddler!

Well, it happened.  I turned 30.

Whilst I was momentarily afraid to face the big 3.0, I quickly realized that I’m more terrified of Lewis turning one, than I am of me turning thirty.

I think it helps that I’m the younger one in our marriage, Col hits all the landmarks before I do.  That helps.

But, upon closer inspection, and reflection, I quickly saw, that actually, I’ve achieved a lot by the time I hit 30.  So, really, it ain’t all that bad.

Right??

Let’s recap: I graduated college (huge personal achievement), I met Col, moved to Houston, volunteered (for four and a half years so far), helping other expats here, got married, travelled to some amazing, bucket-list kinda places, and after a three year battle with infertility, we had Lewis.

It ain’t too shabby.
And, after reflecting a little on the last year, I’m slowly coming to realize that Lewis turning a year old, isn’t all that bad.  We tried for three years to conceive. I wanted him so very badly, and I spent my whole pregnancy afraid to go to the bathroom, in case disaster struck.
I wanted him so very badly.
When he was born, I bawled.  I couldn’t believe that he was ours and that we could really take him home.  I cried at the smallest thing.  He opened his eyes, I cried, he yawned, I cried, he grabbed Col’s finger and I cried.
He is simply amazing.
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I’ve definitely changed.  This year has changed me.
Motherhood is a juxtaposition.  Fo’ sho’!
I’m more relaxed (baby led weaning and mess), yet more highly strung (danger and injury to my precious cargo) than before.
I’m more calm (trying not to over react to every little bump or fever), yet more emotive (I seriously cry at everything!) than before.
I’m more patient (teaching him things), yet more impatient than before (saying no two hundred times to the same thing).
And I’ve learned.  A lot.
Let’s start with the boobs, if you’d told me, this time last year, that I’d have made it a full year Breastfeeding, I’d have laughed in your face.
FACT.
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This little “leech” stuck to my boob 24-7.  I’d finish one agonizing feed and it would be only a matter of minutes til the next one started (feed every three hours my ass!) The screaming agony of his latch (that no one could fix), that resulted in me crying at every feed for months on end, the bleary eyed night feeds, the leaking, the boob pads, the lansinoh, the panic attacks and stressing when he needed fed and we were out in public, the time spent in the car when I didn’t feel confident nursing in public, the double shirts (pull one up, pull one down), the teething, the fish hooking, the nose poking, the pumping, the pump and dumping (I had an MRI with contrast, and surgery with narcotics and couldn’t feed Lewis for two x twenty four hour periods) and feeling like Daisy the dairy cow.
Its all behind me, and I’m almost mournful that our journey is nearing its conclusion (he’s down to morning and night feeds and is self-weaning).  Almost.  It’ll be nice to have my boobs back to myself, for sure.  But, more so, the sheer pride of getting him to this milestone, when so much didn’t work right from the get-go, I’m thrilled.
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I can’t begin to tell you how your perspective changes when you have a child.  You watch something on TV and you cry. Nay, sob. Because it tugs at heart strings that you never knew existed.  Your whole being becomes about protecting and raising this beautiful slobbery, stinky butted kid, who just has to look at you and your insides turn to goo.
You perceive a whole new level of security and risk.  You’re like a member of the secret service, everywhere you go, checking, double checking and triple checking. Everything. Twice.
You become a multi-tasking genius.  No, really.  You’re keeping the kid on the changing table, who has suddenly morphed into Usain Bolt, while dealing with poop, potential projectile and spontaneous pee, hands that are fascinated with boy parts, changing and dressing him? It should be a bloody Olympic sport.  Fact.  And don’t get me started on people telling you to practice dressing a teddy bear!!
My advice? Practice dressing a 200lb Labrador, while he’s chasing a squirrel down a motorway.  That’ll learn ya!
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And the poop? THE POOP! It’s only poop! It’s only puke (he had reflux so bad that he had to sleep in a swing for six months)! It’s only squished up, two day old Mac and cheese in your hair.  Today, for example, Lewis had a blow out.  They are infrequent, but we needed to change his clothes and in the clean-up process, he kicked out his leg and got poop all over his foot, ankle, calf, knee and thigh, he stuck his hand in it and then grabbed my, already poop-tainted arm. It’s only poop.  Just keep telling yourself that.  It’s only poop!!!!!!!!!!
Showering is a novelty, going to the loo (especially solo) is a novelty and hobbies are a novelty.
But holy shit I’ve never known a love like it.  The love I have in my heart cannot be contained.
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This child can make me cry, just by looking at me.
He’s smart, he’s funny and he’s a sponge.  Watching the cogs turn in his head fascinates me.  When he figures something out, he’ll check to see whether we are watching, and if we aren’t, he’ll do it again.  One night he had started using his walker by himself, the walker was out of reach and dada hadn’t seen his new monkey truck yet, so he started walking around the living room pushing along the basket of laundry.  He’s currently using his daddy’s table as a walker, after having used the nappy bin.  Resourceful kid.
He’s inquisitive, likes exploring and figuring stuff out.  He likes testing boundaries to see just how much mama means the ‘no’ she’s just said three times.  His favorite toys are the unsuspecting ones, a spoon on the tiles, an empty egg carton or one of his plastic plates to bang against the bin.  We should have just returned all these toys people got him and bought eggs.
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He is FULL of love and he’s such a happy kid, he gives smiles generously, he gives kisses unprompted, he waves at, and makes friends with strangers, he loves his daddy (who can’t leave the room without a scream-fest when daddy gets home from work), he claps his hands when I sing, he loves to dance, and he’s just cut his sixth tooth.
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Being a parent has being the biggest blessing I could ever have hoped for, and it is multiplied exponentially, by the fact that we got blessed with such a shamazing little boy! <3
Happy birthday little one, I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store for our little family <3
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Things to do in Texas: Texas State Railroad (Fall Foliage Brunch Train)

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It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, we went home to the UK for a few weeks, I’ve been under the weather (before and since), and Lewis is keeping me on my toes.  But, we recently embarked on a fun activity here in Texas, that I wanted to share with y’all, in case you are interested in doing the Polar Express train before Christmas.

Col and I have been married for five years as of October, the traditional gift is wood, and, after having bought him his record player (affectionately named ‘Maggie’), I wanted to find something for us to do together, to mark the occasion.  As many of you know, we love our little getaways, a weekend here, an overnight there, we love exploring Texas and think, as a state, it has so much to offer.  To get to the train ride took exactly three hours from Houston (though, on our way TO the train, it took five hours, an hour in traffic, an hour stopped for lunch, plus the three hour journey – yawn!)

We went up the day before, spent the afternoon in the hotel pool (the Hampton inn and suites, if you’re interested, was excellent, and we’d go back without question and, while I’m at it, grab a delicious pizza in a restaurant called ‘Switch’).

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For those of you who say that Texas doesn’t have a ‘fall’ season, you’re wrong.  I just saw it, out the window of a hundred year old steam train as we traveled across East Texas ‘Pineywoods’ forest country.  You pay $55 per person, you board the train at one of two Victorian-style train depots at either Palestine (where we boarded), or Rusk.

They ask you to be there almost an hour early, to pick up your tickets from the ticket desk – don’t groan – that gives you plenty of time to watch the steam engine come out of her little shed, down the track and connect to the carriages, and to take pictures of the train, the depot and the surroundings, it’s very picturesque.

Once on board, we found the table with our family name place card, took a seat, and enjoyed a delicious platter of fresh fruit, fruit dip, orange juice, apple juice, water and coffee, as we waited for the train to disembark the station.

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The journey through the trees was glorious, the sun shone, the trees were a multitude of colours, and the atmosphere onboard, was excited anticipation.  The family carriage, was filled with both adults and kids alike, I was amazed to find linen table cloths, real glasses and cutlery on the tables and fully uniformed staff ready to wait on us hand and foot.  It was a real experience, we even traveled through a rainbow – which was pretty darn cool!

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As we approached our one and only stop at Rusk, Texas, they brought us slices of quiche (bacon or veggie), with a side salad and some dressing (in hindsight I should have ordered a third portion because Lewis decided he loved it and ate a chunk of mine and Col’s!)

We disembarked for our forty-five minute pit-stop, watched the engine disconnect, and pass the carriages to reconnect.  In Rusk there are bathrooms (though the lines were seriously long, I’d say just go on board the train whilst no one is on board!), the men’s bathroom had a koala care station – which is definitely worth noting for those with little ones, as many restaurants, even ‘big name’ restaurants don’t have facilities in even the Women’s toilets, let alone the men’s.

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There is a gift shop for you to peruse and some nice grounds if you’d like a wander around.  When we got back on the train, there was a platter of crackers, cheese and tomato/cucumber waiting for us and about half-way back to the Palestine depot, they brought out a selection of muffins and cinnamon rolls.  Informing us that we could ‘pick two’ (and then offered us a cinnamon roll separate), Col had the blueberry muffin and the mini lemon and poppy seed muffin, I chose the banana nut muffin and a mini lemon and poppy seed and we picked up a cinnamon roll to share.  What we actually ate, on the other hand, was half the cinnamon roll, Lewis and I shared the mini muffin and Col had his mini muffin – so much food! (We bagged the two larger muffins to take home with us on our journey home).

The thing that surprised me on this journey, other than the food being really tasty (for some reason I always expect those type of things to be quite Ming), was the service, the servers on the train were exceptional – better than many of the restaurants I’ve been in lately.  They were friendly and warm, interested (mostly in Lewis, obviously!) but not imposing, efficient and generous (one lady even gave me some diet coke and offered more if/when I fancied it).  They definitely added to the whole experience and were full of smiles the whole time.

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We both loved this experience, it was romantic, fun, different and we got to see a part of Texas that, previously, had been uncharted for us, and the train was pretty damn cool – I won some serious wifey points to boot.

Their 2015 calendar includes a romantic Valentine’s night dinner and an Easter train ride – both of which sound fun.  If Lewis was a little older, we’d take him on the Polar Express Christmas train ride for sure!

Y’all should check this train out, really – it’s worth it!!

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