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’.

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”

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

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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Five museums for five bucks in Houston, Part II: Railway museum (Rosenberg)

We FINALLY got back to working on this segment, and investigating the wonderful, rich culture that Houston has to offer – and for only five bucks!  This museum was visited almost six months ago (shame on me for taking this long to share it with you!) and, considering that Houston’s Railroad museum is currently ‘under construction’, this is the closest alternative available to you.

I had planned on visiting a few museums towards the end of my pregnancy, but when Lewis came a few weeks early, that flew right out the window!  Having little to do this weekend other than prep the house for visitors arriving, I decided that it was time.  Time to bring Lewis on his first McMaster mini-adventure.

A quick chat with Col later, and we were on our way to Rosenberg, a quirky, small town about twenty minutes south of here, to visit the Railway museum.  We took just over an hour in here, and that was probably a stretch.  We weren’t hugely bowled over by this museum (in my mind, I guess, I compare it to the free Railroad museum that we went to in Memphis, TN) but it was a nice place to spend an hour.

The components of the museum are:

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My hubby is interested in trains, railroads and all things train-y, (yes, I may have made up a word), we like checking out railroad museums, and, while watching the 8 minute dull-as-watching-paint-dry movie surrounding the purpose of the museum and its history, you can see there’s a lot more they could show in this place, a lot more history that they could delve in to – I get that it’s a non-profit museum and can only do so much, but it was a bit disappointing as far as adult interest and education goes, but the kids certainly seemed to enjoy it.
They have a room for kids parties, that seemed wholly unimpressive – or, in any way connected to the museum (it’s a room with folding table and chairs, next door to a play room) – quite disappointing, it would be way cooler to have an empty train car with the tables and chairs and make it a real experience.
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Once you go outside, there’s a few great photo-ops, even our little six week old son enjoyed it ;). Definitely worth the $5 entrance fee!
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Things to do in Houston: Art Car Museum (free)

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“Get into the left lane and aim high, but keep one eye on the rear view mirror for the black and whites. Art cars are a grass roots movement. Change your vehicle, improve it, personalize it and make your own statement with it so that you can once again become one with it. Art cars are an expression of your freedom and above all, of the God-given American right to be yourself and flaunt it on the highways and byways of America.”

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We have been meaning to check out the ‘garage mahal’ for almost the whole time we’ve lived here – I kid you not.  However, it’s in that ‘trendy’ part of town that the hubby deems to cool for him to frequent (LOL!) where the roads are crap and parking is crappier.

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That said, when my girlfriend Courtney came to town in August, I wanted to take her along to have a nosy – it’s a free, quirky and kitschy thing to do here in Houston, and, my ‘147 Things to do in Houston’ book, has it listed – I’m not sure what that has to do with the price of milk, but, go check out this museum.  DO IT!

“But Las!” I hear you cry, “What IS an art car?”

From their website: An art car is a motor-driven vehicle which a car artist alters in such a way as to suit his own aesthetic. In other words, the artist either adds or subtracts materials of his own choosing to or from the factory model or he may renovate an earlier model to revive a beauty and stlyle that once was. The result is a vehicle which conveys new meaning through design, mechanical or structural changes, renovation, and/or the addition of new images, symbols or collage elements.

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The content and meaning of these changes vary with each art car and may express either political, social, personal or purely decorative objectives. All art cars are subversive and have in common the transformation of the vehicle from a factory-made commodity into a personal statement or expression.

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It’s not a phenomenon that is specific to the USA, art cars can be found all over the world.  But, every month, right here in Houston, four or five of these amazing artistic creations can be found, right here at the Art Car museum.  The cars on display change each month, and, once a year – they have a huge parade, where the cars are driven around the streets of Houston.

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Before you get to the cars on display, there’s a couple of small art exhibits for you to ponder.  I’m not sure if these change too, but they were definitely worth a glance.

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“Often considered the ‘Art Car Capital’, Houston has the largest number of art cars of any city. Art cars are fine art essentially free of the conventions and contradictions of the marketplace and the art world. The Museum’s distinctive scrap metal and chrome exterior was created by car artist David Best and provides an imaginative indication of the extraordinary constructions to be found inside.   The museum’s goal is to encourage the public’s awareness of the cultural, political, economic and personal dimensions of art.”

Art Car Museum Information

HOURS: OPEN: Wednesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm CLOSED: Monday & Tuesday Admission is always free.

Things to do in Houston: Museum of Printing History (free)

IMG_5542Another unusal and ‘off the wall’ museum that we dug out in the depths of Houston’s recesses, The Printing Museum.  This was one of the museums listed on my ‘free stuff to do in Houston’ list and it piqued my husbands interest, in particular.  It wasn’t hugely far away for us to get to, it has ample parking, it’s not a huge place – so you’re not spending hours and hours here, but it’s definitely interesting, it’s indoors, air conditioned and somewhere neat to spend an hour or so out of the Texas heat and learn a little about Printing history at the same time.

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From their website: As far as their permanent exhibit goes, the Museum of Printing History narrates the story of written communication and the ways in which the technologies of printing have transformed our lives.  Their galleries trace significant developments from ancient Mesopotamian clay tablets, to the Chinese invention of movable type, to Johann Gutenberg’s printing press.  American history is dramatized through newspaper accounts of major events from the American Revolution to the Civil War; Texas history is told through the life of the state’s first printer, with a press he owned and a display of the documents and newspapers he printed.  The Hearst Newspaper Gallery demonstrates the emergence of modern printing, and our exhibit of historic newspapers documents pivotal moments in recent history.

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The Museum features artifacts such as:

Mesopotamian Cylinder Seals

Ancient Papyrus Fragments

Asian Movable Type & early Asian Printing

Illuminated Manuscripts

1450 Gutenberg Press Replica

Old Master Etchings & Engravings

Ben Franklin’s “Pennsylvania Gazette”

Historical Newspapers

Documents printed by Samuel Bangs, first printer in Texas, with one of his presses

1830 Star-wheel Oak Lithography Press Letterpress & Type Collection Antique Bookbinding Equipment

Aside from the Printing machinery and exhibits, they also show other, various art exhibits in the building as well.  When we visited, they had a number of exhibits for us to ponder, Col, in particular, liked this one by Russell Maret.

Russell Maret: Interstices and Intersections or, An Autodidact Comprehends a Cube

The latest fine press publication by New York City-based artist Russell Maret. Comprised of the artist’s notes, sketches, watercolors, proof prints, in addition to tools used in contemporary letterpress printing practices, this exhibition illustrates the creative process of producing a hand-printed, hand-bound edition from sketch to completion. (June 26, 2014 – September 20, 2014)

They also host educational and entertaining programs, lectures, and special events, as well as offering up a substantial function room for hire, for various events – like I said, this is a neat little place that most people have never heard of in Houston!

Museum info:

Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 A.M.-5:00 P.M.

Admission is free for self-guided tours. For a guided tour, the fee is $7 for adults, $3 for students, and $5 for seniors.

Parking Two Museum parking lots hold a capacity of approximately 50 cars. Additional free street parking is also available.

Wheelchair Access The building and facilities are wheelchair accessible.

Joanne’s turquoise and yellow, ‘Owl’ Baby Shower

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It’s been a long time since this party – and, even longer since I’ve done any party planning.  But, when Jo told me that she was pregnant – I immediately claimed the planning of her baby shower – y’all know that I just can’t help myself! So, Jo picked a colour scheme (turquoise), I picked an accent color (yellow – I was going to pick lime green, but I figured that people would then think she was having a boy, so I went with something a little more gender neutral, though, as it turned out, people still thought ‘boy’ anyway!) and I asked her if she had any ‘animal preference’, and after a little thought, she chose ‘owls’.  Not only that, but we decided to theme the food around an ‘afternoon tea’ type menu, I created a Pinterest inspiration board, and got planning.

Decor

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I think it’s safe to say, that the piece de la resistance of the baby shower (clearly a stroke of genius on my part ;)), was ordering this masterpiece from my good friend Lindsay.  Not only was it a gift for the expectant mother, but it was so beautiful, that it was our centerpiece and was a very functional part of the décor.  For those of you interested, Lindsay makes these, ‘cupcakes’ and pacifier clips (and can ship them), her page can be found here on Facebook, ‘Chicky babe creations’.

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Aside from the typical matching coloured table cloths, cutlery, napkins, cups, my new love of patterned paper straws and my homemade dollar store food label chalk boards, decorations were sparse – I would have loved to do more, but I ran out of time (and had a little person in tow).  I picked up some paper lanterns (which my lovely hubby strung up around Jo and Mark’s living room for me) a banner to match the baby shower sign that we stuck in the front yard to let people know where the shower was taking place and some matching ‘streamers’ to hang next to the lanterns.

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Games, guestbook and favours

IMG_3789We didn’t embark on a lot of ‘typical’ American baby shower games.  For us folk from the UK, we tend to want to reign it in, nothing OTT, nothing involving chocolate bars being melted in diapers etc.  So, I chose a few interactive games and brought along a small prize for the winner of each.

There was a ‘guess how many lemon drops’ game, a ‘say baby’ game, and a set of four baby shower games by Fisher Price that I got here, on Amazon.  A word scramble, a word search, a baby animal name game and baby shower bingo (I filled in each of the bingo cards myself to make it a fair fight!) I wasn’t sure how they’d go down, but everyone took them seriously, their sense of competition took over, and you could hear a pin drop when the games were handed out.  It was good fun!

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I saw this guestbook idea on Pinterest, with links through to Etsy stores, charging $35-$45 for various forms of this canvas.  As much as I love Joanne, I wasn’t paying that for it, and thought, hey, I can make that – and I have all of the necessary stuff, on hand in the house.  So make it, I did.

I LOVE how it came out.  I started off the ‘leaves’ with a few blank fingerprints, for those who didn’t want to get their fingers messy, and, when everyone had signed it, Lindsay and I went over the tree again with our fingerprints, filling in some extra leaves and making it look a little fuller.

IMG_5219For favours, I kept it simple.  I got a box of chocolate truffles from Costco, some tulle circles and ribbon from Hobby Lobby and got to work.  It was quick, easy – and, a yummy favor for people who came to the shower.

Food

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Since Jo is from Northern Ireland, I wanted to incorporate elements of a traditional ‘afternoon tea’, with elements of Texas/America – considering she’s about to have an American baby, I thought it was fitting.  My own contributions to the food side of things, was limited, I’d had surgery less than two weeks prior to her shower and wasn’t up to doing a lot of manual labour.  So for food stuffs, I enlisted help and delegated different elements of the menu to close friends who were only too keen to help. IMG_3847 Let me just note, we had WAY too much food.  Even if everyone in attendance had taken home a doggy bag (which we should have made them do!) there still would have been way too much food.  It all looked rather impressive though! IMG_3849Quiche (two fillings), sandwiches (egg salad and ham and cheese), whole wheat scones, white scones, veggie tray, wheaten bread and pasta salad.

Dessert and drinks

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I had planned on making a delicious Victoria sponge, but time got away from me – I’m claiming ‘Newbornitis’ for this one – there are only so many hours in the day when Lewis is sleeping, and, instead of the sponge, I made some Northern Irish tray bakes.  There was no shortage of sweet treats!IMG_3841 Fruit tray, Trader Joe’s frozen macaroons, caramel squares, coconut squares, biscuit cake, Butterfinger slices and Reeses peanut butter cup slices.

IMG_3839For drinks, we kept it juicy – orange, lime, lemon, raspberry lemonade and cranberry – all from the ‘Simply’ range.  Truly simple (open and pour) and refreshingly delicious – I haven’t yet found a ‘store brand’ or another name brand that is comparable to the Simply range, so, why bother? LOL!  Joanne also had tea, coffee, water and diet coke on hand, for those who didn’t want to partake in the fruity juices.

This was one of my favourite baby showers, EVER!  The group was a nice size, the morning was fun – there was no cooking in a hot oven on the day, there wasn’t much for me (as organizer) to do other than the original set-up and it was nice and laid back – plus Joanne sent me a beautiful bunch of flowers to say thank-you 🙂

I had a few other ideas for this baby shower, a candy bar, serve the fruit in mason jars, Oreo baby rattles, a balloon and streamer back photo backdrop, messages for the baby/parents on a twine washing line, tissue poms – the list goes on.  But I did what I could and I think it looked fab – and Jo loved it, so it mustn’t have been too bad at all 😉

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A pleasantly surprising discovery – Beaumont, Texas.

When hubby announced to me last Wednesday that we were going away for the weekend for my birthday celebration, I was *almost* disappointed.  We can’t fly, can’t sail and can’t endure long car rides (especially since my chest pains arrived a couple weeks ago), so that leaves short-car trips.  One would assume San Antonio or Austin.

While I do enjoy both of these cities, (scrambling to sound less of an ungrateful mare) we favour trying somewhere new when we travel.  I should have had more faith in my wonderfully curious, explorer-husband, because he did in fact stick to our preference of trying out somewhere new, and his description of our weekend was, and I quote, ‘a gamble’.

Hmmm.  He told me the night before we left, where we were going, Beaumont, Texas – a city around an hour and forty minutes from us in Missouri City, so closer still than San Antonio or Austin (bonus points for a shorter-than-expected car journey!) and that we were going to take in a show, the Blue Man Group.  I can’t/won’t tell you too much about the show, mostly because I’m not sure that it’s something words do justice to, so, instead, I’ll tell you it’s musical, it’s visually stimulating, it’s hilarious and to go and see it, if you have the opportunity – you won’t regret it.  My mind was BLOWN.

Why bother with Beaumont?

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from Beaumont to be honest, I’d only ever considered it as a venue for concerts by people who didn’t make it to Houston – but had never considered it as being in our ‘somewhere to go’ catalogue.

Beaumont is probably most famous as being an old oil ‘boomtown’, in 1900, the Lucas gusher blew, putting Beaumont on the map for being the home of the greatest oil well in history.  It’s success lasted around a decade, at the end of which, the oil well was drained dry, Gladys city was a ghost town of wooden shacks and all that was left, was the memory of the Lucas gusher.

First things first, this IS a manageable day-trip from the greater Houston area, that said, Beaumont, in whatever wacky wisdom they believe to work for their city, close a lot of the tourist attractions on the weekend – two days of the when, in my opinion, would be the most beneficial time to keep the places open for tourists.  That, or they open at odd hours, or request you book appointments in advance.  But, what do I know? I’m just a tourist, right?

What did we do?

We arrived on Friday afternoon, had lunch, did a spot of shopping (just in Target) and hit up the Blue Man Group in the Julie Rogers Theatre – a beautiful theatre, if you have a chance to see something here, do it.  Parking was free at the back of the theatre, it’s a great size, not too big, not too small, acoustics are good and the décor is absolutely beautiful!

Fire Museum of Texas

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Saturday morning we hit up the Fire Museum of Texas – and quickly discovered, that it was closed (BOOO!) But, thankfully, the worlds largest functioning fire hydrant wasn’t inside, so we had a walk around the grounds and took some fun pictures of the HUGE hydrant painted like a cow.

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Spindletop/Gladys City Boomtown Museum.

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Once we were done taking pictures in the sunshine, we headed out to the   A reconstruction of the old Gladys City from back in the days of the Lucas Gusher.  It was a very interesting museum, you move from building to building around the town, learning what life was like back in 1900, when the gusher blew and tens of thousands of oil-folk flocked to the city.

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Also you have model Spindle Tops, a gift shop, and, if you are so inclined, a function room that can hold up to 75 people – we spent just over an hour here at this museum and there was a lot of open space for kid-lets to run around and wear themselves out!

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This museum is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission at 4:20 p.m.) Sunday, 1-5 p.m. (last admission at 4:20 p.m.) Closed most Mondays, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Easter and Memorial Day. Information: 409-880-1750 or gladyscityinfo@gmail.com and parking is free.
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Being married to a guy who works in the oil and gas industry, a visit to the Texas Energy Museum was pretty much, unavoidable.  Full of interactive, educational exhibits on how oil is drilled for, processed and what it is used for, this place was quite fun.  That said, it wasn’t as extensive as I expected, and we probably were in and out in about an hour to an hour and a half.
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It still focuses a lot on the Lucas Gusher and the boom in Beaumont, but I feel they could have done a lot more to encompass the actual oil process.  It was definitely worth the entry fee and I think it would be particularly interesting for kids of people in the oil services industry, to learn what mum or dad’s company does.  Plus they’ll all enjoy pushing the buttons – right?! 🙂

Free parking adjacent to the Museum (always a bonus) and open Tuesday through Saturday 9am to 5pm and Sunday 1pm to 5pm.  Adults pay $5, children over 5yrs old and seniors pay $3.

Notable mention: Raos Bakery

We went here, under the false pretenses of lunch.  Trip advisor and Yelp said they did sandwiches, paninis and soup – as it turned out, they were all pre-packaged and didn’t look overly appetizing at all.

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That said, this place is a bakery, so the sweet counter got our attention in an instant.  As it was valentines weekend, they had a lot of both Valentine’s themed goodies, as well as some King’s Cakes on hand for the upcoming Mardi Gras celebrations.  We opted for the last Napoleon that was on the shelf.  Mostly because it looked like this:

IMG_8245Sweet Lord above we died and went to heaven.  Puff pastry, sweet cream and strawberries – simple, but so totally delicious (and very unladylike to eat!!) – and their chocolate dipped strawberries were fantastic too.

If you fancy a coffee and a treat, go here.  You won’t be disappointed!

Where did we stay?

Probably the newest (at the time I’m writing this, Feb 2014) hotel in the Beaumont area and one of the nicest ‘budget’ hotels I’ve been to in a loooooong time.  The Holiday Inn Express.  It came very highly rated on Yelp and Trip Advisor and hubby got a good deal on a room (around $85 a night).  For that, you get free internet (which worked pretty well for hotel internet), free breakfast (again, surprisingly good considering most hotel breakfasts – my favorite was the industrial pancake making machine and I left wanting Col to buy me one for Christmas!) free parking, close access to all of the attractions in Beaumont.

The room also had a fridge (which worked better than our own at home), a microwave (which was ace since hubby brought along some popcorn to pop – just in case!) and a decent sized bathroom.  The pool was an outside pool, which, normally wouldn’t bother us in February in Texas, but after our freakishly cold winter this year, the pool was left empty for the weekend, which was a shame.

I can’t recommend this hotel enough, we got great sleep (with a hot water bottle for a husband, a good AC unit is of paramount importance), it was quiet, we were able to watch the Winter Olympics on the flat screen and the staff were lovely and friendly.

What else can you do in Beaumont?

Here is a couple of places we couldn’t make work, due to timing, but would have interested us, had they been open over the weekend.

Places like the Beaumont Police Department Museum is free to visit, but is only open on weekdays and viewable by appointment only (call 409-880-3825).

The Fire Museum of Texas, was somewhere we were DYING to go see (we love going to see local fire museums), but, again, it’s not open on weekends (unless by special appointment).  Another free institution to go and visit (Beaumont is a really GREAT city for free museums!!) this museum is open Monday to Friday 8am to 4.30pm and ranks as the #1 attraction to visit in Beaumont.  We are sad to have missed out!

Thomas Edison plaza museum, is another free-to-visit place to drop in on your day/short trip visit to Beaumont, and, as of June 2013, they are open Tuesday through Friday 9am-2pm and Saturdays 10am-2pm and reviewers say to allow yourself an hour to an hour and a half to enjoy this small museum.

Clifton Steamboat museum, this museum (and accompanying tug-boat) doesn’t even appear on Trip Advisor’s list of things to do in the city of Beaumont – so I didn’t know about it’s existence until I got home – a little too late, right?  It is open by appointment only, costs $5 per adult, $4 per child and is free for children under 5 years old.

Five museums for five bucks in Houston, Part I: 1940 Air terminal museum

A few months ago, I made a date-jar.  A jar filled with lolly-pop sticks, each with a date night idea written on it, opening times and the price of each activity, funny though, it was only this past weekend that we actually DID something from the jar – and the choice wasn’t at random, it was a specific lolly-pop stick that I wanted us to try out, especially cause, as Col pointed out, the media told him that it was husband appreciation day – and I knew he’d appreciate the choice.

The 1940’s Air terminal museum.

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“The 1940 Air Terminal Museum is housed in the original art-deco Houston Municipal Airport building at present-day William P. Hobby Airport. The Museum showcases the rich heritage of civil aviation, including the airlines, general aviation and business aviation. Exhibits include Houston’s fascinating aviation history”.

IMG_7896For an admission of only $5 pp, I thought it was a great choice to start with.  Cheap, a nice drive away (the weather was perfect) and we were up at a reasonable enough hour to actually enjoy our Saturday – instead of sleeping through it, as we may have been known to do on occasion.

When we arrived, we signed the guest book, paid admission and serendipitously met one of the volunteers at the museum, Geoff Scripture.  He talked to us for over a half hour about the history of the museum, he talked us through it’s creation, development, growth and eventual ‘retirement’ – he was wonderfully educated and was a great story teller, I found it all very interesting indeed.

I love the PanAm TV show, so found this very interesting!

I love the PanAm TV show, so found this very interesting!

“A visit to the Museum also affords a front row vantage point to Hobby Airport’s diverse airport operations. Between airline traffic, business aviation and frequent fixed wing and rotary wing general aviation traffic, the Museum has an air show every day.”

We had a lot of fun and because it was the 3rd weekend of the month, it was, what they call ‘Wings and Wheels’, featuring static displays of airplanes and automobiles, and is one of the museums fundraisers.  Food is provided by a drive-up food vendor or cooked in-house.

IMG_7925We got there too late for the food (though after the stupidly bad experience we had at a local restaurant I kinda wish we’d thought to eat at the museum) and for most of the Wheels and Wings bit, but the museum itself had plenty to look at and read and standing outside watching the planes take off and land was lots of fun and both Col and I were very glad we found this little gem!

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The 1940 Air Terminal Museum is open to the public between the hours of:

10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday

The Museum is closed on Mondays.

Admission is $5.00 for adults and $2.00 for children.

Wings & Wheels Ticket prices: $7 Adults, $3 Kids (12 and under) Wings & Wheels ticket price includes: static aircraft tours, special programs in the Starliner Theater, museum tours, and admission to the museum.

Let me know if you check it out!