365 Days of Krav-life.

Picture credit: G C Montgomery

It’s been a year.

365 days.

An entire year since I stepped in to Fight Back Fit in Houston and took my very first Krav-class (which left me hobbling for three days straight!) and embarked on my journey to be an utter badass.

In the last year?

I’ve tried Krav Maga, Muay Thai, Eskrima/Kali, White Collar Boxing and, most recently, kickboxing.

I don’t even know who I am any more – and know what? That’s a good thing.

You think you know yourself.

Or, at least, are pretty sure of who you are.  What your limits are, how you’d react in certain situations and what you’re capable of.

If I learned anything in my Houston Krav time?

It’s that I had no freakin’ clue who I really am, what I was capable of, or what my limits are.

Also?  I’ve never before, in all my life, had a piece of clothing in my wardrobe that HAD to be clean at all times.  Something so important to you, so iconic in your clothing range, that you absolutely have to have it clean, dry and ready to rock at a moments notice.

Until now – my yellow belt t-shirts are THAT piece of clothing.

Post yellow belt testing!

So.  I let a couple days pass me by, then weeks, then a few more weeks (and months), in the hopes that maybe I could organise some form of rational thought, and get past the elation and overwhelming pride in myself before putting something together on paper.

I thought that perhaps, with letting a little time pass, it would all start to sink in and maybe even be a little less surreal.  However, all those months seem to have done? Was allow my black and blue body, to become even more black, and blue – which have raised a few eyebrows whilst out and about in public, and eventually fade back to normality, and cause some serious cabin-fever to set in from not fighting lately.  But what hasn’t started to fade?  What isn’t gone? And I’m honestly not sure it ever will…it my overwhelming pride in myself for what I achieved.

On Sunday 18th September, I faced what I’d consider to be one of, if not THE biggest personal challenge I’ve ever faced in all my days…  My level 1, yellow belt test, in Krav Maga. (For those of you who haven’t yet read my original post on Krav, you can find it here.) Nineteen weeks and three days after walking in to the Fight Back Fit (FBF) Krav studio, I hobbled out of there with my yellow belt (and a ‘you survived your test, here’s a kit to survive the next few days of pain’ gift, from my testing partner, Jennifer, containing things like Advil, Tiger Balm, bath salts and an ice pack!)

As I entered my last couple weeks in Houston, I give some real thought to all the things that I accomplished during my time there – and, second only to having my son, nothing fills me more with pride than having completed this achievement – in my entire life.

The most badass group of bitchez around!

I think the saying is ‘it takes a village’, right? And I don’t think I ever truly realised the depth of truth in that saying, until the moment I walked (hobbled) out of the gym with my yellow shirt on.

From my fantastic instructors, Jeanna, Mike and Dan, who not only teach well (well enough that I even learned a ton from other students in the gym), but, more importantly, listen well – to feedback, to questions and to requests for what I needed to work on in the weeks and months leading up to my test.  Fantastic instructors, who gave good, constructive feedback, never made me feel like an idiot for trying something,  whether I sank or swam, who recognised my strengths, weaknesses and limits – and challenged me beyond all of them.

To my solid training crew.  Group message nagging to get my backside to class, pushing my limits (both physical and mental) during training, and socialising (eating) when we were done kicking butt.

I’ve very recently lost a mentor, a coach, the very guy who encouraged (and even ‘gently’ shoved) me in to walking up those stairs to the Krav loft at FBF, and I almost wasn’t going to mark my anniversary at all.  Until I gave it a second thought.  I thought about what he’d want for me to do, about how much of an important milestone it is for me in my life and how he’d be pretty devastated to know that I didn’t mark it somehow.

I don’t think I’ll fully be able to put in to words just what a difference taking that first step in to the gym has made to my life as a whole.  I was terrified, shaking, even.  I’ve mentioned it any number of times around this blog, but, there’s often this ‘fat girl’ thing in the gym, those uber fit dudes and gals who make it look so easy, who can go pump iron for an hour or two, and not so much as sweat a single freakin’ bead.  Whereas me? I look at the gym from the car park, my face turns a deep shade of beetroot and I get under-boob sweat. I don’t know how to use the machines, I’m super intimidated by fit people, I utterly abhor exercise and I confess to having my own ‘fat girl’ complex, never mind the ‘fat girl’ complexes the *actual* fit people may have, when they see a plus sized chick walking in to their gym.

I was legit terrified to go in to FBF, but, it didn’t take long before I felt at ease.  Between the instructor and my fellow students, I felt oddly at home, from the first five minutes of class.  That has never happened before – I thought for a moment that my desire to be like Jason Statham had overshadowed my core-trembling-terror at being in a gym.

I was never asked ‘do you think you can do this?’  I was never told ‘Just do what you can’, and once I’d shaken off my new-person terror, I eventually lost the ‘I can’t’ mentality, and adopted a ‘someday I’ll do what they’re doing’ mentality – and yet? They never demanded that I did something, either.  They never said ‘you must do this’, I just knew that as long as I pushed and challenged myself in each class and went a little further, and a little harder, that eventually, I’d be able to do all of the things that the other, slimmer, more flexible, fitter students could do – including kicking my friend in the head (she was elated, I was horrified! LOL!)

It didn’t happen overnight, the crew at FBF quietly (ha! Not!) encouraged me to push myself, to grow, to learn, but mostly? To believe in myself.  To believe that I could do anything I wanted to, with some hard work and grit.  After a couple weeks of the beginner classes, I levelled up and joined the advanced classes too – if I was driving for an hour to get there, it made sense to just stay for the two hours instead of one.  But more than that? I started to believe I could do it.  I started to WANT to do it.  Me.  Miss ‘allergic to exercise’, WANTED to work out more.  Why? Because I loved every freakin’ second of it. 

Walking on the treadmill? Nope, not for me.

Learning how to choke someone and defend against chokes? Count me in!

My badass training was quickly in full flow. 

I learned more than I could ever tell y’all, during my time at FBF.  Not just about survival skills and self-defence, though that was a big part of it.  But I learned more about myself, conditioned my ‘fight response’, (whereas before, while I’d have said I’d have only *said* that I had a fight response, I think, looking back, it would have been a flight response instead.)  I learned that most of my limits were self-imposed, I trained with orange belts, green belts, blue belts, black belts and instructors.  I trained with women and men, tall and short, 100lb people and 250lb people.  As a 250lb girl, I never imagined that was possible.  I never thought I’d be able to lift my leg high enough to kick someone in the head.  Or to endure (and LOVE) ten hours of exercise a week! Some days I did SIX hours of self defence – IN ONE DAY!?  At first, I was a little intimidated, but I had a thirst to learn so I quickly just jumped in with both feet…and both fists.

I remember the instructors always telling me that it often takes people a while to find their inner fight, their inner warrior, that thing that makes them want to absorb everything like a sponge in class, and excel, and I almost fell over when they told me that I walked in the door with it, on my sleeve, ready to be a badass.  I didn’t feel that way, I was unsure, shaky and convinced my friend who’d sent me to krav was punking me for some cruel joke – but, from day 1 they saw something in me – something they fostered, nurtured and helped develop, and the more I look back, the more landmark moments I notice through my journey that make me beam with pride.

Post Muay Thai seminar with world renowned Mark ‘The Hyena’ Beecher

I, not only survived a three hour Muay Thai seminar with Mark ‘The Hyena’ Beecher – but I rocked it.  Ok, his long and complicating cardio inspired cool-down was beyond me, but I was SO epically proud of myself that day – mostly for not allowing the bowl of spaghetti that was threatening to make a reappearance from lunch, come back up.  But also? I’d done the morning Krav class, the women’s self-defence seminar AND the three hour Muay Thai class in ONE DAY – and loved every damn second of it.  And wanted to do it again.

My first fight class, with my training partner, and big bro G.

There are no classes on the FBF schedule that you cannot go to – except one – even if you’ve just walked in off the street for your first week of training, you can go to the beginner, the advanced, the cardio – you can do it all, except fight night.  Fight Night is Mike’s ‘baby’, it’s a night where students get together and work on fighting technique, sparring, punching, even kicking (with shin guards on, obviously!)  To go to this class, you have to be invited, and I wasn’t quite convinced that I’d receive an invite before I left Houston, I was jealous of those who got to go, and I was totally convinced that I NEEDED to do fight night – so I worked hard.  I went to watch one or two fight nights, after a couple months of training, and as I left one night, Mike called me from the top of the stairs and said, ‘if you wanna come fight next week, you can’, I thought he was just being nice cause I’d sat and watched everyone fight for an hour, ‘I don’t mind watching’, I replied, ‘it’s ok’.  He replied, ‘yeah, but you’re ready to stop watching and fight’.  And so, I did. 

Snap from the class I was pulled out of line to demonstrate good punches.

I was pulled to the front of the class one night, in front of one of the biggest groups of students I think I witnessed in my entire time training at FBF.  To demonstrate – wait for it, ‘excellent form for straight punches’.  For a moment I felt totally embarrassed, but that was quickly replaced by overwhelming pride.  I turned to Mike and said ‘I’ve been concentrating on my form lately,’ to which he replied, ‘I know, it’s why you’re showing everyone else how to punch correctly right now’.  When I started white collar boxing in Newry after I got back to Ireland, I tried to help a few people I got close to with their punching form.  In my first class, I was told by another boxer, to pay attention to myself and stop trying to help people.  I told her that if I could help someone NOT break their knuckles, I was going to do it.  Just because I’d never done white collar, just because I’m a big girl, and just because I know something that *you* don’t know, doesn’t mean I don’t have something to teach.  In FBF, the mantra was more, ‘everyone has something to learn, and everyone has something to teach’.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a black belt man, or a white belt woman, you can still train together, and you can still learn -each of you, something of benefit, from the other. 

During Testing – picture credit G C Montgomery

My most notable moment in my first year of krav-life, was the day I earned my level one/yellow belt.  It wasn’t just a couple hours of being beaten up by (and beating up) my fight partner Jenn – though, if you know Jenn, you’ll know that that is an accomplishment on its own.  I couldn’t sleep the night before, couldn’t eat the morning of, I was utterly crapping myself, terrified – as confident as I had felt in the weeks running up to the test, in the last seven days of training with Gary and Jenn, I was convinced I sucked ass at everything and was just plain going to embarrass myself and fail – hell, I even got knocked on my ass during my test (I had a feeling it was going to happen, Jenn has this thing about gusto in her choke attacks from the front with a push).  When in actual fact? Jeanna told me that I was the most technically proficient level one student she had ever seen.  Mic drop – I’m out.  I was walking on air.

Last supper with my crew the night before I flew <3

Leaving that group of people to come back to Ireland, was one of the hardest things I’ve done.  Saying goodbye to them all in the carpark after my last supper of ramen, didn’t prevent me from ugly crying at the side of the road.  I was heartbroken.

I felt like those people knew me on a level I hadn’t previously knew existed within myself, I mean, you can’t exactly sit down at a table for dinner with your regular people friends and talk about your favourite choke position, or your favourite way of kicking people.  Most people don’t see bruises as badges of honour, they see injury, weakness, pain.   Kathy developed a ‘I train with Jenn’ and ‘I train with Las’ bruise balm for us to heal the worst of our war-wounds, but bet your ass I took pictures of them and snap chatted them to EVERYONE who’d look – Jenn will even tell you that I sent her a pic of my epic ‘the boy missed the pad and kicked my boob instead’ bruise.

Leaving that group of people to come back to Ireland? I was largely convinced that I’d really never fight again, I’d never find somewhere to fit in, somewhere who makes ‘fat girls’ feel accepted for their skill and not assume they had no game, just cause of their size.  And while I haven’t found my fight tribe here just yet, I didn’t quit.

I’ve been slow getting back ‘at it’ since I came back to the UK, my friend Taylor said to me that I needed to put it to priority #1.  ‘This is where I tell you that you busted your ass to earn that belt.  The right way.  So you didn’t have to prove yourself where you were going.  And it’s not about the colour of the belt, or how many days it takes to earn it.  It’s about your abilities.  And if you don’t practice, you’re going to be set back.  I don’t want to see you wait on krav or some other kind of fighting skill – you’ve stalled far too long as it is.’

He had a habit of telling it like it was.

Since I came back, I did a couple Krav classes in my home town, I’ve done a white-collar boxing fight night for charity and I’ve just recently started a four week, women’s only kickboxing class.  It’s not much.  It’s absolutely not enough.  But my heart has lost a little of its spunk I guess.  Leaving FBF, coming home to a country distinctly lacking in Krav and having lost a coach and mentor.  My heart hurts.  I cried the entire drive to my new kickboxing class, it was bitter sweet. It’ll pass, I know it’ll pass – because time ‘heals’ all, but, moreso, because I miss it.  Because I know I can’t quit being a badass – you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. 

I’m hungry to train, I’m hungry to learn, I’m hungry to fight.  Every.  Damn.  Day.  I just need to find my jam here in Ireland.  Once I do – I’ll be unstoppable.

Watch this space.

 

Smells like Krav spirit…or is that sweat?

How in the world do you blog about a group of people who have quite literally changed your life?
13606656_10156979276515411_756404044872232427_nI wasn’t going to write this just yet.  I’m not 100% sure why, exactly.  I have a few reasons I guess, I wanted there to be more of a change in me, I wanted to make sure I stuck at it for an extended period of time and I wasn’t convinced that eight weeks was enough time to gauge, well, anything really.
Plus? Let’s just throw it out there now, but when it comes to talking about my amazing little Krav family? I get hit square in the feels (as long as it’s not the jaw, right?)

But, my time here in Houston is drawing to a close over the next couple months, and this new lifestyle and these new people have already had such a profound impact on my life, I thought “screw it”.  I figure that there’s really no harm in sharing this new chapter of my life on this blog.  Especially considering that the mental changes within myself, far outweigh any current visible, physical changes.  I’ve even gone so far as to have already looked up somewhere to continue my training when I go home, and Col has looked for somewhere in India.

I officially have “the bug”.
13516350_10156973497185411_7002291917759849473_nOn Thursday, May 5th, (so just over a month ago as I start to write this), I, in what felt at the time, like a moment of utter insanity, drove North of the city to try a free Krav Maga class.  I didn’t know much about the self defense system, other than it was more instinctual and less “organized”, than say, Tae Kwon Do, and really a little more akin to street fighting even.  So, off I went.
I got there a little early so I could watch the end of the previous, intermediate/advanced class, train and had I listened to the not-so-quiet voice screaming loudly in my ear to think again about what in the name of all that is holy I thought I was doing, I’d have bolted.  Part of me wanted to.  Not a small part either.  There was absolutely no way in hell I could ever do what those people were doing, right? But they’d all seen me come up the stairs, there was no escape – believe me, I considered it.
Hold up.  Let’s rewind a little, we all know that I’ve posted any number of fitness, weight loss, or healthy eating posts since I started this blog.  I’ve yoyo-ed the same 10lbs for years and my self-image hasn’t ever been stellar.
I abhor exercise.  Despise it.  I’ll leave a collection of things on the stairs that needs taken up, because I’m just too out-rightly lazy to add an extra flight of steps into my day.

And then something clicks.

It’s the same process every time, right?
I’ll get so sick of seeing my reflection in the mirror and I’ll hit something full pelt.  I’ll eat 1600 (-1800) calories a day (GP approved before any of you give me grief), drink 2 liters of water, eat 5 a day and start some form of exercise, Les Mills Body Attack or C25K have been the most notable favourites to date.  I’ll go 3-5 times a week, give my all, and after the first week or two of quick body-shock progress, eating like a hangry ankle-biting rabbit and working out more than any sane person should, in my lazy land of couch potato, I’ll hit some dumb plateau, the scales won’t move and I’ll lose my patience with it.  Or? Better yet? I’ll get my period, use it as the worlds lamest excuse to curl up in the corner and avoid the gym like the plague.  It really doesn’t take much for me to quit and go back to being unhappy with myself.
Typically.
I know myself, I know my patterns.

Or so I thought.

Anyways, back we go to Las, sat on the floor of the Krav loft, trying to look calm – when all she really wanted to do was jump in the car and drive home – stretching, because from the look of the intermediate class, it seemed like that was a smart thing to do, and praying, praying hard, that no one laughed at my mere presence there.
Then it occurred to me, the (I’m reluctant to call them educated, but on the subject matter I guess they are) person (people) who encouraged me to go to Krav in the first place? Wouldn’t have done so from an unkind place, or to make fun of me somehow.  They encouraged me to go because they thought I was capable – in spite of enjoying my couch potato lifestyle.  They thought that it was, perhaps, something I would enjoy, and maybe even go to a second class.  They believed in me, even if I didn’t believe in myself.
13510781_10156955669315411_8653724555621343230_nMy first class was pretty “low-key” (I’m also reluctant to say low-key, because I still ended up a sweaty mess and my calf hurt for three days after training).  It was all footwork, (stance is the most important thing!) and I spent most of the 60 minutes face to face with an orange belt, called Jen, who I’d seen training at the end of the previous class.  Neither she, nor Mike (the instructor), laughed at me for being there, they didn’t scoff, or ask what I thought I was doing, and, despite us giggling for the guts of an hour, Jen taught me more than I realised.
In spite of not being able to walk very well the next day (my calf protested being off the floor for an hour), I was sufficiently intrigued.  I signed up for a monthly, unlimited class membership and attended a two-hour monthly women’s self defense seminars, just two days later, that Saturday morning.
13319719_10156865174375411_9113199934113673980_nIn the eight weeks since that first night? My goal in May was 9 classes (two per week) I finished the month on 13.  I’ve attended a 3 hour Kali/Escrima (knife skills) workshop, two (soon to be three) 2-hour women’s self defense seminars and a 3 hour Muay Thai workshop with the best Muay Thai coach in the US.  I’ve not only tried an intermediate class, but I’ve done a number of back to back inter/beginner classes in the last few weeks, and I’m hungry for more.  Why? Not just because I enjoy it – sure, that’s a huge chunk, but these people I’m training with? They help me find belief in myself that I’m CAPABLE of more.
Crazy as it sounds, (and I know it’s a long shot, but we all need goals, right?) I’m training with the aim of testing for my yellow belt before we leave the US.  My goal for June was 13 classes, 3 per week and I finished on 22 Krav classes and 1 cardio combat class, I’ve not skipped a single class simply because I have ovaries (as a friend’s better half pointed out “an attacker doesn’t care if you’re sick or have your period”) and I’ve even managed to simultaneously train through a chest infection, just fine.
13307453_10156865174365411_3685887745969475778_nIt’s incredibly hard to capture, on a computer screen especially, the kind of people, or atmosphere, that Fight Back Fit has managed to harness, and I find it just a little laugh-out-loud-funny that I’m getting ‘totes emosh’ about a group of seriously bad ass fighters, however, I really am.  Last week? I trained for two hours before we went out for post-training tacos.  We typically close out the places we go to eat, mostly, I think, because the other patrons are afraid that our special kind of crazy is contagious and don’t want to be within a city block of our hysterical giggling.  Anyways, I had a not-so-minor breakdown on my way home, worked up and upset that I’m leaving this great group of people in a short matter of weeks.  It bothers me, a lot.
In class, no matter who I pair with in training, I learn something.
Everyone has something to teach.
Everyone is vested in everyone else’s training.  Everyone wants to make you a better fighter and no one cares that you’ve only been there a short number of weeks and suck at hooks, your left elbow flares when you strike, or that you punch with the wrong part of your fist – they just want you to be better.

Every class.

13528802_10156942683145411_1999757221268620819_nFighting and fitness aside? The folks I train with have a pretty social element to their training, they typically eat out after class a couple times a week (this has become after every time I train because I have a long drive home and am so hungry I could eat an entire cow when I’m finished), we’ll sit, laugh (there’s always lots of laughing), talk, share stories and re-fuel after a tough work out that we push each other to kick ass in.
I know you’re skeptical, I would be too had I not experienced it first-hand, there’s no way anyone could accidentally happen upon such a ready-made group of great friends, right? Wrong.  Aside from the Krav-ing, and the post-Krav eating (which, in the interest of being up front if you’re thinking of joining us, can last for hours), we have also hung out socially, I’ve been shooting with them, we’ve had lunch together on non-Krav days, and we’re working on throwing together a bucket list for my last eight weeks here in Houston and have a few fun things like karaoke and go-karting on the list for us to try our hands at.
13615046_10156987121315411_4232918578577866323_nWe even landed around to my Krav friend Kathy’s house (toddler and all!) and invaded for a bbq for the 4th, with two of my other fave Krav friends (Kate and Jen) with Kathy’s sister and her family.  If someone starts a sentence with ‘Hey, why don’t we…?’, or ‘Does anyone want to…?’ chances are at least four of us will be there.
They pick me up when I fall (literally), build me up when I’m low, push me through when I feel like I can’t do something and tell me I’m getting skinnier while punching me in the chest – what’s not to love? 😉
13606503_10156989125330411_3121260125936346466_nWanna know how hard I love these folks? Sunday night on my way to my volunteer shift at Ronald McDonald, I hit a pot hole – and I was scared to my core that I’d busted out my tyre, was going to get stranded at the hospital (I had the car seat in my car, so Col couldn’t come rescue me, had I been in trouble), but I knew that without a doubt, I could have called any of a handful of Krav people and they’d have busted their behinds to help me get myself figured out.  Thankfully, I didn’t need it, but it’s a very, very reassuring feeling to know that someone’s got your back.
While a large part of me is devastated that I didn’t meet these people seven years ago when we first moved to H-Town, a larger part of me is so damn thankful that I got to meet them at all.  That I got over myself, my inner demons, my self-hatey and crappy self esteem to take a chance, try something new, and that I get to spend my last four months in Houston, doing something I love, with people I love even more.
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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saint Arnolds Brewing Company Tour (15 things to do in Houston for under $15)

Being Irish, it’s almost a rite of passage to tour the Guinness brewery in Dublin.  You pay money, go through the factory, watch the whole process – from creation, to bottling, and at the end, you get a pint of beer (or soda).  Disclaimer: I always get the soda, I don’t drink beer (or stout) but I love watching the process and learning about the company.

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I expected something similar here, at St. Arnolds Brewery.  Taps open at 2pm on week days, the tour is at 3.30pm and taps close at 4.15pm.  The tour is $10 per person over 15 years old, you get a free souvenir glass and four beer tokens (or root beer).  They have a small parking area, and there’s public parking just around the corner/facing the brewery.  Grab a drink as soon as you get there, you can take it/them with you throughout the tour, and it’s hot, so you’ll need it!  That said, since I don’t like beer, or Root Beer, I had water.  My brother is THRILLED that he will get my tokens when he’s in town!

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The tour starts in a room with huge silver pot-type things.  If any of them are on, wave goodbye to actually *HEARING* the tour.  In a room akin to a furnace, full of thirty-odd people, a sweaty bearded dude giving the tour (while simultaneously aerating out his manly bits by shaking his shorts) I wanted to cry.  Between the heat, the loud noise and the fact that this part of the tour could *easily* have been given just outside the door to the hot, loud hellish room of silver pots and spoken at a normal, non-shouting level of communication.  I held out hope that the tour would be rockin’ and we’d see interesting things about how their beer was made and packaged for stores.

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The tour was mostly spoken, took place in two rooms, the hellish hot room and a warehouse-y type room.  But you don’t see much of the process, you don’t see the bottling process or any of that.  I was disappointed and most certainly expected more.  My dad tried one beer, my mum tried two, but they agreed that it wasn’t really worth the trip up from Missouri City and braving the rush hour traffic home.

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Maybe if we were all hard-core beer lovers, we’d have been more happy with the four drinks tokens, and not cared about the tour, but we were more interested in the tour and it fell a bit flat.

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If you’re in the Houston area and know of a brewery who does a more extensive tour – please, let me know!

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 III: Houston Fire Museum

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This ain’t our first rodeo (or, fire museum), in fact, we’ve been to at least TWO other fire museums on our various travels, in much smaller cities than Houston.  We have put off going to the Houston Fire Museum (Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 4pm Adults $5, children $3) a number of times, just to make sure we left enough time for this place – but we really didn’t have to do that at all.

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What a disappointment.  We barely spent thirty minutes here.  UGH! For such a major city in the USA, we expected something a little more grand than a two-room museum with only two engines to look at.  My ‘147 Fun Things to Do in Houston’ book says that this place has a large collection of artifacts to look at, either the author has a poor definition of large, or they never visited this museum.  It was a poor reflection of Fire memorabilia, and we both left deflated.

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It was the first, paid Fire House in Houston, the Fire House itself is small, so they built an extension (also small) and they have a room set aside for kids parties (of which there seemed to be a hundred under one roof today, there were kids everywhere and it was louuuuud!)

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There really wasn’t a lot to look at, upstairs, the AC unit was leaking on the floor as a result of some storm damage.  There were a few glass cases up there, with some memorabilia throughout the decades which was interesting to look at, but we really expected more.

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This is the first $5 museum where I felt like I got short changed.  I don’t think it was quite worth the entrance fee.  They had some cool T-shirts and kitsch on sale, but unfortunately, I can’t recommend the Houston Fire Museum as something to do on a rainy afternoon in H-town, as it just doesn’t have the substance!

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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.