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’.

That one friend…

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

5k colour run, Cedar Rapids IA, 2015

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

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

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

Amber’s 1st trip to Ireland 2005

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

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

Houston 2014

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

Chicago 2006 my first trip over to IA.

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

Dublin 2005

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

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers gig

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

Lewis’ Christening 2014

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

Averie’s 2nd Birthday party 2010

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

Amber came to Houston 2008

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

Averie often despairs at the two of us 😉

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

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

IMG_5775

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

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

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

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

IMG_5873

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

IMG_5902

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

IMG_5805

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

IMG_5899

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

IMG_5847

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

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

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

Things to do in Houston: Art Car Museum (free)

IMG_0821

“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.”

IMG_0877

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.

IMG_0822

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.

IMG_0856

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.

IMG_0861

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.

IMG_0843

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.

IMG_0841

“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.

IMG_5624

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.

IMG_5617

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.

While the cat's away…

While I was at the scrapbooking convention, the men-folk ate Chinese and played video games until til the wee hours.  They also hit up a Houston Dymano game (t’was a local derby against Dallas) which Houston won 2-1 in their shiny new stadium.

Rowan at the new Dynamo stadium

On Sunday, Julie (one of my SSA friends) had booked a tour of Galveston harbour (for information, click here).  We weren’t sure how much interest we’d get with it being Father’s day, so Julie booked one boat (40 spaces), within a matter of hours, we had to increase the number of boats put on from one, to four and we had over 200 people sign up!

Sam, Eve, Rowan and Colin on the boat!

Ahoy thar Mr Dolphin!

The boat ride was two hours, though it didn’t feel like it, you can bring your own food and drinks on board (we brought coolers on board on Saturday and left them overnight to Sunday), and we got up close and personal with a bunch of dolphins en route around the harbour.

Me with Row and Col on the boat 🙂

It was a great way to spend our morning, we had a blast, out in the open water, beyond the many dolphins we bumped in to, there was a shipwreck and some other cool ‘sights’ to check out as we sailed.  The staff were friendly and accommodating and, the best bit? It was only $10 a head!

Mummy Magz, little miss Eve and I

I’d recommend this tour to anyone and everyone, honest! It’ll definitely be something we do again (and again) with people who come and visit us.  It was a great way to pass a morning and t’was cheap as well.

Group shot from our boat!

Three years as an expat in Houston…

Well, we’ve hit our three year mark in sunny Houston.  Can anyone believe that we’ve been ‘gone’ for three years? I certainly can’t!

Would you believe, that for most of our SLB expat friends, they’d not even get around to hitting three years? For most of them 18 months to two years is their lot, before they get their marching orders and they are rotated through to their next post.  I can’t imagine my life being like that, so disorganised, not putting roots down in any one place, for any length of time.

I have to keep reminding myself, that in the oil business and with the company Col works for, the two-year-term lifestyle could be ours at any time.  It’s a daunting thought.  It also brings me back to reality about starting a career, about attending a post-graduate degree and anything else that may require a long-term commitment.  It’s sobering to think about, especially when people get on my case about why I don’t have a job.  We have our reasons.

We’re dangerously near the end of our first trip home in the UK for just over two years.  It’s been a fly by the seat of our pants kind of trip, we thought we were here for three weeks, max, we didn’t pack our mainland UK friends presents, as we thought there would be a second trip at the end of May.  But we’ve gotten there by winging it, in spite of the fact that our apartment is falling apart at the seams!

Our third year in Houston, has been another whirlwind ride.  We’ve done a lot of exploring, had lots of adventures and fun and neither of us can believe how quickly our time is passing in our sunny, American lives.  Here’s our year in review (or as close to ‘review’ as your humble blogger here, can manage!)

In June, we also had a visit from one of my Linked By Letters penpals, Vanessa and her other half, Mike for a few days (read about it here).  It was a lovely trip and we got to show them a small cross-section of what the Houston area has to offer.  It was nice to meet her after all these years!

Mike, Vanessa and the McMasters out and about in Nasa!

In July, I was at my second CKC scrapbooking convention with my scrapbooking friend Helen.  I’ve not done a lot of scrapbooking, my scrapbooking room is a total mess and I’m WAY behind on my scrapbooks, the pile of pictures and events to scrapbook just keeps getting bigger.  However, at a scrapbooking convention, you make layouts, books, make and takes, right there, so you just need to go home and add pictures – it’s perfect! Especially since inspiration and creativity are things I often struggle with when it comes to scrapbooking!

In August, I hosted my first ever baby shower, for my Houston-based best friend Magz who I’d met almost a year previous.  It was an event that I loved organising, bigger than I expected it to be but it went down really well.  The theme was giraffes – we joked that little lentil would be born thinking he/she was a giraffe!

Giraffe Themed baby shower!

In August, I made a huge decision, I was joining a choir.  I missed having music in my life, and, for those of you who hated Dr Frame’s music class and choir in Sacred Heart, you probably think I’m crazy, but I’ve always loved choir (even Mrs Sheeran’s choir!) and I took a leap of faith.

Aileen and I at our first performance

An SSA friend sent out a flyer in our Yahoo group, saying that the UNAIC was looking for singers, so, I auditioned (in secret) for the United Nations Association International Choir and got a place – I was THRILLED (especially given how freakin’ nervous I was about the audition) and I’ve never looked back.  It was one of the best things I’ve done since becoming a ‘grown up’, it’s rewarding and fulfilling and I’ve met such fantastic people there, I should have done it years ago!

Julie and I at our Christmas concert

September brought with it my ‘hockey confession‘ blog-post, one of my most visited blog posts about how I got in to hockey and what I found when I got there!

October was a very busy month, a friend of our Canadian friend Ann, held a lovely baby shower for her – with the most delicious strawberry punch I’ve ever tasted!

Ann’s baby shower

I turned ‘super southern’ and learned to ‘can’ and had a ‘canning party‘, I made jam, a disastrous batch of salsa and, more recently, lemon curd.  It’s definitely a hobby I’ll continue, especially since everyone I’ve given a jar to, loves the jam!

Making jam and other tasty treats…

I tried out our local Glazery for some pottery painting, (literally like a block away from our house) where you pick a piece of pottery (there are hundreds of things to choose from), you sit and paint it and the Glazery fires it for you in the kiln when you’re done.  It was good fun, a big group of ladies came to the activity – it was met with much more enthusiasm than I thought it would be and it was a great activity.  It’s indoors, so it’s cool and can be done even on the hottest of days!

Pottery painting

I also hosted my second baby shower, for our newest friend Heather (who later gave birth to little Evy).  The theme this time was Elephants and the colour scheme was pink and grey – it was small, but fun and Heather and Jeff loved it, which is, after all, all that matters!

It’s a girl baby shower

Also in October (I told you it was a busy month) my beautiful Goddaughter, little Eve, was born.  I’ve never been quite so close to someone giving birth to a baby before, my nerves were wrecked and I was in more of a mess than Magz was, but everything went well.

Gorgeous little girl and a very proud Aunty Las!

She was the smallest baby I’d ever held or changed, and she was perfect in every way!

November, I got my walk on! I did a walk for The American Heart Association, it was fun, Col, Magz, Sam and co came with us and it was a perfect day for the event, plus I raised a lot of money for a very good, worthwhile cause!

Getting ready to go on our walk!

We had yet another killer Expat Thanksgiving, our biggest yet, at twelve adults and six children joining us for our celebration.  For the first time in a long time, I delegated, I asked people to bring a dish each, because feeding so may people, probably would have driven me crazy trying to sort things out for everyone.  It was great, the food was delicious, the company was excellent and I’m looking forward to trying to top it, yet again, this year!

In December, my sister came to visit.  I’d not seen her in over a year and it was great to have her come for a visit, even if it was for a short while.  She got to see me sing with my choir at our Christmas concert, (which I was very nervous about as she’s so musical) and we did plenty of shopping while she was in town!

Horsing around

January kicked-off with the first event of the 2012 QHSE health and safety calendar, a skid-simulator came to town and we got to rip around the car park in a pretty huge truck for the morning.  It was definitely fun and left me coming home asking the hubby if I could have a pick-up truck.

Skid Simulator

The only other notable event in January, was Col’s epically fab 80’s themed fancy dress birthday party.  I had an absolute blast planning this party, I ended up going all out with the retro decorations, foods, sweets and all of our visitors rose to the challenge of fancy dress.  We all have a great night!

The guys

The Gals

February was another busy month for us, my friend Amber came down from Iowa to visit for a while.  We went to see one of our favourite musicians, Matt Nathanson, we hosted a Norwex cleaning supplies party and we had lots of fun!

Amz and I at Matty Nay

February was also the month the Rodeo came to town (again!), I decided it was time to impart our rodeo-wisdom and tidbits from the last few years to my readers, and wrote an Expat’s guide to the Houston Rodeo.

For March, I organised my first ever Bake Sale, the proceeds from which went towards our choir, the United Nations Association International Choir.  It was great fun, we had lots of fun, many choir members and my SSA friends donated baked goods to sell, we had a good spread of volunteers helping out, and, most importantly, we raised over $1,000 for the choir!

UNAIC bake sale at Phoenicia

May brought with it a killer, eight week trip back home to sunny Northern Ireland.  We spent six weeks on the emerald isle, two weeks on the ‘main land’ and had a bunch of fun across the board.

Met Jenni for the first time!

Met Laura for the first time!

We met with a bunch of new people (including my long-term pen-pal Laura and Col’s long time friend Claire), we had my Goddaughter’s Christening in Scotland, hung out with old friends in England, Scotland and Ireland and were run totally ragged.

My Goddaughter’s Christening

Met Julie for the first time 🙂

Met Claire for the first time!

My family <3

It’s good to be heading back to Texas, (mostly cause we need a break!) but also because at the end of April, I was voted in to a new position with the SSA, I am now the Coordinator, and it’s time for me to go back and take the reigns!

My gal-pal Shelley sporting her Vote for Las pin-badge!

Also over the last year, I’ve taken small, slight, occasional steps away from ‘normal programming’ on this blog, to write blog posts about important issues, female health and the importance of getting a smear test, as well as a post about the trials and tribulations involved in trying to conceive for National Infertility Awareness week in April.

(June 6th 2011 to June 6th 2012) has also been a year of exploration for us, click the links below to read about our adventures!

June 2011 – Chicago, Illinois (to visit my friend Nicky)
July 2011 – Cedar Rapids, Iowa (to visit my BFF Amber, her beau Aaron and my niece Averie)
September 2011 – Singapore (to visit our friends Colin, Amee and Michael and to go to the Singapore GP)
December 2011 – San Francisco, California (to visit with friends and to have a mini-break)
February 2012 – Angel Fire, New Mexico (skiing with the Maddens and Sophie)
April 2012 – Washington, DC (to visit the Obamas 😉 lol!)

Here’s to another fab year in H-town and to making many, many more fantastic memories to blog about 😉

80’s McMasters!

An Expats guide to the Houston Rodeo!

My first tip, and my most important,

Go to the Rodeo!

The city of Houston hosts one of the biggest rodeos of North America, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo each year every March.  The Rodeo is in town for a few weeks (late February/early March), so ‘I don’t have time’ doesn’t cut it!  With tickets as low as $20 for the upper level seats, it’s cheap at twice the price – and it’s definitely worth going at least once during your time here in Houston!

Surely you can find one artist on the list of performers that you either want to see, wouldn’t mind seeing, or wouldn’t hate to see.  Musicians aside, the competitions themselves are great, it’s amazing how much money can be won (or lost) on an 8 second bull-ride.  It’s exhilarating!  Trust me!

Who do I go and see?

Blake Shelton, March 2012

This year, (2012) is our third year going to the Rodeo Houston, here’s a ‘history’ of who we’ve seen,

2010 Keith Urban and Black Eyed Peas

2011 Janet Jackson, Rascal Flatts, Lady Antebellum and Kiss

2012 Reba McEntire, Blake Shelton and ZZTop

This year we went to see someone ‘proper’ country, as I was told that Keith Urban isn’t ‘proper’ country apparently and, after having seen Blake and Reba, I kind of agree, and really recommend going to see a hard core country act (as Keith Urban is pretty pop-country).

Where do I park?

My hubby Col used to live in Houston from 2000 to 2005, he also used to live in the area around Reliant Stadium so he knows the area, he knows the Rodeo traffic, he knows the people-traffic post rodeo and which direction they flock to (yes, the people flock) and in his experience, the best place to park is the South Fannin Park and Ride.  Especially if you live in Sugar Land/Missouri City, as it’s RIGHT on HWY 90 with less than a 25 minute drive down to Sugar Land.

It’s $20 (including return Metro-rail tickets for everyone in your car), you have to get a train to and from the stadium, but the queues of people waiting for the train are a LOT shorter than those waiting for the North-bound train (on the way home, there’s never been a queue en route to the stadium), we’ve never had to wait more than ten minutes for the train – regardless of when we get out of the stadium (I.E we’ve ran from the Stadium to the train and we’ve walked at a leisurely pace to the train and neither time have we had to wait very long to get back to the carpark).

The S. Fannin stop is only one stop away from the stadium, we’ve never had an issue with security and, if, like us, you just want to leave the stadium and get home – you’re more inclined to pay a higher premium for ‘better’ parking, this is definitely the place to go – plus, the Bookity Bookity Boudain man is likely to be there selling BBQ after the show and you don’t wanna miss that!

Where do I sit?

View from the rafters!

In our three years of Rodeo experience, we have discovered that no seat in the Reliant Stadium, is a ‘bad seat’.  We have been in the 100’s, 300’s, 500’s and the 600’s and have never had a complaint.

There are six huge screens in the centre of the arena, so if you are up in the ‘nosebleed’ seats, you will still get to see the action.  We tend to hover around the 300 seats as they are our ‘favourite’ place to sit (yes, we’ve been to the rodeo enough that we have a ‘favourite’ place to sit).

What to wear?

Yes, the South has me now...

Yes, when you get to the Rodeo, you’ll see plaid shirts, denim (jeans and jackets), big hair, big hats, boots, boots and more boots – and you’ll probably be called sweetie, darlin’ and honey more times than you can count.

Don’t feel obliged to dress like this.  Although you’ll fit right in (even though you may feel like a complete pillock!) don’t feel pressured to go checked-shirt shopping just for the rodeo.  There are plenty of people who wear casual clothes and ‘sneakers’ (or trainers for those from home).

In fact, I’d highly recommend you wear something flat and comfortable on your feet.  You will be doing a LOT of walking.

What time should I be there?

Checkin' out the trucks, 2011

The Grand Entry parade starts one hour after the doors open.  Col and I try to be there shortly after doors open, so we can get food if need be, drinks, settle in our seats and watch the set-up of the arena, the horses ‘warm-up’ and all those fun things.

The rodeo competitions start at around 7pm and run through til about 9pm when the stage is set and the musician for the evening, takes over.

However, if you have not done the fun-fair section of the Reliant grounds, or, the indoor livestock area with market stalls etc, I’d say go at least a few hours earlier than then you want to be in your seat.  If you’ve never been before, you could easily pass the day here.

Col trying on some boots, 2011

The market stalls are great for getting Texan and Cowboy gear (Col and I both got boots and I got my hat), you get to see lots of animals (including birthing, we got to watch a little chick hatching while we were there), there are pig races, huge trucks for you to climb in to and lots of good food in the midway strip.

What do I eat?

Ice cream out of a pink plastic cowgirl hat!

Firstly, you can’t take food through the gates, in your bags, they WILL search you and the WILL confiscate your food.  Don’t bother – it’s not worth losing it.

On-site, food and drink is expensive.  A souvenir cup (a large drink) is $8, a chicken tender basket $10 and ice cream is $6.50 to give you an idea of cost.

Try funnel cake

Funnel cake

Funnel cake is kind of like a ”messy”, strand-like, donut.  It’s fried dough, covered in icing sugar (otherwise known as confectioners sugar or powdered sugar) and sometimes comes topped with jam.  It’s extremely sweet and pretty darn tasty!

Wednesdays are Value days!

The rodeo has some ‘bargain’ days, Wednesdays, tickets cost $10 and that gets you in to the upper level of the arena for the Rodeo/Concert portion of the event, and also gets you access in to Reliant Park.

  • Free Value Wednesday Reliant Park Admission (for seniors, 60 and over, and children, 12 and under — does not include rodeo/concert admission)
  • Values on the Grounds
    • $5 off a $25 or more purchase at any official Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo merchandise booth
    • $1 games and $1 food bites from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Kids Country Carnival
    • Value Days pricing at various food and merchandise vendors

Until next time!

Happy Rodeo-ing!

Detroit Waves…

Tuesday started with our second Norwex demo, I had two friends who couldn’t make it to the previous one, who wanted to see Amber’s great cleaners at work.

It wasn’t as long as the first one, and after a quick check of the work email for Amber, I took her to Chipotle for lunch.  When I first went to visit her, she introduced me to Chipotle, but now she lives in a different town, she doesn’t have a Chipotle overly close.  So when she’s in another city, it’s all over her radar!

We spent the afternoon shopping (and, for the most part coming up empty), Lane Bryant, Academy Sports, Ross, Marshalls and Nordstrom Rack (my first time), aside from some Turtles glasses and a pair of $160 reduced to $18, I came up pretty much empty.

That night, I took in my first ever gig at the Houston House of Blues, to see the one and only Matt Nathanson.  My waiting came to an end at the end of last year when I FINALLY got to see him play live in Iowa (with Amber and Emily), blog post, here if you’re interested.

His support act, was Rachel Platten, described on her website as

”Beautiful, but not brazen.  Passionate, but never peachy.  Populist but definitely not prosaic.  New York City singer-songwriter, pianist and beatboxer Rachel Platten is by no means your average headliner-in-the-making.”

Amber and I got to meet Rachel!

To be honest, I’d never heard of her, but Lindsey had tweeted me to say she was fantastic and I decided to give her carte blanche (I normally hate supporting artists for some reason).

Amber doesn’t like warbly singers, Rachel is definitely warbly, but I think she’s just shy of the ‘too much’ line.  Her beat-boxing adds a dimension of interesting to her performance, though I’d definitely have described her as having been peachy that night.

She’s most definitely ‘peppy’, enthusiastic and friendly – she hung around to sign autographs and let people take pictures with her (including us).

Her drummer was a header, he was the most enthusiastic and happy drummer I’ve ever seen – I also had my picture taken with him.

Matty Nay was fab, just like last time! His cover songs were, as usual, well known 80’s songs like Tainted Love and the set, though it was mostly from his latest two albums, killed!

The House of Blues as a venue is pretty good, just don’t go wanting a few drinks.  $8 a piece will set you back a crap-ton if you’re not careful!

Amz and I - traditional pic, untraditional hair!

Five guys, two cuts and 3 cheesecakes!

Monday morning brought with it a long awaited SSA Board meeting, normally, I’d have skipped the meeting as I had a visitor in town, but, as it’d been two months since we’d seen each other and my ‘section’ had a Newcomers Coffee coming up, I headed to the board meeting.  Leaving Amber off with Sophie at Magz’s while Magz, Eve and I headed up to the Western Geco office for our meeting.

The meeting ran over, we were supposed to meet Natalie and Jo (a newcomer to our fold) at 1pm for lunch, at Central Market.  It became more like a 1.30pm lunch – we felt bad, as poor Sophie and Amber were bored out of their trees by the time we got back.

Lunch was quick, the food was ‘just ok’, I don’t think it’d become a place we frequent regularly for lunch, but it wasn’t terrible.  It’s just handy to Emily’s work so makes for a convenient lunch spot.

Amber and I abandoned lunch early, as we had to head out a ways away, to visit Angel, my lovely hairdresser.  I needed a cut (not just a trim this time, I wanted a few inches off) and Amber, well, she decided she wanted a full chop, around 7 inches.

Me! Before pics are from December 🙂

Angel was great as always, she listens to what I want and doesn’t try to talk me out of things or give me unsolicited advice.  If she is dead against something, she’ll say as much, but other than that, she listens and gives me what I want.

Amber went drastic, though, apparently not drastic enough as I got a text when she got home to say that she thinks it’s still too long!

Amber - gone 'bob'

By the time we were finished, it was closing in on 7pm, we headed home to pick up Col from the house, ventured to Five Guys for dinner – this place sells immense burgers (single or double patties), they also sell DIVINE chips/fries.  I swear, they are scrumptious!

We hit up Hollister in the First Colony Mall, as Amber wanted to spend a little of her gift voucher, followed by the Cheesecake factory for dessert and coffee and home!

I love freshly cut hair!

No, we're not cousins! LOL!