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I made it thru!

I’ve been so disorganised lately that not only have I not been blogging, I’ve even neglected journalling. And there have been so many highs and lows over the last few months that I really need to get my thoughts organised.

I’m doing this now to put to words the utter elation and pride I feel in myself at the moment. I am so unbelievably chuffed that I need to hold on to this moment by writing it down for posterity.

I made it thru #hellandback last Saturday, June 14, 2014. A day for the history books. What’s that you say? And how did I get roped into something so hellish? It all starts with a man. (As these stories usually do). With my husband, in fact.


I’ve been nagging justin for years that he needs to get a hobby. Business consumes him, body and soul and I told him that if he doesn’t take an interest in anything besides work, he will a. Drop dead the second he retires or b. never retire. Now I’m not belittling my husbands work ethic cos if he doesn’t work, we won’t eat. But I wanted him to have something just for him. No one was more delighted than I when he started hill walking and mountaineering in the last couple of years. So,exhibit a- Justin- super fit and super active.

Anyone who knows me knows that my physical activity is confined to the bedroom, taking the occasional basket of laundry down the stairs and shovelling food into my mouth as fast as possible. So, exhibit b, me- lazy and totally unfit.

So last December, I made the mistake of telling Justin that I would do something with him next year. Just the two of us. Now, in all honestly, I thought my husband would cash in some sexual favours, but it seems I underestimated him.

We’re going to do hell&back, he says.

What’s that, I say?


From their website:

HELL & BACK is an off-road adventure event, featuring man-made obstacles and naturally occurring challenges over a variety of terrain, in the private Belmont Estate in Bray, Co. Wicklow.

HELL & BACK is not just a hill run / mountain run / assault course / road race / hill walk / adventure race, but a combination of the best parts of all these pursuits! The time it takes for you to complete the course is not important – making it thru’ the challenge in one piece is!!!”

So on one cold Decembers eve, he sat me down to show me what hell&back was. We watched the videos and I laughed. And l laughed and laughed some more. And I said, no way, no how.

And we would have left it at that, except he took out the big guns. Gabriella, he says, do you think mummy can do that? And she said no.

And by god, I was not going to be one of those people that their kids don’t believe in, it went against all my super mummy instincts. So I said, dammit, sign me up.

And my fate was sealed. All I had to do then was get off my ass.


I have no willpower, no one knows this better than me and the cupboard full of diet aids, powders, tablets and gadgets in our house. I signed up with a personal trainer, Brian, from DT fitness and it was the best (even though it sometimes felt like the worst) thing. I presented myself to him one dark winters morning at 7am. This was a feat in itself as I’ve been suffering from insomnia for years and this makes me furthest from a morning person ever! Brian didn’t outright laugh when I told him where I needed to be in 6 months. And he didn’t cut me any slack and he didn’t baby me. It was my responsibility. I had to do it for myself. And I figured, I may as well give it a go. There were plenty of mornings I was at the gym when I didn’t wake up until my 45 minutes were up!


We also started juicing daily. Bags of carrots, kale, spinach, you name it, we tried to drink it. I didn’t notice a huge health benefit with juicing until one day, 3 or 4 months down the line when I realised I hadn’t been sick once since we started. Even with the crappy weather and all the extra physical activity.

Slowly but surely, one week turned to 4. I was delighted with my progress and though I hadn’t lost weight, I did lose inches so it was a start for me.

And then Roy got sick, or more sick as it were. And the next few weeks were a blur of miles up and down the road to Dublin. We cried, we laughed, we reminisced and we grieved. And I can hand on heart say that training gave me focus.

My first outdoors run

I have to note that transitioning from running on a treadmill to on the road was really hard for me. I was doing 30 seconds walking, 1 minute running or more like 2 minutes gasping for breath, 30 seconds running. And then one day, someone posted a link to the Irish Times couch to 5km. I clicked on a video for week 3 and just like that, something made sense. She said, if you can’t run for long, slow down. That was it. And that day, I ran my first continuos 3km. So I was absolutely delighted. And from there, I built it up and up.

I even signed up to do a 5km charity run for darkness into light donegal. A charity for suicide awareness. My first public run as it were. At 4 in the morning, no less!




I now run every other day. The day I did my first 10km, I crowed and crowed about it. Me. 10km! What dimension is this? 10km when I’ve never run in my life before. It was such an amazing feeling to achieve something of that magnitude. And by accident too! We had been mapping out routes and Justin had convinced me that it was only 5-7km, I needed a long run so I thought to give it a go. 6km came and went and then a sign that said “donegal 4km”. I kept telling myself that I could get kathleen to collect me and I nearly made that call. But instead I focused on telling justin I did 10km and just how I would humblebrag about it on Facebook. So I kept going and I’m so glad I had it in me!

2014-05-25 09.22.42

In the midst of all this, we lost Roy. And the aftershocks of that loss are still deeply felt, 2 months down the line. I do believe that the training, the very solitude of running saved me. It helped me compartmentalise my grief and also use it to inspire me to keep going. I would like to believe that Roy would have believed in me.


I feel that it gave justin that same focus. He spoke to his dad about us doing hell&back, and hell and high water, I knew he was going to give it his best for his dad as well.

Last Monday, I did my final 10km before the big race and then I went to a sports therapist for a massage. I was at this stage still petrified about doing it. That little voice in my head kept telling me that it just wasn’t going to happen. In fact, very few people knew I was going to do it. I told Joanne I was scared stiff and she told me not to think like that. Faith and not fear. I put in the work, I had strong legs. She said focus on only one obstacle, the one I’m most afraid of and work on my strategy to overcome it. And so I told the voices to shush. Ten foot tessie was my nemesis. Was I afraid of submerging myself into a skip full of ice? Crawling through barbed wire and getting electric shocks? Did the thought of snipers alley make me freeze up where actual snipers shot actual pellets at you while you ran? Was I afraid I would lose a shoe in the swamp and wouldn’t be able to continue? Yes! Yes! Yes! But my biggest fear was that I would be too heavy for anyone to help get over a 10foot wall.



Up to the very last moment, when we started the warm up on the big day, I was still quieting my doubts. I couldn’t even talk about it. The energy though, was electrifying. It was such a party atmosphere. I was sure that the synergy alone would get me through it.

Justin and I always joked that it was every man for himself. And to be honest, I didn’t want to hold him back. I like to fail or succeed on my own terms. In fairness, I caught him looking back when we first set off to make sure I was ok and I waved him on. That first kilometer was tough. Virtually all uphill, as the next 4km were. I thought all those weeks i had been training were rubbish. If I were to do it again, I would teach myself to run up and down hills. Endlessly. With a bag of rocks on my back.

 photo chienhb_zps7733945b.gif
Thanks for the gif, manyone1!

And they put in a few psychological trips as well, the wrong signs so you think you did less than you had! It was torture. The obstacles themselves were piss easy, IF you compare it to the difficulty of that initial terrain. It was nearly a relief to get a break from climbing.

The camaraderie was infectious, there were several people doing it in teams or in couples. A few on their own like me who were determined to finish. No man left behind was one of their mottos. And I was so so grateful to all those people who helped me, either by helping me through an obstacle or by simply smiling and asking if I was okay.

I ran all the places I could, picked myself up each time I fell. Jumped head first into a freezing river, and sunk to my knees in the swamp.

I lost all sense of time, it was just a constant go, go, go. Where I should have felt relief when a Marshall said 1.5km to go, all I felt was trepidation that ten foot tessie was looming.

I can’t describe the feeling of coming out of the forest to hear justin and our friends cheering my name. I ran over for a drink and a bit of moral support before I faced the wall. And boy, that wall nearly broke me. I couldn’t even ask for help. All I kept thinking was that my fat ass would surely break these huge strapping men. Finally, one of them motioned over and said come on, we’ll get you over! There was no way I was going to make them do it more than once, so I gave my all to get over.

And the relief and bliss of landing on the other side was amazing. The tunnel of electric shocks was just a bit of craic after that.

And finally, finally, when I stood at the top of the slide at the finish line, the complete elation and pride that I had finished overwhelmed me. I saw the clock and I’d done the challenge in 3 hours, 5mins. Holy hell. I cried with joy all the way down.

Justin hasn’t stopped telling me how proud he is of me. Hell, I’m proud of me. But here I am, 3 days later. The muscles are still stiff and my body aches and I still have to quieten the voice in my head.


The one saying that it wasn’t that hard because after all, I was able to do it. It was all just hype and anyone could do it, because I managed didn’t i?

I’m telling that voice to shush, I did do it. I earned my number. I owned that course. Regardless of the time I did it in and no matter what, I made it thru.





Digging for treasure

I am equally delighted and dismayed by yesterday’s unintentional discovery.

I had a rare half a day off yesterday. Had an awesome shoot in the morning followed by what was meant to be mommy and gia day. Then we got a letter in the post to advise of Max’s last developmental health check with the PHN for that very same afternoon! (Eeek! Where did the time go? But that’s a story for another day) So I got to hang out with my kids anyway.

Their cousins are over from England so we headed out to see if they were home to say hello but they weren’t there so we headed for the beach.

After a showery afternoon, it was a gorgeous evening. Warm and sunny with a cool breeze. It was low tide, the beach felt eerily deserted after the weeks of local crowds descending on it with the good weather. I had emptied the beach gear out of the car just that morning to put in my photo props so we didn’t have a single bucket or spade.


But we weren’t stopping long, just a quick walk before we headed back to see if the cousins were home.


We foraged for unusual shells to make a beach collage which kept them occupied for a bit.


Then Gia headed off on her adventure while max was extremely whiney about the green sand. The tide was so far out and the sand had mossy pockets which he thoroughly disapproved of! He kept demanding I pick him up and walked on his tippy toes the whole time cos he didn’t like the dirty sand. He was driving us bananas so we headed back and I noticed a man with a bucket and I was instantly intrigued. What is he doing? What is he collecting? Can I eat it?

I crept closer and started to eavesdrop when I spied a bucket full of seaweed. He told the lady who stopped to chat to him that we was collecting it for his wife for a foot bath, there was chat about healing properties but I half tuned out and max was still whining, until he bent down, plucked something out of the sand and then ate it.

Oooh!! This was more like it. I asked him what he was eating and he said cockles! As if I should have known. Then he bent over again, found another one, opened it up and offered it to me.

And now you’re probably thinking, wtf? I read all this for cockles?

But I seriously cannot explain how amazing this was to me. He may as well have offered me ambrosia. This little raw morsel of bivalve was like gold. It was briny, like the sea. It was sweet and fresh and it evoked memories of my childhood and my dad. I wish I was as eloquent as Anthony Bourdain when he recounted his experience of the first time he ate an oyster. It was that kind of revelation. Joy, closely followed by utter dismay that I’d been coming to this beach for the last 13 years and was unaware of the treasure that lay just beneath my feet.



Sure, I’ve eaten cockles before, but they came out of a jar. This was digging your fingers into the sand to comb through it to grasp these little molluscs to eat. Raw, on the beach, with the smell of sand and sunshine around you.

It brought me back to summers with my dad when he would bring home bushels of “butil” (a smaller, similar clam like food- I don’t know it’s real name) from cavite and we would sit outside eating it, just the two of because nobody else could be bothered cos it was so tiny and tedious. In fairness, most shellfish have very little ROI when you factor in how hard it is to pick it out of their shells, etc. But it was like “our” thing.

I promptly abandoned my kids on the shore while I had a forage for myself. He taught me how to open them, like turning a key. And my excitement must have been evident cos his wife made her way down to us to see what all the commotion was about. I was that thrilled that both my kids were enticed to try it. My kids! Gabriella with her clean fetish ate something that came out of the ground without disinfecting it to within an inch of its life.

My new friend told me not to tell all and sundry where it was lest the hordes descend on our wee beach but any local will know exactly where this is. I wish someone had shared it with me years ago!

I could wax eloquent for pages yet but this was truly a memorable day 🙂

So much so that I went back today, sans children, with a bucket and spade to dig out my dinner.

The beach was blessedly deserted, I didn’t fancy scaring anyone away with my enthusiasm if they made the mistake of asking me what I was doing.

I had a million things on my to do list today, but the hour I took for myself to dig around in the sand was nothing short of therapeutic. Plus, I got dinner to boot 🙂


Again, the return on investment isn’t that great, but it made it all the sweeter. This is how cavemen must have felt. I get food. I feed family.

But, in this case, I kind of forgot to share 🙂




I googled loads of recipes to try but in the end, I ate them standing up over the counter, fresh out of the steamer, no condiments, juice running down my arms. Heaven in a bowl.

Summer time

Three weeks into the summer already!

My baby girl is 7! Seven! How can I have a child who is 7 years old? I am in awe everyday that I have 2 amazing, sometimes annoying, happy loving children.


I was reading back on a post I made in March and four months later, the insomnia is still there, the house is an even bigger shambles and yet we are still doing the best we can. Making happy memories amidst the chaos of everyday life.

And even though I could cry with frustration sometimes, I wouldn’t change it for the world. (Not all of it anyway. I am still waiting for the magic fairy to clean the house and unblock the negative energy that the clutter has created. We need some good feng shui joo joo going on)


So I need to make a never ending list to sort all out. Back in a sec (or a few weeks) 🙂

Good morning, world!

Guess who got 12 hours of sleep last night? 😉 My off switch finally kicked in. I know you can never catch up with your sleep but gosh, I feel like a new person.

So back to the summer highlights. Where do I start?

Gabriella’s birthday was definitely one of them!

This is a letter I wrote her for her birthday.

You are six! I am so proud of the girl you are. Loving, sensitive, imaginative, patient with your little brother (most times), independent, giving and affectionate. You are all those and more.

Five was a bumper year. You started and finished your first year of big school. You had a great year bar a few hiccups which we are working on. You got the chicken pox! You lost your first tooth which made me cry because you were so excited and that more than anything really brought it home to me how fast you are growing.

We went home to the Philippines last Christmas and though we go home every year, you appreciated it a lot more then. You enjoyed your cousins and aunt and uncles and spending time with lolo and lola. You made a lot of memories with special people and it will always stand to you.

Six is going to be even more spectacular. I remember a lot about being six and when you’re older, I hope your memories of it are as idyllic and wonderful.

We have a big party coming up for you! We are so excited, we’ve tried to put in all the things you asked for and it was so much fun planning it with you.

Your first birthday was in papa and gigi’s house. It was really an adult party as most first birthdays go but you had a small group of friends there and it’s fantastic that you are still connected with most of them.

Your second birthday was in Donegal castle. We invited a few friends from crèche and other friends. As far as parties went, it was easy peasy. The farmers market was on in the castle, I made a few crowns for you and your friends. Brought some sandwiches and got the rest of the party food from the market. I made tokens for parents so they could get coffee and you had a great time running around.


In fact it went so well, we did the same for your third party. We did the same for the food. Lola sent some really awesome princess gift bags. And a real princess came! She wore a lovely green gown with a pointy hat and played bubbles with all of the kids. Kathleen at the fluffy meringue said that you were good luck cos the sun always shone on your birthday.





Your fourth birthday was at home. We had finished renovating the house and it was still tidy enough to have people over. The thought of having to clean the house before and after the party is enough to give me hives! I made you a peppa pig cake and pink panther came to serve it to you!!! Lola was there and she cut your hair for the very FIRST time since you were born and you looked so grown up with your short hair. There was a small bouncy castle that auntie jess gave you for Christmas and a pink piñata. I also spent days making food for the adults and I remember thinking I’m not doing that again!





For your fifth birthday, you wanted a pirate princess party. We decided to have it in the farm (so i wouldn’t have to clean) and I wished so much for a dry day because everything was going to be outside. We made a big obstacle course in the lawn using different toys and I made up clues for a treasure hunt. Everyone had to guess the clues and do the obstacle to get the treasure to add to their loot bags. ( in case you haven’t noticed, we are all about the fun loot bags! ) There was a pirate’s walk the plank using some boards and bricks that daddy lent us. A slide with telescopes as a treasure- I spent weeks collecting toilet rolls and wrapping them in foil. There was two trampolines and a ball pool with different toys and treats which led us to the biggest treasure- the piñata! But then a scary pirate came and tried to steal everyone’s treasure! He was a very silly pirate, complete with an eye patch but with a robin instead of a parrot. You had a chocolate pirate ship cake that I made- and it looked like a pirate cake, with a lot of imagination and the cool cake toppers tita kitkat sent.




So now you are six. I have been planning your birthday since May! My birthday is during the Christmas holidays so my classmates never sang me happy birthday at school and I always missed that. Your birthday is during the summer holidays and you’ll miss out in it too. I don’t know everyone in your class so we sent “Save the date” cards on the last week of school. A bit OTT and obsessive of me, but how else was I supposed to invite your class mates?

Initially, the birthday plan was a visit to Amococo in letterkenny then an afternoon in lurgybrack farm. But it wasn’t fair to expect parents to take your friends there and it was too expensive to hire a bus. Plus the thought of running after a dozen children in a maze of light sounded like the beginnings of a break down. Instead, we had a girlie day out with Julie and Lauren and it was great to just spend the time together without running around after max or listening to the two of you whine in the car. 🙂



I didn’t know that the markets would be on in the castle the weekend after your birthday, otherwise we would have had another go around there. We wanted to do something special. We’ve been working so hard over the last few months and wanted you to have a special party. The inside of the house hasn’t seen a mop in weeks and again the thought of cleaning was giving me nightmares. A bouncy castle at the farm was a thought but with no facilities out there and the chance of wet day, that went out the window too. You said everyone went to bumblebees and wanted something different, so different is what we’re getting.

On Sunday, we are having a princess tea party at Solis Lough Eske castle. You love it out there, you love getting a chance to dress up (not that you ever need an excuse) and their Sunday kids club and that is your special treat.
I am all about the details. Even though there is no cooking or cleaning involved with the party (bonus!), we’ve been busy with all the little details and surprises. Lola sent an amazing box which arrived on your birthday, full of goodies for the giveaways. I’ve been making bunting and organising decorations and sorting out the treasure hunt. Why hands kids a goodie bag on their way out when you can make them work for it? 🙂 I am hoping (that’s the operative word) to produce a castle cake fit for a princess and make you an awesome piñata (as awesome as the mickey mouse piñata I made max for his birthday with his matching mickey mouse cake).

You wanted a beauty station and yes, I know you are six but its the summer holidays and we are looking at it in terms of imaginative play, that’s what dress up is all about! So we have a nail bar, a hair salon complete with glitter gel (that I made) and face painting, the child’s equivalent of make up. And though I may paint your face (or tattoos on your arms), you are far too young for lipstick! Then we have a make your own magic wand for the princess (and prince or in max’s case, fireman) parade!

Fun so far? You know, babe, not to disparage the indoor play ground or the bouncy castle parties, but my idea of a birthday party is making it fun for you AND joining in your fun. Because it won’t be long when you’ll want one just with your friends and I have to send you off with my (daddy’s) credit card and a wave.

So I hope that your party is all you ever dreamed and that you and your friends have a ball! I can’t wait to see your face when we get there. It will make all the hard work ( and all the snide comments from people that should mind their own business ) worth it.
I love you, baby girl.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six
now and forever.
-AA Milne









This is the 3rd or 4th day that the temp has been in the mid-high 20s. In Donegal, that is considered a heat wave! 🙂


It also means my freckles are multiplying. Yes, I am asian and yes, they are definitely freckles (not age spots, you cheeky bastard!) My mom is a a lot fairer than me and she’s freckly all over. Gabriella is too and I don’t think she got it from her daddy.

I didn’t forget my photo a day, I just didn’t take it with my phone so I must remember to upload it.

We had a great day yesterday. We started off with a breakfast tea party outside then headed off to a birthday party for one of gabriella’s school friends. It was a scorcher of a day and the kids were melting! Me too, actually.

We checked out the festival in town as well but the kids were so tired by then.


We missed the face painting so I promised them I’d do it at home. Gabriella wanted her arms “tattooed”.


She wanted a fruit arm and a vegetable arm. And she wanted to know did she really have to wait til she’s 18 to get a real one.


Hmm, methinks I’m going to have reconsider my standard answer of “when you’re 18”.

On another note, I was changing Max’s dirty nappy at the party yesterday and a little girl burst in cos she really needed the loo. I told her I was nearly finished but she could go if she didn’t mind I was still changing max. I had my back to her and max was standing in the corner when she said, “what’s that?”. I thought she meant the poopy wipes so I said, “it’s poop!”. She said, “that’s not poop! The long thing. My daddy has one but it’s bigger.” She saved me from having to respond by walking happily away.

Now the thing is, we have an open door policy in our house. My mom taught me to be comfortable in my own skin and would think nothing of getting changed in front of us. I don’t understand families who are so uncomfortable with seeing each other partially dressed or are appalled when someone farts. Like seriously, I’m not talking about a lack of privacy or walking around naked all day or letting loose all manner of bodily function. There’s modesty and there’s exhibitionism, I’m talking the line in between.

Anyway, what I’m wondering is, at what age do I say, right, can’t walk in on daddy having a shower or get out so I can change? It’s difficult because on one hand I teach them about private parts and good touch and bad touch, but I also want to instil a confidence in them, to be happy in their own skin and have that openness in our relationship that they can come to us because there are no closed doors? I don’t know if that makes sense. It’s a minefield!


25. Unusual


It is hotter in Donegal than in Malaga, Spain today. If that is not unusual, I don’t know what is. I will be in Ireland for 12 years on the 11th of July and I’ve only gotten a tan here once. And that was the year tens of thousands died all across Europe from heat stroke and forest fires. Seriously.

As the Irish are fond of saying, long may it last! (the good weather, not the dying part)


21. Where you stand

I have two photos today.


The first is simply where I stand.

Today is the first day there is any real hope for a bit of summer sunshine. The fact that I’m not wearing my wooly boots is a call for celebration. 🙂


The second is taking a stand. We make choices all the time, the line in the sand isn’t always clear and sometimes there is more than one line. I like the concept of the photo, if not the execution. Love/hate is very black and white. There is also indifference, apathy, dislike, like and the other shades of grey goes on. I could have chosen any two words or issues, yes and no would have covered a whole gamut of things as well. But of course I was impatient to get it done with very limited materials.

So for the moment, this is where I stand.