A new sense of normal… but everything has changed.

It’s been two months. Time seems to have stood still. Some days have felt like a year and yet I can’t believe that it’s been two months since Maria devastated the island.

Progress has been made for the lucky ones. We had power restored last week and it has been the biggest blessing that I could hope for so close to the end of my pregnancy. It is sporadic and it does come and go but the generator is now our back up rather than the main source. We are in the lucky 25% of the island that have both power and water. If you go five minutes from my house you will encounter those that do not after such a long period.

So, we stayed. We have been on a rollercoaster. I could complain all day about the every day inconveniences – the long lines, the lack of fresh food, the terrible phone and internet service etc but no one wants to hear about that. They really are first world problems in comparison to what the rest of the island is feeling.

We have been helping where we can. A couple of weeks ago we decided to go out into the community and distribute what we could. We hired a chef who cooked Paella so we could give people a hot meal, we packed up donations of clothing, hygiene products, toys, bags of food, water and hired a nurse for the day so that we could provide medical assistance where needed. We had a supply of battery fans and solar lights for the sick and elderly and those with small kids. We went to a small town called Toa Baja just five minutes from Dorado.

What we saw was complete devastation. Debris had not been picked up, no running water in the town – they had had 10 feet of water flow through it the day of the hurricane. The people who came were grateful for the support that we were providing but it didn’t feel enough. Too little too late for most.

 

We visited some houses in the area that the people couldn’t come to the event to deliver supplies and I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. I know this is as a result of poverty rather than just Maria but where do you start to help? The people in these homes had nothing to start with and now they’ve lost the little that they had.

We continued our work over the past two weeks by trying to support a smaller number of families who had direct needs. One family of four here in Dorado that lost everything – we went and secured tarps to their house to help with the flooding when it rains, brought them food, hygiene supplies and clean bedlinen as well as fans, solar lights, chargers and other essentials. An 84 year old woman in Toa Baja living alone. She was the sweetest woman I’ve ever met. Kissing my baby bump and asking me to return so she could meet the baby. Her house isn’t safe for her to remain in but she won’t leave. We couldn’t go on the roof to help because it was not secure enough to hold anyone. I’m afraid that it will collapse on her. Don’t get me wrong, her house is not just in this condition because of Maria – this is extreme poverty and neglect. But it doesn’t seem enough to just leave her some essentials and check in every once in a while. What if that was your mother? It’s inhumane. And yet she was happy. I left her house feeling angry with the world that at this point in her life she has to struggle for every meal and has to live in such conditions. We have contacted a group to see if we can perhaps build something safer for her to live in on the property if she won’t leave.

I don’t know where we go from here. Baby is due in three weeks and I know that’s where my concentrations should be lying but I’m distracted by what I see around me. It’s been life altering here and seeing the extremes. We will continue to help where we can and hopefully can make difference to those that need help and support.

The Selfish Expat

Last week was St. Patricks Day and it got me slightly nostalgic for the ole Irish sod. We have a small but great Irish community here and in many ways we take more celebration in St. Patricks Day than we would at home because we are away and want to mark the day anyway.

It got me thinking about expat life in general and how we are so removed from Ireland and the goings on. Sure, I watch the Irish news and keep up to date with current affairs but on a day to day level we are away from family and friends and not living in the same world. It may be only temporary but how do you integrate back into that when it’s time to go home?

It’s not the same with family when you’re abroad. You can’t celebrate their good news, hold them when things are going wrong and support them when they need it. Most of the time you’re watching a clock as you’re in a different time zone and it’s about trying to get time to make the call.

So does this make us expats selfish? Are we not there for our families and friends in the way that we should be because we want adventure and the chance to be abroad? Is enhancing our lives and experiences at the detriment of being close to our families and being able to support them? Will our long term friendships with those in Ireland suffer in the long run simply because we struggle to stay in contact?

I’m trying my best to plan our trip to Ireland this summer to allow catch ups with all the family and friends that we need to see but it’s difficult in such a short space of time. I feel obliged to spend as much time as I can with family and feel guilty for being away to see friends.

Do all expats feel selfish at some point for not being at home?

Flying with kids

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 12.13.08

I partly feel like I’ve no right to write on this topic because we only have one child. I see lots of people flying with 2/3 kids on a regular basis and I take my hat off to them. Flying with one is hard. Flying with three kids under 5 is like undertaking a special mission.

Flying as an expat is different to flying on your annual holiday. In most cases you will be flying multiple times a year depending on what family events you need to trek home for. It’s also common, not always, for expats to fly in business class when it’s available as one of the perks. This brings its own challenges. Trust me! Business class is lovely for the extra space and the opportunity to lie down on a long flight.. But what if you’re travelling with a teething 8 month old that refuses to sleep and is crying and you’re worried that it’s upsetting the other passengers who have paid an extortionate fee for some extra comfort on their flight?

We have been on over 20 flights with Michael in the two and a half years that he’s been in this world and this is my advice to anyone that has to fly regularly with kids.

  1. Be prepared. If your child is too small to be distracted by the tv screens than you’re going to need lots of things to entertain them. My top tips are snacks, colouring books, a magna doodle or etchasketch, sticker books, iPad with their favourite cartoons downloaded and some small compact toys. Make sure they’re all new and not something that they’ve seen before. This will really help distract them when you need it most. Prepare them by telling them about the journey in advance. Talk about it excitedly, about the plane, what to expect and where you’re going. Make it an adventure!
  2. Bring back up batteries. You’ll need them for charging your phone and entertainment devices. Trust me!
  3. Carry pain relief. Altitude does funny things to smallies and it’s always good to have pack up. Often their ears will pop, throats will be dry and can even have a fit of vomiting or diarrhoea so it’s good to have the essentials to hand when you need them.
  4. In your hand luggage have at least one change of clothes for yourself and two for them. See point two.. You’ll need them!
  5. Layovers are a pain. Often we can be in JFK for 4/5 hours waiting for our second flight. This is when you want to tire them out. Bring one of those backpacks with straps and reigns and let them run around. Take turns if there is two adults travelling. If you have access to a lounge take them there and take advantage of it. If not, then lots of airports have kids areas that you can avail of. Now is when you want them to burn up their energy so that hopefully they will sleep on the next flight!
  6. If you can book a seat for them. I know under 2 they can sit on your knee but if you’re on multiple long flights then they’re not going to be comfortable sleeping on you and you will also be exhausted. I found with Michael that if he fell asleep he would wake after 45 mins if I was holding him.
  7. I don’t take a stroller. They can be awkward to collapse and then you have to wait for them on the other side. Instead I got a wheel attachment that attached to his car seat and then he sits in his car seat on the plane. It makes life so much easier. I ordered it from amazon but it’s by a company called go go babyz. You can see it here 
  8. I’ve travelled a few times on my own with Michael and it can be hard to handle the hand luggage, the car seat, settling him and yourself, trying to use the bathroom and everything else on your own. I’ve been so lucky with other people offering to help and these usually aren’t the airport or airline staff. Some airlines have flight nannies or can offer extra assistance so it may be worth checking out if travelling alone.
  9. Call the airline before you fly to check requirements around flying with a child. What food and drink items you can take through security, can you bring your car seat on board (Delta now don’t allow this and don’t provide any safety harness for this child when sitting on your knee!!!!), is there priority boarding for kids? All these things will help with your journey if you know what to expect.
  10. Have a plan for when you get to the other side. If you’ve flown multiple flights, are now in a different time zone and have been travelling for over 24 hours you’re going to be tired. Have someone pick you up so you’re not relying on public transport to get to home. You’ll be so glad of a friendly face.
  11. Expect the unexpected. Flights get delayed. Changes happen. If you’re prepared for them then you can cope with unexpected travel changes. I have been delayed for 10 hours in total during one journey home alone with Michael. It’s tough but this is where the back up of toys, iPads, colours etc come in. Wine for you if you need it too!

And most of all…. RELAX! I repeat to myself constantly when travelling that this will pass. It’s just one day. One long day that you have to get through and you’ll get through it. It’s always worth it to see family on the other side!

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 12.17.11

 

Keeping busy

March is going to be a pretty busy month for us. I’m helping to organise a fundraiser for the orphanage here that I’ve gotten involved with and as it’s in early May we need to get a lot of the ground work for that done in the next couple of weeks.

I’m also busy trying to find time to get some study done and updating my design and web skills. Michael has pretty much been sick for a month now with one thing and another and to be honest no one is getting much sleep so I’m walking around in a haze.

St. Patricks Day will be here before we know it and party planning is in full swing – including a current search for a reggae band that will play some Irish tunes. I think we have approx 80 people coming so it should be a big one!

We are going to Vieques in May. We have booked accommodation at a private house on the grounds of the W hotel and I can’t wait. What I’m a little concerned about it actually getting there? Should we drive down and try and book boat tickets soon and take our cars? Or fly there and rent a car on the other side. There’s six of us so it may even be two cars that we need. Is there a grocery store etc there? After Culebra ideally I would like to bring our own cars and groceries from this side as choice was limited on the island.

Does anyone have any experience? Any suggestions for what to do on the island ?

 

Sweat Fridays… or is that everyday?

So this is a pretty personal one for me so be nice…. Anyone who follows me on twitter or instagram will see that I often post updates about food and fitness.

I exercise a lot. A typical week sees me workout with a trainer three times week. Sessions are broken down into one leg training day using gym machines and resistance training, one upper body day doing a mix of weights circuits and tabatha training and one high intensity circuit training day that trains all body and almost kills me. My trainer usually keep this for a Friday and we joke about #sweatfridays!

On top of that I run three times a week for cardio. Usually one long run, one mixed tempo run and one interval run. I usually do a quick ten minute ab routine myself at home 3/4 times a week.

Let me tell you that exercise does not come easily to me. I’m not coordinated and I have a whole back catalog of horrible childhood memories of not being good enough on the sports  field and being last to be picked for any teams. I always tried to get out of doing PE because of it. Teenagers are mean. I wasn’t fast, was a little over weight and got no encouragement from teachers. Irish schools can be a pretty isolating experience.

In college I gained a lot of weight. Nights out, bad food choices and sugary alcoholic drinks meant that by the time I was graduating I tipped the scales at over 16 stone. I lost 2 stone of that through diet and when I started my job in 2010 I was weighing over 14 stone and a size 16. I was driving a lot and decided that once and for all I was going to change and lose it all. I wanted to be the best version of myself. Juliet Murphy was the woman who literally changed everything for me. She was based in Ballincollig, Co. Cork and took me on as a personal training client. Along with a high protein diet the weight shifted. She trained me three times a week and the sessions were so tough. But the lbs came off. On average I lost 5-7 lbs a month and then I started to tone and build muscle. When I got married in 2012 I was a size 12 and 12 stone. I had lost 4 and a half stone and I felt great. I was strong, lifting heavy weights, had a lot more energy and I felt good in my clothes. Confident in a bikini. I still felt that I had a bit of my journey to go but now I knew how to get there.

This was me at my heaviest in college and then in 2013 just before I got pregnant.

 

In 2014 Michael was born. I was very sick during the pregnancy and was recommended to give up exercise. I was on crutches with severe SPD for the last three months of the pregnancy. My mother was dying and I was comfort eating. I gained 4 stone by the end of the pregnancy.

When he was 12 weeks old I was ready to begin exercising again and started working out at home and making better food choices. But the weight never fell off. I lost probably a stone of that weight in the first year after he was born and then it just stopped. After we moved to Puerto Rico I joined the gym, got a trainer and then started back running. Sure I got fitter. Sure I’m more toned and stronger. But the weight isn’t coming off. I’m not getting back into pre pregnancy clothes and now I’m at a loss at what to do.

I physically can’t work out anymore than I do. My food choices are really good. In Ireland last summer I went to a GP and asked for bloods to check my thyroid levels. Everything came back normal. I went to the gynaecologist here in Puerto Rico and asked her to check my hormones seeing as how I have PCOS and endometriosis. She did an insane amount of blood tests and said everything was fine but that I would possibly benefit from a testosterone implant. I went for it. $400 later and it didn’t make a difference.

I went to a nutritionist and they suggested a keto diet where I would eat more healthy fat than protein and I stuck to it 100%. After initial results it was stagnant after a couple of weeks and didn’t work for me. I continued to workout, eat well, cut out alcohol, sugar, carbs.. everything! I’ve tried everything. Nothing was working

I’m currently doing the F4L programme. I can’t recommend this enough. This is an online programme based in Ireland. I have to say it is fantastic. The support is next to none. It involves four workouts per week and a food plan and recipes which is high protein but allows for carbs if earned through working out and has some excellent advice on muscle recovery after working out etc. I’m not doing the workouts (I have done them in the past), as training here is now part of my daily routine but I know that the nutrition part of this programme is excellent and that’s what I’m following. It also includes a private Facebook group for support where you will find the nicest, most inspirational supportive ladies around. I’ve seen the results that they’ve achieved I can see that this programme works. That’s why I’m sticking around even though my results aren’t what they should be. I know that it isn’t the programme. I know how hard I work at it. I also know enough about nutrition and food to know that this programme should be working for me.

So that’s why I’m now going a step further. I’m going to do the alternative route. I’m meeting with a homeopathic doctor this coming Tuesday and I’m going to have some food allergy testing done. I’m going to compliment whatever they suggest to cut out with acupuncture. I am not giving up. I will get back to my goal. I will get my confidence back. And I will get back into my pre pregnancy jeans. I’m going to stick with my plans and not give up on this as hard as it is to keep trucking on with only minor success. I will get there. 8lbs loss over two years has resulted in the difference between these two pics below. A lot of sweat and hard work has gone on in between.

I’m going to stop feeling like my body has let me down because it’s not responding right now. I’ve had a child. I’ve given birth and it has been through a traumatic experience. Its done amazing things.

I’m also going to stop being judgemental of other people and their journeys. Smug me thought that if you move more and eat less then you’ll lose weight. I’ve felt so bad about myself because now that hasnt worked for me. I need to look at plan E and see what will work for me.

I really hope that in couple of months time I will back here to tell you all that between the advice and support from F4L and the elimination of food allergies that I’m seeing results. I don’t care how small they are. I don’t care if it’s not the scales that moves but inches. I won’t stop until I’m there.

img_8593

Expat Life & Pediatric Healthcare

When we decided to take this expat assignment Michael was still  a baby. He was only 5 months old when we first started discussing a potential move. We really weren’t thinking about what it would be like to have a child abroad as we thought we would be home in two years and that he would be back in Ireland before we would have to think about education, pre school or starting activities.

The reality is that we are enjoying this experience immensely and have committed to Puerto Rico for at least one more year and after that who knows…

He has gone from a chubby cheeky baby to a toddler in the blink of an eye and is now constantly putting on his shoes looking to go outside or to a friends house. He’s bored of Mammy and being stuck in the house. So we looked at our options and decided that Tasis, the international school here in Dorado was the best option for him when he turns three. So he will start Pre Pre K there this august. I’m sure I’ll discuss that in further detail in future posts but for now I would like to focus on healthcare while abroad with kids.

I thought moving here that once we could keep up with his vaccinations and that he had a good pediatrician locally then we were ticking all the boxes. Please keep in mind that as a first time mother I also didn’t know at that point about how much you worry about all the sniffles and coughs and fevers and how much at times I would wish that we had access to a Care Doc system that exists in Ireland. The Irish health care system leaves a lot to be desired at times but it does allow accessible health care to the majority and the Drugs Payment Scheme means that medication is available in lots of cases at a reasonable cost.

Last summer I travelled alone to Ireland with Michael as Rob was tied up here with work. We were home about a week when I went to Galway to visit Rob’s family. On the first morning there I woke up and went to dress him and discovered a rash over his legs. I immediately thought chicken pox but after consulting with a couple of people I was told that they should start on his torso. So I made an appointment with the local GP and I expected to be told that he perhaps had hand, foot and mouth or chicken pox. At this point his hands, knees and ankles were swollen and retaining fluid. The GP advised us after the consultation to go to the A&E dept of UCHG. We were admitted and after stumping a few doctors and some blood work Michael was diagnosed with HSP – an autoimmune condition. He hadn’t been eating well for a couple of weeks and this condition can be brought on by prolonged respiratory infections and he had a mild cough for about a week before we travelled.

This was a bit of a scary situation – mainly because I was away from my husband and it took a while for a diagnosis while doctors are discussing a lumpapuncture, meningitis and liver function but also because I didn’t know the facts about my health insurance. I no longer had VHI and instead had Cigna, international health insurance. The hospital didn’t know if we should be in a private room or if treatment was covered and neither did I. I was charged a larger fee for being admitted through A&E because I wasn’t an Irish resident. It was just more stress on top of being stressed.

It all worked out and we were covered and Cigna paid the hospital bill directly but I was angry at myself for not knowing the facts prior to being admitted. I should have known who to talk to and have the information and paperwork to back it up when on an international trip.

Since then Michael has been prone to colds, fevers and recently a viral infection. If you’re an expat and have kids abroad then you will know how difficult this is. Not only do you not have family close as a sounding board for when to take action but because I don’t speak spanish I have been petrified about having to attend a Puerto Rican hospital.

I have discovered a fantastic service. Michael’s pediatric doctor takes home care appointments and will come to the house for his check ups and yesterday came to check out a persistent rash that he has had due to this viral infection. He had a tech from a local laboratory come to the house afterwards and take a CBC and urine tests. It’s such reassurance as they spoke english and were able to explain everything while I got to keep Michael at home and distract him with his own comforts while being examined and having the bloods taken.

It takes a while to get settled in another country and learn that these services exist. My advice to any expat, particularly with kids, is to have all the documents regarding your health insurance that you need kept together. Be able to show it to a hospital either in your host country or when visiting home should you need to. Alleviate the stress should you end up in a situation where you need to avail of hospital services.

Ask questions… to other moms, doctors, forums, anyone who has lived in your new location and has had to avail of services. Keep all of the information together and don’t have to go and ask the questions when it’s an emergency situation and you’re already stressed. Know your way to the hospital, be able to drive yourself there. Do your research. Michael’s pediatrician is also based here in a hospital and that will be our first point of call should he need hospital care here. All of this was information that I got from other mom’s. You can learn so much from others who have undertaken a similar assignment when you just ask the questions and listen to the answers.

 

 

 

Lazy Sundays

 

We are really bad at getting out of the house -even for just a couple of hours to explore. Weekends are spent at swimming lessons, catching up on laundry, sleep, cleaning and usually going out with friends.

Michael had been sick and house bound last weekend so after a touch of cabin fever we decided on a whim to visit condado yesterday. I’ve been there a couple of times before for lunch at the Vanderbilt and dinner one Saturday night.

I’m so glad that we went. It was beautiful. It’s a touristy area and so be prepared for lots of people from all walks of life. We had ice cream in Ben & Jerrys (smoothie for me) and walked along the sand. It was crowded with lots of people drinking and enjoying the sunshine so not that child friendly if there for a long period of time but still beautiful. If we didn’t have Michael with us then we would have been reaching for the sangria and a lounger… life has definitely changed but it was a lovely walk along a fabulous beach front with a view that I take for granted!

Making a plan..

A few months back I wrote about my personal experience as the trailing spouse and how it has left me feeling deflated about a return to work. I’ve lost confidence in my ability to be more than the care giver.. minding our son and ensuring that there’s shirts ironed and food in the fridge. You can see the original blogpost here….

For my own sanity I need to start getting back in the game and I’m putting on my big girl pants. I’m so afraid of putting myself out there to work again that I need to build up that confidence again. So I’ve started to make a plan…

First of all I’m starting a diploma in Digital Marketing. It will include social media marketing and SEO. I know most of this already but the refresher will do me the world of good. The changes in two years since I was in full time employment have been drastic too so I’m sure there’s something to be gained from this. It’s all distance online learning so it gives me the opportunity to work it around my schedule and Michael and still have time for the activities that we do here and my never ending battle in the gym to some day regain my pre mammy body!

Next on my list are online advanced courses in web and graphic design.. Again skills that I’ve used before but need a little updating. I’m hoping if I have time then before the summer that I may undertake something in photography and/or video editing.

Then when all this is done it will be time to put myself out there again and start using these skills. The plan will be to work from home and freelance but hopefully on long and short term projects. Essentially I would also like to produce a marketing toolkit – a how to guide with basic instructions and guidelines for small businesses. I don’t believe in social media experts and I see people being ripped off constantly so essentially I would like to make this guide available for training purposes and show people how they can do it themselves.

Lastly, I’ve always been passionate about volunteering and charity. I’m meeting with a volunteer from a local orphanage this week to discuss how I can get involved. I’ve committed to run a small fundraiser for them in the coming months as well as some other things in the pipeline. We already support a child in Uganda so I really want to be involved hands on as well as financially.

As scary as this is I need it for my sanity. I need to gain my personal and financial independence. I need to be more than the trailing spouse and I hope by the end of 2017 I will be a long way to doing this. And who said living in the sun was all about cocktails on the beach? Trust me… they’re nice too but I need to be more than just that!

Weekend escape to Paradise

This post has taken me forever to write so I’m hoping I haven’t forgotten loads already but in December, myself and the hubby and a couple of our friends here took a weekend to visit the Puerto Rican island of Culebra to celebrate Rob’s 30th birthday. He’s in the oldie group now!

It’s pretty close to the mainland but not easily accessible. There’s a ferry that runs daily from Fajardo but I’ve read so much about it being unreliable and not worth the hassle that we decided to fly. This was actually a great option. We flew with Vieques Air Link from Isla Grande which was so convenient. It was a small 8 passenger plane and scared the life out of me as a nervous flyer but it was an experience and fun too. It cost about $150 pp return and was so stress free. Except when instead of weighing our bags they weighed us individually at check in… If I had known that was happening I would have been dieting a bit more before hand!

15439780_10154421596859219_7489898257769067354_n

We rent a house called Villa Pelicano and to be honest I don’t have much good to say about it. It was over priced and just about adequate. The owner gave me a lot of grief for leaving a neutral review on trip advisor and made up random facts that never happened… for example when booking it he upped the price from the original quote and said it was due to demand. I said in my review that there was no one else staying at the villa so it couldn’t have been based on demand. He responded to the review stating that my husband had called him and upgraded us to a different apartment which is untrue! Anyway, if you come across this place maybe avoid for your own sanity. There are lots of nice accommodation options that are within walking distance to beach or the town and this villa isn’t in walking distance of anything. Think it was approximately $1,100 for two nights so much cheaper options available too.

15380722_10154421597479219_1931456319237534784_n

We rented a jeep for two days from Carlos’ Jeep Rental. Really convenient as they’re based in the airport. It’s mainly Jeep Wranglers available which is kind of cool to experience driving but if your accomodation is in the town then a golf buggy is also a good rental option to get around. The rental was $250 for two days.

15380294_10154421596929219_5016304198759362312_n

The morning we arrived we visited the highly popular Flamenco Beach. Here you will find lots of huts at the entrance with food and drink options. They only allow plastic glasses on the beach which is great and all in all it was really clean and sufficiently cared for. Lots of people swimming, enjoying themsleves and taking in the sun. It is consistently rated one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and I can see why.

We did some grocery shopping for supplies for the house and there is a really small store in the town and one at a petrol station just outside. Not a huge selection and priced the same as the mainland so if travelling by car on the Ferry I would recommend taking your supplies with you.

That night we dined in Zaco’s Tacos which was really nice. We then went to Dingy Dock for drinks and it was so cool seeing people arrive in their boats and dock up against the bar and go in for a drink. It’s a really small island so everything is pretty accessible.

The next morning we decided to visit Playa Brava. Slightly off the beaten track I would most definitely recommend this beach. It’s about a 20 minute hike through the woods but it’s worth it. There was a total of three other people on the beach when we arrived and they left soon afterwards so we had the entire place to ourselves. The waves were bigger here and the boys were keen to surf if equipment could have been rented on the island but it was very beautiful .

That night we ate in Dingy Dock and there was a wait for a table. The food was pretty average, drinks were good and the service was good but not worth the price tag on the food.

We really enjoyed getting off the mainland for the weekend. It’s a beautiful, scenic island and is probably close to what Puerto Rico was like 20 years ago. Rural and less spoiled. I was really taken back by the amount of Americans I met there that were working. Hearing there stories it seems like people fall in love with the island and end up staying! I can see why.