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Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas magic

It started with the pompoms. Even with all the shopping and planning that goes into Christmas, I’m a sucker for “creating Christmas magic”. I blame those blogs that make everything;  house, kids, bookshelves and decorations look so darn pretty and cool. So, when I spotted this little tutorial on pom-pom garlands, I thought wow, something I could actually pull off. I remembered making pompoms in school, with rings of cardboard cut from a cereal box and, unlike any of my other knitting or sewing projects, they turned out quite nice.

So, on the first of December I told the kids that yes, they were allowed discuss what they were putting in their Santa letters, that Christmas was no longer a forbidden topic of conversation and headed to a wool shop to get the makings of a pom pom garland.
I don’t know, maybe I should have driven, because when I got to the shop I was tired and irritable. When the shop assistant noticed my bike helmet, she moved from her current customer, to whom she was droning on about the gloomy weather to me, and segued straight into rain, cycling in it and taking your life into your hands, all the while knitting, I wanted to scream.

Anyway, I made it home alive, and we started raveling wool.  My plan was to produce plump, roundy, fluffy snowdrops and ended up with a smaller, stringy variety, but that was OK, they bore the stamp of homemade, which was the look I was going for anyway. I dug out my Tesco gold chains and draped them along the picture rails, dotting the display with pompoms. It didn't look remotely like the tutorial, but do they ever? They looked fine and it was time to put the kettle on.

Then my husband came in, had a look and said, “You didn’t use sellotape did you? Cos that’ll take the paint off.”

So down they came, (as you can imagine, there was a “magical” atmosphere in the sitting room, what a lovely memory for the children!)to be re-hung with masking tape, where they stayed for a day before coming unstuck and dropping to the floor, snowdrop by snowdrop, chain by chain.

 Anyway, trying again, at bedtime I told the kids there was a magical treat in store. I had purchased a CD of Dylan Thomas reading his poem A Child's Christmas in Wales.
Turning off the bedside lights, I told them to snuggle down and listen and stuck the CD into the player. It was immediately obvious that Dylan Thomas’ voice was not what they are used to and a nervous little boy said “Is this a ghost story?”
I lay beside him and promised that I would turn it off if the feeling of terror didn't go away, and he began, I think, to enjoy it. The response from his brothers was mixed;
“I liked that, it was really Christmassy.”
 “Is it over? My leg is sore.”

(For the record, I LOVED it and would highly recommend it to anyone. It was really beautiful, just maybe better for the over tens.)

Turning off the Christmas lights on their window sill, I let them go to sleep. I had offered to leave these lights on and turn them off later, (creating Christmas magic!)  but was told gently that it would probably be safer not to. The lights might over heat, they said, all nodding sensibly in their pyjamas, or keep us awake. So I said goodnight to my three little wise men, and their not quite so wise baby brother, and went downstairs. Having them safe in their beds was magic enough.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Best Book Guide

Best books for best friends: Bossypants which is, as you would expect, funny and well written. And has a great bit about a shared suit that alone is worth the price of the book.

Starter for Ten; I saw the movie of this, which was fine, but didn’t prepare for the brilliance of the book. Particularly funny if you have ever had bad skin.

A Humble Companion. I love everything Laurie Graham ever wrote, and this is no different.  Well researched, brilliant writing, not a sentence wasted, just great.

 Get Her Off The Pitch. I have read this twice and intend to do so again over the Christmas holidays. It’s about the authors experiences as a sports reporter. I like reading about sport anyway, but this is something special.

Best Books for someone who likes lovely books with even lovelier covers:

The Diary of a Provincial Lady. This was first published in a magazine called The Lady. (Which, as it happens, Lady Edith visits on her trips to London. I don’t need to explain who she is, do I? Downton!)  It is a classic.

Cranford. This has been on my wish list since my friend showed me her collection of Clothbound Classics. There were times when I ooohed and aahhed over my pals clothes or shoes, but now it’s their books that make me envious. The Little Women one is gorgeous too.

French Kids Eat Everything. This has a pink gingham cover, which is why I picked up the hardcover edition in the bookshop. It’s about an American mother learning to feed her kids the French way. Not a subject for everyone, but I found it interesting. And very pretty.

Best book for new baby:

Paul Thurlby's Alphabet. This is a beauty. So nice that I persuaded my sainted husband to measure the pages, cut three sheets of mdf, paste the whole alphabet to them and nail them to my kid’s bedroom wall.

Best Books for little boys and girls (age’s three to seven): Fortunately. I would be AMAZED if any child walked away without hearing the end of this one.

Children of the Northlights. Every time I show this to a friend, they go out a buy it.

Best book for slightly older girl: (eight to twelve): From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler.

Or boy: Cosmic. This is silver, which might not seem important, but is. Good book too.

Best book for teenage girl: I Capture the Castle. This has the best first line ever and is, overall, fantastic.

As I have never been nor do not yet own a teenage boy, I simply cannot guess a title for one. Anyone got any suggestions?

Best book for husbands. I’ve gone for two pretty different ones here, but both have been popular on the bedside table on the far side of my bed.  My Booky Wook 2 and A Tale of Two Cities.

And books I want: The Art of Fielding, Where'd you go to Bernadette and NW.

According to Amazon, we have eight days left to order for Christmas, although probably make that five if you’re ordering from Ireland. Happy Christmas!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Choosing a Secondary School or.. Where are the crisps?

The phrase school tour has a whole new meaning for me now. It no longer involves buses or pocket money or treaty lunches, now it means simply, touring a school.

Yes, it is that time; I have to choose a secondary school for my eldest son. Anyone who knows my husband or I will be aware that decision making is not our strong point. So, for the past year I have been asking anyone who will listen for information about the second level schools within driving distance of our home. And agonising of course. As it happens, agonising is probably our great strength.

I could have just looked around me, and observed the pretty normal looking teenagers walking and cycling home from the schools in our vicinity. I could have watched them pick up their younger brothers from my children’s schools and checked the league tables in the newspaper to see all the exam results. But somehow, instead I found myself lapping up and memorising every scary sound bite about our local senior schools that I could lay my hands on.

I learnt that some schools only “take the cream, the very bright boys”, some “only kids who have been expelled from other schools”, some have pupils “known by the Gardai” and some produce “really cool people, in bands”. Why is that scary? Oh come on, don’t be silly, unless its U2, how on earth are they going to pay a mortgage?

Eventually I learnt that it might be wise, instead of gossiping over coffee and grasping at any nonsense I overheard in the school yard, it would probably be a good idea to look at the schools for myself. So, mortgage repayments of 2030 on my mind, I booked a tour of each the schools under consideration.  Hopefully, my husband and I could be sensible adults and make a decision based on what we saw.

We saw science labs, “Note the light reflecting off the countertops” said the teacher guiding us, French classrooms, where my husband, unlike me, who looked blankly around, took in the square footage, the air vents and probably, the longitude and latitude. “Good natural light,” he muttered. We saw music rooms “a centre for excellence” said the Head of First Year, woodwork rooms, “a centre for excellence” said the same guy, and toilets “a centre for excellence?” we said quietly.

We heard about buddy systems, home school liaison officers, anti- bullying procedures and breakfasts served at school (my son LOVED that. “I’d really get toast?” he said with joy in his voice. The boy who turns down toast most mornings at home.)

We listened to the no-bullshit Principal “I don’t talk rubbish” he said, and his opposite number; “Under this roof, as we speak, each and every child is learning, being enriched, absorbing knowledge like a sponge.” I raised my eyes to heaven and immediately panicked that he had seen.

Each tour ended at the gym hall, where there was a chance to chat to other parents and, more importantly, get crisps for my weary toddler and bored younger boys. To be honest as I had all my (restless, noisy) children with me on three out of the four tours, “Where are the crisps?” was the question at the forefront of my mind for most of the time.

We got all the prospectuses, the application forms and the school rules. On close inspection, apart from font and layout, they were all very similar.

And after a brief kerfuffle about whether we should put “video games” under the “Interests” section, we filled in the form of the school of our choice. It’s in a drawer now, waiting for a Christmas card stamp, or a change of heart.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Wind in the Willows

A broad glistening muzzle showed itself above the edge of the bank, and the Otter hauled himself out and shook the water from his coat. “Greedy beggars!” he observed, making for the provender. “Why didn’t you invite me, Ratty?” “This was an impromptu affair,” explained the Rat. “By the way, my friend Mr Mole.” “Proud, I’m sure,” said the Otter, and the two animals were friends forthwith.

There are many versions of The Wind in the Willows around. Novel sized paperbacks, various chapters in children’s classic compilations and audio versions by great actors, namely Alan Bennett and Richard Briers. Just recently, yet another one, illustrated by David Roberts in an art deco-y way was released. And Julian Fellowes, of Downton Abbey is penning a musical version for the stage, to be seen in the West End in the new year. Since its publication in 1908, it has never been out of print.

I found this one  on Amazon last week. It’s a steal at £9.97; not only does it include every chapter (many versions of this book skip a few), it has beautiful, lush illustrations by Robert Ingpen and a little biography of the author, Kenneth Grahame. It
was published to celebrate the 100th birthday of the books first release.

In my head Kenneth Williams was always the author of this classic, he of Carry On fame. I don’t know why I thought that, maybe he voiced a character in a BBC production and I associated his name with the book? I just thought the guy was multi-talented; a great actor and a brilliant writer. Anyway, I was wrong. Kenneth Grahame was not an actor, he was a banker. Born in Scotland, his mother died when he was five and he was then sent to be raised by his grandmother by a river bank in Berkshire. I’m thinking it had to have been a happy(but maybe solitary?) childhood to have resulted in this treasure.

The main reason I got this one though was because, a few months ago my eldest moved into his own bedroom. At first delighted to have some space (he had previously shared with two siblings), he got lonely. One rare evening, when I wasn’t in demand in the other bedroom, we looked together though an old christening present, a collection of children’s stories. Included were the chapters The River Bank and The Open Road from The Wind in the Willows. We chuckled and chuckled. “Toad is such a show off,” He smiled, “Is there more?” But there wasn’t.

I needed no more encouragement and got online as soon as he went to school the next day to see what I could find. And am so happy with the result. (I did try to scan pictures onto this blog, they are so lovely, but failed I'm afraid. It could'nt be that difficult, I know, but is at the moment, beyond me.)

 So now, to even things up under the tree next month, I have to find two more interesting, biggish sized, hardcover books for his brothers. Oh dear, what a chore.

Who am I kidding, I know exactly what books to choose. I just needed an excuse to buy them.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

food flasks

I reached an all-time low, appearance wise this morning.  While mooching around the kitchen, coughing, mixing diorlyte for two sick kids and loading the dishwasher, I noticed my two year old following me, saying “Dat! Dat!” and pointing to the back of my cardigan.   

I looked behind and saw that there was a lump of cookie dough stuck to it. A lump of mid brown cookie dough. I had made some with him last week so it had had almost a week to harden.  Basically, I looked like one of those shaggy sheep you see with bits of poo stuck to the wool around their bottoms. You know, those sheep that us city folk see and think “Why doesn’t the farmer just get nail scissors and trim that area?”  Oh, I was a sight for sore eyes.

It all started with the food flasks. I bought them on Monday in a flurry of supermom-ness, smug in the knowledge that from then on, my kids would have warm delicious dinners at school. Soothing broths, noodles, Laksa soups with rice, tinned tomato with a swirl of cream, warm, tasty meatballs with pasta and a sprinkling of grated cheddar. Of course, I hadn’t really considered that to do all this, an awful  lot has to be achieved early in the morning. And the night before.

 And then there was the boasting . I just couldn’t stop myself. Every mum I met on the way in and out of school had to hear about them. Even as I watched tired early morning mothers eyes glaze over, I went on with my list of benefits of hot food in the middle of the day, recipes and the wonderfulness of it all. It just didn’t seem worth it unless everyone knew my kids were using food flasks. What can I say? I’m only human.

After three days, four soups, one curry, noodles  in chicken broth, and a few extremely bored friends, I was tired. Very,very tired. They had gone from “Food Flasks!” to “fucking food flasks”.

By Friday I was coughing and by Saturday, neatly coinciding with my middle son starting the vomiting bug that was circulating in school, I had a temperature and felt truly rotten. Over the next few days his brothers fell like dominos, leading to nights loading the washing machine with sheets, glasses of coke being sipped uncharacteristically cautiously, duvets on the couch and the feeling of profound exhaustion that for me, results in the complexion of a used j-cloth.

And of course, the appearance of a smelly sheep.

So how was your week?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

mid term mini break

It has been over a decade since we brought our kids to a hotel. Actually, the last time we had only one child. One unsettled, fractious nine month old, allergic to travel cots, any unfamiliar highchairs and settling to sleep for more than two hours at a time. I was an anxious, first time mother whose constant fussing ensured none of us slept or relaxed at any point that weekend. The only sane thought I had then was to realise that hotels and babies are not a great mix.

On arrival at the hotel for our mid-week- mini-break last week, it all came flooding back.  We were greeted by dads walking slowly around the lobby pushing buggies with blankets draped over their (hopefully) sleeping passengers, mammies asking for bottles to be warmed, granddads escorting red faced toddlers and grannies rocking new-borns with fierce looks on their faces. You know the look that says “I’m trying to get a child to sleep here.”  Pointing out that it was a hotel lobby and there was no other way for us to get to our room without walking past her would have made sense but I don’t think anyone would have been brave enough to say so.

As our youngest is two, I was optimistic that if nothing else, we would get through two nights without wanting to kill someone for coughing at the wrong time, or letting a door slam beside a reclined buggy.

I’d forgotten the excitement of that hotel feeling. Running down carpeted hallways to our room, (not me of course, the kids, I managed to restrain myself), checking out the bathroom, the wardrobes, the TV. channels, the hairdryer and the view. “Look! There’s our car!”

The next morning it occurred to me that I hadn’t really considered that even though there was a soft indoor play area, two playgrounds, farm animals, go-karts and a swimming pool, none of our kids were keen to attempt much of it unaccompanied. So of course, we ended up doing it all too. God, the dust in the hidden corners of those jungle gyms needs to be seen to be believed.

I watched all the other Irish families on mini-breaks, checking out the mammies jeans and boots, eavesdropping on the conversations with their husbands (craning as close as possible if things seemed a little tense), trying to overhear the kids names to see if any of them were interesting or awful and all the time biting my tongue to stop myself saying “Do I look older or younger than her?”

My husband has one learned response to this. After sighing deeply in exasperation he says “Ok, what do you want the answer to be?” 

I did end up catching the eye of one of these mums by the swings, but as I opened my mouth to chat, I realised my toddler (who I was carrying) had managed to move in such a way that his curls were caught between my two front teeth. Which, as you can imagine, was an odd position to find oneself in, and all the conversation left my head as I concentrated on untangling him. 

There was so, so many kids. In the restaurant it seemed like everyone was pointlessly trying to eat a meal in peace, while toddlers climbed out of high chairs, leaned precariously off ordinary chairs, retched up carrots and cried. In the pool, all the same people were there, bobbing around in swimming hats, saying encouraging things and again, there they were in the playground, wiping off wet swings with tissues and bracing themselves against the cold November wind.

I think it was worth it though. Even with all the playing and tumbling and getting hair out of my teeth, we still had that hotely feeling. That “I’m a resident” smugness as you click a card in the door and wait for the green light, and then walk in to flop in the bed, lie back on loads of clean, crisp pillows and grab the remote to watch a bit of telly before dinner (even if it is just Scooby Doo).

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


If at all possible, I buy books for my kids to bring to birthday parties. I don’t know why really, there’s not a lot of pleasure in watching the recipient loudly announce “book!” in a flat voice and quickly pushing it aside to make space for the next gift;  “Yay! Lego Star Wars!” 

 Another thing is that once wrapped, books can look so small - I mean we all want to be the mother of the child arriving with the big box, right? How I get around that is give the book in big paper bag with handles and sometimes (oh the shame of this!) only tear off half the price tag or “forget” to take the receipt out of the bag.

Anyway, if you do decide to take the Connect 4 or Guess Who? route for party gifts, most of the below are small enough to be rolled-up to fit into a Christmas stocking.

So, focusing this week on the seven to ten year olds, here are some nice presents they might not already have on the shelves in their classroom libraries.

For boys and girls beginning to read independently, Snipp, Snapp and Snurr  and Flicka, Ricka and Dicka are something a bit different. They are both sets of Swedish triplets who embark on wholesome adventures in about thirty pages, all illustrated in colour. The books were created in the twenties, so the illustrations are vintagey and gorgeous. There are numerous books in both series.

For readers who have finished the many Horrid Henrys, meet little Tomi of 26 Fairmont Avenue . The opposite of Henry, Tomi is a nice little person, growing up in the forties in Connecticut. There are three books in the series. At about the same reading level  are the two Parrot Park books, by Mary Murphy, the wonderful Irish writer on whose board books (I Like It When and How Kind!) my eldest son was raised.

One step up on the reading ladder, there is Emil. He isn’t like Henry either, being in possession of an abundance of intelligence, wit and curiosity. Living on a farm in Sweden, Emil is impossible to dislike and, as he was created by Astrid Lindgren, his adventures make a great read. He has three books to himself.

Tired of rereading the Wimpy Kid’s? Nicholas is funny too.  He is the product of half of the Asterix team, Rene Goscinny(with illustrations by Jean -Jacques Sempe) and there are six in the series.

Slightly older boys and girls who have enjoyed Skulduggery Pleasant and Harry Potter should like Philip Pullmans triptych His Dark Materials. There are three to four hundred pages in each, so if that’s a bit daunting there is also Four Tales. The hardcover version of this is very special, the ideal present for a godchild.

And lastly, for kids who “don’t read” try the Artemis graphic novels; Artemis Fowl and Artemis Fowl: The Artic Incident. Or Smile.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

kids books by Irish authors

It’s no secret that I love all things American. Every book I recommend, every blog I pore over, every stitch I buy for myself or my kids seems to from the good ol’ U.S. of A. 
Gap, Gapkids, Babygap, Old Navy, Ll Bean, Oshkosh and Gymboree are all old friends of mine.

Sometimes, just after I have finished hanging the clothes out and am propping up the clothes line with a plank,  I  can see that almost everything on it  has been shipped from the States. (Via China, of course.)

At night I tuck them in with A Balloon For A Blunderbuss, Ira Sleeps Over, A Sick Day for Amos McGee and Make Way for Ducklings. Alone, they read the A to Z Mysteries, The Brixton Brothers and Chasing Vermeer. Colour is spelled color in all of these books.  

It has been ever thus. At five I remember my Great Aunt Gertie visiting Galway from Boston, bringing exotic rarities like fitted sheets, Crayola crayons and a Mrs Beazley doll. (currently sleeping in a drawer upstairs).

Later, when I was a student, I crossed the Atlantic for the first time. I’ll never forget sitting on the bus that collected us at Logan Airport and gazing out the window. I saw my first brownstones, and streets that were exactly like Sesame Street.  Suffice to say, I was not disappointed.

But I am Irish and as my readership grows, I feel it is my duty to draw attention to the fact that there are also good things right here, in Ireland. In particular, many great kid’s books.

I'll start with The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. (Ages 8 to 12, this would be great to read before a visit to the capital city.)
Sadly, Siobhan Dowd died way too young and left one book unfinished. This was developed and completed by Patrick Ness. I haven’t read it but it has garnered rave reviews. It is called A Monster Calls.

For younger boys (or tomboys), I like these first chapter books:
And, The Legend of Captain Crows Teeth, both by Eoin Colfer.

Eoin Colfers Artemis Fowl books(the first two are also available in graphic novel form – fantastic) and Benny books for older boys are well known (and great) but I think these little ones are wonderful too. I’ve heard The Legend of Spud Murphy as an audiobook and it is unforgettable.

Another Irish graphic novel is The Blood Upon the Rose, which is factual (its about the 1916 Rising in Dublin) and pretty good. For kids who might be interested in history or just guns and fighting, it’s perfect.

Also of a historical bent but more likely read by girls there is the hugely popular famine series that starts with Under the Hawthorn Tree by Marita Conlon McKenna.

Eagerly awaited here is every installment in the Skullduggery Pleasant series. (I  met Derek Landy once and he was extremely nice.)

And of course, lastly the stunning debut from me:

Ok, I was joking about the stunning bit (although it’s not too terrible). I know Amazon say it is currently unavailable and that they will ship it when they can but believe me, it is unavailable forever. There was a small print run originally and I’m sorry to say it wasn’t a massive seller.  Oh well, I have a copy for my grandchildren, that’s the important thing.

P.S. There are many, many more titles written by Irish authors that I have not mentioned, but my kids are on their way back from the cinema and I need to post this before they get here. What I mean is, this is just a start.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I like that toilet

We have speech therapy on Friday and I am very, very nervous.

It’s in a health centre and the therapist is sweet, kind and very skilled at getting my son to work with her. She’s nice to me too, making it slightly less necessary for me to do the grovelling act of proving myself…Which is how I usually behave with medical people I see with my kids. You know the whole “Look at what a down-to-earth-sensible-clued-in-and-yet-not-pretending-I-know-it-all- mother I am.” It’s a relief actually. That act is hard work.

So why am I scared?

Well, this is what happened. Last week we arrived for our appointment and passed a man standing outside smoking, who looked pretty surly. Once we were in the waiting room I realised he worked on reception, and smiled to myself imagining his job interview.
“So do you enjoy working with people?”
“No, I hate them.”
“Great, we’ll put you in reception in our health sector.”

Then my son needed the toilet. We found two of them but the only one not occupied had a sign saying “Employee toilet. NOT for visitor use.”  The other one just said “Toilet”.

My law-abiding little boy was worried, but luckily, in time I persuaded him that sometimes it is ok to break the rules, and swore I would stand holding the door and deal with any disgruntled employees.(which, in fairness, I did.) 

After a few minute of waiting and “Yes, I’m still here”ing, the other door opened. Mr Surly came out and nodded at me.  Unable to stop myself, I said, “This is the employee toilet, right?”  He nodded to the sign as if to say “Obviously”, and went to walk past me. 
But I hadn’t finished. “You work here don’t you? Why don’t you leave that toilet for visitors?”

“I like that toilet.” he said, and marched off.

In the heel of the hunt, we were called to an office for our therapy which was then interrupted by Mr Surly's supervisor who wanted to know what my problem was with the toilet situation in a less than polite way. Totally forgetting my kind-nice-blah-blah mother act, I wasted a few valuable minutes of speech therapy telling him exactly what I thought of him and his staff and then the therapist wasted more looking very panicky and asking if I needed a complaints form.

Anyway, driving away l noticed he was there at the door again, smoking. So, seeing as the car was moving and the doors were locked, I made quite a rude hand gesture in his direction. It was a short lived moment of victory really, as my husband pointed out when I got home “You have to go back next week!”

Monday, October 15, 2012

books, books, books

I’ve had to change my hiding places this year.

You see, every October I start stocking up on stocking stuff. Christmas stockings, that is. The way I see it, the later I leave the presents, the more desperate I am, the more I spend. And also, once we figure out what is expected, the budget for nice kids’ books goes out the window and that makes me sad.  Rarely is a book going to be near the top of the list but then rarely do we get as much value from an Xbox game as we do from a book that is loved. And also, as the weather starts getting colder and the drudge of homework and making school lunches gets me down, the pleasure of hearing the doorbell and knowing that the postman is going to hand me a few lovely books is wonderful.

And, as the books I’m buying are getting smaller (We are moving away from the big format picture books and onto graphic novels, little series’s and young adult fiction), I don’t have to hide them in the hot press anymore. So I no longer have to wait until the coast is clear to get a clean towel.  These small ones so can mostly be stuffed behind my shoes.

So when I should have been emptying the dishwasher and sorting out the mountain of stuff that has accumulated on windowsills and under the couch, I’ve been trawling kid’s book blogs in search of lovely and different books for my boys. (These blogs are all in my reading list. Don't be deceived by the titles, Dinner A Love Story is a great source for kids book ideas!)

This is what I have come up with;
For my two year old, I cannot justify buying picture books, we have too many as it is. But, then, I came across the Little Golden Books Classic Collection. These are books that were published in the fifties and sixties in the States in a cheaper than usual format, using well established authors and illustrators. They cost me just over €3 each and I am SO happy with them. The titles I chose were the ones that came up when I asked Google which Golden Books were the most popular – The Little Pokey Puppy,  The Sailor Dog, The Happy Man And His Dump  Truck, The Color Kittens and Seven Little Postmen. They’re all available here;

For my seven year old, I’ve gone for the A to Z mysteries (not all 26, just C to F) ( The Bat Poet by Randall Jarrell (, although that might need to be transferred to his Dads stocking. It has a beautiful, classic look to it that may not at first glance, appeal. Also for his Dad, I think I’ll have to get Wolf Story by William McCleery, said to be one of the best read-aloud stories for little boys of five or six and up, ever. ( It’s another one with that vintage look that I love, (it was written in the sixties and has recently been reissued) but will probably have to prove itself to the kids.

For my nine year old who is more into mystical stuff than mysteries, a book of Tashi stories ( will hopefully finally persuade him that there is life after Beast Quest.  And to sweeten the blow, a graphic novel from George O’Connor’s Greek Series (

And for the eldest, who is eleven, Bomb by Steve Sheinkin                                       ( is a non-fiction account of the making of the atomic bomb written for young adults. It seems like as good a way as any to channel the violence that is so popular on the Xbox into factual, written form. And for light relief, Smile by Raina Telgemeier, a graphic novel about a girl (he would never choose a book with a female lead, but if found on his bedside table, he will read it) who has a difficult time with dental braces in high school.
P.s. If any reader can tell me an idiot-proof way of writing a link using just the book title, I would be very grateful! The comment box is below!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A lovely, open face

Every time another mother mentions to me that she is on the way to music lessons with her children I feel a quick stab of fear. Music lessons! We should be doing music lessons! My children should be exposed to music because if they are not I will never know if they are “musical” or not. 

(Which makes me hope they are not. Which is wrong. Right?) Because if they are children born naturally gifted musically, I am the mother who just didn’t bother. Who let them melt their brains on the Xbox while I drank cups of tea, read Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (excellent, excellent book) and said “Shag their talents, I’m enjoying this. Now where are the biscuits?”

What I really don’t want is to hear that one of them is “musical” when it is too late to do anything about it. And actually, what I sort of do want is to hear are stories about people letting their children give up piano and guitar because they just got sick of doing it. (Yay! So the whole “good ear” thing meant nothing!)

My mother was a secondary teacher in the school I attended. So she knew my classmates well. She used to say things like “Mary’s a lovely girl, and they’re such a musical family." Musical” She even said the word in an irritatingly singsong way. This make me feel first guilty for giving up piano after about six lessons, and then irritated with Mum for making me feel guilty, and then irrepressible hatred of said Mary.  

“She’s got a weird face though” I would retort which got earned me a hurt, cross look.

“That’s a particularly nasty thing to say, Lucy. And I think she has a nice open face.” The ultimate insult as far as I was concerned. I think if anyone’s mother had ever said that about me I would have shot myself.

 “Does she not have any friends?” Mum would continue, worrying and making me feel so bad that I would give up trying to follow the Cosby Show and announce a trip upstairs to study.  There, I would put my Suzanne Vega tape on the radio cassette player (“But Mum! It helps me concentrate!”) And stare blankly at my books. Reading the words “Agrarian outrage…” I usually pondered on issues such as whether my pencil skirt will be the right thing to wear to a party that weekend.

So in an effort to raise children unlike myself, I’ve enrolled the elder two in recorder. Thus far, their teacher has reported that they are “Getting on grand.” Which is exactly what I wanted to hear.

Friday, October 5, 2012

dancin' in the disco, bumper to bumper

It is a truth universally known that the first thing a toddler will do on entering his parent’s bedroom is drink whatever water is left in the glass beside the bed. It may have been there a week or a month, but he will drink those dregs with the thirst and gusto of someone who has'nt consumed anything in a long time. (Or, someone who has drunk an awful lot the night before.)

Anyway, it’s what my own toddler was doing while I counted the holes in the belt I was trying on. I’m currently using it on hole number four, but after looking carefully, I could see the hole I had made in it while I was in college, when even hole number one was too big for me. I was puzzled actually, because I’m thinner now than I was then. 

I was a hearty eater. Student dinners were spaghetti bolognaise or chicken fricassee made with cream, followed by cups of tea and chocolate hob nob biscuits followed by heartburn, followed by, if it was a Wednesday, which was bar extension night, three to four pints of Guinness. So how on earth was I able to wear my belt so tight?

Aha. I remembered. The way I wore my jeans then was very different. As were the jeans in fact.  Levi’s men’s 501’s, button fly, 32 leg, 32 waist. The waist was yanked tight and belted high, thus somewhat explaining the four inch difference in belt size. 

I thought I was the bees knees in those jeans, particularly when they were worn and faded, and partnered with my bottle green Oasis “body” (Don’t ask me to explain what that was), Doc Martens and the ubiquitous Penny’s bulky winter jacket, which would spend the evening rolled into a ball under a bar stool. Remember the days when you looked for your coat at the end of a night out, and finding it was still where you left it was a pleasant surprise? (Remember how careful the leather jacket owners were?)

Ahh, those were the days. Rimmel coverstick on my chin (Nowhere else, just the chin. Why blend? No one else did. I think I actually liked the look of a white chin.), haired moussed and diffused with a borrowed hairdryer and heart full of song: 

I think I was most often found punching my fist to “Give me HOPE Joanna!” or, very appropriately bopping along to “Dancing in the disco bumper to bumper, wait a minute, where’s me jumper?”

Saturday, September 22, 2012

not everyone is always looking at you

“Not everyone is always looking at you” is something my mother said to me very often.” There is really no need to be so self-conscious”.

 So, when I walked onto the beach in San Diego a few years with a borrowed surfboard under my arm I repeated this mantra to myself. Around me the beautiful people were sunbathing, tending to their beautiful children and generally blinding me with their fabulousness. But no, I was not going to be distracted. This was probably the only chance I would get to surf in the Pacific for the foreseeable future, maybe even ever; I was going to take advantage of it.

As I paddling through the shallow water, I heard the sound of men laughing. For goodness sake, I thought, not everyone is looking at you! Just get on with it. (I should add here that I am not really (remotely) a surfer, I just want to be. I can paddle out a bit on the board and sometimes catch a wave on the way back and about three times ever, I have stood up for a second or two. That’s over about four years of trying.)

Then I found myself looking at a man beside me “Hey!” he said “Me and my buddy were just laughing at you! We always get a kick out of watching people try to surf!”

Friday, September 14, 2012

Happy Birthday

Mum was seventy six last week.  (Yep, a post about ageing and nursing homes and all that cheerful stuff. Feel free to read something happier on or It’s fine. No offence taken. ) 

I went over to the nursing home on the evening of her birthday and she was in the sitting room with the usual motley crew (crue?). They were having a cup of tea and a nurse was sitting with them. A young one who, cringingly, felt she needed to keep some sort of cheerful three way conversation going.

“She was in good form today, weren’t you Dani!” I smiled and started the pretty pointless “Hi Mum! Happy Birthday!” Adding “It’s Lucy, your daughter!” for the benefit of the nurse, although why I didn’t introduce myself I really don’t know. Beaming, she (the nurse, not mum unfortunately) continued “I think she knew something special was going on!” which was so sad I couldn’t really answer.

I got a welcome distraction when I noticed the old lady who always says “who on EARTH are you?” was eyeing me up. Leaning towards the man sitting beside her she conspiratorially muttered “Certain people, hmmm….without so much as a by-your-leave…” and he was nodding knowingly. Although knowingly is an unfortunate term to be using about anyone in a dementia unit.

It was cheering to see their camaraderie though.  The way they sort of ganged up was comforting. God knows, if anyone needs a friend or a confidante, it is a resident of a nursing home. Judging by the hungry eyes when I enter the main sitting room on my way to mums unit, loneliness is pretty rampant. I used to stop and talk to some of them, but in the end figured I was just spending less time with mum, which didn’t seem fair. And also felt a bit guilty that it was so much easier to talk to someone who could understand what I was saying. 

There following a rather mortifying minute when I said to the older nurse who came in with some biscuits. “she’s seventy five today, at least I’m pretty sure she is?” and she said “Well, she was born in 1936..” and I thought she was asking me to tot up mums age, so I said “Hmmm 46, 56, 66…” and realised quickly that I was going to panic when I got to 96.  I know it’s not difficult maths, but I always, always freeze when someone asks me to do a sum in my head.  (Similarly, when someone says “catch!” I usually know for absolute certain I am not going to catch the keys they are throwing. )

The nurse said kindly “seventy six” and I wasn’t sure when I should be embarrassed about not knowing mum’s age or being so crap at mental maths.  But there was no need for either really, she was gone already, wheeling the tea trolley back to the kitchen. I chatted to nurse-young-and-cheerful, held mums hand for a few minutes and headed home. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Carry on camping

I never really thought of myself a complete moron before, but when I think of how last week I skipped into a stationary shop to buy a scrapbook in which to preserve this year’s holiday memories, I have to consider it might be the case.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

buying my Mum a doll

“I’m just talking to an old lady.” My son was on the Xbox when I asked him what he was doing. (So much for worrying about violence and gore on this game anyway). As it happened, I was about to do the same thing, being on my way to the nursing home to see Mum.  Usually I visit with my brother but he was on holidays, so that day it was just me.

Monday, July 16, 2012

travelling with kids, without an ipad

The plan this week was to write about the struggle of doing without an ipad on a long car journey with kids. To outline that in our house there are no iphones, no ipods, no i anythings. We don’t have a mini dvd player for the car, a tv in the kids bedroom or playroom or anything on which to play the many cute and amazing apps I read about on

It is all true but really, who am I fooling? I'm just showing off. For me these journeys are just a great excuse to buy nice stuff online. 

So, cutting out all the nonsense for once, this is what I recommend to keep kids aged one to ten happy(or if not happy, at the very least quiet for a while) on long car journeys. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

mutha f-ers

I looked over my husband’s shoulder when he chuckled.  He was sitting at the kitchen table and on the lap top screen in front of him was the in-box of his email account. He pointed to one subject.
It read “Hey mutha f-er’s. Night out!”

Friday, July 6, 2012

Don't pay the ferryman

“Who put Cork on this?”

I knew it. I knew I shouldn’t have done it. My husband was hunched over the laptop pricing ferries, tents, flights, car rental and roof racks and beside him sat our eight year old “helping”, with an outline map of Ireland. He had asked me to put dots where Dublin, Kerry and Cork were located so he could assist with the journey plan. His Dad looked over his shoulder and looked at Cork. I had to own up.

 “For god’s sake Lucy, that’s where Limerick is.”

Friday, June 29, 2012

book mother

For the past year I have been trying to the drop the fact that my ten year old has finished The Fellowship of the Ring into conversation. Trying but not succeeding. I know, show offy parents are very irritating  but surely reading that book at ten is too impressive not to broadcast?

Maybe it is to my credit that I am not practised enough at said boasting that I found it impossible to crow bar the fact even into conversations with other mothers about what our  kids are reading. I don’t know, I faltered at the wrong time or the conversation drifted towards Harry Potter or else, in the case of my book club, my mouth was simply too full of cheese or crackers or cake to say anything at all. I’m more greedy than boasty I suppose.

So when said child told me that I only buy children’s books for my own gratification, I wondered. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I'm just fluffing my garland

“No. “ I said “ I can’t get the play tunnel, I have to fluff my garland.”

My husband was sharing out the tasks involved in the preparations for our sons birthday party. He seemed to think my answer was too hilarious for words and got endless amusement for the rest of the day saying things like..

“My dear, will you be (raise of eyebrow and wink) fluffing your garland tonight?”

Or, shouting up the stairs,

“Sorry, can I disturb you? Or would you like to be left alone to fluff your garland?”

Friday, June 15, 2012

Ireland vs Spain

Coming home from school the other day, I noticed a Spanish boy walking in front of me. I knew where he was from because the local national school runs a programme where children from Spain aged ten and up can come over to Dublin for a few weeks to live with an Irish family and attend the local school each day. English immersion, I suppose you'd call it.

It was a wet, windy day, and I was wondering when, if ever, is a good time to put away the vests and hats and gloves. We were nearly home though, and two out of three of my sons had homework vouchers, so it wasn’t all bad.

This boy was walking behind the son of his host family and to say he looked different was an understatement.  

For a start, he was walking, not slouching. On his feet were shoes. Not runners or trainers or smelly, checked vans. Actual, leather shoes. Slip-on, dark maroon, polished oxford loafers to be precise.  I could see that his charcoal grey school trousers had a crease down the front you could cut yourself on (this, after a full day at school) and with them he wore a clean, beautifully cut, navy, quilted jacket. It was buttoned up (yes, buttoned up) and his hair seemed to be pretty close friends with a brush or comb. And, he was carrying and using….an umbrella.

In contrast, his Irish classmate, who wore the ubiquitous baggy, faded school tracksuit and luminous orange astroturf boots with laces trailing in the puddles, mooched along in the rain, hair soaking and school bag (bulging, most likely because  it contained his jacket) on his back. To top it all, in place of making conversation with his guest, he was listening to music on his mobile phone.

No wonder they beat us.

P.s. To put this into context for any readers not in Ireland, we were beaten last night four nil by Spain in a pretty important soccer match. When I say important, I mean hopes were high. Some people even had specially made nylon covers in the colours of the Irish flag on the wing mirrors of their cars. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

The National Aquatic Centre or..The Woman with the Purple Nose

We went to the National Aquatic Centre yesterday and I learnt a few things. Mainly, that it is not a great setting for the vain or self conscious.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sports day. Discuss

My sports day post from last year:
Sports day. What does it mean to you? Me, I have mixed feelings. If we go home with a medal it is a great day out. Wonderful for the kids, all good, clean fun and weren’t we blessed with the weather?
If we go home without a medal it’s a cruel, heartless event, especially designed for show offs who deliberately grind my children’s self esteem under their heels.

This year we arrived in the usual state.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

car park rage

I got to the school car park late one day last week. So, being one of the last in meant I drove past all the cars parked neatly in rows and went to the back of the yard, where I just about fitted in, at an angle. I could have to-ed and fro-ed a few times and got a bit straighter but I didn’t think it would make a difference. I said this to the woman who came in behind me, who was at a worse angle, but she said don’t worry, makes no difference to me either. Then, just as I was hopping out, toddler on hip, I saw two men, one granddad, one younger approaching. Like a fool I made eye contact.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

not very bright

I don’t think I inspire confidence. Yesterday, I was coming home from the school drop off and stopped at a little park on the way. My toddler was straining at the straps on the buggy and I had his wellies with me so it made sense to stop for a bit of a run. There are a few benches to sit on and the nearest one to me was occupied by a familiar woman. I think I knew her from school. So I perched on the end of it, got the boots on him and said hello. She smiled and said “I’m just waiting for my dog to go to the toilet.” I smiled back and said nothing. God, people and their dogs. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

the one about fake tan

It seems only right that after my last two posts on facials and high heels that I complete the trilogy with one on fake tan. Also, we had a First Communion in the house yesterday so obviously I’ve been in a spray booth recently.

My first spray tan was was a revelation.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

In her shoes

High heels.  I don’t find them easy. Those of us of a certain age know that they weren’t always that high. Two to three inches was quite acceptable at one point. No longer, sadly.

My first foray in proper heels was about three years ago. It was my birthday and we were having a gang of friends to dinner. I got a pair of green suede peep toes with five inch heels and an outfit to match. Standing in front of the mirror (key word here; standing) l looked great, and the first three times I walked from the kitchen to the front door to answer it and greet guests, I managed ok. The fourth time I could feel my heels bleeding and my back click in the wrong way. I clomped along bravely and my good friend sitting at the kitchen table beckoned me over.
“Take them off” she said kindly “You look ridiculous.”

Thursday, May 3, 2012


So, if anyone needs to know about minor road works in the Dublin area, go no further. I spend my mornings trawling the streets with my Bob the Builder obsessed toddler, looking for construction vehicles. Just today we found a digger, a roller and a big thing that lays the tarmacadam before it is rolled flat. A tamper?  A stamper?  I haven’t a clue.

To a man the “workpeople” (always, always men) give my little boy a hero’s welcome. They wave, offer seats to try out driving, quack, chat and in the face of his stony face or shy downcast eyes are the epitome of kindness and cheer.

God I’m sick of it though. I mean, apart from the noise and the mud and the dust, it’s the hanging around just looking at people that gets a bit uncomfortable.

Because we are sort of “in their workplace”, I think it’s only polite to say hello or ask what they are doing. For some reason my voice always comes out very “lady of the manor” ringing rich, dulcet tones that can be heard easily over the machines.
“And what, may I ask, are you working on here, young man?”

For probably the same reason they never actually answer me, nodding and looking away as if embarrassed by my existence and also thinking, we can tolerate the little fellah but we’re not going to listen to this shite. I don’t blame them; I can hardly listen to myself.

And sometimes, on our approach I can see that they are chatting and laughing, sharing a joke and enjoying themselves. But once we take up our position and I start spouting nonsense they look as if the headmistress has arrived in their classroom during lunch break.  Caps are doffed and my little boy is greeted but their comfortable laughter is definitely over. I’m almost tempted to say “As you were!” but I doubt it would work.

Anyway, like I said, if you need to know the whereabouts of diggers in Dublin, I’m your woman.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

beastly beauty

I had yet another regrettable chat with a beauty expert last weekend. I don’t mind getting things done, waxing, plucking, tinting, blow-drying, I just absolutely don’t like talking about my skin, hair, eyebrows or toenails in any way at all. It only ends in tears.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Good Friday agreement

We were in agreement. Good Friday morning would be spent clearing out the upstairs cupboards and, in the afternoon, we’d head for the Dublin Mountains to get a bit of fresh air.

The kids attempted, as they usually do, to cut a deal. “I’ll go if you take us to Smyths Toy store on the way home.” “I’ll go if you set me up a YouTube account” and, slightly more reasonably, “I’ll go if you bring a picnic.” (I blame myself. Years of supernannying, rewards and behavioural contracts have taken their toll. These guys are intent on turning the tables.)

 After making clear that we were just going, with no addendums or codicils, we busied ourselves with the clear-out upstairs and successfully blocked our ears to any mutinous mutterings.

It was only when everyone was strapped into the car that I realised we weren’t headed where I thought we were.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

with great power comes great responsibility

I was picking a pyjama top up with my toes last week when I suddenly thought of when I was a child and the doorbell would ring. Mum would answer to someone selling paintings by someone who did them holding the brush with their toes. I used to feel so bad when she declined to buy any, thinking of the person with no arms (there was always a leaflet left with us, to torture me) whose paintings no one wanted.

 But back to my toes. Why wasn’t I using my arms? I do have two of them. Well, having lived with little boys for the past eleven years, instead of me taming them, they have broken me. Now, rather than bending over and picking up stuff, I take twice the time and do it with my toes. When I recently read the joke “what do you get if you sit under a cow? A pat on the head.” my first thought was “I can’t wait to tell that to someone!” (Yes, while I had my afternoon cuppa, I read Horrid Henrys joke book). And now, when I sit down at the table to drink my tea, if there is a puddle of milk beside my cup I can ignore it and read on, without even thinking of reaching for a j- cloth.

Not only that, I know that Ned Flanders wife, Maud, is dead and if SpongeBob’s friend, Sandy the squirrel takes off her helmet, she will die too! (And that would really upset me.) Sometimes I say "Skillage in the village" and mean it and it’s only a matter of time before I walk across the kitchen floor dragging a perfectly clean t-shirt underfoot, just because. Or the first thing my husband hears from me in the morning is “Long sleeves or short?”

So I have a choice. I fight it and make them use their hands, or give in, put the kettle on and get used to living in squalor.

With great power comes great responsibility.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

confessions of a Dublin housewife

It’s not first confession anymore. It's First Penance. And the word “sin” isn’t used so much as “I didn’t show love when..” but it’s still, in the life of an eight year old, a pretty big deal. My little confessee was singing at the service (with eight others. But still, chosen to sing!) And for the week before hand we practiced nightly. “Being gentle, being kind, that’s the way to be!” is a line I won’t forget for a while. Walking up to the church on a Tuesday evening, still light at seven, we were all a bit excited. There was going to be a trip to Mario’s afterwards for pizza and we were out as a family. No one crying, everyone in clean clothes, no snotty noses. It doesn’t get much better than that.

 When we got to the pedestrian crossing outside the school my ten year tells me we are ten minutes later than the letter on the fridge told us to be. I had the buggy and him and when the green man appears, we pick up the pace. The others are about twenty yards behind us. I can see that, even though the car park is full there is no one else going into the church, giving me the ominous feeling that we are the last to arrive. This is confirmed when I go in and see the teacher gesticulating madly from the alter. “We were waiting for you.” She says. “Paul is needed on the alter.” But he is still sauntering through the church yard with his dad.

I find them, we head back into the church again and then, as we are all standing at the back, flustered and fiddling with the buggy and coats, we hear his song beginning. Without him. Finally unzipped, he rushes up to the alter to join the group and I feel an overwhelming urge to hit someone. All the practicing, his relaxing bath that afternoon to calm the nerves, the carefully knotted tie, and I didn’t get him to the church on time. Casting around for someone to blame I turn to my husband who is gormlessly mooching into the empty back pews. I look at him with an expression that (hopefully) translates to onlookers as “Teamwork honey! Better late than never.” But really means “I am raging.” Oblivous, he responds with a smile and whispers “better late than never!”

 I feel, how can I put it? Do you know the poster for the Wrath of the Titans movie? Well, that about sums it up. “We have an allocated seat” I hiss. “Just follow me and keep quiet.” He does and I head up the middle aisle hoping divine intervention will lead me to our seat. I know we are sharing with a boy called James Kelly and his family but for the love of mike, I cannot put a face to the name. Miraculously, another mother catches my eye and points to a previously invisible space, two seats ahead of her. Almost weeping with relief we head in, past James Kelly. (Not remotely familiar. You know the mothers who greet every child by their first name as they leave the classroom at home time? Well, I'm  not one of them.) Behind me I hear my eldest say audibly “why is Mum so cross?” and the toddler immediately wriggles out of my arms and heads for the hills. One look from me and my husband disappears with him and I settle with the other three. One just back from the alter, hands clasped in prayer, the other two muttering about boredom.

It occurs to me then that just like his father, my eldest simply cannot whisper. And, as he had recently begun “experimenting” with language, the whole congregation can hear him say “What the hell is next? We never did this song.” Soon it’s time for the actual confession. I nominate myself as the accompanying parent and we queue up. I can hear my little angel whispering to himself “please don’t let me mess up!” and I take his hand and reassure him thinking to myself “Please don’t let me mess up.” Ahead of us I see a dad walk up onto the alter. Poor man, I think, where does he think he is going? It’s us next and in a feeble effort to redeem myself and seem like a conscientious parent, I say to the teacher, “Do I have to introduce him to the priest?” She nods with a look that says, “Yes. Like I said at the communion meeting last week. Like I said in the letter that I sent home with every boy. Like every parent ahead of you has done.”

 Both heads bent in remorse, we climb the alter steps, go to the priest and I tell him my sons name, and that he is a bit nervous and then suddenly think I might start gabbling insanely. Thankfully, I don’t and seconds later find myself sitting on the front pew and realise the vaguely familiar wail in the background is my youngest, in his dads arms, at the side of the church. I wave over to them, my little boy comes back to me and all sins forgiven, the four of us go back to our seats together.