Thursday 29 October 2015

The Baby & Toddler Years: The Soundtrack

Sometimes, as I observe my children's behaviour, I find myself wondering what song would accompany the situation if we were in a film. As they have progressed from newborn to baby to toddler, I have seen them milk drunk and high on mama love, randomly squealing and shouting, going crazy with excitement, throwing tantrums over nothing and amusing me with their mimics. 

If toddlerhood was a film, maybe the soundtrack would go a little something like this. 

Scene: The milk-drunk newborn, gazing lovingly at his mother 
Track 1: Elvis Costello - She
"She may be the reason I survive
The why and wherefore I'm alive
The one I'll care for through the rough in many years
Me, I'll take her laughter and her tears
And make them all my souvenirs
For where she goes I've got to be
The meaning of my life is she"

Scene: The Colicky Phase
Track 2: Björk - It's Oh So Quiet
"Shh shh
It's nice and quiet
Shh shh
But soon again
Shh shh
Starts another big riot"

Scene: The teething baby, who will not be calmed
Track 3: Dusty Springfield - I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself
"I just don't know what to do with myself,
Don't know quite what to do with myself, ..."

Scene: The dancing, miming, babbling toddler
Track 4: Robbie Williams  - Let Me Entertain You
"So come on
Let me entertain you
Let me entertain you
So come on, let me entertain you
Let me entertain you
Come on come one come on come on"

Scene: The tantrums begin 
Track 5: Rage Against The Machine - Killing In The Name Of
"F*@k you I won't do what you tell me, f*@k you I won't do what you tell me, f*@k you I won't do what you tell me, f*@k you I won't do what you tell me,...."

And then the fun began...
Mums' Days

Tuesday 27 October 2015

An Autumnal Windowsill, featuring A LOT of Pumpkins

This year we are spending Halloween with friends, so I'm not too bothered about decorating the house. The boys, however, didn't want to miss out on carving pumpkins, and so we took a trip to a local pumpkin farm to buy a couple. 

As the children and I browsed the huge selection and tried to decide on several smaller pumpkins or one enormous one, The Bavarian chatted to the farmer's wife. She's a lovely lady, a granddma, minding her own grandchildren during their midterm break. They chatted aboutwhat she was cooking for lunch (braised red cabbage, mash and pork belly), how cheeky children can be and how best to grow large pumpkins. We didn't dare ask how they managed to grow the ones that look like bums!
She was so nice and chatty that I felt bad if we only took couple of pumpkins, so we began loading up our basket with small, decorative squash as well. When we thought we had as many as we'd be able to carry back to the car, she told our children to pick themselves a large pumpkin each as a present from her. They were thrilled. So back to the pumpkin pile we went and looked and lifted and hummed and hawed till they had found their perfect pumpkins. 

Back home, the boys and a school friend set to work emptying the pumpkins of their seeds and flesh and planning their faces. Number Two has a special pumpkin carving set he talked me into buying one day when we had a rare bit of time, just him and me. I thought it was a bit of a useless gadget but it has turned out to be great. The saw-like knife is really safe for children and easy to carve with. The nine templates that came with it have brilliant pictures - from a skull with an eyepatch to a ghost to scary faces there is a selection. 
While they busied themselves with drawing the pictures to be carved, I set about making a window decoration for the outside of the kitchen window with the remaining pumpkins. It turned out better than I'd hoped, so I'll share with you how I did it.

First of all, I looked at the selection of pumpkins I had and the range of colours they had.
Then I walked the garden, visiting my potting table along the way, keeping an eye out for anything that might complement the pumpkins. I was surprised at how much I found - leaves in various colours, a pot of yellow chrysamthemums, plant pots in terracotta, yellow and orange and lots of walnuts. We have a huge walnut tree in the garden, so we have no end of walnuts each Autumn. But you could use chestnuts and acorns instead. 
Before beginning the actual arrangement, I filled the walnuts into the terracotta pots. Then I sorted all my elements into categories - flowers, leaves, pots and pumpkins. Once that was all done, I began to arrange them.

Now, I am far from being good at this kind of thing. I have heard that odd numbers work well and there should be some sort of triangular aspect to the shape of the overall arrangement. But I was limited in what I had to work with and conscious that at any moment the baby would wake or the team of little pumpkin carvers would need assistance. 
Working quickly, and enjoying the afternoon sun on my back, I began by placing the chysanthemums in the yellow pot and positioning them more or less in the centre of the windowsill. The medium-sized pumkins were added on the left and right, then the terracotta pots of walnuts - one upright, one on its side. The large orange plant pot was then upended and topped with a couple of the small squash. The remaining squash I then scattered along the front of the windowsill. Lastly, I tucked the fallen leaves in among the other elements, trying to use contrasting colours where possible. 

One tip I have is to take a step back after each addition and see if you are happy with the balance of elements. If not, shuffle them around a little and check again. 
With the late afternoon sun shining down on my creation, the colours were so vibrant. I couldn't help turning back to look at it every few minutes. Several days have passed now and the birds have pecked open a few walnuts but on the whole the arrangement is lasting well and I am still as pleased with it as I was the day I made it. 

Home Etc

Monday 26 October 2015

11 Brilliant Day Trips in Ireland

When we came back from our Summer holidays in Ireland, I was full of energy and motivation, ready to write tons of posts about all our recent days trips. The boys are at an age now where we can easily visit historical sights as well as parks and playgrounds, so we took advantage of that and did a lot on this Summer's trip home. 

But the whole back to school thing and Number Three turning from placid baby to energetic toddler meant that a lot of posts I'd intended to write got put on the long finger. Bit by bit I am catching up, but I've come to the realisation that I will not be able to squeeze in time to write a post about each of the places we visited. 

So here, condensed into one county-by-county list, are some details about each of the places we visited and loved. You might like to try one or other of them during the mid-term break. Feel free to drop me a line if you want a bit more information on any of them.  

My sister-in-law suggested we meet them at Slieve Gullion Forest Park for a day out. Initially I was put off by the drive but it was a lot shorter than I imagined, being about 50 minutes from Drogheda. 
Entrance fee: No. Free entry
Cafe: Yes
Picnics allowed: Yes
What we loved: The fairy walk with loads of fairy houses, the trail in search of the giant and the amazing, huge playground
What we'd warn you about: The walking trails are quite steep in places. We brought the buggy and managed alright, but we had three adults to take turns of pusing it. Next time I would take Number Three in the sling. 
Meath - Newgrange Interpretive Centre and Passage Tomb, Donore
Entrance fee: Yes, but not extortionate. Rates differ depending on the package you want, e.g. just Newgrange or Knowth adn Dowth passage tombs too
Cafe: Yes, a Brambles cafe with highchairs, planty of space and delicious caramel slices.
Picnics allowed: I don't think so, but while waiting for the bus from the interpretive centre to the tomb, you could sit at one of the benches and picnic there I suppose
What we loved: The fascinating history, the witty tour guide, the food in the cafe and the child-friendly interpretive centre
What we'd warn you about: Arrive early and plan plenty of time. The tour of the tomb itself is about 45 minutes and the tours run every 15 to 30 minutes but they fill up very fast during the holidays.
Meath - Oldbridge House & Battle of the Boyne Museum, near Drogheda
Entrance fee: Entrance to the grounds and gardens is free. There is a small entrance fee for the museum.
Cafe: Yes, Brambles again (as far as I remember). 
Picnics allowed: Yes and there is a huge area for picnicing on. 
What we loved: The wide open space for running around, the walking trails, the beautifully laid out gardens, the cannons in front of the house, learning about the Battle of the Boyne through the small but interesting exhibition in the museum which includes a laser show (anything that includes the word laser is a great thing).
What we'd warn you about: The museum is very small. Don't rush through it. There is a lot of information packed in. We took our time and let the boys try and get some ideas of their own as to what was happening in each of the life-sized recreated scenes. 
Dublin - Malahide Castle, Malahide
Entrance fee: The grounds are free
Cafe: Yes, an Avoca cafe
Picnics allowed: Yes and there is a huge amount of space to picnic on.
What we loved: Again, the space to run about and kick a ball. Castles are always a big with our boys, so exploring around the castle was great fun too. At the other end of the park is a huge playground, also suitable for picnics. We spent a long time there too.
What we'd warn you about: The playground is huge. With small children you need to keep a good eye on them. Dressing them in  clothes you can easily spot is a good idea. NUmber One had a navy hoodie on, as did approximately half the children there. Number Two, in bright orange, was a lot easier to spot.
Sligo - The Beach Bar and Surf School, Aughris
Entrance fee: Yes, or rather you pay for your meal and drinks in the bar. The surf school obviously charges for rentals and lessons.
Cafe: The bar does food and coffee
Picnics allowed: On the beach, yes.
What we loved: The boys and my dad rented body boards and wet suits and spent a fun afternoon splashing around in the Atlantic. 
Later we all ate in the bar. The Guinness is great. The food is very good and a decent price too. 
What we'd warn you about: If you are braving the Atlantic, make sure to have something hot in a flask with you for warming up afterwards.
Mayo - Museum of Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar
Entrance fee: No. All Museum of Ireland museums are free of charge, a fantastic service.
Picnics allowed:
What we loved: Walking round the large pond in the grounds, running on the great expanses of lawn, the interactive exhibitions. On arrival the children got clipboards, pens and activits sheets from the staff and were kept busy for ages, finding the answers to the quiz questions and drawing their favourite items form the exhibition.
What we'd warn you about: Plan plenty of time. There is a lot to see and to take in.

Mayo - Great Western Greenway, a walking and cycle path from Westpost to Achill Island
Entrance fee: No. You can hire bikes and trailers for children in several locations, e.g. in Newport and Mulranny
Cafe: Yes, several dotted along the route
Picnics allowed: Yes, wherever you fancy stopping
What we loved: The stunning scenery and the fact that the kids could run along without having to look out for cars. 
What we'd warn you about: Nothing. It is a brilliant addition to Mayo tourism and you should definitely go there if you get the chance. You don't have to go the whole route. 

Mayo - Foxford Wollen Mills
Entrance fee: Not to the shop. There is a tour of the wollen mills but it was booked out at the time we were there.
Cafe: Yes, with a great selection of delicious cakes as well as savory foods.
Picnics allowed: No, but you could have a traditional Irish car boot picnic in the car park if you wanted to.
What we loved: The wollen mills' own woollen blankets, throws and cushions as well as the gorgeous interior design of the shop and cafe. The kids loved that the cafe had a little old-fashioned school-like corner with colouring pencils and paper to keep them entertained while the grown up chatted and drank coffee.
What we'd warn you about: You will probably end up with bags of fabulous Irish designed and handmade rugs, cards, scarves, etc. 
Cork - Titanic Museum, Cobh
Entrance fee: Yes, but reasonable.
Cafe: No, but there are several bars and cafe along the opposite side of the road and next door.
Picnics allowed: No, but there are benches along the street if you were sitting down with a snack or a cuppa.
What we loved: The fact that the museum is housed in the former White Star Line tícket office, meaning that we were in the building where passengers on the Titanic stood. The recreated passenger cabins are amazing to look at and there are some interative games for children. Really well worth a visit if you are in the area.
What we'd warn you about: The information provided during the tour is incredibly moving. Bring tissues. 
Cork - Baltimore Castle (Dun na Sead Castle), Baltimore
Entrance fee: Yes
Cafe: No, but there are several bars and cafes just around the corner
Picnics allowed: Not at the castle but across the road at the pier there are picnic tables.
What we loved: Learning about Irish, Dutch and African pirates and the plundering that went on in the south of Ireland. 
What we'd warn you about: The museum is very small, but if you take the time to look at the construction of the castle, to enjoy the view from the rooftop and to read all about the piracy that went on, you will find it fascinating.
Cork - Model Railway Clonakilty
Entrance fee: Yes
Cafe: Yes, housed in an old railway wagon - charmingly nostalgic.
Picnics allowed: No, but again the old car boot picnic in the car park would be an option
What we loved: The railways, the tiny model people and houses, the indoor playground/ball pool and the outdoor playground.
What we'd warn you about: Don't rush. There is a huge amount of detail hidden in each of the sections of the display. 

The Twinkle Diaries
The Free Range Family   

Thursday 22 October 2015

And the winner isn't ....

I spent a good part of this afternoon thinking that maybe I should have just forked out for the flight, the dress, the awards ceremony ticket and headed home to Dublin for the Blog Awards Ireland. 

I spent a good part of tonight glued to my phone and then my laptop, barely able to keep up with the #bloggies2015 tweets coming in, telling me who won what and waiting to see the word 'diaspora' pop up somewhere. 

I spent a good part of the last week telling myself I'm not bothered whether I win or not and telling myself I've no chance really anyway. Then thinking maybe I have as much a chance as any of the others. 

My name didn't pop up in any tweets. But one tweet caught my eye and it humbled me a bit

Figures from

4,000 nominations,

1,400 entries
and 80,000 votes!

Some judges chose me for  the longlist. Then some people thought enough of my blog to vote for me and I made it to the shortlist. Some more judges thought my blog worthy of finalist status. 

From all of that, I made it into the relatively small circle of finalists. That's something to be proud of, isn't it? 

So, so what that I didn't win? I didn't even know there was such as thing as a blog award when I started out. 

Instead of dwelling on what I didn't win, I'm going to be thankful for what I have won in the past nine months - and that is you, my readers. 
Thanks for the votes. 
Thanks for the encouragement. 
Thanks for reading.  

Fionnuala xxx

Post Script:
The evening after I posted the above, I got a lovely e-mail from the Blog Awards Ireland to let me know that I won bronze in the Best Diaspora Blog Category! I am thrilled. Thanks again to all who voted, helping me make it from the shortlist to the longlist, and thanks to the judges too. 

Wednesday 21 October 2015

9 Things I Know I Should Do But I Don't

There are a lot of things I do to try and live a reasonably healthy, balanced lifestyle. But there are also a lot of things I know I should do to balance my life a bit more. But I don't do them. It is not out of stubbornness or any particular intention at all. I just don't get round to doing them. Or don't feel like it. Or forget to do them. Or don't really want to. Or can't remember what they are. 

So I am writing them down, in case the day should ever come when I think I'm ready to try them.

1. Do more of what really matters and less of the day to day routine

2. Drink a lot more water
3. Do more for myself
4. Slow down. In everything.
5. Drink less caffine
6. Cycle more
7. Eat more fruit and vegetables
8. Do plevic floor, back and stomach exercises
9. Eat less salt and sugar

In fact, should probably add a tenth point: write less lists.

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Toy Grocery Shop Restoration Project

Several months ago I wrote a post about my two restoration projects for Number Three's birthday. Unfortunately only one of them, the rocking horse, was completed in time. The other, the little old-fashioned shop, remains in the garage and makes my conscience cringe with guilt every time I see it sitting there unfinished. Bad mother, bad, bad mother!
 I was full of good intentions. Back in May I bought and applied paint stripper, only to see that the paint that was used on it is somehow resistant to paint stripper. Instead of blistering and flaking, the paint turned to a slimey goo and simply would not come off. Scraping at it only made it worse.


Disheartened by this, I turned my full attention to the rocking horse and put the problem paint out of my mind. 

Now that the horse is finished, I really have to get cracking on the shop so that it is finished by Christmas. In a recent fit of enthusiasm I ordered some chalk paint online and clicked on to Pinterest to assist in finalising the ideas that I have in mind for how the shop should look.

The paint has arrived and I am really pleased with the colours, Larch, Snow and Ocean, all by Quick. It remains to be seen how well they will adhere to the strange paint that the shop was painted with. I haven't used this brand before.
As for the design of the shop, I think I will use Snow as the background colour and add the detail and signage in Larch green and Ocean blue. That should, I hope, give it a nice, fresh look as well as letting it blend in well, regardless of whether the shop ends up being housed in Number Three's bedroom or in the playroom.

In order to personalise the shop for Number Three, I intend to stencil retro lettering on the front panel, hence the many shop signs on my Pinterest board. Currently I think I may go with something along the lines of this.
So please keep your fingers crossed that I will somehow find the time to get the sandpaper, brushes and paints out so that Number Three can set up shop in time for the new year. 

Home Etc

[Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I bought and paid for the paints myself. I was not asked to write this post. All photos, text and opinions are my own]

Sunday 18 October 2015

My Son The Rugby Commentator

This afternoon we took the children with us to the local Irish pub to watch Ireland play Argentina in the quarter finals of the Rugby World Cup. They knew my dad was at the match, so I thought we could interest them by keeping an eye out for him. 

We got there, found seats with a good view and ordred our drinks. Fairly quickly Number One was bored and sulky. Number Three was mesmerised by the flickering of the screen. Number Two, however, was a bundle of excitement and gave us a running commentary. The. Whole. Way. Through. The. Match.

"The Argentina one hurt his nose".

"Do you see that fat one with the fat face? He has camouflage trousers".

"Did you see the leprechaun?" 

"I can't see Grandad".

"The blue one pushed the green one because he thought he had the ball".

"Why is there grass growing inside a house? A stadium is a house".

In response to my pointing out the president of Ireland: "Who? The one with hair growing out his ears?"

"I think I am up for Argentina".

At bedtime, four hours after the match ended: "Did Ireland lose?"

Little Hearts, Big Love

My Sunday Photo, 18th October 2015


Saturday 17 October 2015

An Inpromptu Candle Making Session

Yesterday afternoon we had no plans and everyone started to get a bit irritable, so we wrapped up warmly and hit the garden for a hour or two. While we were out there I planned on making some hot chocolate to warm us up when we went back in, then allowing the boys a half hour of TV while I made dinner. 

But instead, by some complete fluke, we ended up making candles. I had taken my candle basket out earlier in the day, meaning to root out some scented candles to brighten the place up now that the days are so dull. It was still on the kithen table when we came in and, boys being boys, they had to poke about in it and see if there was anything interesting in there. 

To my amazement, they found two sheets of beeswax in a bag with a length of wick and some plastic bees. We bought them at an agricultural show last year and hadn't used them all up. "Can we make candles again Mammy?" they chorused. It was on the tip of my tongue to say no, but then I thought, yeah, why not. So we made candles. Just like that. I even let them have my phone and take their own photos.
If you've ever used beeswax sheets, you'll know what a quick and easy craft it is. There is absolutely no mess and from the age of three upwards children can make their own candles with very little instruction or help. 
 The boys designed their own candles after I explained briefly how they should roll the wax to get different types of candle. Number One chose to make tall, narrow candles but regretted it once he saw Number Two's tapered candles. 
If you want to try this out at home, here is what you need:
Rectangular sheets of beeswax (available from craft shops and farmers' markets)
A length of wick
A sharp knife
Decorative plastic bees (optional)

To make your candle, simply lay a length of wick along the short end of the sheet of beeswax. Press the wick gently onto the wax to hold it in place. Then roll the wax as you would a swiss roll. Depending on the size of the sheet and the thickness of candle you want, you may want to cut the sheet in half. Then you can make two thinner candles. 
To make a tapered candle, cut the sheet of wax in half diagonally. Lay the wick along the shorter straight side and roll up. This makes a prettier candle but bear in mind it will burn quite quickly. 
 We have made beeswax candles using this method as Christmas presents for the grandparents a couple of times. I find them a really good choice for homemade gifts for the following reasons:
 - there is no mess or fuss in making them
 - the lucky recipient gets something made specially for them
 - they don't clutter up anyone's house 
 - there is no pressure on the recipient to keep the gift on display for the child to see every time they visit. In fact, the child is quite happy to see the candle be lit and to watch it burn. 

The Free Range Family