Rediscovering the 'Me' in 'Mumeeeeeee'

'I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways'. (Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861)

December 17, 2012

Happy Christmas to me!



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December 10, 2012

Ice Age 4: Continental Drift


Last week saw the release on DVD and Blue-Ray of the latest in the Ice Age movie franchise - Ice Age 4: Continental Drift. We've seen it, and it's one of the best!

This all-new chapter in the beloved ICE AGE franchise reconnects families with herd favourites Manny, Sid, and Diego.  Joining familiar friends of the Ice Age world on their latest journey is Sid’s long-lost and side-splittingly funny Granny plus a band of pirates led by the fearsome orangutan Captain Gutt.  And no ICE AGE film would be complete without celebrated icon Scrat, whose existence revolves around the elusive acorn. Scrat once again returns with his very own exploits; however this time his pursuits result in world-changing consequences.

Here's the trailer:


This really is an excellent, family movie with some stunning graphics, great comedy writing and some memorable one-liners. The boys were cracking up laughing throughout - mainly at Sid and Granny - and have been quoting from the film ever since watching it. For anyone who has enjoyed the first three Ice Age movies, or even if you haven't seen them, this would make a great Christmas present. It's up-beat, entertaining and doesn't reduce you to tears (which a lot of the Disney movies seem to do recently!). Highly recommended - and we're looking forward to Ice Age 5 (which, according to the weather forecasts is on the way this week). As Sid would say, 'Holy Crab!'







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November 29, 2012

Rise of the Guardians - exclusive film clip

Very over-excited about this new movie 'Rise of the Guardians' which, just for clarification, is not the one about the owls. This is the NEW movie, released tomorrow - all about Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny ... oh, why not just watch this official film clip. It looks FAB!


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November 28, 2012

Shamrocks or Roses?


No, this isn't a post about horticulture, or a new selection of sweets for Christmas. It's about rugby and national pride. Yes, rugby and national pride. Not normally subjects which motivate me to write, but there you go.

Let me explain. Firstly, you need to know two facts about me:

1. I live in a very male house. Apart from me and the cat, home is an all male environment. This is, of course, the result of producing two sons - a fact of which I am very proud and extremely happy and am definitely not complaining about (except when they are a bit smelly).

2. I live in a very Irish house. This is, of course, the result of moving here ten years ago, marrying an Irishman and having two children here. I'm very happy living here and the fact that I no longer live in the country of my birth doesn't usually bother me. 

Except this year, it did.

2012 has been a (rarely) wonderful year to be English / British. There seemed to be an endless number of parades in London and fantastic fly pasts by The Red Arrows. The Queen's Jubilee event was quite magical (except the bit when it lashed rain for eight hours when all those boats went down the Thames) and then, of course, we moved onto the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics which, by any standards you care to measure such things by, were simply outstanding sporting events. I could go on and mention other momentous English/British events of 2012 such as The Great British Bake Off and Gary Barlow getting an OBE, but I won't. Suffice to say that I proudly displayed my red, white and blue bunting throughout it all, didn't give a hoot what the neighbours thought, and enjoyed being a 'Brit' abroad.

And now, we get to the rugby/national pride part. 

You see, my boys recently starting playing rugby (I say 'playing' but what I actually mean is running around a water-logged pitch on a Saturday morning and falling over quite a lot). They've always been very active, sporty kids and have played a lot of football and gaelic football, but their current interest in rugby happens to come at a time when the autumn series of internationals are taking place. We've always watched sport and my husband tries his best to take an impartial stance when it comes to encouraging the boys to support the English team as much as the Irish team - after all, I point out, the boys are half English and half Irish... 

Because, of course, the boys consider themselves to be Irish - they were born here and they live here, so that makes them Irish. It makes perfect sense when you are 5 and 7 and the issue of being 'half' something is extraordinarily tricky to grasp at such a tender age. Still, they do enjoy a bit of flag waving in support of 'Mummy's team' when England play. 

So, when I was invited recently to see the new Canterbury England team kit for kids, I stalled. Would the boys want to wear it? Would people throw rotten vegetables at them if they wore it 'in public'? Would a rose be an acceptable piece of flora to display in place of a shamrock? In the end, my own national pride won out. Why the heck shouldn't they wear the England kit? Does it really matter when we're sitting in front of the TV anyway? 

So, their new rugby tops arrived, my husband was surprisingly rational about it and the boys are looking forward to wearing their red roses this weekend when England play their next international. They'll definitely look the part, even if it means that their father disowns them for 80 minutes. 

And just to make sure it is all balanced out, they've asked for the Ireland kit for Christmas, which may cause a problem when England and Ireland meet in the 6 nations next year and country allegiances are challenged once again. Maybe they can swap kits at half time? Maybe me and the cat will retreat to the coffee shop.

As they say .. it's complicated.


*

If you have any young rugby fans in the house, team kits would make excellent Christmas gifts. For loads of gift ideas for sportswear, including the England - and Ireland - team kits (!) visit www.alexandalexa.com and for the England rugby kit visit www.canterbury.com
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November 26, 2012

Missing: Christmas Magic. If found, please return.


I haven't posted an 'opinion piece' here on Hot Cross Mum for a while. There are many reasons why, some of which involve being limited to a meagre 24 hours in a day, some of which involve young boys hi-jacking my laptop and some of which involve pursuing my dream of being a proper, grown up historical fiction author, but anyway, I find myself needing to rant about Christmas and I feel that Hot Cross Mum is the best place for me to do this.

Rant about Christmas, I hear you cry! But why? Well, it's because of this - magic - or rather, the lack thereof. Perhaps I'm looking at Christmas through glitter and snowflake tinted glasses, but it all seems to have gone a bit, well, blah. Here's why:

1. It all starts far too early. Whatever about the shops stocking selection boxes in October, actual people have already put up their trees. I don't want to see Christmas trees in November - I want to see them at Christmas. Please!

2. Toy cataloguesI honestly don't remember a time in my childhood when I flicked through a toy catalogue to help me choose what to put on my list to Santa (the artist formerly known as Father Christmas). Put the catalogues down children. Step away from the catalogues.

3. Santa lists. Didn't these used to be sent up the chimney on Christmas eve? Now they're written and posted before the end of November and there is a special post box for them in the local Eurospar. From a practical point of view yes, I get this: we all know what 'Santa' is bringing and can get on with the shopping. But it still makes me want to poke rusty nails in my eyes.



4. Visits to Santa. I heard a conversation in a shop over a week ago where someone was saying they were going to see Santa at 'The North Pole' (somewhere in rural Ireland). They explained to their friend that they felt it was a bit early, but that was the only time they could get a booking, as the other slots were sold out since September. Maybe it's just me, but this feels wrong on so many levels.


5. Chocolate advent calenders. I've ranted about this before and I will rant again. Please bring back lovely, traditional, non choc advent calenders which have a Christmassy picture behind each window and a Christmassy scene on the front. Moshi Monsters and Angry Birds simply have no right to be on an advent Calender. Humph.



Maybe I'm deluding myself, maybe I'm a snotty, grumpy old cow, but Christmas seems to have all gone so hideously commercial. I even found myself staring wistfully at Christmas jumpers yesterday in a desperate attempt to get back to some good old-fashioned festiveness. Ah well, there's always hope I suppose that in a week or so, when I find the Christmas CDs in the attic and start making cinnamon cookies and I pour myself a 'small' glass of port, something may stir within and that old Christmas magic might just find its way down the chimney. Here's hoping ... bah humbug.





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October 23, 2012

There's no place like home ...


A Fairytale - featuring coffee.

Once upon a time, there was a young girl who worked for a big law firm in the Emerald City (aka Dublin). She loved to dress up in her high heels and swishy dresses, and was fully made up every day (becoming very proficient at applying her make up on the train). She enjoyed her job, the people she worked with and the 'buzz' of office life. There were some heartless business people, some brainless fools and some who were scared of The Boss, but she was happy. Her favourite part of the working day though, was that first cup of freshly brewed coffee from the coffee shop next to the office. Even when the most painfully boring meeting was looming, or when the wicked witch of the office had sent her a nasty email, that cup of coffee made the early mornings and the long commute and all the office nonsense seem worthwhile.

But then, one day, the young girl had some little munchkins, stopped working and found herself trapped at home, staring at a jar of instant coffee, while standing in her kitchen in her pyjamas and ruby slippers. Life seemed pretty grim for a while and she dreamt of those days when a good cup of coffee was just a few steps away ...

So, imagine her excitement when her Fairy Godmother delivered a new Tassimo coffee machine to her home which allowed her to make freshly brewed, Costa Coffee coffee, in her own home! The machine was nice to look at, slotted in perfectly next to the microwave and was so simple to use even her little munchkins could do it. The woman (she had grown up now) was very happy and found herself making delicious coffee-shop quality drinks at the touch of a button.

Sometimes she still misses her adventures in the Emerald City, but most days she sighs contentedly, as she sips her delicious coffee and gazes fondly at the little drawings her munchkins made for her the previous day. 'Ahhh, there's no place like home,' she says, as she kicks her ruby slippers off. 'There's no place like home.'

*
The Costa at Home range includes Cappuccino, Latte and Americano TDISCS which can be used with a Tassimo coffee machine (the machines retail at between £99 and £139.99 and can be purchased from Bosch, Tassimo.co.uk or from retailers such as John Lewis, Argos, Currys and Amazon). The Costa Roast and Ground range can also be enjoyed with cafetieres and filter machines and can be purchased in Costa stores as well as supermarkets.

Full details of the range can be found at the Costa facebook page.



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October 16, 2012

Be Seen At Halloween


Yes, it's that time of year again - no, not Christmas (although you'd be forgiven for getting confused - have you seen the number of selection boxes in the supermarkets?). Halloween is almost upon us, again. The skeletons are already hanging from the doors, the blood-covered hands warn us to 'KEEP OUT' of our neighbours' houses (just in case we were thinking of calling in, un-announced) and fake cobweb trails annoyingly from one end of the house to the other.

But, of course, the main point of Halloween isn't the carving of pumpkins or the bobbing for apples or the opportunity to wear striped black and green tights and sparkly purple eye shadow, the point of Halloween - when you are 5 and 7 anyway - is TRICK OR TREAT-  aka SWEETS.

Yes, it makes me anxious. Their teeth will rot, they will never get to sleep after all that sugar, they might choke on a boiled sweet - 'has anyone been given a boiled sweet?' I cry, rummaging through their stash to remove any contraband.

But what also makes me anxious is being seen in the dark - especially after last year when, among a hoarde of kids fleecing the houses on the estate of everything and anything resembling candy, my youngest went missing for a few minutes. Dressed entirely in black and with sweetie frenzy in full swing, he went one way and the rest of the kids went the other. Luckily, he was only 'lost' for a minute and luckily the fact that he had a neon glow stick meant that he was spotted by a neighbour and brought back to the group.

So, when I saw these 'Be Seen At Halloween' reflective stickers from Wilkinson, I thought they were an excellent idea. The stickers are made from hi-vis material, which will reflect beams from car headlights and make the stickers glow. Only £2 for a pack of 4, they are money extremely well spent and as well as being 'cool' (the words of my 7 yr old) they will help to keep your little devils and witches visible to passing motorists. 

A no brainer really.

Happy Halloweeeeeeeeeeeeen.

The Halloween range is available in Wilkinsons stores now or online at www.wilkinsonplus.com
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September 5, 2012

Making a meal of it



I’m not quite sure whether to jump for joy or weep into my coffee.  Why? Because with my youngest starting Junior Infants this week, both my children are now at school. It’s a strange feeling; a mixture of pride, joy and nostalgia. How did those years go by so quickly? How did those tiny babies grow up so fast? I’m sure these are thoughts being shared by many parents around the country this week.

Of course, it’s lovely to have a little bit of ‘me time’ back. Now, I have no excuse for putting off that daily morning walk I’ve been talking about since September 2010. Now, I can sit at my desk and get on with my job, without getting up to every ten minutes to separate Lego bricks or wipe up a spilt drink or find a lost teddy. I will have the peace and quiet I have craved so often – but I will miss the chaos.

Thankfully, my boys are still young enough to allow me to kiss them goodbye in the school yard. I still get smothered with hugs when they come home and I am still needed to patch up wounded knees and over-loved teddies. I am also, of course, still needed to provide an endless supply of food. The packed lunches are going well (so far) and appetites are definitely increasing after a busy day at school. With the nip of autumn already in the air, I’m looking forward to making warming soups and stews for my hungry boys. Of course, they will refuse to eat them, but I will continue to make them anyway in the hope that one day … one day …

With ‘Back to School’ there comes the inevitable return to the old routines. Everything has to be that bit more regimented. Homework – check. Dinner – check. Showers – check. Bedtime – check. The whole day seems to be managed on the basis that ‘you have to be up early for school tomorrow.’ And I find that what you put on the table for dinner can make or break the entire day. If it’s a pasta carbonara night, everyone runs to the table and devours the lot. If it’s salmon we may meet with some resistance and if it’s the dreaded stew … shudder.

Having fought over the years about peas and broccoli, things touching each other on the plate and arms which are simply too exhausted to lift a knife and fork, I think I am now battle scarred enough to face whatever new forms of mealtime protest my little soldiers throw at me. Slotted spoon at the ready, I will face them head on.

Funny though, how I can now laugh at the little things they said when they were just toddlers. And I quote:

  1. That’s too soft, I only like crunchy things
  2. But that tomato is too bendy
  3. Well, it’s just that those carrots are touching the peas
  4. Yukky. That bit of the banana is dirty
  5. I WANTED CHEESE ON TOAST, NOT CHEESE SANDWICHES
  6. It’s just that my tummy is SO full but my pudding tummy is still hungry
  7. But I can’t eat it mummy because THIS IS THE WRONG SPOON
  8. I’m too tired to eat cucumber
  9. That’s got peppers in it and they make me cough
  10. But if I eat all this, then I won’t have room for any telly
The protests about what’s on their dinner plate may change slightly, but the sentiment remains the same.

Perhaps they are growing up too quickly, but reassuringly, some things never change!

*

For loads of great meal ideas and easy recipes for healthy family meals, check out the Tesco Real Food page where you can search for recipes by ingredient, type of meal, cooking time or type of cuisine. There is also a great section for family meals on a budget.

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August 29, 2012

Thinking outside the lunch box



According to conventional wisdom on the matter (not mine, might I add), lunch is an important meal for children and should provide at least one third of their daily nutrients to help them grow, learn and play. One third of their daily nutrients? Wow. And bearing in mind that this ‘third’ has to be squashed into a plastic container, has to survive for several hours next to a school radiator and has to then be eaten by the child without a nagging parent reminding them to eat the crusts and to not pick the cucumber out.

Packing a nutritional lunch box sounds like a relatively simple task. It is, in theory. It’s just the practical part which I seem to fail on. Despite my devout promises the previous night that I'll do something different the next day, standing in the kitchen at 7am, half-dressed and half-asleep, all I seem to be able to manage is the same old boring cheese sandwich, something made of yoghurt, and some shrivelled-up grapes.

It’s not that I don’t try. I do. In the novelty of those first ‘Back to School’ days, I use cookie cutters to make dinosaur-shaped sandwiches. I slice strawberries and put them into little pots. I chop up carrot sticks and provide dips. I pop popcorn for a treat on Friday. But regardless of all my fussing and faffing, the lunchboxes will inevitably come home with about as much food in them (sometimes more) as they left home with. Tough though it is to admit, come the third week of September, I will inevitably have reverted to the old reliables.

But I have promised myself that this year will be different. With a bit of planning and organisation at the supermarket, I might – just might - be able to add some elements of surprise, which actually get eaten. So, some inspiration:
  • Bread - granary, wholegrain, fruit or seed breads, bagels, wraps and pittas instead of sliced white.
  • Filling - shredded chicken, turkey, cold meat from last night’s dinner or peanut butter. Fish and eggs are great but should probably be sent with an apology to the teacher.
  • Pasta is a great, healthy alternative to a sandwich.
  • Fruit – try dried fruits. Dried mango is delicious (although it looks awful). Veg sticks are great too.
  • Drink – water with a twist of fresh lemon or orange for a change. Freeze overnight in the bottle so it’s still chilled by lunchtime.


Of course, whatever we give our kids in the lunch box, they always come home looking for a snack. Top tip: be prepared, and avoid the quick-fix biscuit or sugary ‘treat’.
  • Keep a tub of freshly sliced fruit in the fridge.
  • Pop your own popcorn but don’t add salt.
  • Make a batch of soup and serve in a mug.
  • Whizz up a smoothie (freeze leftovers in lolly moulds).

With some great offers on Back to School food items at Tesco at the moment, such as two for €2.50 on bread items and three for €3 on selected fruit, maybe we can all inject a little enthusiasm into our lunch boxes this term! 

For healthy eating ideas and inspiration, check out these Tesco 'Real Food' links for more lunch box and back to school family meal ideas.

This is a sponsored post.

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August 22, 2012

Rain, rain, go away!




No, this isn’t another rant about the ‘summer’ weather – although it's very tempting. I think we’re all well aware of the meteorological issues we’ve faced since the start of July, so let’s just move on, ignore the howling storm outside and think of something positive to do before we all get cabin fever.

Art and Craft! Yay.

Or not, as the case may be.

It should be simple really: kids are naturally creative and parents are always looking for ways to keep them occupied - especially when it's raining, again. Surely, art and craft is the natural solution. Paint, glue,glitter, feathers, a blank piece of paper – what more could you need?

Patience. That’s what. A very, very large amount of patience.

Our art and craft sessions always seem to start out with great enthusiasm. Inspired by ‘1001 craft ideas’ books and children’s TV programmes which give step-by-step, fool-proof instructions, I roll my sleeves up, take a deep breath and make the brave announcement. ‘Right, let’s do some Art and Craft!’

I get everything prepared: messy mat, paint, glue, brushes, glittery things, lolly sticks, googly eyes, feathers, tissue paper, safety scissors, shiny things, pens and paper – it all looks so promising. I have the instructions to hand and call the children, who skip excitedly into the kitchen and gasp in wonder at these treasures I have provided for them.

And that’s when the trouble starts.


You see, children will always insist on doing their own thing. So, despite the fact that I have planned for them to make the polystyrene ball owl which Mister Maker made yesterday in about five minutes, they will insist on building a rocket or an alien monster. They will paste a seven inch thick layer of glue onto the page and tip the entire bottle of glitter onto it – the bottle of glitter I was hoping to also use at Christmas. The yellow, blue, green and red paints I carefully poured into separate pots will, in seconds, be mixed together to create a miserable shade of dark brown.  The water will be spilt, they will argue over who uses the ‘big’ paintbrush, the man will come to read the gas meter, my sister will ring for a chat and the cup of coffee I intended to drink while watching my little Picassos will go stone cold and be thrown down the sink. Of course, there’ll also be an almighty mess to tidy up afterwards and I’ll be picking bits of glitter off my cheek for the next week.

This, I am afraid, is the reality. But, somehow, it is all worth it when the kids proudly admire their works of art and insist on sending them to Nana for her birthday.

Over the years, I’ve realised that when it comes to art and craft, the best plan is to not have a plan. Give the kids the raw tools and let them get on with it, as only children know how. The joy is often not in the end result, but in the thrill of the creation. Turn your control-freak off, sip your steaming hot coffee and all will be well.

Tesco’s ‘Go Create’ is a great range of art and craft materials. With everything from A3 size colouring books to coloured paper, glitter stars to washable pens, safety scissors to shiny stickers, there’s something to keep everyone occupied during the last few days of the 'summer' holidays and for those after-school afternoons which will soon be with us again. 

So, I, for one, intend to forget about the weather, grit my teeth and get creative. I might even get the kids to decorate my wellies. Now, there’s a thought…


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August 15, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey Trousers



I’ve often wondered what there is at the bottom of my laundry basket. I’m not sure, you see – I haven’t seen it for a very long time. It is not entirely impossible that underneath the never-ending pile of things to be washed, there might be the Ark of the Covenant, the Missing Link, or a worm-hole to Mars. Maybe I might even find that missing blue top of mine I haven’t seen for months.

Dealing with ‘the laundry’ is my least favourite of domestic chores. It’s the relentlessness that kills me. Wash, dry, iron, fold. Wash, dry, iron, fold. It’s like white noise. While there might be some small degree of satisfaction to be reached when the clothes are all fluttering away on the line on a rare, ‘good drying day’ (do people still say that?), the joy is short-lived. But by the time those same clothes are dry, there is twice the amount in the laundry basket.

Even when you're ready for Big School, teddy still needs a wash!
During the summer holidays there somehow seems to be even more washing. Does it breed under conditions of excess moisture, I wonder? The boys seem to somehow manage to go through several different outfits a day – swapping out of the winter clothes they dressed in when it was lashing rain in the morning, to shorts and t-shirts in the afternoon as the sun finally makes an appearance and back into different joggers to go and kick the ball on the green in the evening when it’s drizzling again. Drips from ice-lollies, suncream stains, sticky marks, grass-stains, mud … it may sound like an advert for washing powder but these things really happen!

Of course, in a few weeks, we’ll be back to school (hurray!) and then there will be the additional factor of ironing (booo). You see, I don’t really believe in ironing - especially not shorts and t-shirts, and especially not when the Olympics are on - but you can’t really get away without ironing the school clothes can you. Can you?

Well, maybe you can.  Did you know, for example, that the Tesco school uniform range comes with shirts and polo shirts which are easy-iron and trousers which are stain resistant and non-iron.  This has to be good news - unless, of course, you happen to be an iron.

I will admit to being more than a little sceptical about these ironing claims, but after putting the clothes to the test in a strict scientific environment (i.e. throwing everything into the washing machine and putting the kettle on), I can happily say that the trousers didn’t need ironing at all and the shirts only took a couple of minutes (you only see the collar, right?!).

Whatever your personal ‘domestic goddess’ ranking, I suspect that many children across the country will never look smarter than on the first day of school. Washed, ironed and preened to perfection they will look fabulous – and us mammies will proudly take endless photos. After that? Well, I’m sure it will be a slippery slope towards Christmas when the cracks in the domestic facade begin to show and tolerance levels for ironing creases into grey trousers begin to wane. No doubt, come next June, our children will be walking out of school with half-mast trousers, scuffed shoes, worn patches on the knees and a shirt which hasn’t seen an iron since Easter. But with a little bit of Tesco’s help, there’s always hope…

This is a sponsored post

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August 8, 2012

The Shops


There is a simple, universal, parenting equation I have discovered in recent years, and it is this:

8 weeks of school holidays + 1 frazzled parent + 2 young children + 1 supermarket = Stress!

School holidays. Children. The ‘big shop’. It is a coming together of things which seems to culminate in a barrage of empty  threats, fifteen packets of unwanted biscuits, eight different types of yoghurt, two packets of Lego mini figures, several bottles of wine (for later), and nothing at all with which to make a substantial, nutritious meal. Sigh.

I try – oh, how I try – to give the impression of being a calm, organised mother, enjoying a family trip to the shops with her impeccably behaved children. It may last for a few minutes, but by the time we reach the cheese aisle, all hell breaks loose and I seem to spend the next forty minutes barking orders to stop running off down the aisles, to stop bumping into each other, bumping into me and bumping into other people. It really doesn’t make it very easy to work out which is the best value packet of fig rolls, does it?

And when there are new school clothes and shoes to be bought, it gets harder. I find myself having ridiculous conversations like this:

Me:  ‘Can you stand here. Let me see how big this looks on you. Hmm. Perhaps we need the next size up. What do you think?’
Child: ‘Mummy, can we go and look at the toys?’
Me:  ‘How do those shoes feel? Where are your toes? Is that your big toe?’
Child: ‘Mummy, please can we go and look at the toys?’
Me:  ‘What does that jumper feel like?’
Child: ‘Erm, soft. Can we go and look at the toys now, mummy? Pleeeeeease.'

I find myself staring at rails of clothes, deliberating and debating with myself, trying to decide whether to buy ‘this one’, ‘that one’ or ‘the other one’ while deflecting requests for Moshi Monsters and Lightening McQueens. Is one size too big too big or just roomy, I ponder? It’s a fine line between value for money, and watching your child trip up on their own jumper sleeves.

After a recent trip to 'The Shops', the Tesco school uniform items I’d eventually settled on were tried on with great enthusiasm by my children: ‘I look great, don’t I?’ and ‘Can I wear this all day?’ and ‘This is soooo cool,’ were just some of the comments their mini fashion show produced.

One smart boy. See below for pricing.

Whether I will show quite as much enthusiasm when it comes to washing and ironing the same clothes over and over again remains to be seen. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of the clothing, and with the trousers and skirts in the Tesco range now Teflon-treated (i.e. stain-resistant) and many of the shirts ‘easy-iron’ (hurray!), Sunday evenings - or even Monday mornings – will, hopefully, be a bit less painful.

Shopping with children may not be the easiest of tasks. In fact, there’s probably a reasonable case to introduce it as an Olympic sport. I certainly feel like I deserve a medal when we all get back home, but for now I suppose a box of chocolate éclairs will have to do.

This is a sponsored post.

Pricing: Scuff resistant black shoes (€14.50), 2 pack stain resistant non-iron grey trousers (€8.50), 2 pack easy-iron short sleeve shirts (€5), blue jumper (€5)

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August 1, 2012

Three Little Words


Yes, it’s that time of year when those three little words are on the tip of every parents’ tongue:
Back To School.

It seems a little unfair really, to be thinking about the end of the summer holidays already. ‘Back to School!’ we wail. ‘What - already?’ Some of us (ahem) have barely even unpacked the school bags and lunch boxes from the last day of school, let alone started thinking about re-filling them for the first day back. We’ve only just started to fully enjoy those simple ‘summer holiday’ pleasures: not ironing, buying endless amounts of ice lollies and eating breakfast at eleven a.m. And - let’s face it -there hasn’t been an awful lot of ‘summer’ in these so-called summer holidays. But, alas, all too soon we have to stop thinking about emptying stagnant water out of deserted paddling pools and start thinking about jumpers and winter coats and sensible shoes and packed lunches. It’s inevitable and unavoidable.

For some parents, 2012 will be the first time they immerse themselves in the full Back to School experience, as their first child embarks on life at ‘Big School’. These eager parents will probably have had everything organised since the start of June – lunch boxes labelled, miniature shirts and skirts washed, ironed and hanging expectantly in the wardrobe – everything in place for this milestone in family life.

Others may have lost count of the number of times they’ve been through the Back to School process and, as a result, are relaxed, nonchalant and confident in their abilities to leave everything to the very last minute. Some may not participate in this annual event at all and take the entire family off to Spain at the start of September. Tempting.

I fall somewhere inbetween. My eldest goes into First Class this September, and my youngest starts school. As a result, I am balancing precariously between the confidence of an experienced ‘Back to School Mammy’ and the trepidation of being a fledgling once again. On the one hand, I am breezing along with my school books list and dusting off last year’s school bag. On the other, I am ready to shed bucket-loads of tears as I watch ‘my baby’ walk into his new classroom, proudly clutching his new schoolbag (which is actually the same size as him  - possibly even slightly bigger). The last week of August will be an emotional rollercoaster in our house, to say the least.


Half boy, half school bag.
For now, as my vitamin-D-deprived mind struggles to cope with intricate details about 7mm sum copy books, HB pencils, 30cm rulers, safety scissors and plastic document wallets, I'm taking the softly, softly approach to Back to School; sneaking a few bits into the trolley as I do the weekly shop. With Tesco's full Back to School range (think everything from A4 folders to zips on winter coats), I can throw in a packet of coloured pencils here, a Spiderman lunchbox there, the occasional packet of glitter for good measure, and it suddenly all seems a little bit easier. Plus, I can stock up on ice lollies at the same time.

Back to School? Easy peasy. If only it was as easy to organise the weather.  Anyone? Anyone…?

Back to School essentials* from Tesco. For pricing, see below.

This is a sponsored post.


*glitter not essential, but it is very nice.
Pricing: Crayola 12 Coloured Pencils (€2.99), 30cm ruler (70c), plastic document wallet (€1), subject dividers (€1.20), craft scissors (€1.50), Staedtler 10 pack HB pencils, plus eraser and sharpener (€3.90). Glitter star shakers (€2).
Pictured above: Backpack (€10), Crocodile lunchbox with drink bottle (€13.50)
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May 1, 2012

Very Ferry Good!


View from the bridge - 'I'm flying Jack', (and all that)
The last time I was on a ferry, I was a sulky teenager who wasn't looking forward to a week on the Isle of Man with her parents, let alone the prospect of travelling there on something resembling a fishing trawler from Deadliest Catch. That was 24 years ago. Things have changed. Ferries have changed - significantly! Having just returned from a weekend break to North Wales, crossing the Irish Sea with Stena Line ferries, I am a ferry convert. Here's five reasons why.

  • The whole layout of the ferries is much more comfortable and stylish than I had expected, or remembered.The seating areas are lounge style, movies play on plasma TVs and there are Curious George playrooms for younger children. It all just felt clean, calm and relaxing.
  • There is free Wi-Fi access and of course you can use your phone as much as you want.
  • You can take as much luggage as you want in your car, and leave everything - other than essentials - in the car during the crossing. Spare coats, wellies, hats - throw it all in without worrying about the weight.
  • To be able to get back into your car and drive off towards your hotel at the other side is infinitely more appealing than baggage carousels, passport control, bus/taxi transfers from the airport, or the prospect of queuing at the car hire desk with tired, fidgety children.
  • The crossing from Dublin Port to Holyhead took about 3 and a half hours. Although it seems a long time when compared to a flight, it was all very relaxing and there was plenty to do to keep the kids entertained both out on deck spotting land ahoy and on the ferry itself.
Driving onto the ferry (the ferry is the BIG boat)

The added extras

The private family cabin - swanky

As guests of Stena Line we were given upgrades to StenaPlus (usually costs €18 per person to upgrade) which gives access to a private lounge, complimentary drinks, snacks and newspapers. We were also given use of a private family cabin which comes complete with plasma TV, Playstation, ensuite bathroom with shower, more drinks and snacks and a nifty coffee machine. Although great fun, I'm not sure the additional charge (up to £50) for the private cabin would be worth it for this short crossing, but for a longer one it could be money well spent. We also got to go up to the bridge to meet the Captain, which was a great experience for the boys!



Plenty of space to run on the decks


The hotel
Our hotel, Seoint Manor, in Snowdonia was a Stena Line recommended hotel. It was absolutely lovely. The staff were friendly and helpful, the breakfasts and evening meals were delicious and the accommodation and facilities were ideal. Although we were only there for one and a half days, there is plenty in the area to keep young children entertained. Caernarfon Castle was fantastic and a drive through the stunning Snowdonia National Park has us tempted to go back with our walking gear.


The conclusion
Having flown regularly with the children between Ireland and the UK, I can honestly say that taking the ferry was definitely the most stress-free journey we've had for a long time. I do think the StenaPlus lounge* helped - particularly on the return trip which was quite a rough crossing. The use of a portable DVD player for the kids, the novelty factor of helping themselves to drinks from the fridges and that little bit of extra privacy, definitely took their minds off the old heave ho! *The StenaPlus lounge on the Stena Adventurer was a lot larger than on the Stena Nordica and could, if very busy, take away a little from the 'VIP' factor.


All in all, I was very impressed with Stena Line - in terms of the ferry itself, the staff, the facilities on board and quality of refreshments - there was really nothing to find fault with. If we are planning a holiday to the UK or France in future, we will definitely look at the ferry as a viable travel option. As Dom Joly says in the new Stena Line ad campaign: take a Car-cation. You might be pleasantly surprised!


We travelled out on the Stena Nordica and back on the Stena Adventurer. For a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 children under 16), plus our car, our trip would have cost around €300 for economy fare. At the moment, Stena Line have a 'Bring a friend for free' offer - book by 8th May and travel before 30th May. Details about this offer can be found on the website. For more information, visit www.stenaline.ie


Disclaimer: Our return ferry crossing, StenaPlus upgrade and accommodation at the Seoint Manor hotel were provided by Stena Line. All opinions about the trip are my own.


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April 23, 2012

Why do I read? World Book Night 2012



Tonight is World Book Night, 2012 when a million books will be given away for free to spread the joy and love of reading. April 23 is a symbolic date for world literature. It is both the birth and death day of Shakespeare, as well as the death day of Cervantes, the great Spanish novelist. It is in their honour that UNESCO appointed it the international day of the book and that we choose it to celebrate World Book Night. 

As one of 20,000 volunteers who are distributing copies of the specially selected 'World Book Night' books, I clearly love reading. But why? What do I read and why do I pick up those books and forget about everything else as I immerse myself in their wonderful stories?

For me, I read, quite simply, for pleasure. I read to immerse myself in lives, situations and events I haven't experienced - or possibly even considered - before. I read to broaden my perspective on life and to learn about parts of our history which I know nothing about. I also read to learn from the experts, and to improve my own writing. And despite having recently published my first novel on Kindle, I have to admit to being a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to good old-fashioned paper books and bookshops (which I'd much rather spend time in than a shoe shop).

Any glance at my bookshelves will tell you that I enjoy historical fiction (Phillipa Gregory, Sarah Waters, Tracy Chevalier and Rose Tremain featuring several times), and the classics (the Brontes and Jane Austin particularly). As an A' Level English Literature student, an appreciation of the Classics was drummed into me at an influential age - I didn't resist; I loved them! However, I'd also like to think that I have a broad range of tastes when it comes to literature, having read - and enjoyed in the last ten years or so - everything from Bridget Jones's Diary to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime to The Road and most recently, two brilliant new books The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The Light Between Oceans.

Ultimately, I like the books I read to challenge me emotionally; I want to feel invested in the characters and to really care about what happens to them. I don't want to be terrified, but I enjoy the occasional paranormal influence. I don't want to be reaching for the dictionary every few words, but I do love the language used in books and I appreciate the way a book is written, as much as the story the words portray. I like to be surprised by a plot twist I didn't see coming (Sarah Water's 'Fingersmith' being a particularly memorable one) and I want to feel sad when I read the final page - purely because I have enjoyed the book so much, I don't want it to end.


Why do you read? Escapism? Entertainment? Education? 

For me, a love of reading is also one of the most important things you can teach your children. I read from a young age and I'm so proud when I hear my six year old reading to himself and his little brother. I know what an amazing world of books is out there just waiting for him to discover - and that's exciting.

I will be giving away my World Book Night books to the hardworking shopkeepers in the local community: butchers, florists, greengrocers, bakers, hairdressers and the pub landlord. Whether they are already avid readers, or not, I truly hope that they enjoy the book and that they will pass it onto someone else when they have finished with it, to continue to spread the joy of reading.

Below I have provided some information on the book I selected to give away tonight. For more information on World Book Night visit http://www.worldbooknight.org/ or follow the events on Twitter @WorldBookNight

Happy reading!



Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again ...Working as a lady's companion, the heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Life begins to look very bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. She accepts, but whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to the ominous and brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding Mrs Danvers ...Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with the Other Woman. An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young girl consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.


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April 20, 2012

Great Ormond Street Hospital’s RBC Race for the Kids


Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity is organising a 5k family fun event on Sunday 24th June in Battersea Park, London. The RBC Race for the Kids is taking place to raise money for improvements to Great Ormond Street Hospital.


Anyone can take part in RBC Race for the Kids, whether they want to run, jog, walk or roller skate! If you would like to register to take part, visit the sign up page. Registration costs £15 for adults and children over 16 yrs, £10 for children aged between 5 and 16 yrs and is free for the under 5s.


It is every parent's worst nightmare to learn that their child needs hospital care. The staff at children's hospitals do an incredible job in caring for their young patients and supporting the parents through very difficult times. All funds raised from this event will be used towards redeveloping vital parts of the hospital so that staff can care for more sick children. The money raised from the RBC Race for the Kids will help provide things like medical equipment, vital research into childhood illnesses, and beds for parents to stay in so they can be close to their children.


If you can't participate in the race yourself, please help to spread the word for this very worthy cause. You can also donate directly to the Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity.


Thank you.


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April 15, 2012

Final extract from 'The Girl Who Came Home'. 15th April, 1912

To mark the centenary of the sinking of Titanic in the early hours of the morning on 15th April, 1912, the final extract from The Girl Who Came Home shows Maggie on the rescue ship Carpathia. She does not know what happened to the rest of the group she was travelling with.
*

Time stood still. There was nothing.

‘I’m so cold,’ someone said.

The sound of prayers and sobbing.

It was hard to breathe.

Another voice. ‘A ship.’

She was being lifted then, pulled. Her frozen hands tried to grasp a rope. A ladder? Was she back on Titanic? Was it a dream?

Her body wouldn’t move. She had no idea where she was. Where was Kathleen? Where was everyone?

‘Maggie,’ someone said. ‘Her name is Maggie Murphy. From Ireland. She had this small case with her.’

A bitter taste in her mouth. Hot coffee? Then brandy. Coughing. Spluttering.

She tried to open her eyes, but they were too sore from the salt and the cold.

She tried to speak. ‘I can’t see. Am I blind?’ The words came out as an indecipherable mumble.

‘It’s OK Maggie,’ someone replied. ‘You’re on the Carpathia. It came to rescue us. You’re going to be OK. You’re safe now.’

A blanket was wrapped around her. She let the tears fall.

*

For the next few days, Maggie barely noticed the sunset or sunrise; barely acknowledged the faint shafts of early morning light which reflected off a piece of metal through the window in front of her, sending light dancing across the deck. She stared dimly ahead, the sun almost irrelevant to her, unable to warm her, unable to illuminate the shadows of thirteen people which clouded her broken heart.

‘Where am I?’ she asked the person lying next to her.

‘The library,’ they replied. ‘There wasn’t room for us all in the cabins and those of us who were last to be rescued were placed in makeshift dorms, like this one.’

‘Which ship are we on?’ she enquired, still confused.

‘The Carpathia. They came to rescue us. Remember?’

She didn’t.

*

It wasn’t until the third day on the Carpathia that she found enough strength to sit on the deck. Still shaking under her blankets, a kind man with blue eyes, who said he was the doctor, told her that she wasn’t cold anymore but the shock of what she had been through had her nerves bouncing around all over the place. She was unable to cry any more tears. All she could feel was fear and a desolate loneliness.

She reflected on the journey she had taken from Ballysheen, almost able to hear the rumble of the carts as they’d set off, before a sort of stillness had fallen over them as the rutted tracks gave way to the softer sandy road at the edge of the village. She remembered how she’d watched the three carts ahead of the one she shared with her aunt and how she had wondered what thoughts were passing through everyone’s minds as they moved slowly through the landscape that had framed all of their lives. She had watched Peggy, in the cart ahead, speaking some words of comfort to Katie who was twisting a sodden handkerchief around and around her fingers. She remembered that they had stopped once for a driver to remove a stone which had become lodged in one of the horse’s hooves. She recalled how she had hoped that if she stared intently enough, listened hard enough and really concentrated on those sights and sounds and smells, she would impress the memories into her brain, ready to recall at will in the years to come, as the vast ocean and the passing of time attempted to erode them. It was these small, intimate details she recalled now as she sat, shaking and alone, although whether in dreams or in waking moments she wasn’t quite sure.

‘We arrive in New York tomorrow evening,’ she heard someone close by say. ‘And not a moment too soon. This ice is wreaking havoc with the minds of the poor unfortunates. They must be terrified it’s going to happen all over again.’

‘Excuse me sir,’ she whispered.

The man heard her and turned. ‘Yes Miss?’

‘What day is it today?’

‘It is Wednesday Miss. April 17th.’

‘Wednesday,’ she repeated. ‘Thank you.’

She closed her eyes then and slept.

*

The Girl Who Came Home - A Titanic Novel is available to download on the Amazon Kindle Store, priced 99p/99c. If you don't have a Kindle, you can download free Kindle reading apps for PC, iPad, iPhone, Android and other devices from the Kindle Store. Read previous extracts:

First extract

Second extract

Third extract

Fourth extract


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