Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Beady Eye Bargains - the discount Queen of Kildare

I like to shop locally but there are some things that cannot be bought in Athgarvan.  A glittery toilet seat is one of them.  It was time to update the bathroom so I went online and with one small click of the mouse, purchased my big camp toilet seat. It sparkles like a disco ball and makes every trip to the smallest room in the house feel a little bit special.

Walking to school the next day I happened to bump into a fellow mum on the run, Melissa. Unable to contain my excitement, I showed her a picture of my latest purchase. Her eyes lit up, she used to sing in a band and loves a bit of glamour. “You should have spoken to me, I’d have got you fifty percent off that,” she said with a wink.

Two years ago Melissa lost her job as a cost analyst for a large American company. Now that the family was relying on one income, the mortgage, gas, electricity and insurance bills began to stack up. She had to make drastic changes and examined the household budget for the first time, with an accountant’s eye.

“I found that there were big price differences online,” she told me. She made reductions on her energy providers first, then got a better deal on her mortgage and insurance.  After further examination, she discovered that the biggest saving of all was to be made on grocery shopping,

Melissa says that anyone can cut hundreds a year from their weekly shop. When she was employed, she used to spend €800 a month on food; that has been reduced by more than half. “Now I sit down, go online, run though all the supermarkets and see what’s on offer”. Her favourite comparison website is

With Newbridge just down the road she does Tesco and Dunnes in one day. She does Aldi and Lidl in Kildare town on another. The savings she makes each week are incredible. “Everything that I buy is half price or less”. The best ever shop was when she spent just €40 for a weeks grocery shopping using Tescos online. “The trick is to plan out a week of meals and make a detailed list” she advised me, “The rewards are there for the taking”.

“Aldi is best for regular weekly savings and Thursday vegetable offers. Dunnes and Tescos put up good deals on vegetables too”. She’s also become a bit of an expert on the psychology of shopping. “Cheaper goods are always on the lower shelves and never shop when you are hungry”. 

The discount queen spends two hours in the morning and the same in the evening online finding the deals. “I’m not working, I have the time to sit down and investigate what’s out there. I am making it my job to save our family money”. It was through her extensive research she discovered ‘Beady Eye Bargains and Special Offers’ on Facebook. Sarah McHale, the founder of ‘Beady Eye’ spends twelve hours a day searching for deals and sharing them online.

Thirty thousand people are on the Beady Eye page and there’s a reason. It’s the place for them to share the knowledge.  Every special offer, ‘Buy One Get One Free’ deal, money saving hint and tip in Ireland is listed there. Special discount codes for online shopping are listed and added to daily. “The bargains that are out there are unbelievable,” Melissa told me. Why am I always the last to know about these things?

A few hours later I found myself standing in Melissa’s kitchen with a mug of tea. On the kitchen table, she had laid on a huge display of everything that she had bought online for her two children for Christmas including dolls, watches, painting sets, beads, headphones and a cuddly toy. Late Late Toy Show eat your heart out.

“I bought this off EBay for 1 cent INCLUDING shipping!” she beamed, holding up a beautiful silver ‘Frozen’ necklace with a secret watch inside.  “These twelve Barbie dresses were €1.29 for the whole set” she carried on, rooting through the pile. “These Minecraft toys are €9.99 each in the shops. I could never afford them. I bought nine online for €12”. That’s a saving of a whopping €78.

Christmas is a sneeze away and this year Melissa began shopping early. “Stores will have sales or discounts in September to increase their sales for the last quarter for the year. It is the best time to shop for bargains”. Retailers such as Argos sell toys at 75% off.  She began buying from EBay in September too. “You have to allow 45 days for things to arrive”. She has most of her Christmas shopping done while I’m still in Halloween mode.  

Savvy Melissa had a few tips for this sloppy shopper. “Register online with the companies that you want to purchase from”. All the big players from Debenhams to Littlewoods, Smyths to Argos send out offers directly to you on a weekly basis. “There might just be something that you are looking for”.  

“Sign up to Groupon, Living Social, Deal Rush, Grab One, PigsBack and get daily emails. Make a list, only buy what you need”. As I got up to leave, she showed me deals that are currently available online. Lily O’Briens are offering 20% off, Lifestyle Sports 10%, New Look 20% and MacCabes pharmacy the same.  

“It’s like a treasure hunt!  It’s so satisfying when you find something that you’ve been searching for at a discounted price.” Her research has paid off. Melissa has cut hundreds from bills, her groceries and saved a fortune on her children’s Christmas presents. There is only one thing left to find that will make her Christmas complete, a trip to Santa.

Santa’s probably the only thing that you can’t buy on a discount site so she’s off to Donadea Forest Park to visit him in the grotto instead.  The Discount Diva had better watch out. If Santa discovers how good she is at buying toys, he’ll want her as head elf.  

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Simple Halloween Centrepiece Ideas

Halloweens is almost here! it's the time to be a child again, dress up and scare the neighbours. There is a great deal that can be done with a pumpkin and for the creatives out there, it's one of the major highlights of the year. But for those less creative, or for those short on time,  I've gathered a few simple Halloween centrepiece ideas here. Have fun!

1. All you need is a PEN for this one.

2. A candle and a few leaves for this beauty. 

3. WHAT COULD BE EASIER? This is just a candle stuck in a pumpkin. 

4. Flowers, flowers, flowers. 

5. Collected from the garden....

6.Spray paint!

7. Water and candles!

8. And finally, this step by step tutorial for those wanting something FABULOUS!

Friday, 10 October 2014

National Ploughing 2014 - a long way down

“Pop in and see my cows” was the invitation from a friend last week. He was down at the National Ploughing Championships, Disneyland for farmers and one big agricultural party for the young and old. The buzz is electrifying as hoards of whispering farmers, lean on sticks and spend hours gazing at a Massey Ferguson.

So along with over a hundred thousand others I headed down the N7 towards Ratheniska. With Kfm for company and a two-litre flask of milky tea beside me I soon hit severe congestion. The sun had brought the crowds and the little country road that leads from the N7 to Ratheniska was virtually at a standstill. 

Politicians were shouting over each other to be heard on Kfm as they discussed water charges. Combined with the heat and boredom of a traffic jam, I turned to tea and finished off the whole flask in an hour. Ninety minutes, into the tailback and I was bursting with two litres of tea.

Going nowhere, I phoned Lucy in Thurles, “What am I going to do?”  My bladder was pulsating. “Pull over and do a wee at the side of the road” my friend said, laughing. She wasn’t taking any of it seriously. But it was serious. I was in agony. In the rear view mirror I could see a car full of men in a shiny BMW. In front of me, a muddy truck filled with farmers

“I can’t pull over and wee at the side of the road. I am in a heavily congested country lane”. Added to that, the little road was crawling with guards. My bladder was now burning. “I can’t just wee at the side of the road in front of all of these people!” “You are surrounded by farmers. They won’t even bat an eyelid”. She wasn’t much help.

The traffic was going nowhere. We had been stationary for ten minutes. I looked at the hedgerow and small grass verge. The last time that I had to wee at the side of the road I was probably four years old. Forty years later, could I really do it again? Perhaps I could pretend that I had dropped something out of the window, squat down and look around in the grass and wee without anyone every knowing.

But what if the men in suits thought that I was in difficulty? What if they or the farmers came out of their cars to help me? Then what? It was too risky. I had to think of something else. I had seen a Japanese invention in a magazine some months ago and mocked it. It was called a She-Wee. A small plastic device that women can slide into their underwear, with a clever spout that drains the urine away. It means that women can wee, if they so chose to, standing up. I wish that instead of mocking the She-Wee, I had ordered one.

The emergency was in full swing. I was now sweating. Sweating meant that things were about to get nasty if I did not find a loo soon. This was turning into an episode of ER and there was no way that an ambulance would get to me in time through the traffic. Rocking too and fro, I looked around the car. I found a plant pot on the back seat. It was it a box on its way to the charity shop. The plant pot was a plant pot no more. It was about to become a porta-loo.

Lifting myself up, I sat on the pink M&S ceramic pot. The shouty politicians were still screaming at each on the radio as I started to relieve myself into it. Just as I was about to let out a sigh of relief, the traffic started moving again. Balancing on my potty, I drove on. With my head almost touching the roof of the car. A few metres later the traffic stopped once again. I was parked up right next to young guard at the side of the road.

I kept my eyes fixed on the truck full of farmers in front. The pot was half full but still my poor bladder throbbed. There was much more to go. My face was red from embarrassment and pain when suddenly, a tap on the window.  “Is everything ok?” a young male guard asked. Perched on my pot, I kept my eyes on the road ahead. “Fine” I shouted back through the glass. He must have registered some kind of distress or suspicion on my face.

The last half an hour was the longest of my life. I have never driven with such concentration. I negotiated bends in the road, small bumps and passed at least three hundred people as I made my way to the car park at Ratheniska. All the time, balanced on a plant pot. Thirty minutes later and I was parked up in a field with another thirty thousand cars. When the coast was clear, I emptied my plant potty into a nearby hedge. I could breathe again.

I found the Irish Countrywomen’s Association tent and took in a butter making demonstration and a jam making class. In the nearby retail tent, I discovered the delicious Man of Aran Fudge and bought a sack of daffodil bulbs and some soap before setting off to find Des Dunne and his stall. 

I found him standing beside two hugs black and white Belted Galloways. He was there to promote the breed and the Belted Galloway Club of Ireland. “Guess how much she weighs?” ha asked me. I looked at the black and white heffer. She was the size of my Citreon Picasso C4. “She weighs over 614 kilos,” he told me. I looked at her with admiration. That’s 96 stone.

She must have a huge bladder.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Hold on to your cats...Morrissey's coming to DUBLIN!

Morrissey is playing the 3Arena. A MONDAY night!  
Yes, he plays the 1st December and I shall be in block F with a woman who once kissed him at a book signing. Rumour is that she is planning something.
I have never met her before and if she tries to run for the stage, I shall restrain her. If Morrissey is wearing the cat, it might get hurt. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Reasons to be cheerful

We’re half way into the school holidays and the kids are climbing the walls. I’m not far behind them. I’ve the uniforms to buy, a pile of ironing the height of Kilimanjaro, a broken fridge and a tooth that is nagging at me.  If only I could sleep til noon like my teenagers I’d halve the worry. Then something came along that lightened my spirit. At the start of the week a friend in Australia nominated me to take part in a simple experiment.

All I had to do was spend a few minutes every evening for five nights reflecting on three good things that happened that day. When I had thought of them, I was asked to post them on my Facebook page each night and nominate three friends to do the same.  By the end of the week the project would have encouraged fifteen random people to reflect on the positive. It couldn’t have come at a better time. so in the name of ‘Mindfulness’ I gave it ago. Here are my fifteen:

1. Friendship. “Do you think I’m weird?” I asked my friend of forty years this week. “Yeah. But so am I so who cares?” was how our conversation started this week. We share and laugh, we share and cry and I’m not sure where we’d be without each other.

2. Home Sweet Home.
After a week in a barge on the Llangollen Canal, I was very happy to be home. Dad fell in, my brother fell in, and two of the dogs fell in. Uncle Richard accidently threw my sister’s IPad into the murky canal and I ended up in hospital with a peculiar swelling.  My sister in law dropped her house keys into the canal, my husband did the same with our car keys and we lost three pairs of sunglasses. I am so thankful that we are in the AA and to the mechanic who fixed our car when we started the journey home after what was supposed to be a relaxing break.

3. Ready, steady, cook. The teenagers have been cooking for me all week. It started after I did a simple sum. I calculated how many meals I had cooked for the family over the year.  It came to almost forty five thousand. So far dinners have been pasta based three nights in a row but I am not complaining. I didn’t cook it and it tastes lovely.

4. Beard appreciation. Every man under the age of thirty has grown a beard. They’ve not been in fashion since the seventies and I was too young to remember all that facial hair. They’ll be gone soon so I am enjoying the beard styles while I can.

5. Secret Agent. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone but I wrote a children’s book. This is the week that I got an agent who is taking my little manuscript to the very big Frankfurt Book Fair in October.  It feels a bit like making it through to the judges’ house on X Factor. Now it is a waiting game. If you see me and I look a little strange, it is because my fingers and toes are crossed. 

6. Smoothie Operator. Thanks to an impulse buy in Lidl, any fruit soft enough to be squeezed has been blitzed and jazzed up with juice, honey and yoghurt. A simple smoothie machine has brought a bit of excitement to the five a day. I’ve even started to freeze my smoothies. I clean it every night until it shines. That’s how much I love it. 

7. The lovely man at the Dry Cleaners. He dragged my smelly, much loved old duvet out of the car and promised that he could make it look and smell fresh again. “There is a risk,” he warned. “If it goes wrong it will explode in the machine. It will go up like a nuclear explosion. Feathers everywhere”. I took the risk. Watch out. I apologize in advance if a cloud of feathers hangs over the county for the next few days.

8. Feet. My youngest daughter, aged eleven, has the same sized shoes as me. “I can wear your shoes now” she told me. This caused me to have a much needed clear out of my shoe cupboard and hide the stilettoes.

9. Ireland. I packed the kids into the car and drove up to Glendalough. We were there in under an hour. The drive took us over the mountains and through some of the most breathtaking scenery in Ireland. We walked for two hours in the blazing sunshine past the big lake and back. Buses loaded with tourists were there too. “You can see why they come here” my son commented as we tucked into a huge ice cream on the way home. He’s dead right. Ireland has it all.

10. The old roof box. It came to life once more after a good spray of WD40 and got our clothes to Wales and back without falling off or cracking under the pressure.  Maybe I’ll keep it on the roof permanently and putting the kids in it for a more peaceful school run in September.

11. Whopper. The shop up the road sells the biggest ‘99’ ice creams in the world. I’ve eaten two this week.

12. Puppy love. We’ve fostered another two puppies from the KWWSPCA. They are running around the house with such energy and joy that it is impossible not to smile.

13. Art.  Whilst on the hunt for school shoes I came across the great art installation at Kildare Village this week. Susan Cuffe’s work ‘Out Dancing With My Love’ left me feeling good about the world.

 14. Factor 50. I remembered to put suncream on my nose this week.

15. The horrific images from Gaza reminded me of the most important reason to be positive.  Ireland is not at war. We live in peace.

Reasons to be cheerful? I have my fifteen. Now it’s your turn.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Hot legs and dry eyes? Welcome to the menopause...

I recently turned 45. I celebrated by locking the children out of the house for two hours and sitting in a cool bath. Then I went through the handful of birthday cards that arrived.  One was from my sister; another from a friend in Denmark and the other wasn’t a card at all but a reminder that I was due to have a mammogram the following week.

How does 45 feel? Hot. Literally overnight things have changed and my internal heating system has gone a little peculiar. “Touch my legs,” I begged my husband last week. He hasn’t heard that for a while and came running in to the kitchen looking far too excited. “Do they feel hot?” he gripped my shin sternly making “Mmm!” noises. Clearly misunderstanding that it was a medical opinion that I was after.

It was week two of the school holidays and the kids came into the kitchen, cross-eyed with boredom to find their Dad on his knees, gripping my shin. “What are you DOING?” asked one in disgust. “Do me a favour, will you touch my legs?” I asked her. “Er, NO!” she said. “Shave them first. You’re like an ape,” said the other. The youngest in the family was brave enough to touch them. “They feel very warm,” he said.  Right answer.

The hot legs drove me mad. Cool baths did help temporarily. But like a kettle, my legs were so hot that after five minutes the bath water was at boiling point. Why couldn’t this happen in the winter when the house is freezing cold? They whole family could sit around my legs and we’d save a fortune on heating bills. I could warm the bed up faster than an electric blanket at night and fry eggs on my thighs in the morning.

“At least you haven’t got dry eyeballs” was my sister’s response. She’s older than me and though she has avoided the hot legs issue, her eyes have become dry. “They are like two tennis balls,” she told me, full of hope and good news as usual.  We went to a garden centre to cheer ourselves up.  Dry Eyes and Hot Legs. This is what we have become. This is forty something.

My sister can stare at a potted plant for hours on end. We got to an African Violet display and she started staring. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she said, turning to me and dabbing her eyes. “Are you crying?” this was not like her at all. “No. It’s my dry eye thing. Sometimes they go the other way and get watery for no reason” she said, dabbing a Kleenex under her sunglasses. I stood there for twenty minutes before I had to move. My legs were getting hot and we were in a greenhouse.  I needed to sit down before the heat explosion. The heat from my legs would wilt the flowers.

She joined me in the cafĂ© half an hour later. She had purchased a purple African Violet. She was still dabbing her eyes as she sat down in front of her coffee. “Are you sure you’re OK?” I tried not to sound too much like a therapist.  We are not an emotional family and never chat about anything psychologically deeper than the weather.

“I’m fine”. Was she speaking in code after all these years? Was she opening up in a therapy way? Did her ‘FINE’ mean Fragile, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional or was she really fine fine? She stared at the African Violet and I waved my skirt up and down over my hot legs. They were burning up. “You look ridiculous” Dry Eyes was now mocking me. I didn’t care.

I am not the only one who is suffering.  In the supermarket recently I met a friend who was very red in the face. “Is it me or has someone turned the heating up?” she asked me, hugging a bag of frozen peas. We were in the frozen food section and it wasn’t one bit hot that day. Her face was red, she looked anxious. You feel like that when your thermostat starts playing up. You think that you are going mad when nobody else is feeling the heat with you.

Dry Eyes removed her glasses. “I’ve spent the morning cleaning out HIS room,” she said. Then she put the shades back on. Her son, her only child, my beloved nephew, just left home aged twenty-three. She stirred her coffee and dabbed at her eyes. “He left his PlayStation and Breaking Bad poster,” she stirred even faster. “What am I supposed to do with them?”

She dabbed at her eyes again.  “He Skyped me last night. Says that he needs warm clothes”. I think her hearing might be going. He has moved to Malta where the temperature is currently 32 degrees. His bedroom still smells of him”.  She took a sip of coffee.

“What am I supposed to do now? Just me and Phil in an empty house”. I reminded her how she has spent the last ten years doing nothing but moan about the mess, the noise and the smell of her son. How it was time for him to spread his wings, how Malta was a great place for him to work and her to visit. It didn’t help.   Dry eyes and empty nest syndrome. Nightmare.

I was beginning to feel very guilty about locking my children out of the house for two hours. My phone went. It was my eldest. “Can you come home? Everyone’s screaming and I’m trying to watch a movie”. I walked in to find them wrestling over the remote control, cushions, laundry all over the house, the dogs hiding under the table.

There’s six weeks left before they all go back to school.  I shall try and make the most of this summer holiday and my time with the children. I shall ignore my hot legs and concentrate on what really matters. The noise, the chaos and the smell of family life.