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.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Happiness is a warm puppy

My home is under attack. Ants invaded the house last month. Thousands of them appeared from under a skirting board in the hall.  The teenagers are on their mad three-month summer break and were no help whatsoever. They ran to their rooms screaming, leaving me to sort the problem out. I scratched at imaginary ants on my head, then my arms, then at my legs. I was turning into my own horror movie. I needed chemicals.

Ants greeted me at the front door when I returned empty handed from the shops. The chemical Ant Killing sprays and powders had sold out. The whole county must have been under ant attack too. So I Googled my problem and an eco friendlier solution came up: Cinnamon. Luckily I had loads of it left over from Christmas and the mulled wine that I never got around to making.

Two and a half tubs of the ground spice later and to my total and utter amazement, the ants disappeared. It turns out that they really do hate cinnamon. They are not the only ones. “What’s that smell?” my husband said when he came through the door. The house smelt like one big a Yankee candle. “Ants. We have an invasion,” I informed him with a peg on my nose. The cinnamon was making me sneeze.

I continued to shake cinnamon on the floor right by his feet when he dropped the bombshell. “Have you ever thought about fostering?” “You cannot be SERIOUS?” I replied, but he was serious. Fostering? That’s for compassionate grown ups that have time and emotional maturity in equal measures. That rules me out.

At that moment, we had a house full of ants, teenagers locked in their bedrooms and I have the menopause knocking at my door with a bag load of HRT. I have had never thought about fostering but have been dreaming about moving to Greece. I want to spend the last fifty years of my life ant-free, surrounded by sun, sea and cheap wine. Fostering had never, ever entered my mind.

 “What about the kids?” I panicked. “They’ll get jealous. We’d have less time for them.” So, because he is emotionally mature and I am easily persuaded, we talked it through with the children “YES YES YES!” was the eldest response. “It will be so much fun” was the youngest. That was that. We had their approval. My husband made the phone call and started the ball rolling.

Very soon we were interviewed and home checked. It didn’t take long at all. Two days later they arrived and we became foster carers. We took in more than one; there were four of them in total.  Four adorable little black and white puppies came to live with us for a fortnight.

When the KWWSPCA opened an animal rescue centre five minutes from our home it was only a matter of time before we got involved. We are doggy people. We have doggy mugs, doggy t-shirts a very generous doggy mad Granny.

Thanks to Super-Gran, our dogs have t-shirts, jumpers and winter coats and would not look out of place in Beverly Hills with their diamante leads and crystal collars. We even have a sign ‘Love Me Love My Dog’ at the door. People tell me that I am even beginning to look like one of my dogs. I take that as a compliment. 

The KWWSPCA currently has over thirty dogs looking for new homes. To lighten their load, they foster out animals whilst new permanent homes are found. Too few people neuter their dogs despite calls to do so from animal welfare groups. The result is an overwhelming amount of unwanted dogs and puppies.

I am too soft and burst into tears when we first went along to the new premises in Athgarvan. A dog had just been handed into them, a cruelty case. A dog that had been in a puppy farm for years, in a crate and didn’t even know how to walk. His back legs were stiff and deformed and his face was filled with sorrow. 

“Why are you crying?” the KWWSPCA manager, Laura, asked me. “Because it is so sad,” I sobbed into my sleeves. “But it’s not sad. He is here now and we’ll find him a lovely home” Laura replied. A few weeks of TLC from the volunteers at the animal sanctuary later his tail was up, he was walking and was a totally different dog. He found his spirit, his forever home and is now absolutely adored by his new owner.

The KWWSCPA relies on donations to rescue, treat and re-home the animals that arrive at their door. Temporary fostering is a win-win situation. It lightens the load at the sanctuary and means that foster carers get to play with puppies for a few weeks until they are found a permanent home.

“We need earplugs,” a very weary looking husband said the day after our fostered puppies arrived.  Then smallest, the runt of the litter went missing. We found her hiding under a cupboard, asleep. Then the sparkiest one took a shine to my scarves. She found a whole box of them and chewed, pulled and dragged them around the house with me chasing after her.

Another puppy kept playing hide and seek in the hedge whilst another kept making a beeline for the pond. After an hour of chaos, the cuddled up together and slept, they slept for eighteen hours a day. Fostering puppies is just like having four hilarious, cuddly toddlers in the house. They have literally filled our hearts and house with joy. For two weeks, all of us have loved every minute, even the three times a day slopping out.

Thanks to the KWWSPA’s Facebook page, each puppy has been re-homed and we shall be taking more in soon. If you are thinking about getting a dog, don’t think twice. Get involved and foster or adopt one. To quote a wise woman, “Whoever said diamonds are a girls best friend never had a dog”.

Please 'LIKE' and 'SHARE' this wonderful organisation's Facebook page and help find homes today:

Wednesday, 28 May 2014


My son put a board game in front of my face last Sunday. Santa had thoughtfully given ‘My Dysfunctional Family’ to him last Christmas and here it was, still in its cellophane wrap five months later. “Can we play this?” he asked. Of course we’d play it. It sounded like the ideal game for our family. 

With the box in my hands, I studied the cover ‘My Dysfunctional Family – putting the FUN in Dysfunctional’. “Perfect” I muttered. It was all coming back to me. It had been a panic buy on Santa’s behalf on Christmas Eve. Now all I had to do was to round up all six members of my own dysfunctional family to play.

The eldest daughter was straightening her hair, another daughter was missing and the youngest was under her bed making rubber band bracelets. My husband was reading the Racing Post in front of the telly. Some ten minutes of yelling later and we all sat at the kitchen table like the Waltons.

To play ‘My Dysfunctional Family’, someone reads out a question and the others write down the name of the family member who fits the description. If your answer matches that of the person asking the question, you get a point. The first person to get to twenty is the winner. Easy.

My eldest daughter asked the first question. “Which member of the family is the most impatient?” Simple. I wrote my son’s name down as fast as I could and tapped my pen on the tabletop and bit my nails as I waited for everyone else to write their answer.

Everyone held up his or her answers. I was the only person to write my son’s name down. They had all written my name. They were all wrong as I have the patience of a saint. I thought they all knew everyone knows that. “Next question, next question, next question” I called out. 

“Which member of the family is most likely to lie to a police officer?” Another easy one, I write down my youngest daughter’s name. She is great at embellishing the truth and could talk her way our out of anything. We held up our answers.  

I got the majority vote again. This was ridiculous. “But you did pretend that you didn’t know your back light was broken last month when you were stopped,” one of my daughters pointed out gently, patting my back like I was in the later stages of senile dementia.

Next question:  “Which member of the family would take something from a family member’s room without asking?” Not me. My son was awarded that one.  Then, “Who is most likely to buy stuff that they don’t need?” That could be any of my daughters. I wrote one down at random and held my card up.

“I AM NOT A SHOPOHOLIC!” I screamed when to my astonishment, they had all written my name down. “But what about the ice cream machine you never use?” my son piped up. This game was getting too much. ‘My Dysfunctional Family’ was nothing more than an exercise in character assassination; public flogging at it’s finest.

Then the next question really touched a nerve. “Who is the worst driver?” So what if drive at the same speed as a mobility scooter?  At least I have no points on my licence.  That makes me a better driver than my husband, yet I got the majority vote. This was clearly a conspiracy.

Clearly the game was rigged.  Next question: “Which member of the family takes playing games with the family far too seriously?”  I won that vote too. I needed tea. Tea would calm my nerves, help me swing the game and be the first to twenty points. I might still be in with a chance.

But there was no milk in the fridge. I could write a whole list of my own questions about the fridge-freezer situation. “Which family member puts empty milk cartons back in the fridge?” “Which family member takes bites out of a block of cheese and put it back in the fridge?” “Which family member digs the chocolate fish out of the Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food and puts it back in the freezer?”

We paused My Dysfunctional Family for ten minutes whilst I drove to the local shop for milk. That’s when it happened. I reversed impatiently out of the driveway, scraping the side of the car along the garden wall. Outside the shop I surveyed the damage. There were a few large, deep scratches. “Which family member should have gone to Specsavers?” Me. “Which family member should have made do with black coffee?” Me.

At the shop, milk and teabags went into my shopping basket along with a Chunky Kit Kat, which I ate it in the driver’s seat. A Chunky Kit Kat always makes everything feel better. Ten minutes later, I drove home very, very carefully, slower than a mobility scooter.

No one saw me slip into my teenager’s room and borrow her bulging pencil case. They too busy raiding the fridge to notice me nip back outside to the driveway, where I crouched down and coloured in the scratch on the side of the car. Luckily my daughter had a felt tip pen in a similar shade of people carrier blue.

“Which family member will deny all knowledge of a scratch on their car?” Me.  “Which family member thinks that next year, Santa should think about gift vouchers instead of silly American board games that end up causing nothing but family fights, damage to the family car and paranoia?” ME. 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

A new kettle? Don't be so ridiculous.

“Coffee?” I asked Dad last week as he sat on the sofa, dog on his lap. He nodded.  I had just picked him up from hospital after surgery to remove a bladder tumor. He had been in a hospital bed for almost a week and was not himself at all.

He had bled more then he should have done, refused pain killers and anti-inflammatories (for his own peculiar reasons), he had missed his beloved dog terribly and was now home, on the sofa, looking a little worse for wear.

I went into Dad’s kitchen and looked at his kettle. It’s a white plastic kettle, about fifteen years old and the bone of much contention between my father and I.  He he lives in an area where the water is hard and as a result, limescale in kettles and pipes is a huge problem. 

I took the lid off and looked inside. Big flakes of limescale floated on the surface of the water and lumps of it stuck to the sides of the kettle. It was disgusting and surely, not right that anyone should be drinking from it at all. If limescale can irriversibly damage a dishwasher, my mind boggles at what it’s doing to Dad’s insides.

Most people dissolve kettle limescale with tablets that can be bought easily in a supermarket. I bought Calgon tablets for Dad several years ago but he refused to use them and threw them away. “I like my kettle like it is” was his comment as he sipped on a mug of coffee with white lumpy clouds floating around in it.

So last year, for Christmas, I went and did something totally ridiculous. I bought him a new kettle with matching toaster. The other bone of contention between us is that when he comes to Ireland, he loves nothing more than a bit of hot buttery toast. Yet, in his own kitchen, he hasn’t a toaster.

“I’m not using either of them. You may as well keep them yourself,” he told me at the time. I laughed and said that I did not need another kettle or toaster and that he should keep them and enjoy a slice of toast in his own home alongside a cup of clean coffee.

So last week, as he sat dozing in the front room, I decided to have a poke around the kitchen and hunt for the shiny new kettle. It didn’t take me long to find it. Tucked away in the cupboard under the stairs, still in the box, alongside it, the toaster. I took out both. First I unwrapped the kettle, half filled it with water and switched it on.

Dad woke from his doze. “I know what you are doing in there!” he barked. “You have got that new kettle out haven’t you? Well I’ll have coffee made with my kettle thank you very much”.

This was the reaction that I had anticipated. He is from a generation who were taught to ‘mend and make do’. He survived the war where his mother fed a family of six on what she grew in the garden and little more than one egg a week.

That I should come along and throw aside a dirty, scaly kettle that can still boil water is a crime in his mind. As for the toaster, that’s nothing more than new fangled technology like microwave ovens and metal detectors. 

“You can take the kettle home with you”. With Ryanair’s new passenger friendly policy of two bags per person I could carry it home but what was the point?  I explained that I had a perfectly good kettle at home already. “SO DO I!” he snapped grumpily.

I did the right thing and switched on his old kettle too. I watched the two kettles as they came to the boil side by side. I poured water from his kettle into a mug for him and from the new kettle, poured water into a mug for me.

Then I unwrapped the toaster and plugged it in. I had expected him to shout again but he remained silent. I put in two slices of bread and pushed down the lever. A few minutes later the kitchen was filled with the aroma of toast.

I found his favourite plate (at least thirty years old, chipped with the 1970’s flower design washed away) and put the toast onto it. Then I spread butter onto the toast, put it onto a tray beside the cloudy coffee and headed into the front room.

“Toast!” I announced. He took the dog from his lap and put the tray there instead. He picked up a slice and bit into it with a crisp crunch. I drank my limescale free tea and watched as he ate every bit. I may have lost the kettle battle but at least he might be coming round to the idea of a toaster.

As I was getting ready to leave a few days later, Dad came into the kitchen and started looking in the cupboards. “Where have you put the box and wrapping for that kettle?” he asked. I found it in the cupboard under the stairs and handed to him. He packed up the kettle and hid it away again until next time I visit.

Then he looked at the toaster that I had used to toast his bread, crumpets, teacakes and bagels. “Dad, why don’t you keep the toaster out? It’s only a toaster?”  “Because I’ve managed without a toaster for seventy years and I don’t need one now” he said.

“But it’s so easy to use! You love toast!” I tried to convince him to keep it out and not box it away.  Then the dog started barking, he got distracted and I left for home.  I put his fast recovery from surgery down to hot buttery toast. But is the toaster on the counter now? I doubt it.

It would be easier to teach his old dog new tricks.