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.

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: