Thursday, 3 April 2014

Easter Chicks!

This is today's purchase! Bought from An Tearmann, a craft cafe in nearby Kilcullen. They will last longer than the chocolate Easter eggs.....

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Antiques Roadtrip

“Do you want to join me on a road trip?” came the invitation from Davina last Sunday. Ten minutes later, I was sitting beside her in the orange camper van that she recently bought off Done Deal. “Where are we going?” I asked as we took the M1 motorway to Belfast. “We’re meeting a man somewhere near the Hill Of Tara” she said, puffing anxiously on an electronic cigarette. Thanks to Paul McKenna’s I CAN STOP YOU SMOKING CD and fake cigarettes she has conquered her twenty-year addiction to Benson and Hedges Superkings.

Since she started buying and selling online, Done Deal and EBay have become her passion. It turns out that she is not alone. The average person will make €350 selling stuff that they no longer need. Davina had sold a collection of scratched 1980’s albums, her torn wedding dress, her husband’s old ties, a broken CD player and a rusty bicycle. Her track record so far is proof that one man’s trash really is another man’s treasure.  

She says that the thrill lies in finding homes for the things that she no longer wants (and help pay off the mortgage at the same time). Davina uses the name ‘Twinkle Toes’ when she sells online and last Sunday we were going to meet a man with the user name ‘Lovely Liam’ who lived in the middle of nowhere in County Meath. He had bought a white Italian ceramic figurine from her called ‘The Tired One’.

“It’s a long way from Kildare to Lovely Liam” I pointed out. “A sale is a sale and ‘The Tired One’ would break in the post,” Davina said, bashing directions into her phone as we sat in a lay-by near Belfast, totally lost, for the third time that morning. It also turns out that the mysterious buyer had invited her to take a look at his barn, which was filled with bits and pieces that he was selling. We left Kildare at 10.30 and arrived in a tiny village twenty miles from the Hill of Tara at 1pm.

It would have been hard to miss ‘Lovely Liam’. He stood in the middle of the street waving at us, in a leather jacket and wellies with a heavy gold chain round his neck. His teeth so big that looked as though they had been craned hammered and cemented into place.  It didn’t help Davina’s nerves that he was rubbing his hands together in an excited manner. “Hello Twinkle Toes” he said to me. “No, she’s the Twinkle Toes” I corrected him pointing to Davina. “I’m not getting out of the car,” she hissed back at me. 

I got out and Davina followed reluctantly a minute later. “Now girls. Let’s go into the barn,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “I NEED A CIGARETTE” Davina hissed in my direction. We came to a ladder. “Right so, ladies, up into the attic you go, wait for me, I’ll be back soon,” he called to us, heading into the house. Davina’s face was red, her palms were sweaty and before you could say Benson and Hedges, she was half way up a creaky ladder having a panic attack. She has a fear of heights.

 “Oh my GOD. We have to get out of here! QUICK” she shouted down when she reached the top. As fast as a squirrel up a tree I followed her into the attic. It was full of old fishing nets, pots, pans, dusty lampshades and books. It smelt damp, there were no windows and Davina was hyperventilating. It was what was in the corner that was freaking her out. “It was exactly like this in The Silence of The Lambs,” she said running for the ladder, “I have a bad feeling about this. He’s going to KILL us!”

Hanging from the ceiling in the corner was a punch-bag, beside that, a large hole in the floor and the entire space was flood lit in blue neon lights. We heard the sound of footsteps coming up the ladder. “Now ladies, who would like tea?” Lovely Liam put a rusty tray down on an old suitcase. I drank mine. “I’m telling you he has poisoned that,” Davina whispered when he disappeared down the stairs again, so I drank hers too. He came up five minutes later with two Chunky Kit Kats.

“Now then. Where is she? My lovely Tired One?” he said, rubbing his hands together again and dribbling from the mouth. I looked around and decided that if it turned out that Liam was a psychopath, I would push Davina down the hole to the barn floor below and tie Lovely Liam up in the fishing net (I have always been good in emergencies).

 “Here she is” Davina said, handing over the white ceramic statue. He took her out, “Ooooh, she’s special,” he said, stroking her then tapping her against his teeth.  Then he turned to Davina with a proposition. “Well now Twinkle Toes. Fancy a swap?” Swapping is another appeal of selling online. Money doesn’t always change hands if the person buying also has something to sell that you want.

Davina looked round at the punch-bag, fishing nets and pots and gave Liam a firm “NO”. He handed her €20.  I bought an old saucepan, something to remind me of our day out. Davina was first down the ladder. She ran into the camper van, took a few puffs on her electronic cigarette in her mouth and stuck on the Paul McKenna CD to calm her nerves. Lovely Liam walked me to the camper van and waved goodbye from the middle of the road, holding his new purchase protectively.

We’ll be making another road trip in the camper van this summer when the Antiques Roadshow comes to Hillsborough Castle in County Down. This time I’ll bring Sat Nav, packed lunch and some Rescue Remedy for Davina, just in case Lovely Liam is there too.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Tesco - Every Little Helps

This is the Fire Assembly Point at my local Tesco in Newbridge, County Kildare. 


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

CAKE BOSS: Visiting Carlo's Bake Shop in Hoboken, New Jersey.

We are just back from a fantastic morning. We are in New York, snow is on the ground and the four children were more excited about today than any other on our trip to the USA. They were more excited about today than visiting the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park or even Times Square, which is right outside our bedroom window (Double Tree Suites, bang in the middle of Times Square is a great place to stay in NY if you are a family of six). 

We were leaving glorious Manhattan for the shores of New Jersey. We were going to find the legendary Carlo's Bake Shop in Hoboken. For reality TV fans, this is the home of Cake Boss. Home of the greatest cakes, cookies and pastries in the world.

Getting there is simple. We took a short train ride just 40 minutes from Times Square to Hoboken. We took the PATH train from 33 street and got off at the final stop of Hoboken. Carlo's Bake Shop is a five minute walk from the station on Washington Street. 

We were dreading the queues. The internet is full of tales of two hours waiting in line for mediocre cakes. I guess that you should not believe everything you read because we almost walked right past the store - there were no queues. Not one single person! It was raining lightly and snow was on the ground which combined may have kept people at home. It was a Wednesday morning at ten and we walked right in to the bake shop, to our delight. 

The place is smaller than it seems on the television. The kids were so happy, they knew the name of every single cake for sale from Lobster Tails to Red Velvet to Crumb Cake. We bought them all. The highlight for them was to meet Madeline. She was an inspiration to all foodies. She told us that we were the fourth visitors from Ireland today and that when I go home I am to put onion in with my potatoes when I am boiling them as they will taste nicer, adding "I am ALL about food". 

We had previously visited the new Cake Boss shop on Manhattan where there is a cafe and loads of places to sit. It is packed - there is even a ticketing machine to help keep the queues moving. In the New Jersey bakery, there is nowhere to sit. We took our cake box outside and ate in the park. It was cold but the views of Manhattan were to die for. The cheesecake, red velvet and crumb cakes were divine and well worth the journey from Ireland. 

If you are fans of the show. GO. It is just great and Hoboken has loads to see. It is the birthplace of Frank Sinatra as well as the greatest bakery on earth!


So happy with our purchases.....

Inside the famous bakery......


Here come the cakes......



My favourite......

The family portrait on the wall and finally.....

surely Carlos Bake Shop is the ONLY bakery in the world that needs it's own ATM!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Happy Birthday Facebook - 10 years old today!

“I don’t want you as a ‘friend’” my teenager said last week. The issue is a constant bugbear of mine because she is a friend to some two hundred people I have never met. “You are too nosey AND you are my MOTHER”. I can’t even ‘Like’ my own daughter because of her decision to block me.  I went back to my computer and ‘Liked’ Jedward instead. So what if my own daughter won’t let me be her friend, none of this is real life, it’s Facebook.

Ten years ago this month a clever young man named Mark Zuckerberg created the groundbreaking social networking site that has gripped the world ever since. It is hard to believe but one in every thirteen people on planet earth is on Facebook. Watch out for anyone who is not on it, they may be a psychopath.

Psychologists who studied Facebook concluded that in today’s world, it is such a huge a part of everyday life that an absence from it may be an indication that you are mentally unstable. My sister is not on it. “Why would I want to share my life with the world?” she told me, “I am not remotely interested. Besides, I haven’t got the time.”

In many ways you have to envy her. Facebook won’t kill you like smoking, but it does have the same addictive qualities. Once you sign up, it is likely that along with seven hundred million users you will check in every day (for an average of twenty minutes). “I’d rather be pruning my roses” was my sibling’s response to that fact.  

Seriously, I don’t think my sister is a psychopath. There is still time for me to be proved wrong mind you and I will keep you informed of any developments.  She is however, intensely private, has no interest in computers and isn’t the slightest bit nosey, unlike me.  Facebook is virtual people watching and I as I am a very inquisitive person, we are a match made in heaven.

The statistics are simply incredible. Over one billion people are registered on Facebook. Seven hundred billion minutes are spent each month on the site.  Rhianna has 80 million ‘Likes’, Lady Ga Ga has 65 million, Justin Bieber has 62 million and Jedward have a hundred thousand. The person most talked about on the site in 2013 was Pope Francis.  

As teenagers are becoming tired of it and moving to groovier sites like SnapChat, middle-aged women are taking over. That’s (almost) me. It’s thanks to Zuckerberg’s creation that this week I discovered that a young lad that I have known since the day he was born scored a goal in the FA Cup. I read up on how hypothyroidism affects the quality of your life and how the latest research proves that we all need to eat more bananas.

I also learnt that on the other side of the world, an old school friend is having trouble with her false nails. They keep falling off because she can’t find the right glue. I sent her a virtual roll of Sellotape to cheer her up. It is all riveting stuff in my Facebook world and it is hard to imagine what life would be like without my daily news fix.   

My daughter may refuse my online friendship on the grounds that I am too nosey (how VERY dare she) but I do have other  ‘friends’.  They include a few mums from school, a handful of teachers, a load of old classmates and college pals, Newbridge (the whole town has a page), this newspaper, a shoe shop, a woman I met in Greece, a cleaning company and a teddy bear named Claude.  That’s one weird party if they all same over at once.

The truth is that half of my Facebook ‘friends’ I haven’t seen for twenty years, they are not real friends.  I would have trouble recognizing most of them in person. I certainly wouldn’t call the teddy bear Claude in an emergency and if I asked the cleaning company round for dinner, they’d be confused but it’s not really about close friendships. It’s about communication.  

Facebook has helped us keep in touch. When a dear friend moved to Oman last year, it was desperately sad for the whole family. Our children have grown up together and Oman is too far away to visit. But thanks to social media, our families communicate almost daily. The social networking site’s greatest strength is that it connects people.

I am currently following a young friend working in Thailand. Every day I can see that she is having fun and is safe. We send messages regularly. With the sheer amount of people leaving their homelands for work abroad, it is no surprise to learn that 57% of people talk more online than they do in real life.  What did we do before Facebook?

Back in 2004, if I wanted to send a picture of the children to the Grandparents, it was nothing but a struggle. I’d spend hours taking the perfect photo; with four children it was mission impossible. Then I’d go to the chemist and get the photo printed off - that would take a day or two. Then I’d put the photo in a card and try to remember to post it. Facebook has made sending pictures as easy as pressing a button.

As for Grandma, the internet has become a social lifeline. Not only is she is in contact with my daughter, she has also struck up fantastic on-line friendships with like-minded women in Kerry, Cork and Dublin, all from her home in Oxford.   

Maybe in another ten years my daughter will accept my online ‘friend’ request.  Until then, we’ll just have to make do and keep talking face to face.  On behalf of the bed bound, the house bound and the homeward bound, I shall tuck into a slice of this cake and wish Facebook a Happy 10th Birthday.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Oh! I do love an Ikea Meatball - as I was telling the Wall Street Journal in New York.

Can things get any better or more exciting? I am now representing Irish Meatball Fans across the globe (even if it is the penultimate paragraph it is still the WALL STREET JOURNAL for goodness sake). I know, I know, it is like winning an Oscar. I would like to thank my husband and the horses.

HAPPY, Pharrell Williams, Davina, curry sauce and me

The song that was playing on the car radio as I arrived at the supermarket was ‘HAPPY’ by Pharrell Williams. You know the song, it makes you want to dance and sing along. I stepped out of the car and into Lidl with a spring in my step and, thanks to Pharrell Williams, feeling happy.

I bumped into a girlfriend, Davina the shopaholic, in the car park. She is my spend spend spend friend who was re-christened “GIVE ME, GET ME, I WANT” by her mother when she hit puberty. Davina insisted that we do our shopping together. This was a first for me. We walked into Lidl, two women, one trolley, exchanging gossip.  Davina is always great company.

We soon got into a rhythm. She’d push for a bit and I’d throw my stuff in, then we’d switch. My shopping list was long because after school I was feeding six children. Being Friday, pizza was the obvious choice. I can’t remember the last time that we actually made pizza but I had made the promise that morning that we’d give it a go.

If you actually bother to make a pizza from scratch, there is a ridiculous amount of ingredients. Flour, yeast, sugar for starters. Then the toppings: cheese, tomato sauce (if homemade that means tomatoes, onions, garlic etc.), ham, mushrooms, mushrooms, oregano, salami, peppers, tuna, spinach, olives and sweetcorn. The only pleasurable thing about finding every item was that I had a friend for company.

Soon my mind had gone from pizza to household chores. Davina and I fawned over the spring-cleaning products. I found a lovely laundry basket, a clothes airer, a bucket, a special pair of indestructible rubber gloves and some scented bleach. Everything went into the shared trolley.

As my cleaning clutter and groceries stacked up, Davina’s was going in too, but much faster. Like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep, she was running from aisle to aisle throwing in more and more things. Before you could say “Yes Dale” our trolley was filling up with her ‘essentials’. Davina was born to shop.

She had found a mop, a squeegee, a foot spa, a pack of three vest tops, a pair of running trousers and a rather lovely pink polka dot scarf. “OMG. LOOK” she held up a clothes drier. “IT HANGS FROM ANY DOOR IN THE HOUSE”. It too went in the trolley along with three Christmas puddings, “these NEVER go out of date,” she added. Her excitement was infectious and I don’t think that grocery shopping has ever been so much fun.

We were on a shopping high and if ever there was an advert for shopping with friends, we were it. We were even pushing the trolley along together at one point, throwing our heads back and laughing. This is what you miss out on when you shop online. My shopaholic friend went crazy when she saw the frozen section.

 “THESE ARE AMAZE-BALLS” she shouted from the freezer cabinet. Her head was in the bottom of it and her legs dangled over the edge.   She came up for air and handed me a turkey breast wrapped in bacon and stuffed with something. “These are fab too,” she said, handing me a pair of duck breasts. “They are from the LUXURY range”. They went into the trolley.

“Try these” she handed me a pack of choc-ices. “They will get rid of the January blues”. They went in on top of the pile of frozen food, toilet rolls, milk, butter, bread and the bleach. At the wine section, Davina put in one, two or maybe five bottles. I can’t remember. Our groceries were piled so high at this stage that it was becoming dangerous.

We were almost at the check out when my eyes were drawn to a large jar of curry sauce. They had my favorite, Patak’s Jalfrezi. “Stop!” I called after Davina, it was her turn to push. I reached up to the shelf and took a jar down. I dropped it into the trolley with the rest of our shopping and this is where the fun stopped.

Are YOU the disgusting person who casually opened a large jar of Patak’s Jalfrezi sauce last Friday, sniffed it, didn’t want it and put it BACK on the shelf with the lid not even screwed on? If so, thanks because as I put the family sized jar down, the entire contents splattered everywhere.

Spicy sauce spilled over the polka dot scarf, the foot spa, the running trousers, and the tinned tuna. It dripped onto the floor, onto my clothes and all over my handbag. The bright orange sauce went on my shoes, on the bleach and all over the luxury duck breasts. There was hardly one thing that did not have creamy Indian sauce splashed on it.  Everything was ruined.

Davina couldn’t cope. She ran out of the shop screaming and leaving me standing helpless. “What shall I do?” I asked an elderly woman who witnessed the whole thing. “I’d follow your friend,” she advised. The strong smelling sticky trolley had drawn a small crowd. “It wasn’t my fault,” I said, sounding like a child who was wholly responsible for the mess. Genuinely, it wasn’t.

It was at that point that a man in Lidl blue came over. “It’s OK. I’ll take this. You start again”. The shop assistant took our trolley away and cleaned up the mess on the floor. I would have hugged him but my hands were covered in goo.

Davina came back. I filled her in. “SERIOUSLY? We get to shop all over again?” She could not believe her luck. “This is the BEST day of my LIFE”. We did the whole grocery shop once more. Davina was high from the adrenaline rush of shopping twice in the same store and she bought even more second time around. 

I on the other hand, was too self-conscious. I smelt like a take away. I bought frozen pizzas and have decided that next week I might give online shopping a go.