Friday, February 27, 2015

The Special Needs Tunnel

Magical but hard is a great way to describe the early years of motherhood. So far so familiar, in a beautiful and encouraging article by Kate Takes Five. But unlike other mums I didn't come out the other side. Motherhood is a bit like a tunnel you see, and the special needs tunnel is longer and more convoluted than most. Twenty two years after becoming a mum, my days are still book ended by children. I still stay up with one, and get up to another. So it was bittersweet moment when I acknowledged that I may never leave at all, and may always be on the inside looking out.

When you think of a tunnel, what do you see? Is it a dark, scary place that you can't wait to leave? Or a safe dry comfortable refuge from the world? The special needs tunnel can be both of these.

There are many ways to enter. Sometimes you go in the main door with everyone else, sometimes you start from a different place. But once you've been diverted, your journey changes. You watch as other Mums slowly emerge and start to pick up the threads of the life that they had before - if they want to - while you wait and wonder what will happen. Later on their adult children may leave home while you're still in the tunnel, wiping faces and bums.

Sometimes it can be grim, the lights go dim, or black out completely, leaving you to feel alone in the dark. The walls close in and everything outside seems unreal. All you can see and deal with is right in front of you. And sometimes not even that. There are monsters down here too, mostly in the form of uncaring faceless bureaucracies, that seem determined to grind you down until you lose any hope of seeing daylight again.

Then around a corner the roof falls away and you blink in the sunlight of a good day when everything looks bright and sharp. You spot the dust on the windowsill and actually see the smiles on people's faces, and the deep colours of spring flowers in bloom.

But there is one thing that makes a difference now: wherever you are, if you are on the internet at all, then the special needs community will be with you. Supporting, advising, sharing, hugging. Perhaps you will make it through to the other side, perhaps your children will grow up to be strong and independent, they will be able to live a good life with their differences. Then those families who have already made it will hold out a hand to welcome you, and those still in the tunnel will cheer you on. Because we all hope to join you one day. Out the other side.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sick of special needs but nothing else

So yes I'm still bogged down with the demands of special needs right now, but even when they seem to be taking over my life, I'm still making time for blogging and my classes, both essential for my physical and mental health. And health news is the theme of this week's reasons to be cheerful...

Into the tunnel

The weird problem I was having with my ears did not go away so my GP sent me for an MRI scan, which was interesting. It was supposed to be scary, but of course an excuse for lying still for 20 minutes is a treat for me, even though I get claustrophobic. The mirror meant that I could see my legs, and the rest of the room, so it was fine. Even the music was okay.

Oh and I got the results two days later, and apparently there is nothing wrong with my brain.  So tinnitus it is then.

Breast check

I also got the results of the breast squashing procedure, and it seems that the current crop of lumps are all benign. More good news.

Healthy snacks

Okay, a weak link there, but it was the best I could manage. I did get a food processor, the cheap one from Aldi, because all of the suggested models from Argos were out of stock. It looks the business, but it doesn't have the 'whizz' function mentioned in recipes...

But I'm adaptable, so I went ahead and tried out this mouthwatering healthy 'Twix' recipe.  The easy version of course, which is why they look nothing like the original. It was that and the way the food processor wouldn't whizz everything into butter and caramel-like smoothness. Didn't stop it tasting delicious though and Smiley agreed too.

And I think that healthy sweets are an excellent reason to be cheerful, don't you?

Ojos World

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Unbreakable Jazzy and the Determined Universe

To celebrate the launch of Tina Fey's new comedy series 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' on Netflix on March 6th, I have a guest post by the lovely Jazzygal, who, in her own words, is a knitting needle/crochet hook wielding Desperate Housewife, and stay-at-home mum of one fabulous teenage boy, who believes that your fifties are the new forties and keeps mind and body fit with blogging, social media and dancing/choreography. Phew!

Over to you, Jazzy...

I see that a new show 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' is launching on Netflix on March 6th.

After living in a cult for fifteen years, Kimmy (Ellie Kemper - The Office/Bridesmaids) decides to reclaim her life and start over in New York City. Armed with just a backpack, light-up sneakers, and a couple of way-past-due library books, she’s ready to take on a world she didn't even think existed anymore. 

The people over at Netflix think that we mums are quite unbreakable too, and I'm inclined to agree with them.

I may not wear the fabulous bright colours that Kimmy wears, nor the light-up sneakers - and my library books are usually in date - but I have had some unbreakable moments in my time!

See, as a mother-of-a-certain-age, the universe has had quite some time to attempt to trip me up and break me down. I do my best to defy it though, on a continual basis it seems!

There was a time pre-marriage and pre-child when I worked at a job I liked and spent my free-time indulging in my favourite hobbies of all: dancing on stage and enjoying interesting holidays abroad.

In time the universe decided it was time for me to stop all that malarkey and to settle down, and so bestowed upon me my wonderful child, and husband too of course, for which I will be eternally grateful. There were some issues though, followed swiftly by some ageing-parent dilemmas. All happening simultaneously of course, much more fun that way it seems! You may have changed the course of my life dear universe, forcing a hastily obtained and ultimately long-term career break, but look at us now?! I'm still smiling, albeit with the addition of a few grey hairs - that are suitably obliterated by delightful highlights of course - and with my wonderful now-teenage-child following his own trail in life! Take that, universe...

Juggling home and school life and keeping the wheels of the Jazzy household mostly well-oiled and turning smoothly, is a very worthwhile achievement. However, I refused to let the universe steal my love of stage away from me and in time I found a way to put my dancing skills to good use, and to be involved in my son's school and in the community. Oh, the universe didn't like that one little bit! You tried to scupper me within weeks of opening night on a couple of occasions, didn't you, dear universe?

Remember the snow of 2010? There I was, determined me, minding my own beeswax walking to rehearsals one icy night when you deliberately upended me, landing me hard on the ice-capped snow ..... flat on my ass! Oh yes you did, don't try denying it now! Thanks to your antics I had a fractured coccyx, thank you very much, with two weeks to go and a finale to set... involving 135 children! I did it though, with the help of my lovely assistant. And I managed to sit front of stage, on a very comfortable cushion, throughout the run thereby able to instruct the younger children, using my unique Jazzy-hand-signals!

See, the show must go on universe, you forgot about all about that didn't you?!

You weren't very happy with me at all after that, were you? So you tried to scupper me again two years later with a bad chest infection - again with two weeks to go to opening night and a finale to set! This time I discovered that it is possible to block and teach a dance routine to a large group of teenagers while sitting down and not talking!! Jazzy-hand-signals and lovely Dance Captains to the rescue yet again!

And during all this time the home wheels kept turning and this unbreakable mum had fun family time with her maturing child, and they enjoyed interesting family holidays all of their own. All mixed in with school-runs and being taxi-mum to get him to all to all his various 'engagements'!

Then finally last year it looked like the universe had won. It struck when I wasn't looking you see. It was a healthy pursuit for heaven's sake, a Pilates class! Turns out it wasn't that healthy after all. Oh, you did your best work with this one, didn't you universe?

I was down.

I was out.

Out of commission for four months with a back injury forcing a hospital stay and home confinement; followed by a three month recovery programme.

Oh yes dear universe, I'm still here ....... and I am on the way back! I am getting my dance shoes out of storage and getting ready for my full recovery, so there!

We mums really are resilient and unbreakable, most of the time, aren't we? We are determined, we find a solution and we fight back.

And for those times when we're not quite up to it there's wine, chocolate, hot steamy baths .... and good shows on Netflix to help us regain our 'unbreakability'!

So come on Kimmy, show us what you got, you unbreakable you .......

'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' launches on March 6th 2015 over on Netflix .... can't wait!

Thank Jazzy, and if you enjoyed reading that, why not check out her blog here.

Disclosure: I have received free Netflix streaming, and a streaming device as part of my membership of the Netflix Stream Team. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The beginner's guide to book reviews

Because I really am a beginner. Who knew that I still have so many things to learn? Book reviewing is a skill that I never expected to need, but between my Kindle app and self-publishing, everything has changed: I usually download fiction now and after every purchase I get a hopeful email from Amazon asking me what I thought.

At the same time, t'internet has made self-publishing a possibility, and a number of my friends are now actual authors, so obviously I feel the need to be able to write a half decent book review in support.  I've probably said it before, but I have huge admiration for anyone who has the patience to write an entire book, as I often get bored before the end of a blog post: which is another reason why I have so many drafts...

Book reviews play a major part in what I read too, and the Book section is one of the main reasons that I buy The Sunday Times each week.  I love all the long reviews about subjects that I know nothing about, but sometimes they tell me everything I want to know, and it's usually the short snappy reviews that encourage me to buy.  In other publications I read reviews that set my teeth on edge. I couldn't even tell you why exactly. Perhaps because the writing style feels unnatural and forced, and often they totally put me off a book, even if they are praising it.

Maybe you can tell that I really respect anyone who can write a book review in a few sentences that both sounds honest and makes you hungry to know more. Can I do that too?  I'm not sure...

So I've been doing a bit of research, and this is my beginner's guide to writing book reviews:

1. Decide that you're going to review a book before you start reading it. Obviously if you have the memory of an elephant, you can ignore this step.

2. Take lots and lots of notes. Believe me, you'll wish you had if you didn't. You'll discard most of them, but it saves reading the book again. Unless you want to, of course.

Make notes about the theme, the plot, the key characters, and anything you particularly like. 

3. Writing a review seems to be a bit like writing a speech: you need an introduction that describes what the book is about and any key themes. A central section for more details about the story, and your opinions, then an ending that leaves the reader wanting to buy the book. Or not I suppose, if you don't like it.

4. Less is more. You are not an author, you are a reviewer.

So here it is, my first proper book review, written according to my own rules. Would it tempt you to check out the book? I'd love to know...

A varied and thought-provoking collection of stories that explores dilemmas faced by those living in societies where life is bound by rules, conventions and violence, and doing your duty is often about minimising the number of people who die.  Some of the societies are medieval in style, all are thinly sketched, the narrative is king here.  Sometimes the endings are brutally clear before you reach them, yet without being gory.  You will be routing for some of the characters, and hoping against logic that things will work out, but even when they don’t, the endings are still satisfying.  Most of all, these stories will challenge your certainties and your beliefs through every twist and turn. A memorable read.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

I'm over it

I'm over working. Almost 40 years of being a wage slave is plenty, isn't it?

I'm over holidays. They're a distant memory of another life.

I'm over late nights out. If my children need me at bedtime, I'll be there.

I'm over having a nice car. Just don't make me drive an automatic.

I'm over watching the telly without interruptions. That's why I go to the cinema.

I'm over expecting good health. Just give me pills that work.

I'm over getting a full night's sleep. No-one expects me to be awake anyway.

I'm also over having special needs dictate where and how I live my life. I'm over it.

If this affects you too, how do you deal with it without resentment?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Reasons to be cheerful about a carer's mid term break

The teens were off school all week for their mid term break, and all was calm, and even productive, so I thought I might share it all with you for this week's reasons to be cheerful.


Involved several outings to...

The Chemist - to fill the regular prescriptions
The Supermarket - for food
The Bank - to pay in cheques

Afternoon, exercise for Smiley, admin for Mum: finished up the medical card application (presumably the first of many as they usually refuse to sanction them multiple times), baulked at new requirements for disabled parking permit and had to ring to clarify. Paid eye watering gas bill. Note to self: must change supplier as soon as I have time,


A trip to the GP - again - followed by an excursions to the local Garda Station, where we had great fun... trying to get in.  Smiley pressed the disabled door entry switch. Nothing happened. My son pushed a door. Nothing happened. I rang the voice entry, but couldn't hear anything as my lovely daughter was laughing so loudly. Perhaps it was closed? Especially as there were no other people inside (and it's a very big station). So I rang the station and a very amused Gard told me to push the other door...  He also sympathised that I had to go through all this to get him to sign a picture of Smiley to tell the providers of Disabled Parking Permits that she is in fact NOT dead.  Unlike other applicants apparently.

Afternoon was a walk up to the village with Smiley to post the application forms, another bank, Tesco and the chemist again.

But it did get a little more exciting once we'd bought the annual jar of Nutella for the pancake making. Which was fun for all.


Today was mostly about getting clean: don't get me wrong, I shower every day, but washing and drying my hair is quite a production, and if I shower Smiley on the same day, then not much else gets done.  Though I did manage a trip to the cinema with Angel to see American Sniper (at her request). Not a film that was on my must-see list, but I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a very human portrait of Chris Kyle, the Navy Seal who is credited as the most prolific sniper in military history. And I agreed with the reviews that suggested that you could take this film any way you wanted: many see it as a pro American film, I watched it as an anti war movie.


I hummed and hawed about getting a food processor, and I'm still feeling indecisive now.  Smiley and I went to Tesco, and she cheered up everyone she met while we were there, which is always good.  Then home and a quick clean up before a visit from her new occupational therapist, involving yet another discussion about toileting slings and other things that no-one seems to make for young adults with severe disabilities.

Then I saw the latest Tots 100 index of parent bloggers.  Yes clearly I must be a sad, needy person if I need validation from a little box that you'll find at the bottom of my blog, but I do, probably because I feel pretty incompetent on the domestic front. I still religiously looks at my Tots 100 score, and I was thrilled yet again to have sneaked back into the top 100, thanks to that article I wrote on school refusal.  As someone commented on Instagram, many of the most "successful" blogs are those where people write about the difficulties in their lives.  The comment made me squirm, but it seems to be true in my case.


Well the day is still new and full of possibilities.  Making Brownies has been suggested which I will certainly agree to since it is not screen related.  After that, who knows?

Hope you had a good week too.

Ojos World

Thursday, February 19, 2015

I don't need a food processor, do I?

I've survived more than 50 years without one, so why on earth am I thinking about buying a food processor now?

1. Someone burnt out the motor on my precious liquidiser (that I love and adore) by trying to mix a very sticky cake in it. I cannot imagine life without a liquidiser for making soups and smoothies which are my go to healthy fast foods. I love this piece of kit so much, especially as I can just chuck it in the dishwasher afterwards.

2. Many of the recipes I want to try insist that you use a food processor, even basic things like Hummus. Perhaps a food processor would rekindle an interest in food? Good food I mean, I've NEVER lost interest in cake.

3. Aldi is advertising a very nifty and cheap food processor today and I'm trying to decide whether to drag Smiley out and use her tank buggy to push through the crowds and grab one before they all go.

I know that I should do some research but there are hundreds of models available at every price point, which just makes me feel overwhelmed. When that happens I usually don't buy anything at all. So I asked the wise women of the Irish Parenting Bloggers Group and everything became a lot clearer.  The lovely Sinead from Bumbles of Rice (one of my go-to recipe sites) shared an article that apparently tells you what you need to know about food processors and she also recommended this one from Argos which seems to tick all the slicing and dicing boxes, or something like that.

So now I'm on the horns of a food processing dilemma. What would you do? Go and brave the  queues in Aldi? Pop up to Argos? Or stick with the wooden spoon?