Friday, December 19, 2014

Reasons to be cheerful about Christmas

Okay so I'm doing a bit of cheating here and mashing together two posts, but it does make sense, as you'll see.  There are lots of reasons to be cheerful and grateful right now, not just because of Christmas, but also a sense of how lucky we are as a family to be living in Ireland, and not Pakistan or Syria, or Ukraine or Sierra Leone or Mexico or any of the other countries where terrible things are being done to ordinary people.  And at last we have a reasonably happy home life too.

We've got a year's supply of chocolate, and I've finally got a lamp for the living room, which is helping me to fall in love with my house all over again: it is lovely, but looking after it on top of everything else feels like too much sometimes.

It's going to be a quiet Christmas here: next week's diary has just two entries, and one does not involve me at all.  The school term finished today, so I have two teenagers (and a grown up daughter) to entertain with very little outside help.  We will be taking things at a slower pace, getting up later, doing less.  There will be walks, and of course there will be shopping, coffee and cake with Smiley, and hopefully swimming too.  There will also be long evenings to fill, so I am feeling really grateful for our year's free subscription to Netflix.  Lists of films and programmes are being drawn up as I write....

The Hobbit, Parts I and II were watched last weekend in anticipation of a family trip to see The Battle of the Five Armies on Tuesday.

I am Number Four because I've just read the book, thanks to a recommendation from Jax at Liveotherwise.  It's science fiction with a heart and set here, not on some random planet populated by barely believable aliens.

The TV series' Getting On and Call the Midwife as lots of friends have told me to watch them.

Top of the children's list is The Winter Soldier as they are huge Marvel fans and my son has not yet seen this one.

There is a big Miranda fan in this house too, so I'm hoping to use that as another excuse for a family get together, and it's on the actual telly on Christmas Day too.

Finally (so far) there will be a girls night when Angel and myself watch Red Dawn, which apparently involves a totally implausible plot about an invasion of the US foiled by teenagers.  That'll be a good one to watch after a tough day.  But maybe there won't be any tough days.  Because I think our luck is finally turning, and that would be the best reason to be cheerful of all.

Ojos World

And if I don't see you again beforehand...


Disclosure: I have received free Netflix streaming, and a streaming device as part of my membership of the Netflix Stream Team. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

No-one clapped #OneLastTime

Otherwise known as our review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, written entirely of my own volition with no free tickets involved.  If you're not a Tolkien nut, you might want to find something else to read about now!

The release of the final Hobbit film was always going to be a major event in this house.  I discovered the book about 1970 and read it compulsively until I could quote great chunks of it off by heart.  I still return to it occasionally, and its comforting familiarity and Tolkien's way with words, draws me in every time.  Now I own all the books about Middle Earth, several copies of some of them, and they've been well thumbed by me and by my children.  We have videos and DVDs of the films, and we've been waiting all year for this, the final chapter.

But it wasn't the film that I wanted to see.  Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed it, and I LOVED some of the performances:  Bilbo, Thorin, Bard, and Balin in particular.  They were all wonderful.  Dain the dwarf king was an entertaining surprise, and some of the battle scenes were impressive.  And I can't wait to see it again, this time in 3D which perhaps will make a difference to my opinion.


There was a lot that I didn't like.

It even started badly.   I felt like someone had paused a DVD and just pressed play again.  The scene was not set in any way, so it didn't feel like a standalone film at all.

Then I had problems with the changes to the original story, the extra characters, the endless CGI, the loose ends and and and... well you get the picture.

I guess I'm a Tolkien purist.  For me the films would have been better if they had followed the story exactly and only used dialogue that was actually written by Tolkien: I can always tell the difference.  My favourite scenes in this film were those that I recognised from the book.  The ones with the speeches that I remembered, the words that so many fans share and repeat, like this timeless one from Thorin:

I also wanted to believe in the film.  I didn't want to watch another Marvel clone, as I don't see the likes of Gandalf and Legolas as Superheroes, in my mind they're flawed and raw and real.  But very little in this film looked real.  Apparently it cost more than any of the others, and I'm wondering why that money was not spent on building sets on site in New Zealand?

Only the Shire looked real, which was such as shame, because when scenes look fake, they lose emotional impact, and Tolkien's work should make you feel.  You see the reasons I love Tolkien have little to do with epic battles or romantic love.  No, I'm drawn to his portrayal of friendship, loyalty and how his characters find the courage to do what is right.  I wanted to see so much more of that.  Even the ending was frustrating.  Especially as it did not seem to explain what happened to so many of the characters - and some of the inanimate stars of the film such as the Arkenstone.

My son's verdict on the film? 7 3/4 out of 10.  But it should have, could have, been 10 out of 10.  And that's my point.  It seemed that fellow cinema goers agreed.  I was hoping that this film would be so good that it would get a standing ovation.  But it didn't happen.  No-one clapped at all.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Disability lessons from Áras Attracta abuse

The UK had Winterbourne, now Ireland has Áras Attracta.

A similarly dreadful story of undercover reporters filming the abuse of adults with intellectual disabilities in a care home.  I did not see the programme, I could not bear to watch it, because after I die, my daughter may be put in a place like that.  It's the nightmare that haunts me every day.  So I had to write about this issue, before everyone moves on to the next big scandal.

In the meantime there's been lots of hand wringing and promises of enquiries and improvements in training and wages.  But my experience as the mother of a severely disabled young adult is that the issue goes much deeper.

There is still a huge problem with the way that the world views those with physical or intellectual disabilities. And the more severe the problem, the worse the attitude.  Obviously not everyone: there are plenty of people in my daughter's life who treat her as an equal human being.  One who needs a bit more help to live a fulfilling life.  But some do not.

Here are some of the things that I know that others apparently don't.

My daughter is not...

...a pet


...a number on a spreadsheet

...a problem to be solved embarrassment to be hidden away

The strong are supposed to protect the weak, are they not?  Whether the weak are old, sick, disabled or vulnerable in other ways.  And how many times have I had to type something like that?

But strong people sometimes have their own weaknesses.  They may be physically and intellectually strong, but due their own insecurities they seem to have a need to exert power and control over others and sometimes they are drawn to careers where they can do exactly that.  I wonder if that is what happened in Áras Attracta?

For me this is an issue that will never go away.  And there will be more scandals.  All we can do is try to improve things.  I have a few ideas myself...

1. Many more residential and respite places so that vulnerable adults don't get rushed into emergency placements when their parents die, losing their home, their security and their familiar loved ones all at the same time.  More places would allow a gradual transition and the chance for families to approve the placements of their loved ones.

2. No agency staff except in emergencies.  My experience of agency staff is that they just don't have the time to get to know the people they care for as they are only there for a short period.  So individualised care plans get ignored and people suffer.

3. Cameras in care homes.  This needs to be seriously considered.

4. Different models of care: I think 'disabled' communities would be good, with supported living and the chance for parents to move in with their child if they wish, so that the child is already settled when the parents die.  I would do that.

5. More visibility in the community: I bring Smiley with me almost everywhere when she is not in school but we see very few other adults like her.  Perhaps more changing places in disabled toilets will help.

6. Positive role models on the TV: would anyone like to give my daughter a wheel-on part in Fair City?  I'd say she'd LOVE the attention.

7.  Interventions to reverse or prevent the power and control culture developing in homes where vulnerable people live.  One for the psychologists I think.

My daughter is very different to most young adults.  But she is not less.  And she deserves more.

Also check out the post by Jazzygal on the same issue.

If you want to help, please click on some of the above links.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dancing out of my comfort zone

It's so easy to get stuck in a middle aged rut.  Doing the same things, going to the same places, wondering why you seem to be bumping along the bottom of life, while your brain gets slow and sludgy.

Do crosswords.  That's what everyone says, and I always have good intentions, but somehow they just don't make me want to jump up and down with excitement.

I thought that blogging was enough.  I've learned to code and argue with Google and write blog posts that people want to read.  I can do it now.  It's a hobby, but it's no longer a challenge.

But am I looking for a challenge?  Surely I have enough of those in my everyday life already!

Then a friend of mine encouraged me to join her at a 'shape up and dance' class.  I was expecting it to be a bit of exercise and a bit of fun.  Which of course it is.

But then a week or two in, as I was trying to learn all the names of the steps, and coordinate arms, legs and music without causing a pile-up by the fireplace, our lovely instructor casually dropped in a new word.  That word was 'show'.

Well that was news to me!  But apparently the Christmas show is an annual tradition.  Of course I wasn't going to do it.  The last time I danced in front of an audience was on a girls weekend away in the 1990s, and the less said about that, the better.  As a middle aged mum, I felt like lumbering elephant with two left feet and I planned to stay at the back of the class and enjoy myself and hope no-one noticed me.

But dancing is not like that, one day the back of the class stopped being the back of the class, when we were all turned sideways with lots of confusing talk about numbered walls.  And instead of my safe place at the back I found myself at the front on my own.  And I had no-one to watch.  This was not what I had signed up for!

Then something else happened.  One of those dangerous little thoughts popped into my head.  This one put me in my place by telling me that really, if a friend of mine could try his hand at stand up comedy, then surely, surely I could join in with two short dances in front of audience?

And once the decision had been made, I threw myself into it all and tried to block out all those silly little voices that were holding me back.

Letting go of embarrassment.

Letting go of being an obsessive carer and and letting someone else mind Smiley so I could sneak off and practice with my partner at the Arch Club.

Letting go of all the crap and the worry about disability adult services, water charges and everything else.

And then I sprained my ankle, followed almost immediately by a very public meltdown on Facebook, but without explaining why as I still didn't want any of my friends turning up for the performance!

Luckily none of them did.  But I didn't go wrong, my ankle held up, the audience cheered and clapped, and I swear I haven't smiled so hard since my wedding day.

They say that one of the biggest regrets of the dying is that they didn't dance more.  So I've made a decision.  That's not going to happen to me.

As this is the absolute best news this week I'm going to add it to the weekly reasons to be cheerful linky over at Ojo's World.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dead trees and broken promises

I am one of those people that everyone loves to hate. A middle class pinko, a champagne socialist, a supporter of basic income.  Yet I also believe in rewarding the talented, the hard workers, the entrepreneurs who take the risks, but without dismantling the safety net that should give everyone the chance to live a worthwhile life, no matter what happens to them and their loved ones.

I'm also a carer, but I don't fit the public's image of what a carer should be like, so there's no group or party that represents me, or seems to care about the interests of my children.  All we want now is a bit of support and the chance to live our lives quietly and free of fear.  Fear of the future and what the Government will do next.

I look across the pond and am terrified by what is happening in the UK where the working poor are encouraged to blame those on welfare for the taxes they have to pay, and the unemployed to blame immigrants for taking all the jobs.  Meanwhile welfare is cut to the bone and people are dying as a result.  Will there be revolt?  Or just a rise in hatred, hopelessness, bigotry, suicide, crime and starvation.

And apparently Cameron's policies are not right wing enough for many of his MPs.

I blame Mrs Thatcher's for the start of the rot.  Her ideology seemed to promote the idea that it's every man, woman and child for themselves in this life.  But that doesn't take into account the bad things that happen to people, and how your life can change in an instant.

All over Europe there is seething resentment, anger and despair.  We don't know who to believe or who to trust any more.  Nothing is ever simple, yet we are often asked to believe that it is.  Those whose think that their lives have been destroyed by austerity policies are demonising those who are implementing them, whether it's the police, the water meter installers or politicians.  Intimidation and threats are seen are justifiable.  That makes me and others like Jazzygal very uncomfortable.  At the same time those who are doing okay often seem to look with contempt at those families and individuals whose lives have gone into a tailspin.

I remember the sneering reaction from mothers on an Irish parenting site when I told the story of how within the space of two years I had gone from being half of a couple with a very good joint salary to an out of work lone parent with an income of just child benefit and domiciliary care allowance.  Now that situation only lasted for a month, but I will never forget it.  The mums were not interested,  I was mocked and lambasted for my choices and I was told that I'd made my bed and I had lie in it.  And so did my children.  None of them seemed to realise how easily it could happen to them too...

So I'm not happy with either camp.

Yet I grew up in a world that felt relatively secure.  Built by my parents' generation, who wanted life to be better for their children and grandchildren.  Whatever happened to that idea?  My world included a free health and education service, benefits for those who fell on hard times, and a pension from a grateful nation so you could enjoy your final years.  A society that cared, flawed as it was.

Those ideas have been mostly blown away with the chill wind of austerity, to be replaced by the smell of fear.  Even my securities have gone.  Things I thought were essential to human life are to be taxed, whether you have the means to pay for them, or not.  Things I thought I owned will now have to be paid for forever.   The most vulnerable of all are to be targeted the most.  And that's when I get really mad.  I broke down in tears and anger in the pharmacy last week at the news that our medical services were no longer covering a second medicine that Smiley needs.  It's not that I can't afford it, I can find the money, but they don't know that, and clearly they don't care either.  If she didn't get them she could end up in hospital, costing the state far more in the long run, so it doesn't even make economic sense, besides being cruel and heartless to a young adult who cannot fight her own corner.

In today's world it seems that all safety nets are to be removed.  Perhaps that explains why those who have, just want more and more, in a vain attempt to feel safe.  Perhaps they are living in fear too.

I didn't vote for either of the parties that currently form the Irish Government, but I had some hope that things would get better.  They didn't.  They cannot blame the Troika for all the choices they made.  All the incompetence.  The shoring up of the Golden Circle.  All the buddies they appointed to State Boards, all the expenses they claimed, all the cuts they made to the sick and vulnerable.  Granted, life is much worse in the UK for many people, and elsewhere.  But should we really be thankful for that?

And now there's talk of an election taking place soon in Ireland, at the same time as the protests against Irish Water, the much-hated water charges and the current Government become deafening.  Or do they?  A huge protest is planned for this Wednesday 10th December.  It will surely be a tipping point.  If the protest is big enough, perhaps something fundamental will begin to change.  And I confess that I'm afraid of what those changes will mean.  If not?  Then I fear that everything will remain the same.  We will see the same people running the country in the same way, with a few tweaks to policy and personnel as a nod to the protesters.  I remember the trees that were planted on my street in the run up to the last election, some of them died, they withered away, just like the promises of the politicians that we elected.  Is it going to happen all over again? 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

5 reasons to be cheerful about December

Yes I know: only a very bad - or desperate - blogger would publish two lists in a row.  But there you go, that's what happens when you don't plan your blog 'properly'.  Worse, I'm going to splice together my random reasons for being cheerful in December that relate to this odd little household with the latest news.  Confused?  You will be.

So my top five are:

...Being able to run outside to cool off.  Bliss.  You young ones wouldn't understand of course.

...Icy cold water from the tap, nothing more refreshing.

...Mince pies and Baileys.  Not necessarily together, but then again, sooooo yummy.

...Snuggly winter coats that hide the extra Christmas padding due to excess pigging out on the above.

...I'm off the tablets that kept me calm for the past 6 weeks.  But eventually they also made me hideously depressed, headachy and unable to write.  So they HAD to go.

And then there's the good news from the past week.

Smiley's future

At a very productive meeting this week I learned that finding something suitable for Smiley in adult services sounds promising, and an application is being made to get me some more help at home, which I'm going to need for reasons that I didn't get around to blogging about yesterday.

Christmas is almost sorted

The panic set in as I changed the page on the calendar and instantly my Facebook feed seemed to be full of perfectly decorated Christmas trees, while I had done nothing, nadir, not even checked the last posting date for Australia.  That catches me out every year.

So on Monday morning I opened the laptop, wrote a blog post about Christmas gifts, used it to place orders, and began signing the pile of Christmas cards.  Made a charity donation in penance for doing so few and, in all fairness, does anyone under 40 send cards any more?

I began making the dreaded Christmas lists, and a midweek trip to IKEA let me cross off a few things.  And during the long walk around the store I decided that I could happily eat Christmas dinner in one of their rooms too, and then a friend suggested that IKEA should throw in a blond Scandinavian chef to cook and serve.  Now wouldn't that be the most wonderful Christmas bonus for carers?

Out to lunch

The teachers strike gave me the chance to bring teen boy and Angel out to lunch without the worry of wheelchair accessibility or the availability of mashed potato.  The teen made a real effort, and stepped outside of his comfort zone, without expecting a reward, so of course he got one.  And on that happy note it's over to everyone else who has posted over at Ojo's World.

Ojos World

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

9 Christmas Gift Ideas you need to know about

Disclosure: I was not asked, paid or influenced in any way to write this post.  

Christmas snuck up on me this year.  I'd swear that Halloween was only last week.  I just can't keep up, and the days keep passing without a card written or a gift list begun.   I was all set to buy more boring stuff from the usual shops and then a chance post on Facebook reminded me of all the people I know who sell on-line.  And really, it would be a crime to keep them to myself.  So here are nine of my favourites:


Very cute personalised hand painted mugs and more.

Jenna's Flowers

Gorgeous flowers and the longest lasting helium balloons in Dublin, at this Blanchardstown-based florist.

€12.00 for the plant, chocolates and gift bag. Instore only.

Sligo Secrets Calendar

Beautiful calendar featuring images from County Sligo in Ireland, photographs by Magnumlady.


Catherine Drea's first book is a stunning marriage of words and photographs from her native County Waterford.

Gone Rogue Pets

Handcrafted funky fabric pet collars and accessories.

The Nest

Colourful, whimsical and stylish artworks from Emily Rainsford Ryan.

Joanna's Little Shop

Personalised poetry, paintings and greetings cards.

Castle Kelly Crafts

Cards and crochet from a mother and daughter team.  I've ordered the handmade cards in a last minute panic, and they always arrive in time.  But orders for crochet items are now closed for this Christmas.  Oh well, there's always next year.

Glitter Mama Shop

Gorgeous baby wear and a few treats for mum too!

Happy Shopping!