A Day Trip to Dalkey

Once upon a time my son would be waiting for me to unlock the front door in the mornings so he could call for his friends.   Now it's down to me to persuade him to go out, which is why I have been feeling apprehensive about the next few months.  But I'm pretty determined, and so we began the long school break with a visit to Dalkey, an urban village on the south side of the city.  It wasn't a day trip really, and we had planned to climb Killiney Hill, but that will have to wait for another day.  Still, it was a great start to the summer.  Only another 90 odd days to go...

Just spotted the sea...
The view on the way up. Where is the sun?
The view on the way down. Getting better!
We met this beautiful Swiss White Shepherd, and his lovely owner.
I think he's escaped from Narnia.

Somewhere for lunch, lovely but not a budget choice.
Are there any cheap eateries in Dalkey?




Afraid to go to the GP?


This feeling has crept up on me.  Perhaps I overthink things now, perhaps it's middle aged anxiety, but I'm definitely developing a fear of visiting my GP.  Do you want to know why?

Afraid of the cost


Here in Ireland it costs around €60 to go to the GP.

Afraid of the wait


The good thing about the Irish system is that you can get an appointment on the day you ring.  The bad thing is that you usually have to wait.  I hate waiting, and start to worry about all the other things I could be doing.  And there's more.

Afraid of being a time-waster


There's always something bothering me: a lump or a new mark, or a pain or an odd sensation.  Mostly I keep my fingers and toes crossed and wait a month or two and then they go away.  Sometimes they bother me so much that I do mention them to the GP, but they generally turn out to be just another ailment.

So I go less and less, I don't want to waste my time, or his.

Afraid of not being taken seriously


See above.  If only I knew when there was a real problem before I went to the GP.  Of course that's where it is imperative to keep away from Google, which always says there's something seriously wrong.

Generally my rules for going to the GP are:

1. It gets worse.
2. It doesn't go away.

Afraid of something being found


Sometimes my symptoms need further investigation, but luckily for me, nothing very serious has ever been found.  But one day it will be and I am not prepared.

Because I'm afraid of the treatment.  Afraid of hospitals, thanks to the Government and cutbacks.  Afraid of how I'd manage - is it possible to care for two children with special needs and deal with the side effects of chemotherapy for example?

Because if anything happens to me, what will happen to my children?  Oddly enough I am more worried about my son now, after reading that the best gift you can give your special needs child is to help them be sociable: Smiley charms everyone she meets, so while she could hardly be more vulnerable, perhaps my job with her is done.

Afraid of not being given anything


Because there are days when I just feel that I cannot cope.  Like yesterday, when I was anticipating three months of summer holiday hell stretched out ahead of me. It was as though a black cloud was sitting over my house while everyone else soaked up the sunshine.  Today the grey skies sit low over Dublin; I hope they lift for all of us soon.

Sometimes when you leave the surgery without a prescription you feel relieved that there is nothing wrong.  Sometimes you feel worse: because of the waste of time and money, and nothing to make you feel better.

Still, I may have to make the trip some time soon....

Ten rules for surviving the summer holidays


It's the last full day of the school year, and I've taken time out to sit down and have a coffee on my own. And I'm feeling guilty about it.  Someone shake me please..

I know it's still May, but in Ireland, secondary school students enjoy a three month summer break. Their parents don't always enjoy it so much.  For working parents it means worrying that their teens will still be in bed when they arrive home after a full day's work, for SAHMs it means a daily battle to prevent same.  For carers it's time to take the vitamins and a few deep breaths.

Of course I've been here before with Angel, but life was very different then, and she didn't get much time to lounge around the house.

Now it's my son's turn, and it's going to be a challenge for both of us.  There's a lot of time to fill, and I'll be the one trying to offer alternatives to the siren call of screen and console.

In July and August I will have Smiley full time too.  So that's one of me, and two of them.  Before I throw in the towel and run for the hills, I decided to jot down a few things to help me get through...You do know how much I love my kids, right?

So here's my top ten rules for surviving the summer holidays:

1. No one is going to give you a break, it's up to you to make it happen.

2. Brownies should be baked regularly, as they solve most things.

3. No-one is going to see or care about the back garden, so don't worry about it, not unless the weeds are actually waving at the back door.  Some of you will know what I mean by that.

4. Plan to organise an activity every day with the kids, but don't beat yourself up if you don't manage it.

5. Baths are not actually a luxury.  So take them.

6. A pyjama day is not a crime.  You can always close the door on the kids if unexpected visitors arrive.

7. Do not, I repeat NOT, get overwhelmed by all the forms that need to be completed, and the hoops that need to be jumped through.  They will still be there in September... 

8. Stock up on antiseptic wipes.  They can give the room the appearance and smell of being clean in about 30 seconds.

9. Hibernation is for hedgehogs and other small mammals.  If you feel like hibernating, it's probably time go to the GP.

10. Make time for friends.  Because without them, where would you be?

Would you like to share your tips?


OMG it's One Direction!

By 3pm on Friday the air was heavy with hormones, perfume and diesel fumes as coach after coach disgorged crowds of over excited teenagers.  Yes, it was just a few hours to go until the first of three One Direction concerts, and everywhere I looked the faces of Niall, Harry, and the others stared out at me from a thousand pink and white T-shirts.

In case you don't know by now, I live about a mile from Croke Park, one of Ireland's largest sports stadiums.  When we moved here there were only a handful of matches a year, but now they're held almost every weekend from April to September, and when there's no matches, there's concerts.  This does not please many of the residents, and I know that those who live in the shadow of Croke Park have to put up with a fair bit of anti social behaviour.  Don't tell anyone, but we actually enjoy most of these events, especially since parking restrictions were introduced on our road and others nearby.

Smiley loves all the excitement, and the colour and the noise, and my son occasionally joins us to sample the burgers or hot dogs...



Sometimes the sounds from Croke Park drift through Smiley's bedroom window, and I was hoping that she could be lulled to sleep by her favourite boy band, but sadly the wind was not blowing in the one direction it needed to.... so I put on the CD instead.

Earlier today the weather was pretty fine, so we trooped down to the village, and after feeding my son, Smiley and I sat outside a local cafe and enjoyed coffee (me) and a brownie (her).

Taking a break - all that eating is hard work you know!

Afterwards we wandered around some more, soaking up the atmosphere outside the stadium.  Perhaps one day I'll buy us a pair of tickets and bring her inside...


What does your child need in school?


Special needs assistants, that's what!

Don't turn away now, this IS relevant to you, especially if you have a child in school in Ireland.  It's relevant to every child in every school.  And once again they are under threat, as a new Department of Education circular issued just before Easter is going to make it harder than ever for schools and children to get and keep special needs assistants (SNAs).

Here's why this should matter to you:

1. Is your child starting primary school in September?

There may be NO SNAs in the classroom, as the school may have to prove that a child needs one first.  It's hard enough for teachers to manage a class of 30 junior infants,  even harder if there are one or more children with special needs who require extra attention and help.


2. It seems that children will be expected to help with the care needs of their classmates with special needs.


3. SNAs to help with behaviour support will only be sanctioned once everything else has tried and failed. So the poor child who can't cope, the teacher who is struggling and the other children in the class will all lose out. Meantime parents and schools are going to be drowned in even more paperwork, to work through this process. You'd wonder is the Department hoping that we just don't bother?



4. An end to SNAs in secondary schools? As the Department says, ideally no teenager should need an SNA. Parents know that. We don't look for SNA support for our children just for fun. We don't want them to look different to their peers. We only do it if we believe that it is absolutely necessary!



There are other reasons why you should care about this issue, reasons that were always there....

5. Special needs children are everywhere.  Look around you: perhaps your neighbour's child was diagnosed with ASD after struggling in primary school for years.  Maybe your nephew has dyslexia.  A local teenager has an accident and now needs a wheelchair ... and an SNA.  You can't always tell by looking at them.  Some are born with special needs, others acquire them through injury or illness.  Some are not diagnosed until after they start school....sometimes several years later.  It could even be your child one day.

6.  Because our children will grow up, and the adults they become will partly depend on the services they received on the way.

7. Because we have Inclusive Education in Ireland.  Well in theory anyway: sometimes I wonder if it is just an excuse to spend less, as special schools are so expensive.

8. Because EVERY child deserves an education.  

This is how one Mum summed up the new circular:

"Last year the Minister announced savage cuts for special needs, then he rolled back and didn't go ahead with them.  I said at the time that it was temporary, and to watch him.  Now the cuts are even worse, and ALL children will be affected.

Children with special needs will not be able to cope, will not manage, will fall behind, will be excluded or suspended or expelled.

Schools will start to turn away children with special needs, while some parents may start objecting to special needs children being in their child's class in case it takes away from their own child's education.

It is going to be mayhem.

While they cut supports to school, they are FUNDING ISOLATION ROOMS**!  What does that tell you except that special needs children will suffer."


**They are known as 'small safe spaces' in the School Design Guide.

TAKE ACTION....


For a forensic analysis of this issue please read this excellent post by Jazzygal:

http://jazzygals-steppingout.blogspot.ie/2014/05/the-fight-for-supported-inclusion-for.html

Support the 'We Care Do You' campaign on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/WE-Care-Do-You/1423036064629755?ref=hl

Complete this survey:

http://voiceforteachersblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/special-needs-survey-2/

Send feedback to Special Needs Parents Association and Inclusion Ireland for their upcoming meeting with the Minister on June 5th:

mark@inclusionireland.ie




Crying Inside

It's a skill you acquire as a special needs parent.   Keeping the smile on your face and the hurt hidden inside when you read about the lives of others.

"We spent a glorious day on the beach."

"He made the team."

"She has a game published in the game store and she's only 13."

"Thank you to everyone for making our day so special."

"I'm going to be a Granny."

"Just booked two weeks in Disney World."

"She got 9 straight 'A's."

We're absolutely delighted for our friends, really truly we are, but sometimes a little piece of us dies inside.

You can't tell by looking.  Often it's the funniest, smiliest, warmest people who are hurting the most.

Sometimes special needs parents need to stay in, need to stay off social media, need to feel sorry for themselves or comfort each other.

The knowledge that much of this is caused by poor state services and supports, makes it all the harder to bear.  And so we refocus our sadness.  We fight, and we fight, and we just keep hoping that it will be enough.  We fight for the rights of our children, we fight for their acceptance, and for the help that they need.  We fight and we hope, and then we fight some more.  Because what else can we do?

Many of us have memories of what family life was like before special needs took over, before it seeped into every crack and crevice of our lives.  We try not to remember, we hide away the photos.  We do try and embrace our new lives and focus on the positives.  But sometimes it's hard.  Sometimes we do end up crying inside.

This post is dedicated to a very good friend.






Craving the unexpected

I should have grown out of it by now.  In deepest middle age, I should be content to live my life quietly with a comfortable routine and a glass of wine and a choice of box sets to look forward to at night.

For some reason I still have not reached that point.

Last night I out.  Properly.  With high heels and contacts and more than just eye liner on my face.

Apart from trips to the cinema, it was the first time I'd been out since the Christmas Party and I was as giddy as a teenager off to her first disco.  Part of that was the heady lack of adult responsibilities, if only for a couple of hours.  A chance to be myself.  Tossing my parental hat in the front garden as I walked away without a backward glance.  No need to watch every word, no requirement to weigh every sentence to ensure that it will achieve the right result.

It wasn't just that.  It was the excitement of going somewhere new (well, revamped) trying something new - tapas, and they were delicious - and wondering how the night would go.  Yeah, it was that delicious feeling that anything could happen.  That was tad optimistic, given the location.



Still, you never know.  That's not say that I want to go completely wild.  I was that girl on a camping trip who insisted that we only stay in campsites with toilets and showers.  You'd never catch me climbing Mount Everest for example.  Not unless they build comfortable lodges every ten miles or so.

But I do like a bit of variety in my everyday life.  That's probably why I enjoyed PR so much, once I didn't have to do any actual socialising.  Everyone worked flat out, so there was no chance to be bored, and you never knew what would happen or who would ring, or even walk in through the door...

I have to have a routine now, in order to manage a very busy life.  But I still crave the unexpected.  Is it just me?


Note:  Nothing unexpected did happen last night, just a lovely catch up with friends.



When you feel guilty about cutting your toenails

That was me, yesterday.  And I only did it because I was afraid that they would poke through my shoes and then I'd have to buy new ones, wasting more time and money.

It was one of those days.  I wanted, no I needed, to get so many things done.  On top of the usual Mammy things of course.

So yesterday I...

...Went for a run.  It's essential for carers to be fit and strong you know.

...Washed my hair.  I also believe that it's a human right to be able to wash your hair at least once a week, Irish Water take note.  I tried to embrace the idea of the wavy frizzy natural look.   That only lasted until bedtime when I set the alarm extra early so I could straighten it in the small hours.

...Ordered more nappies.

...Followed up all emails and phone calls.

...Checked the finances and chased up a outstanding payments.  Again.

...Baked healthy muffins.

...Hoovered and shampooed the hall, stairs and landing carpet.

...Researched new options for getting a July Provision Tutor for Smiley (a replacement for the school summer camp that will be only one week now, leaving me 8 weeks to fill)

...Shopping in Lidl

...Home educated my son.

...Sought advice from my lovely Facebook friends, and made arrangements to tackle the reasons why I was home educating my son.

...Kept pushing ahead with the 'Ten burpees every time you fancy a chocolate bar' diet.  I invented it, based on a video I saw on twitter recently.  It's quite effective, and I can guarantee you won't want to eat anything for a while after each set of 10!  I haven't actually tested it in the supermarket though..

But life got in the way, as usual.

Some things didn't get done.

...No progress on getting a new credit card or passport, which means less expenditure (good) and being unable to attend an overseas funeral (upsetting).

...Booking medical, dental and eye appointments.

...Changing that light bulb.  Only remembered after dark. As usual.

...Tackling the in-tray.

...Finding a cookery course for teenagers.  My son's choice of summer activity.  All ideas welcome!

...Work out ways to save money, water, power, energy, and anything else the Government thinks of taxing!

...Mend all the broken things around the house.  Unless we have visitors I actually forget that it's not normal to switch on a cooker using a screwdriver...

...Stay awake.

Ah well, today is another day.  And at least I now have neatish toenails.



What we did instead of Eurovision


My family must be really dysfunctional.  It's Saturday night.  It's Eurovision night.  And my twitter feed suggests that everyone is watching Eurovision.  Not only that, but they're watching it together, as a family.  With wine and beer, and popcorn and chocolate.  Shall I describe the scene here as the show starts?

I am taking a short break from the washing up and trying not to listen to the Tweenies video that Smiley is watching for the 10,000th time.  My son is curled up on the sofa in his Den, playing a game on one of his consoles.  I'm assuming that my eldest daughter is on her laptop in her room, relaxing after a busy working day coaching young gymnasts .  I *think* I saw her since Smiley and I came home from the Club, but I'm not 100% sure.  She has a kettle in her room, which means she feels very little need to leave it...

Family activities almost never happen now, with one grown up, and two battling teenage hormones.  There's the occasional meal out, sometimes involving a walk out too.  Visitors do bring us all together, especially if they're good cooks!  My kids love visitors.

When we moved back here I had visions of family evenings relaxing in the living room playing board games or watching a DVD together.  It didn't quite work out like that.  I forgot that kids get older, and  don't always want to do things with Mum.

When was the last time we all sat down to watch something as a family?  Probably the X-factor circa 2010...

And Eurovision?  Well I did watch it in the 90s.  I was newly married with young children, Ireland kept winning it, and there was Riverdance too!  As life got more crazy, I lost interest until twitter made it fun all over again.  Now that's changed too.  You can't just say what you think on twitter any more when everyone is watching TV together.  Oh no!  You have to be original, outrageous and witty.  It's a popularity contest you see.  And I don't mean the show.

So by 9 o'clock I hoped to have Smiley tucked up in bed.  I'd be watching the telly on my own.  And it wouldn't be Eurovision.

What happened?  My son came in and joined me, and we watched the programme together and chatted through the ad breaks.  An almost perfect Saturday night.




Time poverty and shopping around

Have you switched your bank account recently?

Probably not, according to an article in today's paper, despite a huge rise in bank charges.

The article quotes an 'Economist and expert in household finances' who is quite critical of households who are complaining about the water charges, yet not shopping around for a cheaper bank accounts and insurance policies.

He's right.  Many of us aren't.

Do you want to know why?   I think the answer is in the article.  The group most likely to regularly switch suppliers are men under 35.  Here are some possible reasons.

1.  Because they are likely to be computer savvy.  
2.  They probably don't have kids or other responsibilities, so they have lots of free time.
3.  It may be a competitive thing: perhaps the latest bar boast is who pays the least.

I remember those halcyon days when I was young, single, feckless and under 35.

I worked long hours, but once the work was done, my time was my own.  There were a handful of utility bills to be paid, plus the rates, and the only thing that I remember shopping around for was motor insurance.

How much has changed in 30 years!  Now a depressingly large amount of time is spent on household administration and the ever increasing number of forms to be completed and bills to be paid on pain of being cut off or prosecuted or fined or even imprisoned.

It's seems to me that Government organisations and corporations have managed to get all of us ordinary people to do their paperwork for them.  While still upping taxes, charges and prices of course.

Yes you can shop around, but most companies offer a bewildering number of choices.  That is not for our benefit, it's for theirs.  After all, they are trying to make as much profit as they can, so it is almost impossible to get the right package, despite all the 'helpful' websites out there.  Switching is not always straight forward either.  I am without a credit card for two months now due to the inaction of a certain bank that is closing down its operations here.  Then there's the whole issue of direct debits.  They're not in your interests really.  Otherwise they would be optional, but they're not if you want to get the 'cheapest ' option.  And it can be difficult to cancel them on switching.  And who has to sort that out?  Oh yes, the poor householder, who was trying to save money by going to a direct debit option in the first place.  Perhaps some people don't bother.  That would explain why the packages were so cheap in the first place.

You would also feel overwhelmed if you looked at the total number of bills, accounts and services that you could switch in a year.

So let's try (luckily not all these apply in my household):

Gas
Electricity
Bins

Phone
Mobile Phone
Broadband
TV

House insurance
Car insurance
Life insurance
Health insurance

Then there's all the things you should review like...

Your bank account
Credit card
Sickness policies
Mortgage
Mortgage protection policies
Pension arrangements

And all the other things you have to pay like...

TV Licence
Property Tax
Water Tax
Income Tax
Motor Tax
Lots of other Taxes
School contributions
University Registration Fees

Most of them involve form-filling too!  

And if you're self-employed or receiving any kind of social welfare payment and/or have a dependent with any kind of additional needs, there's a whole additional universe of paperwork to add to the above.

Just imagine how much time it would take, and how much it would cost if you paid yourself a reasonable hourly rate while ploughing through all the research, paperwork and phone calls that would be needed to review and change all of these every year.  You'd almost certainly need wine, and perhaps blood pressure tablets too.

Perhaps it's actually cheaper just to stay put....




If you see my severely disabled daughter please don't...



This all happened today while we were in town, but it didn't spoil our trip out as Smiley was oblivious!

I do understand that many people have never seen anyone like my daughter, and don't know what to do around a child or adult with severe disabilities.  So this is my advice:

...Say hello.

...Talk to her.

...Ask about her.

...Pay her compliments (I know it's not PC, but can you please make an exception in my daughter's case?  The lovely lady we met today did, and I am very grateful to her).

It's simple really.


This is what we eat

Food.

It's uses up a huge amount of time in this house.  Shopping for it, cooking it, feeding Smiley, and cleaning up takes many hours each day.

Just as well I like it then!  Except that I probably like it a bit tooooo much.

Until my mid 40s my weight was okay.  I was never skinny, and I've always had a sweet tooth, but I took lots of exercise and never binged on food. But suddenly that has all changed and the weight has piled on in the past few years, especially in my new role as a stuck stay at home carer.  To complicate everything, I was diagnosed with GERD a few years ago.  This is basically a posh name for heartburn with a few complications, but it does mean that I have had to cut out or severely restrict a lot of everyday foodstuffs, including citrus fruits, tomatoes, onions, garlic and red meat.

My eldest and youngest, who are true carnivores and love Italian food, are not at all impressed by my new diet and refuse to eat anything that I cook for myself.  Angel's solution is to do her own cooking, which is wonderful.  And my son?  Well he mostly chooses food from the freezer or the takeaway.  But he is partial to a few raw vegetables on the side.  So that's good.

Smiley only eats mashed food, but she gets her dinner in school during the week, so I only really have to cater for her at weekends.

It's complicated then, and I rarely get around to planning it!

But when Sinead at Bumbles of Rice asked what other families ate during a typical week, I was curious to find out.

So here are all my dinners for last week.  Mostly made in minutes.  Which was just as well as only a few of them were shared with my children...

Sunday 


Posh Mash Potato and Salad

A staple for myself and Smiley

Fry a smidgen of onion in some butter, add a little vegetable stock and then some potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots.  Simmer until soft and then quickly boil off the water while stirring until the potato is nearly dry.  Add a teensy pinch of salt, a little milk and a teaspoonful of cream cheese.

I eat this with a green salad, Smiley eats it with a spoon!

Monday


Curried Aubergines

Based on a recipe from Austerity Bites

1 Aubergine
1 teaspoon curry powder
150 grams of greek yogurt

Roast the aubergine until soft in a little oil.  It takes about 30 minutes at 200 degrees.  Put aside half of it, and refrigerate once cool.
Fry the curry powder gently for 1 minute.  Stir in the yoghurt and heat through gently.
Mix together and serve with rice.  Put aside spare rice and refrigerate once cool.
This dish looks well garnished with fresh coriander.

Tuesday


Leftover meal of rice, chick peas, walnuts, mayonnaise, mixed herbs and a green side salad.  Not too successful.

Wednesday


Aubergine and Pasta

Cooked Pasta (save some for another day)
Aubergine
Chopped tomatoes
Basil
Cream cheese
Grated parmesan

Heat Aubergine, tomatoes, and basil together.
Then add cream cheese and parmesan.
Mix with the pasta and serve.

Thursday


Courgette Carbonara

I'm starting to feel jaded at this time of the week, so I cook up my latest fast food favourite, and the recipe is from Bumbles and Rice!  Though I make it with a whole courgette just for me, a chopped slice of leftover ham, leftover pasta and a whole egg.



Friday


Bean Burgers

My cookery book collection is severely out of date, as I proved here.  It's partly the fault of the internet of course, as I can quickly grab recipes off blogs and websites.  And I'd been put off 21st century cookbooks by all those celebrity chefs who make it all look so daunting.  But when I heard that a fellow Irish parenting blogger was going to publish a book about eating wholesome food on a budget, I had to get it.  I'm still reading through it, but so far it seems to be much more than a cookery book, it's also a housekeeping manual and a personal story of how to survive and thrive in the recession.  And a good read.



Anyway since I had yet more leftover chick peas, I decided that her bean burger recipe would be a good place to start.  Again I had to make some changes (sorry!) as I couldn't source all the ingredients.  But the result was still rather good...



Saturday


Roast Chicken Dinner

I cook this especially for Angel, and it means that I will be eating a lot of leftover chicken next week.  But it also means that we sat down for a proper family meal, and so it was definitely worth it.

Roll on next week then....