Thursday 27 February 2014

Making Excalibur

For the craic I typed “brain stimulating toys for babies” into a search engine.  Wow!  Just wow!

Toys for your 1 month old baby.  50 simple ways to make your baby smarter.  Toys for gifted babies.  Boosting brain function.  Choosing the right toy.  To mention but a few.

I remember when Oldest Boy was new to this world he received a gorgeous present of monkeys.  They had black and white stripes and were to be dangled over his cot, buggy or bouncer.  The intent was to develop his brain through visual stimulation.

Fast forward several years and three more boys later, do you know what has stimulated our boy’s visual and physical growth?

Pots and pans from the kitchen press.  Empty shampoo bottles.  Sticks and rocks from the garden.  Decanting stones from a bucket into an empty beer bottle.   A large pile of sand in the front of the house.

What child doesn’t shun what they are “supposed” to play with in favour of cooking utensils and a basin of water with some bottle tops for boats?

And if you have boys in the house, did you have that head wrecking conversation about whether or not to ban toy guns and weapons of every description.  Was implementing an embargo on violent cartoons a decision you made?

I am here to tell you, boys will create a weapon out of almost anything.  They’re talented like that.

I do my best to control the emergence of bad language but I am guilty of this at times myself so I explain to them words aren’t bad.  It is how they are used that is harmful and wrong. 

When I see two of our boys mucking about with the spatulas and fish slices, having a sword fight, I don’t intervene. 

A big, huge part of me believes boys should have a gun (with caps) and a sword to play with.

Oldest Boy has a strong belief in this area too and spent the mid-term break pestering Mister Husband to make him a sword.

So he did.

If you would like to try making one, here are some very simple directions.       

Draw sword on board

·       Draw a sword on a piece of board.  Pine board, skirting board whatever you have to hand. Hard wood is better as it is stronger and will survive clashes. (maybe an old hurl)

·     Use a coping saw (pictured) to cut out shape of sword.  This saw is readily available in any hardware store.

coping saw

·         Use a rasp/heavy file (pictured) to shape the sword.

·         Sand down using a very coarse sandpaper.  Then change to one with a finer grit to finish off.

Mister Husband used a vice to hold the sword as it was being made.  If you don’t have a vice, a quick release clamp is perfect. 

Quick release clamp in blue

The boys are having great fun with their swords.  They are light and easy to handle but have already suffered some casualties. 

The finished weapons toy swords

Serious clashes will do that.

Have fun with yours!

P.S.  Please refrain from telling your child that with great power comes great responsibility.  It doesn't go down well!

Friday 21 February 2014

Interview with Liz Nugent. Unravelling Oliver.

‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.’


Straight away I was intrigued.  [The first time I hit her] implies a history of domestic violence but by the end of the first chapter, it is revealed the first time Alice was hit once by her husband Oliver, he went to the pub and later on that same evening he beat her into a coma.

Oliver’s story is then revealed bit by delicious, tantalising bit through the narrative of several characters; Barney, Michael, Moya, Veronique, Eugene and Oliver himself.

I became totally immersed in the story and whilst I believe no one person is 100% evil, there is good in everyone,  Oliver was a despicable character.  At the same time as a mother, my heart went out to him as a small boy and personally it is this part of his story that made him human and not the monster whose actions caused such devastation. 

I saw drama and suspense in the way every character was affected by Oliver even though some were unaware of this until the end.

A skilful tale, brilliantly told with lots of suspense throughout and some real tense moments.

I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to ask Liz a few questions about her book. 

Liz Nugent

Hi Liz.  Thank you for this opportunity.  I really enjoyed your book.  Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
“I was born and bred in Dublin, Ireland, number five of six children though my Dad went on to provide me with three more sisters from a second relationship so actually I’m slap bang in the middle of nine children: four brothers and four sisters, and I adore all of them. I spent a few years in London in my late teens, trying to prove I was a grown-up. I did all kinds of jobs there- I was a buyer for a construction company, an administrator in a dole office, a clerk in a hospital medical records office and a really terrible waitress. Prior to writing this novel, I mostly worked in Irish broadcasting and theatre, but always behind the scenes, as a Stage Manager in theatre and as a Production Co-ordinator, Script writer and Story Associate in television and radio.”

What were you like in school?  I am always interested to hear if authors I enjoy liked English for example.  Was there a particular teacher who encouraged your talent?
“I was a really bad student. I loved primary school but from the age of about 13 onwards, I completely lost interest. All of my school reports said ‘must try harder’ and ‘must not distract others’. I was a total messer and rarely did my homework. I had a path worn to the headmistress’ office to explain myself and was fined for smoking several times. I don’t blame the school. Adolescence hit me particularly hard and I was a quite unhappy teenager. I distinctly remember at age 13 thinking ‘I have a full four years to go here!’ It was a prison sentence to me. I didn’t do very well in any subject though the nun who ran the library used to recommend certain books to me, even though she confiscated others! I was a big reader.”

I have to say, Oliver was fascinating.  He drew me in straight away!  How did you come up with his character?
“I knew someone who was very intolerant and impatient and who I thought might be capable of violence so I tried to write from that person’s point of view, but then I got carried away and made Oliver a lot worse. But it wasn’t possible to write such an character without at least trying to justify all his actions from his point of view.” 

What about Eugene?  I found his chapter to be one of the more heart breaking.  Which character did you enjoy voicing most?
“Eugene was good to write because, despite his learning disability, he was the only one who saw right through Oliver. Oliver never bothered to hide his true nature from Eugene because he didn’t think “an imbecile’s” opinion would matter. But Barney is my favourite character. Barney loved and lost and sacrificed the girl he loved because he thought she deserved better. Poor Barney!

I really enjoyed how the story came together through the character’s narrative.  The reader doesn’t hear Alice’s voice through a chapter.  Was this always your intention? 
“Alice is in a coma from the first page, but I did at one stage have her voice in a letter she had written to Barney before Oliver’s attack. Unfortunately, it didn’t add any new information to the story so it had to go. She did however tell Barney that she’d made the wrong choice.”

What is your favourite part of the writing process?
“Strangely, I enjoyed the editing process. I know a lot of writers find that tortuous and maybe I got lucky with a good editor who understood exactly what I was trying to do. Up until now, I’ve never had anybody take such an interest in what I’m doing and treat it as really important. I found it flattering!”

And finally, when can we expect the next novel?  I for one cannot wait.
“Neither can I. I’m only three chapters into a first draft so it will be a while...

Thanks for the great questions!”

About the author

Liz Nugent worked as a stage manager in theatres in Ireland and toured internationally.  Most recently Liz has written extensively for radio and television drama including RTE’s Fair City.  She has been shortlisted for the prestigious Francis McManus Short Story Award.  Unravelling Oliver is her first novel and is published by Penguin Ireland.  It will be available on 6th March 2014 retailing at €14.99.

Thursday 20 February 2014

A Freaky Love In

Brothers In Arms
With four boys in the house the odd fight is inevitable.  Or pretty much guaranteed.  As parents, Mister Husband and I have gone down the usual road lined with threats and empty promises to withhold treats until further notice, stop all cartoon watching and decide those who cannot have manners and stop shouting will not go swimming at the weekend.

They don’t work.  Most likely because they are never properly carried out.  I have found you need to hit upon an immediate treat.  For example if they know the cinema is on the cards that afternoon, that is the threat to use, not something that is two or more sleeps down the line.

We’ve all got short memories.  Or in our case, a terminal dose of anything-for-a-quiet-life-itis.

We have stumbled upon a little beauty, however.  The advent and subsequent birth of the recent Minecraft computer game craze in which you get to be the Master Builder (Lego Movie reference right there!)

The vaguest threat to have a Minecraft ban imposed sees exemplary behaviour for a record 15 minutes or thereabouts. 

One morning last Christmas during the Minecraft advent, a DS ban was in place so break-outs on the school run were to be expected. 

I tend to turn up the volume of the radio in an attempt to drown out the fracas behind me but that can only do so much.

I was forced to employ some distraction tactics. 

“Let’s see who can find a car with antlers and a red nose!”

“That’s so easy!  There’s one.  And another.”

We approached the parish church and I pointed out with much excitement and gusto, an abandoned Santa hat complete with white bobble, tied onto a gate post.

“Where?  Where is it?  I can’t see it!”

“Look.  Over there.  Look out your window.”  I tapped at the glass and drove past the hat.

“Hah!  I saw it and you didn’t.”

“No, you didn’t!” (Punch!)  “You’re only (punch!) saying that to annoy me.”

“Ow!”  (Punch!)  “He (punch!) punched me!”

Fights such as those are not just reserved for car journeys.  They like to challenge each other when sweets have to be shared.

“They’re all the same lads!”

“No, they’re not!  His are yellow jellies and mine are orange.  It’s not fair.  He always gets the yellow ones.”

“Ha!  Yesssssss!  I got the best jellies and you don’t.”

(Punch!)  (Punch!) (Punch!)

It’s exhausting.  But at least they’re predictable. 

The other morning was the complete antithesis of their sparring and whole hearted efforts to spill each other’s blood.

The older three boys were curled up together in one chair, deeply engrossed in a multi-player game (both boys using their Nintendo DS but linked up to one game) heavily in combat with Lovely Liam looking on from the side.

I was washing breakfast dishes and the conversation went something exactly like this.

“Oh.  Sorry about that, Conor.  Didn’t mean to hit you.”

“That’s ok. “

“Yeah, I was just moving my arm to kill you in the game and I slipped.”

“I know.  I said it’s ok.  It didn’t hurt.”

“Good.  I’m really enjoying this game.”

“Me too.  You’re really good at it.”

“No, you’re really good at it.

“Yeah, I am I suppose.  But you’re really good at it too.”

“Thanks, Conor.”

“You’re welcome.”

Who are you?  And what have you done with my boys?????

Friday 14 February 2014

Eye Candies
Do you remember when The Commitments first came to the big screen and it was widely reported the American audience were given a little hand book in order to understand the script?

It was said they couldn’t understand the Dublin North side accent and dialect.

And do you remember, if you were of a certain age, how you fell about the place laughing at the chorus line “roide, Sally, roide” in Mustang Sally because if you were Irish, you knew what that really meant?

I do!  I never said I was mature. 

Because it is Valentine’s Day, I decided to treat myself to a trip down memory lane and root out some of my favourite roides, past and present.  I had such fun doing this!   

Roides, every one of them.  At least in my eyes they were/are. 

Except maybe for my very first crush ever.  But I was young.  Very young.  I didn’t even know I was “crushing” on Julian from Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series.  I reckon it was a latent big brother thing.   Or just plain weird.     


But we’ll take it from there, shall we? 


River Phoenix
He was just so fekin’ cool!  Even if he was a bit too “out there” for me.

Christian Slater
I loved him in Heathers.  I thought Winona Ryder was so lucky!  And she was having a go of him in Real Life too! 

Robert Downey Jnr. 
I don’t really have any words this time.  Except: I would.  I absolutely would!  Swoon. 

Richard Dean Anderson aka MacGyver.
A man who is deadly with his hands.  Need I say more?

Jeremy Irons
He might be wearing a vest like Onslow in Keeping up Appearances but I do like nice arms and Jeremy’s got those.

Robbie Amell
This one is my guilty pleasure.  He’s only 26 and normally I’m not into toy boys of any description but I’d be all over this one!

Ray D’Arcy
The man from Today FM is my Kildare representative.  I actually met him in the flesh once you know.  Got his autograph and everything.

Harrison Ford
As Indie in Indiana Jones he can rescue my damsel in distress any time.  No shirt required. 

Pierce Brosnan
Mr. Brosnan as the dashing lead in Remington steel was one of my earlier fixations.  He cut a fine James Bond too!  

Matthew Fox
What would I bring if I won a weekend on a desert island?  Clue:  It wouldn’t be sun block! 

I could have gone on and on with this one.  

Who would you include in your Valentine’s Roide-y list?

Tuesday 11 February 2014

A Bug. A Cake & A Day Off.

Photo credit: Kate Richie aka Sally from Home & Away
Sometimes I just cannot muster the energy or interest to cook dinner.  Today happened to be one of those days.  I am beginning to notice a pattern.  I usually feel like this when I am particularly tired, when I haven’t had much fresh air or if one of the boys has had an unsettled night. 

Last night was one of those nights.  We have a very affectionate fella in our house.  As a baby he would wake up almost every night, but not for a drink, not because he had a bad dream, or because he was too hot or too cold.  This boy would wake because he wanted a kiss and a hug.  He was only eighteen months old and I had been enjoying a few months of uninterrupted sleep.  Then the baby arrived and the gentle but persistent demands for a kiss and a hug at 2am started.

This quest for reassurance was to be expected really.

These days Lovely Liam has his cuddle quota met during the day but he will still wake at night.  

Most nights.

A quick trip to the bathroom is usually all it takes to settle him but some nights that is not enough and I have to bunk in with him.  Once we are snuggled up under the blankets together, he will wriggle closer and press his nose up against mine, little arms go around my neck and I get a kiss followed by an “I love you.”

Last night I had a lucky escape.  Complaining of a tummy ache and being too hot, it was decided not a moment too soon, that he unwrap himself from around me and see if a bathroom visit would help.

It did.  Lovely Liam was sick as soon as he reached the bathroom door. 

A bit confused, a little shocked and a tad disgusted, he stood looking at me, not exactly sure what had just happened.  The last time for Lovely Liam to have an upset tummy was when he was an infant.

Finally, a change of pyjamas, a spoonful of medicine and a sucky sweet later (Strepsil to you and me to take away the “yucky taste”) we were back in bed.

Together.  Where I was a bit nervous that it might happen again and we wouldn’t be so lucky second time round.

He slept soundly and I tossed and turned, listening to every snore and cough.

It was decided a day off school was in order and I spent the morning cleaning, sweeping, washing down doors, doing laundry and tidying the play room. 

It was no wonder I didn’t feel like making dinner.

It happens to be pancake Tuesday in our house every Tuesday so this was a lovely, easy lunch to prepare.  It is also a firm favourite.

To cheer everyone up and inject some sunshine into the day I also made this.

Double Malted Chocolate Brownie recipe in link above

This was supposed to be for dessert but I had it for my lunch with cups and cups of hot tea.

Just because.

Monday 3 February 2014

The Truths of Motherhood. (Revisited)

Listen up, grasshoppers for these are the truths of motherhood and if there aren’t one or two things you don’t identify with listed below, I’ll eat my pants.  In the immortal words of my tummy and thighs instructor - here we go!

You, as the mother figure, will end up doing all of or most of the work.  Be it through default, design or no fault of your own.

There will be days where you won’t actually like your child.  You will always love your child with an all-consuming passion, the likes of which you have never experienced before, but there will be days where you will not like them.  At all.

You will understand what real tiredness is.  You think you know just because you made it into work (but only just) having just had three hours of sleep the night before?  Hah!  You’re in the hard place now.

You will develop a newfound respect for your mother.  How did she manage it? There was always dinner on the table.  At the same time every day.  And it consisted of items that required peeling before boiling, none of your oven chips variety and Donegal Catch with a few micro-waved beans job thank you very much.

You will multi-task like never before.  So, once upon a time you managed to type a document, answer the phone and sign for DHL all at the same time?  Big whoop-de-do!  Wait till you’re breastfeeding whilst grilling rashers and sausages with the phone jammed between your ear and your shoulder. That’s multi-tasking!

You will strike up conversations with complete and utter strangers.  People who bear a striking resemblance to you – fully accessorised with buggy and changing bag that suggests a week’s holiday not a trip to the shop for milk and chocolate.  And you don’t need to look any closer to see that the go-faster-stripe down the leg of her tracksuit bottoms (yes, you’re wearing them too!  You swore you never would but there you go) is actually a trail of baby puke.

It’s day three in the Big Mutha House and your hair is still unbrushed, you haven’t washed your face and/or your teeth and you’re still wearing the same clothes. Including underwear.

You are shocked when you think how you used to spend up to 100 euro a night socialising.  That’s a weeks groceries for crying out loud!

You see your town in a different light.  You know the best parking spot in your multi storey if the parent and child space is taken.  And it always will be.  You know the best café in which to get your buggy through the door without taking it off its hinges. Also you’re on first name terms with the girls who work there and they know your baby’s name and how many teeth he has. 
It’s mother and toddler social club at the supermarket, and you recognise the same faces in the aisles before 9am on any given day.

You know what, if anything, is on telly at 4.30am in the morning.

You go through a stage, a long one, where you will be in your bed by 8pm of an evening because you will be forced out of it at precisely 5am the following morning.  And several times in the hours between!

You not only welcome door to door sales people, but buy special packets of biscuits to have with the cup of coffee.  You don’t want life insurance, cannot afford to fork out several hundred euro for an aerial photo of your house with the option of airbrushing out your clothes line.  All you wanted was adult conversation.  And those posh Elite chocolate biscuits were nice!

The chances of being in your local pub before midday will become highly likely.  Hold on, don’t get too excited!  It will only be to use their “facilities.”  And you will be greatly offended when they eventually point out their “Toilets are For Customers Use Only” signs.  You’re indignant - you spent thousands in there, once upon a time!    But they don’t recognise you any more!

Your GHD will be hidden under a pile of dust/clothes/shoes or forgotten about altogether.  Along with your waistline and highlights.

The window cill and your bedside table house nappy cream, various bottles of baby medicine, teething stuff and the odd toy.  Your chick lit favourites are replaced by titles such as The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, How to Baby Proof Your Marriage, and Toddler Taming.

Your sexy lingerie is now “sensible” knickers and nursing bras.

Your favourite items of footwear are runners (winter) and flip flops (summer).  Suddenly your gorgeous heels, mules, peep toe shoes and FMB’s are accidents waiting to happen when carrying your baby.  To add insult to injury only the right shoe fits now as your left foot has gone up a size since the arrival of your second baby.

Your favourite item of clothing is your baby sling.

You don’t care anymore that it’s the weekend.  It’s not like you’re going to get a lie in anyway.

There are days where it is unclear who has cried more – you or the baby!

You will, and this is 100% guaranteed, head into town wearing soiled clothes, matted hair and wearing odd shoes, only to run into someone you knew from your never a hair out of place BC (Before Childer) days.  This person will be perfectly groomed (naturally) from head to toe and say something clichéd like, “you have your hands full there,” (ya think??!!) or “you look great!  Motherhood suits you!”  (You don’t and it doesn’t!)

And the biggest truth of them all?

Parenthood is the biggest, most challenging job we will ever undertake in our lives. It’s sexist because only women can give birth.  It’s discriminatory because women receive paid maternity leave and men don’t.  It’s the only job that doesn’t require qualifications. In fact, if it went before The Equality Tribunal it would most likely be thrown out of court. If you saw an ad for it in a paper, you’d distance yourself as far as possible from it.  So why do we do it?  

Because we don’t know any better, that’s why, and when we do, it’s too late.

You’re home with your life sized bundle of responsibility and there is no turning back.  Bring on the sleepless nights, the petty arguments with your Other Half, the incessant flow of visitors for the first month or so and the sudden drought when you’ve just gotten your head around things and are gagging for some adult company. 

Let’s not forget the alarming rashes that appear on your baby and the mysterious way they cry even when they’re clean, fed and warm.  But it’s not all doom and gloom. 

It may seem like a thankless job.  There certainly won’t be cheques, but in time you will receive countless spontaneous bear hugs and sloppy kisses.  It may not be as good as money, but it’s a whole lot nicer!