Monday 29 December 2014

December Favourites

pic:  The Bay Tree
THE YEAR is almost at an end.  Yet another 12 months in the bag.  December is all about indulgence and being festive, is it not?  Enjoying a little bit more than usual without feeling guilty.  When I was younger it was all about making sure I had a couple of new things to wear over Christmas.  It’s been a few years since I indulged that way but I still like to collect a few bits and pieces.  I’ve listed some of those down below.  Some are old and there might be a new favourite as well.

The Make-up Favourites 
Catrice Photo Finish Foundation:    We all want flawless skin minus the shine and I think I have stumbled upon one of the best recession friendly foundations out there that delivers.   A little tip for you: make sure both your moisturiser and foundation do not contain SPF if you want a nice shine free face in photographs.  It is the flash reflecting off your make-up that creates this look in pictures even though you look matt in reality.  This foundation offers decent but not sticky or heavy coverage and will hold up during photographic opportunities.   

Essence Hello Autumn Thermal Effect Nail Polish:  This is a little bit of fun for about €3.  Basically it is a nail varnish that changes colour from a burnt orange hue in the warmth to a darker brick red when you go out into the cold.  Personally I prefer the darker red.  But if you put on enough coats (maybe about 4 but not all in the one evening! Smudge alert!) the orange looks dark enough to get away with.

The Food & Drink Favourites
Mulled Wine:  In keeping with the festive theme, what can be more so than mulled wine; sweet, gorgeous ruby warming liquid.  This stuff is the bee’s knees.  Perfect for December and the season that’s in it.  My sister Gina served this at her Posh Wine and Cheese Reception and it went down a treat.       

Mince Pies:    It took quite a few years for my palate to warm to these.  But now?  Oh boy.  Slightly warmed with a dollop of cream and I am purring.  In the run up to Christmas I was known to enjoy one for my breakfast.  Maybe I should learn how to make them myself.  But that’s not the same as having one handed to you, now is it?

The Health Favourites 
Maximol:  I mentioned this previously in 2014.  It was used with great success to rid two little feet of verrucas.  Now that another one has appeared on another boy, the Maximol is back.  It is also an excellent all round pick me up tonic and who doesn’t need one of those in the winter months.

Running:  Any kind of exercise is good for the heart and mind.  My choice of accelerated heart rate is to put on some runners and go for a run.  I took quite a long break this winter (almost four months.  I know.  Don’t tell anyone!) but I got back into it over the Christmas break.  Gently does it but it feels great and now that spring is just around the corner, bringing with her, longer evenings, I can get out regularly.    

The Book Favourites
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George:  I read this years ago, loved it and have no idea where it went.  Currently my almost 9 year old is deeply into his adventure stories and this book chronicles one mad adventure.  To borrow the blurb from amazon:  “Terribly unhappy in his family's crowded New York City apartment, Sam Gribley runs away to the solitude-and danger-of the mountains, where he finds a side of himself he never knew.”  A lovely tale of how one boy lived wild for a year, clothing and feeding himself from the land.  Santy brought this book but I met the postman at the door and read it again.   

The Feel Good Factor
The kindness of others.  It being so close to Christmas and all brings this one home to roost with a bang!  Our car crossed over at the end of November and we were without transport for a while.  Family and friends rallied round with all the help they could muster in order to sort us out, get the kids to school and take me to the shops.  It would warm the cockles of your heart.

And of course, your kids’ faces on Christmas morning when they see all that santy has left for them.

Wishing you all a peaceful New Year.  Chat to you on the other side!

Tuesday 23 December 2014

A Christmas Treat. Or Two

SO it’s Christmas and the Quality Streets are plentiful.  As is the turkey.  The wine.  The glazed ham.  Or is that just you?

Sometimes you need a little something extra, something different during this time of year and I have just the thing for you.

Well, two things actually.

And they’re not really my things.  They are recipes from two of my sisters.  I admit I have yet to try the nachos but every time I look at the ingredients, I can taste them.

So here we go if you want to make your own mulled wine and nachos for a Christmas treat.

Gina’s Mulled Wine
One bottle of red wine.
A litre of cranberry juice.
Zest of 1 orange and 1 lime.
A cinnamon stick.
A teaspoon of sugar.
2 cloves.
Warm it gently (don’t boil!) in a saucepan, serve and enjoy!

Leanne’s (Christmas) Nachos with salsa and yokky-moley (guacamole)
Cherry tomatoes quartered
Jalapenos chopped
Red onion chopped
Coriander you guessed it – chopped
Salt and pepper
You know what to do with this.  Pop it all into a bowl.

3 avocados mashed
Red onion
Juice of half lime
Couple drops of Tabasco
Salt and pepper
As with the salsa, place in a bowl. 


The chips must be the blue Dorito’s.  Or so I’ve been told.  Layer these in a baking tray with some salsa and grated cheese on top.  Three layers is recommended.  Put in the oven for 10 minutes at 200 degrees.    Place more salsa on top, add guacamole and more cheese (if you want) and enjoy!

 I suppose you could do a lot worse than enjoy with a bottle of beer.

Just sayin’.

pic credit:  Leanne

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Christmas Memories.
CHESTNUTS roasting by an open fire.  Frosty the Snowman.  (Hope they’re not his, fnar fnar) (Sorry!)  Rockin’ around the Christmas tree.    The Corn Flake ad on television.  The Penneys Christmas tune.

Those are some of my favourite songs at Christmas.  I also love the family block of Viennetta ice-cream.  But it has to be the original one.  None of your fancy minty or coffee flavoured versions, thanking you.  Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.  Again it must be the original.  Goodnight Mr. Tom. 

I could go on and on with this favourites theme but I have another one in mind.  The science whizz that is Naomi over at Dr. How's Science Wows is currently hosting  Christmas Memories (A seasonal linky) and I am delighted to add my own memories to the mix. 

I remember feeling sick with excitement during the weeks before Christmas.  I could never understand how my mother was able to stand it!  How was she so calm, almost serene.  But of course she wasn’t; she was as frantic as I was just in a different way.

I remember taking a large, dirty branch from outside, sticking it into a flower pot filled with stones to make a Christmas tree for my bedroom.

I remember an old man from the yard in the hardware shop telling me and my sisters, on Christmas Eve, that Santa had crashed and his sleigh had been found in bits around the corner.  Christmas had been cancelled.  The next few moments were a blur.  I think shock and fright had set in.

I remember the house being filled with people on Christmas day.  From about 11am onwards, after mass, people would arrive.  Usually one by one to have a Christmas drink with my parents.  This was a cup of tea as we weren’t a drinking family.  Then other relatives would arrive in the afternoon and stay for hours.  Giving us extra toys to play with.

I remember wishing fervently for snow.

I remember going to bed at 6pm on Christmas Eve – sick with the aforementioned excitement – and not being able to sleep for ages.

I remember waking up at an ungodly hour.  I’d bet this year’s turkey my mother had been in bed for about 63 minutes but she still got up with us to see if santy had been.  I remember how she cleverly tricked coaxed us all back into our beds by getting us to agree we were delighted with our hauls and yes, we were a bit tired.  The comedown, see.  My mammy rocks!

I remember my younger sisters having a game of hide and seek and finding the “santy’s” during it.

I remember hobbling about on crutches one year, unable to get comfortable and living in sweaty fear of someone bumping off me.  I had a broken knee, the result of an accident that took place on December 6th, my mother’s birthday and two days before mine.

I remember the pub on Christmas Eve.  It was like a massive class reunion with everyone home for the holidays. 

I remember being 8 months pregnant 9 Christmases ago and swearing never again.  For the next three Christmases I was either pregnant and/or breastfeeding.

Now that I’ve got four children of my own I hope they will have their own fond memories of the festive season.  I asked the boy who will be 7 on New Year’s Day what does he like best about Christmas.  He wasn’t allowed say toys!

I wanted to see if he had any memories of Christmas yet.  His answer was, “the dinner, the decorations and the Christmas tree.”  He stuck in a sneaky “treats!” though!

See?  Memories can start at any age. 


Monday 15 December 2014

Christmas. Perception Vs Reality

Christmas in an ideal world

Halloween is over and it is safe to bring up the subject of Christmas lists.

The kids know exactly what they would like to receive Christmas morning and request educational toys, lots of books and one thoughtful child has asked for a pair of runners for school.  Your heart!

A lottery ticket yields a tidy sum.  Nothing too obscene just enough to get you over the festive season.

The kids wave good bye from their grandparent’s front door as their mother and father head off for an afternoon of Santy shopping.

What luck!  The shop is practically deserted and everything on the kids’ lists is in stock.  Better still the 3 for 2 offer is still available and you save almost €200.

The shopping is completed quicker than expected and everything is packed into the car.  A cup of coffee is in order.

The coffee is sipped at such a leisurely pace it goes cold.  Conversation is free-flowing.  Suddenly a screaming toddler perched on top of a heaving trolley catches your eye.  You feel deeply for the red faced, sweating and stressed mother who is only barely holding it together.  That could be me, you think as your husband catches the waitress’s eye and orders another two coffees. 

On the way back to the car there is a missed text from your own mother.  “Kids are fine.  Why don’t you get your hair done and go out for a meal.  I can drop them off in the morning. Xx”

Why not?

It is Christmas morning.  The kids wake quietly and in good humour at 8am.  Everyone troops downstairs and opens their presents with loud and effusive thanks. “This is great!  It’s exactly what I wanted.”  “Look at my new runners. They’re deadly.”  “This is the best day ever!”

Dinner appears on the table as if by magic and afterwards everyone gathers in front of the roaring fire to watch the Christmas matinee on TV.

Oh look, is that snow?  It is.  What a wonderful end to a perfect day.


Summer holidays are over and the Christmas adverts begin to appear on television.  Perfect timing.  Just in time for the headaches to start.

The first Christmas list is slapped in front of you on 25th October with the dire warning that “it’s not finished and I will probably change my mind.”  The others want everything they see on the television.  They get so caught up in the festive hype they even request the pink buggy and a rock star Bratz doll.  But boys, you’re boys!

You begin to pay special attention to the catering size mayonnaise jar on top of the fridge and the superman tin can on the counter top.  Neither of them are full.  Write a reminder on your shopping list to do the lottery at the weekend.  Even 500 would help at this stage!

You take the kids to the biggest Tesco’s in the county and try to get them to pick one big (ish) toy and one small (practically invisible) toy.  The plan is for Mister Husband to take them outside so you can smuggle their choices out to the car.  You act so suspiciously the security guard is two feet away from you at all times, his walkie talkie radio thing halfway between his ear and mouth.

A random toddler gets elbowed out of the way as he reaches for the helicopter your three and a half year old liked the look of.  You don’t care if the toddler fell over – he has a padded bottom doesn’t he.  That helicopter was only twenty quid!

At the check-out and you are informed the Star Trek torch thingy your five year old selected is “not on file” and should not have been “out on the shelf” as it “cannot be scanned” therefore “is not for sale at this moment in time.”  You receive a sympathetic smile from the mother sipping a coffee with her husband in the little coffee shop on the concourse who has heard everything.

You are taking the toys in from the back of the car when the three year old catches you red handed and asks who are they for?  You distract with two packets of buttons and spend the rest of the day shouting over him every time he tries to tell his older brothers all about “the Minecraft Lego and helicopters in mammy’s car.”

It is Christmas morning.  You hear something.  Laughing and shouting.  It is 2am and the kids are awake.  The kids are awake?  The fucking kids are awake!  Tears are not very far away.  Yours.   You stumble out to them and tell them Santy hasn’t been yet and they’d better go back to sleep quickly.  No, you most certainly will not go downstairs to check!  How do I know he hasn’t been?  I just do, okay.  Please, please, please go back to bed!  I know it’s Christmas and no I am not crying, I am just very tired.  Go on back to bed. Just for a little while.  Listen!  Did you hear that!  Bells!  I hear bells!  Quick! For the love of god, quick! Don’t let him see you out of your beds.  Go, go now while you still have time!!!

And it really is Christmas morning.  Everyone is downstairs in their pyjamas.  The sitting room is buried under wrapping paper, empty boxes and silver bits of tin foil from the chocolate coins the kids found in their stockings.  The noise levels are at an all-time high.  The television is in competition with the new X Box 360.   The dog keeps making off with Steve from Minecraft and all you want is a cup of strong coffee but you are loathe to make one for fear of missing any of the excitement.  The first hug of the day is delivered by the five year old who almost knocks you over with the force of it.  “I love Christmas and I love Santy.  I love you.  I think I love everyone.  This is the best day ever!”

Friday 12 December 2014

Christmas Shopping in Athy

Bradburys Christmas window
I am going to go out on a limb here and do a short(ish) list for some last minute Christmas shopping in Athy.   Not all of us are highly organised and finished by early December.  And even if you are done, there is always time for a last minute gift or two.  I have tried to cover everybody and I think there is something for everyone here. 

Let’s dig in!

For Her.   The world Athy is your oyster with this one really.  There is so much choice for the Her in your life be it your girlfriend, your mother, wife or best friend.  You will be loved forever if you stopped off at Gillen Jewellers.  Alex and Ani anyone?  Your gift could start as low as €24 for one of their gorgeous bracelets and no-one would hold it against you if you spent more!     

Moore’s Pharmacy is a couple of stops down and they stock the coveted and lauded Urban Decay Basic make up palettes.   You cannot go wrong with this.  Take. My. Word. For. It.  Again, starting at €30 they don’t break the bank.  They also stock another excellent makeup product called Sleek and these items start at the recession friendly price of €9.99!

Does she like fashion and let’s face it, who doesn’t? Rock Frocks is a new venture in the town and they boast Imelda May as one of their customers.  Do I need to say more?  If the 
Her in your life is a 50’s chick, this would be her idea of heaven.  They also stock accessories like shoes, jewellery and bags.

For Him.  IF he likes his style Manley’s Mans Shop is the place to go.    
Griffin and Hawe covers all his fishing and hunting needs and the DIY enthusiast is catered for with their tool selection. 
Vodafone for a new phone and Ticket Master has your back for that all important summer gig in 3Arena 2015. 
Who doesn’t like to smell good?  Any of the pharmacies in town will have his favourite cologne. (And hers!)    

The Boy.   This could be your son, brother or nephew.  So with that in mind, Winkles Newsagents have an impressive book selection.  And a little bird told me they are cheaper than Eason’s.  Sssshhhh. 
The Gem also have reading material.  A magazine subscription is a great idea.  At least I think so.  Both newsagents will order in your request if they do not have it in stock.
Xtravision.  Do I really need to tell you what they stock?  I think everyone knows about their DVD box sets and CD’s. 

The Girl.  Maddens Pharmacy currently have some gorgeous girly gift sets for your younger sister, niece or secret Santa.  If The Girl is a teenager, you could do a lot worse than pick up an eye shadow palette from the W7 makeup range.  These are only €6.95 and come highly recommended.  Throw in a set of makeup brushes from Langnickel at only €12.99 and you’re sorted. They also do really cute and cuddly animal slippers.  An animal sleeping bag anyone?

The Couple.  This one could be the easiest gift you could ever purchase.  You need only spend time if they have kids.  A baby sitting voucher would see hands and all taken off you!  Maybe even throw in a voucher for a meal in The Bay Tree or Ngai’s.  Feeling extra generous?   The Clanard Court Hotel offer a Dine and Stay in luxurious settings with an evening meal and breakfast at only €69 pps. 

Clanard Court Hotel

The Mother.  Skincare is always important and Doyle’s Pharmacy will see her right with a Clarins skincare gift wrapped beauty box. 
Keeping with the beauty theme, a gift voucher from Zebbles or Hair by Audrey will not be left in the bottom of a handbag.  That’s a guarantee.  You could always treat her to a nice facial or massage in La Belle Dame.

The Father.    I’ve checked with those in the know and you could find anything from a needle to an anchor in Liffey Mills or Sam Sunderland’s hardware stores.  Hours of pleasant browsing and a gift at the end of it.  Just make sure he doesn’t buy paint!

The Grandparents.  Grandparents can be notoriously difficult to buy for.  Shaws Electrical for a new coffee machine or the main shop for home wares.  New parents and grandparents of up to 15 children still have to eat so again, a voucher for a meal in one of the town’s restaurant’s or cafĂ©’s is a lovely idea.  La Scala carry an excellent menu with lovely wine.    

There is a lot to offer in Athy and it can be really easy to keep it local.  With free parking for the month of December and some shops already open during Sunday’s it’s never been easier.  A lot of business also run the very handy Christmas club in the run up to the festive season.

To finish up I cannot forget to mention K Leisure who offer a yearly membership for a family of six for the excellent sum of just under 900 euros. 

Perry’s Supermarket is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave and you literally wouldn’t know what you might find in there. 

see?  Loadsa stuff!  *Boy for illustration only.  He be mine*

Naturally all of the supermarkets in Athy stock alcohol but why not spend your cash in a family run business like Buckley’s Carry Out Off Licence, or Redmond’s Next Door Off Licence.   (Enjoy alcohol responsibly)

Another little gem is St. Johns Gallery where you can pick up gorgeous artisan hand-made gifts by local artists.

If there is a foodie in your life Hylands Butchers stock an impressive and delicious array of homemade chutneys and relishes.  Include a leg of lamb in the hamper and that's New Year's Day dinner taken care of.  You might even get an invite.

Wherever you shop, remember it’s the thought that counts.

Wishing you all a Merry, safe and sober(ish) Christmas.

Disclaimer:  I have not been paid or asked to mention any of the businesses in this post.  All words, thoughts and opinions are my own.  Please don’t hurt me!

Disclaimer No. 2:  I am not hinting!  Even a tiny bit.    

Monday 8 December 2014

Even Tooth Fairies Forget!

A FEW mishaps are to be expected when there’s a six foot Christmas tree, a boisterous dog and four rowdy boy children.

Throw in a few candy canes and mishaps are guaranteed.  I wasn’t in the room when the tree fainted so I still don’t know if it was the dog or the kids fault.  Either way someone was intent on reaching the candy canes.

Then there was the time we lost one of our novelty antlers when the window was wound down.  For a split second it looked like a severed hand flying past before it landed with a skiddy bumpity type back flip onto the road. 

But the biggest Christmas gaffe so far happened at the weekend when the tooth fairy didn’t show up.  Oldest Boy had a loose tooth for ages and it was causing him no end of frustration because it didn’t seem to want to fall out.  So he helped it along and pulled it. 

His mother (that would be me) was on her way out for some festive mulled wine with great intentions of not being in a heap the following day. 

Off she went and the boys were put to bed.  The next morning rolled round as it tends to and Oldest Boy bounced into the bedroom and announced that Elvis (his tooth fairy) didn’t come, there was no money, and the tooth was still there as was the note.

*note?  What note?*

Oh, fuuuuuuck!

Mister Husband got this one.  “It’s Christmas,” he said matter of factly.  “He got held up, that’s all.  He will come.  Probably tonight.”

To be fair, Oldest Boy wasn’t in a heap about it (unlike his hung over mother) and he accepted this.

I felt awful(er) though.  I was raging I messed up with the tooth fairy.  Lovely mulled wine making me forgetful.

I just hope Elvis had as good a time at his Christmas party as I had at my mulled wine evening.

P.S.  Elvis, fair play to him, showed up as expected.  There was a smidgen of worry over how a letter of warning might be placed on his file and he toyed momentarily with sticking a fiver under the pillow to make up for any disappointment caused.  Elvis is a practical sort of chap - thank God - and he quickly nipped that one in the bud.  Fear of future expectation and all of that.  Oldest Boy was thrilled with his €3.  And then proceeded to fret over how he could turn it into €5 to purchase a book he has his eye on. Looks like there might be more tooth pulling in the near future! 

Monday 1 December 2014

The Late Late Toy Show
WHEN I was growing up one of the highlights of the year by far was The Late Late Toy Show.

For the uninitiated this was (and still is) a two hour winter wonderland of toys, singing and dancing, more amazing toys, adults dressed up as Christmas characters, even more incredible toys, free gifts for the audience, eyes pop out of your head toys, popcorn, salt and vinegar crisps and a very late night.

I would get a pain in my stomach with the excitement of it all and find it almost impossible to eat my salt and vinegar crisps.  It seemed every single toy in the world was being showcased by whichever host had nabbed the gig that year.  It was amazing.  Stuff you could only hope to see in your dreams.

Bear in mind Smyth’s Toy Store, the internet and supermarkets teeming with toys hadn’t been invented yet.   

Did I say it was amazing?  Exciting?  And pain in the stomach inducing?

Friday night in Ireland The Late Late Toy Show was the second most trending topic in the world.  That’s the world.

There is something for everyone in The Late Late Toy Show.  Each year there is a mad scramble to secure a ticket that will ensure you a seat in the audience.  As kids we thought all you needed to do was ask for them.  You can ask but in this instance you most likely will not get. 

Remember Willy Wonka’s golden tickets?  The Late Late Toy Show is akin to that.  Gold dust, folks.  Gold dust.

Twitter and Facebook were alive with the countdown to this annual event.  Kids all across Ireland were showered, dressed in new pyjamas and fizzing with barely contained excitement as the clock ticked towards 9.30pm.

Parents everywhere driven mad by the “Is it nearly time yet?” questions.

Except in our house.

If our boys knew the word “meh” they would be “meh-ing” all over the place. So I didn’t even mention it to them.

I think they were aware on some outward periphery that it was happening.  I’m sure they must have heard some of their classmates talking about it in school.

Our boys are in bed most nights at 8pm.  Three of them are asleep in about ten minutes with the oldest one dragging it out until 10pm with all the reading that has to be done.

And true to form, the hay was hit at 9pm Friday night, eyes firmly shut within ten minutes and then Oldest Boy put in his nightly appearance but this night his request was for Lord of the Rings.

He curled up on the couch and became engrossed in the film and I caught up with a glass or two of wine and a few blog posts.

I don’t feel they miss out by not watching the most famous show in Ireland.  But just in case they did, I found one or two choice clips on YouTube.

Aimee met Ed Sheeran!

Bawl!  Her little face!  He was just lovely to her.  So nice and kind and he came bearing gifts for her and Ryan Tubridy.  If Aimee said “thank you” once she said it fifty times.  She got to duet with him and then Ed told her he would fly Aimee and her family out to one of his UK gigs next year.  Don’t watch the link.  You’ll be in bits!

And then the lads met Danny from The Script.

More little faces.  Completely awestruck and gorgeous.  I thought I was going to lose it when Danny told the boys to come along and sound check with him and the band in Croke Park for their sell out gigs summer 2015. Gorgeous, that’s what Christmas and The Late Late Toy Show is made of stuff.

So I played both clips for the boys to watch.  Possibly maybe more than likely the wrong ones as all I got was a resounding “meh” followed by “is it my turn on the tablet?”

See?   Total Toy Show heathens. I don’t know what I am rearing at all.