Sunday, April 30, 2006

Month 27- shamelessly stolen from Dooce

Inspired by the lovely lady at I have decided to write a monthly update on the life of Joseph, who shares a birthday with Leta (Dooce's little girly).
Forgive the gushing sentimentality.

Dear Joseph,
This morning you woke me with your trademark smile and a delightful aroma from your nappy which did not sit well with my headache. Twenty-seven-months ago I would have been horrified at such a rude awakening, but now, despite the smell, I can't help but grin.
There is something about you that makes me smile each time I see your face and my smile becomes a grin when you give me a trademark 'big squishy'. (Copyright Joseph: 2006)
I love how affectionate you have become. I love your little kisses- now with a proper closed mouth and the added sound effect of 'Mwah'.
Talking is your strong point. God knows keeping clean and tidy isn't, so we love to hear you talk and tell us all about your life. The running commentary in the car each morning, where you scream hello at the fire engines and tell me all the colours of the buses and vans never ceases to me amaze me. I'm glad I'm not arrogant enough to be blazé about the fact I helped make something as intelligent as you. It takes my breath away.
It's a weird time for me and your daddy, because part of us wants to keep you wee and babyish- but part of us is just so disgustingly proud with every new word or sentence you come out with that we relish each new day. We have become full time baby bores. Anyone who knows us, knows about you- and those who meet you agree you really are one pretty cool dude.
Daddy took you swimming today and you came running out of the leisure centre straight into my arms to give me a huge cuddle and tell me all about your adventures down the slide and in the big water. Your conversation was more a series of random words, pasted together between giggles and screams. "Splish, swimming, slide, wheeee! Water, Daddy, splash." Well that just about sums it up better than I ever could.

The Lovely Lady at Dooce (LL@D) said this month her daughter is the most beautiful creature alive. I think you and Leta could fight it out for that title. Wonder if we could arrange a celebrity grudge match?

As this moves on, I'll tell you more about how you were born (you might want to mentally block out the bits about the stitches and the bleeding) and how much you have changed my life, but for now, just believe I love you baby boy.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Home Sweet Home

IT'S FUNNY how we take certain things for granted- simple little things like turning out the light in the evening, climbing into bed, resting our heads on our pillows and drifting off to sleep under a comfy duvet.

We all too often take for granted the ability to walk through our own front doors, take residence on our own sofas or shower in our very own bathrooms.
That said, I do love my house- it is my retreat and my sanctuary. When it is clean and tidy it is my favourite place on earth- when it is messy I spend my time generally cursing the very foundations it stands on. With a two year old son and 34 year old husband (also a man therefore also a mess magnet) you can imagine I spend more time cursing than relaxing these days. It's hard to sometimes see the good point beneath the clutter and dust.
Recently we gave the old homestead an overhaul. With a freshly decorated master bedroom, some new wooden blinds, a proper big boy single bed and laminate flooring in the wee man's room and new coat of paint on our crumbling exterior I am, I have to admit, happier with Chez Allan than I have been in a long time. (Now if I could transform my pokey back yard into a luxurious bijoux city garden I would be in seventh heaven).
But it hasn't been this overhaul that has made me start to look on my little house with new eyes. Surfing through the internet on Tuesday, looking for inspiration for this very column (Joseph not having done anything remarkably hilarious this week) I came across a BBC News Report on the Wandering Scribe.
The Wandering Scribe is an anonymous woman who writes a Blog (an internet based diary for those not au fait with nerdy media technology like me). She lives in her car in a laneway somewhere in London. She writes her Blog at a local library. She showers and washes her clothes in the laundries of a local hospital, she sleeps, night in and night out, in the front seat of her car.
She has lived this way since losing her job and suffering a mental breakdown in August of last year and she writes about her experiences with the searing honesty that only anonymity can allow.
The thing that strikes me most about her story is not her guile in managing to get staff discounts in the hospital canteen, or her ability to store all her life's possessions in the back of her car (my clutter would need the fancy new double decker bus that runs on the Slievemore route these days)- more it is her desire to lie down.

Stretch out
It sounds so simple doesn't it? I mean we all do it. We all climb into bed and lie down at least once a day. We all like to stretch out and I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only person in world who often sighs with pleasure as I snuggle down and let the soft duvet envelop me.
But this woman has not had a lie down in eight months. She sleeps sitting in her car, wrapped in a damp sleeping bag, struggling to get comfortable.
She longs to be able to lie down, on a bench, on the grass, on the floor- but doesn't want to draw attention to herself because while the Wandering Scribe is homeless, anyone meeting her would not realise. She is an expert at keeping up appearances- right down to washing her hair every day and finding ingenious ways to iron her jeans.
Being a self-confessed bed-aholic, who likes nothing more than a Tuesday night amid my copious pillows and cushions reading a good book or watching Desperate Housewives on RTE 2, I cannot imagine how it would feel not to have that most basic of luxuries.
It was that one notion that made me look at Chez Allan in a whole new light. I mean, yes I would kill for an electric shower and a bath which did not have a habit of leaking so that we get delightful water stains on the kitchen ceiling. I would love our back living room to look organised- not a crazy mixture of a living room/ study/ branch of Smyths and yes, it would make my heart glad to get some new flooring for our bedroom too- but those are all window dressings.
They are the things we are expected to have now, whereby in years gone by a house was a home first and a stylish place to live second. Thinking about the house I grew up in, in Leenan Gardens, I realised how far we have come in a few short years.
We didn't have central heating- no one did. I remember being stupidly excited at the thought of spending a month in a mobile home at the top of the street while they did the work, not realising in my childish innocence that grown ups saw this as pure hell. (In the end, we moved before they did the work and I never got my sojourn in the Wanderly Wagon).
We had carpets my mother now tells me were threadbare and our furniture was an eclectic mix of new and very, very old.
It didn't matter though, because it was home. It was a place that felt safe and when I climbed into bed (to lie down) at the end of the day I felt happy. (Even if, for a short time, I had to share my room with a boy).
I'm sure the Wandering Scribe wouldn't be bothered with water stains on the ceiling or threadbare carpets. I'm sure she wouldn't spend an inordinate amount of time coveting a power shower, when a bog standard one is available to her in the privacy of her own home.
Her bravery and honesty has taught me a powerful lesson about being happy with what I have and I hope that, sooner rather than later, she finds a comfortable bed to lie down on.
(You can visit the Wandering Scribe at )

Friday, April 21, 2006

It's been a long, cold, lonely winter

I"M SURE I'm not the only person in Derry who has started to think that Spring is actually a mythical season which exists only in the mind of chocolate companies desperate to sell copious amounts of eggs for Easter.

As the rain has battered down around my ears with ridiculous frequency last weekend I was starting to worry that my funky black mules and T-shirts were destined to remain in the cupboard forever more and that my trusty winter coat may in fact just have become a regular all year round coat instead.
Living in Northern Ireland I'm wasn't expecting a tropical heatwave. I'm not deluded enough to live in hope of a long hot summer, but I was of the opinion that by the latter stages of April, I could at least have managed to get through an entire night without having to switch on the oil heating to stop the icicles forming on the end of our noses.
In a desperate attempt not to put our lives on hold in the hope of a sunny day, myself, himself and the short, curly haired one have tried to encourage the changing of the seasons by setting out in the car, like a proper family, with proper packed lunches and everything- in the vain hope God would smile down on our good intentions and let the sun shine through.
Despite the ominous grey clouds that filled the sky on Easter Sunday, I strapped the wee man into his car seat and ordered himself into the passenger seat (oh, the power of having my 'R' plates!). Setting out on the highways and by-ways of the North West at the requisite 45 miles an hour (himself is so not impressed with this wee rule) we determinedly headed for the most scenic sites in the hope of having a proper family day out.
Our first stop was the Roe Valley Country Park. Like any typical toddler Joseph has a fascination with the ducks and luckily the country park has a quaint little duck pond with about 20 of the blighters. I proudly looked on as my son starting playing with them (okay, harassing them) with squeals of "Quack Quack" at the top of his lungs.
Sadly, much as I tried to ignore the gloomy weather, the rain meant the heels of my fancy boots sank into the mud and even the wee man's designer wellie boots could not handle the mud pools and mahoosive puddles.

Things proceeded to take a dramatic turn for the worse when he managed to kick one of his froggy boots off in the vague direction of the ducks- nearly braining one and leading my unimpressed hubby with the unenviable task of having to have to climb into the pond to retrieve the errant boot. (They were an expensive present and match his coat, scarf and hat- I was not letting them float off into the sunset).
We then did the rain and sunshine hokey cokey for an hour (jumping in and out of the car in time with the frequent bursts of rain) until even I was convinced to admit defeat and head back home.

High on chocolate
Later that day, however, the clouds had cleared and my sense of adventure returned. With a child off his head on chocolate and sugar following his Easter feasting, we decided a walk on the beach might be a good idea.
Again taking the wheel (after much discussion on the merits of female drivers compared with our male counterparts) we headed to Faughan (or is it called Lisfannon these days? The names are all changed since I was a wain).
As we pulled up on the sodden golden shores of Inishowen the rain came again- followed by a healthy gust of gale strength wind. Ever the explorers we ventured out anyway and wrapped up in our winter woolies (in April! For the love of God! Why?) and played a game of chase the tide for half an hour before I realised I could no longer feel my ears, nose of fingers.
With the danger of frostbite increasingly imminent we retired to the car, complete with screaming toddler who "wanted the beeeeeacccchhh!". There was no chance for soggy tomato sandwiches or a cool drink to bring down our temperatures- instead it was heating on full blast in the car all the way down the road and as soon as we got home it was hot drinks and a quick dive under the duvet to stop hypothermia kicking in.
I'll admit I'm not the most outdoorsy of people, but my inclination to be at one with nature just fades to nothing in the face of adverse weather. When the sun is shining I love getting out and about- it makes me feel happy, healthy and full of life. Usually that feeling comes around the middle of March, but this year I'm still waiting.
As I write this, I'm staring out of our office window and the sun is shining brightly. Dare I say, there is even an air of warmth about the place- and this morning, for the first time, I left my coat in the car and enjoyed a brief bask in the sun.
I'm trying not to get my hopes up that this means spring has finally sprung, because I know there is a fair chance that with the weekend rapidly approaching and Sod's Law being exceptionally evident in my life right now that come tomorrow it will be raining, sleeting or snowing.
It's about time though that we got to shake off the shackles of a miserable winter and enjoy letting some sun shine into our lives.

Monday, April 17, 2006

As time goes by

IT HAS begun. Try as I might to ignore the fact- now that it has started, there is no stopping it. There is no turning back the clock and starting again- no appreciating what we had when we had it- because, dear friends, welcome to our 30s.

Today, (Friday for those who got a sneaky preview of this paper on Thursday due to the Holy Week thing) one of my VBFs (very best friends) is celebrating her 30th birthday.
Next week another friend relinquishes her 20s title and eight weeks after that it is my own turn to give in to destiny and admit I'm no longer a spring chicken.
It seems like a mere blink of an eye ago that we were sat in Henry J's on Magazine Street toasting today's birthday girl's 21st - dancing stupidly to the Macarena and drinking cocktails. Indeed I was young, free and single and eying up the handsome young devil her boyfriend had invited along.
Now I would be hard pushed to remember the Macarena (and could quite possibly break a hip doing it), would be drunk on a wine gum never mind a cocktail and am about to celebrate my fifth wedding anniversary to the handsome, but not so young, devil her boyfriend invited along.
Yes, things have moved on considerably and there is no denying that we are collectively entering a whole new phase in our lives.
For those of you who have already hit the big 3-0 and beyond, I wonder how you felt as it approached. I've heard of some people becoming virtual hermits and hiding away until the day passed . Others have taken to doing something major to the mark the occasion (my sister got a tattoo AND got engaged- how's that for making an impact?). One friend took a hissy fit and locked her husband out of the house, others have just let it wash over them like any other ordinary day.
I'm not sure how I feel about it. The logical side of my brain tells me it is, of course, just another day and age is more about your state of mind that what your birth certificate says. But on the other hand, there has to be a stage in your life when you finally accept you are an adult- doesn't there?
The thing is, 30 feels grown up. It feels like a proper grown up age where you should have proper grown up responsibilities and perhaps think about wearing proper, grown up, sensible shoes and perhaps using a scarf to keep the cold out instead of just as a pretty fashion accessory.
My 20s were, I guess, a time of experimenting with my life, building towards my future and laying the foundations of my very own family unit.
There was plenty of drinking, laughing, going out and having fun (especially in the first half of the decade) and things changed quickly- more quickly perhaps than ever before or they are ever likely to again.

Settled down
I started dating, got engaged and then married to himself. We bought a house, settled down and started a family. We built up our stock of furniture from two bedside tables and an bookcase to a proper home with our very own sofas and beds. I finished studying for my Masters Degree and secured a proper full time job where I had my own desk to sit and an phone extension all of my own. Of course, and to labour the point for those who haven't yet realise just what an achievement this is for me, I learned to drive and became a bona fide legal driver.
Your 30s are, in turn, supposed to be a time when the insecurities disappear and you can, in theory at least, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labours through those hectic years of yours 20s.
They are supposed to be an era when you grow fond of wrinkle creams and find yourself longing for an ISA or comparing the merits of different pension schemes. It's all supposed to be less complicated in your 30s and you are supposed to feel in control. I guess that is where the feeling like a proper adult comes into it.
But do I feel in control? Well- not really. I'm still not entirely sure of what I want to be when I'm older. Don't get me wrong. I love my job and the opportunities it affords me, but I can't see myself sitting here day and in day out until I'm 65 (or older if the government have their way).
I have no inclination for an ISA and I frequently forget to slap on the eye cream before I go to bed.
There are things which, by their very nature, make me feel older-most notably, when I hear a walking, talking toddler shout 'Maaaaameeeee' and I know he is looking for me- or when I go out to a bar or club (ha! Me at a club! I can't remember the last time!) and see the young ones around me and realise that in all likelihood a decent proportion of them are 12 years younger than I am.
But feeling older and feeling like a proper grown up are two entirely different things, in my opinion.
According to my ever wise Mammy, who celebrates a big birthday herself this year, you never really feel grown up. There will forever be a part of you that feels like that 21 year old dancing the Macarena- I suppose I will cling on to that hope as the next few weeks pass.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

All because the lady loves...

I REMEMBER my first chocolate craving very well. I was off school sick one day, laying on the sofa with a blue blanket wrapped around my person when 'This Morning' (in the days with Richard and Judy presented) had a feature on some fancy Belgian chocolatier.

The screen was filled with images of little eeny sweeties rolling along a conveyor belt as sweet, gooey, delicious, melted chocolate was drizzled over them.
I may have been suffering from some weird stomach bug at the time but the effect was powerful. I swear I could smell the chocolate, I craved it, needed it and so when my mother enquired after my health I assured her some of the good stuff would make me all better.
I have not looked back- my love affair with chocolate has flourished and grown ever since and now we are like an old married couple. We get along nicely most of the time. It serves my needs and I help it fulfil its life purpose of making someone happy. Occasionally we have a falling out- when I go on a diet, or try a new variety of Chunky Kit Kat- but we pull together again in the end and I cannot, no matter how I try, ever imagine my life without it.
I am the chocolate makers' dream, the stereotypical woman who puts chocolate on a golden pedestal and can spend many a joyous 15 minutes enjoying that sweetest of treats.
This, of course, may go a lot of the way to explaining my ongoing battle with my weight, but as someone who rarely has the chance to enjoy a drink and who has never smoked, it is my one vice in life. And, in an ironic twist of fate, just like the the demon drink and the evil weed for most people, the only time in my life I found myself capable of giving it up was when I was pregnant. (There was one successful Lenten episode too, circa 1992).
For the final four months of my pregnancy I could not eat chocolate. I could look at it, desire it, smell it even- but eating it was simply out of the question as it brought on the most horrendous heartburn imaginable.
Sadly, growing another human being meant this temporary moratorium on chocolate did not have a positive effect on my waist line and I still ended up with a belly that wobbled like a bowl full of jelly at the end of it all.
As I celebrated the arrival of my son, I also celebrated my ability to once again eat slabs of Galaxy and my post box over flowed with king-size bars sent by well meaning friends. Of course, it would have been rude to shun their kind offers. I had to eat the chocolate, I owed it to them and to myself at a time when I was too tired to cook or prepare proper food.

Resist temptation
I often wonder now if I had only been able to resist that temptation would I, like many a reformed smoker, have turned my back on chocolate for life and would my body now be thanking me for it as I bought clothes in an all together more acceptable size?
You see, the thing is, no one has a recovery programme for chocaholics. You can't walk into a support group and ask for help, nor can you walk into your average chemist shop and buy Cocoa Replacement Patches to help you through that tricky withdrawal period.
Nowhere employs a Chocolate Cessation Counsellor to help you over that bumpy period where you would gladly steal the Magic Stars from the paws of your excited two year old, or who helps you over the 4pm jitters when the sweetie machine comes a calling.
Being a chocaholic is actually deemed to be quite cool- but for some, dare I say it, it is an affliction. Yes, I enjoy chocolate but I do not enjoy the effects it has on my body. Aside from the obvious weight issues it gives me a stupid and false sugar rush followed by periods of lethargy. It does my skin no favours and it lacks nutritional value.
I would love to kiss it goodbye forever- to be one of those disciplined souls who can enjoy a square of Green and Blacks (posh chocolate which is scientifically good for you) and put the rest in a cupboard for another day, as opposed to the girl who wolfs a Snickers (not posh chocolate which isn't awfully good for you) and craves another one 20 minutes later.
I would love to crave the contents of my fruit bowl as opposed to the sweetie shelves but alas, I fear my addiction is for life. I have of course tried the alternatives- the low fat, low sugar varieties but in my opinion when it comes to chocolate you might as well be hung for a Mars as a Milky Way Crispy Roll.
If anyone has a sure fire way to beat the addiction, then I'm open to all offers- but can you just wait until after Easter? There is a Buttons Egg with my name on it.

Friday, April 07, 2006

I am woman- hear me snore!

To read my contribution to the Damsels website, please visit

Updated columns will be published tomorrow!
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