Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Taking a Break......


It wasn't something I thought that I could easily do. In fact I never thought I'd see the day that I would actually do it.

But then it happened.

The day came and I simply didn't switch my laptop on.

I walked away from the interwebs, without a care in the world and didn't look back. For four whole days!

Now it wasn't a conscious decision, you understand, and it didn't happen all of a sudden. It just, kinda, developed. Over time. A by-product of extreme busy-ness, you  might say.

See, I got all caught up in the preparation of my son's state exams and took my supportive-mum role very seriously! Not that I had a choice really, the taxi-mum duties alone were time consuming, especially since he needed to come home at lunchtimes.

Like I say, I didn't plan it at all. I do love my online time, all that social media chatting and blogging. It's always fun and can sometimes be a distraction, or an outlet during busy or stressful times. I find though that when something big is happening in my life I'm either all about it........ or I clam up. I lose my social media voice. I have nothing to say. If I can't - or choose not to - speak about the huge elephant in my life then I say, nothing.

The Junior Cert was an 'elephant' of massive proportions and I didn't want to bore anyone else with it, and to be very honest I needed a break from it! It was so gigantic that there was nothing else for me to talk about.

I did try to keep up with online activities, at first. Although I self-muted I did scroll every day, keeping up with all the other things going on in my friend's lives and in the world in general. I awarded 'likes' here and comments there but then with no voice I just eventually, stopped. My silent laptop lay forlorn on the counter since last Thursday and my phone regained battery life from extreme under-use!

I did have lots of downtime in among the melee of  extreme busy-ness though, but as the sun was shining - as it always tends to at exam times - I spent it outdoors whenever possible. A walk in the park, a stroll on the beach or getting through this lot.....




As sedentary as this lot looks don't be fooled! The knitting and crocheting projects didn't always go to plan and those books seriously came between me and my sleep! Right page-turners they are with more twists and turns than the windiest windy road, soaring up hill and down dale, and going to the strangest corners imaginable! And I must thank my friend Bright Side of Life for introducing me to the Nicci French books. I'm hooked and the resulting insomniac nights are all your fault! Just kidding! 

Then I felt a little strange yesterday. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Maybe it's the fact that only one lone exam remains to be sat, or it's the realisation that the long summer holidays - fraught with gaming disagreements - lies ahead, but I felt ...... bored? It seemed that lethargy and ennui had descended and a distinct feeling of couldn't-be-arsed-ness was definitely in the air.

My enjoyable downtime activities are not enough.

I need stimulation and conversations.

I need to be connected.

So yesterday I strolled lazily  by my neglected laptop, a couple of times it must be said, before finally switching it back on.

Nothing has changed, I found. The social media world has continued to turn perfectly fine in my absence, and I have found that I can survive very well without it. If I have to.

But it is very good to be back!

And now I look forward to re-connecting with your blogs to see what you've all been up to!

The resulting catch-up can be the nicest part of taking a break.....


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

What's On TV?


The short answer to my question above on this Bank Holiday weekend was: 'not a lot'!

It was so frustrating. It wasn't a normal weekend, it was a Bank Holiday weekend for goodness sakes - the weekend to herald the new month of June and the official start of summer. It seemed that both the weather gods and the TV moguls conspired to make it an ordinary weekend, reminiscent of a different season entirely.

The rain and hailstones lashed down at times and the winds howled. There was nowhere to go, even if you had somewhere in mind, so we were stuck indoors. With a teenager supposedly revising for his Junior Certificate and who was hovering on the brink of his head-cold transitioning into the-must-not-happen-again and very much dreaded sinusitis; which so far has thankfully been avoided!

There's nothing worth watching on TV these days it seems. Flicking through the endless amount of TV channels available is like looking through a full wardrobe and declaring that you've 'nothing to wear'! I have long since bemoaned the fact that there are no block-buster movies on TV of a weekend, especially on a Saturday night, with just mediocre very, very late movies shown on some channels. It's mainly a diet of competing and repetitive chat shows (although I do enjoy that Graham Norton!), a slew of omnibuses and repeats and a total stream of mindless reality TV shows. I mean I really couldn't care less about your Celebrity mother in a Big Brother House who's saying Yes to a Big Fat stoopid Dress and screaming 'Get Me Out Of Here'. I'm screaming get me out of this TV hell!

I will admit to loving the all-singing-and-dancing type reality shows though. I can't get enough of them, even though they are contrived and everybody just has to have a back story. I love being a sofa-judge and watching their journeys. I often bemoan the fact that John Player Tops of the Town is no more and I like that there's a platform of sorts for today's talent to at least get a viewing. And I do enjoy my Tuesday night TV viewing of 'Greys Anatomy' and 'The Good Wife' and am currently sampling the new 'CSI Cyber'.

The only thing that saved this weekend, TV-wise, for me was the Britain's Got Talent Final on Sunday night and the Network premier of  'Taken 2' on Monday night. Although the former turned out to deliver an alleged fraudulent winner and while I enjoyed the latter I was very restless throughout.

You see I can't just sit there just watching TV. I must be doing something else at the same time, be it scrolling on my phone or laptop or knitting/crocheting!

This restless and picky TV viewer needs to make some changes.


  • I need to relax!
  • I need to make more use of the record function on my UPC box. Record some late night movies for later viewing, for example. Their box set choices aren't exactly enticing.
  • I need to expand my viewing interests. I mean now that I've totally exhausted the endless repeats of 'Sex and the City' I've turned to 'Law and Order'! How desperate is that?!
  • I clearly need to get out more.
  • I need to get Netflix.

I intend to make these changes. Especially the last one.

As I publish this post I await the arrival of my Netflix kit which will see me join the worldwide Netflix #streamteam of bloggers!

I'm quite excited and am making a list of what I want to watch. Any recommendations would be appreciated.

The next TV blog post you see from me will be all about my Netflix #streamteam enjoyment!

I can't wait.....





Thursday, May 28, 2015

My 7 Deadly Stages of Junior Certificate Survival.......


There are no ifs and buts about it, sitting the Junior Certificate Examination (or the Leaving Certificate for that matter - but that's a whole other story for three years hence) is quite a stressful occupation. I mean there's all the running about, making sure classes are attended on time, all the revision and homework completed and ne'er a book is forgotten for any class. Schedules are switched on you at the last minute, extra tasks appear out of the blue, important documents mislaid and your whole life is put on what seems like indefinite hold. Also, your head is constantly fit to burst with all the school and real-life facts that are floating agitatedly around in your brain, so much so that you fear you'll implode, which would not be a pretty sight.

And that's just me, the parent.

I'm pretty sure my teenager feels the same, if not worse!

You see with all the months of flaffing about, navigating this tough examination terrain that's strewn with teenage hormones, discarded uniform parts and unfinished food items and wrappers, you feel that you're actually sitting this examination yourself!

You travel this route with your teenager. For months. And if you're like me you try to find unobtrusive and non-confrontational ways of navigation. You become an expert at tiptoeing lightly - as if walking on egg shells - through the minefield of these unpredictable teenage hormones while also being semi-forceful in manner. You gently make 'suggestions' while at the same time insisting that the work gets done. And you perfect the method of putting a bomb under them, whilst wearing kid gloves.

None of the above is a walk in the park, of that I can absolutely assure you!

And along the way you discover the '7 Deadly Sins Stages of Junior Certificate Survival'....


PANIC

You warn your teenager that there's only six weeks to go to their Junior Cert!! You tell him/her that they have got to start studying. Now. They must get their books in order, complete all assignments and make a study plan. RIGHT NOW. Quick.... hurry..... time is running out!


CAJOLING

You call gently up the stairs to them, suggesting that now would be a good time to 'get to work'. You avoid using the word 'study', with all it's possible negative connotations, and suggest that they do some 'revision' after finishing their 'homework'. You also instinctively feel the need to cajole them in the most mundane of daily tasks.

You tell them how great they are and how proud of them you are, every chance you get.


THREATENING

When the 'Cajoling' fails to succeed you may tend to get - ahem - a little 'cross'? You shout all sorts up at them, before you make an actual appearance in their room - oh dear Lord, their room!! - by finally  stomping marching purposefully up the stairs..... where you then commence to threaten them with intent.

Well, for starters there'll be no pocket-money this week ( or ever), they'll never enjoy wi-fi again in their lifetime, their self-built PC will be dismantled and thrown in the bin... 'right now, this very minute' ... and if they don't start studying revising for their Junior Certificate then..... then ..... then they'll be sent to boarding school for their Leaving Certificate. So there!

You just can't beat a bit of Mom-Logic, can you?!

Of course this 'Threatening' stage can work both ways. If you push too hard you might be told that if you don't stop then they'll  'do nothing and will fail everything..... see how you like that.'

Hmmm...... I guess Teen-Logic beats Mom-Logic..... every time!


BRIBERY

In an effort to avoid the threatening you then resort to bribery. Nothing wrong with a bit of well-intentioned bribery, I always say! I've heard tell that some parents offer a monetary reward for every A or B etc attained in their final results? That doesn't appeal to some teenagers as it can put undue pressure on them; leaving them feeling as if they've under-achieved by 'only' getting a B when they wanted and worked for an A.

Instead I offered double pocket-money on a weekly basis and 'something nice' when the results are out. This way he has something to work for on a weekly basis.... and equally I have something to withdraw if he doesn't stick to the agreement! I also reckon that if the revision work is done then the deserved results (whatever they might be) will follow.


REWARDS

Treats are essential for successful revision. It's the law. If not then it should be!

Just keep them regularly supplied with drinks and favourite snacks. Don't worry if they're not too healthy, you can always sneak in a daily healthy homemade smoothie and sure they can return to healthier foods when this is all over. A Chinese meal out will be a main reward after the final exam has been sat!

Don't forget that the delivery of these snack rewards are also a way of checking up on them. And if you think they won't cop on to what you're at then you're even more deluded than I am!

Sometimes a word of encouragement and a goodnight hug at then end of a good day can be reward enough.

Oh, and absolutely don't forget that she-who-is study-supervisor, taxi-mum and whatever else is necessary, whenever it may be required, also needs her rewards too, in moderation of course!





PARENTING

As the months pass by you realise that the best you can do is to simply parent them:
  • You 'mind' them by serving their favourite foods at mealtimes as much as possible and by trying to ensure that they get a good night's sleep.
  • The 'Cajoling', 'Bribery' and 'Rewards' stages above may seem like being too gentle? Giving them control? It's not. It's called 'removing the domino' and is way better than the 'Threatening' stage! Why say or do something that's going to cause a row or distress when there are other ways to get the required results?
  • You ply them with good vitamins like  Solgar's Balance Rhodiola Complex and Omega-3 to reduce stress and keep the mind focused, and medications etc., to keep any nasty infections like sinusitis, that regularly hover in the background, at bay.



ACCEPTANCE

It's now only one week to go and you wonder what all that panic was about? Sure there's tons of time! The closer it gets to exam time the more likely they are to just get on with it. Sure the 'homework' for the past term at least has been mainly revisionary in nature, and that counts as studying revision, right? They've also just had a week of supervised study and extra tuition. Let there be no panic!

Although you might feel that you are sitting these examinations with your teenager the fact is that you.are.not. It is your teenager with all most of the answers - you fervently hope - in their heads, and their pens in their hands that will get this job done.


The very best of luck to your teenager if they're sitting their Junior or Leaving Certificate examinations next Wednesday, June 3rd.


There are just five days left.


Plenty of time.


What will be will be.


I'm already a very proud mum......







Sunday, May 24, 2015

We Give Them Wings and Then We Must Let Them Fly.......



It was an unexpected conversation and a particular tragic event that got me thinking this week, and had my mind going to places I really didn't want it to go.

The conversation was unexpected due to the rarity of these things. What's rare is wonderful it is said, and all the more appreciated when all the stars align and the gods smile down to facilitate lovely, peaceful visits with the patient. And this really was one of a couple of  lovely recent visits. 

This particular conversation centred around the music, from her era, that was playing in the background. I used it to start a conversation, to see where it would go. Asking a patient of a certain age with Dementia (among other things) if they remembered 'Bill Hailey and The Comets' as you sing-a-long can open all sorts of doors to memories you thought were long since locked away.

Oh, she did indeed remember him. Her eyes lit up as she told me all about him and the weekly dance that she and all her friends used to go to in the Assembly Hall of the local school. Her local primary school that is, the one that in time would also be mine. And the Assembly Hall that I as a child would watch school concerts and a rare movie in, a cinema reel movie that constantly broke down! 

She recalled that the song 'Rock Around the Clock', and dancing to it, was such 'fun'.  They jigged and they jived to his music, and all the songs played by the band and simply 'had a laugh'. She couldn't remember how much the entrance fee was but she definitely remembered that the boys all stood to one side and the girls to the other! And no, she didn't have to wait very long to be asked up to dance and no, there was never any drink involved. They 'didn't bother with drink' you see.

Now I know people did drink back then too, indeed it was the scourge of many families, but this memory did evoke a time of such innocence and harmless fun. They all smoked I'd say but drink wasn't necessary for a good night out. 

In my teenage/young adult days the main scourges to be be wary of were drink and tobacco. Drugs were on offer in some venues I'm sure, but they were not the main temptation to be sampled on a night out. I can safely say that I have never in my life been offered any drugs. Which is saying a lot given that I come from a working class area. 

Unfortunately it's not only the drinking and smoking that today's teenagers, young adults and their parents have to worry about. These days it seems that the drugs, their increased availability and attraction to our young (and older!) folk is the biggest worry of all.

Sadly it was this availability and attraction of drugs that caused the tragic death of this beautiful young teenage woman, whom I know, last Sunday.  It is such a sad and tragic event. She was not the only person to partake in these drugs that night, nor was she the only one to take ill. She was however the only one to lose her life. My thoughts and prayers to her family, especially her lovely mum with whom she had an extremely close bond.

There can be nothing worse than losing your child. I cannot even bear to think about it......

As a result of this awful tragedy I have talked to my son about drugs in more detail. I have warned him about the unknown chemical compounds in pills such as these and the unpredictability of individual reactions to any drug. I've told him about the power of the word 'NO' and that it is okay to use it, even if all around him do not. I've told him to never leave a drink unattended and to always stay with his group of friends and to 'never leave anyone behind'. I've told him, without trying to scare him, that despite what he and his teenage peers may believe they are not invincible. All valuable information, I hope, for when he actually starts socialising in this manner!

We have drug awareness programmes in our schools, at primary and secondary level, to deliver age-appropriate information about the effects of drug-taking (among other things) to our children.  I wonder what is provided at third level though, perhaps we need to increase discussions and supports - to keep drug-awareness levels high? 

We raise our children to the best of our ability and try to prepare them for the world that awaits them. 

We teach them right from wrong and prepare them for as many possible pitfalls as we can.

We give them wings and then we must let them fly.

Fly away from the safety of their own homes, their own country in some cases, and out into the big bad world.

And we hope that some of the advice we have dispensed comes to the fore of their minds when we most need it to.

Keep the lines of communication with your teenagers constantly open, and talk to them often. 

Warn them again about drugs. 

Now.......




Thursday, May 14, 2015

'Over The Hill' and the Importance of Goal-Setting......


Now, I know this title might lead you to believe that this post is all about reaching a certain stage of 'mid-life'? Perhaps you may think that this will be all about  a body under duress from the ravages of time, headed straight over the hill and on to the scrap heap of life?

Well then you'd be very wrong, if that's what you're thinking.

Of course it's not about any of that - I'm far too 'young'! Now I am aware that the sages of society may deem me to be 'middle-aged' and not that there's anything wrong with that or anything you understand, it's just that I simply refuse to accept it!

You see, in my head I'm only thirty-three and three-quarters. And right there is where I'm staying!

No, this is more about resilience, not giving in and a hard-earned recovery.

If you've been following my ramblings here you'll know I spent some time in hospital last year after sustaining a persistent and very painful back injury.

I spent a lot of time being inactive, reliant on others for all sorts of reasons and being unable to transport myself anywhere. For months.

Although I was very much aware of all the things I couldn't do - and yes it was upsetting at times - I motivated myself by turning them into challenges. I mightn't have been able to do them then you see, but I preferred to see them as long-term goals for me to attain.

My walking, for example, started off with little strolls - on crutches - just outside my house, which stretched to walking to the beach, to being crutch-less and to finally - months later - walking the lower end of our local park. In order to walk  the other end of the park I needed to surmount this very daunting hill that  rises over the train-tracks. It was a hill that never bothered me before but was now completely out of the question.....




I looked longingly at that hill every day and promised myself that by March/April I would get to the top and that by April/May I would make it to the far side, stroll around the rest of the park, traipsing back over the hill on my way home.

Happy with my goal setting I carried on with my other little challenges.

Thanks to good friends I got back to my beloved theatre-going. Starting with local, easy-to-get-to but hard-seated theatres, accompanied by said good friend(s) and my trustworthy comfy cushion. Before I knew it it was January and I was making my own way by Dart into town for shows with no cushion, or crutch, necessary!

In between times I motivated myself when inactive at home by turning my knitting and crochet hobby into a little project.

All the while keeping my eye on that hill and 'practicing' by going one third of the way up, then one quarter then skipping straight to three-quarters.

Then one day in February, ahead of schedule, when following a young man with special needs to be sure he was okay I made it right to the top! See.....





I was so proud! But it was short-lived due to a set-back I suffered, most probably as a result, and had to stop walking for three weeks.

Not one to be deterred I once again concentrated not on what I couldn't do, but on what I could and I continued on with my other goals.

I finally made it back to Pilates classes for one. Yes, I know this must sound strange. That in order to aid my recovery I went back to the very thing that caused my injury in the first place - Pilates!  The difference is that these classes are properly taught by trained physiotherapists/Pilates Instructors - and it's the best thing I've ever done as my strength, mobility and flexibility gently increases. Oh, and as of today I can once more put my hands flat on the floor instead of just touching my toes!

I also continued with my swimming which I had started last November. I wasn't able to swim then but my attitude was: 'I may not be able  to walk on water, but I can certainly walk through it'! And that's exactly what I did. Since then I've gone from 'walk-swimming' ten very slow lengths to more recently swimming twenty-six 'proper' lengths in thirty minutes! And sure if I could do that surely I could make it thirty lengths in thirty minutes? And so another goal was set.

Meanwhile back in the park I was back practicing on my hill. And finally, just before 30th April to ensure I met my target, I climbed that darn hill again and walked the whole park for the first time since last July! And just to prove that it's not a fluke I've done it a few times since, and it feels wonderful.

Then yesterday I aimed for my new swimming goal - and smashed it! Thirty-four 'proper swimming' lengths in thirty minutes!! Oh, yeah baby. Go me!

So, now that I've reached all my goals what's next? Well, there's nothing to stop me expanding on these goals some more, is there? And then there's my one remaining goal that I have yet to achieve. To get back dancing. And if these Dancing Dads can do it then I cannot see why us similarly aged mums/ladies shouldn't go for it too, can you?!

But for now I'm going to celebrate, because it's official.

I am 'over the hill'.

And proud of it!

So there!




Sunday, May 3, 2015

Why the Academy of Code's 'Cool' Coding Camp is our Summer Camp of Choice.....


It's that time of the year again when you decide what, if any, summer camps your child/children will attend this summer.

I was recently asked to answer a few questions from journalist Vicki Notaro about summer camps in general, and about the Academy of Code summer camp we intend doing this year in particular.

The article, 'Happy Campers' - a kind of summer camp 'special' - appeared in the inaugural issue of Choice, a consumer guide supplement with the Independent newspaper on Tuesday. This interviewee and her teenage son's photo also appeared, along with some of my summer camp thoughts.





Irish school holidays are very long, especially for teenagers who get a massive three months summer break from secondary school.

I for one am salivating at the thought very much looking forward to not hearing the dreaded daily alarm call at the crack of dawn and to not having the subsequent 'get out of that bed ..... NOW' argument every day for a whole twelve weeks! I crave for days of no homework hassle and relaxing days at home, interspersed with getting out and about on walks, trips to interesting places and hopefully some teenage-style hikes too. 

But it can be  hard to constantly amuse and entertain your child/teenager, no matter how wonderful they are, every day for 8/12 long weeks - especially if they're an only child.

As Vicki says in her article:  "...for parents with bored, irritable teenagers who are neither old enough for a part-time job, nor young enough to be entertained by picnics and play dates, the three month holidays can feel a little daunting - ..."

While we all enjoy the break some children miss the daily structure that school provides. That's why, I think, most of them, although they'll absolutely tell you the opposite, secretly look forward to going back!

We've availed of a lot of summer camps over the years -  "In order to give structure to the long school summer holidays" as I reveal in my interview,

Summer camps are not favoured by all parents but as far as our family is concerned I believe them to be necessary as:  "I felt it was important to enhance his skills, provide social outlets and keep him occupied during the holidays. Not every boy likes to kick a ball around!"


The main reason we still use summer camps is to help reduce the amount of summer screen and gaming time. Vicki too acknowledges the need for this: "Keeping teens busy and engaged (and away from social media and video games) ..."

My son has been attending computer coding classes with The Academy of Code since last January and really enjoys them. He's enjoying them so much that he has agreed to attend one of their summer camps in July!

Yes, that's right, in order to reduce his summer screen and gaming time I'm sending him to screen-based summer camp!

Well, you see, if he's spending a lot of time on screens anyway - especially since he built his own PC , at barely 15 years old, last January - he may as well go learn another useful skill during the summer. Something he can hopefully put to good use in transition year. And as I say in my interview: "I'd rather see him in front of a computer screen learning how to write websites, make apps and maybe even games too, rather than sitting at home playing on them!" 

He may even come up with a project he could develop over the remaining summer holiday! I can but hope, right?

There are of course free coding classes available through the the fantastic network of Coder Dojos. However these classes didn't suit us. I find the consistent weekly classes, in smaller groups with the Academy of Code to be more effective. And I've found that the mentors are a helpful resource to both students and parents!

And as far as their summer camp is concerned: "I consider the Academy of Code to be value for money as they help nurture my son's interest in computer and console gaming and provide him with skills - not currently provided in our education system - to further that interest and, hopefully, assist [him] with his future college and career choices."
              

HERE'S SOME CLASS/CAMP INFORMATION THAT YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL: 


Academy of Code summer camps run from July 13th-17th and July 20th-24th in Oatlands College, Stillorgan, Dublin and are open to students from 9 to 17 years old and can be booked HERE

The cost is €160 per student but the early bird price of €144 is available until May 5th.... just two days remaining folks!

If you'd like some  information about last term's 'Parent's Night' then check out 
this class diary.  

If you have any queries about these summer camps or weekly classes then contact Diarmuid at (083) 3068385.

And if all that's enough then watch this video to hear what the students themselves have to say!





Happy camping!




Disclosure: I was neither asked nor paid to write this, I did so because I wanted to. This blog post reflects my honest opinions. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Reasons To Be Cheerful: a Flower, a Loss and a Celebration.....


The days are long, seasonal time-changes notwithstanding, and very, very busy as the count down continues to my teenager's state exams in June. I try to remind myself that these aren't important exams and they don't really count for anything; whilst also keeping these thoughts far, far away from my mouth lest I let them slip, giving him ideas that he really shouldn't have!

However, there's always time, if you make it so, to notice and enjoy........


A Flower

A Camellia plant sits forlorn outside my front door, where it's been for the last few years. It's green leaves fading and their edges browning with each passing year as it keens ever outward, desperately stretching towards the sunshine it needs to grow into the beautiful flowering plant that it knows it can be.

It's far too heavy to move so it's staying put, but I did take pity and feed it some magic plant growing foodstuff at one stage. It never responded.

Then lo and behold a couple of days ago I noticed something very, very strange.  Buds. Getting ready to flower. And look what finally popped out yesterday, just to brighten my day.....



                              If you look closer you can see some more buds ready to flower!



A Loss

I'm very good at losing things, generally speaking, and usually things that I really could do without losing either. So it was great to recently discover that, between the ups and downs and the jigs and reels of life, I'd finally lost something I've been trying to lose for quite some time now.

A stubborn something that simply refused to ... well ... get lost!

Yep, you got it. Since December/January I've lost 10lbs of the most stubborn post-injury weight ever! I've still a bit to go yet but..... Go Me!


A Celebration

A birthday is a really good reason to be cheerful, but when they're no longer guaranteed they become ever more special, even if they can't be fully celebrated.

Today a special lady in my life defied all the medics in her life and celebrated another birthday!

This is no mean feat considering all she's been through.

So,Happy Birthday Mam - you are my biggest 'Reason to be Cheerful' xxx






This post is part of the 'Reasons to be Cheerful' linky hosted over at Ojo's World ......