Author Archives: museandchat

Second-hand or preloved? It’s all better than buying new!

I was going through some things I’d bookmarked on Twitter earlier and found this post from a blog I’ve recently discovered and love called Treading My Own Path. Its fascinating and taps into an area of my life that is somewhat neglected. Anyway, that’s not what this is about! We have a lot of second-hand furniture in our house, kitchen table & chairs, kitchen dresser, a sofa, a nest of tables, my big old desk which will be going into my new office/study soon, various shelves and storage units. Some of them have a story attached, others we just liked.

Lindsey Miles who writes Treading My Own Path used to live in the UK, as did I. I’m not sure if she’s originally from there, but like myself, she’s comfortable with the term ‘second-hand’. Her piece mentioned above got me thinking about words. When I moved to Ireland nearly fifteen years ago, it was during the boom. Property prices were insane and what seemed to me to be houses that were really nothing special were changing hands for what I considered to be frankly obscene amounts of money. We were looking for a house at the time so spent hours online, trawling estate agents auctioneers’ websites and offices looking for our forever home. (There’s an example of word difference straight away, they call them auctioneers over here, but to me they’re estate agents) We probably weren’t an auctioneer’s dream clients, we wanted an old house, with a big garden, near to but not in a town, and ideally a renovation project. We eventually found one but that’s another story again.

What amazed me though was the use of the term ‘second-hand’ to describe a house, and it was often used in a negative way. “Oh surely you’d sooner buy a new house?” “What about building your own? Much better than second-hand”. Now maybe I’m naive (ok, I’m naive) but that didn’t make any sense to me at all. If there were (and indeed still are) a number of existing houses that were perfectly habitable and which you could make your own with decorating and remodelling if necessary, why would we go to the hassle of building? I understand that people should have the choice to build if they want and I’m not advocating denying that to them, but it saddened me (and still does) to see so many houses that had once been family homes lying empty because of the obsession we seemed to have with new builds. Why does everything have to be new??

Back to the term second-hand. I shop in charity shops, I get many of my books from them, some toys for my daughter and clothes for all of us. I buy new items of clothing if I need them (and I’m learning to sew so am making some myself) and I’m very open about the fact that I shop in them. Yet I find that for some people there’s a stigma about doing so. When did we develop this attitude that second-hand somehow equals bad or undesirable? How long do people think we can keep producing goods at the rate we currently are? And don’t get me started on Black Friday and all of the bloated consumerist madness that happens each December. It increasingly disgusts me. (I know that sounds judgmental and it probably is, but you know what, this is my blog, my opinions.)

I see terms like ‘preloved’ or ‘formerly owned’ being used a lot now. Like that sanitises it in some way. I just don’t get it. Seventy or eighty years ago, most of us in the UK and Ireland did not buy everything new. Clothes were swapped, handed down, made over, furniture was repaired not just dumped when it had served its purpose. Tools and utensils were repaired as much as possible. I’m not for one minute suggesting that life seventy or eighty years ago was all rosy and perfect, but I really do feel we’ve gone way too far down the consumerist/built-in obsolescence road. I recently had a sales call from my mobile phone provider, telling me I was entitled to an upgrade and could get a new iPhone (I think a 7?) The poor wee salesperson (who sounded very young) couldn’t grasp that I am perfectly happy with the phone I have, it does everything I need and works just fine. “But do you not WANT a new phone?” she squeaked. I ended the call rather quickly as I could almost feel the steam coming out of her ears.

Charity and second-hand shops are in some cases nearly full to bursting, full of all the stuff we thought we wanted/needed/deserved. And yet we keep buying more and so the manufacturers keep producing more. Drawing on already fragile natural resources and using unfathomable amounts of energy and fuel to produce this stuff. And that’s all it is really, stuff. Stuff that sits around in our cars and houses and workplaces and clogs up our minds and lives. Whether you prefer to call it preloved or second-hand, go take a look in some of those shops. Learn to mend and repair what you have. You might find you save some money. You might even find you enjoy it.

Before anyone accuses me of being preachy, my house is quite cluttered but I’m working on it 🙂

As a carer I hate

A month ago I was having an especially bad day and in a need to vent but with a thousand other things all demanding my attention and/or headspace at the time, I couldn’t sit down at my laptop to let it all out. So I tweeted a list of things that were in my mind at the time, one after the other, it took me maybe 20 minutes. The lovely Candi over at oftencalledcathy put them together in a meme for me and encouraged me to elaborate so here goes.

Being told by well-meaning people to ask for better services (like just asking will make them appear)
An example of this, from my experience, is “why don’t you just ask for more respite?” Gee, that has never occurred to me before! Never mind the fact that so many services are stretched to breaking point. Never mind the fact that our respite service caters for over 70 families and is not open 365 days a year and tries to group the children attending together in terms of age and ability. Add to that the fact that they cannot have too many wheelchair users at the same time (fire regulations etc.) and our daughter is a wheelchair user. Also, I know many of the other families who use the service and I know how desperately they need a break too. But hey, yeah sure I’ll ask. This kind of comment doesn’t help.

Being asked why I get Carer’s Allowance when “you’d be at home minding the child anyway”
Oh where to even begin with this one which I’ve had aimed at me online many times. Caring for a child with disabilities is so much more than just ‘minding the child’. Its doing physio, speech & language therapy, occupational therapy, attending numerous appointments, administering medications, dressing, feeding , toileting a child who cannot do this for herself yet but is way older and bigger than most children who need that kind of help. Actually, I’m not going to dignify this one with a response any more. Jog on.

That it makes me financially dependent on my spouse
I’m struggling to find the words to describe how this makes me feel. Its not a bone of contention between us, but its not a position I ever wanted or intended to find myself in.

Being referred to as brave or selfless or a hero. Meaningless platitudes or to put it another way, bullshit
I know that one’s going to annoy some of you. Well, just stop and think why you might say that to a person like me. Is it going to help them in their caring role? No. Will it make them feel better? For some, maybe. It doesn’t for me. Does it make YOU feel better when faced with a scenario/life that you could never envisage or imagine having to live? Ah now maybe we are getting somewhere. You see, and again this is just my opinion, none of us family carers chose this role. That doesn’t make me a hero. I have no choice but to do this. But by telling yourself and me that I or others like me are brave, does it make you feel a little bit better that you’ve said something nice and encouraging to the carer? If you really want to make me feel better or cope better do something practical. Or something political. Keep reading.

Not being taken seriously by the State
If we and the work we do as family carers were taken seriously by the State we’d be better paid (see next point) and we wouldn’t be expected to work in the conditions we work in. We’d get full pension rights (another thing that causes me stress about my financial dependency), and automatic medical cards. No, carers don’t automatically get them, so anytime I need to see my GP its €40. There have been times when I’ve not gone to the GP although I probably should have.

If all the family carers in the State went on strike the country would collapse. If we all stopped doing what we do, the caring, the feeding, the lifting, the administering of medication, the physio, the therapies, the researching of new equipment and ideas to help your child achieve their fullest potential, the lobbying of politicians and State bodies, the toileting and all the other things we do and left our loved ones at A&E’s, respite centres and schools around the State, then our over-stretched services would disintegrate completely. But we won’t of course because we love our children and those we care for. And I really mean that, we do love them with every fibre of our beings. The State knows that and it knows we will never down tools and this allows it to abdicate their duty of care to its citizens.

That the Carer’s Allowance is means tested. I get €66 per week or just over 39c per hour
Being a family carer is not a 9-5 job. Its 365 24/7, because even when she is at school or in respite or asleep, I’m on call. I’m trying to make our house more suitable for her to live in as she gets bigger (and we get older). I’m reading up on different medications and therapies, and wondering if they will work better for her. I’m attending workshops and information sessions on various disability issues. And for all of this I get 39c per hour. Its means tested which means that my husband’s income is assessed as are our outgoings. You sometimes hear politicians defending the rate of Carer’s Allowance and pointing out that its €209 per week. Yes it is, IF you get the top rate but many of us don’t yet we do the same work. Is this an equal pay issue I wonder? There are also a large number of family carers who – because of the means test – do not receive ANY Carer’s Allowance. How is this ok? (If you’ve spotted a difference between the amount I get and the amount on the meme above, we got a €5 per week pay raise last month after the meme was made.)

Feeling that I have to justify myself and the work I do. And it IS work, done out of love yes, but still work
And I’ve just realised that this blog post is doing just that……

That we carers have to share our private family lives on national media to get help
I’ve done this a bit myself, not in any great detail. But how is it ok that the mum of a profoundly disabled child had to go on TV last month and talk in quite intimate detail about the realities of caring for her son in order that she can raise the issue of home support services? I watched it out of solidarity and was interested to see the amount of people on Twitter saying how terrible it was (yes, it is) and how sorry they felt for her. But I didn’t see anyone questioning was it ok that she had to go on national TV and say this stuff. What does this say about our society that we don’t have a problem with people being almost forced to forgo all sense of privacy and dignity in order to fight for services? I don’t have the answers, but it makes me really uncomfortable.

That I have to worry NOW about services for my daughter when she becomes an adult which is not for over 8 years
She will be 10 this summer and I’ve attended a few workshops and information sessions on adult services over the last year or so. I didn’t really think anything of it until a friend asked me what was this next meeting about and I explained it was about adult day services for people with intellectual disabilities in Meath (where we live). She looked at me with a mixture of shock and disbelief and said “why are you going to that when she’s only 9?” And you know what, that really hit home. Over the last ten years I’d gotten so used to having to research and investigate what services are out there that I no longer gave it a second thought. But I should not have to be thinking about this now, I should be enjoying her childhood, secure in the knowledge that there will be appropriate day services and respite services available for her when she leaves school. In 2025. But I’m not and that’s why I have to go to these meetings now so I can prepare myself.

That its very difficult for us to get out & march yet very few march with us
Its great to see people marching in huge numbers for issues that matter. Its heartening and reassures me that in this new post-Brexit, Trumperica dystopia we seem to be falling into that so many people still get riled up. But please, if you are reading this post or seeing things on TV or in papers about disability rights and carers’ rights, please join us next time. And ask your elected representatives why there aren’t enough respite homes or adult day services, or why carers get such an insulting amount of money …….. the list is endless. Because disability is not necessarily something a person is born with. People acquire disabilities every day. The 2011 census showed that 13% of the population of the State were living with a disability. That’s over half a million people. There are about 4.5 million people in this State, so the chances are you know someone with a disability or at least one of their close family members. Just think about that the next time you see something about disability online or on TV and you cluck your tongue and say “ah that’s terrible”. Next time, do something about it.

Advice lists of the things I should do to look after myself yet no one considers lack of time or money to do them
I’ve been tagged in loads of these. Generally the advice is to exercise more, eat better, make time to meditate or similar, develop interests and hobbies outside your caring role, make sure to spend quality time with your partner and have time with your friends. These all require time, in some cases money, and a support network. Not all carers have those.

Watching other carers in crisis and feeling so completely powerless to help
Its heartbreaking. And its frightening because I can never shake off the feeling that one day it could be me.

That I get no training in manual handling yet am allowed/expected to do untold irreparable damage to myself every day
That seems to surprise an awful lot of people, well in my acquaintance anyway. “What, you mean you’ve never had any training?” Training? Training on how to lift my daughter who has disabilities? No. Training on how to lift and manage her physical needs so I don’t hurt my back? Nope. So, no, as far as I can make out, family carers like me don’t get any training in how to care for our loved ones. Just think about that for a minute. My daughter will be ten years old in a few months. She is very slight for her age but has long legs (inherited from her Daddy). I’m 5ft 2in and carrying a few extra stone yet I am allowed, expected even, to lift and manoeuvre her in such a way that means I am doing untold and irreparable damage to my back and joints. In her school and respite service she attends, both of which she adores, there is absolutely no way this would ever happen. No way would one member of staff be allowed or expected to lift her in this manner, both for health and safety and child protection reasons. Yet I’m expected to.

The mental strain of it all. I don’t like the person I am at times
I’ve always been hot-tempered, fond of an argument and unafraid to voice my opinions. But I’m increasingly becoming less tolerant of bullshit and timewasters and I’m snappy at those I love. I’m mentally tired most of the time and that takes a physical toll too.

That I’m expected by some people to accept this is all part of some deity’s plan. Really?

If you want to believe that some deity made a decision to damage my beautiful little girl’s brain in order to meet some part of a bigger plan that’s up to you. I don’t believe that and I find the concept of a deity that would do that frankly quite terrifying. And for anyone reading this who doesn’t accept that some people think that, just ask yourself what other interpretation we can put on the words “ah sure he knows what he’s doing.” Or “everything happens for a reason.” I can’t see a reason why any supreme being would damage the brain of the most wonderful precious little girl ever. And if you think you know a reason why, keep it to yourself please. Your belief system is not mine and just because my daughter has disabilities, that does not entitle you to push them onto us.

That when we get respite some people tell us to go away for a few days when sometimes we just need to rest
“You should go away for a few days, put your feet up.” We’d LOVE to, sometimes. But that costs money and energy. (Booking, packing, travelling) Respite is more usually on weeknights and my husband has to go to work the next day so its not really an option. And sometimes we just want to chill in our own home, or catch up with some DIY or gardening or other stuff. So please, lose the slightly disapproving look and the “but you should be doing xyz” its our time, let us spend it how we choose.

That my child’s school is 26 miles away so even in an emergency its 45 mins to get there adding to stress
Just imagine you’ve had a call from the school, your child is ill/had an accident and they need you there ASAP. Your stress levels soar, its part of being a parent. Then imagine you have to drive three-quarters of an hour (because with the traffic that’s what it takes) until you see for yourself. Most parents thankfully don’t have to face this, but if your child attends a special school there’s a good chance your child (who can have really quite high care needs and in some cases can be medically fragile) will be that far away from you for a few hours each day. Just think about that would make you feel.

That I rely too heavily on food to cope even though I know it just exacerbates things
Caitlin Moran called overeating ‘the addiction choice of carers’, I think she’s on to something. When life is this stressful, anything that gives momentary pleasure or relief is irresistible. Food is so easy to use as it enables us to carry on with everyday life, in a way that severe addiction to drugs or alcohol can’t. And knowing that its making me feel worse doesn’t mean I can easily stop.

The knowledge that this will only stop when I die or if my child predeceases me. Knowing there’s no end to this
I can’t add anything to this. Its overwhelming so I try not to think about this.

That I can so easily type this out without having to think too hard
Its probably only the tip of the iceberg….

Waiting for 10 years – ratify the UNCRPD now!

Ten years ago, I was pregnant with our daughter. Having suffered a missed miscarriage the previous summer, we were naturally anxious about this pregnancy, but by March of 2007 I was safely in the second trimester, feeling good and looking forward to our baby’s arrival in July. The incessant nausea and exhaustion that had dominated the first trimester were – thankfully – a memory and I was enjoying having a bit of time just to myself.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a bit of a news junkie (which I may have mentioned here before), but a story which happened on March 30, 2007, either wasn’t much reported (I genuinely don’t know) or it didn’t come onto my radar. Or maybe I read it at the time and then forgot about it. What was this news story? Well, on that day, March 30, 2007, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was opened for signature by the member states of the United Nations. The Republic of Ireland was one of the first countries to sign on that day, along with 81 others. This, you might feel, is something I, as an Irish citizen, should be proud of. Well, yes I am. Or I would have been had I been aware of it. Like I said earlier, maybe I read a news report about this and having read it, promptly forgot all about it. Remember that, its important.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is described by Inclusion Ireland as “an International Agreement directed at changing attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities”. Sounds right, don’t you think? Only as it should be. So if Ireland has signed it, what’s the point of this blog post? Well, signing it isn’t the full story you see. In order for it to mean anything in Irish law – for anything to really happen or change – Ireland has to ratify the UNCRPD. And ten years after it was one of the first member states of the UN to sign the Convention, Ireland has still not ratified it. We are the only EU state not to have done so.

To quote Inclusion Ireland again: “​The UNCRPD is the human rights convention concerning persons with disabilities. It is a list of rights guaranteed to persons with disabilities to improve their access to society, education and employment. Ireland remains the only country in the EU that has failed to ratify the UNCRPD after the Netherlands and Finland ratified it last year.” So its a list of RIGHTS for persons with disabilities and Ireland has not ratified this.

If you are wondering what any of this has to do with my being pregnant when Ireland signed the Convention, let me explain. Less than a month after Ireland signed the UNCRPD, we received the devastating news that our unborn daughter had a rare neurological condition and that it was highly likely she would have a significant level of disability. (I’ve written about this time in our lives here) To say we were distraught doesn’t come close. I still don’t have the words to describe my feelings at that time. But, July came and along with it came our amazing daughter Fionnuala. Yes, she does have severe intellectual and significant physical disabilities, but she is first and foremost our wonderful girl.

And over the last ten years we have learnt so much (and still are) and we’ve pushed and argued for services we wanted her to have. And we’ve met some incredible people. And we have seen just how little this State – our State – really seems to care about the rights of persons with disabilities. In fact, it feels like they care about it so little that they haven’t ratified the Convention they were so quick to sign up to. And we’ve learnt that to some people who live in this State, persons with disabilities are not seen as equal citizens, as equal people. (The pitying looks and comments, the parking in disabled spaces when they don’t have a permit, the unquestioning acceptance of the way things are without asking is that actually right… I could go on) And increasingly I find myself thinking that if the UNCRPD HAD been ratified before now, would we have spent so much of the last ten years fighting for services for our daughter? Signing petitions for a variety of disability issues? Going on demos and marches against cuts to services and grants, demanding rights not charity for our daughter and all persons with disabilities in this State? Or would we have been able to use that time and energy and headspace to just enjoy our daughter, to just live as a family?

If you believe that Ireland must ratify the UNCRPD, rather than just reading this and then forgetting it (like I mentioned above), join Fionnuala and me and many many others as we protest at Dáil Éireann, demanding that Ireland ratify the UNCRPD. You may not have a disability, you may not know anyone who has a disability, but please, if you can at all, join us. This is a human rights issue.

Fionnuala will be ten years old in July 2017. She was born with disabilities into a State that had just signed the UNCRPD. Is it not disgraceful that her State has still not ratified it?

Why I’m encouraging a boycott of the Late Late tonight

Ok. First up for anyone outside of Ireland, the Late Late Show (generally referred to as the Late Late) is a chat show broadcast on our main State broadcaster’s channel at prime time on a Friday night. Its nothing to do with James Corden. I’ll say straight away that I’m not really a fan, I’d look at it if there was someone/thing on it that appealed to me. That isn’t a frequent occurrence.

Next thing to point out is that I support and defend free speech and freedom of expression. So why then am I encouraging people to boycott what is still one of the highest ratings shows in Ireland? Simple, its because of one of tonight’s guests, namely Katie Hopkins. In case you’ve never heard of her, she is, well what is she really? A newspaper columnist, a former EU Parliamentary candidate, a loudmouth, a contestant on various reality shows…… and in my opinion, a professional agitator.

She is famous/notorious (take your pick) for expressing ideas that many – myself included – find offensive. I’m not going to repeat them all here but they include targeting and attacking people for their body size, sneering about the names “lower class” (her words) people give their children, and probably most famously comparing migrants to “cockroaches” and “feral humans”.

None of this is nice stuff to read or hear, but as I said earlier I believe in freedom of expression, so shouldn’t she be free to say what she likes on the Late Late? In principle. yes she should. BUT for me saying those kind of things at the end of a week which saw the election of a man who has been described by one of our Senators as a fascist (hat-tip Aodhan O Riordain) and after a year which has seen a rise in racist incidents in Britain following the Brexit vote, feels like RTE are being sensationalist and giving her a platform to say things which will very likely be inflammatory. Or in other words, giving her a platform in which to spread hate. Not what I expect from our State broadcaster.

Furthermore, I don’t really think she genuinely believes a lot of what she says. I think its said to be deliberately controversial, in order to make a name for herself and get more paying gigs like appearing on TV shows and writing newspaper columns. So why then should we watch someone – indeed waste time on someone – who is only saying stuff to feed their need to be famous?

I won’t be watching. I’ve emailed RTE to tell them why and I’ve tweeted about it too. It would be great if she didn’t trend on Twitter tonight. Publicity is her oxygen. Let’s cut off the supply.

5 ways to bring about change, with respect to Michael Moore

Inspired by Michael Moore’s list of 5 things to do to bring about change, here’s a little list for those of us living in Ireland, although most of them apply worldwide:

1. Inform yourself. That means reading a newspaper/watching the news/not relying on what others tell you

2. Make sure you are on the electoral register. You can do this at checktheregister.ie If you aren’t on the register you can’t vote. Our political system isn’t perfect (none is) but rest assured the mainstream parties will always get their vote out so show that they don’t represent you (if indeed that is the case)

3. Find out who your elected representatives are. That is your TD’s, MEP’s and local councillors. We have Senators too but most of us don’t get the opportunity to vote for them……..
You can do this at whoismytd.com Once you know who they are, contact them about things that concern you.

4. If you were annoyed/disgusted/angered that Enda Kenny congratulated Donald Trump on his election on behalf of the Irish people, then tell him so. His email is taoiseach@taoiseach.government.ie, Twitter @EndaKennyTD, or Facebook Enda Kenny use the hashtag #notinmyname if you want

5. Boycott the Late Late tonight (Fri 11 Nov) or at least the segment featuring a certain guest, and don’t tweet/Facebook about.. That person thrives on publicity and being starved of it will drive her mad. And tell RTE what you are doing. Email: latelate@rte.ie Twitter: @RTELateLateShow

Caring for a medically fragile child in Ireland: An open letter to the Irish Government

Since the budget on Tuesday I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts on the €5 increase in Carer’s Allowance, but this post from Transitioning Angels says it way better than I could

Transitioning Angels

Ignored. Forgotten. Conveniently overlooked. Set aside. Dismissed. Considered unimportant. Call it what you will, families with children who are disabled and/or have life-limiting conditions were, for the most part, ignored in the 2017 Budget announced here in Ireland on 11 October 2016.

There was a crumb given after parents had to fight tooth and nail – that of medical cards to children who currently receive DCA (Domiciliary Care Allowance) payments – and for those families it does indeed come as a welcomed relief. Having said that, it was something that should have been done from the very start, so for it to finally be done now is a bit anti-climatic. It is still only a nugget given to try and satisfy a famine-like situation.

Families with severely disabled, medically fragile children are struggling financially.

We have many expenses beyond that of the typical family, yet in most cases one of the parents (that is…

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What’s gone wrong with the way we eat?

I love to cook (most of the time), I like to try new recipes and taste different things, and while we have had a bit of a lull in the garden this year, we like to grow some of our own food (I’m already drawing up lists of seeds ). I don’t think we are food snobs in this house, and while we don’t have to buy the cheapest (and often worst produced) food on the market, we are cost conscious and try not to eat too much heavily processed food. I freely admit that sometimes we get takeaway and sometimes I bring our daughter to McDonalds (bite me), but overall we try to be aware of what we are eating.

I’ve just started reading Joanna Blythman’s book Swallow This and to say its been an eye opener would be the understatement of the century. If you haven’t read it yet and you care about what you eat, then I’d highly recommend it. It may well put you off some of the food products you might buy on a regular basis, but for all the right reasons. It is most definitely making me reevaluate what I buy and how and where I shop.

food eating cooking

Swallow This

This will be a long process I think but one that is well worth it. Along with this, I’ve also been catching up on episodes of Philip Boucher-Hayes’ series What Are You Eating? that was originally broadcast in spring 2016 and has been rerun on RTÉ One lately. I watched one this morning and all I will say is I will NEVER eat a ‘chicken fillet’ roll again. Watch it and you’ll see why. Between Boucher-Hayes’ series and Blythman’s book, I was thinking about food and the huge industrialisation of food production for a large chunk of the morning. In particular I was wondering how the shift from largely consuming home-cooked meals to substantial reliance on quite heavily processed food came about. Then I popped into a supermarket to pick up a few things and while idly browsing in the chilled section I saw this.

Would you eat this?

Would you eat this?

Now I’ve eaten some things in my time (especially during the broke student years) the mere thought of which makes me queasy now. But this just looks appalling to me. To be quite blunt I have changed nappies that looked like that. How have we gotten to a situation where this is unremarkable? How have we become so divorced from the basics of cooking (and eating) and food production that our shops are increasingly stocked with this kind of thing? And please before anyone gets on their high horse to complain about me not understanding food poverty and not understanding how hard it can be to put food on the table and being a food snob, just ask yourself two things: 1. Would I feed this to a child? 2. What else could I buy for €5 to make a meal from? I didn’t buy this – maybe I should have done to try it out – but I did have a good look at it and I found it hard to see much chicken in there. I would also wonder as how to filling it is, it looks to have a LOT of sauce which won’t go far to fill an empty tummy at the of the day. And don’t get me started on the marketing tagline “Handmade especially for you”. Handmade? REALLY? If I’d been working in a kitchen and handmade this to serve to someone I’d be ashamed of it.

Causey Christmas Experience

Why am I writing about our visit to Causey Farm LAST Christmas you might wonder? Two reasons: one, I needed to free up storage space on my phone and there were still pictures from there on it and two you won’t find it until that time is upon us again.

This was the first time we had visited any of the Christmas experiences, and our daughter was 8 when we visited last year. Not that we are grinches or anything (actually I LOVE Christmas but don’t want to see stuff in the shops until after Hallowe’en) but as our daughter has a significant level of disability and does not understand anything much about Christmas, I was reluctant to go in case seeing lots of other (smaller) children really getting into the whole spirit would be too hard. Minding myself is an important part of being a carer after all 🙂

However, Causey Farm do a day at their Christmas Experience for children with special needs from the local area – as far as I can make out they contact local organisations and families get invited that way. We were invited by the respite home our daughter attends. As Causey Farm is only a few miles from us we decided to give it a go. I want to point out here that it was not a free event, all families attending paid.

It was a cold Saturday when we headed over and we were all wrapped up very warmly – and I’d definitely advise wrapping up well, there is a bit of walking between the various sheds and you are on a farm in Meath in the winter. Wellies or at the very least old shoes are also a good idea. Our wee woman is a wheelchair user so she was grand and snug with her lovely wheelchair blanket bag.

Well, it really was a great afternoon. The tour takes you through a number of sheds and buildings starting where the story of Mary and Joseph is told and if my memory serves me well we all sang ‘Away in a Manger’. There are lots of opportunities to see and pet the various animals – and there was even a camel!!! A real live camel in north Meath was not something I ever expected to see.

The passage of time has dimmed my memory for the exact order of events, but you move on to a traditional Irish kitchen at Christmas where the bean an ti talks about Christmas traditions and we all got to stir the pudding.

Stirring the Christmas pudding at Causey Farm

Stirring the Christmas pudding at Causey Farm

One of the next rooms is the post room where the elves (who are just brilliant, I don’t know where or how Causey find their staff but these guys were excellent) go through the letters to Santa and ask if the people are naughty or nice. This largely went over our lassie’s head but she certainly picked up on all the giggling and excitement. As for me I was too busy laughing to take any pics.

We visited Mrs Claus and helped her pack Santa’s bag for his trip around the world and then we went to the elves’ workroom. Now this really was superb, its a big old room decorated and laid out with all kinds of Christmas gifts and goodies but the clincher for me were the lists of names festooned all around the room so that every child could find their name (on the nice list of course!) The children are all taken upstairs and slide down into the elves’ workroom but obviously this wasn’t an option for our girlie as the stairs were too difficult for her to manage. It meant that she got extra time to find her name on the list though 🙂

On the nice list  - where else?

On the nice list – where else?

Then we all go through the elves’ door into Santa’s parlour. There are benches for all the children to sit on and listen while the elf (I think ours was called Bubbles) explains to us that this is a big treat to be in here and we have to be REALLY quiet or Santa will hear us. Well you can imagine the kids’ reaction to that! The excited chatter and laughter built up and built up and then! A rope ladder appeared in the fireplace and sure enough the man himself literally came down the chimney. I know I wasn’t the only adult there that day with tears in their eyes at the awe and excitement this produced in the children. Even our little girl, although she didn’t fully understand, knew that something special was happening.

Next we all followed Santa into another room where in turn each family was called up and all the children got a present. Herself can be a little shy at times and doesn’t have many words but Causey’s Santa was superb with her.

Hello Santa

Hello Santa

The smile on her wee face as she met Santa was lovely beyond words and remains one of my favourite memories. As you can hopefully see Santa came over to her rather than us all getting onto his sofa, which was much easier for her.

causey-2015 The day finished off with complimentary hot drinks and scones back in the main building and for herself a little snooze! tired-after-a-lovely-day

I would recommend the Causey Christmas Experience to anyone. My only reservation would be the price. For families of four children and two adults you are looking at over €100 which is a pricey enough afternoon. But it really is so lovely. I wouldn’t go back every year, I think the magic might get a bit diluted if you did that, but if the time ever comes when our darling girl understands all about Christmas then I don’t care if she is 20, I’m bringing her back to Causey Farm to see Santa coming down that chimney.

Click here for information about Causey Farm’s Christmas Experience

Honour her memory

“Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion. It is poisonous.” Those are the words at the end of the statement issued this evening by Brendan Cox, husband of Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spenborough in Yorkshire, England, who was brutally murdered today. Like so many people here in Ireland and in the UK, I am shocked – and that word doesn’t even sum it up – by this terrible murder.

I had heard of Jo Cox a bit before today. I no longer live in England, and when I did, I never lived in Yorkshire, so her constituency is not one I had any links with. But I did see mentions of her since she became an MP in British reporting on social justice issues. When I heard via Twitter that she had been shot I switched on the BBC rolling news channel, hoping she would be ok. When the news of her death was announced this evening I cried. I cried for a woman I didn’t know, I cried at the thought of her two little children, I cried in sheer pain at how awful and hateful this world seems sometimes.

It is less than a week since we woke to the news of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. That atrocity was fuelled by hate. Next week the UK will be voting on whether or not to remain in the EU. I lived in England until I was 31 and have been following the debate – if you can call it that – closely. During the last two months I have been increasingly horrified at the level of xenophobia, of hate, of lazy thinking, and that immigration has for so many people become the sole issue on which they will decide how to vote. I am not going to speculate here on the man who has been arrested for Jo Cox’s murder, nor on his motives or what he may or may not have said at the time.

I’ve been passionate about politics, current affairs and social justice for over 30 years now. There have been times over those 30 years when truly awful things have happened which I have found distressing and demoralising, but never before have I felt like I have been increasingly feeling over the last few months – a feeling that I want to walk away and leave the rest of the world to it, a feeling that its all hopeless, a feeling that I can’t really have any impact. I’ve been feeling like that (about politics and hatred and intolerance) for a while now but it coalesced today in the tears I shed over the murder of Jo Cox who seems to have been the kind of person the world needs more of.

When I calmed down after hearing the news I commented to my husband that if we did ‘leave the rest of the world to it’, we would be letting the haters win. An editorial about Jo Cox published by the Guardian finished with words I needed to hear tonight: “Honour her memory. Because the values and commitment that she embodied are all we have to keep barbarism at bay.” In Jo Cox’s memory I will not give in to the hate that is so prevalent. In Jo Cox’s memory I will speak out on issues that are important. And in the memory of both Jo Cox and another strong woman who I was privileged to know I will speak truth to power.

Honour her memory.

2016 Reading Challenge – Book Four

So for my fourth book of the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge, I selected the category “a book you have been meaning to read”. My choice was Harry’s Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith. I’d been looking for this for a while and then my husband got it for me late last year. I wanted to really concentrate on it when I read it so it got put off until April of this year. It was well worth the wait.

Its one of the most passionate, angry, heartfelt books I have read in a very long time. In some places it reads like a rant for which Harry Smith has been criticised in some reviews. I disagree. Yes, there are some passages of the book that come across as ranting but I don’t see that as a fault in this case. Harry is a World War Two veteran and one of the dwindling number of people who clearly remember life during the Great Depression. He remembers – and describes vividly – the appalling poverty and deprivation that was the norm of everyday life for far too many people in Britain in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He is rightly angry at how his family – and countless others – suffered and he doesn’t pull any punches in describing what they went through. His descriptions of the life and death of his sister Marion are simply heartbreaking.Harry's Last Stand

Harry goes on to describe the war years and how new opportunities opened up for him. You can hear real joy when he details the impact that free education and the birth of the NHS (National Health Service) had on the lives of the people of Britain. And you find yourself hoping that all is going to be well. But this is the point where Harry’s anger intensifies as he analyses and agonises over how this is all being dismantled and how he can see the same mistakes and wrongs being repeated in new generations of leaders and how he can see the damage this will do to people.

This is not a gentle read but it is gripping. If – like me – you remember Thatcher’s Britain and can see the same happening again under David Cameron, you will find this book pulling at your heart and hopefully your conscience. If you were born after that time you will find much in this that is thought-provoking. If you are old enough to remember the 1950’s and 1960’s, you will in all likelihood read this and weep. But read it you must.

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