Bits and Bobs · Living the Good Life

Too much stuff!!

I find myself exclaiming this rather a lot lately.  It feels like we are drowning in a sea of stuff.  Junk, crap,  stuff we bought or were given and have either never or rarely used, never liked or which has now been superseded by yet more STUFF.    On those (rare) occasions when I’m in housework mode, I sometimes end up with piles of stuff in my arms trying to find a place to put it.  (What I really should do is sort it all out but y’know, time and always something more interesting to do!)

In all seriousness though, it does seem to me like we as a community, a society, certainly some of the planet, are in real danger of having so much unneeded stuff (there must a better word!) that it will bury us one day.  Why do we keep buying this crap?  I’m not a fan of shopping as a pastime and my husband and I really do try to minimise the amount of new items we buy, not always successfully.  I LOATHE Black Friday and the consumerist binge that seems to get worse every year from, oh about this time onwards, as people get all worked up over what to buy other people for Christmas.  A lot of which ends up being unwanted clutter and junk and either ends up in a charity shop, or worse, in landfill.

On that note, I was recently browsing in a second-hand shop (part of my #dontbuynew aspiration).  The amount of duplicated items was unreal – ten or fifteen copies of the same book, countless plastic toys, and ornaments.  Oh the ornaments.  Mementoes from long-forgotten holidays, commemorative plates from various royal (yes, even here in Ireland) and national events, and quite a few ornaments/plates/plaques to mark various wedding anniversaries.  I’m not talking about personalised ones with names, dates etc, just the generic ones like this –

25th wedding stuff
Dustcatcher!

Why?? Why do we buy this stuff?  All that will happen is it will sit on a dresser or shelf somewhere and some poor sod will have to take it down and dust it.  Life’s too short!

Anyway, later that same day I found myself in a branch of TK Maxx, not a shop I’d ever spent much time in as I thought they only sold clothes but I had 20 minutes to kill and discovered they sell housewares, kitchen stuff, nice stationery and best of all a small selection of books.  (If I have to spend time browsing in a shop those things suit me far better.)  Then I came across this –

stuff boxes clutter
Houston, we have a problem

Yes, a box marked Stuff in which to put stuff. Seriously, if we are now using up valuable natural resources and energy to make empty boxes just to hold more stuff, then we really have lost the run of ourselves completely.   I’m not opposed to storage boxes completely, more to the mindset whereby we’d sooner buy boxes to put ‘stuff’ in, rather than reducing the amount of stuff we have.  I’m not going all KonMari here, the day anyone catches me thanking my possessions for helping me through another day, they can have me committed.   For me, its a sign that its time to declutter more thoroughly.  I thought I was fairly good at decluttering until I found six operating manuals yesterday, three of which were for items we don’t even own anymore….

Its the volume of unnecessary, unneeded and frequently unwanted STUFF we seem determined to inflict on each other that baffles me the most.  Its like people feel obliged just to buy you something – anything – because its Christmas.  And Christmas does seem to bring out the worst elements of this.  Who really wants the gadgets that you’ll use maybe twice, the gift sets of toiletries with all that useless (and often non recyclable) packaging, and innumerable other items of tacky, poorly made TAT and CRAP  (now called novelty gifts) that will be appearing in a shop near you in the next few months weeks.  And that’s without mentioning the Christmas themed cushions, bed linen, aprons, teatowels etc that people rush out to buy, never mind the fact they have perfectly good equivalents already at home and the Christmas ones will be stored away for 11 months of the year (adding to the clutter!)

How about we all stopped mindlessly buying stuff and spent a little more time thinking about what we need and what we might really like to give as a gift?  If there is someone you feel you should buy a gift for, then what about a bottle of wine?  Or some delicious nibbles and treats?  A plant for the garden (if they are gardeners), or a gift voucher for a pampering session?  Ask yourself before you pay for that useless ornament, novelty gift or gift sets of toiletries – would I want to be given this?

Before you ask, no I’m not the Grinch, I happen to love Christmas.  But I like a simple Christmas, a simple life in fact where we are not surrounded by so much stuff we feel like we can hardly breathe.  Just stop and think before you buy more stuff.  The planet and your sanity might well thank you for it.  Not to mention your wallet.

#dontbuynew

 

 

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Parenting · Uncategorized

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

A Year of Living Seasonally

A year of living seasonally

I’m not sure exactly when or why the idea of living seasonally took hold with me but I’ve been thinking about it for the last few weeks. It occurs to me that for all that I live in a rural part of the world, and grow vegetables and fruit and mark certain calendar occasions, I am a bit distanced from actually LIVING seasonally. So what do I mean by living seasonally? If you Google the term ‘living seasonally’ a lot of sites come up, many of them to do with food – cooking seasonal produce and not using food that has been shipped halfway around the world just so we can have strawberries and asparagus all year round. Other sites focus on the natural cycles of night and day, of the moon and of the seasons and how they can impact on our health and wellbeing. I found Mountain Spring Herbals very interesting on this front. There are a number of sites which look at the idea of living seasonally from a homesteading/simpler life perspective. One I like is Little House in the Suburbs, escaping from the Rat Race has long appealed to me and its no surprise that The Good Life has long been one of my favourite TV programmes.

But back to living seasonally. How many times do you find yourself saying “I don’t know where this year has gone” or “How can it be [insert relevant month here] already?” My beloved and much-missed Granny always said that time – and by this she meant the years – passed more quickly as you got older. At 43 I now understand what she meant. I am frequently running to catch up with myself, always jumping from one project to the next, never taking time to really stop. Anyone reading this who knows me well is well aware of this! But I’m getting tired of that and I need to change things a bit. So for the next year I’m going to live seasonally as much as I can. You could call it living in the moment either I suppose. As someone who is fascinated by history, by myth and legend my head spends a fair amount of time in the past. On the other hand my involvement in my community and interest in politics keeps my head looking to the future a lot. None of which leaves a whole lot of time for the here and now.

My version of living seasonally – and this is just what suits me, its not a prescription for anyone else to follow – is to spend more time aware of the seasons, of the changes. Over the next year I will try to spend some time outside every day. I will explore ways of marking certain calendar dates and rituals that appeal to me, without strictly adhering to any one belief system. I will try and eat more seasonally (and hopefully better). Cooking is no hardship for me, I love trying out new recipes and new ingredients. I will observe the physical changes each season brings to my little piece of the planet. And I will come on here and share it all with you!

I’ve titled this post a Year of Living Seasonally which implies this will finish in a year – 365 days, 12 months, 4 seasons whatever way you like to mark the passage of time. That is my plan. I’m starting this project in 2 days time – this is just a little taster – when here in Ireland and in other countries too – it will be Hallowe’en, or All Hallows Eve. But it is also the festival – or cross quarter day – of Samhain, which for many marks the start of the Celtic New Year. Many of the Pagan or Wiccan persuasions also mark this festival as the start of the year.

Now I could here get into a whole big long discussion about how we mark the passing of time and how dates and calendars are somewhat artificial but I won’t (I might come back to that in the future though). Suffice it to say that I like this time of year – the start of the darker half of the year, the approach of winter, the end of the harvest season and I like to mark it as the start of a new year. (I mark the more usual New Year in January too). Its a time to reflect, to rest, to ponder the quietness and the darkness that winter ushers in. That’s what I need to do right now. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about it.

the wheel of the year the cycle of the year
A Celtic Calendar

Bits and Bobs · Uncategorized

Resolutions and other New Year musings

I used to make resolutions every New Year. They weren’t terribly original, lose weight (uh yeah no progress there), get fit (see above), become more organised (getting somewhere with this one), etc etc etc. Now there are lots of reasons why I – and let’s face it most of us – don’t keep our New Year resolutions and I’m not going to list them here, any magazine or newspaper will have had at least one article along these lines over the last while. But it occurred to me a few years ago that one possible reason why I’ve never managed to keep said resolutions is that 31st December doesn’t really sit well with me. I’ve never been a fan of big NYE parties, or of gathering together with a bunch of randomers to watch the clock turn round, and I cringe at Auld Lang Syne. (I’m always reminded of Queen Elizabeth’s expression at the millenium celebrations)

I love Christmas/Yuletide/Midwinter/whatever you’re having yourself and mark a lot of festival days throughout the year in my own little way. So its not that I’m a bah humbug (or whatever the NYE equivalent would be). I am a demon for making to-do lists and plans and schemes so resolutions should come easy to me. I think there’s two reasons why 31st Dec doesn’t really do it for me. Firstly, and this is something that I have become more aware of in the last few years, its an artificial time to start a year. Its the middle of a season, so not a natural time for a break or change. The Celtic New Year happens at Samhain – 1st Nov. Its the traditional start of winter but rather than being a time to start new projects or plans, Samhain is a time to reflect and relax, to look inward and to retreat somewhat. Most definitely not a time for making big changes.

Secondly, its just another day – there is nothing special about New Year’s except that the calendar changes from one year to the next. And remember that the naming and numbering of days months and years is just a structure that humankind has created. It could be argued that it bears no relation to anything in nature and the passing of the seasons. I love history and as such am very aware of dates, centuries and the passing of time. But to create a big celebration around the fact that a system we have created in order to keep track of events has just done what it does each day seems a little odd to me.

And that’s why I think I’ve never had much success with New Year’s resolutions. Its too artificial for me. That’s not to say my mind doesn’t stray to all kinds of ideas and plans in late December but I don’t make any resolutions anymore. Talk to me at Imbolc though and that might be a whole other thing…….

Oh – and Happy New Year!

Parenting

Oops I didn’t do it – again

No I swear I am not getting into a habit of recycling song titles to use as blog post titles apologies to the Proclaimers but this line came up in a conversation I was having with friends earlier. (Actually on that point, is a multi-person message on Facebook a conversation??) Anyway, we were chatting about Hallowe’en outfits for children. I hadn’t bought one for herself yet – to be honest I wasn’t even sure I was going to as we don’t do trick or treating, its just not safe on our road – but then got a message home from school yesterday to say the children can wear their Hallowe’en outfits in tomorrow as they are having a party. Shite. Cue panicky rummaging through her clothes – nada that is even vaguely Hallowe’en-esque. Our town is small (and I like it that way) but it means not a great selection of outfits. Anyway we have purchased two out of which I will attempt tonight to cobble one.

And that reminded me that every year of my daughter’s life I have decided to make her a Hallowe’en outfit. And every spring I’ve had the best intentions to do something with eggs and chicks (fake ones). And in the run up to Christmas I always think how lovely it would be to make an Advent calendar for her. And I haven’t done any of them yet. But I’m not beating myself up over it, I’ve realised I get nearly as much enjoyment out of thinking about these projects and looking up creative ideas as I would out of actually doing them and that’s got to be good, right?

Special Needs

The joy of Christmas

Christmas is a joyous time for many of us, whether Christian or no.  Personally I love it, I dipped out of it for a while in my late teens/20’s, but since I have had a home of my own and gotten more into baking, homemaking and all making nice and all that goes along with it, I have come to love Christmas more and more.  When we decided to have a baby, one of the many things I was excitedly looking forward to was having an even more excited little person to share it with.  I had images of my child/ren helping to make the Christmas puddings, squabbling over who would open the next window on the Advent calendar, being too excited to sleep on Christmas Eve…… you get the general idea.

But the reality has turned out somewhat different.  I’ve written here before about Fionnuala’s disabilities and I’m not going to go over them again.  Suffice it to say that my amazing daughter is now nearly 4½ and she has no concept of Christmas.  Or birthdays.  Or any of the other special occasions we mark in our house.  So when well-meaning people ask her “Is Santy coming?” I just smile and make some insipid comment like “Only if she’s good!” or “Oh definitely, isn’t he Fionnuala.”  The child has not the foggiest idea what we are on about.  We are putting up our Christmas tree and decorations tonight and while she will know something is going on, she won’t understand.

At her first Christmas she was 5½ months old, so naturally I didn’t expect too much engagement with the whole idea.  We dressed her in a cute little Christmas pudding babygro and oohed and aahed over her as all parents do at their child’s first Christmas.  The following year she ‘helped’ her daddy put the fairy on top of the tree and I have a lovely photo of her smiling as she reached out to it. But despite knowing and understanding the level of our girlie’s disabilities, part of me still hoped that she might show some comprehension of what Christmas is all about.

At her third Christmas, I found it hard that children younger than her were beginning to get the idea that something special was happening.  Last year was her fourth Christmas and I ended up with a rotten dose which meant I spent most of the Christmas break on the sofa so I wasn’t really worrying about her lack of awareness.

So now we are approaching Christmas number five for Fionnuala.  She is attending a local pre-school two mornings a week and a special needs unit two half-days per week.  She loves both and has settled in really well.  But now of course there are Santa visits and Christmas parties….. and she still doesn’t understand.  This year we’ve begun to read stories about Santa and Christmas at home with the view to making the words familiar.  We have an Advent calendar but I’m the one who opens it every day.   The Christmas cake is made (eventually) and the puddings will be mixed tonight – and she will take her turn stirring the mix (with some help from Mum and Dad) and while she doesn’t close her eyes and make a wish, I make an extra one for her when I’m stirring the puddings.

And funnily enough I don’t feel as sad about her not getting Christmas yet as I have done in previous years.  Yes of course I still wish that she could come running into us on Christmas morning with her stocking in hand, and I wish that she was able to write a letter to Santa.  I wish that she could say “Merry Christmas Mummy!” and open her presents herself.  But – as yet – she can’t do any of those things.  And even writing that down I still don’t feel as sad as before.  I’m not exactly jumping for joy mind you, but I’m wondering if its that I have become more accepting of the need to be patient with Fionnuala’s development (and patience is not one of my natural virtues), or if that she is doing so well and is such a happy little girl that I don’t mind the whole Christmas thing so much.

Or is it that I have finally come to understand the message of Christmas (at least the message the movies portray) – be glad and happy with what you have, celebrate the joy, the love and the good things in your life, and while there’s nothing wrong with wishing, don’t let the wishfulness become wistfulness.  Maybe that’s my darling girl’s Christmas present to me – acceptance and patience mixed in with a huge helping of joy.

Merry Christmas to anyone reading this, I hope you and all those you love have a peaceful and joyous time.