Life

Mrs Crimbles Gluten Free Pasta & Sauce: Review

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I was well in to my second glass of wine last Friday before I realised I hadn’t put up my post for the day. That is the kind of tizz I was in after the news about Brexit broke that morning. My  friends from the North of Ireland and England were devastated and the day was spent in a daze, hoping this was all some vast joke and by the end of the day everything would be back to normal.

The intended post was a product review for Mrs Crimbles Gluten Free Pasta & Sauce. I do like Mrs Crimbles products, I am partially to an almond slice and their cheese crackers are my favourites so I was more than willing to give these pre -packaged dinners a shot. Strangely I have only ever seen them in the Centra around the corner from my house so I am not sure what their distribution is like nationwide.

The packs are 90 grams in weight and come in three flavours, fusilli with a tomato and mediteranean  herb sauce, fusilli with a white wine and cream sauce and fusilli with a gourmet mushroom and cream sauce. I opted for the mushroom sauce as I tend to find pre packaged food a bit bland but mushrrom flavour does tend to fair better than most when it is freeze dried.

The instructions are simple, on the hob you bring 150ml of water to the boil, add the contents of the pack and reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occassionally for 10 minutes or until the pasta is cooked through. You can also cook this in the microwave. When I opened the pack there was a pleasant if slightly confusing scent of chocolate mixed with the mushroom but I just shrugged and emptied the pasta and sauce in to the pot.

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This was a quick dinner for one, the label says it could be lunch for two but I would have to dispute this as the if I offered up half of this portion to anyone I know I would expect a sharpley raised eyebrow in response.

The finished dish definitely benefitted from the addition of salt and pepper and a generous grating of parmesan but it was grand. Although I can cook and I like good food I refuse to be a food snob about products like these, this is emergency food for celiacs and in that this product is definitely filling a gap. If you have a teenager at home who needs a something they can cook for themselves when they get in from school or you have a first year college student with celiac you are sending out in to world and you are worried about them cooking gluten free for themselves this is ideal. I would definitely keep one or two packs of these in the cupboards for days when I am too busy or tired to cook. For festival season, if you are camping and bring a wee gas stove this is a cheap and easy gluten free meal to have on stand by, all you need is a pot, some water and a spoon, job done.

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This is convenience food for celiacs and I hope that similar products start coming on to the market soon, anything that will make our lives easier is fine by me.

Travelling Gluten Free: Hamburg

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Since I took the plunge and went to Sweden two years ago I have since travelled more than I had in the previous ten years.  Milan followed Sweden, then a trip to London for something other than work.  There was a fabulously sunny short break in Barcelona last November, then a once in a lifetime treat of four glorious days in Marrakech and most recently a long weekend in Hamburg for my cousins wedding.

I have discovered that I won’t necessarily starve for the want of gluten free food when I travel so I have become more confident and my old desire to travel has resurfaced with a vengeance. These have all be short breaks but I am ready for something longer and more adventurous. As someone who never liked to sit in the sun I have been converted to the soul lifting pleasure of waking to a bright sunny day, breakfasting on a warm terrace and swimming in a pool that is bathwater warm by sundown.

Each country has its own little gluten free revelation, Marrakech had a dense gluten free almond meal cake which was served instead of bread and slathered with butter and preserves it was perfect with strong black coffee. It was also the country where every desert menu had several options of panna cotta, each one more tremblingly perfectly set than the last and all gluten free.

In Hamburg it was the grocery store below the apartment where my cousin and her new husband graciously ignored the contents of five make up bags that were strewn about their home for the duration of the few days they welcomed us in to their home. This grocery store had a fruit and vegetable section that was the equivalent of a fancy farmers market back here in Ireland with a huge variety of high quality produce, there were wild mushroom, heirloom tomatoes, green and white asparagus, artichokes and nestled around a gurgling water feature a miniature forest of fresh herbs.

There was an in-house bakery with a beguiling aroma, a bewildering amount of cheese and charcuterie and best of all for me an extensive gluten free range. Most of the products were from the Schar range, and I would dearly love for them to extend the range they export to Ireland to include the Landesbrot which was soft and flavoursome with no need for toasting. There were several different varieties of bread and crackers and in the freezer section there were frozen GF croissants, pre made lasagne,  ice cream cornetto’s, fish fingers, chicken goujons and large sharing sized pizzas as well as mini versions.

Organising breakfast involved nothing more taxing then walking downstairs to the store, picking up some tomatoes, mushrooms, eggs, bacon and GF bread and heading back to the kitchen. Eating out was a bit more difficult but there are places to eat, the best fun was Brazilian restaurant that was all meat roasted on skewers served with vegetable sides, rice and beans and there is usually a baked potato and sour cream lurking somewhere on a German menu. The hotel where they held the wedding reception sent over a basket of the best gluten free bread rolls I have ever tasted, I am seriously going to contact the hotel to get the name of the supplier. For brunch on our last sunny morning I packed up some GF Landesbrot and walked to a local brunch place for scrambled eggs and home fries, we checked in advance and they had no issue with me bringing my own bread since they didn’t have any in house. Sitting outside with a huge mug of coffee, enjoying the sun with my sisters and cousins I realised that this is why people travel, to see people who live abroad, to enjoy good weather and different cultures and just to relax and as long as I have some emergency GF crackers or bread in my bag to stave off any hunger pangs I am going to travel a lot more in the future.

 

 

Free From Food Awards Ireland 2016

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There are sometimes a few perks that come with writing about food and being invited to be on the panel for the inaugural Free From Food Awards Ireland this year was definitely a perk. I will never say no to an invitation to try out new gluten free products!

The Free From Food Awards Ireland were founded by John Burke, a Coeliac and businessman, who brings the Awards to Ireland having been a judge in the UK awards for a number of years. The purpose of these awards is to reward the producers of gluten free products for quality and innovation and also, importantly to provide feedback to those producers. Judges were invited to ‘Just come open minded and willing to taste! ‘ so that is how I approached my two days of judging.

Although the event ran over several days I was only available for two days and sadly missed out on judging the pizza section. However in my two days I was surprised and delighted to see how many gluten free products there are on the market now, whether in stores or online.

The range and quality of products is so much improved from the time of my initial diagnosis ten years ago and I can see that now producers are moving past just trying to make replacement products and are moving towards experimentation, working to create high quality products that taste great and also happen to be gluten free or free from allergens such as dairy, oats and soy.

There were experienced judges there to chair and talk the panel through our tasting process and this was incredibly useful, we were asked to judge around certain categories:  quality, flavour, aroma, texture, ingredients, price and Fee From declaration. Although this was blind tasting we were given confirmation of which products had free from labelling and which were working towards that end.

The value of awards such as the Free From Food awards is not just in rewarding the work that has been done by established suppliers but is also in highlighting the work of emerging producers and helping to get new products on supermarket shelves. Without the kind of attention participating in these awards brings it is often difficult for small producers to bring their products to a wider audience.

Being in a position to give feedback to suppliers through our comments is enormously empowering, it is so important for them to hear back about what works, what doesn’t, is it more important to have a full flavoured bread or do we value texture more? What are we looking for in our Free From Food apart from confidence that what we are eating isn’t harming us?

Advocacy is essential to ensure that suppliers continue to invest in research and development of Free From products, advocacy ensures that these products make it on to our supermarket shelves and in to venues such as airports, hospitals, sporting arenas etc.  It is important that people who want ready availability of high quality, safely produced, interesting and delicious Free From products work towards that end and I feel that John Burke and his team, who were all a pleasure to work with and did their utmost to make this an enjoyable experience are doing amazing work and I truly appreciate all of their efforts. I look forward to seeing the results of the judging when they are announced later this Summer.

For more information on the Free From Food Awards see their website   www.fffa.ie

Tips For Gluten Free Festive Entertaining

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‘Tis the season for Christmas Parties, lunches, dinners, mulled wine and mince pie nights and all sort of festive gatherings involving food.  If you are celiac or entertaining a guest who is celiac the idea of entertaining can be daunting there is always fear of being made ill or worse still making a friend ill because of cross contamination in the kitchen.
Here are a few simple tips for a happy gluten free Christmas.
Be wary of cross contamination. Don’t use the same serving spoons for gluten free and regular dishes. Be conscious in your kitchen to cook gluten free dishes separately and clean all your cooking tools carefully before cooking GF food. Tinfoil is your friend, cover all dishes once cooked so that errant crumbs or dustings of flour don’t fall in. Clearly identify GF containing foods for gluten free guests so they know what to avoid.

 

If you are cooking bread stuffing with your turkey try cooking it separately instead of in the bird. You can wrap the bread stuffing tinfoil and cook in the oven, check with our google overlords for instructions. Or you could use GF bread crumbs for your stuffing to make life even easier.

 

Most vegetable dishes will be naturally Gluten Free but make sure that whatever you are adding to the veggies is also gluten free.

 

Check your stock cubes, there are plenty of GF stock-cubes available for making gravy. Thicken your gravy with GF flour or GF cornflour instead of regular flour.

 

Check, double check and then check again the ingredients on any pre- packaged food you purchase from frozen roast potatoes to the glaze for your ham to cranberry sauce and all the relishes and if they contain gluten serve them separately and let your GF guest know.

 

If you are deep frying anything please do not use the same oil for GF and non GF food, this will cause contamination.

 

Check your butter for gluten containing crumbs before adding to your mashed potatoes.
If you want to make an old fashioned sherry trifle try the Gluten Free Madeira Cake from Aldi instead of trifle sponges, it tastes good and I feel, although I haven’t tried it, that it could work well.

 

Ask your GF guest for advice, let them know that you are taking their needs in to consideration and that they aren’t putting you out. Don’t freak out, there are a lot of resources out there to guide you on your gluten- free way and gluten free products are easily available online and in most grocery stores.
If you are organising a lunch out for family and friends check in with the restaurant to make sure they can cater for dietary requirements, particularly at this time of year when a lot of restaurants have set menu’s.
If you are celiac and heading to a friend’s house and you are uncertain of whether they fully understand your dietary requirements then ask if you can bring some GF crackers or other nibbles so you know you will have something to eat. Let your host know in advance so they aren’t morally offended that you would bring your ownfood to a dinner party, in all honesty they will most likely be relieved.

 

Relax, do your best, that is all anyone can ask of you, if what you can manage is turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and a vegetable side that are all definitely gluten free and safe to eat, served with good company and festive cheer then I think your GF guest will be happy to forgo any GF containing dishes that you have on the table.

 

Have a very Merry Festive Season and a tremendous New Year!

 

 

 Irish Bucket List

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There are a few of them floating out there – lists of Irish attractions that you should really see/do before you kick the bucket. Some of them I have completed simply because I live here (walk down Grafton Street at Christmas) and others I’ve done several times because my Primary School Tours were repetitive and dull (a walk around Newgrange on a wet Tuesday afternoon, after spending four hours in a fume-filled bus, has little to recommend it) and others I will never do because they look boring (visit W.B. Yeats grave? – not until the graveyard adds a fun-park with a coffee stand or possibly a bar).

However there were a few things on the lists that seemed that they might be ok (dare I say it, even fun?) and a few new attractions that I hadn’t heard of yet. So I made a pact with my husband that each weekend in the summer we would try to cross one item off the list, and see how far we get.

We decided to take the Earl approach from My Name is Earl and do whichever one we fancied, rather than trying to follow any pattern or numerical order. This will allow for rainy days, and meh-I-just-don’t-feel-like-doing-that-today days.

Now, obviously we couldn’t start the weekend I made the list because there wasn’t enough notice, and we couldn’t start the following weekend because it was going to be a long week and we would be knackered that weekend, plus I had a friend’s birthday on the Saturday. And the weekend following that we were at a wedding, but soon, very soon, we were going to start and it was going to be epic.

The list so far in no particular order is:

  1. Football Golf : http://footee.ie/
  2. Tedfest: http://www.tedfest.org/
  3. Lisdoonvarna Festival : http://matchmakerireland.com/
  4. Horse Fair : http://ballinasloeoctoberfair.com/
  5. Guinness’s Store House : http://www.guinness-storehouse.com/en/Index.aspx
  6. James Distillery : http://www.jamesonwhiskey.com/en/agegate
  7. Galway Races: http://www.galwayraces.com/
  8. Attend an GAA All-Ireland Final in Croke Park
  9. Climb Croagh Patrick (not entirely sure I feel the need to do this barefoot)
  10. Climb Carrauntoohil (this might take some training)
  11. National Park – Killarney http://www.killarneynationalpark.ie/
  12. Glenoe Waterfall, Co. Antrim
  13. Viking Splash tour
  14. ……..

We would love to hear of anything that you have experienced and thought was fabulous that should be on here…..

Grandma Knits For Baby

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In the olden days (let’s say 10 years ago) a fundamental requirement for opening a shop, was having a shop premises. That is no longer the case. Online shopping has increased in popularity, now accounting for 14% of all retail, and increasingly t is becoming the method of preference for certain groups of consumers. This matched with the advent of online market-places like ebay, etsy, folksy etc – means that online shops are now a very lucrative and viable option.

Set up costs are minimal. A potential entrepreneur has just to register a shop on one (or all) of these markets, a little like a person would have opened a stall in a flea-market before, and display their goods. Usually the market charges a very small amount to display an item and then takes a commission when the item is sold.

However, as a potential consumer cannot physically touch and feel the goods, the success of an online shop lies in their ability to photograph and describe the item. This replaces the meeting of the artist in the flea-market or craft fair. It replaces seeing their hard-working hands and hearing them talk passionately about their goods. All that would have been conveyed in that brief but vivid meeting has to be funnelled into a short text description. This has to paint a picture, give context to the item, give it a past, make it authentic, and allow it to stand out from the other similar items.

Not an easy task. However, one I attempted while setting up a shop for my Mum called Grandma Knits For Baby. She resisted this idea initially. She loves to knit for children, babies in particular, and will often knit for any baby, no matter how remote the connection, just because she can and she loves to. People have often remarked on the incredible quality of her jumpers and cardigans, but because Mam has been doing this for so long, she usually brushes off these compliments with a pinch of salt. She just doesn’t see the incredible skill that she has, and that tragically hand-knitting clothes is a dying art form, getting rarer in a fast high-tech world.

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Grandma Knits For Baby is ultimately a two woman show. Mum brings the beauty (gorgeous hand-knit works of art) and I bring the brawn (I do the heavy lifting in terms of listing items, writing descriptions, handling customer queries and processing orders) – these creative types don’t love the administration of it all!!

So far it has worked very well. We have had a steady trickle of orders, and our brand is getting out there. Let’s see what happens when wooly-jumper season is back upon us.

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About Grandma Knits For Baby

This shop was born from Grandma’s love of knitting little treats for little tykes.

Grandma is a talented experienced knitter who for the last 45 years has been knitting little garments for friends, family, neighbours, friends of the family, friends of friends … the list goes on, but really she knits for anyone in her life who has been blessed with a little miracle in their lives. This shop was born from her love of knitting little treats for little tykes, so that she can share, even just a little bit, in the immense joy and celebration a family feels when a new baby is brought home.

As a Grandma each piece she creates is as soft, delicate and cute as it’s intended recipient, however as a mother she knows that each piece must also be practical, easy to take on and off, easy to wash, easy to dry, warm and comfortable on little baby. It is her many years experience of caring for little babies that makes her creations so perfect.

Knitting is an ethnic craft and is part of the Irish heritage. It is a skill that has been handed down from generation to generation. The craft originated in fishing villages as the thick wools allowed fishermen to work in the water all day without catching chill, but anyone who knows Ireland in the wet damp winter months knows that one does not need to be near the sea to be wet all day in Ireland.

Traditionally knitting was a craft women practised and tradition has it that many of the stitches created had symbolic meanings that the women cast on their loved ones to bring them good fortune or protect against ill winds. Grandma takes a little of this folklore and knits it into her creations to wish the little ones happiness and safety in their first steps on the pathway of life.

Cathy Clarke – Shop Assistant

Cathy helps Grandma with admin, form filling, wool fetching, parcel posting and all the technical parts that Grandma couldn’t be havin’ with at her time of life. Cathy is the general dogsbody that keeps this ship a float!

 

Grandma – Creator

Grandma is the creative power behind this shop, without her skill, expertise and experience there would be no knits for the little babies.

On Reading and Loss….

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A book can save your life, it can move you away from the path you were on to something you never considered, it can open your mind and change you. The best books will transport you, inform you, move you to tears and make you laugh.
I have always loved to read, I truly cannot understand when people tell me they don’t read. I want to list all the pleasures they are missing. I want to make them understand how lovely it is to sit in a Summer still garden reading, or how comfortable it is to laze in front of a fire with a good book when it is miserable outside. From a practical point of view I don’t know how they manage on long journeys or what they do late at night when they can’t sleep. Reading for pleasure is such a part of me that I cannot imagine what I would do without it.
A few years ago I was unwell from a post- operative mishap and for some reason I didn’t want to read any of the books I had, I was tired, frustrated and blue and for the first time in my life reading wasn’t helping. Then someone gave me a Discworld novel, Men at Arms, and while everything else I picked up had failed this book lifted me out of myself, I was enthralled.
Since then I have read everything by Sir Terry Pratchett I could get my hands on. I have re-read every book and when I am a bit sad, sick or troubled the Discworld series is the well I go to for comfort. I also read these books because Terry Pratchett was a wise man who understood people so well and created characters with such depth that they became real to me. When I heard yesterday that he had died my heartache was not just for the loss of this great writer but because I also felt that I had just lost my beloved Esme Weatherwax, Gytha Ogg and Magrat Garlick. I would never hear any more about Carrot, Angua, Nobby, Colon and the rest of the Watch, there would be no more stories about Moist, Spike or Vetinari, no more Ridcully or Ponder Stibbons.

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My deepest sadness is for Sam Vimes, if you haven’t  read any of the Discworld novels or if you are disdainful of the fantasy genre I would advise you to lose this misguided prejudice immediately and find a copy of Guards!Guards! and keep going until you get to Snuff, here you will encounter one of the greatest characters ever imagined and written.
Another amazing character is Tiffany Aching, I am just waiting for my nieces to hit their tweens so I can introduce them to this hero. The Tiffany Aching books have both broken my heart and delighted me and if you want books with a well –rounded, layered female character at their centre then this is the series for you. Terry Pratchett wrote women well, from witches to warriors, sex workers to awkward adolescents and everything in between, the women in his books are never side characters, they are fully fleshed out and interesting and I love them all.
If there is a small child in your life find one of Pratchett’s children’s book and take some time to sit with him or her snuggled up next to you and introduce them to this great writer. Then as they grow up introduce them to Johnny Maxwell, Maurice and his Rodents, Tiffany Aching, all of the Discworld novels then Good Omens and everything else.

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Sir Terry Pratchett through his writing has changed me, he has helped me through some tough times, made me laugh and cry and his books have done all the best things books should do for their reader. Terry Pratchett was taken too early by an insidious disease and he railed about the lack of research funding that is invested in Alzheimers so if his work has touched you in any way a fitting tribute would be to support Alzheimers research if you can.
http://www.alzheimer.ie/Home.aspx

Impromptu Travelling While Celiac

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Being diagnosed with celiac over ten years ago put a bit of a dent in my desire to travel. Worrying about where and if I could eat in my chosen destination took most of the fun out of going abroad. Awareness about celiac is growing worldwide and this has improved things dramatically. However when I do travel I still tend to plan in advance and do a lot of research so this still means that I don’t do a lot of spontaneous weekends away or avail of last minute cheap flight and hotel deals .

This needs to change, there is a lot of the world I want to see and I also want to stop saying no to interesting and fun opportunities just because I have to worry about what I can eat. Sometimes I need to put food considerations second, this is difficult for anyone with an allergy or condition which restricts what they can eat. A lot of this difficulty for me is psychological, I don’t mean that it is all in my head, what I mean is that I make this problem, the problem of finding suitable food when I am away from my comfort zone, such a huge deal that it stops me in my tracks and therefore I am starting to feel that I have missed out on a lot.
Last weekend I went to Italy, home of all the gluten filled food, pastries, pasta and pizza. I was so stressed from moving house that I didn’t have time to get stressed about eating in Italy. I also didn’t have any time to do any research in to restaurants that cater for celiac. Once simple google search would have found me this very helpful page: http://www.mytable.com/l17351/en?cuisine=GLUTEN

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For me this trip wasn’t about food, it was about the break, getting away from work and finding a bit of headspace while hanging out with friends and wandering around some very beautiful spaces with my camera. I just wanted to say yes for once without having to think about it first. I am very glad I did.
I packed a GF pastry for the flight and some individually wrapped packets of crackers for emergencies. I was only going to be in Milan for three days / two nights so I figured I wouldn’t starve even if I couldn’t locate a gluten free restaurant. This first day of wandering down towards the Duomo we stopped off in a café and they had a GF stand with sealed packets of bread sticks, cakes and crackers, my plan of action was to eat or buy GF food when I found it so I had a cake with my coffee as this would tide me over to dinner. Dinner was in a tapas restaurant where the waiter had very good English and was able to point out the dishes I could eat, there wasn’t much, some roasted vegetables and pork in a tomato sauce but again it did the job and kept me going. The next morning I filled up on fruit, yogurt, cheese and coffee in the hotel.

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After breakfast we travelled to Aosta and on the way I got some GF crisps for the road, dinner was a huge salad and although my dining companions were both indulging in giant and gorgeous looking pizza’s I didn’t feel hard done by in the least. Milan was beautiful, we had just been in Pila Ski resort, walked through the snow and then sipped wine while looking out at the mountains and I was about to go on to the thermal spa in Pre Saint Didier where I would sit in warm water while looking at the stars, what had I to feel bad about. The next day after an omelette for breakfast we headed out to Conge and walked through the snowy national park before stopping for a Vin Brule and then back to Aosta for a Gelato and on to the airport and home.

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As you can see I didn’t eat a lot while I was away but the things I got to see and do more than made up for that. For a longer break I would have had to have done some proper research and contacted restaurants in advance to ensure they could cater for celiac but for three days I figured I could wing it and I was right.

What I have learned from this is to stop making a such a huge deal out of my dietary requirements that it stops me from saying yes to things I really want and that sometimes it is worth feeling a little bit hungry when you get to see so much beauty.

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Leaving Home……

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When you rent at the back of your mind there is always a little bell waiting to ring. This is the bell that tells you it is time to leave. Sometimes you ring the bell yourself as you are ready to move on and sometimes the bell is an unmerciful clanging that wakes you with a start like an over enthusiastic alarm clock. Our bell was the latter.
Coming up to our eighth year in our home we were given the news that the landlord was giving us notice to quit. He has his reasons and they are valid reasons however the shock was still tremendous. When the management agent called to give me the heads up I got a rush of blood from my toes to the top of my head that left me lightheaded and with the beginning of a migraine. I am a cautious person about many things including where I live and as such I had checked with the management agent last September to see if our lease would be renewed for another year and I was assured it would be. I relaxed and settled in to the idea that we would not be moving and began to think that we could start adding to our savings and maybe come up with the deposit for a mortgage and hoping that the next time we moved it would be in to a house we owned.
Now I am moving to a lovely, smaller house at an increased rent. This is to be expected in the current market and I am bloody lucky that I found a house in perfect condition in my neighbourhood that we can afford. The search only took three days, I saw a place online and viewed it three days later, as luck would have it my Mum was visiting and, in the reasonable way of mothers, she pointed out the new tiles on the roof, the size of the kitchen, the newness of the appliances when all I could see was this wasn’t my house, it wasn’t the same shape or size and it was a bungalow so there was no stairs.
I am being unabashedly emotional about this move, I love this house. I love every crack, and there are many, I love the giant Holly Tree in the back garden that has been raided every Christmas. I love the overgrown wild rose in the front garden that is laden with rose hips every Autumn. There is a corner of my couch where I can sit with my feet up and a look through the sitting room arch to the dining room and out the back window, it is one of my favourite places to be. During the day I watch the trees that line the back wall and on a dark night I can see the blue light at the top of the Spire on O’ Connell St. This is where I like to read, listen to music, work on my laptop, it is my comfy space and I will miss it.
The house has its faults and our friends like to point them out but it also has character. When we first moved in way back in 2007 this was the house where all our friends would come to hang out. The garden had no grass because of improvised games of extreme Frisbee and ball. In the evenings we would play video games, watch movies or just have a few beers and chat. There was a New Years’ Eve party where it started to snow and everyone who tried to leave had to come back and camp out for the night. This is where our friends have told us they were getting engaged and later that they were having babies. This is the house where we all started to grow up, away from house parties to dinner parties.

When we moved in here Dave’s daughter was ten and still in Primary School now she is 17 and one year away from finishing Secondary school. There has been a lot of joy and some grief in this house. There have been epic rows where I pitied our neighbours and many very happy times where I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.
Working through everything I am feeling about this move I keep coming back to one thought and that is how much more horrible this would be if this was our own home and we were losing it because we couldn’t make mortgage payments. How much more wrenching it would be to take children away from their bedrooms and the back gardens they are used to playing in, not because you wanted to move but because the bank was repossessing your house. Having always rented I imagine there is a deep sigh of relief when you close the door of your own home behind you for the first time. You will never have to move again. This is your space to live in how you want, this is where you will make a life and build your family or if you want to live alone this is where you will find your sanctuary. I never really understood how emotionally devastating it must be to lose your home, when I would hear people speak about this I would get caught up in the practicalities of the thing, where would they go, what would repossession mean to their hopes of ever owning a home again. Now all I can think of is the sadness they must feel at having to leave their space.
In turn this makes me very angry at our pretty useless government and banking system which does not seem to be invested in any meaningful way in making sure the population is adequately housed. We are a small nation of less than five million people, it should not be this difficult for the basic needs of the population to be met. From asylum seekers trapped for years in the limbo of direct provision, to elderly people refusing to use their heating in the winter for fear of the gas bill, to people working in good jobs and still unable to move out of their parents houses because they can’t make rent, to the people who live in squalor because the landlords get away with it, to the people who have to leave their homes and move to hostels or the homes of family because they can’t make the mortgage, this government is failing them all.
People waffle on about personal responsibility and I accept that some people made bad choices but the priority for any government should be the wellbeing of the people and adequate housing is essential to the wellbeing of all people. We are a country with a population almost three million less than that of London, the fact that the people in charge can’t manage to run this wee country in an efficient way to the benefit of everyone is just pathetic.

A Riposte to Moon Acreage: Sound Financial Investment or Immoral Speculation

Space Dinosaurs - The Real Enemy
Space Dinosaurs – The Real Enemy

On Wednesday we posted an article called Moon Acreage: Sound Financial Investment or Immoral Speculation. In the interest of frank and fair debate, we have invited Maire Brophy, the said friend who purchased the moon acreage, on to give her rebuttal.

 

I am compelled by a sense of natural justice to write a repost to the scurrilous article “Moon Acreage: Sound Financial Investment or Immoral Speculation” dated September 24th, 2014.

As the ‘friend’ Ms Clarke mentioned in the article, the reasons for my purchase of this property were roundly misrepresented.

I am, as it happens, currently experiencing seriously difficulties relating to the current Dublin property bubble that, by all accounts, is not happening. This, however, is entirely unrelated to my moon land purchases.

I did not, as purported by Ms Clarke, buy moon land in order to set up a home there, despite the possible commuting issues. I’m not irrational, I know the Luas won’t reach the Moon until at least 2050, by which time I will be well retired and spending my summers on Mars and winters on Venus in a timeshare, when I’m not visiting the penguins on Pluto.

No, the moon land I purchased is simply a matter of legacy. You see I want to be remembered. And I’m very lazy, so I want to be remembered with as little effort on my part as possible.

I was left with a conundrum of how to be remembered. The traditional way to do this, I believe, is to have children. But that comes with a lot of downsides. They expect you to care for them and love them, and even occasionally feed them. So far I’ve got around this by having niblings (children of your siblings) instead of children. Niblings don’t require the day to day nurturing that your own children require, but you can still destroy their Lego creations with your space dinosaur attack and disrupt their education by trying to convince them that space dinosaurs are actually a thing.

Importantly you can also leave things to your niblings that might be passed on to their descendants.

Now let us return to the moon. The legality of the claim on the moon, and subsequent selling of the plots is certainly questionable. But the legal world around us is of our own construction and it may be that moon deed holders come to power and uphold the veracity of our claim, by the time we can actually go to the moon on the Luas. In that case future generations will attribute their wealth and status to my visionary whim (after, of course, a lot of wrangling over who actually owns the deed).

Indeed not only will I have supplied them with the right to moon land, but also with the skills to defeat the space dinosaurs that dwell there (the first of which is not to build your moon dwellings out of Lego) and will fulfil our birth-right to enslave space dinosaurs everywhere (it’s in the constitution – look it up!).

If, however, and this case is much more likely, the claim is considered to be highly questionable, well then we’ve got a long legal battle on our hands. In which the deed, bearing my name, will be discussed at length. I would expect my name to be long remembered, and possibly cursed. But the important thing is to be remembered. Not bad for something that cost 20 euro.

Like my granny always said, if you can’t be remembered for doing some great thing to improve the lot of humanity, you might as well be remembered for causing a complicated legal situation, and the subsequent protracted battle in court.

Those old sayings really are timeless.

So in response to your titular question, I would say that the purchase of moon land is neither a sound financial investment nor an immoral speculation, but rather a way to pre-emptively get back at future generations for their loud music, erratic fashions and insistence that space dinosaurs are not real.

Moon Acreage: Sound Financial Investment or Immoral Speculation

moon

The crisis is back. Dublin is facing a significant housing shortage; with buyers’ beginning to queue for five days before houses open for sale to the public. Property prices in urban areas are beginning to rise, rents are inflating accordingly, while rural areas struggle to gather enough property tax to maintain basic services. Once again as the bubble swells, it’s all beginning to feel a little bit Deja-vu, as we are assured that it is absolutely not a bubble and that there will indeed be a soft landing. People are once again desperate to get on the property ladder as soon as possible, fearing that if they wait prices will once again soar astronomically.

A nasty new trait of this second bubble however is the position of the lowest rung on the property ladder. With dramatically fewer units being built each year, many first-time buyers are being forced to buy second-hand homes. Most of these current home owners are still being scorched by negative equity, so the bottom rung is not the price of the fire-sales of the crash, but rather a price at which previous owners can afford to walk away at (unless of course you are fortunate enough to find a new estate with fixed prices opening in your area). Planners are predicting that the shortage of affordable homes in the city will push the commuter belt out as far as Louth, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow, forcing long commutes on already weary workers. It is no wonder that people are beginning to look around for alternative accommodation.

The question remains however, how far will they go this time? While the desperate among us quote house prices in Leitrim for €45,000 and less, in the Celtic Tiger Era it was not unknown for commuters to undertake a two or three hour daily trek from Gorey, Athlone, Edenderry or Portlaoise. The agreement being that it was possible to buy land and build for a fraction of the city prices and that there was no traffic on the commute once outside the city limits. Usually there was a vague Council Development Plan to improve public transport to these new urban hubs, so really these commuters were early pioneers whose properties were bound to dramatically increase in value at any time now.

A friend of mine took this reasoning one step further, and looking at the advancements being made by Virgin Galactic to commercialise space travel, she figured out that her quality of life and her work/life balance could not be diminished any further if her home was on the moon. Although not currently a feasible commute, she has made a speculative investment on behalf of the next generation and purchased a bijou plot overlooking the Sea of Tranquillity, located on the bright side of the moon, but within easy walking (bouncing?) distance of the entertainment quarter bound to be located on the dark side.

With precedents set in the land grab of America by the Mayflower settlers, and in the plantations of Ireland, the validity of this investment cannot so easily be dismissed by naysayers. The purchase from the Lunar Embassy takes advantage of the UN Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which stipulates that no government can own extra-terrestrial property, but, neglects to mention individuals and corporations. Therefore, under laws dating back to early US settlers, it is possible to stake a claim for land that has been surveyed, by registering it with the US Office of Claim Registries, and by informing the General Assembly of the United Nations, the US Government, and the Russian Government, in writing, of the legal claim. These governing bodies have several years in which to contest the claim, which they never have.

However before my friend bedecks herself in the latest in Pioneer Women’s Fashion, a few practical matters must be addressed. While investing in foreign properties was a characteristic of the first bubble, and I am sure there have been guarantees made that the Luas link will eventually get that far, one must not overlook the unique challenges having a home not only in a different timezone, but also on a different calendar. Acquiring insurance in such a volatile market will have its own quirks and ‘acts of god’ will probably require redefining. Should one decide to lease their property, or enter into time-share, contracts will have to overcome the differences in an Earth year verses a Moon year (354 days). This difference in calendar will also have to be overcome by employers in the new lands as the Working Time Act, Public Holidays and indeed the number of hours in a working day will all need reinterpretation for the new environment (a day on the Moon lasts 29.5 Earth days).

However before rushing forth to these new lands, one must stop to think of the repercussions this absentee landlordism might create. I presume the strategy to populate these new lands will be much as it always has been in human history. Just as the conquests of old, an invading wave of mercenaries shall sweep before the settlers clearing up any misunderstanding the native population might have regarding land ownership, with the colonists to follow, flag in hand, ready for planting. However this general assumption seems to be that much like the Spanish had steel and the English had long swords, that we Earthmen will have the superior weaponry to clear the moon men/ women/ super furry animals/ beings from our path. Not once has anyone stopped to consider that much like playful lambs prancing into a pack of wolves and back out again, that the moon beings have been salivating since the first moon walk waiting for us to come back. Just because they didn’t eat Neil Armstrong on sight doesn’t mean that he wasn’t a shocked and confused alien expression away from his most famous words being “One small step from man, one giant – oh my god, what the hell is tha- it’s got my leg!! It’s got my leg?!”, with Buzz running for his life in the background. Although one could also consider that much like the UN protects developing primitive tribes from the onslaught of modernisation, so too could the advanced Moon civilisation be allowing this culture to grow at its own pace organically, and they are just waiting for us to get there to start selling us the Moon equivalent of sneakers, McDonalds, Coke-Cola and gin.

We have been nominated for another award!

joan-rivers-2

We have been nominated for another award!!! This time it’s the Web Awards and we are nominated in the Best Web Only Publication category and the Best Daily Web Only Publication category. We could not be more happy or more excited by our nomination – well that is unless we win of course – then we will be happiest and most excited about winning!

But before we let all the excitement go to our heads, and start planning where we will display the trophy at home, it’s important to remind ourselves that we haven’t actually won anything yet. Judging for the Web Award isn’t a public vote; it is based on critical evaluation, not who has the most fans/friends (so we just might stand a chance!). However, there is some stiff competition in both of our categories and a lot of good sites out there.

Over the next few weeks a bank of 120 Judges will be evaluating all the nominations and compiling a shortlist of finalists. The awards will take place during a glitzy affair on October 22nd in Ballsbridge Hotel, Dublin.

 Why I respect Britney Spears

Britney

I know your eyebrow is raised with doubt, but hear me out.

To be honest like most true ‘pop’ singers her music and image ‘so of-it’s-time’ dated horribly and I think anyone would be pushed to give an example of her ‘creative genius’, but when I read the negative press surrounding her Pieces of Me Vegas show a year ago, and the fears of her being unable to handle it, it made me stop and think about this often under-estimated young woman.

January 3rd 2008, embroiled in a bitter custody battle, this young mother’s anguish overcame her resolution to follow the law and in a desperate attempt to retain custody of her children she resorted to holding them hostage. Rather than showing compassion for her plight, the circling vultures saw the long awaited fatal falter and swooped in for the spoils. This was not going to be a human-interest story; this was the closing chapter of a celebrity soap opera, bona fide entertainment. Spiteful speculation regarding the stability of her mental health emerged as she began to totter ever faster down the steps of despair. Probable causes of her unhappiness were casually bandied about while musings of a possible suicide attempt were offered up to the highest bidder. With glee, editorials arose noting the devastating impact this would have on her young children. Given that her demise was almost a foregone conclusion, comeback theories seemed like the delusions of sycophants, and yet despite this, she stood back up for another round. Dusting off the ashes, she rose in shimmering Versace; strong and determined.

Britney is not the idea of a perfect role model, but it is her ordinariness and faults which grant her a degree of distinction. Don’t get me wrong, she is no Madame Currie, Rosa Park or Mother Teresa, but neither is she a character in a Disney movie with a perfect princess life. Britney has to strive for the banal and the mundane, the perfection in the daily events which most people take for granted and which she lost at an early age. She is one of the few people who can honestly say that money, fame and talent alone could not make her happy, but rather the people in her life affect her. That is not to paint her blameless for her misery, but rather to point out her fallibility. She is not a self-sufficient rock, capable of creating and sustaining her own joy, she is deeply affected and disaffected by external influences. Despite this, she managed to withstand a tsunami of global condemnation, disapproval and voyeuristic disgust and came out the other side.

However what strikes me most is the nature of that disgust. Britney is not a murderer, a paedophile, or a thug. She did not steal, she did not harm and she did not encourage her fans to follow her actions. All she really did was turn her back on Hollywood and appear ungrateful for her success. Like a teenager of 16, she rebelled against what was expected of her, using the strongest tool in her arsenal to shatter her suffocating image; the world’s media. She parted company with every experienced and controlling elements in her life, ignored all responsibilities and leapt from the ship of moderation. She stayed out late, ate junk food, took drugs and stopped working. Unfortunately for Britney, at 26 she was too old to spin this rebellion as normal teenager angst. She called into question the worth of the Pop Princess lifestyle, the Hollywood Dream and began a search for some other meaning for her life. The backlash was inevitable.

Without the protection of her family, management team or agents, the smear campaign against her went unchallenged. What started as allegations were soon reported as fact, and when the facts were not shocking enough, whispers of a young life quenched prematurely began, a modern day James Dean. Her life became so insubstantial that her death became a source of gossip. What began as innocent rebellion spiraled into unstoppable destruction.

Did she find more? I’m not sure. Like most teenagers she probably spent a lot of time, tears and energy searching for what she already had. But unlike most teenagers, Britney did it while her public life was scrutinized in the world’s media and her private life was picked apart by a federal court. Since her initial breakdown she has slowly rebuilt the lifestyle she so glibly obliterated two years before. She stabilised her home life to create a positive environment for her sons and went back to work. In just 12 months she released a critically acclaimed album, regained her touring fitness and stepped back into a world which had savaged her so completely.

Could I do it? Could you do it? I’m not sure, but I do think that to a degree fight, determination and ambition eclipses her faults like a fabled hero’s bravery. She questioned the status quo and was met with furious wrath and condemnation; a lesser person would have buckled and slunk off to obscurity. A lesser person would not pick themselves up and climb back into the ring for another round. And there she stands, one year later, half way through the tour they said would break her – she is still looking fighting fit to me.

c Milton Venture / Broadimage
c Milton Venture / Broadimage

We were shortlisted! Can you believe it!?!

Blog Awards

We are so excited over here at AHMBC Towers to have been shortlisted in the Blog Awards 2014. We have been shortlisted in two categories: Lifestyle Blog and Group Blog.
When we started all this back in March, who knew we would have gotten this far this fast? And while we are still finding our feet, (trying to work out the techie parts and figuring out how to trapthat mercurial SEO) we are really proud of our achievements thus far, and we could not have done it without our steady stream of loyal readers, so thank you very much.
This honour has given a real boost of confidence to our little blog. We figure if we can get shortlistedfor such a prestigious award in six short months, what will the next year hold for us? How far can the dizzying heights of success take us? Will we have pencil cases with our logo on them, small childrenwalking around with my haircut (boys and girls), people stopping us in the supermarkets and not justbecause they think we are stealing things?
Who knows? But before we get carried away, let’s hold tight and see how it goes on the big night. These are two tough categories and we are up against some very talented and worthy competitors. Our Mums are already on the hotline to Saint Jude and if you find yourself with a few spare moments, feel free to offer up a short prayer for us to any deity of your acquaintance.
If you fancy coming down to see how it all pans out, the award ceremony takes place at a Gala dinner on 4th October in the Westgrove Hotel in Clane, we would love to see you on the night.

WE ARE NOMINATED!!

Blog Awards

That’s right we have been long listed for … not one… not two …. but FIVE of the Blog Awards for 2014!! We are thrilled and amazed and excited, and like an X-Factor hopeful wittering at Dermot O’Leary, we want to thank everyone who made this possible, while at the same time trying to plug for votes!

What are the blog awards?

Billed as the Oscars of Irish blogging, the Blog Awards are a celebration of blogging in Ireland. They pool through the thousands of Irish Blogs and put forth a long list of nominations in 32 categories. This long list is then assessed by a panel of judges and whittled down to the very select short list, from which a winner is selected and announced at a Gala dinner on 4th October in the Westgrove Hotel in Clane. Not sure E!News will be making an appearance, but we are certain that we will be sashing down a red carpet in front of TV3 cameras at least, being asked by Xpose “who are you wearing?” and being air-kissed by Amy Huberman.

What are we up for?

We have been nominated in five different categories: Lifestyle, Humour, Group, Newcomers and Food & Drink.

What can you do?

At this stage, continue as you always have. Keep reading and sharing the articles and commenting as you go. Without you guys we wouldn’t have even gotten this far!

You know you are old when…

Up Disney

Grey hairs, a trick knee/hip/shoulder, the odd wrinkle – the clues that show your body is aging are very clear, but the clues to show your mind is following can be more elusive…
1. “Kids today” refers to people in their mid to late twenties rather than their teens.
2. Mylie Cyrus’s antics read like a re-run of the Madonna playbook, only with less singing ability as if anyone thought that was possible.
3. You can’t watch twilight without getting flashbacks to your own years of teenaged angst when everything was so dramatic, so heartfelt, and god, so deep man – oh and of course, nobody knew a love like yours.
4. Pension talks are no longer an excuse to catch an hour’s kip at work – now you bring a pen and notebook to take notes for those who might miss it.
5. Your friends are all on drugs – but now they are prescribed and legal.
6. While intrigued by it, you can’t help but note that some of the antics in Fifty Shades Of Grey were not up to any Health and Safety code.
7. You are no longer “really fit” and people have begun to refer to you as spry, or being very active “for your age”.
8. A good pub is one where you can get a seat; a great pub is one where you can sit down and hear what people are saying over the music.
9. Your credit card statement reads as a who’s-who of DIY stores, supermarkets and carparks.
10. Songs banned from radio in your twenties are now considered classic rock.

Oh, I really wish I could, but I just don’t have the time

C21. Time v2
New Year, New You: I don’t know what they put in the mulled-wine around Christmas that make us so aspirational and optimistic about what the next year will bring, but if you’re anything like me, much of your New Year chatter pontificated grandly on the wonderful things you were going to achieve in 2014, while you lazed on the couch with a second piece of pudding drenched brandy butter watching re-runs of old year-end quiz shows. “Sure I need the second piece, because next week I’m going to start marathon training so I’ll need the extra poundage for energy, gives me a bit to lose”.

January is usually a good month – everything is new and exciting; I set goals and stick to them (“Look at me go, I’m going to be ripped in no time”). End of January into February I tend to lag a bit; payday shows up so I am no longer too broke to do anything other than run laps of the local track for entertainment. Mid-February I usually get a new spurt of guilt–induced determination, but this second wind passes more quickly than the initial enthusiasm, so much of March is spent guiltily watching deadlines pass unfulfilled. By April I give up and embrace full out denial – “Run in the Dublin Marathon, sure I never said I’d do that – are ya mad?” and then December rolls around again “My New Year’s resolution? The 2015 Dublin Marathon – yeah, I know, big right? It’s going to be epic. Could you pass the crisps? I need to stock up on energy.”

Look, it’s good to have aspirations, everyone should dream big, but going from that Christmas inertia to the New Year hyper-drive and keeping that momentum for a whole year can be hell, and quickly these beautiful aspirations morph into ugly frustrations and become yet another stick of dissatisfaction to beat yourself down with. But I don’t think that is a reason to stop trying, just a reason to change the approach.

Over the last few years I noticed that the biggest reason my new hobbies fell by the wayside was Time; it was fine in the winter when everyone was hibernating, but as the spring and summer start up there are so many things going on that I develop acute FOMO (fear of missing out) and just do not have the time to do it all. In an ideal world I would have the money and resources to hire a large staff to prepare my daily schedule to ensure I got the most from each day, but until that day rolls around (and it will) here are some tips I used to scrape back some time and avoided missing deadlines. Some of them are difficult to start, but if you have perseverance, like a kid taking up smoking for the first time, they soon become unbreakable habits.
• Stop slouching on the couch after work – instead try use this time constructively. I know, you’re exhausted; it’s been a long day, the traffic was hell, all you want to do is flake out…. but, what if instead of that you had dinner, did a project/training for an hour and went to bed early. Not only would you feel that you achieved something that day, you will also feel less like a hamster on a wheel as though your whole life is an endless cycle of working and sleeping and working again.

• Limit your TV viewing/ book reading/ movie watching/ game playing. I am not saying any of the above are evil, and god knows every so often it’s all you’re fit for, but if you reduce the amount of time you take in media (except this blog obviously), it frees up some time for you to create and output material.

• Write down (honestly – you don’t have to show it to anyone, it’s just for you) what you spent your time doing for a week. Not only will this keep you more focused on being productive, it will also highlight the 30 min you spent gazing out the window, brushing your hair or watching You-Tube videos of people falling over.

• Multi-task – link tasks which require you to do things without really thinking, with tasks which require you to think without doing anything. Examples; Listen to podcasts about day-job/current affairs/blogging while walking the dog. Watch that recording of your favourite must-see TV show over dinner. Call your Mum while you are sorting the laundry. Do the ironing while catching up with your partner’s day. Let your mind wander and have space to think as you do the hovering.

• Get a To-do list; a daily one and a long term one. On the daily list, every item you need to do (within reason) goes on and then comes off one at a time. Not only does it keep you focused but you can also see what you got done that week which gives you motivation to stay productive. There are some tricks with this however
• Break up items into bite-sized tasks. Don’t put on ‘Decorate Bathroom’ as that is a long term task, instead put on ‘pick colour scheme’ ‘buy paint’ ‘research storage ideas’ ‘purchase storage’ etc.
• Don’t assign tasks to days – just do what you can today, and do the rest tomorrow. How do you eat an elephant? – one bite at a time. Approach your list the same way. It will all get done eventually.
• Only add what you need to do – I know everyone loves a clean home; but are any of the family going to catch TB if you don’t hoover again today? If not, then there is no need to add it to the list.
The long term list should be the big things you want to get done in the coming months. This will help you keep your eye on the prize and avoid getting lost in the minutiae of the daily list.

• Every moment is valuable so use it to the full. Instead of wasting an hour lunch regurgitating the same gossip day-in day-out, do something useful; go on a walk, take a trip to the gym, make those household phone calls, if you’re at home – do some housework. If you commute make this time work for you too; treat it as your ‘you’ time – read a book, listen to music, catch up with friends, speak to your partner, this can be quality time if you let it.

• Stop getting hangovers, which for me meant stop drinking. Again, not because drink is evil, but because I got 3 day hangovers that wiped out my whole weekend. Now I have two extra days in the week, plus I am saving money on taxis – added bonus.

• Allow yourself to occasionally crash. It is not possible to run at 100%, 100% of the time. Listen to your body and mind when it says it can do no more and embrace it. Catch up on the telly/books/games etc you have been avoiding, recharge the batteries and be ready to go again tomorrow.

• Ask for and accept help. When I am chasing a deadline I ask my husband to do a little more than his share of the housework, just as I pick up the slack when he is under pressure. I have asked friends for a dig out with guest blogs. I asked my sister to pick up fabric while she was over in Blanchardstown. If you don’t ask, people won’t know you need help, but just be careful to keep this as give-and-take and return the favours in your quieter times.

• Be prepared: Jot down ideas as they occur to you, so that when you can make time for writing the time is used productively, rather than staring out the window with writers block. Stack your gym mat and weights close to the telly, so you can quickly set up when you have time for that exercise video.

• Do not procrastinate. If you can do it today, do, don’t wait until tomorrow, you have no idea what it will bring. Last thing you want is to be sitting in the hospital/police station/gig of your life worrying about what you should have done yesterday rather than focusing on today, or worse, having to turn down an amazing opportunity because you didn’t study for that exam yesterday and now have to do it today.

• Do as you go. It takes just as long to put a dish in the dishwasher as it does to leave it on the workspace – but it takes 10min to fill a dishwasher from a full workspace. The same applies for filing and a myriad of minor tasks. Don’t be creating unnecessary work for yourself in the future out of laziness.

• Clean and organise your home and workspace – you will get more done if you don’t have to spend hours search for tools/the other shoe/your laptop/keys/phone. Without being OCD about it, everything should have a place, and everything should be in its place. Good and plentiful storage will help with this one.

• Be realistic in your planning. It is not possible to be two places at once, give 100% attention to more than one thing, travel faster than the speed of light. Bear this in mind and don’t commit to anything which requires any of the above. Learn to say ‘No’. It is better to say No in the start than do a bad-rush job at the 11th hour, or worse, miss the deadline and let someone down.
With all that said there are some important thoughts I would like to leave you with;
• Accept from the outset that you cannot do it all. It is not possible to be a CEO that works 18 hours a day and simultaneously be a stay at home mom that pushes swings and bakes apple pies. Unless you can time travel no amount of time-saving can change that fact. You can however be a CEO that works 8-10 hours a day, plays with the kids in the evenings and bakes pies at the weekend.
• Be in the moment. Multitasking banal chores is one thing, but do not be so busy that you miss the important moments. If you schedule in time to see your friends or go out for dinner, then do that. Put the phone at the bottom of your bag and focus on where you are. The twitter feed can wait; this is the stuff that you are saving time elsewhere to enjoy.
• There is a priority triangle (similar to the food triangle, but inverted): it goes family, friends, paying bills, other stuff. The top 3 can switch around depending on your stage in life but they always sit above ‘other stuff’. If the addition of yet another project/goal/activity causes ‘other stuff’ to take too large a proportion of your life, then you may have to accept that at this moment you are overstretched, and perhaps it would be better make a different New Year’s resolution and leave the marathon running for another time.

Castletown House Protest: Long Read

Is the Right-of-Way debate in Castletown House Demesne missing the bigger picture?

http://www.castletown.ie/
Copyright http://www.castletown.ie/

There is an unfortunate but inalienable truth that for a historical structure to survive these trying times it must prove itself useful. Like a grand old dame whose lustre is fading, they must either find a rich benefactor to fall in love with them and look after them in old age, or, continue to turn a profit, because while the old age pension provided by the OPW will keep them from an early grave, it will not keep them in the manicured lawns and bustling household staff they have become accustomed to, for that they need a second source of income. However it is the source of this income that has become the hot topic.

The OPW staff are a little like nurses for the elderly, they keep the old dear tipping along on life-support but rarely do they inject a new lease of life, and, despite all their good works, they are under skilled in business acumen. But the difference between the two lies in the appropriate value that profit plays in their professions; while we would not want our medical professionals to make decisions based on a financial return on investment, we conversely do not want the OPW to save every old building regardless of the cost. The OPW must be clear on their motivations for intervention and must be able to justify the expenditure required to save these edifices from ruination, particularly now at a time when our government is cutting back on services provided to the most vulnerable across all levels of society.

However it is in the pursuit of the justification of expenditure that I feel Mary Heffernan, General Manger of the OPW has found herself in difficulties and embroiled in yet another PR disaster in Castletown House.

Over the last two years (and possibly longer), the OPW have done a spectacular job in the demesne surrounding Castletown House; they have cleared paths, removed graffiti, build new bridges, reinstated crumbling walls and resurrected falling features, to name just a few examples of success, and all this takes money out of (what I assume is a tight) budget. They need to protect that investment and show its return long term, and there would be yet another public outcry if they were seen to be squandering money; upgrading facilities only to have them vandalised and then upgraded again. Everyone agrees protection is needed; the disagreement is the form it should take.

The OPW have proposed that in order to protect this investment they plan to erect a fence either around or across the demesne (Lucan Gazette, Jan 16th 2014) to keep out antisocial behaviour, a plan which I feel has two fatal flaws.
The first is with the security a fence offers – my main concerns being with both the cost and effectiveness of a fence.

Having recently enclosed my postage-stamp of a garden, I know these things do not come cheap, and having still found trampled flowers in the search of lost balls, I know that these things are easily scalable and do not prevent intruders (although did add to the curb-side appeal, and some interesting debates from the local kids about who’s turn it is to get the ball out of the crazy house, so all is not lost).

The OPW are in a similar position, albeit on a larger scale. The people of North Kildare are not shipping 1980’s style anarchists on the commuter buses back to Celbridge and Leixlip behind the OPW’s back. The antisocial behaviour they are trying to protect against comes from our community; it is our teenagers, our down-and-outs and the people at the fringes of our community, and for that reason a fence is simply ineffective. Not only will these people, who know the area better than any staff member in the OPW, soon find the chink in the armour, the loose section, the missing rail, the place where it is most scalable, and be back inside to run free, but more importantly, it removes the passive security offered by passers-by’s. Teenagers do not want to go ditch-drinking where their Mum/Aunty/Neighbours/Parents’ Friends are likely to wander by at any stage; they want to go to the dark corners where the street lights don’t quite eliminate all the dark patches, where the neighbourhood busy-bodies cannot observe and report. The OPW’s fence, rather than protecting, leaves the newly beautified demesne more vulnerable, by preventing access to the respectable elements of the community. The OPW might as well go the whole-hog and encourage a two-for-one sale on spray cans down the local hardware store and be done with it.

My second issue with the OPW approach is the way they handled the response and fallout from the local community.

The confrontational statements both from within the OPW (Mary Heffernan’s casual threat to prevent people wandering the grounds at will if they campaign to keep a right of way, and her wild accusation that the people of North Kildare are only but waiting for the moment when the brave custodians of Castletown (the OPW) backs are turned so that they can burn it to the ground; Liffey Champion Jan 25th 2014) and from their supporters (Cllr Senan Griffin’s claim that the main aim of anyone who would want to be in Castletown demesne after dusk is to make a nuisance claim against the OPW; Liffey Champion Jan 25th 2014) is not helpful in these instances, and in direct contradiction to the open, welcoming behaviour I have witnessed in any of my interactions with the local staff and daily management of the House.

Worse than this however I believe these actions hinder the objective laid out at the start: to turn a profit in order to ensure the survival of Castletown House and Demesne. When the OPW’s initial plan was challenged, rather than encouraging democratic debate and inviting the community in, they froze them out. Their defensive stance and incendiary comments have served only to rile-up a galvanised and determined group of citizens, who have generated ever increasing support in the local communities and in elected representatives. The very sort of citizens who would ordinarily campaign vigorously against any threats to Castletown or her demesne have now been placed on the wrong side of the argument by the OPW. Rather than making this debate about how to protect Castletown from antisocial behaviour eliminating from elements of the community which surround her, the OPW have forced a pointless argument about a well-established right-of-way, which they intend to pursue in a costly legal battle in the courts and when they inevitably lose the argument, they then intend to be sore-losers and do their utmost to alienate everyone who was opposed their ludicrous plan. I mean really, if you saw this behaviour in a child you would scold them for being a Sulky Susan.

However it is the undercurrent of the arguments against the fence I find most interesting, because the citizens groups themselves are not above attempting the politics of fear. In their rallies they have warned that the threat to the right of way is just the first step in the OPWs insidious agenda and that their ultimate aim is to turn Castletown into another Farmleigh and (queue the music for the shocking reveal) charge an entrance fee.

Now there are two small problems with that argument, the first being that Farmleigh is actually a very nice well-maintained establishment, which many people would be delighted to have on their doorstep. The second is that they do not charge an entrance fee, in fact they give free tours of the house regularly throughout the day. In addition the OPW have already shown that regardless of the right of way, they can obtain a licence to allow an entrance fee be levied on those attending events in her grounds, such as the Barbra Streisand Concert and the Big House Festival, so if that was the secret agenda it would seem it was already fulfilled before this debate has even begun.

I don’t think the politics of fear or threatening behaviour is helpful in this instance. It should not be a ‘fear’ that the OPW need Castletown to have a revenue stream, and the OPW should not be threatening the very people that have the disposable income to provide the revenue stream. In an ideal world both should work together to find the ways that this grand old building can survive and even flourish.
To date the OPWs search for revenue has left many possible avenues unexplored. One of the more revealing statements from Mary Heffernan was her target audience for Castletown: she wants to aim it at old people and children (Liffey Champion Jan 25th 2014) – not really the ‘big spenders’ in our society, and we have seen evidence of this agenda being pursued in the likely demographic of their two biggest events so far: Barbra’s sing-along and the Big House old-timers line up. But more revealing was the very exclusionary pricing for both of these events; I don’t think you would have seen many local hard-pressed pensioners at Barbra or struggling young families at the Big House. I think you would have seen the affluent few who helicoptered in for the event and then shipped straight back out; a group which of course are good for a quick hit, but will not be a sustainable market long-term, as they are lured off by the next big thing.

In the long-term I think Mary would do better to look at the people who are already using Castletown and work out a way to entice a few shillings out of them. The free concerts in the summer were a good start, as was the Courtyard Café, but unfortunately so far they have remained a good plan, poorly executed.

Located in the old kitchens, the café itself is poky and small, it is hidden around the back of the house, so unless you know it’s there or are right up in the front lawn you won’t stumble upon it and worst it alienates two of the three biggest groups that use Castletown Demesne: dog walkers and young families looking for a free day out (athletes/walkers/runners being the third group). The café is too small and cramped to let young children wander as they tend to, and dogs are most definitely NOT WELCOME.

However, these problems have an easy fix:

  • Extend table service to the outer courtyard (which is less than 2m away) to allow dog walkers in control of their animals eat comfortably. Establish and enforce strict rules for misbehaving dogs (although to be honest the community of dog walkers will quickly rebuke the owner of an out of control or badly behaved dog).
  • Place tables out the front of the house, it doesn’t matter if these are not used regularly; they advertises the café is open.
  • Encourage picnickers (usually young families) to come use the tables to the front of the house, not only will it create a buzz, inevitably even if these folks bring sandwiches and refreshments, they will spend money on a cup of tea and a cake nine times out of ten.
  • Erect a temporary shelter such as a marquee over part of the outdoor café (that is compatible with the rules around construction at a protected structure). This means that you do not force everyone into a small poky café when it rains and you can still welcome dogwalkers in the colder months.
  • Place tables and seats around the front lawn when free concerts are going on, and provide blankets. This will allow people to sit and listen to the music (and probably wander into the café for a cuppa and a treat) even when the wind there turns chilly as it tends to even in the summer months.

By introducing these few, but game changing amendments to the current set up the Courtyard Café, it means this venture is no longer competing for the same business that the already established award winning café in the Orchard down the road is winning, or of the numerous small cafes in the villages surrounding Castletown – it has moved itself into a different, untapped, and above all potentially lucrative, market.

While dipping their toes in that market, there are a few other suggestions they could research:

  1. House Tours: In the more than 30 years that I have lived less than 5 miles from front door of Castletown House, I have never been past the front lobby (I have however been in the working kitchens and what was the household’s staff restrooms, so I am not really sure what that says about my station in life, or how little the role of the local townspeople have changed in the life of Castletown House!). I have been on school tours to many/most of our national monuments and as an adult popped into any of the rest with a good tour. I don’t like just wandering around a place, I like being told the story, the history, and I am prepared to pay a few pounds for the pleasure. Before the unseemly debate over the right of way, seeing the local knowledge in some members of the citizens groups, these people might have been the ideal recruits for this role.
  2. Monthly Weekend Farmers & Crafts Market: Again, I personally have travelled up to an hour to get to a good one, and seeing the success of Bloom every year, this is certainly a lucrative market if approached correctly. My only caveated would be to have it go on longer than 12am – I don’t know what it is with the assumption that if you want to eat healthy you obviously get up at 9am on a Saturday or Sunday morning.
  3. Organised Athletic Events: Help local runners in their development by organising timed runs. Run them through varied scenery or different routes that are normally taken – open out the unexplored parts of the grounds, which will in turn offer passive security in these areas later.
  4. Organise Walks: Castletown has interest native flora, it is a managed landscape and a mature forest, and organised walks will exploit these advantages, and again provide passive security in those more secluded areas. Evening walks at dusk would also reveal some beautiful night time photographic opportunities, and again before the unseemly right of way debate some of the members of the citizen groups might have been ideal recruits for this venture.
  5. Fishing lessons: Again, linked into a house tour and an organised walk might be great for school aged kids, and is a rapidly evaporating national sport.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture that there are so, so many possibilities for Castletown House and Demesne to generate revenue which encourages the local community rather than alienating them, which the OPW have left untapped. If their big idea was to erect an expensive fence, charge a few quid entrance fee and create a hostile community in the hopes of funding Castletown’s Resurrection, then they would want to think again.

While they are thinking again, I would also encourage them to reconsider the dawn to dusk proposal. I actually agree with Mary on this one: in many parks up and down our country, for various reasons, parks operate this policy to the contentment of all including the local community. If we take Farmleigh as our shining example which closes promptly at 5.30pm, the significant difference between Farmleigh and Castletown Demesne is that one is surrounded by more than 7km2 of grassland, and the other is surrounded by a suburban infrastructural maze. If you go for a walk to Farmleigh and discover it closed, there is no problem, you can walk the beautiful Phoenix Park instead, however, if get to Castletown Demesne and find it locked, your only other chance is to go back to pounding the pavement.

I am not sure if Mary is aware but we have a suicide crisis in this country at moment, not among Mary’s target audience of old people and kids, but in the population that makes up the vast majority, young and middle-aged adults. A huge number of deaths are being linked to stress and the overwhelming feeling of having an inability to cope. While I do not think Castletown Demesne is the silver bullet for this problem, I think there is a lot to be said for providing a big free open space, where people can leave their worries and concerns behind and just walk, jog or run. Breath deep, take long strides, realise that there is a world outside the office, there is a world away from condensed mind-blogging confusion of civilisation, there is life outside their problems. They get time to put things into perspective. It’s a small thing, but a lifeline for so many. Close it at dusk, and in the winter months particularly, it means that any of the stressed commuters of Dublin City or City West (the vast majority of the Celbridge, Leixlip, Maynooth residents who use the grounds) would be unable to use this space for months, as sunrise is usually 8.30am and sunset 4.00pm, most people’s normal working hours, and that is to say nothing of the hundreds of shift workers in the locality. I would suggest (and unfortunately I do not know the woman to be sure) that the reason Mary doesn’t care if her local park closes at dusk (Liffey Champion Jan 25th, 2014) is either because she does not want to use a facility like this in the evenings, or because she has an alternative available to her. I would caution her against denying it to others simple because she herself does not require it; that is not how one operates in a harmonised, mutually-beneficial, democratic society, it’s the action of a bully.
Please Note: There is a Protest Walk taking place on April 13th, 2014 (this Sunday) at 11.00 am from the Castletown Gates organised by the Castletown Right of Way Group.

Blog Life – Following V’s Stalking

What’s the difference online?

C33. following2

Recently I have been trying to build the public profile of our little blog. One of accepted ways of doing this by visiting similar blogs or websites and adding comments on their articles, while subtly namedropping your own blog. The other thing to do is to follow everyone who follows you (even if this kind of means you are going around in circles).

Simple I thought.

This started out casually. I found a few blogs I liked that were ‘on brand’, read an article, had something to say about it, and popped in a comment. No change in stats.
So I read two or three articles, on even more sites, left a comment on each and hoped for a reply. No reply. No change in stats.

I was feeling a little unloved and rejected, but preserved. Making new friends is a bit like dating, you have to dust yourself off and try again.

And then I noticed that a few of the bloggers I was observing (read: at this stage, targeting) attended a meeting here in my own city. I need to know more. Where had it been? Where would the next one be? How could I organise an invite?

And this is where I felt I crossed the line.

I was no longer a casual follower, content to see where these people were going, I was now a predicator, hunting these people, trying to predict their next move. I had made the metaphysical leap from politely walking up to their front door and introducing myself, to hiding in their bushes and screaming my own name as they walked by.

It was easier to tell where this line was in the old days before internet. Followers were the sort of people who went to regular meetings in the parish hall, listened to the talk while munching on tea-cakes and didn’t think about it until the next meeting. If you had over 400 of them, you set up your own religion, L. Ron Hubbard style. Stalkers were the peeping toms who bought high-powered binoculars and waited outside windows for women to undress.

I don’t want to be a tom. I don’t want to be riffling through the post and discover not only have UPC upped their prices yet again for no reason, but I have been served a restraining order against someone I barely know and was kinda hoping to befriend.

Although trying to join an online community for a purpose is different from establishing friendships. It is really networking corporate style, whether we like to admit it or not. I am hoping that I and these bloggers will establish a mutually advantages following arrangement which brings forward both our endeavours – ‘friends with benefits’ if you will, rather than ‘victim and perpetrator’.

In a modern era, these concepts have taken on a whole new life. There was a day where it took the skills of Paul Daniels to follow more than one person at once, whereas these days it might be considered a little creepy or stalker-ish to be only subscribed to one blog or website, it’s the equivalent of having only one Facebook friend. It’s like fidelity and monogamy have taken on the seedy undertones that used to be associated with polygamy.

Also, it is totally acceptable to constantly and continuously follow someone like Niall Horan through social media; to be updated on his every move, and that of his social circle, and to be checking that information on a PC in your mother’s basement if you so choose. But try to hang out with him in person by showing up a few places unannounced and suddenly you are having a long detailed discussion with security and the police about your inappropriate stalking behaviour.

I feel like technology needs to come up with a solution to this problem, so you can tell when you are going over the mark. There should be some automated communication that says something like;

Dear Social-Media Recipient

Congratulations you are now following thirty blogs.

Unfortunately you are also stalking fifteen, please stop.

Yours
The Internet .

Otherwise people, not unlike me, will continue to post comments, follow blogs, and reach out for a little bit of bloggin’ love, without realising that the demarcation of social acceptability is somewhere behind them in the distant horizon.

So how does one do it? Answers on a postcard please – How does one join an online community, become one of the gang, insinuate themselves into their trust so that … no wait I’ve gone over the line again.

Dogs Don’t Eat Crisps

Life Myths, a fact or fiction section where we weed out the truth from the random clap-trap people wheel out.

5. Life Myths

Here are just a few observations I have gleamed from life so far which I have categorised into two groups; I buy that or total balderdash.

1. Dogs don’t eat crisps.

Dogs eat the sides of tables, shoes, their own bed, and if you don’t stop them the cats’ litter tray, of course they eat crisps.

2. Cats don’t eat crisps.

Now this one I felt held more water, but unfortunately, when tested fell through. The cat will eat whatever you eat, if only because you looked like you were enjoying it. I think it’s a trust thing – if it hasn’t killed the royal taster then it probably won’t kill the cat.

3. Dogs and cats SHOULDN’T eat crisps.

Now this one I believe. I’m not a vet or anything, and haven’t asked one in case they take my animals away for their own safety, and I am sure there has never been a cat or dog fed solely crisps to test it, but I feel like this one is more than a factoid – I think it could be a fact.

4. You need to live in the countryside to keep hens – you cannot do it in a housing estate.

Not true. If you have a patch without concrete or stones about 2m x 1m that you can pop a hen house on, call the council to get yourself a flock number and a local farmer to get you a couple of hens and away you go. Just bear in mind that hens poop EVERYWHERE so enclose the area, and it is not safe for little hands who are likely to touch the poop and then put those hands in their mouth to play around hens (plus hens can be fairly trigger happy with the ole pecks and those beaks are hard). Little hands that are more germaphopic should be fine.

5. Your neighbours would prefer if you lived in the countryside if you are going to keep hens.

Judging from the cooling of relations with our neighbours over the hens that woke up at 5.30am and announced the new day to the world – I’m going to say this is a fact.

6. You need to live in the countryside to keep a sheep or a pig

This one is also a fact. It seems like a great idea initially; the sheep can live in the front garden, trim the grass and give milk; the pig can live in the back garden and eventually we will eat it. Then you meet a full grown sheep and realise those huge teeth in the front are actually bone and sheep are terrifying, or, you meet a full grown pig and realise it would have no qualms eating you, cooked or not. Plus the Residents Committee are likely to picket with placards if you go this far.

7. Your school days are the best days of your life

Please tell me in what world does a day when you have no money, live at home with your nagging uncool parents and annoying siblings, are very hormonal, have bad skin and are studying hard for exams better than a day when you blow off work early, head down to the pub for a few pints, meet a nice looking someone and go home to have causal sex?

Every day that gets me further away from my awkward teenage years is the best day for me.

8. Your wedding day is the best day of your life.

Lady, all in the same day, I once found e20 in an old jacket, ordered takeaway and got it for free, spent the whole day on the couch watching great telly and then later found a mars bar down the back of that couch. No day has topped that yet.

9. Being pregnant is the most special time of your life.

This one might be true, but only because to go from pregnant to no longer pregnant a) something has to crawl out of you and b) people will judge if you opt for too many painkillers to numb the experience. I can only imagine how the time preceding that event, when you didn’t have the memories of that trauma, would seem to be very special.

10. Every day has the potential to be special

This one I buy.

Soon to follow: Things That Aren’t True but Should Be.

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