Christmas Napkins

The beauty of this craft is that it is a thousand times easier to make than it looks, and it can be completed while sipping wine and watching your favourite Christmas movie – now that is my idea of an ideal Christmas craft.

On the other hand, if you have a household of Halflings, and are looking for a way to keep them entertained on a dreary Tuesday, this will also work a treat for that (although maybe without the wine – depends on how your Tuesday is going I suppose). Even the littlest ones can join in – I usually put them in charge of adding the stickers – a sufficiently important while simultaneously sufficiently easy task.

What you will need:

Green square napkins – paper if like us you go for cheap and cheerful, linen if you’re a bit posh

Star stickers

How to

  1. First, fold it twice to get a smaller square

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Then, fold up the corner of each layer to the top and be sure to leave one inch between each fold.

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Flip the whole thing over, holding the folds.

Fold both sides to the centre. Remember to align the top of each panel to form a triangular space at the top of the napkin.

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Flip back the napkin (remember to hold it tight so it doesn’t unfold).

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Fold the upper layer to the top to form a peak of your Christmas tree. Hide lower layers’ tips underneath the upper folds.

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Now decorate with stickers

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Horrible Christmas

horrible christmas

I won’t force the whole office to partake in corporate frivolity just because my department is quiet and I am bored, because I know every other department is really busy coming up to the end of the year, trying to get projects finished before we break for the holidays.” said no HR person in history ever.

Now, don’t get me wrong, that last day or two before we break for Christmas holidays, I too am in the Christmas mood. I want to crank up Christmas FM and eat turkey for lunch, but not 4 weeks before the Christmas holidays. Not on December 1st. On December 1st I have work to do. I have a whole month of work to do before we break for the holidays and every day in that month is precious, because it’s usually the month we discover something was promised to be completed in this calendar year that has yet to be even started. It’s a very busy time for me and my team and I have no energy for people stealing that time, by wishing it away or planning corporate events that eat up hours with very little return.

I don’t know what it is about Christmas that brings out the worst in the HR department. For 11 months they are a functional, efficient department, but as soon as December 1st rolls around, out come the corporate bonding activates “Each department should decorate their work stations, and we will have a competition to see who wins”, the money wasting ideas “We have ordered gold chalices to give out as prizes at the Christmas Dinner for the people we think are the best employees, even though we have no idea how to judge who is the ‘best’ in this office as we really have no idea what you guys do, oh, and by the way, the Christmas Party this year is in the Taj Mahal” and the time wasting activities “We are forming a Corporate Christmas Choir to sing to the poor unfortunates in area surrounding head office {like their lives wasn’t hard enough around this time of year} and because we hear you run a church choir it is now mandatory that you are involved, to show corporate spirit.”

So this year, in an act of petty retaliation, I have created Horrible Christmas. It is the antithesis of what Christmas should be, because for me a corporation celebrating a religious, family holiday is the antithesis of what Christmas should be.

I started with the tree. Scared snowmen, gangrene toe in a Christmas sock, ginger bread men half eaten and terrified, rotten amputated fingers – these are the items which will adorn my corporate Christmas tree. The tree itself shall be two broken bald sticks tied together with string, badly, plunged into a pot of dirt.

Behind the tree shall be Santa’s tombstone, giving the date of the corporate memo as the date Santa died. And a skull just to underline that message (and because I already own a cool one).

Garlands shall adorn the walls – dancing zombies returning from the dead to delight in this mangled feast. Above those messages of ill-will to all far and near, so all those who gather to wonder at my creation shall be clear on the message. I thought “Winter is coming” might be a clear indication to the frosty reception those bringing good cheer to my department before December 23rd is likely to receive and “This is the winter of our discontent” signalling why we are doing it and when it is likely to stop.

Presents were next, to hang under the tree. These will be the only gifts exchanged by my department in the Korporate Kris Kindle. Gifts shall include a battery with the message ‘toy not included’, crocheted shorts, coal, tic-tacs relabled ‘snowman poo’, headless elves.

Food is next – biscuits depicting the inevitable slow painful death of all snowmen.

And the piece de resistance, a sign for the only corporate choir I will be partaking in, Foul Ole Ron’s Christmas Carollers and the Methadone Waiting List Band who at 8pm will be ‘playing the spoons to your favourite tunes’.

If all that doesn’t get us black listed from enforced corporate cheer I don’t know what will, now can we all just get back to work, there is still a month to go?!

We are closing for the Holidays

closed for Christmas

We are closing the site for the Christmas break. Just like the Houses of the Oireachtas and the influential committees of Dail Eireann, we are taking some time to be with our families and some time to be ‘in the community’ (which I have always taken as code for ‘chatting, boozing and shoring up support for the next election’). We will return rested and hopefully not hungover Monday January 12th, 2015, ready to entertain for another year.

Looking back over 2014, it has been a phenomenal year. Not only was this the year that launched A Home Made By Committee, it was the year Garth Brooks threw a public toddler tantrum, Rory McIlroy ditched his finance just after posting the invites to the wedding, and Irish Water generally made a cock-up of the whole thing.

Closer to home however this was the year Cathy shared with us some tips on weddings, her foray into motherhood, interior design with an alternative palette, life advice and a bit of gardening for good measure. Vicky endeavoured to prove that gluten-free can be delicious for the entire family with just a few cooking skills. She gave us all we need for a gluten-free Christmas, some warm hearty winter dinners and a little treat for after. She showed us how to entertain and be entertained. Chelsea joined us late but so far has put in a sterling performance giving us tips on spotting trends and how to do them better than the rest.

The Committee reached dizzing heights in this our first year of blogging, doing better than could have been expected in both the Blog Awards and Web Awards. However it wasn’t all plain sailing, we had a controversial disagreement between members over Moon Acreage – a proposal and rebuttal. And hit rocky ground while trying to navigate our way in this new blogging world.

Overall 2014 has been good for us and to us, and we cannot wait for 2015. Wishing you and yours a Wonderful Christmas and that the New Year brings you luck and happiness.

Love

The Committee Members

Long Read – Women against Pregnant Women

women against pregnant women

 

This post was conceived as an impassioned plea on behalf of new fathers to receive more assistance from society (via the government) to allow them the time to bond with their children. But after an incident in a local hair salon* it has become a rant against women.

(*As a side note – any politician who wants to know what the pressing issues are for their female constituents needs to get their arse into a hair dressers or beautician’s chair. I don’t care if your hair is only an inch long and in perfect condition, this is where women talk to women, and where women chatter, issues are aired.)

Let me take a step back and set the scene. I was sitting in a hairdressers chair flicking thought the latest OK Magazine, gossiping about Kate Middleton’s maternity style (ok, sometimes when women chatter nothing meaningful is discussed, but stick with me) when the girl dying my hair told me she was pregnant. I was so excited for her I think I may have squealed aloud. I don’t know what it is about pregnancies and engagements – they just excite and delight everyone even if they are random strangers – or so I thought. However the girl (perhaps a little overwhelmed by my excitement wondering if I thought I was going to be made godmother or something) informed me that no, in fact not everyone was excited about pregnancies, and proceeded to tell me that she had told several of her regular clients that she was pregnant, and far from congratulating her, they were actually very put out. The manners their Mamma taught them made them grind out an ‘Oh how wonderful for you’ through gritted teeth and then straight away ask ‘when will you be gone and more importantly when will you be back’ – words which if said in an office would evoke the same sort of shocked silence a racist slur would arouse, so absolutely known is it that that is not the correct response to happy news.

But not here. Everyone surrounding waits for this young girls reply. She hesitantly admits (admits!) that she is due December 23rd, so she is finishing up December 8th, two weeks before her due date as set out in the legislation, (bearing in mind that her profession requires her to stand all day long, when I know that at 8 months it was a problem for me to sit all day long, so as far as I’m concerned she is cutting it fine, but there you have it.) ‘So you will be gone for Christmas? So I’ll need to find someone else to do my hair?’ is spat back at her with a scowl that could sour milk ‘Can you not work until Christmas, surely that would be better, a little cash for you going into Christmas.’

At this point I would like to interject with a little context. This is a conversation between two women, two women who know each other, albeit casually, for more than five years. One is an older lady with children, the client, and the other is a younger first time mother who relies on repeat regular clients for her livelihood. In essence this is a conversation between an employer and employee.

And I would like to take this one step further. Let’s take the words of the client and put them into a balding, sweating, middle-aged male business owner and replay the situation; girl tells boss that she is pregnant – boss aggressively questions her plans for leave during the busy season and implies there will be no job for her when she returns to work …. And let it percolate… And now let’s speculate how long (and I mean in terms of minutes) do you think it would take that girl to find a solicitor ready to sue that boss for unfair dismissal on grounds of pregnancy. Not only would the case not take long, and her success guaranteed, but so protected are pregnant women in employment law that I assume she would win big. Even if only a supervisor or colleague had said it I assume that there would be more than pregnancy weight filling out her back pocket.

Now let’s step back into the salon. Is the hairdresser able to sue? No, she is self-employed talking to a customer whose business she needs. Is she able to say she is unhappy with the client’s reaction and that it is upsetting to her? Again, no, because she is self-employed talking to a customer whose business she needs, who knows that she is about to lose a lot of regular customers because she dared have a personal life and a family life. So instead she has to try and laugh it off, pray that she doesn’t go into labour early and try to imply without committing that actually she will probably be only gone for a short period of time, and will probably be back to work on Saturdays really quickly, probably within the month.

The double standard at play here is mind boggling to me. How some women safe in regulated office jobs are treated so completely different to those who dared branch out on their own to be self-employed, not by the law, but by the women that surround them.

When I sat down to write this post I was thinking about the Dads. I was thinking how unfair it is that women get several months paid maternity leave and Dads are not even entitled to one day. I was looking to the Danish and Swedish models and thinking why can’t we be more like them? But actually, after the above incident, I have realised that we are actually much further apart than I could have realised. Far from supporting fathers (who are important and I’ll cover that again) we need to start supporting mothers.

Pregnancy, particularly unexpected pregnancies, can cause huge dramatic changes in a person’s life. We as a society need to be assuring young women that of all the things that will change, one thing that will remain secure is their employment. This is not something that a government can change or a law can change, we need to change. We need to stop being so selfish and self-centred and look beyond a minor inconvenience to see the bigger picture, a miracle growing before your eyes. There is going to be a new life, a new person in the world, who will fundamentally change all those around them. And although you might be only witnessing this as a stranger on the outside, the very least you can do is cause no harm. Don’t stress a young mother unnecessarily. Don’t be nasty and let her hear the branch creak below her. Support her. Say honestly and openly ‘Oh how wonderful for you’ – no strings attached. When she is gone, make other arrangements and when she is ready, and her child is ready, and her family are ready, for her to return to work, let her do so, in the same way as is afforded every other woman in the state.

What bothered me most about this incident is that it was woman to woman; mother to mother. As a society we have already decided that it is in our combined interest to protect women and allow them to have children and then return to the workplace. That is why we have such strong laws in the area. But as individuals we have somehow forgotten why our predecessors fought so hard for those laws. It’s not the male dominated culture of the board room, or the non-family-friendly policies of faceless big business, or any of the other excuses that are trotted out by HR journals, at work here. It’s just plain stupidity, ignorance and selfishness. Sometimes that’s more toxic.

 

Please note the details of this post have been altered to protect the identities of those involved.

Turkeys for Christmas

turkey dinner

There is no denying that times are definitely hard when you are planning to put two of your pets in the oven for Christmas dinner. The recession changed many things about me, but when those two handfed lovelies hopped out of the boot of my car, trusting in me implicitly as their provider not to lead them astray, and followed me to the shed where they would be slaughtered, my heart hardened a little in a way that can never be undone. But let me back track a little and explain how we got to this point.

It was October, the allotment was on the wind down, the chickens were settled in and I was ripe for a new challenge. We were also tightening our belts and looking for ways to save a few shillings, when I was hit with a brainwave; what about raising turkeys for Christmas? We could buy two and give one to each of our parental homes as Christmas presents, the cost of turkeys as chicks being a fraction of the value of a fully grown hand-reared organic turkey.

John said No; it was coming into the winter months, when nobody wants to be out doors; turkeys die really easy and as he was in charge of all things deceased in our home, he was not opening the door to two more potentially dead things. No.

I decided to ignore him and arranged with my favourite organic farmer to come down and pick out two poults (I had googled the word for turkey chicks so as not to sound like a total novice).

Now I have to admit to you, in October, I was late to the rodeo. Most people get their poults in July to fed up for December, but in actual fact it was to our advantage that we got the birds older as they were much more robust than they would have been as very young chicks, and therefore their survival rate was much higher.

When I got to the farm the first thing I noticed was that these young turkeys were not small, at about seven weeks old these things were already about the size of a fat domesticated cat, and they were already bigger than our hens at home. However they did not know the power of their size and were some of the most timid farmyard animals.

Two were selected (the easiest to be caught), money changed hands (e8 a pop – total mates rates as they were half reared) and they were put in a box in the boot of my car, with a strict reminder to feed them organic feed. Sorted.

Meep. Meep. The cutest noise I heard every time the noise of the car engine subsided.

I got home, backed up the car boot to the side gate, took out the box (meep. meep. meep.) and put it in the backyard inside the chicken hut. It was already dark by the time I got home so I decided to leave them there until the morning.

The next morning awoken by squawking chickens, I went out to get the feed sorted, only to discover two baby turkeys huddling in the corner of the chicken hut while one pushy chicken (its mate was asleep upstairs) strutting in front of them clearly giving a detailed lecture about who was in charge and who was very much not. It was like watching fresh meat in a jail house.

I put down some chicken feed and took the turkeys out of the chicken hutch. I had always intended them to be fed separately; the chickens staying on their organic layers pellets and the turkeys getting some nice fattening organic turkey meal bought in Ballinahown, Offaly (we bought it as we were passing; it is certainly not the closest place to Dublin in which it is stocked). Turns out however that turkey meal must be nicer than layers pellets because that chicken went berserk at the idea that the fresh meat was getting better treatment, and got her mate out of bed to help with the protest. I gave them a little to shut them up – I know, soft touch – but it actually resulted in slightly yellower yokes, so silver lining.

The next thing to come was the sleeping arrangements. In my innocence I assumed, as the cold October nights were creeping in, that two chickens in a roost built for 6 would welcome the extra body heat two young turkeys would bring. Well not on your life. Those two aule boots sat on the roosting bar at the top of the ramp and pecked any turkey that tried to go up. Bii-atches.

My little darlings shivered at the end of the ramp, seven weeks old not knowing what to do (can you already see the dangerous level of attachment to this source-of-future-dinner creeping in?). So I put them in the shed for the night to keep warm. And gave them a tomato each as a treat, assuring them tomorrow would be better.

The next day I went down to Woodies to look for something that would improvise as a turkey roost – not wanting to invest in anything too substantial or expensive for three months – and came up with a small dog kennel. Not perfect, more expensive than I wanted it to be, but would suffice. In hindsight I actually think that dog kennel was one of our best investments. We locked the front door and access was through the removable roof. Each night John rounded up the turkeys (they quickly became too heavy for poor little me to lift, particularly when it was raining, because I am just a delicate l’ickle girl – poor John) and put them into their nice, safe and warm kennel, meaning they were not wasting that much energy heating themselves, which translated into more energy for growing.

Over the next couple of days another problem presented itself; what would we do if one died and the other lived – whose family would we give it to? Or what happened if one was substantially bigger than the other? Not willing to play favourites we got two leg rings; one red and one blue. The Clarkes were getting the red and the Gibboni (plural of Gibbons) the blue – no changes, no swops.

The next seven or eight weeks proceeded with a certain rhythm; the turkeys had free rein of the back garden (yes, they are dirty and poop everywhere they go, but it was winter, so it’s not like we were using the garden for anything anyway) while the mean chickens stayed confined to the chicken-hut. The turkeys soon found and roosted on the old motorbike parked up for the winter in a position it turns out was perfect to catch the mid-day sun. They happily sat together on that for hours like latter day Easy Riders. They grew and grew (while still making that incredibly cute meep noise, a little like roadrunner) until they were too heavy and big to be lifted into the kennel at night.

Then it came. The first week in December. A call from my favourite farmer, to see when I would be bringing them down for slaughter. Two weeks’ time I said, guiltily trying to put it off for as long as I could. I was really enjoying owning Butch and Sundance (that was not their names, they didn’t have names, because that would make them too hard to kill, you are told clearly not to name them, so the names we did not give them were Butch and Sundance. I know – soft touch.)

Some notes about slaughtering;

1. There are all sorts of how-to guides on the internet, there are all sorts of people who trot out nonsense like “just break the neck” “my granny showed me how to do it, I’ll teach you” etc etc. To be honest I find the whole idea really repulsive. It’s one thing to raise animals for meat, that is a fact of the life, but I firmly believe if you are going to do so, it is your duty to ensure not only does that animal have the best possible life, but also that the death is as quick, painless and humane as it is possible to make it. In my opinion the only way to achieve this is getting a professional to do the job. This is no time for rookie mistakes that inflict agony on a poor bird.

2. In addition to specialised training, the government state that you need an abattoir licence to lawfully kill animals on your land. Even Enda doesn’t think this is an area for DIY.

3. It is not ok to wuse-out of killing the turkeys once December arrives. Having fattened them since birth, they will soon become too heavy for their legs to bear their weight (think of horribly obese humans unable to leave their apartments without calling the fire brigade) and this becomes another form of cruelty. Before getting the birds, you need to have considered by whom and when they will be slaughtered (as this is what they are being raised for), you commit to an action plan at the start and so at d-day you man-up and follow through.

4. In addition to slaughtering the animal, I also asked for the innards to be removed, the bird be plucked and made oven ready as it’s a specialised skill, which at the moment, I was not ready to learn.. I am open-minded about a rookie getting involved in this point of the proceedings, as the bird is already dead, but I personally declined, mainly because I thought this bit would be really gross and I am still a city-girl at heart.

So there I sat in the farmer’s kitchen, chatting to the family, eating yummy homemade cake, having a great ole time, while outside two souls I had nurtured were ushered to the next world (guilt laying on my shoulders as a heavy burden). After really a short period of time the farmer returned with two things that more resembled dinner (thank god for mental compartmentalisation or I would have starved that Christmas), and the rare but so-satisfying nod of a job well done. I had a 16 and an 18 pounder – quite the result for a first timer. Feeling very pleased with myself I dropped them off to their new homes (aka kitchens) to be prepared for Christmas.

After Christmas we did a cost analysis on the whole project (showing we still had our leaving-cert accounting skills). The tangible cost (because no real value can be put on the darkening of my soul) was a total of about e40 for both; e16 for the turkeys, e20 for the feed, and a nominal cost of e4 for the use of the kennel which we were sure to use for other projects in the future.  The value of shop bought organic turkeys of equal weight; e160-200. Result: a total success that we would definitely repeat in the future. I may even learn to pluck.