Month: September 2015

The little things in life…

Recently my husband has been travelling a lot with work and I have been doing extra hours too, so the past few weeks have been a bit of a blur. I’ve been so tired and I mentally switched to ‘survival mode’. I felt myself getting weary and negative so when I realised I had this Saturday off work I was over the moon.

I thought I would have a nice lie on, hubby would take the kids to rugby, I’d get caught up on laundry and the many other domestic necessities that come with family life.

It didn’t quite work out that way however. Two of the boys had a rugby match at one location and the youngest had training at their usual home ground so I was roped into bringing him to training.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit I didn’t really want to have to do it. It’s not that I didn’t want to see him play, or that I don’t like standing at the side of a muddy rugby pitch for hours, just that there were a million other things I knew I could be doing during that time.

Anyhow, we got up (early), gathered up the gum shields and bottles of water and we split up and headed off in our separate directions. Thankfully, the morning was dry and bright and child number three was super eager to show me all his ‘new skills’. When we arrived he bounded out of the car and went to help the coach set up. I stood back and watched, suddenly aware of how grown up and capable he had gotten. When had that happened?

Once they started training, it was visible how pleased he was to have me watching. He smiled the entire time which was so heart warming. I listened to the kids laughing. I listened to the coaches patiently instructing and explaining. Something was happening to me. I was feeling refreshed and revitalized. The sun broke through the clouds and the morning became something glorious.

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After the game, my son came running back to me, cheeks rosy and his face beaming. ‘Did you see me, Mum?’ I certainly did see him and something had changed in me. The heaviness of the past few weeks had floated away and all I had done was get out of the house for a few hours. I had witnessed my son having a great time with his rugby pals and I had had a super relaxed morning.

When we returned home the other boys hadn’t returned from their matches so we headed out to the garden. I brought some of my workout gear – skipping rope, light weights and a resistance band. With my husband away so much, and no babysitters at hand I hadn’t had a chance to get out to my usual training sessions and I realised suddenly how much I had missed it. With my energy levels increased I did a mini workout, with my son joining in. We had a good laugh, talked about staying fit and healthy and just enjoyed being together.

We are off now to buy suits for my brother’s upcoming wedding and everyone is in great form. Those few hours spent shaking off the cobwebs have restored my wellbeing and the time I had with my youngest son is stored in my happy memory bank forever.

Finding time to study again…

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Monday morning – it often fills a Sunday night with dread. Our lives are so busy that we can find ourselves wondering how exactly we are going to cram everything in that needs to be done. I live by my calendar and sometimes find myself staring at it thinking ‘how?’.

Today, armed with a strong black coffee I am taking a different outlook. This Monday is a fresh start, a new day and the beginning of a new week full of promise.

A few months ago I enrolled on an Open University degree course and two weeks ago my books…my many many books arrived with the post and so far I haven’t had opportunity to really look at them in detail to find out what exactly the course entails.

I have opted to study the BA Honours English Literature and Language and was fortunate enough to be able to use credit transfer from a previous degree to go straight to year two of the course. Well, I say fortunate, it is good that I am skipping one entire year but I have a feeling going straight into the second year may be somewhat intense. Time will tell…

I stayed at home as a full-time Mum while my children were small. I adored this chapter of my life and put my all into it. My youngest child started primary school last year so I returned to the workplace in a part-time capacity  and am thoroughly enjoying the challenge that brings. Juggling family life and work is not easy as I am sure any parent will testify (hats off to anyone that works full-time), but it is good, for me, to have that variety of things in my week. It means being super organised and always thinking a week ahead but it works for us as a family so I am rolling with it.

I have always enjoyed studying. I have a big passion for writing too, hence this blog, and a love for the English language. So, when the idea of doing an English degree was mentioned to me, I pondered it for a while, and eventually thought ‘why not?’.

So, here I am, kids bundled off to school, cats fed, laundry in the machine, settling into this new phase of my life. Having had a quick scan over some of the materials I have to study in my first module ‘Worlds of English’ I have to admit my emotions are somewhat mixed. I am excited, nervous, curious, intrigued and fascinated and a little scared.

This first module looks at the history of the English language, so I know this will be particularly challenging for me as I was always rubbish at History at school but I am interested so I am hoping that that interest goes a long way in getting me through the 5 assignments which  accompany this module. I need to get through these tough modules to get to the ones I am particularly looking forward to – the Literature. I am an avid reader so these modules hold real appeal for me and I am especially looking forward to the online discussion forums during that time. But first, it’s head down and delve back into the world of study.

I graduated in 2003 so it has been quite a while from my brain was in study mode, and back then I had scheduled lectures to go to. This time I do have set dates for assignments and a timeline for study but fitting that in around family life and work commitments is going to take some getting used to.

I am thankful for an immensely supportive family and a husband who always stands by my side in whatever I do. But, the reality is that this is down to me. I have to find the motivation, the discipline and the energy that this degree will command. It will no doubt have its highs and its lows. There will no doubt be thrilling moments and also moments filled with tears. I am anxious about how busy my life is going to be but am also excited about this new chapter. Going back to study is huge step, and also a big financial commitment, but it is something that is just for me, and that feels good.

I cannot recommend to you that you go back to study as I haven’t yet found out how it is going to fit into my already busy life, but I would say if it is something you are seriously thinking about to give it a go. I am a great believer that there is a time for everything. Once upon a time, I was a busy Mum, that was my world. I loved all the mother and toddler groups, preparing all the weaning foods and everything else those early years of my boys’ childhoods involved. Now, as my children take new steps in their own lives so it is apt that I too copy their bravery and fix myself on a new endeavour. Wish me luck…and enough hours in the day.

HIKING WITH KIDS – NORTHERN IRELAND – SLIEVE GULLION

A day out at Slieve Gullion Forest Park

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With the first week of school over us we were all fairly tired at the weekend. It takes a little while to readjust to the early mornings and homework routine. However, with a weekend off work I was determined to get us all out and about exploring, especially while the weather is still so mild.

There were lots of events happening in Northern Ireland at the weekend with the Portrush Air Show and the Hillsborough Oyster Festival being highlights-both truly spectacular family days out. But, we decided on a bit of a lie in and something more low key as our energy levels weren’t at their peak.

Following a lazy Sunday morning breakfast we made the decision to go to Slieve Gullion Forest Park. Located just outside Newry, it’s not too far away and we had heard such positive reports about it over the Summer but just hadn’t had the opportunity to visit.

….so glad we did go though! What a beautiful, magical place. The perfect spot to spend a Sunday afternoon with the family.

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Slieve Gullion, also known as ‘The Giant’s Lair’ has a huge Adventure Playpark, complete with zips-line, wishing chair, lots of climbing frames and slides. My boys would happily have spent the entire day there but I wanted to take them on a walk through the forest as I had heard about the little fairy kingdom located there.

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Into the fairy kingdom…

We spent ages exploring the Fairy Kingdom. I didn’t expect my 10 year old to be overly enthused by the tiny fairy houses built into the trees because it’s not ‘cool’, but he said it was ‘really nice’ and I could tell they were all caught up in the magic of it. We must have gotten fairy dust sprinkled on our toes while we were walking…

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The creative fairy’s home… my personal favourite. Think I might move in!

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The forest walk trail is dotted with lots of interesting things from children’s stories…

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A giant’s table, a huge carved witches head, little log cabins as well as musical instruments and lots of structures made of willow. It is a beautiful walk and the kids loved exploring all the special features.

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We also gave the boys a container each and told them they had to make a ‘sweet potion’ and a ‘stinky potion’ using things found on the forest floor (we instructed them not to pick anything off trees or plants as this wasn’t kind to nature). They loved finding the nicest smelling things-blackberries, clover, moss and using a stick to mix it all together but I think they took greater pleasure finding the smelliest things they could to make a truly rotten smelling ‘potion’ which I had the privilege of having shoved under my nostrils every 5 steps… little amuses the innocent as they say!

At the end of our trail we tipped the mixtures onto the grass so that the fairies could collect it.  Apparently the smelly potion would be helpful in fending off wolves and monsters and the sweet potion (which actually smelled quite nice) would make a nice perfume for the fairies. What great imagination the story trail had sparked!

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The Giant’s Lair is completely free, so if you are ever looking for a magical adventure I would highly recommend a visit. The forest walk is beautiful and not too long so even little tots could give it a go and the views across the Mourne Mountains are stunning. Just be careful to tread lightly… you don’t want to wake the giant!

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A gem of a find…Killyleagh Castle

 

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Loved this…

Well, in typical Northern Irish fashion, Summer decided to make a bit of a belated visit this weekend. Temperatures weren’t exactly soaring but on Saturday the sun was shining – the perfect day for a bit of sightseeing!

I had done a little research during the week about interesting places to visit in Northern Ireland as I had booked a few days off work to get the kids (and me) settled back into the school routine and just knew when I opened the blinds Saturday morning that we had to make the most of the good weather. My head was telling me to clean the house as it is in a state of disarray as the de-cluttering and decorating continues. However, the heart won the battle, and the cleaning still awaits!

We decided that it would be good to stay fairly local on our first outing with ‘fresh tourist eyes’ (see my previous post if you are confused). It’s actually pretty amazing how many places there are within a one hour drive from our home that we have never visited. Pretty shocking, but it also means there is lots to explore in the future.

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So, snacks and drinks packed, we headed off in the direction of Killyleagh. A small village about a forty minute drive from our home and a place we had never ventured to before. Little did we know what we were missing out on. For at the top of this quiet, pretty village is a beautiful castle that we didn’t even know existed! Having just returned from the Loire Valley I was excited to learn that Killyleagh Castle was designed to resemble the magnificent Loire Valley Chateaux. Unfortunately, the castle is still inhabited (lucky family) and so is not open for tours, but it is still worth a visit.

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The setting overlooking Strangford Lough is idyllic and as it was such a lovely day we were able to stroll around Killyleagh admiring the beautiful buildings and we even stumbled across a ‘Brocante’ – a French style antique shop selling all sorts of wonderful collectibles. My children were particularly drawn to the toy cars! What a little gem of a find, and somewhere we will definitely be returning to when pocket money has been saved!

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After enjoying ice-cream we continued on around the Ards Peninsula, stopping off at Sketrick Castle ruins and enjoying a stroll along the beach looking for fossils (a favourite pastime of my middle son).


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I have to say, with the sun shining and everyone in good form there really is nowhere prettier! All in all we had a lovely day out together, we spent a grand total of £10 on some chips for tea (the obligatory seaside supper) and had the added bonus of a short drive home. Being a tourist at home definitely has its benefits.

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View across Strangford Lough towards Scrabo Tower.

Beating the post-holiday blues…

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Well, the kids are back to school and I’m enjoying a cup of coffee and the glorious peace and quiet. I’ve been thinking about this blog post for several weeks now but life has just been too busy for me to settle down to write.

It’s been the good type of busy, family days out and about and getting organised for going back to the school run routine but it’s nice to finally have a little bit of free time to pull together all the stray thoughts and ideas that have been fluttering about in my head. I’ve been doing a bit of a clear out at home over the past week or so and it feels like my head is in desperate need of a good de-clutter also. So here goes with the first instalment of my head junk…

When we drove off the ferry in Rosslare a few weeks ago and embarked on our 5 hour drive home up through Ireland I was struck by just how green and luscious a country Ireland really is. I am sure everyone notices this on return from holidaying somewhere warm and dry, but it got me thinking about how visitors to Ireland must see the landscape here.

While on the ferry I was intrigued by the number of people reading thick Ireland holiday guides cover to cover. As someone who grew up in Ireland I was wondering how much there was to actually see here and having just visited some of the majestic Chateaux of the Loire Valley I had my fingers and toes crossed that Ireland wouldn’t let itself down in front of these eager visitors. Here all these tourists were anticipating a thrilling Irish adventure even as they zipped their raincoats to the throat before the ferry had even docked!

The sun shone though as we got off the ferry and I felt so proud to be Irish that I was waving at everyone with a foreign number plate and  shouting “happy holidays” out of the window (much to the embarrassment of my children – the stereotype about Irish people being friendly exists for a reason… or is that crazy Irish people?).

Anyhow, I hoped the new visitors to Ireland were enjoying the splendour of the rolling green hills against the bright blue sky as much as I was. I wondered what it was like to be a tourist in Ireland.

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In the days after our return and the post-holiday laundry marathon began so too the post-holiday blues began to settle in. It’s hard to let go of that carefree, relaxed holiday feeling…but there’s just so much to do all the time that it soon gets swallowed up in the busyness. That grey feeling took hold forcefully and as we returned to work, the leisurely days strolling around French villages quickly became a distant memory. Depressing, huh?

After browsing through my holiday snaps a thousand times, pining for the warmth and days with no agenda, I decided to give myself a shake and put things into perspective. I couldn’t be on holiday all the time, right? Right. But wouldn’t it also be nice to adopt a more ‘French’ approach to life? It would. Yes. But this isn’t France. It’s Ireland and there’s work to be done. I know. But. What if? What if instead of just saving all year long for two weeks in the sun we could actually inject a little bit of the ‘holiday feeling’ into the everyday? What if, I could be a tourist in my own country and actually enjoy it and see it as visitors do, all year long?

And so, this is how my inner dialogue has been going over the past number of weeks since returning from holiday. There are so many well-known sayings relating to living and loving the here and now…  ‘life is too short’, ‘you only live once’, ‘carpe diem’, ‘here for a good time, not a long time’, ‘all work and no play…’

We all use them, all the time, so maybe they’ve lost their meaning a little. I have a couple of my own favourite quotes dotted about my house as little reminders to myself to slow down when I get too caught up in the busyness of life, which is often. One that I love is a line from the John Lennon song ‘Beautiful Boy’:

‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’

The whole point of this blog was based on the notion of finding the silver lining moments in the ordinary, every day stuff. So taking that idea and transferring it to the desire to enjoy the place where I live, to experience it more and to see it with fresh eyes is the challenge I’ve set for myself in the days ahead. Whether it is a planned trip or a spontaneous visit somewhere it is my hope to sort of become a tourist in my own city and the wider country – to become a curious explorer in the familiar!

In making these new plans it crossed my mind that as the dark, winter evenings set in I might not be too keen to go in pursuit of adventure. But it got me thinking about how as a family we slip into the homework, dinner, stay inside, nice and cosy rut during the colder weather. I’m sure for the most part that’s probably ok, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a few after-school mini adventures? Instead of coming straight home after school pick up, how about exploring the local parks and forests, climbing trees and enjoying nature? Well, that’s the kind of thing we like doing on holiday…so why not do it here, on an all year round kind of basis?

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I admit I’m a bit of a control freak and like things neat and tidy, homework all done before tea, uniforms folded, packed lunches made the night before, P.E. kits packed, that kind of thing…but this Autumn/Winter I’m going to make more time for splashing in muddy puddles, bike rides and good old fashioned outdoor fun, which in Northern Ireland will inevitably involve a rain coat, woolly hat and welly boots!

I’m going to endeavour to enjoy the wild outdoors with my kids at least once a week after school and try to visit somewhere interesting at the weekends. My husband is way better at this than me. He sets a great example for me to follow. He will come from a full day at work and take the kids out for a bike ride or a game of football while I do the dishes or fold clothes. I guess I get my priorities muddled up sometimes when life is so hectic… but I can change that starting now, right?

We aren’t rolling in cash, but we do have time, and as the new school year commences I am reminded just how quickly the years are flying by. It’s not about having an abundance of money to do things, for me it’s about finding ways of spending real quality time together and enjoying life. I don’t want to just go from day to day, existing, enduring the humdrum, I want to live my life and for my kids to have an amazing, fun-filled childhood. I hope that I will establish good lifestyle habits for them to take into their adult lives, a passion for experiencing all that life has to offer, a love for nature and a zeal for living life to the fullest.

I guess the post-holiday blues were useful in that they caused me to reflect on what I want for us as a family as we start another school year. Taking some time to ponder what we really value is time well spent in my opinion, but as J.K. Rowling puts it so beautifully in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: ‘It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.’

In this crazy, mixed up world, I’m going to have some fun. I hope you do too!

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