I am Some Packy Hackies Mum

It’s almost Holibop Season!

Hurrah!

Packing is something that I am good at.  I enjoy it and generally once I have my lists done, it doesn’t take long.  I’m a light packer.  I can pack myself and Himself into one case for a week away.  If we’re doing a weekend trip, one small bag is plenty.  And I can do a trip alone with tiny carry on.  I have been known to arrive in London with my toothbrush, clean knickers and a tee-shirt tucked into my handbag.

Packing for the four of us to go on holidays has never been hard either.  Simply because we’ve never ventured beyond Ireland, and so we’ve had the luxury of the boot of the car and as much space as we need.

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So last year, going on our first sun holiday as a family,  presented Mammy with a new challenge.  And I must say that thanks to the Mammies on my blog, I  gathered some super tips to add to my own packy-hacks:  Each of these worked a charm, and I’ll be doing the exact same this year.

  • Lists: Plan ahead.  I write down what will be worn/needed by everyone for the number of nights we’re away.  Then I add a spare outfit for the girls, just incase.
  • Mix up the bags: I had planned on a case for us and a case for the girls. We have one each, but I’m not lugging 4 cases through the airports.  Loads of Mums told me to mix all of the clothes between the cases, and if one gets lost or delayed, at least everyone still has clothes when we arrive.
  • Check-in? If you arrive at your resort early, your room/apartment might not be ready. Pack swimming gear and sun cream in one of the carry on bags so that you can go straight to the pool while you wait for your check-in.
  • Ziplock bags: THIS has changed my life Ladybelles.  Thanks to Davina from Jim for this one. She advised me to pack the kids clothes into these.  So for each evening, I have their dresses, underwear, socks etc that they’ll need for going out for dinner in little bags. It will avoid the suitcases turning into chaotic pits of “I can’t find it!”  I have their shorts and Tees and Swimmers and PJs labeled in their bags too, so The Him will be able to easily find things too.  (I’ve since been directed to little sets of case organisers that can be bought in different colours and have it on good authority that they are super.  I never did get around to buying them however!)
  • Pop-up tent:  My mate is a serial beach goer.  This is her tip. Bring a little pop up tent. We have a little wigwam in the hall. It cost a tenner. It folds down to nothing and if it fits, it’s going into one of the cases. It’ll provide shade for the girls, means they can play in it if it gets too hot on the beach and it was perfect last year for changing nappies!  Genius.
  •  Backpacks:  Now, my girls have flown a few times, but only short flights.  I’ve always packed little colouring books and some snacks into their bags to keep them occupied.  This time, I’ve packed a few more and have a few wee surprises for them for emergency distractions! (Euroshops are Wicked for this kind of stuff.)
  • Downloads:  Did you know that you can download from your Netflix account? I have my tablet stocked up with episodes of Paw Patrol and a few movies.
  • Snack packs:  Now this one I initially scoffed at, but let’s face it, children eat ALL DAY and snacks are expensive.  So, I have done up a snack pack for each day; popcorn, raisins, pops, Haribo, Biscuits; their favourites.  And while of course we’ll be able to get this stuff there, to know that I have the bags ready to pop into the buggy each morning is great.  And the whole lot cost me €7.  So we’ll save our money for drinks and ice-creams.
  • Lollipops and chewy sweets:  Life saver for the ears of the Minions on take-off and landing.
  • Travel sized stuff:  Who doesn’t love mini-stuff?  Over the past few weeks, I’ve picked up my moisturiser and some of my makeup bits simply by asking for samples at the counters. There’s enough suncream to carry without jars and pots.  I even got a lovely face mask from one lovely lady.   I tend to leave the makeup at home on hols, opting instead for basic concealer, bronzer and mascara. And I decant my shampoo and conditioner into the little plastic bottles too.
  • Keep hand luggage minimal. The girls have their little bags, I have my handbag, and Him will have a small carry on with a change of clothes for both girls, calpol and more snacks… and ALWAYS, the Babywipes!
  • Midnight Flit?  If you are lifting your minions out of bed to travel, either put them to bed in their tracksuits or comfies. (If you can!)
  • Pillow Cases:  Pack 2 pillowcases.  Use them as laundry bags; one for lights, one for darks/colours.  Easier to carry the washing home and easier to unpack. (I swear by this one. Works a treat.)
  • Beds:  Before we go, I’ll change the beds. Pain in the posterier as you try to get out the door, but just think of how lovely it is to get back into your own nice, clean bed after a week away. I’ll be glad of it when we return.

 

These are only a few of the many, many I got sent.  I’m sure there are many more you would add.   Some might tut at my over preparation, but I’m one of those people who needs my shit to be together, for my mind to stay together.

I’ll relax more knowing that I have the essentials sorted. And anything that we forgot can be bought there.  Mammies tend to do all the sorting don’t we? But this Mammy believes that preparation is key and I know that when we get there, I WILL relax, because I’ve put in the work at home!

All I need to do now is to make sure there’s a few beers in the fridge for the Big Wee Brother who’s moving in to babysit the Furbaby. And get there!

Happy Holidays to you if you’re going away. Share away at your own packing-hacks!

 

Some Advice for Exam Parents

Exam season is upon us again.
 
It seems to come around faster and faster each year, doesn’t it?
 
If your little darlings are about to do their Junior or Leaving Certificate Examinations, here are some ideas on how you can help them.
 
1. Sleep: Seems obvious and it’s easier said than done to get teenagers to go to bed at the best of times, and yet sleep is the one thing that we need in order to function properly. Talk to your child and agree a consistent bedtime for the next 3 weeks. Agree on a cut off time for studying, no matter how much they insist that they need to do more. Agree on a cut off time for screens and insist that until the exams are over, screens should not be in bedrooms. Even the simple absence of the phone from the bedroom can do wonders for the sleep that we get.
 
2. Hydrate: Yeah yeah Yadda yadda… but again, vital. Challenge them to drink 2 litres a day. There are loads of cool bottles that help to motivate water intake now. And they all have apps on phones that can help remind them to drink water too. Dehydration leads to headaches and sluggishness; all of the things that they DON’T need at the minute.
 
3.Nutrition: The State Exams can last for up to 2 weeks for some students. If an athlete were going into a 2 week event, they’d be fuelling up their bodies in preparation for months. If your child has a balanced and varied diet already, great. Keep it up. If not, try to introduce more whole foods and more fruit and veg. Convenience snacking is a massive issue when stress and tiredness kick in. Try to have dinners pre-cooked and healthier snacks in the fridge for when they appear from their pit “staaaaaarving”. In fairness to them, the last thing they are thinking about is their food right now. But don’t make a big deal about it. Remember when they were toddlers and you conveniently had lots of healthy snacks and precooked meals in the kitchen? For the next 3 weeks, go back to that! Just maybe ease up on the purees! (AND BREAKFAST is a must. They might not be hungry, but they can’t sit a 2-3 hour exam on an empty tummy. Bananas are great for calming butterflies in the tummy.) 
 
4. Exercise: If your child has a hobby, or goes to a class each week, let them continue with it. As a teacher, I hear parents saying “Oh they’ve stopped that until after the exams”. And while yes, many need to cut back on some activities in order to study, cutting out EVERYTHING is a bad idea. Try to encourage them to do something every day, even if it is simply going for a ten minute walk. Send them to the shop. Throw them a basketball. Dust off the punchbag in the garage. Anything to get them moving for even a few minutes. Times of high stress are the times when we NEED to be able to release, may it be dancing, kicking, running or a gym class. It helps keep energy levels up.
 
5. Keep the stress levels down: And I’m not just talking about THEIRS. State Exams have a way of reducing Mums and Dads to tears. Yes, this is a big deal. Yes, the exams are important, but what is more important is that your child is alive and well and able to do the exams. Don’t dismiss the significance of these exams, but equally, don’t paint them to be the be all and end all. Their best is all that they can do and regardless of what is in the little brown envelopes at the end of the summer, life will go on and they will be ABSOLUTELY FINE!
 
6. Positivity : Rather than constantly “annoying” or “torturing” them, let them hear praise. (Because no matter what we say, they only hear nagging don’t they?) Let them hear you believe in them. Let them hear “You will be fine” or “Do your best” or “I’m proud of you.” Seems silly maybe, but trust me, so many of our teenagers are so skilled at feeling useless and crap all by themselves. Sometimes all it takes is for them to hear someone tell them they can do it.
 
7. Last minute pages: SO this is the teacher talking now. Get them to take an A4 page and for each subject, on which they write down all of the key phrases and ideas and names and keywords, dates etc., all over it, on both sides. If their teacher has things that he or she CONSTANTLY repeated in class, write those down too.
Use different coloured pens and make it bright. Laminate it when they’re done if you like. But have it that THAT PAGE is the ONLY thing they look at on the morning of the exam. I also advise that when they walk into the English paper, before they even read the questions, to jot down as many of the important terms and titles on one of the roughwork boxes or blank pages. That way, they have a go-to wordbank if they get a blank brain AND they won’t forget character names or poem titles in the heat of the exam. (Happens to the best!)
 
8. Ditch the Drama: Warn your kids of the dangers of the Drama Llama on the morning (or afternoon) of the exam. While they’ll want with their friends, so often it is the worst place they can be. Hearing “Oh I only glanced at Chapter 23 last night” or “I haven’t LOOKED at that book!” or “I am so screwed”can cause panic in an anxious child’s mind. They’re already dealing with their own anxiety and nerves. They don’t need JohnJoe or Nancy’s stresses on top of their own. Tell them to politely stay away from groups until after the exam. They are much better served by reading over their last-minute page on their own. They can chat about it as much as they want when it’s over, but being focused and quiet before the exam really does work wonders.
 
9. SPACE it out: If space allows, tell them to skip 2-3 lines between each paragraph. This allows them space to jot down anything that might come to mind as the revise over what they’ve written at the end. (And it makes life easier for the examiner if sentences aren’t written sideways up a margin. With a few subjects being corrected digitally this year, anything written outside the allocated area won’t be scanned. Remind them of this.)
 
10. Believe: While the state exams are possibly THE biggest thing in your whole family’s life right now, it is important to remind the kids that every single person who is older than them, has been through and sat through these exams. They can only do their best. Yes, they’re a huge deal, but they’re also just a bump in the road that you have to drive over to get to summer. They’re well ready and well able.
stumble
 
Life is a big long dance. We all stumble, sometimes we fall. We have parts of the routine that we’d rather skip, but it’s OUR dance. And each and every one of us has to dance our own steps.
 
I hope that exam season passes with as little stress as possible in your house. And remember that if your kids see you stressed, they stress. So even if you want to scream and tear your hair out, don’t.
 
Or at least wait until they’re in bed and then pour yourself a gin and scream in a pillow.
 
And the very best of luck to your minions.

The Ball of Balls – Let’s Talk About The Boyos

Last night, we attended The Ball of Balls in the beautiful Harvey’s Point in Donegal Town.

This innovative and brave event was created by a group of friends, born from a conversation where they all agreed that Men need to talk about cancer.  The committee who brought The Ball of Balls to life was made up of Joan Gallagher, Peter Barry, Deborah Cunningham, Moya O’Leary and assisted by Adrian Pollard.

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We enjoyed a champagne reception to beautiful Jazz music, before moving into the ballroom for a divine meal.

Noel Cunningham was host for the evening and spoke passionately about the importance of cancer services in the North West.

Gabriel McCole entertained the audience with his honest and no nonsense account of his own journey with cancer and powerful speech delivered by Deborah Cunningham as we sat to dinner, repeated the line “Men need to talk about cancer”.

And last night, we did.  We spoke openly about the importance of checking and going for checks.  And I truly hope that every man left the ball with the thought that maybe he should check himself!

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It was a wonderful uplifting evening, and the dancing continued long after we had left.  We were further entertained by The Bluestack Chorale Choir and the band who kept the floor full all night were The Lock Ins.  (If you have an event coming up, check these guys out!  Superb!)

Two things shocked me last night:

  1. Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in young men aged 15 to 34.  I wonder how many 15 and 16 year olds would even consider themselves at risk…

      2. There is NO screening programme in place in Ireland. 

And so, alongside the money raised for Cancer Care West last night, the most important success of the night, was the raising of awareness that not only to men need to look after themselves more and talk about cancer, but the women in their lives ALSO need to up our game.

We need to talk to our dads, our brothers, our partners and our sons, whatever their ages, about the importance of paying attention to themselves.  We need to normalise talking about men’s cancer issues, just as much as how freely we talk about women’s.

I hope that this event will become an annual one.  Bravo to all involved!  Job well done.

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There is great information on testicularcancer.org  and on the Marie Keating Foundation website.

What to look out for

Cancers which are found early are the most easily treated. It makes sense to know how your body normally looks and feels and this includes your testicles. This will make it easier for you to notice any changes. A swelling or lump in one of your testicles which is not usually painful is the most common sign of testicular cancer, however there are other signs to look out for:

• Small lumps or hardness on the front or side of a testis.

• Swelling or enlargement of the testis.

• An increase in firmness of the testicle.

• A sensation of dragging or heaviness in the scrotum.

• A dull ache in the lower abdomen or groin.

It is important to note that most lumps are benign (harmless) but others may be cancerous and should be treated as quickly as possible. It is unusual to develop cancer in both testicles at the same time, so if you are wondering whether a testis is normal or not, you can compare it with the other.

 

I am Singing Your Song Mum

IT’S JOHN LEWIS AD DAY!!

It’s here!  The ad has been released online with the first TV screening expected at 9.15pm tonight.

I LOVE the John Lewis ads.  I get excited and all of my teaching plans are paused every year.  I shall spend the day watching it and analysing it with my students and being happy happy happy in my job; its cinematography, its soundtrack, its narrative structure, its messages…

And this year’s homage to Elton John ticks all of these boxes.

It’s not as immediately Christmassy as I would have liked.  It begins as what seems like simply a tribute to the legend that is Elton John, but as the flashback structure becomes clear and we can begin to anticipate what’s coming, the emotions kick in.

And at the end, it is indeed Christmassy.  In fact, there is so much Christmas and so many feels concentrated into the last 20 seconds, that you’ll feel like you’ve been hit by a Christmas Pudding.

If the face on the little Elton doesn’t melt you into a thousand pieces as he bounces into the Living Room of his home on a Christmas Morning in the 1950s, then I don’t know what will.  He is every child.  He is all of us, full of joy and hope and anticipation.

And the message?

“Some gifts are more than just a gift”

Well, it’s more than that.

This is not just a hat tip to Elton John.

Actually, this advert is NOT about Elton John; it’s a tribute to his Mother. TO ALL mothers.  (And to his Grandmother!)

How?

Because it is his Mother who sees his potential, who encourages his talent, who feeds his ability.  It is his mother who watches with tears of pride in her eyes.  It is his mother to whom he looks when his nerves fail him as a young boy at a school recital, who has given him all that he needed to succeed in life… And succeed he did (and does).

And it is no doubt his Mother that he is thinking of in that final scene, where his smile is sad, but full of memory.

In fact, when we see the clip of a young Elton in a recording studio, the music becomes almost inaudible as he sings “My gift is my song and my song’s for you.”  His Mother gave him the gift of music.  He returns the gift to her by dedicating his song to her.

Because, without his Mother, where would he be?

Now, I’m off to show my babbies this beautiful piece of Christmas magic and to make sure they all recognise the message in this ad… and that they all go home this evening and thank their parents for giving them all of the gifts that they have…

And then, I’m going to price Pianos for my little superstars…

I am Stuck in our Phones Mum

As a writer and blogger, I am often guilty of depending on my phone a little too much. But I am very, very aware of how much time I can spend flicking through social media and I am well able to leave the phone down.

Like everyone, I sometimes find myself constantly checking it; needing to know if people had responded or reacted or replied to me, especially as my summer holidays set in and I was able to be more active on my social media platforms. Unlike during my working day, I had access to my phone all day, every day. But then I realised that it was taking up more minutes of the day than I cared to admit. And those are minutes that I really have more important things to be doing.

So a few months ago, I made the simple, but absolutely life-changing decision, to switch off notifications on my phone. Such a basic, quick solution to an ugly problem. Rather than constantly feeling obliged to click on the little red number beside the Facebook or Insta icon, I am more in control of when I do (and more importantly, when I don’t) pick it up.

Is it working? I think so. It’s certainly made me think twice about my own relationship with my phone and I’m enjoying the mental freedom of no longer being a puppet to the beeping puppeteer. But let me tell you. I only THOUGHT I had a problem.

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In the past few months, I’ve been in two massive cities; firstly London, then New York. (I’m not usually that jetsetting and exciting, but it’s been a busy one!) And one thing that I noticed in each, was how ridiculously stuck to screens people are.

Now I’m not just talking about people ignoring each other in bars and restaurants for virtual conversations on their screen. I’m not just talking about the woman who is so busy flicking through videos about drawing eyebrows, and fake smiles and backsides on Instagram, that she doesn’t see the person who might be interested in hers across the table.

I’m not just talking about the man who says “in a minute” eleven times before actually looking up to answer his friend, or partner, or child. Because while all of these things are sadly a daily occurrence in most cities, what I couldn’t get my head around was the fact that in the larger cities, people now are taking their phone to a new level.

Because now, it is unsafe to walk on a street.

There is a new generation, or species perhaps, who genuinely do not realise that when they are walking, they must LOOK AHEAD. Or at least look at the ground in front of them.

They possibly think they are living inside the virtual reality of whatever computer game they like to play, and that if people walk into them, they will simply dissipate and dissolve and disappear like the avatars in their games do.

They don’t GET that if you don’t look ahead of you, you can not see where you are going and therefore, you will bump into people.

Perhaps these are a new-age type who have actually evolved to deal with the banal act of walking in the real world. Perhaps I am mistaken and they are ACTUALLY looking at a clever app on their device which is warning them to step left, or manoeuvre right or to stop at the road.

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Maybe it is I who is so sad and deluded. Or maybe, just maybe, I am simply old and these young’uns have actually evolved to such heights that they can now see from the top of their heads and therefore don’t HAVE to look up, like we oldies. Never mind our mothers who had eyes in the back of their heads, these guys have them on the top.

Am I being sarcastic. (God yes. And if you are genuinely unsure, perhaps YOU need some more human interaction!) But in all seriousness, the number of times I got shouldered or bumped into or actually pummelled while trying to walk through the already crazy gauntlet of the modern city streets, was unbelievable.

And I’m not referring exclusively to young people here, although the majority were possibly of the snowflake generation, possibly genuinely believing that other people quite simply must MOVE out of their way. Heaven forbid that they would be distracted from the importance of their screen.

Many of these crowners (for they looked like what a midwife sees at a birth, approaching hair or bald head first), were older. And yet, age or gender aside, they were not one bit concerned about the other, real people, who they were ploughing through.

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I remember sitting in London with my brother a few years ago, aghast at the way people were dependent on their phones; uber, food orders, directions everything… And then our own wee country caught up. And that is both fine and terrifying, because judging by the bigger cities right now, we have a zombie society emerging. And what starts in these cities, eventually reaches us. It’s bad enough that we have to deal with dummies driving while looking at their phones. (Seriously dude, no one looks at their crotch and smiles…)

But judging by what I saw this summer, we shall soon be walking through throngs of headbutters, hunched over like question marks.

We all need our phones. We all use them more than we even realise. They are part of our culture. But when they are simply extensions of our hands, into which we place more importance than human interaction and actual physical awareness, then we have a problem. And when the only communication and words that we pay attention to are being fed by a wire into our ears, we run the risk of becoming deaf to reality.

Imagine if we all looked up? Imagine what things we would see…

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