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.

Summer Fun in Donegal

 

Summer!

It’s finally here and in fairness, apart from the odd dodgy day, it’s already shaping up to be a cracker.

And now that Mammy and Daddy are done with rehearsals and the mayhem that Spring brings each year, our weekly Sunday Fundays must commence! Up in the morning, dress for whatever the weather is doing (layers layers layers so it can change its mind 32 times in 4 hours as usual eh?!), into the car and go!

Adventures and fun cost money, and while there are of course hundreds of things you can do with your minions, here are 10 of my favourite things to do right here at home. They range from absolutely free to the not so free but no matter how often we do these things or go to these places, the girls always enjoy them and feel like they’ve been somewhere special.

In no particular order:

Glenveagh – Now those of you who follow my blog, know that Glenveagh National Park is a firm favourite in our little family. 

We go there 2 or 3 times a month and myself and The Him love it just as much as the girls do.  It’s only a short drive from Letterkenny, has absolutely NO phone coverage and has THE most stunning landscape in the country.  NOWHERE beats Glenveagh for beauty.

The best thing is that entry to the park is absolutely FREE. You can bring a picnic or try some of the insanely good cakes and food in the tearooms there.  We walk the 4k to the castle every and usually take the bus back up as Princess’s legs aren’t quite able for 8K just yet!

Bikes are available to hire from Grassroutes in the carpark too and you can get one of the little buggy-trailers for the minions.  The castle grounds are beautiful and while ours are too young to do the full bridal path, there is lots to occupy them (and their imaginations) in the gardens.  

(Tell your minions that the gates with the stag heads are the Gates to Santa’s summer house.  Never gets old!)

The Beach – We are so blessed to have so many beautiful beaches on our doorsteps. Lisfannon Beach in Fahan is possibly my favourite place in the world.  It’s not only where I often escape for some sneaky Mam-me time, (seriously, some life changing decisions have been made on this beach), it’s also where I take the girls if we want to have some good old fashioned free fun. 

It’s only 15 minutes from my house, but the girls feel like they’ve had such a treat, even if we only stop for a 20 minute run-about.  Over the summer, I keep a blanket and buckets in the car, so if we find ourselves nearby, it’s easy to stop here.  I also keep a bag with a change of clothes and a towel in the boot, just incase it’s warm enough for a paddle.  There’s loads of parking and in the summertime, there’s usually an ice-cream van in the carpark.

We’ve recently found Tank & Skinny’s on the pier in Buncrana too and it’s amazing for a coffee or brunch after wandering on the beach. So worth a visit.

Nature Walks – The girls love these.  They spend a lot of time outside in the garden, but the excitement of getting to go beyond the gate is immense! We live in the back-end of beyond, so in fairness, even a play in the garden can be a learning curve, but if I really want to occupy them for an hour, we just go walkies! 

Mini-Me can point out some of the tree types (reminding me  of things that I used to know!) and there’s a gate at the end of our farm where I once told her the fairy kingdom begins, so she loves to visit there.  She stands on the side of the road talking to the gate, but in her head, she’s on a serious adventure! Fun fun fun and FREE FREE FREE!

Parks – Letterkenny has two fab parks. The town park is great but it’s lacking parking, so if it’s too busy, we often opt for Ballymacool Park.  Just outside the town, it’s peaceful and quiet, even when busy.  It’s easy to park, has lovely trails for walking and beautiful views. The little playpark is wonderful; clean and full of playthings for kids of all ages.  The best thing about this little area is that it’s fully fenced off, and so no matter what direction Princess runs in, she’s safe (and enclosed!).  

Ards Forest Park  –  Simply pay €5 to park and go get lost in the woods before strolling back along the most beautiful beach. The play park is gorgeous, there’s a coffee shop and there’s even a stretch of boardwalk. Very beautiful and lots of scope for stories and imagination in the forest.  The Fairies live there you know.  And the Grufallo comes on holidays sometimes so keep your eyes peeled for footprints. 🙂

Soft Play – Some days, Soft play is the only answer isn’t it? Especially with the summer weather we get here! The most exciting thing about going to soft play, is going to soft play with OTHER minions.  It’s win:win; A catch up for the mums, excitement (and a guaranteed successful bedtime) for the kids.  Arena 7 has recently had an overhaul and looks amazing! Century Play has everything you need for a fun few hours too. Both are wonderful and have different features that the kids love, AND they all serve good coffee.  Keep an eye on their pages for deals and rates.

 

Oakfield Park  –  As you all know, we LOVE Oakfield Park and have done for many, many years. (It used to be our roseymantic strolling spot before it got huge and before we had kids!0

It’s only 10 minutes from where we live and great for family Sunday-fundays, but also for random afternoons over the holidays. There is a charge to get in of course, but what I love about this place is that every year when they reopen, something new and wonderful has been added to the park. They add to the facility constantly. 

The Buffers Tea rooms/restaurant is lovely, but you can also bring a picnic along with you. We always bought the annual pass as it’s great value if you use the park often. I’m delighted to be a Park Ambassador for Oakfield now. The park truly is stunning, so well kept and beautifully presented.  There’s a play park and the Fairy tree is a favourite of Mini-Me’s.  The steam train never gets old.

Oakfield Park also hosts events and celebrations throughout the season, so keep an eye on their pages for details.  

Lurgy Brack Farm has expanded so much and is really a world of fun!  We visited last month for the first time in many years and I couldn’t believe how big it was and how much they have added since our last trip.  There’s a charge to get it, and when we go back, we’ll aim to spend the whole day.  (We were meeting mates for a coffee and quick play so paying full price for the three of us for two hours seemed pricey, but when I saw exactly what is there, it was worth every penny.)  I would definitely pack a picnic and a change of clothes and go for the full day next time!  They have put so much thought and energy into creating a lovely escape on the outskirts of Letterkenny and it’s definitely somewhere we’ll be spending more time this summer.

We have a to-do list for summer 2019 started and I’ll add anywhere that we discover to this list as we go through.

So there you go.  These are just our top go-to days out and activities in and around Letterkenny, all year round. I’m sure you could all add your own to this list.

Here’s to a fun Sunday Fundays and some sort of Springtime weather!

Beech Hill Country House – a Review Peace & Tranquility on the Edge of the City

We recently had the pleasure of being invited to spend Easter Weekend at Beech Hill Country House, just outside Derry.

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The beautiful Beech Hill Country House

Nestled in the hillside of Ardmore, Beech Hill is a hidden haven of peace and tranquillity, despite being only a stone’s throw from the main Derry to Belfast road.  It is quite literally on the cusp of the city and only a 20 minute drive from our home.

Recently taken over by Sam Harding, Barry Kemp and Adam Kemp, the new owners of country house have vowed to turn it into Northern Ireland’s best four-star hotel.

The 32-acre estate has a rich history which is beautifully catalogued and shown both inside the hotel and on plaques throughout the forests; it was taken over by US Marines during WWII as a base for soldiers, before being transformed into a hotel in 1989.

What is a grand and stately building, filled with history and character, is being gently moulded into a modern hotel to compete with any of its contemporaries.  The natural beauty of the grounds combined with the quaint decor is indeed stately and classic, and yet the restaurant and bedrooms are modern and fresh.     What is also traditional and classic, is the staff and how they interact with the guest; polite, helpful and professional.

We brought the two girls along for a family switch-off and catch-up weekend!

Check in was easy and friendly.  Our family room brought us on a trek through the many little corridors and rooms, all well signposted and filled with history and photographs.  A lift brought us to the first floor and then a small flight of stairs brought us to the room.  If you had a buggy however, there is plenty space to safely leave it if you don’t want to carry it to the room.

The family room was huge!  A massive double bed, with a single bed and a fold-out bed for the toddler, these beds were incredibly comfortable.  There was a sofa and resting chairs in front of the TV and lots of space for a family of 4. 

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The bathroom, gleamingly clean, had a bath which is so essential when travelling with kiddies.

The forests provided a beautiful playground for the four of us.  We spent over two hours running and playing on the grounds before dinner and another hour on Sunday morning in a completely different part of the forest.

We had booked dinner for 6.30pm.  The restaurant is bright and has gorgeous views over the little lake and gardens.  Again, the staff were incredibly pleasant and efficient.

The food was beautiful.  I had mussels to start; a subtle portion as opposed to the unnecessarily huge bowl that is so often served.  I then had pork belly, which was served with a perfect balance of flavours and again, was a perfect size.  Himself had a meat terrine to start, and then the steak, perfectly cooked and seasoned.  Both were served with potato and veg.   Dessert was sorbet for Him and a cheeseboard (yes, as usual) for me.  It didn’t disappoint.

I was particularly impressed by the kids’ menu and the freshness of the food served to them.  No beige frozen or processed food for the kiddies at Beech Hill.  The chicken tenders were obviously freshly battered in breadcrumbs and the burger would have been acceptable on any adult menu!  The hand-cut chips still had skin and the girls devoured their meals.

I would love to see some crayons and colours for kids next time we visit.  In fairness, we managed over two hours with the girls, with no crayons or books or screens! They were quite happy to sit and chat and eat with us.  Mini-Me loved feeling grown up when her food was served on proper plates, the same as ours.

They were full of stories from the forest and were so suspiciously well behaved that we even ventured into the gorgeous bar for a drink before bed.  Special shout out to Aaron, the lovely barman who really knew his stuff.  He was able to recommend a beer to Himself and proceeded to explain the difference between different types of draft.  When I asked for an Espresso Martini, he asked if I’d like it bitter or sweet and was able to tell me the history of where the instapopular cocktail originated.

My favourite meal as always was breakfast; I get very excited about breakfast!

I love the selection and variety of fruit and cereal and baked treats, but what particularly excites me is when there is a menu and someone brings you a lovely plate of cooked joy!  I am not a fan of having to plate up and serve myself.  Maybe it comes from working as a waitress for many years, but when I am out for any meal, I truly appreciate it being brought to me at the table. This is unusual in hotels nowadays, but a definite tick in my book.

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We had the most relaxed 24 hours.  And to only have to drive a short distance to find such a beautiful escape, means that we will certainly be back.  Beech Hill House is wonderful for a family switch-off.  The TV in the room didn’t get switched on and the girls were so happy exploring the forests and the corridors.

It would also be perfect for a romantic sneakaway or a girly break.  I’m looking forward to visiting again many times and to seeing how the new owners develop and grow this beautiful estate.

 

Mammy and her family were invited to review the hotel.  As always however, Mammy was under no obligation to write anything, maintains her honesty and all views and comments are my own.  

 

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.

 

You is My Baby

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You is three.
You is clever.
You is strong.
You is beautiful.
You is brave.
You is kind.
You is sensitive.
You is stubborn.
You is headstrong.
You is frightening.
You is craycray.
You is scary.
You is manipulative.
You is powerful.
You is exhausting.
You is expensive.
You is strong … strangely strong.
You is hilarious.
You is cute.
You is a monster…


But you is OUR monster.

You is Me and your Daddy combined and we have no one to blame but ourselves. 😂😂

We is exasperated and we is proud and we is always behind you and your glittery wee wellies.

Go Baby, go.
You’ve got a world to change.