Sunday, May 24, 2015

We Give Them Wings and Then We Must Let Them Fly.......

It was an unexpected conversation and a particular tragic event that got me thinking this week, and had my mind going to places I really didn't want it to go.

The conversation was unexpected due to the rarity of these things. What's rare is wonderful it is said, and all the more appreciated when all the stars align and the gods smile down to facilitate lovely, peaceful visits with the patient. And this really was one of a couple of  lovely recent visits. 

This particular conversation centred around the music, from her era, that was playing in the background. I used it to start a conversation, to see where it would go. Asking a patient of a certain age with Dementia (among other things) if they remembered 'Bill Hailey and The Comets' as you sing-a-long can open all sorts of doors to memories you thought were long since locked away.

Oh, she did indeed remember him. Her eyes lit up as she told me all about him and the weekly dance that she and all her friends used to go to in the Assembly Hall of the local school. Her local primary school that is, the one that in time would also be mine. And the Assembly Hall that I as a child would watch school concerts and a rare movie in, a cinema reel movie that constantly broke down! 

She recalled that the song 'Rock Around the Clock', and dancing to it, was such 'fun'.  They jigged and they jived to his music, and all the songs played by the band and simply 'had a laugh'. She couldn't remember how much the entrance fee was but she definitely remembered that the boys all stood to one side and the girls to the other! And no, she didn't have to wait very long to be asked up to dance and no, there was never any drink involved. They 'didn't bother with drink' you see.

Now I know people did drink back then too, indeed it was the scourge of many families, but this memory did evoke a time of such innocence and harmless fun. They all smoked I'd say but drink wasn't necessary for a good night out. 

In my teenage/young adult days the main scourges to be be wary of were drink and tobacco. Drugs were on offer in some venues I'm sure, but they were not the main temptation to be sampled on a night out. I can safely say that I have never in my life been offered any drugs. Which is saying a lot given that I come from a working class area. 

Unfortunately it's not only the drinking and smoking that today's teenagers, young adults and their parents have to worry about. These days it seems that the drugs, their increased availability and attraction to our young (and older!) folk is the biggest worry of all.

Sadly it was this availability and attraction of drugs that caused the tragic death of this beautiful young teenage woman, whom I know, last Sunday.  It is such a sad and tragic event. She was not the only person to partake in these drugs that night, nor was she the only one to take ill. She was however the only one to lose her life. My thoughts and prayers to her family, especially her lovely mum with whom she had an extremely close bond.

There can be nothing worse than losing your child. I cannot even bear to think about it......

As a result of this awful tragedy I have talked to my son about drugs in more detail. I have warned him about the unknown chemical compounds in pills such as these and the unpredictability of individual reactions to any drug. I've told him about the power of the word 'NO' and that it is okay to use it, even if all around him do not. I've told him to never leave a drink unattended and to always stay with his group of friends and to 'never leave anyone behind'. I've told him, without trying to scare him, that despite what he and his teenage peers may believe they are not invincible. All valuable information, I hope, for when he actually starts socialising in this manner!

We have drug awareness programmes in our schools, at primary and secondary level, to deliver age-appropriate information about the effects of drug-taking (among other things) to our children.  I wonder what is provided at third level though, perhaps we need to increase discussions and supports - to keep drug-awareness levels high? 

We raise our children to the best of our ability and try to prepare them for the world that awaits them. 

We teach them right from wrong and prepare them for as many possible pitfalls as we can.

We give them wings and then we must let them fly.

Fly away from the safety of their own homes, their own country in some cases, and out into the big bad world.

And we hope that some of the advice we have dispensed comes to the fore of their minds when we most need it to.

Keep the lines of communication with your teenagers constantly open, and talk to them often. 

Warn them again about drugs. 


Thursday, May 14, 2015

'Over The Hill' and the Importance of Goal-Setting......

Now, I know this title might lead you to believe that this post is all about reaching a certain stage of 'mid-life'? Perhaps you may think that this will be all about  a body under duress from the ravages of time, headed straight over the hill and on to the scrap heap of life?

Well then you'd be very wrong, if that's what you're thinking.

Of course it's not about any of that - I'm far too 'young'! Now I am aware that the sages of society may deem me to be 'middle-aged' and not that there's anything wrong with that or anything you understand, it's just that I simply refuse to accept it!

You see, in my head I'm only thirty-three and three-quarters. And right there is where I'm staying!

No, this is more about resilience, not giving in and a hard-earned recovery.

If you've been following my ramblings here you'll know I spent some time in hospital last year after sustaining a persistent and very painful back injury.

I spent a lot of time being inactive, reliant on others for all sorts of reasons and being unable to transport myself anywhere. For months.

Although I was very much aware of all the things I couldn't do - and yes it was upsetting at times - I motivated myself by turning them into challenges. I mightn't have been able to do them then you see, but I preferred to see them as long-term goals for me to attain.

My walking, for example, started off with little strolls - on crutches - just outside my house, which stretched to walking to the beach, to being crutch-less and to finally - months later - walking the lower end of our local park. In order to walk  the other end of the park I needed to surmount this very daunting hill that  rises over the train-tracks. It was a hill that never bothered me before but was now completely out of the question.....

I looked longingly at that hill every day and promised myself that by March/April I would get to the top and that by April/May I would make it to the far side, stroll around the rest of the park, traipsing back over the hill on my way home.

Happy with my goal setting I carried on with my other little challenges.

Thanks to good friends I got back to my beloved theatre-going. Starting with local, easy-to-get-to but hard-seated theatres, accompanied by said good friend(s) and my trustworthy comfy cushion. Before I knew it it was January and I was making my own way by Dart into town for shows with no cushion, or crutch, necessary!

In between times I motivated myself when inactive at home by turning my knitting and crochet hobby into a little project.

All the while keeping my eye on that hill and 'practicing' by going one third of the way up, then one quarter then skipping straight to three-quarters.

Then one day in February, ahead of schedule, when following a young man with special needs to be sure he was okay I made it right to the top! See.....

I was so proud! But it was short-lived due to a set-back I suffered, most probably as a result, and had to stop walking for three weeks.

Not one to be deterred I once again concentrated not on what I couldn't do, but on what I could and I continued on with my other goals.

I finally made it back to Pilates classes for one. Yes, I know this must sound strange. That in order to aid my recovery I went back to the very thing that caused my injury in the first place - Pilates!  The difference is that these classes are properly taught by trained physiotherapists/Pilates Instructors - and it's the best thing I've ever done as my strength, mobility and flexibility gently increases. Oh, and as of today I can once more put my hands flat on the floor instead of just touching my toes!

I also continued with my swimming which I had started last November. I wasn't able to swim then but my attitude was: 'I may not be able  to walk on water, but I can certainly walk through it'! And that's exactly what I did. Since then I've gone from 'walk-swimming' ten very slow lengths to more recently swimming twenty-six 'proper' lengths in thirty minutes! And sure if I could do that surely I could make it thirty lengths in thirty minutes? And so another goal was set.

Meanwhile back in the park I was back practicing on my hill. And finally, just before 30th April to ensure I met my target, I climbed that darn hill again and walked the whole park for the first time since last July! And just to prove that it's not a fluke I've done it a few times since, and it feels wonderful.

Then yesterday I aimed for my new swimming goal - and smashed it! Thirty-four 'proper swimming' lengths in thirty minutes!! Oh, yeah baby. Go me!

So, now that I've reached all my goals what's next? Well, there's nothing to stop me expanding on these goals some more, is there? And then there's my one remaining goal that I have yet to achieve. To get back dancing. And if these Dancing Dads can do it then I cannot see why us similarly aged mums/ladies shouldn't go for it too, can you?!

But for now I'm going to celebrate, because it's official.

I am 'over the hill'.

And proud of it!

So there!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Why the Academy of Code's 'Cool' Coding Camp is our Summer Camp of Choice.....

It's that time of the year again when you decide what, if any, summer camps your child/children will attend this summer.

I was recently asked to answer a few questions from journalist Vicki Notaro about summer camps in general, and about the Academy of Code summer camp we intend doing this year in particular.

The article, 'Happy Campers' - a kind of summer camp 'special' - appeared in the inaugural issue of Choice, a consumer guide supplement with the Independent newspaper on Tuesday. This interviewee and her teenage son's photo also appeared, along with some of my summer camp thoughts.

Irish school holidays are very long, especially for teenagers who get a massive three months summer break from secondary school.

I for one am salivating at the thought very much looking forward to not hearing the dreaded daily alarm call at the crack of dawn and to not having the subsequent 'get out of that bed ..... NOW' argument every day for a whole twelve weeks! I crave for days of no homework hassle and relaxing days at home, interspersed with getting out and about on walks, trips to interesting places and hopefully some teenage-style hikes too. 

But it can be  hard to constantly amuse and entertain your child/teenager, no matter how wonderful they are, every day for 8/12 long weeks - especially if they're an only child.

As Vicki says in her article:  "...for parents with bored, irritable teenagers who are neither old enough for a part-time job, nor young enough to be entertained by picnics and play dates, the three month holidays can feel a little daunting - ..."

While we all enjoy the break some children miss the daily structure that school provides. That's why, I think, most of them, although they'll absolutely tell you the opposite, secretly look forward to going back!

We've availed of a lot of summer camps over the years -  "In order to give structure to the long school summer holidays" as I reveal in my interview,

Summer camps are not favoured by all parents but as far as our family is concerned I believe them to be necessary as:  "I felt it was important to enhance his skills, provide social outlets and keep him occupied during the holidays. Not every boy likes to kick a ball around!"

The main reason we still use summer camps is to help reduce the amount of summer screen and gaming time. Vicki too acknowledges the need for this: "Keeping teens busy and engaged (and away from social media and video games) ..."

My son has been attending computer coding classes with The Academy of Code since last January and really enjoys them. He's enjoying them so much that he has agreed to attend one of their summer camps in July!

Yes, that's right, in order to reduce his summer screen and gaming time I'm sending him to screen-based summer camp!

Well, you see, if he's spending a lot of time on screens anyway - especially since he built his own PC , at barely 15 years old, last January - he may as well go learn another useful skill during the summer. Something he can hopefully put to good use in transition year. And as I say in my interview: "I'd rather see him in front of a computer screen learning how to write websites, make apps and maybe even games too, rather than sitting at home playing on them!" 

He may even come up with a project he could develop over the remaining summer holiday! I can but hope, right?

There are of course free coding classes available through the the fantastic network of Coder Dojos. However these classes didn't suit us. I find the consistent weekly classes, in smaller groups with the Academy of Code to be more effective. And I've found that the mentors are a helpful resource to both students and parents!

And as far as their summer camp is concerned: "I consider the Academy of Code to be value for money as they help nurture my son's interest in computer and console gaming and provide him with skills - not currently provided in our education system - to further that interest and, hopefully, assist [him] with his future college and career choices."


Academy of Code summer camps run from July 13th-17th and July 20th-24th in Oatlands College, Stillorgan, Dublin and are open to students from 9 to 17 years old and can be booked HERE

The cost is €160 per student but the early bird price of €144 is available until May 5th.... just two days remaining folks!

If you'd like some  information about last term's 'Parent's Night' then check out 
this class diary.  

If you have any queries about these summer camps or weekly classes then contact Diarmuid at (083) 3068385.

And if all that's enough then watch this video to hear what the students themselves have to say!

Happy camping!

Disclosure: I was neither asked nor paid to write this, I did so because I wanted to. This blog post reflects my honest opinions. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Reasons To Be Cheerful: a Flower, a Loss and a Celebration.....

The days are long, seasonal time-changes notwithstanding, and very, very busy as the count down continues to my teenager's state exams in June. I try to remind myself that these aren't important exams and they don't really count for anything; whilst also keeping these thoughts far, far away from my mouth lest I let them slip, giving him ideas that he really shouldn't have!

However, there's always time, if you make it so, to notice and enjoy........

A Flower

A Camellia plant sits forlorn outside my front door, where it's been for the last few years. It's green leaves fading and their edges browning with each passing year as it keens ever outward, desperately stretching towards the sunshine it needs to grow into the beautiful flowering plant that it knows it can be.

It's far too heavy to move so it's staying put, but I did take pity and feed it some magic plant growing foodstuff at one stage. It never responded.

Then lo and behold a couple of days ago I noticed something very, very strange.  Buds. Getting ready to flower. And look what finally popped out yesterday, just to brighten my day.....

                              If you look closer you can see some more buds ready to flower!

A Loss

I'm very good at losing things, generally speaking, and usually things that I really could do without losing either. So it was great to recently discover that, between the ups and downs and the jigs and reels of life, I'd finally lost something I've been trying to lose for quite some time now.

A stubborn something that simply refused to ... well ... get lost!

Yep, you got it. Since December/January I've lost 10lbs of the most stubborn post-injury weight ever! I've still a bit to go yet but..... Go Me!

A Celebration

A birthday is a really good reason to be cheerful, but when they're no longer guaranteed they become ever more special, even if they can't be fully celebrated.

Today a special lady in my life defied all the medics in her life and celebrated another birthday!

This is no mean feat considering all she's been through.

So,Happy Birthday Mam - you are my biggest 'Reason to be Cheerful' xxx

This post is part of the 'Reasons to be Cheerful' linky hosted over at Ojo's World ......

Sunday, April 26, 2015

My 12 Signs of Summer....

We have been blessed, it must be said, with some recent fabulous 'pre-summer' weather. And I've enjoyed every minute of it. I simply wallowed in the beauty of our Easter break and there was a very special moment on the beach this week that will stay with me for a long time to come.

Yes, I know it's early days and yes, I know that it's gotten cooler and we've had some more April-appropriate rainy weather of late.

But it was sunny again today. Well, this morning at least and again later this evening. Tomorrow will bring an even lower drop in temperature and more rain, but today it warm warm enough to yet again enjoy a walk, and a brief lounge outdoors. In between the intermittent clouds and hailstones that is!

Hailstones notwithstanding I've been recently thinking  about all the little tell-tale signs suggesting that summer is approaching.....

1. My solitary garden chair that gets unearthed from beneath it's rain and frost-worn protective covering, and it's faded cushion that's hastily rustled up from the depths of the spider-laden  - *shudders* - garden shed, on every day that the sun deigns to shine. And I think that it's not long now until the protective covering is fully cast  aside and the whole patio furniture set is revealed!

2. I look longingly at the barbecue resting underneath it's rain and frost-worn protective covering and think: 'it's not too soon to start using it, is it'? And then wonder, 'who's going to clean it first though?' But I already know the answer to that one!

3. The squeaking of the velux windows as they have their first opening of the approaching summer season, and I smile as both sides of big patio doors are finally cast wide open too.

4. The fully-laden clothes horse as it now regularly stands outside, with it's damp load gently flapping in the breeze.

5. I start thinking of raspberry-based recipes as I admire our ever-expanding raspberry bush that is blooming, with it's flowers just waiting to pop open and burst into luscious, juicy fruit any time soon.

6. I end up wearing less coming home from a walk then I do going out, as I shed a layer en route. Rarely is a scarf or warm jacket needed these days but sunglasses are a must!

7. I think of the summer holiday that approaches and the even less layers I hope to be able to wear then, and promptly quicken my pace!

8. I notice the good moods and sunny dispositions of those I meet on walks or in shops these days, and their ever-growing smiles.

9. Ice cream. I haven't indulged yet but I will soon, and I just have to get my hands on one of those new Magnum ice creams! I think I'll start with the yummy strawberry white chocolate one , and see where I go from there.

10. As I laze on my lounger I think of sipping long, cold summer drinks, with maybe even the odd glass of wine in the back garden of an evening, as the sun begins it's decline.

11. The sun as it sets a little bit later each day and the harmonious twittering of the birdsong that trills insistently at that time, as if the birds also sense the approaching nightfall and don't want the sun to set either.

12. Sunscreen. Don't forget the sunscreen, no matter how early in the season it is!

And so it appears that our lovely 'pre-summer' weather has departed for a while, but I'm sure it'll return. After all these are only my 'pre-summer' signs of summer.

My real sign of the actual summer has yet to materialise you see.

The annual invasion of the army of ants that descends, mistakenly considering our home to be theirs. Until we convince them otherwise, that is.

So we can all relax, for until the ant invasion the arrival of our real summer has yet to come.

Meanwhile I'll stock up on the sunscreen........ and the ant powder!!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Captivating Solitude

I sit in solitude 
In mind and space 

Surrounded by blue hues 
of sea and sky 

And the glinting of a brilliant sun. 

Thoughts slowly ripple through my mind 
Like the gentle lapping of the trickling waves 

The horizon glimmers on glassy sea 
It lies far away, 
Way beyond my reach and imagination

The calming sea sounds wash over me
Cleansing my mind from stresses

I breathe deeply, gently
Calm and warmth embraces

The mind and soul cleared

Alone in my thoughts 
And with these sounds

I am almost kidnapped 
by this solitude and beauty

Sounds of life intrude

A siren seeps through the bliss 
An airplane soars overhead

The needs of the day
That lies ahead are calling

 So I reluctantly escape
These captivating clutches

Assuaged in the knowledge 

That it is I who leaves 
And not this place    

Friday, April 17, 2015

All Quiet on the Western Front

It was the middle of the night as I steeled the grit from my eyes and got behind the wheel of the car - to drive the sleepy-headed teenager and his classmate to the airport for a much awaited school trip. 

And I thought to myself, well it's far from the airport I was brought - even though in actuality I lived very close -  for any school trip I was ever able to go on.  But that was back in the dinosaur age, as my son himself might have you believe.

There was a school trip to France once - by boat. Airplanes didn't take off with as much regularity back in the Mesozoic Era you see, and flight costs were of Titanosaur-ic proportions.  Even though going by sea was cheaper I still couldn't go as it was still too costly and besides, I was a very bad traveler. 

However I do have some wonderful memories of a trip on a barge and a visit to the Japenese Gardens, as myself and an 'old' school pal recently reminisced.

The point is, the power of a good school trip is such that we still remember it - and from all those eons ago too ;)

This present day school trip takes in the World War 1 museums, cemeteries and battlefields of Belgium and France. The sights and sounds of this by-gone era - to be seen in reality as opposed to on an onscreen battlefield - is well-suited to any teenage boy with any amount of street-cred coursing through his veins. 

The relief of getting him 'out of that bed ... NOW' and out the door on time, for the final time this week, was palpable. And I was practically flooded with glee - when I reminded myself that for the next three mornings that particular 'pleasure' will be someone else's problem! 

Oh, yes.

The battlefields of morning routines and school studies have moved to a completely different country.

For three whole days.

I shall enjoy.

Wallow in my relative non-commitments.

Drink wine with my lunch, if I'm so inclined.

Stroll down to the local pub for an evening with the husband, and stay for as long as we damn well please.

Get up whenever I want and have whatever I want, whenever I want it.

Go for a simple walk at my total leisure.

Ramble aimlessly through the house, sighing with ease.

Feeling the emptiness.

Wondering what he's doing and where he is? Right now? As I glimpse through the itinerary, for the umpteenth time. 

Considering for a brief moment of breaking the 'do not text or call me' rule, before wisely deciding against it.

Missing him already.

Looking forward to his safe return.

Wishing him Safe travels, sweet dreams and the makings of fond memories. And heaping virtual appreciation and patience upon the teachers accompanying them all.

Oh, yes.

It is indeed all very quiet on the Western Front. 

On this Western Front that is.

As for the Western Front of World War 1 Battlefields, restaurants, teenage boys, hotels and flights?

Well, of that I would not be too sure!