Category Archives: Family life

Two: a birthday greeting


“Bundle of joy” is a hackneyed phrase. Although you are two now, Lochlann, and much too big for baby phrases, I can’t think of any term that suits you better.

In some ways, you are more of a bundle now than ever. The jumbled, cuddly roundness of the word perfectly fits your little, roundy, snuggly body. Much more so than when you were born and you landed on my chest, a squirming, slippery mass of bones and downy skin.

What bliss those first two weeks were: you, your Dad and me. We lived in our bed. Warm, soft and nest-like, it became our habitat. Dad brought coffee, toast and croissants, then hopped in himself. Your little grasping fists and lips sought out my breast without fuss. Exhausted, elated, we slept, ate and breathed each other in.

It was January. Wind and rain bit at your Dad’s ears when he went out to collect the other children from school. You and I needed to have no part of those excursions, Lochlann; we were new, we were exempt.

The fourth child is so blessedly lucky. No books need to be consulted; I waved the public health nurse goodbye with a worldly air. I don’t need your ministrations, the wave said, for I am mother of many.

We did what our hearts and guts told us, Lochlann. You fed at my breast whenever you liked; I carried you around constantly like a gorilla mother; you slept beside me day and night.

And now you are two. A fierce, indignant, roaring, throw-your-head-back-laughing little being whose main challenge in life is to fight off the hail of hugs and kisses that your siblings unleash on you every chance they get. A smile from Lochlann is a treat; a kiss, a triumph.

In the morning, I will go into your room and greet you: wake from your slumber, warrior boy, for today is your birthday.

Lochlann

Advertisements

My writer’s room, revealed (hint: it’s not like Seamus Heaney’s)


Have you come across any of the articles about the spaces in which writers do their writing? They were published as a series in The Guardian a few years ago. I must admit to drooling over some of them. Just look at the room where Seamus Heaney did his writing: with its shelves of books, framed photos, little sculptures and the sloped ceiling, it is every inch a writer’s haven. Or the writing room of Michael Morpurgo, unmistakably writerly in a different way, with its ascetic wooden bed and bare walls.
Now to go from the sublime to the ridiculous. This is the space in which I currently write:

The writer's, erm... "room", complete with fence

The writer’s, erm… “room”, complete with fence

A recent bedroom re-assignment in my house has meant that my “office” (half a room, fenced off from the other half, which is a play room) is no longer “mine” but “ours”. In addition, several years’ worth of hoarded items are now temporarily stored here, as there is no safe (i.e. child-proof) space anywhere else in the house.
The bits of wood that you can just about see on the left of the picture belong to the “fence” – complete with lockable gate – that my husband constructed across the middle of the room, to keep the children away from the computers. Yes, we really have a room with a fence running through it. (There is probably some The Field-like metaphor in there, if only I could think of it.)
I can only pass the buck on some of the hoarding; much of it is mine, years of memorabilia from travels, studies and life events. So the Herculean task awaits of sorting, culling, clearing and storing. Yet another task to take away from writing time.
On the plus side, I get great psychological benefit from de-cluttering. I find the process, once started, to be energising, and the results bring me a great sense of calm and order.
A friend has recommended Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, which my friend says is excellent for motivating oneself to have a life-altering de-clutter. I have the book on my Kindle and plan to get stuck into it tonight.

Have you got a work space in your house that is exclusively yours? How do you go about keeping it clutter-free?

Pregnancy, birth preparation and getting pinched by a German midwife


Oh-three-oh-three-oh-three. That was the date I had had in my head for forty whole weeks. The date I had first heard spoken out loud by the doctor around eight months earlier. The day my first baby would arrive.

It seemed like magic from the start. As a child, I had mystic notions about the number three. I think I had read in a library book that it had magical properties. That was all I needed to begin a lifelong attachment to the number. And now, twenty-plus years later, on March 3rd 2003, here I was, due to have a magical “three” baby.

Or perhaps that should be a “drei” baby. My husband and I, recently married, were living and working in Germany. We both had well-paid “knowledge” jobs in the IT industry, a beautiful apartment in a leafy suburb of Heidelberg, one of Germany’s most gorgeous cities, and lots of free time to spend doing whatever the hell we liked.

Heidelberg

Heidelberg, Germany

And what do people in the Western world do when they have everything? They want more everything, of course. We wanted a baby.

All the books and websites said it can take up to a year to become pregnant. That sounds like a good time frame, we thought. Plenty of time to practise.

Four weeks later, said baby was on the way. Oh right, we thought. That didn’t take much practice at all.

My husband and I were academic types. I was one of those annoying students who always had their hand up in class and liked nothing better than a good long essay for homework. My husband was one of those even more annoying students who appeared to do no work whatsoever but still got straight As. We set to work on our latest assignment.

The beautiful apartment soon began to pile up with Babykram. Kram is a fantastic German word. It means “stuff”, but it sounds so much more like it actually means “stuff” than in English. Books, videos, sheets printed from the internet, the cot, the nappy changing unit, cushions in bizarre shapes – if it was Kram, and had anything to do with babies, we got it. We spent evenings with our noses buried in books and our fingers became deformed from over-use of Allen keys.

Then there was the birth preparation course. The course leader was an imposing, broad-shouldered midwife named Hannelore. The course was specifically for couples who were first-time parents and Hannelore was determined to disabuse us of our naive notions about childbirth.

Did I say dis-abuse? She declared in one of the first sessions that to create an idea of what the pain of labour would be like, each non-pregnant partner was to grab the groin muscle in their pregnant partner’s upper inside thigh between their finger and thumb, and pinch as hard as they could. Hannelore was unimpressed with the mild “ow”s that emanated from the pregnant women in the room. So she rolled up her metaphorical sleeves and went around and pinched us all herself. The pain was excruciating. There were actual screams coming from the room.

I limped out to the car afterwards beside my shell-shocked husband, feeling that not much magic remained in our baby journey.

BabyScan12weeks

Baby, or Casper the friendly ghost?

The birth preparation course left my husband and me feeling not very prepared, and very slightly terrified. On the more positive side, the wonderful German healthcare system granted us monthly ultrasound scans, so we were able to closely follow our baby’s progress from tiny black blip to the ghostly but unmistakeable features of a perfect little face staring back at us, back to a black-and-white blur as the baby got bigger, and bigger.

And I got bigger, and bigger. I had expected this, of course, but I was concerned for my centre of gravity. Surely the laws of physics would work on the magnitude of my tummy to make me fall over? Apparently not. I managed to remain upright until the end.

Ah, the end. Oh-three-oh-three-oh-three finally arrived. But it turned out to be a big fat oh-no. Not even a magic wand was going to get our baby out that day. It took five more days, a nice walk and a Thai curry to kick things off.

To be continued…

Peanut butter and white chocolate blondies: a treatment for chicken pox


After almost six years of blogging, I’ve decided to add a new topic: food. I seem to spend quite a bit of time cooking these days (four children definitely has something to do with it), and I certainly spend lots of time eating, so I have lots to share. Here goes…

Peanut butter and white chocolate: a treatment for chicken pox

No, not to rub onto the sores… To eat, in the form of peanut butter and white chocolate blondies.

Poor Daughter 2 was home with chicken pox all last week. Since baking is a known treatment for all minor childhood illnesses, I thought I’d try to take her mind off things with this incredibly more-ish recipe from Rachel Allen:

wtity201306181

Having peeled Daughter 2 away from her zillionth episode of Peppa Pig (hey, it’s summer in Ireland, which means it was too wet and cold to go outside), we got started by creaming the softened butter and peanut butter:

Creaming the peanut butter and butter

Creaming the peanut butter and butter

If you forget to take the butter out of the fridge in advance to soften, cut it roughly into cubes, put it in the microwave on the Defrost setting for 30 seconds at a time and check after each interval until it has softened.

We used fancy organic peanut butter. I’m not the most confident baker so I tend to overcompensate by using good ingredients and hoping they will balance out any deficiencies in the cooking. Also, I live near Ardkeen Quality Food Store, which besides being an Irish small business success story, gives me all too easy access to high quality foods that can be hard to find elsewhere. (No, they didn’t pay me to write that!)

Back to peanut butter… I’ve used cheap-n-cheerful brands of peanut butter before and the results are also delicious.

Adding the beaten egg and brown sugar

Adding the beaten egg and brown sugar

At last! I’ve been itching to finish the old bottle of vanilla essence for ages, so I can open this one – organic Madagascar bourbon vanilla extract:

Adding the vanilla

Adding the vanilla

The sick child doesn’t get to just watch – she got to work at this point (yes, the pox-y arms in the photo are hers):

Adding the flour and baking powder

Adding the flour and baking powder

It would be quicker to use a food processor for the mixing, but the good old-fashioned wooden spoon is better when cooking with children. It means they can get involved in mixing the ingredients and feel more ownership of the finished product. (Nice bit of corporate-speak there!)

The next bit of magic is the white chocolate:

The chopped white chocolate

The chopped white chocolate

wtity201306187We used Swiss patisserie chocolate (told you we were being fancy). White chocolate buttons or drops would do fine as well, though you do get more substantial gooey splodges of melted chocolate in the finished blondies if you chop up a slab of white chocolate into pieces like this.

Rachel instructs us to butter and line the baking tin. She has three children so she should know better. Any volunteers for cutting out the correctly sized pieces of paper, then buttering and lining the tin while a be-poxed four-year-old fidgets, fusses and possibly even wails with impatience? Didn’t think so. Instead, get the child to tear off a good-sized piece of baking parchment and lay it on top of the tin like this:

wtity201306184Then just scrape in the blondie mixture:

wtity201306183

And smooth out the top:

wtity201306182

And into the oven it goes.

Lastly, persuade the child that waiting thirty minutes to eat something yummy is a GOOD thing (I leave this part up to you).

Enjoy!

Meningitis World Day Special: Siobhan’s Story – Ordinary People with Extraordinary Lives series


Today is World Meningitis Day. To mark the day, I’m re-blogging a post by Carmel Harrington in which Carmel interviews Irish paediatrician Dr Siobhan Connor. Essential reading for parents and anyone who looks after small children:

Siobhan’s Story – Ordinary People with Extraordinary lives Series, Meningitis World Day Special.

Tall Ships Festival 2011 in Waterford, part 2


Yesterday I wondered if the spirit of discovery I felt on day one of the
Tall Ships Festival might be just a product of the excitement of a much-anticipated event finally getting under way. Now as day two draws to a close, I’m delighted to report that the spirit is still very much alive and well.

Here are the ways the Tall Ships Festival took me out of the ordinary today:

– Cycling into town dressed as a pirate first thing in the morning – definitely a first (and possibly a last).

– Strolling up the middle of the Quay mid-morning with hundreds of other “pirates”. We were supposed to be marauding, though I’m not sure we did a great job – do pirates normally chat, bask in the sunshine and carry small children on their shoulders as they maraud?

– Realising that men in their fifties and sixties have a hugely unfair advantage in the piracy imitation game – stick a bandana, an eyepatch and a billowy white shirt on them and they look so much the part, they blow everyone else out of the water (sorry, couldn’t resist…).

– Leaving a city-centre cafe without ordering when the daughter and I noticed to our total shock that the prices on the “Tall Ships Special” menu were double the normal prices. We were shocked, A – because of the bare-faced cheek of it, and B – because the city authorities had specifically requested local businesses not to put up their prices during the Festival (and most have taken heed).

– Sitting at one of the rows of trestle tables on the Quay, admiring the TS Royalist docked alongside, helping the daughter handle her foot-long hot dog while I tucked into Thai noodles, chatting to friends and neighbours passing by.

Now, like yesterday evening, the sounds of the Tall Ships Festival are resounding out across the City – tonight it’s fireworks, their banging and whizzing oddly dulled at this distance. These evening sounds are wonderful, reminding those of us tucked up at home on the outskirts of the City that the Festival is in full swing.

Now to get some sleep for (hopefully) more marauding tomorrow.

Tall Ships Festival 2011 in Waterford, part 1


The thing I love about big public events like the Tall Ships Festival 2011, which kicked off in Waterford this afternoon, is that they take you out of yourself. They lead you to do things you wouldn’t normally do.

Sitting in Jordan’s pub on the Quay on a weekday afternoon, chatting away to total strangers, is not something I normally do. Granted, I only ended up doing it today because it was the only way the daughter and I could find to escape the crush around William Vincent Wallace Plaza, where the formal launch of the Festival was taking place. We squeezed our way through the river of immobilised bodies, up the little flagged alley and in the side door of the bar. Five minutes later, the daughter and I were perched on red velveteen seats in the window, sipping lemonade, watching Keith Barry predict something amazing on the Plaza across the way (admittedly it did lose something with the lack of sound) and sympathising amiably with fellow street-refugees about the crush outside.

Once the crowds eased, the daughter and I were off again, doing a grand tour of the market on the Quay, gaily spending money on whatever took our fancy (because spending outside your budget doesn’t count on special occasions, didn’t you know?), eating our own body weight in burritos, hotdogs and cupcakes (an unusual combination, I grant you, but hey, the Tall Ships only come every five years!) and dawdling deliciously with nowhere to be and no schedule to stick to.

When we’d seen and eaten everything we could, we decided to deal with the non-appearance of the bus by walking most of the way home. The Quay to Williamstown on foot was a joy: Strolling along in the late-afternoon sun, hardly a car in sight, daughter in a blissed-out world of her own with her iPod plugged into her ears and her hair dancing wildly around her face, the view of the City spreading out behind us as we advanced up John’s Hill towards Grange and home.

Now I’m sitting on my sofa, listening to the ship’s horns as they echo out from the Quay, across the City and out into the County, bidding us goodnight.

To close, a confession. Jordan’s is one of the most historic buildings in Waterford Ciy. I have often marvelled at it from the outside, at its cheeky sideways tilt and its faded, half-timbered glory. I was born and bred in Waterford. Until today, I never saw the inside of Jordan’s. Circumstances combined today to lead me there.

There are three more days to go of the Tall Ships Festival 2011. I can’t wait to see where it takes me tomorrow.

Guest blog post: itsafeeling.com


The lovely folks over at itsafeeling.com, the fantastic new tourism website run by Waterford County Local Authorities, have invited me to guest blog for them this week. Visit me there!

Author interview: Maria Moulton, author of "Mammy Diaries"


Maria Moulton is the author of the just-published Mammy Diaries, a fascinating, in-depth look at pregnancy and motherhood in modern Ireland based on almost three years’ worth of interviews with Irish mothers. Published at the end of March, Mammy Diaries has already received a level of publicity in both old and new media that is remarkable for a self-published work.

I recently caught up with Maria at the Waterford launch of Mammy Diaries and asked her for her insights into self-publishing and self-promotion.

Mammy Diaries

OS: Maria, first of all, congratulations on your remarkable book, Mammy Diaries. It’s the first book that I’m aware of that really lifts the lid on what motherhood in 21st-century Ireland is like. How are you finding life as a published author so far?

MM: Thanks Orla! Well, to be perfectly honest, I’ve just swapped the busy-ness of being a stay at home mother trying to squish in time to research, write and compile a book, for the busy-ness of being a stay at home mother trying to squish in time to promote, sell and publicize a book! It’s been great fun though. I still can’t believe that it’s “out there.”

OS: Mammy Diaries is a self-published work. Did you decide to self-publish from the word go or did you consider approaching traditional print publishers first?

MM: From the start, I really liked the idea of self-publishing. Aside from the obvious benefits of working at my own pace (essential with small kids!) and having complete control over content, I also knew that the book I was putting together had a very specific audience and as such would be a lot easier to publicise then if say, I’d written a work of general fiction.
My husband was a bit nervous about the idea at the start, so for his sake I did send out a few letters of enquiry to a few traditional publishers. I never even got past the proposal stage with them, so in the end, it was self-publishing all the way! I decided to go with a company in Dublin called Original Writing and they’ve been absolutely amazing. A real pleasure to work with and very efficient, every step of the way.

OS: The publicity around the book has already been fantastic – radio slots, newspaper pieces, online PR, and your ongoing nationwide book tour. The book is also on the shelf in Easons’s, which is rare for a self-published work. How have you gone about generating publicity for the book?

MM: As you said yourself, self published works don’t tend to get into the larger, mainstream book shops, so my main goal when Mammy Diaries was published was to generate as much publicity in as short a space of time as humanly possible. The ide was to make it that much more attractive to the bigger retailers. This meant contacting journalists who I thought would be interested in the project, getting exposure in both local and national media and once I’d gathered enough clippings and podcasts, my publishers in Dublin contacted the bigger shops and “Voila!”.
The Internet has definitely been my biggest and most effective tool. Without it, the book probably wouldn’t have been written and I’d never have even considered self-publishing without it. You can do anything online. IrishPressReleases.ie allows you to contact the nation’s media in seconds and social networking sites like Twitter, Blogspot and Facebook have just opened up so many doors. It’s amazing really how far we’ve come in the last 10 or 15 years.

OS: Which channels are you finding the most effective so far for promoting your book?

MM: Well, the press coverage at the start was a huge boost . That definitely brought the book to the public’s attention. Having it in Eason’s is great because it means that it’s easily and constantly available to people. The book tour allows me to help keep the book current and to continue to introduce it to people who may not have heard about it yet. Obviously though, as I said above, it’s the internet that’s making it all happen.

OS: Mammy Diaries is currently out in print format. E-reader platforms like Kindle can bring self-published books to a much wider audience. Have you any plans to also publish Mammy Diaries for e-readers?

MM: My husband is working on it at the moment! Touch wood, it should be available in Kindle format in the next week or so.

OS: Self-publishing used to be the Cinderella of the book world. Some sources now say it’s the next big thing. What is your view of self-publishing versus the more traditional route of submitting your work to established publishers and hoping for the best?

MM: Honestly? I love it. I think that if you have the drive to get out there and put in the work to promote your book, it’s definitely worth considering. No one is going to work as hard for your book as you are. I know I’m probably sounding like a bit of a broken record, but the internet really has opened up so many doors and possibilities.
That being said, it’s called self-publishing for a reason. You are your own editor, critic, agent and publicist, and that can get a little tiring. You’re not going to feel one hundred per cent all the time and there are going to be days when you wish to God that there was a team of people behind you organizing everything for you and telling you exactly what to do next. You are going to have moments of self doubt where you wonder “Is it really any good at all? What have I done?!”
At the end of the day though, you get to put out exactly what you want to put out and not someone else’s version of what you started off writing. Hopefully, with a little luck and a lot of work, you’ll find a group of readers who connect with what you’ve written and who will look forward to hearing more from you.

OS: For many writers, their work is a labour of love. But money is key to being able to continue as a writer. Can you talk to us a little about the financial side of a venture like Mammy Diaries – did you have to invest much of your own money into getting it published and to publicise it? Do you expect to make a profit on the book?

MM: The cost of publishing varies from company to company and package to package. With the different self-publishing companies that are out there (and there are more popping up every day) you can look at paying anywhere from 1000 euro for your basic, no-frills option to several thousand euro which will buy you editorial services, consultation on cover design, and so on.
Not being made of money myself, we went for something on the more basic end of the scale publishing-wise. Aside from the cost of petrol, all of our publicity has been free, so for us there really wasn’t that much of an investment to be made.
Aside from that, we’ve just worked really hard to do as much of the grunt work as we could do ourselves. My husband learned how to do web design so he could do my website and we also designed the cover ourselves. I have a regular (if currently neglected!) blog of the same name, a Facebook group for Mammy Diaries as well as a Twitter account that I’m getting better at using. Whenever we go anywhere to do signings, I let the local media know in case it’s something they’d be interested in covering. None of this costs money, just a bit of time and effort.
I’m also lucky enough to be surrounded by a large group of friends and family who are unbelievably supportive of Mammy Diaries and do their best to promote the heck out of it, for which I’m eternally grateful!

OS: You’re currently on a nationwide book tour. How are you finding the tour? Would you recommend a book tour to other writers as part of the PR campaign for a self-published work?

MM: Definitely. It’s a great oppurtunity to meet the people who will be reading your book as well as to make contacts with book shops and libraries. Also, every launch gives you the potential for local media coverage, which is great for keeping your book in the public eye.

OS: I’ve been told that self-promotion can take as much time as writing itself, if not more. How do you go about making the time for promotion work for Mammy Diaries? Do you have any tips for other writers in this regard?

MM: Do your best to do the kind of promotion that works for you. As a mother of two small children, traditional evening champagne launch events didn’t work for me (or for that matter, for the majority of my audience!). Instead, we hold our signings in play centers where my girls can run around and play with other children and the mothers who are coming along can do the same and not have to worry about babysitters and such. The same goes with radio and print interviews – most of mine were done on the phone so I could do them from anywhere. I spoke with The Irish Times from the car while we drove around the countryside putting the girls to sleep and I did an interview with a Waterford radio station live from my kitchen in my pyjamas!
My husband was made redundant last year, which ended up being a blessing in disguise as it was his being home that gave me the freedom to really buckle down and get the last of the book finished. He’s also my chauffeur/graphic designer/web master and general go-to guy.
Aside from that, I fully admit that there was a LOT of procrastrination in the way of Facebooking, tweeting and emailing going on while I was writing Mammy Diaries. Nowadays, I use that same time to do the same things, but with a purpose. Instead of a way to procrastinate, I’m using them for promotion instead.

OS: Many thanks Maria!

***

Find Maria at http://www.mammydiaries.ie, http://mammydiaries.blogspot.com, on Facebook at Mammy Diaries Ireland and on Twitter at @mammydiaries.

(c) Curmumgeon 2011

Guest blog post: Friends of Breastfeeding


Check out my latest guest blog article, this time for Friends of Breastfeeding: http://friendsofbreastfeeding.blogspot.com/2011/05/its-all-about-milk.html.

%d bloggers like this: