Longlisted Loveliness in the V by Very Blog Awards 2017

Once again, I am humbled and happy to be longlisted for these Irish blog recognitions, V by Very Blog Awards. I read many of the bloggers’ work that has won or been nominated before and it is a little cosy hug of pleasure to know that my writing might be enjoyed by someone else as I have enjoyed theirs. My vanity has been tickled!bitmoji-20170902100006

I didn’t begin to blog for awards. I am not a blogger that is making money from my efforts as much as I admire those who can and do. I have been a Boolino friend (getting books to review occasionally) and I am sent the odd yoghurt voucher but that is it and that is fine. I don’t want my blogging to become hard work. I want to be a teacher by professional and writer by passion.

When my children were born, life changed. There were all sorts of magical changes and many difficult ones. Who I am changed or who I perceived myself to be. It soon became apparent that I needed to take a handle on this quickly or I would be swamped under.bitmoji-20170902015449

This is where blogging came in. I have been writing all my life. I wanted to publish my first ‘book’ when I was four. College allowed me a miraculous capacity for creativity but then you hit real life-wow. Isn’t it hard to get yourself off the ground? I had found myself reading and reading Family Friendly HQ. Their posts were so apt and timely,  I felt as if they were mind readers. One fine day when I may have had a slightly less than blurry mind and a bit of a brainwave, I decided to try blogging.  I had been taught how in college. I had Internet access. I could use my phone.  I also could do something productive creatively in those moments when the babies slept rather than mop the floor. Again. I mean I was killing it in domestic productivity already.bitmoji-20170902045323.png

I was pretty new to this virtual society that I now love and was very rose-cheeked to reach the short list. I had no other expectations but I will say that getting that far did make me value my blogging a little more. Littlewoods Ireland Blog Awards Parenting Blog Shortlist…thank you for choosing us!  is a post about last year’s selection.

Getting named in two categories is even more exciting as I don’t feel as if I am niche enough to be exclusively one or another. I started this blog as a parent blogger dealing with motherhood and what it brought to the fore in my world.

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I mean, I went from this to chaos. I needed a new outlet.

The blog brings me a chance to explore my identity outside mothering and this included lifestyle elements, travelling, eating, reading, theatre and film largely I mainly write from the angle of a mother and teacher.

So to conclude,  I am going to list the the benefits of blogging for those of you reading who may want to give it a go bit are unsure.  What do I get out of blogging? Here I go…bitmoji-20170902092051

  1. My Own Style. I can dress this blogger anyway I like. As you see, today I am a white rabbit. I can be me without leaving the house. It is a marvellous place to ‘find your voice’. You don’t need to be a wonderful writer.  You don’t even need to write. You can be purely pictorial. You get to choose.
  2. Express Yourself. I get to say what I want to. It doesn’t mean anyone needs to listen/ read but I can rant, laugh, race and review at will. Any time of day or night. You don’t feel silenced anymore. You don’t feel like you have nothing interesting to say outside of baby led weaning, babygros and burping. Not everyone is interested these topics, I soon realised, just when my brain started to limit itself to just the 3 B’s.

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    Why are you looking so bored? These are the most beautiful baby pictures EVER. There any only 150, nearly there…
  3. Flexibility lives somewhere in my world now. I blog from a phone app. No more wasted time. I wait on a doctor’s office- I blog. I cannot sleep- I blog. I take a bath- I blog. You don’t need to overthink that last one.bitmoji-20170905014546
  4. No Pressure. I don’t have to produce to a deadline unless I challenge myself to. bitmoji-20170902020046I can hit that Publish button any time I choose. I can save titles, ideas and dip in and out. No one us expecting anything from me.
  5. Identity. Blogging had brought ‘me’ back. I am mothering, teaching keeping house and still being myself. bitmoji-20170902020215Life suddenly included me again.

So thank you blogging and bloggers. I have already won my awards in many ways. I link to several groups such as #bigpinklink and #fortheloveofBLOG and recently had the fortunate pleasure to be involved with Big Up Your Blog. Several people have been kind enough to grant me the blog hug that is The Liebster Award. I once read Family Friendly HQ but now I write articles for Family Friendly HQ! I have written several reviews for Boolino. As for for folk out there who think they should blog and are uncertain, I say go for it. Nothing to lose and everything to gain. It is a beautiful world out here in Blogosphere. bitmoji-20170902044855.png

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Ulster American Folkpark

With the hard/ soft border controversy being such a big issue at the forefront of Irish politics, I think blogging about a daytrip in this historical park is timely.

I live in the Irish Midlands – south of the border, as they say. I have grown up watching the troubles on the news as one of the Irish who didn’t experience it first hand. I am a history teacher and have some knowledge on the history of our border. I have been ‘over it’ countless times (the border that is) and despite the crossing in the eighties and the now, being a world of a difference, my experiences of the counties have always been the same. I have loved visiting those six counties. I am very, very aware however of the struggles Irish people had in Ulster however and can understand when they feel like we southerners can never fully understand.

My friends and I decided to travel up north for a few days without  a second thought. Our main drive was to visit the tourist attraction that is in the post title- The Ulster American Folk park.

I find that I am often painfully aware of the tragedies of Irish history when site seeing and the ironies that it brings. The Famine Memorial statue in Dublin is the most poignant tribute and it never fails to move me. the-famine-memorial-statues-in-dublin-docklands-ireland-drykhpAs a country girl, I only ever see it when in the Big Smoke. I am usually only in the capital for entertainment. Therefore I always think of the horrors of the Famine as I have just been wined and dined or about to see David Grey in The Convention Centre or watch Wicked at the Bord Gais. It is like Christmas time. My first memories of Christmas parties in pubs includes large groups of inebriated and happy folk, arms around each other, chanting the sad lyrics of Feed the World (Let them know it’s Christmas Time) as they sweat out the evening’s indulgences in beer, wine and the four course meal that proceeded it. In museums and parks such as this, I always look for the coffee shop and a potentially wonderful array of cake as only an Irish bakery can provide. This time however, I think of me eating chocolate cake and drinking Americanos as more than a bit rich as we are about to learn the stories of people whose have had extremely little to live on. We particularly feel for those on the ships and the dry biscuity goods they lived on- potentially weevil studded. I start feeling like Marie Antoinette- richly oblivious of my life’s good luck.

Therefore I will not blog about this park as just a review, I will refer to how child friendly it is or isn’t out of respect to my parenting blogger friends but will also focus on what I saw in the park and how I feel that stands now.

It is such a terrific idea. The Ulster people are honoring and remembering the folk from their province who emigrated over the years to America in a most innovative fashion, an outdoor museum. It brings us through the journey in a kinaesthetic way following the Mellon family who would become wealthy bankers in the US later on their lives. Firstly there is a centre of pictorial and textual information which brings you through 300 years of emigrants’ stories, looking at the Titanic time also. You then enter the park into an Ireland of old. Firstly rural life of the poor and contrastingly more affluent Irish is portrayed.

Thick with turf smoke, I couldn’t properly photograph the interior of a poverty stricken tenant cottage as my senses could barely stand the smoke impregnated air. It was also hard to see. I feel great sympathy for the lady in the corner who sits there as part of her job! One family of a large number would dwell in a one room home using curtains to divide sleeping space. We marvelled at how people made do in terribly tough circumstances. You pass the cottages on the outskirts and understand how poverty made people survive in cramped, smoky environs. I think of us in our large comfortable houses and cannot help but compare the times. Are we not fortunate? We see the home of a wealthier family, the Mellon family. Again, what is noticeable is the fog of the peat burning.

There is much more space. Whitewashed walls and bread making, potatoes to peel and boil are on show. We see the art of candle and bread making in process. From here, we walk through a local ‘town’, fully recreated and stunning in detail. There are people in full costume at each area, answering questions and teaching us about what we see.

We then walked in through the large doors to a mock shipyard itself and board the typical vessel that emigrants travelled upon.

We hear the stories of illness and tragedies, the hopes, solitudes and fears of the times. I think of when I moved to England for two years. I could travel home easily. I had comfort on those flights, yet the homesickness still ate me alive. I think of these people having to contain both physical and mental emotions and stay strong in the knowledge they may never return. When you leave the ship, you step out on ‘American soil’ : a port laid out as if it were years ago.

We see the pickled foods lined up in the general store and the array of canned goods that a newbie must marvel at. Lima beans? A far cry from home.

The journey continues with you walking the city streets in Pennsylvania and finally out to the homeland that was created by the emigrants lucky to do so. Many examples of homesteads are there to inspect and you really feel as if you are standing on the American soil of the past. The differences in sights and sounds were subtle yet very effective. We noticed more wood use over stone.

There were brighter rooms- lighter colours inside. There was more use of patchwork over wool in counterpanes. Of course, there was no peat. Instead, the scent of log fires replaced it.

We no longer see baskets of turf, but wood piles. My favourite -a large pumpkin patch- accompanied one dwelling. The methods of gatemaking and cabin building with interlocking logs were ingenius.

There are basements to cellars with outdoor entrances and water is carefully channelled to make a cooling room for milk etc. Exploring here is great fun and so different to what we usually see in Ireland. You can’t help but learn about it as you are immersed in it.

So as a historical empathiser, I didn’t have to work too hard. The tour was doing it for me as we were interactively part of this journey.

Would I bring kids? Absolutely. Smaller ones will enjoy the walks, the domestic pets and the occasional hiding robin.

There are toilet facilities all the way around. Older ones may have a chance to open their minds to the historical past and the challenges that existed in Ulster previous to The Troubles and the current political debates. They will see, as I did, the strength in humanity and will see celebrated the tapestry of emigrant life as people because everything from millionaires to swindlers in this new world.20170808_115253

It puts me in mind of the poetry of Eavan Boland and her constant theme of figures ‘outside history’. They may not be named in history books, but they are very much part of our make up. This poem, Outside History has a darkness that I don’t fully feel in this museum of hope, however the first two stanzas stay with me as I travel about the Ulster American Folk Park.

Eavan Boland.89f1813181abed6e52dfb3948f11d151.jpg

Here are two advertisements that I found intriguing  in the park. I will leave you with those.

Picture Credits:

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AND

My own attempts at photography😊

 

One Year Old Little Blog

It has been one terrifically fast year.

Or are WordPress are making a mistake?

Was it truly that one year ago that I felt so challenged and afraid that I needed to DO something so desperately?

Do something about it or take something for it, they said.

I did something.

Like First Defence, it may not have solved the problem, but just delayed it.

Also like First Defence, it worked for awhile and then I had to face the problem anyway. Which I am doing.

So what else has the year brought?

My home is filled with the sound of laughter and screams, chatter and reproaches. Yoghurt stains and spitty kisses. Frozen and Peppa. Tale telling and soothers. Nappies and potties. Tiredness and tempers. Love and laughter. Dirty dogs gathering scraps. Diets and secret eating.Man to pets about upside down house: 'I don't care who started it!'

A sick Dad. Awaiting the good times healthwise.

New bedroom furniture. The little things.

Meltdowns.8a5d5b8383fd1e820d5b184fbbb81efc

Make ups.

A blog that I love. I don’t know if I will ever be one of those ‘successful’ bloggers but I have had success in so many ways. Depending on your definition. Blogging friends.  Linky love. Family Friendly hq articles. Being a Boolino Friend. The Littlewoods Blog Awards Parenting Nomination.

The best thing is having a space to think and write.

Happy birthday little blog. Belated birthday..it was a few weeks ago. We will celebrate together.

Another first birthday in our little world.

So to everyone who helps me keep my head above water and likes my blog, keeping it alive. Thank you.bitmoji-20170301031216.png

‘The Song from Somewhere Else’- A Review

To review a book is either pleasurable or piteously painful, depending on what you have got on your hands. I can honestly say this handsome treasure by A.F Harrold (illustrated by Levi Pinfold) for young people makes me smile slightly every time I spot it (casually awaiting my stolen moments in time) on the desk.bitmoji-20170216102759 Hardbacked and dust-jacketed, I felt elegant just holding it. I loved reading this book. I loved reading what is essentially a tragedy to me. Friendship, parenting, the supernatural and love all feature as key themes combining to form a tale of intrigue with more than a tinge of sadness.

A beautifully sibilant title, ‘Song From Somewhere Else’ is consistently sonorous in tone from the mysterious title to the last line, singing strangely to you across every page. Beautifully illustrated by Levi Pinfold, this is somewhat a gothic modern day fairy story, brutal reality at times juxtaposed with magically surreal moments. Tim Burton would be my director of choice for this story. Strange, angular creatures from other worlds appear alongside the mundane dad making tea or the the group of bored teenagers living their own version of Lord of the Flies in the town park before they head home to an absent parent home or a grim supper.

Frank (Francesca) is quickly introduced as a victim of bullying. Blissfully ignorant parents smile at the group of boys who harass her, terrifying me as a new mother. Can parents be so unaware of their children’s misery? The thought appalls me as I read Francesca’s tale. Yet I remember my own teens. Many the day I kept a horrible experience secret from loving parents. Just as Frank does. Haunting images of the frail, frightened Francesca, as her head hangs in her loneliness, are painted in both words and sketch on every page. Threatening shadows prevail on every street corner exacerbating her solitude. Her stomach appears almost as a character in its own right as her digestive system is held hostage to her tumultuous daily world. 20170208_102308-1.jpgThe foreshadowing of sadness occurs early on as Frank searches for a much beloved and fabulously named cat, Quintiles Minimus.  As someone who has named a black feline Humphrey Bogart, I am drawn to this girl immediately.20170208_102333.jpg

The theory that we are all bullies and victims in life at different stages of our lives is quickly brought to the fore with the introduction of classmate Nick. Frank’s treatment of the much scathed and teased Nick can lead the reader to judge their heroine harshly. He falls to the bottom of the pile when it comes to the teenage predatory circle of life and leads to me wonder. Would I have acted any differently as a teenager? Concerning to think, possibly not. The bullying escalates in a grittily true way, cleverly demonstrated by a two page sketch of nettles as the climax of the torture is reached. Words are not always necessary. 20170208_102203Frank’s desperation and terror combine to create her horrific actions. It is possibly easier to forgive her as an adult. I wonder would a tweenage reader empathise or criticise? Nick’s family story is the enigmatic mystery of the piece. It is the unexpected salvation of Frank- in a less than predictable way.20170208_102228.jpg

Shades of grey, blacks and whites dominate this teen mystery in both copy and imagery creating a dramatically tense environment as the plot progresses. A colourless world is depicted, at times almost totally lacking in hope or joy. Pinfold’s beautiful illustrations were captivating and brought the tale to life as I found I wanted to study every image. This is not to lesson Harrold’s writing in anyway. As an English teacher I almost compulsively felt a need to underline (I didn’t do it as I couldn’t ruin the book!) most effective uses of imagery which were employed throughout, as examples for a student to learn from. Delicate personification, accessible pathetic fallacy- the reason this plot is hauntingly atmospheric. A beautiful piece of writing and a visual joy.

I would be concerned that a young person may take the message that world is a sad place. On the other hand, I think they can handle this message better than I – a thirty something mother! I will honestly admit that one scene made me sob, truly ugly cry, for another mother. As a younger person, it is likely this scene would be much simpler to deal with. So I would leave it you. If your young adult loves dark mystery and social drama on an enigmatic level, this is the one they need. If they enjoy looking at charcoal or pencil sketch visuals, this is a must.

I am waiting for the moment to buy this book for a young person. I can think of many adults that will adore it. As it stands, I don’t want to give it to my relations under ten, probably due to the grip on reality in the plot. Maybe I don’t want to expose these children to the ugly world of intimidation that Francesca Patel abides within, even if it has a resolution. Maybe I am part of The Cotton Wool Gang. The youngster I get this for this for must have a love of the supernatural. Then again- I was personally gripped by this tale. A childhood lover of Blyton, an avoider of anything too ghostly, this was a book I may have turned away in my youth. Which would have been a terrible shame.

Of course, I really, really wanted to know what happened to the cat…as I am sure you do too. You will have to read yourself to find out. 20170208_102253

As a Boolino friend, I am occasionally sent books to read and review. I receive no payment for this, but will have a free copy of the text. All opinionated ramblings appearing here are very much my own! Hope you enjoyed.

Christmas. A Very Peculiar History. A Review.

Although elements of my Christmas could always be titled ‘peculiar’, that isn’t what this post is about.

No

This is a little book review. Of what is a very peculiar, and indeed little book! Christmas. A Very Peculiar History.christmashistory

‘Christmas. A Very Peculiar History’ by Fiona Macdonald is a pocket sized, prettily packaged stocking filler essentially. A blue, red and white garland of colour, images of Santa and gilt edged designed, it is a busy looking piece. In fact, it is a history book, documenting every element of Christmas with the story behind it, often strange and sometimes sinister, to compare with the perceived serenity of the event itself.

This factfile is not fully for the doe-eyed Christmas lover, wishing to indulge in a cinnamon and ginger scented fantasy of a magical and fairy filled yuletide dream. It may be more for the pedant at Christmas, one who enjoys the mulled wine and tradition but would not blink at the grittiness that the origins of our Christmas may reveal.christmas-crib-figures-1903954_640.jpg

My first impression of this little book was based on purely  a visual element and was one of joy. As a lover of curios and old world books, see Aesthetically Irresistible Books for proof of this indulgence), I was enchanted by this little lovelie.An old world cover, vintage festive imagery and cover prints makes this a very festive feast for the eye.This version appears very Christmassy. I thought of all sorts of people who may love to possess such a dinky treasure. Five pages in however and these names in my head began to alter to completely different set of people! This is not a book for the faint hearted. It is not for the Christmas jumper wearing, Snowball drinking, tinsel loving all-singing, all -dancing number one Chrstmas fan. In fact, it may even even be best suited to the -gulp- Christmas cynic.

Later chapters present a more palatable information type rather than startling brute truths and returned me to the original expectation that I had held for the piece of non-fiction. Facts and truths of a festive nature. Likely this is because the book followed a chronological format and our past contains much more disturbing details than our recent past. Religion, violence, conflict- all too familiar themes of our human way of life. The book does not shield us from the real origins of Christmas. Yet it is a mind of information and is the result of extremely detailed study and clearly a work of love.

Overall, this book has the imperative ‘pick me up, put me down, pick me up again’ power that a little book of facts should. It taught me a tremendous amount about the Christmas season, a lot of which has managed to ply itself to my brain and which I retold knowingly as anecdote to- no doubt-rolling eyes and thoughts of ‘Know it all’…which is fine. Because I did know it all! I knew why mince pies were traditional and if they did include meat. I knew why Christmas was cancelled in 1644. I can identify the predecessors to our selection boxes- much candied or dried items. I know how the Sugar Plum fairy got her name.sterntaler-1635654_640

It may be too late to gift this book this season but this is one that will not go out of date. An interesting read for many, a terrifically beautiful piece to peruse through its use of illustration and presentation, this little book will return to my coffee table every Christmas- even if just for decorative purposes! I may not encourage my Santa loving, Nativity acting eight year old niece to read it at night but there is many the person, young and old that would be enchanted by this little treasury of historical quirks.bitmoji-20170105104850

As a Boolino friend I am occasionally sent books to review. I have recieved no payment, just a free copy of this book in exchange for a frank review. All thoughts and opinions are purely my own.boolino-friend-250x250.gif