Monday, 7 January 2019

NEW YEAR: DON'T PANIC.

                                             Make your resolutions work: keep them small!

YESTERDAY, I wrote a column entitled New Year, Old Me. At least, it felt like yesterday. In fact, it was over a year ago. It was my new year's blog for 2018.

That's how fast life is flicking past us. Or me, anyway.

I'm not sure if I kept any of my new year's resolutions for 2018. I certainly didn't keep the difficult ones, like Eat Less Chocolate. Or Walk Faster. Ahem.

Nobody noticed. Except my doctor, perhaps. And he's too lovely to mention it.

I know some people have probably made resolutions for 2019. And I know plenty of others who've made none. For those who've made none, I came across an idea that might work for us. It's called Do Small Things.


The idea has been around for some time, I imagine. And it can be applied to absolutely anything. Look at it this way. (If you're incredibly fit, skip over this bit!) If somebody said they'd give me a million euro, if I did a half-hour brisk walk EVERY SINGLE DAY for a year, I'd never get that money.

If the same person suggested I walk for one minute per day, I know I'd end up doing far more than that. No doubt I'd build up to the 30 minutes in no time at all.


Why? Because the idea of 1 minute of exercise doesn't intimidate me. Small things, lads. That's where it's at.

So that's where I'm at. Today I'll take every single thing off my dressing table. Laugh if you want to, but if you saw my dressing table, you'd understand that it'll be an achievement in itself.

I'll dump everything on to the bed and sort it into 3 piles. You all know this bit. It's been out there a while. Dreamt up by people far tidier than me. The 3 piles are: the throw-away pile, the charity pile, the keep pile. I'll try my best to make the last pile the smallest. I really will.


Tomorrow I might sort a drawer. Just one. Or a cupboard in the kitchen. Again, just one. And I'll do a bit of exercise. If either one takes me longer than five to ten minutes, I'll give up. That's not a threat. It's self-knowledge.

Look at me. We're only a week into the new year, and I'm filled with self-knowledge. Well, I have an idea about it.


Looks like it mightn't be a bad year after all.


Keep it simple. Keep it small. Have a happy new year.

                                                           *

D
ear reader,

I hope you had a lovely Christmas. If you've any ideas for keeping those New Year resolutions, let me know in the comments below. (They're moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
πŸ’š)

Please take a moment to SHARE today's column. (Scroll down to the buttons below!)
 If you'd like to get THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, just go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. No spamming - I promise.

If you got a new e-reader for the holidays, why not check out my Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type. To find out more about it, see PAGES in the side bars, or go to Tirgearr Publishing.

I hope 2019 is peaceful and happy for us all. Have a great January.         
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 10 December 2018

I'm Dreaming of a Fright Christmas....

                                                  Last minute Christmas prep: bring it on.

I HAVE regular, recurring anxiety dreams. One is the Leaving Certificate* dream: I'm just about to sit the biggest exam of my life and I haven't studied for it. It's a common one, this. Every second person I meet, has the same dream.

Another is that I'm in a room full of people and I have to make an important speech and I don't know what I'm going to say. To add insult to injury, I realise I'm naked.

Finally, there's the Christmas dream. You know the one. You wake up on December 25th, to find you've forgotten it's Christmas. You haven't a single gift bought. In my dream, I begin a manic search for things I could quickly wrap and give as presents. I can't find anything.

In my darkest moment, when my mind can't take anymore dream trauma, I wake up. My heart rate slows, as I realise it's just a dream.


And almost immediately I start to worry because it's already December 10th and I haven't a single thing done for The Big Event. For those of you even worse at maths than I am, that's two weeks away.

Do all the eye rolling you want. Go on, I know you're at it. The fact is, since September - September!!!! - I have seen boasty posts all over social media. By people who claim they had all their Christmas shopping done by July.

Presumably they were buying Christmas crackers whilst the rest of us were working hard on our tans. (Where do you find Christmas crackers in July? WHY WOULD YOU BUY THEM?)

These same mythical creatures apparently wrap their gifts and leave them in neat piles in the spare room or attic or on top of their wardrobe. All ready to be taken down and laid out under their magical, Disney-style Christmas tree, when the time comes.

Which begs the question: what do these people do in the run up to Christmas? When I'm running around in a blind, last minute panic, wondering if I could just buy everyone book tokens and steak knives (don't ask)!


Are they baking their 7th Christmas cake? Or deep cleaning their carpets? Maybe they're just binge watching early Christmas telly and laughing at me for yet again, leaving everything to the last minute.

Because it's not like it's a movable feast, is it? We tend to celebrate Christmas around the same time every year. In fact, at exactly the same time, I've noticed.

But there's nothing like a looming deadline to concentrate the mind. When you've made a list twice as long as your arm, and have a single morning to buy for everyone from The Husband to the workplace Secret Santa, there's no faffing about.

Neither is there any pretending. I can honestly say that if I were doing Christmas shopping in September, I wouldn't have the nerve to admit it. Never mind how early the seasonal stuff arrives in the shops.
"Ah no, it's for my husband's birthday. He just loves flashing-nose Reindeer jumpers."

Fact is, when you've one week to The Big Event and you're suitably sweaty and stressed and trailing a massive list, there's no room for such niceties. I like to think shop assistants appreciate that. I tell them what I need. They tell me if they have it. I buy it and leave.

I don't like to sound immodest, but I'm pretty sure that makes me The Perfect Customer. That's a shocking realisation. But I could be a bit deluded: it's another distinct possibility.

To date, I haven't even thought about the tree or decorating the house, never mind anything else. What I have is a chaotic house that's in need of a good cleaning. Even I can appreciate that I'm in quite a small club.


It doesn't help that most of the houses on our road now boast wreaths on their doors and twinkling fir trees in their windows. Maybe our neighbours have assumed that our tree is at the back of the house this year. Or that we've changed religion. Or become the neighbourhood grinches.

My friends are quietly flabbergasted. For the moment, I stick my fingers in my ears and hum loudly when yet another person tells me that they have everything done.

Because I know that any day now, it'll reach critical point and I'll spring into action. I've still time. Who knows, by then all the Christmas crackers could be half price.

Eggnog, anyone?


*Final exam taken by Irish school leavers, the results of which will determine further education/training/job prospects.
                                                                                 *


Dear reader,

I can't believe that we're almost at the end of 2018. Thank you so much for reading my monthly columns this year. 
πŸ’š

Please take a moment to SHARE today's column. (Scroll down to the buttons below!)

I love to hear from you, so if you'd like to say hi, or leave a comment about anything just scroll down to the comment box below. Comments are moderated so don't worry if it doesn't appear immediately. Your email address won't appear at all.
 

If you'd like to get 
THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, just go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. No spamming - I promise.


If you're thinking of gifting e-books this Christmas, you might like to check out the Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type. To find out more about it, see PAGES in the side bars, or go to Tirgearr Publishing.

Most importantly, have a peaceful and happy Christmas and I'll see you in 2019.        
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 12 November 2018

THE NOSE HAS IT


                                                     Hygge your home this Winter


IT'S THAT time of year again. And I'm not about to waffle on about Winter, or the cold weather. Although after the balmy October we had here in Ireland, it's worth a mention. Consider it done.

No, I'm talking about the time of year when I start getting notions. House notions, to be exact. Hygge*, to be more precise.


For those of you who regularly read this blog (thanks a million, by the way), you might be scratching your heads and wondering why this sounds familiar. It is: I've talked about Hygge before. I'm probably a bit obsessed. I'm just not very good at it.


Hygge simply means being cosy. The idea was apparently invented by the Danes, no doubt as compensation for their defeat by the Irish in the Battle of Clontarf, 1014.**

You can imagine their Viking ancestors after the defeat. Years of rape and pillage had left them with all this loot. The men intent on trading, until one woman, with a keen sense of aesthetic, thought those hand-woven shawls and gold goblets would look very well in the dining room, thanks very much. 


And a whole new concept was born. Hygge: being cosy. In the Winter. When it's cold and dark. It's a lot more than just staying in bed under the duvet all day. I checked. So how do the Danes (and in fairness, all the other Scandi countries) do Hygge?


First, they all aim to make their homes havens of peace and tranquillity. A lot of this involves getting rid of what they don't need. Massive clear outs, like. Believe me, I've tried that. There's salmon swimming upstream who have an easier time of it.

But I'm brilliant at some of the other stuff. The whole cosy thing means having warm throws for your sofas, scatter cushions...scattered, lamps for gentle, low lighting.

My home ticks all of these boxes, much to my slightly smug satisfaction, and The Husband's complete bewilderment.
"Why do we need all these blankets and cushions?" he demands regularly. Really, very regularly.

Hygge is also about creating ambiance. If you have a fireplace, you're supposed to use it. No arguments there. It's an old house, and if I don't light a fire, it's bloody freezing. Candles are important for mood. I'll tell you now, I have so many candles we could have a sΓ©ance every night for a year, and not run out. Were we so inclined.

So far, so Hygge, you might think. But you'd be wrong. Apparently, all this time I was shaking throws and lighting fires, I had overlooked one vital ingredient: scent.

I had dismissed this as the ultimate in mad notions, when the same person in the know, reminded me of estate agents, and how they frequently exploit our sense of smell to sell houses.

So if you're not falling in love with the place when you smell those flowers in that humungous hall display, you're ready to bid your life away by the time you're inhaling the bread baking and the coffee brewing in the kitchen. 

Thing is, positive scents make us happy and relaxed. And in my case, anything has to be better than the current situation, where, thanks to The Boy, the hall smells mainly of eau de sports kit and football boots.

"Try a diffuser," says my knowledgeable friend. I only have to mention it to my mother and she buys me one. Waterford crystal, no less.
"It'll look lovely on the hall table," says she. Her sense of relief is palpable.

Although the hall is sorted, it's a house with thick walls and high ceilings. I need more. So I'm delighted to find a box of massage oils. Laugh away: they were a gift. One I'd forgotten about, so they're completely unused, which is admittedly, a bit sad. I decide I have a better use for them. I open the first (tiny) bottle and take a sniff. I can't identify it.

"What does that say?" I ask The Eldest, who's just in from a hard day's teaching. "The print's too small."
She glances at the bottle.
"Geranium."
"Really? It doesn't smell like geranium." Or how I think geranium smells.

It doesn't matter. I study our miniscule downstairs loo. An arrangement of cream silk flowers sit in a white pot on the windowsill. It's dead tasteful, really. You'll have to take my word for it. The flowers are stuck into an oasis: perfect.

I tip the bottle of geranium scented oil upside down, and soak the oasis. It works. Already, I'm happier in the downstairs loo. For good measure, I top up the soap dispenser and change the towels.

I try another bottle: lemon. It'll probably work in the upstairs bathroom. The problem is, there's nowhere obvious to pour it. In the end, I soak a cloth, and just clean the bathroom with it. I feel like a domestic goddess.

But I don't get too carried away: nobody wants competing smells in every room. And to be perfectly honest, I don't really understand smelly oils. For example, the massage kit consists of six tiny bottles containing very strong smelling oils, and one big bottle of wheatgerm oil. Which smells of nothing! Are you supposed to mix them, I wonder.

It's all a bit academic now, given that I've found other uses for the small bottles. And the wheatgerm oil might bring up a nice shine on the furniture.

Renewed, I return to my desk and manage to work, convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that my productivity has improved, thanks to my newly scented house.

Nobody notices. I give them all a day, before I almost explode with frustration.
"Do you not notice anything different?" I demand. There's blank looks all round. "What about the hall?" I stare at The Husband. "You've a nose for these things."
Can the hints get any heavier?

He wanders out to the hall and looks around. Finally he turns to me.
"Did you put another light in the ceiling?"

Maybe it's enough that I know.
Have a Hygge November.


*Pronounced Hoogah.
** The Vikings were defeated at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, but the Hygge connection is pure imagination!

                                                                             *


Dear reader,

If you've any more Hygge ideas, I'd love to hear from you. (Seriously, anything that helps to get through the Winter, is completely wonderful!!) 
πŸ’š

Please take a moment to SHARE today's column. (Scroll down to the buttons below!)
 

If you'd like to get 
THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, just go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. No spamming - I promise.


To check out my Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type, see PAGES in the side bars, or find sample chapters/all buy links @ Tirgearr Publishing

Until next month, have a happy, Hygge November.       
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 15 October 2018

Welcome Guest Author, Lj Ryan.


                                                             Irish author, Lj Ryan.


Good morning, lovely readers.

Please help me welcome guest author, and fellow Irish woman, Lj Ryan to my blog this month. Lj is an independent author, who published her debut, The View From Our Window, earlier this year.



Blurb:

Laurel Maguire Kennedy, successful entrepreneur and young widow runs away from Ireland for a new life and family values in France.
David Rousseau, famous actor leaves his very public life in Paris for his old family life in Marseille.
Paul Collins, Irish politician just wants his life back to normal; career he finds doesn’t always mean contentment.
But ghosts are rearing their ugly heads.
Laurel finds that not all in her family life can be new if phantoms regarding the circumstances of her husband’s death keep pulling her back to Ireland, risking the life she has slowly rebuilt with her two young children.
David watches as his old family values and the relationship he’s building with Laurel are lost as his acting career keeps dragging him back to his old ways, or as the gossip columns like to imagine are his old habits.
Paul just needs two important people in his life to work with him so the path he has chosen can stay on a smooth track.

Can these three friends work together to help close each individual’s problems? Or will those ghosts win and forever rule their lives….pop inside and enjoy their journey….


Buy: Amazon

Find LJ @ Facebook
                  Twitter
                  Amazon Author Page



                                                                                                  *


D
ear reader,

Hope you're enjoying Autumn (or Fall, depending on which side of the pond you're on!!). I'll be back with my usual column next month.
 
πŸ’š

Please take a moment to SHARE today's column. (Scroll down to the buttons below!)
 

If you'd like to get THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, just go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. No spamming - I promise.


To check out my Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type, see PAGES in the side bars, or find sample chapters/all buy links @ Tirgearr Publishing

Until next month, enjoy the rest of October, and have a safe and happy Halloween.      
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 17 September 2018

HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPS?

                                                    Don't get in a flap over your App.

WHO invented the App? Whoever it was, I'd like to shake their hand. And strangle them with an old fashioned telephone cord.

Remember those? Phones in the one place? Attached to a wall and, in our case, sitting neatly on a hall table. Dial-up digits. Phones that allowed you to ring someone, and allowed someone else to ring you back.


Nothing else. No texting. No photos. No live recording. No live streaming. No face to face chats. And definitely no Apps.

For the past few weeks, my smartphone has been sending me reminders that my storage is almost full and I need to delete files to free up space. I have lots of issues with this.

1. I have only a vague idea what files are on my phone, because it's always doing updates, and for all I know it could be downloading files it thinks I need. But I don't need them. Or at least, I don't know if I do. And even if I don't, I don't know what they are or where to find them, or how to delete them.
It's a bit tragic, but there you go.

2. I am terrified that if I allow my phone to make further decisions for me, I'll lose stuff I really want. Like photos of my kids. Or all my contacts.

3. I have to wonder how smart my smartphone really is? On the one hand, it can do constant updates without my permission. On the other, it can't sort out this minor problem without worrying me. Has it not figured out by now that I am a bit technically challenged?

But back to Apps. I freely admit there are a few I wouldn't be without. My parking App, for example. I can park anywhere around Dublin (and presumably in the rest of Ireland: I haven't tried it) without having to worry about having coins or feeding meters. Wherever I am, I can pay from my phone. I know it's just an App, but it feels like a magical power.

Then there's WhatsApp. Texting for free, lots of people in the same group, loads of different groups, hundreds of bloody notifications every day....Deep breath. No, it's all good. And when it gets too much, I can turn off my data.

Except I might miss an important message in one of the groups. And there lies the rub. Once an App draws you in, once you realise how vital it is, it has you. You can't escape: you're caught. Tied by technology. Tethered far tighter than the corded phones of our childhood. Or my childhood, at least.

But that's only the start. I am on Facebook and I have the App on my phone. Downloaded by the very helpful young man in the shop, after I went to get my phone fixed.

"You don't have a lot on it," said he, like it was a crime. "Would you like me to download a few Apps for you?"

What was the harm, I thought. I'd probably never use them, but it would be handy to have them. Just in case.

Now I have Twitter. And Instagram. And Messenger. I also have YouTube, for some strange reason. I definitely don't remember downloading that. I've never watched it on my phone. I'm not a fan. But I'm afraid to delete it in case one day I desperately need to watch a YouTube video to save someone's life.

I don't have Snapchat because I can't get my head around a messaging service whose content is wiped forever after mere seconds. My memory isn't that flipping good.

The problem - and it hardly needs pointing out - is that all these Apps suck time from your day like Dementors suck happiness from your body. Don't get me wrong. They're a great way of touching base with your online friends. And sometimes your real life friends.

But I've yet to meet anyone who manages it all. I might decide to drop into Facebook or Instagram, see what the world is up to, say hi to a few people. Ten minutes, max. When I come to, an hour has passed. And I'm not sure what I've done.

In the last week, I've also discovered another App. Or rather, The Eldest has introduced me to it. She has Boggle on her phone. Remember Boggle? You get a word and you have to find all the other words contained in it.

Harder than it looks. Especially if it only has one vowel. Or it's something like Recycle. And you have to make 8 words from it. (Or maybe it was 7. Please, don't spend your day looking for 8 words in Recycle, in case they don't exist!)

I'll tell you now: it's addictive. If you want to really see the competitive streak in me, give me a Boggle puzzle and set me against a clock. The Eldest wants to go out, but I won't give her back her phone. Not until I find every word. And beat the clock. It's my finest ten minutes. But not exactly my finest hour.


But there's hope for me. Because I won't be getting Boggle on my phone. It's one App I shall do without. Unfortunately, it's nothing to do with my iron clad discipline.

I've just no bloody room on my phone.

                                                    *

Dear reader,

Have you favourite Apps or ones you hate, but are afraid to ditch? Let me know in the comments below. (Your email address won't appear, and comments are moderated, so it may take an hour or two to see them.)
πŸ’š

Please take a moment to SHARE today's column. (Scroll down to the buttons below!)
 

If you'd like to get THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, just go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. No spamming - I promise.


To check out my Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type, see PAGES in the side bars, or find sample chapters/all buy links @ Tirgearr Publishing

Have a lovely September.     
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 20 August 2018

PLANES, TRAINS & BACKPACKERS

πŸ’š

                                                           Have rucksack: go travel!


IT IS a Summer of adventure for The Eldest. I foresee five weeks of low-level anxiety for me.

She and a close friend are off to explore Europe: 8 countries, 15 cities. They plan their inter-railing adventure with the precision of generals planning tactical manoeuvres. They buy their flights during a sale. They book hostels, student travel and top sightseeing passes months in advance. It's impressive, I tell her. But I'm hardwired to worry.


'You'll text me every night when you arrive back at your hostel?' I do my best to make it sound like a casual question. She is, after all, 23. Not a child: well capable. Judging from her expression, I know it's come out as an order.

'Of course.' Patiently, she adds, 'you know we'll be posting on Facebook every night. So you'll know we're fine.'
'Please?'
'Okay.'

'They'll be fine,' says The Husband. 'But I do think they're going away for too long. Say if they have a falling out?'

That's the least of my worries. The Husband did a bit of inter-railing back in the day. He had got to his second country, when he left his passport and his wallet, with all his money, on a train in Italy and had to sleep overnight in a railway station.

In the days before mobile phones or the internet, he had limited resources. Eventually, he made his way to Tuscany, where his parents were holidaying. Apparently, they were only mildly surprised to see him.

Meanwhile, The Eldest and The Pal fly out to Italy, and spend the first few days in Rome, Florence, Pisa. I stalk them on social media, relieved when there's a new post. And for the first few nights there is a text, letting me know they are safe.

By the time the nightly texts stop, I have stopped worrying. It's a revelation. I'm not sure why it's happened, because it's a first, but I embrace it. I revel in it. And I revel in their daily discoveries, their Facebook and Instagram posts, their funny stories.

'I'm not sure if I'd ever be able to do that,' The Middle One admits.
'What? Interrail? Of course you would!' I am now, after all, an old hand at this: I have evolved to become mother of the student traveller.

She looks at me, says nothing. I think of her bedroom: always the untidiest space in the house. Of the fact that whilst she is talented, smart and wonderfully creative, she is...disorganised, prone to losing things.

'I think it's just about organising yourself and picking a good travelling companion.' I should have been a diplomat.

Currently, 300,000 young people in Europe buy interrail passes each year. This Summer, in a move to encourage public travel and interest in other European countries, the
European Union (EU) gave out thousands of free passes for 18 year olds.
It comes with conditions: the youngsters can visit between one and four countries in the EU, and must travel within a certain 30 day period. *

Most significantly, they have to be 18. Not 17. Not 23. 

'It's a great idea, but 18 is far too young,' The Husband mutters. It's not the blanket pronouncement that it appears: I know exactly what he's thinking. The Boy will turn 18 in three short years. And he's already talking about getting his free interrail pass.

I know my biggest worries are yet to come.



* Information about free interrail passes for teenagers from EU Today.

                                                                                  *

Dear reader,

I hope you enjoy this month's column. I'd love to hear about your own travel stories. Just write them in the comment box below, with your email address (which doesn't appear). Comments are moderated, so it may take an hour or two to see them. I'll reply to all the stories that appear.
πŸ’š

Please take a moment to SHARE today's column. (Scroll down to the buttons below!)
 

If you'd like to get THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, just go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. No spamming - I promise.


To check out my Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type, see PAGES in the side bars, or find sample chapters/all buy links @ Tirgearr Publishing

Enjoy the rest of the Summer,     
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 23 July 2018

SUMMER SALE on SMASHWORDS


GOOD morning, friends,

Due to unforeseen circumstances my usual monthly column can't appear this July.

For those of you with e-readers, I thought instead I'd drop in this timely reminder that many publishers take advantage of the HALF PRICE Smashwords Sale this July. 


My own publisher, Tirgearr Publishing, is no exception. All of its books - across every genre - are 50 percent off in the Smashwords Sale. Remember, no matter what e-reader you have, you can buy through Smashwords.


My Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type, is part of the sale. Set in modern-day Dublin, it's the sparkling story of warring journalists, who write rival columns under pen names, and unknowingly fall for their arch enemy: each other.

To find out more about Going Against Type, or to read a sample of it, click on the 'Going Against Type' link in the right-side panel. Alternatively, snap it up for just $2 in the Smashwords Sale. The link is below.

Until next month, when normal service resumes with my usual light, personal column, have a safe and happy few weeks. And happy reading. xx Sharon.



Grab #GoingAgainstType for just $2 here. Use for all e-readers:

Monday, 25 June 2018

THE IRISH FOR FOOD


      
                                                                  The Joy of Food.



I HAVE fond memories of eating livers, hearts and kidneys. My offspring still gag when I mention that.


Before anyone else has heart failure, I should add that the organs all came from animals. In 1970s Dublin, offal was the cheapest protein you could buy. As a young child, I assumed that everyone else ate stuffed pigs hearts or lamb kidneys. 

I also assumed that everyone ate Coddle. Coddle, it turns out, is a peculiarly Dublin dish. It has its roots in Dublin's Georgian tenement houses: those once-fine houses which were abandoned by the wealthy Anglo-Irish and rented out to poor Dublin families.

As families of up to a dozen or more people all lived in one room, women were forced to cook one-pot meals over an open fire in the grate.


No doubt it morphed a bit down the years. By the time my mother was making it, it was a one pot delight of sausages, rashers, liver, potatoes, carrots and onions: a kind of stew that simmered in a stock until cooked. The fact that everything except the carrots were white, never bothered me.


Turns out, lots of people never ate offal or Coddle. 


As I discovered when I started college, and my circle widened to include people born and bred outside the narrow confines of the capital. Friends who grew up on farms, where free range chicken and their own beef and lamb were everyday fare. But you didn't have to be a Culchie* to eat steaks and chicken on a regular basis: you just had to have money.


Meat, apparently, was dear. The better stuff, at least. In 1970s Ireland, we didn't have the intensive single-product farming we do now. And we were only starting to enjoy the benefits of the European Union (EEC as it then was) after we joined in 1973. Things don't change overnight.


I was recently reminded of how far we've come on our food journey, when the lovely Myrtle Allen died. In 1968, she opened the Yeats Room restaurant in her home, Ballymaloe House, serving beautiful and seasonal produce from her husband's farm. The rest is history.


But it took a while for the standards being set at Cork's Ballymaloe, to trickle down to the rest of us. And food my own kids take for granted, was either unavailable, or outrageously expensive in Ireland. 


In 2018, we're overloaded with TV chefs preaching the value of eating in season. In Ireland, we always did. We didn't have a choice. In Winter, we had tubers and cabbages and potatoes with every meal.

None of your fancy roasted parsnips and carrots. Vegetables like parsnips and turnips were boiled to wilting, mashed together and slathered in butter. In Summer we ate salads.

An Irish 1970s salad, of course: Butterhead lettuce, tomatoes, onion and hardboiled eggs. The salad dressing was white, gloopy stuff that came straight from a bottle.


My mother made waves in our neighbourhood when she learned to make a French dressing: hunting down the Dijon mustard in a specialist delicatessen and buying the olive oil in the pharmacy.


As far as we were concerned, nobody except the 'continentals' actually used olive oil in their cooking. Here in Ireland, olive oil was only used to treat earache.


Salad teas though, were a huge thing. Winter and Summer, you could have as many people as you wanted in for 'tea' in the evening. ('Dinner' was normally served at lunchtime - then we discovered Europe and lost the run of ourselves.)

But while salad teas always included fresh tomatoes and free range eggs (there were no other sort), it also included a lot of stuff from tins. Beetroot only came in a tin, and for some strange reason, it didn't occur to anyone to make a fresh potato salad, so that too was scooped from a can.

Ditto something called 'Russian salad', the details of which I've completely wiped from memory. On the upside, and for reasons best known only to my family, salads also included bowls of Tayto cheese and onion crisps.**

Simple food wasn't always processed, of course: often the exact opposite. I remember one Summer, my family took a fortnight's holiday in an old farmhouse in Wexford.

Every morning, the Dad would head off early to the harbour, to catch the fishermen landing their morning's haul. He'd buy fresh mackerel directly from them. For 13 evenings IN A ROW we ate fried mackerel with new Irish potatoes and a green salad.

On the last day, the Dad went hunting with a local lad - a first and I think, last, for him - and they shot a couple of rabbits. That evening we all ate rabbit stew. I'm not making any of that up.

We drank milk with most meals. Years later, I asked my mother why. "To help fill you up and because we believed it was good for you," she said. I rarely make dessert for my own family, but we had them every day. Jelly and ice cream, apple tart or stewed rhubarb with fresh cream or custard, fruit salad (exotic fruit from tins, to supplement the more ordinary apples, oranges and bananas) and semolina or rice pudding.

My own kids had never heard of rice pudding. In the same way that the only pasta we ate came from tins, shaped like alphabet letters and smothered in tomato ketchup, the only rice we had came in tins, covered in sweet, creamy sauce.
Which was why potatoes graced every dinner plate.

Cheese was beyond simple. There was a choice of Cheddar (red or white, mind) or the plastic, processed stuff, that might have been cheese, but might well have been something else entirely. The first time I saw an exotic cheese was in France, and I remember trying to put a mile of sniffing distance between me and it.

A couple of weeks ago, Dublin hosted its annual Taste of Dublin in the Iveagh Gardens: a four day celebration of the best of Irish food and drink, with tastings and market stands and cheff-y demonstrations.

We flocked to enjoy Champagne and craft beer, chocolate-dipped strawberries and artisan chocolate, organic vegetables, country farmhouse cheeses and posh handmade sausages. The notions of a nation which only discovered quiche about 30 years ago.

We've come a long way from overcooked vegetables. We know how to make a decent avocado toast (I admit I'm not a fan). And we're not afraid to sprinkle our salads with olives and seeds and toasted nuts.

But at a time when every food market and grocery store boasts a staggering array of breads, I remember my nana's homemade soda bread, and am determined to beg my own mother to make the rich, dark, yeasty brown bread of my childhood and teen years: delicious with hot-off-the-pan potato cakes.

And I still miss stuffed lambs' hearts.

                                                             *


* Slang word for an Irish person born in the countryside. (There's plenty of slang terms for city-born Irish!)
** Popular Irish-made potato chips.



Dear reader,

I hope you enjoyed this month's column. If you've stories about food when you were young, I'd love to hear from you. Just pop them in the comment box below, with your email address (which doesn't appear). Comments are moderated, so it may take an hour or two to see them. 

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Sharon. xx


 

Monday, 28 May 2018

SUMMER TIME...AND THEY'RE MAKIN' A LIVIN'


                                                 Students: the joys of a summer job



THE MIDDLE ONE has finished her first year in college. She is just starting to luxuriate in lie-ins and lazy days, when I remind her that as a college student, she has a duty to get a summer job. Preferably one that pays. Because we are not a bank.

The last bit resonates particularly with me, as it's exactly what my own parents once told me. They didn't mind me being stroppy and student-y, once I was able to pay my own bus fares.


She doesn't look too happy when I raise the idea. In her mind, summer means endless days with friends, pizza parties and ice cream and lots of reading, drawing and lazing around. I tell her that at 19, it also means a JOB IN THE REAL WORLD. At least for a few months.


She manages to secure a job in one of our big department stores. On her induction day, she tells us that the store is so big, she'll probably spend her summer getting lost. The Eldest, who worked there last summer, is sure of it. Google Maps was invented for The Middle One.


We await news of her first shift, with interest. She spends it in the massive bag department. As she doesn't yet have the proper uniform, she's told to dress in black. "The trouble with that," says she, wearily, "is that customers think you're a manager. And they ask you everything. And I knew nothing!"


What she does learn is that she's great at customer service. She's a 'people person'.

"My granddaughter asked me to get a particular bag for her," an old lady tells her. The Middle One gives a polite nod.
"Do you have a description?"
"Well, she's just as pretty as you are," the old lady replies, beaming.

After a moment, she realises her meaning. "Oh, the bag! Sort of square, maybe round. With a clasp." She gazes out at the vast array of clutches and satchels and shoulder bags, then links her new young friend. "How about we look together?"

The following day she's assigned to changing rooms.
"That sounds easy," we say later. Her look is stony. "It involves returning everything that customers tried on, that they don't want to buy. I spent the whole day wandering around the store, looking for things. Have you any idea how many different pairs of jeans there are for women?"

This sounds like a rhetorical question, so I say nothing.
"There's short leg, medium leg, long leg, low waist, flares, boyfriend jeans, high waist, baggy, skinny..."
"Stop! We get the picture!"
"You can't hang anything back in the wrong section."
The eldest starts to laugh, and has to turn it into a cough.

The main thing she's asked for, in such a huge shop, is directions. "Which is fine, if we're talking about where the lift is," she says, "but they keep moving all the clothes around, so I never know where anything is."

"So what do you do?"
"I take a fair guess. I figure if I can get them a bit closer to where they're going, someone else with rescue them. There's plenty of us to ask."

To date, her newest skill is folding! Thousands of tops and jumpers, all neatly arranged and displayed on stands. Sometimes, she spends hours doing that.

As an artist, pursuing a college degree in animation, the kindest thing I can say about her bedroom is that it's creative. In a sort of Omigod-the-whole-room-just-imploded kind of way.

In her entire life, I don't believe she's ever folded a single item of her own clothes. I learned long ago to step back. But it's reassuring to hear that she knows how.

                                                        *



Dear reader,

I can't believe May is almost over! We've had really mixed weather here in Ireland, but we saw a bit of sun this month, so if you were visiting, I'd love to hear from you!

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Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 30 April 2018

MAY MADNESS



      Cold, wind-blown, makeup-free, and a ten minute drive from the heart of Dublin city centre!

WHEN I tell people that I live in Dublin, just a ten minute drive, or train journey, from the heart of the city centre, I get mixed reactions.

'Dublin is fine during the week,' they say, 'but it's nice to get away from all that noise and congestion.'


This is usually from people who spend two hours commuting to work. And I know that sounds smug. It's my attempt to fight condescension with passive-aggression.


For a start, Dublin is actually very small. The city centre, that is. You can walk around it in a day. And I often did. You try be the mother of a daughter with staggeringly narrow feet, and see how easy it is to get shoes. When she was little, I could give you the inside track on every shoe shop, within a five mile radius of O'Connell Street.


Secondly, I live right on the coast. In five minutes, I can be down at the beach, getting my salon blow-dry, extra blow-dried. Or, I can be striding along the nature reserve, where height allows for staggering views of the coastline all the way out to Bray Head, in County Wicklow. 


That said, the East coast wasn't the place to be during this Spring. None of us will forget The Beast from the East and Storm Emma, in a hurry. In our house, the pipes froze. We had no hot water. Or any water upstairs, for that matter. The snow meant we couldn't get a plumber. Try to imagine three women in the one house who couldn't wash their hair. It wasn't pretty.


But when our coast is not being battered by arctic winds and freezing temperatures, I walk that nature reserve. It's me and the dogs. Not my dogs, you understand. Other people's dogs. I live in a village where they almost outnumber people.

Which is fine, once you manage to avoid tripping over their leads, stepping in their poo (not everyone pooper-scoops, folks!!) or being jumped on by something roughly the same size as a small horse.


They're not the only animals on the reserve. But being on the coast, it's mainly sea birds and um, coastal-loving trees and plants. I never claimed to be an expert. Unlike a friend of mine. I love walking with her. She brings her dog (a gentle, slightly nervous chap, of whom I'm genuinely fond) and her knowledge.

She grew up in the real countryside and knows all about species of heron and storks, and the Latin names for wild flowers. It's impressive.


Dogs and birds aside, the natural world has decided in recent years, that our little village is The Place To Be. In particular, our garden. 


As somebody who doesn't actually keep pets (for lots of practical reasons) I can understand why, in the past, squirrels and hedgehogs felt free to roam our little patch of suburban green, happy in the knowledge that they'd be left alone. 


Then the fox arrived. I notice him for the first time when our garden is under inches of snow. H
e's quite a respectable-looking chap: shiny of coat and plump of belly. Which makes me think that somebody (or quite a few somebodies) is feeding him.

It certainly isn't me. I'm distinctly uncomfortable with a wild animal sniffing around the patio door, or settling down in the middle of the flower beds for a good scratch and an afternoon snooze. 


But a few short weeks ago, we discover that our fox is actually a vixen. And overnight, she has given birth to six cubs. The whole family are living under our garden shed.
At first, we wait, enthralled, as the proud parents (it's not an immaculate conception) play with their tiny offspring, just yards away from our kitchen door. Dinner time resembles Wildlife on One, and The Husband starts to sound like David Attenborough.

But as the cubs grow, I see a dystopian future. I might leave the kitchen door open for air, and suddenly find myself over-run by wild animals. The cubs will grow up and return en-masse to breed next summer under our shed. Soon, there will be a community of foxes living in our garden.

I phone the council. "Ah we don't deal with foxes, love. Not in people's gardens. Try the DSPCA."*

I phone the DSPCA. There is a stunned silence as I explain the problem. "We protect animals. We don't kill them," says the woman. I tell her I don't want them killed. I just wondered if they could take them away. Maybe release them in the countryside. Y'know, where they're actually supposed to live.

"No, I'm afraid we don't do that. You could wait until the cubs are reared, and they all move on. Then you could put chicken wire around your shed. Oh, and if you want to feed them, they like dog food."
I thank her and hang up.

To date, I'm still on fox watch. The weather hasn't been brilliant, so I haven't really been out in the garden, although The Husband has planted this year's tomato plants on the patio.

Summer time is different. Some years ago, my middle-class, suburban conscience, tricked the lazy side of my personality into believing that my garden should be a haven for birds and butterflies, and especially bees. Simply put: I let all the wild things grow.


So our family of foxes had better decide to move on. And leave me and my ahem, well-planted garden to its notions.

Meanwhile, I can safely report that mother and babies are thriving.


                                                                              *

*Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
#May #Wildlife #Dublin #Foxes

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Hugs,
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