Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Curious Tale of My Grandfather's Old Watch

My grandfather was from the town of Midleton in Co, Cork, Ireland. His daughter, my mother, was born in Bristol in England and lived there for many years before coming to Ireland to settle in a small town in Co. Wicklow.

Sadly my grandfather died before any of his grandchildren were born, but his watch, purchased in Midleton about 60 years ago was kept by my mother.

When my eldest brother was about ten years old my mother gave him my grandfathers old watch as his very first watch. He wore it for many years until it stopped keeping time properly and was consigned to a household drawer. There it lay for many years, unused and forgotten.

Over those next thirty years or so my brother, who is still living in that small Wicklow town, went through many different watches. Then, just last week, his latest watch broke. Having heard that there was a retired German gentleman in the village who fixed watches from his home my brother decided to drop his watch in to him for a quick repair job.

As an afterthought he threw in my grandfather's old watch too, on the off chance that this man might be able to fix it.

On his return to collect the watches a few days later the man met my brother at the door with a twinkle in his eye.

'I have a story to tell you about this...'

he said as he placed my grandfather's old watch into my brother's hands.

'I made that watch'.

As it turns out, over sixty years ago this man had worked as a watchmaker in Germany. Each watch that he built had his own personal stamp on it, and as he opened up the back of my Grandfather's watch there it was.

This particular watch had been destined to travel from Germany to Midleton in Co. Cork, Ireland where my Grandfather bought it. And now, over sixty years later both the watch and the watchmaker had ended up in this small Co. Wicklow town and been reunited.

How mad is that!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cool Kids - The Festival Edition

As you may know I'm more than a little partial to some virtual window shopping.

Not only do I regularly fill up never-to-be-purchased baskets for myself, I also do the same for my kids.

Lately I've been looking around the designer kids clothes site Melijoe which was launched in Paris by mother-of-five Nathalie Christen-Genty in 2007.

It's easy to get lost in all the gorgeous things on offer, but here are some of my favourites. A perfect outfit for my little festival chick Kaya. There's even a case to pack them all in. 

Cool Kids - Feb

Cool Kids - Feb by katetakes5 on Polyvore

Tommy Hilfiger Knitted sweater with raglan sleeves, €82 / Billieblush Cotton voile skirt with a smocked waistband, €37 / Rykiel Enfant Small case Multicoloured, €47 / Monnalisa Leather boots, €190 / Monnalisa Sunglasses and matching case Flower print, €42

Here she is at Body & Soul last year. I think it's fair to say she rocks festival cool pretty effortlessly...

If only it was so easy for the rest of us. 

Hmm, might be time for some virtual shopping of my own. 

Disclosure: This post is in collaboration with All words and opinions are my own.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Madrid on a budget

I am so OVER how cold and miserable it is right now. I mean - still? Really?

This seems like the longest winter ever lived. So right now I am dreaming of city breaks and sunshine (again), and wondering how I can get some heat in my bones and some sun on my skin for the least amount of money possible.

Last summer Kaya and I escaped to Madrid for a budget weekend of mother and daughter time - something I would definitely consider doing again.

That was never actually supposed to be an international escapade however... The previous year, whilst living in Spain, we had bought her One Direction tickets as her Christmas present, never thinking that - oops, we wouldn't actually be there when the concert date rolled around.

As it happened we were actually back in Ireland by then, and there was no way in hell any of us was brave enough to tell her that she wouldn't be able to go. So two flights to Spain it was.

Luckily for me Ryanair flies directly from Dublin to Madrid and the Metro runs directly from the airport to the centre of the city - so that was a good start at least. (Be warned that taxis run on a flat fare within the city and so can be expensive.)

We were meeting Kaya's grandparents in the city and they had booked us in at the (always reliable) Ibis. There's nothing fancy or romantic about an Ibis, but for value for money, cleanliness and location they are very hard to beat.

Over the weekend we walked and train hopped on a shoestring from the bull ring...

to the market stalls.

And from Cervantes famous statue...

to the King's Palace.

Kaya was well impressed with her royal connections. 'You mean we're standing in the Kings' garden right now?'

We avoided places like the Plaza Major for food and instead decided to seek out more authentic and better value tapas in the side streets.

Cold beer and sunshine - one of life's great pleasures!

Spot the one who actually lives there...

And then we finished up the trip with One Direction and 50,000 screaming girls. Just what you need to make you want to return to reality!

So - any other city breaks you'd recommend to get me through to summer?!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Coming out the other side

Sometimes when I see women with small children struggling in a supermarket, or sitting staring blankly on a bench in the playground, I feel sorry for them. Unlike me, they are not yet coming out the other side.
I should start by saying that, for me, having children was the most wonderful thing that happened in my life. The force of the love took me a bit by surprise - it is all-encompassing and inescapable. Your children fill your days, your thoughts, your heart and your soul. And it is magical.

But boy, is it hard.

My three children are now aged 6, 8, and 10 - and life with them is good. But looking back to when they were 6 months, 2 years, and 4 years, I honestly don’t know how I coped. It was Hard Work.

I’m not sure exactly when it changed, but I distinctly remember one Sunday morning looking up from the newspaper and thinking, "Hold on a second, I’ve just read that entire supplement and there’s still nobody looking for me."  

Those days of constant 5am starts, tiredness that leaves you feeling like you are operating on a different level from everyone around you, the constant running from task to task to task, the breaking up arguments, the guilt that you didn’t leave the house with them again today, the juggling of three levels of development when no one seems to get what they need and you are left falling asleep on the sofa at 8.30pm - they're all gone for me now. At the time it seemed as if those days were interminable, like they each lasted for a week and they would never, ever end.  But I’m here to tell you that they do.

Enjoying a gig in Hyde Park

As your children grow more independent and playschool or school beckons, the mind-fog clears a bit and you gain some headspace. You start planning things again – exercise classes to join, a business to start up, hobbies to begin, trips to take. Your house begins to become your own once more as multi-coloured plastic toys are consigned to the charity shop and replaced with much less offensive footballs and DS’s. You start to find a little me time again – going out, reconnecting with old friends, finding the old you to mix with the mum you.

If you are in the thick of it, crawling through each new day and wondering whether you will ever make it, the answer is - you will.

So embrace the chaos, revel in the cuddles, and try to just breathe. I’ll see you on the other side very soon.

This post first appeared on

Monday, February 9, 2015

Dinner with a pinch of children - Guest post from Office Mum

Today I'm delighted to have Andrea from Office Mum guest posting here. 

I love Andrea's blog - funny, informative, tackling both the big issues and the minute details of being a working mum. 

Here she is talking about dinnertimes at her house. Sound familiar to anyone...?


When I’m at work all week, I dream of weekend time with the kids – I especially dream of family mealtimes; the chatter around the table, smallies asking for seconds, everyone helping to clear the table. Of course, that's all it is - a dream. The reality of mealtimes with my kids is something very different.

Last night for example, it went something like this:

Me: "Dinner!"

No reply. Repeat four times. Finally, Emmie and Clara arrive at the table.

"What's for dinner mum?" asks Clara, who is seven.

"Chicken Korma!" I say, in a bright voice that's supposed to infuse the upcoming meal with extra tastiness. "Like the one we had in my aunt's house - remember? You loved that."

My kids never eat curry, are extremely reluctant to try anything new, and abhor almost every vegetable known to man. Yet in other people's houses, they eat whatever is put on front of them - I suspect we are not alone in this annoying trait.

"That doesn't look the same as the one we had in your auntie's house..." Clara says dubiously, as I put a plate on front of her. "It's a different colour? And what are the red things? There were no red things the last time."

"It's just a slightly different recipe," I say, "And the red things are peppers."

"Muuuuummmm, you know I don't like peppers! And what are these other things - they looks like 
Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes?"

I suspect she means the crushed almonds that I've thrown in, because I didn't have the ground almonds mentioned in the recipe.

Clara carries on. "Mum, I can't eat this. It's like Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes, which you say are bad and full of sugar, and you know mum, I don't want to be unhealthy. So it's better if I don't eat it."

I start explaining that there's no cereal of any kind in the Korma but get distracted by Sam, who has just walked off. He's three, and usually leaves the table half way through the meal, but this time we haven't even started. I call him back, half-heartedly, knowing I'll eventually have to pick him up and physically carry him.

"You know mum," says Clara, "I have the feeling that because he's cute, you kind of let him away with things? And I don't think it's a good idea. It's kind of spoiling him really?"

Right. Called to action by the seven-year-old, I feel duty-bound to pick up the squawking toddler and carry him back to the table. Meanwhile, Emmie, who is five, is heading towards the door, because she has to "get something important" upstairs.

I pick her up too, and carry her back to her chair. Three unhappy children continue moaning in unison about the apparently inedible dinner.

"You know I don't like this mum."

"You've never had it before."

"You know I don't like things I've never had before."

"Give me strength."

"Why do you want strength?"

My husband is very well-behaved. He doesn't leave the table and he eats all his dinner. He even says it's lovely (it's not).

Eventually, as I do every day, I give in. I give the nod. They scrape their bowls. They declare themselves full. They run to their great love - the TV. My husband and I clear up, exhausted from the effort of our relaxing family meal.   

"Time for bed!" I say to the kids.

"I'm hungry," says Emmie.

"Me too," says Clara, "Can I've a bowl of Corn Flakes?"

"Me want nana," says Sam, helping himself.

Give me strength.

Andrea Mara is shoe-obsessed, coffee-loving mother of three from Dublin. When she’s not at work or looking after the kids, she’s simultaneously making tomorrow’s school lunches, eating Toblerone and letting off steam on . You can also find her on Facebook (more than she should be).

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Change4Life Sugar Swaps Challenge - Could you do it?

Like most mums I try my best to get my children to eat the right foods. Foods that give their bodies the vitamins and minerals that they need, that develop their taste buds, that teach them to love not loath healthy, and that are tasty and comforting too.

I grew up with dinners made from scratch every day by my own mother, and whilst puddings were frequent so too were lots of fruit and veg - often from our own garden. The food memories I have from that time are wonderful - fresh baked cakes straight from the Aga, strawberry picking and jam making, pies, potatoes and home-baked breads.

I reckon that I grew up with a fairly healthy attitude towards food, and I wanted to recreate those kinds of foodie memories and that mindset for my own kids. Yep, I was doing a pretty good job of it there for awhile -

or so I thought...

And so, when I was asked to take part in the Change4Life sugar challenge late last year I was excited, and dare I say it - possibly a little bit smug.

What the challenge involved.

In order to understand the sugar issue from mums’ perspective, Public Health England partnered up with Netmums and Reading University to deliver a ‘Family Sugar Challenge’. A unique activity that involved 50 families over a six week period. 

Each family was asked to fill in a dietary summary for two weeks ahead of making any changes to their diet while you eat and drink as usual. The ‘Sugar Swaps’ were provided in the second week to allow families to plan their shop. In week three, the swaps were implemented for two weeks and each family completed a dietary summary via an online link. The final two weeks saw families continue to complete a dietary summary.

The aim of this activity was to identify how making small, simple swaps throughout the day can make a real impact in reducing the amount of sugar in the diet. 

The first two weeks.

The first stage of the challenge involved writing down exactly what each of the family ate each day - with no changes being made. 

This was a real eye opener for me. It turned out that whilst my own diet was pretty good, the children were consistently being 'drip fed' treats. A biscuit here, a couple of sweets there, a pastry after school, a treat after dinner. Their diets were FULL of sugar laden treats. 

It was during this two week period that Kaya (10) had to go to the dentist and got her first filling. As the dentist explained - having treats little and often was the worst thing you could possibly do for your teeth. Better to eat the whole lot in one go and then brush your teeth!
I felt guilty. Kaya was upset. Must do better. 

The middle two weeks. 

For the second stage of the challenge we were sent a list of easy sugar swaps to introduce:

Foods and drinks to swap from:
Foods and drinks to swap to:
Breakfast Swap
·       Sugary cereals
·       Plain Porridge

·       Plain Wholewheat biscuits

·       Plain Shredded whole grain
After School Snack Swap
·       Muffins

·       Cakes

·       Croissants or pastries

·       Biscuits

·       Chocolate bars

·       Cereal bars

·       Sugary breakfast cereal

·       Puddings

·       Sweets
·       Fruit; fresh and tinned (in juice not syrup)

·       Cut up vegetables such as carrot or cucumber sticks

·       Plain rice cakes

·       Toast with spread such as low fat spreads and reduced fat hummus

·       Wholewheat biscuits and shredded whole grain

·       Plain unsalted nuts

·       Fresh or tinned fruit salad (not in syrup)
Drinks Swap
·       Sugary Fizzy drinks

·       Sugary drinks

·       Sugary squash
·       Water

·       Lower-fat milk

·       Sugarfree drinks

·       No added sugar drinks

·       Diet drinks
Sugary pudding (TBC)
·       Chilled desserts

·       Cakes

·       Ice cream

·       Puddings

·       Yoghurt
·       Fruit, fresh and tinned (in juice not syrup)

·       Fruit salad (tinned no syrup or fresh fruit salad)

·        sugarfree jelly

·       Low fat, lower sugar yoghurt

Armed with new knowledge and zeal we actually did really well on this. 

Breakfast swaps were moaned about for about three days and then they magically got on with it. 

After-school snacks took a little more planning but they were more than happy with the substitutes. 

Drink swaps were almost irrelevant as they only drink milk or water as a rule.

Sugary pudding - I'm a bit in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound with these. So we cut back and had a proper pudding once or twice a week instead. I also stopped the children getting a biscuit \ treat in every school lunch. 

I was surprised how quickly the children all adapted. Not even a word about the absence of treats in the schoolboxes!

Final two weeks:

For the final two weeks we were once again allowed to eat as we pleased. But guess what?! Lots of our new swaps stayed the distance. 

Breakfast cereals are now almost always oats or wholegrain, no sugar varieties. After-school snacks are more considered. School treats are once a week. Of course we've fallen off the wagon a few times - but in general these swaps are swaps for life. 

Doing the challenge I realised that no only was I drip feeding them sugary treats each day, I was also focusing my healthy hat solely on dinner - so yes I was cooking a good meal from scratch every day-, but everything else was falling by the wayside. 

The only issue I really had \ have is the substitutions of full fat milk \ yogurt etc for low fat ones. I'm sure the low fat options actually contain more sweeteners, and having less fat means they are less substantial and so less likely to fill you up. I'm open to being corrected on that though!
I'm still not convinced low-fat is the way to go. 


For us the experiment was a successful one and really opened my eyes to the reality of what we were eating. 

How you can join in:

The Change4Life campaign recognises some of the challenges that parents face on a daily basis when it comes to controlling the amount of sugar their kids eat and drink. We know that mums face hurdles like picky eaters or encounter pester power, then there’s also the challenge that food labels are simply bewildering and even with the best will in the world, many mums have no idea how much ‘hidden’ sugar they and their family really consume.

In recognising these daily difficulties, the campaign provides support, encouragement and practical advice to help families make simple Sugar Swaps at key occasions in the day such as breakfast, puddings, drinks and after school snacks.Throughout the campaign, families can register for their free Sugar Swaps packs, which they will receive through the post. The packs are filled with hints, tips, recipe suggestions and money off vouchers. You can sign up to the Change4Life via this link:

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post however all opinions and experiences are my own. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Food, Fuel and Feeling Good

Rewind to November last year and I was on top of it all. Regularly running 10kms and eating healthily, I felt good. I was fit, strong and full of energy.

So I decided to up the stakes and challenge myself to a 20km run. I was surprised how quickly and easily I built up to it, and one cold, rainy November morning I sped through 20.5km in 1:57minutes. I put a big tick beside the challenge and promptly fell off the wagon.

At first I was just giving myself a few days rest. Then the weather started to get really cold. Then the Christmas party season started. Then the kids were on holidays. Then it was New Year. And then I was too unfit.

Many of those excuse-filled weeks off were filled with drink and fat laden foods - not that I ever have a problem with any of that - I'm a firm believer in 'everything in moderation'. It's just that when you don't have the balance of exercise in your life there really isn't any moderation.

The past week has been the worst. Housebound with a poorly boy I have been tired, grumpy and eating whatever rubbish I can to get me through the morning \ afternoon \ evening. Instead of eating a proper lunch I would have a piece of toast and two Mr. Kipling cakes. Followed by tea and biscuits. The mid-afternoon slump \ boredom would soon kick in and I would be reaching for the chocolate.

But the more crappy food you eat, the more crappy you feel, and the more crappy you feel the less you want to exercise. It's a vicious circle that none of us are immune to - even the ones that would be considered generally fit and healthy.

But this morning I broke the cycle. I went for a short 4k run followed by a power smoothie and suddenly I'm back! I feel instantly great again.

And that's the brilliant thing - like the vicious cycle there is also a virtuous cycle. Do some exercise and you feel good, which makes you want to eat more healthily, which makes you want to exercise, which makes you feel good...

So I guess it's time to just stop the excuses.

Although maybe I'll just stick to the 10kms this time.
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