Monday, September 22, 2014


Our friend died.

What stark words that say something in a few letters that could not be explained in a million. 

When a friend dies it changes a person in many ways.  There's a hole left. There's grief of course.  To feel real grief for the first time as my husband is doing is a profoundly painful, disconcerting thing.  It sets off so many trains of thought about times gone by.  Things said and left unsaid.  Trains of thought about the future and what it holds with that one hole there.  The compassion of grief for the family, also friends, who are left with an even bigger and forever un-fillable absence. 

But amongst all the turmoil and tears of a lost friend, something constructive.  Not every funeral inspires us to want to be a better person precisely because that person's path crossed ours.  I've really only attended two and both of those have been within the last year.  One, that of a beautiful man who died in an act of un-speakable evil and horror...nobody ever gets over that.  The other, the farewell to another beautiful man whose death, as deaths go, was idyllic only for the fact that it came 40 years too early. He died in the intimate love of his own home, cared for and loved by his wife and in the company of his three far too young children.

Now here's the thing.  The illness and death of our friend has triggered so many close conversations between my husband and me.  Conversations about life's biggest issues really, but not in a woe is me sort of way.   About how none of us is guaranteed tomorrow...about how all we have is today.  I know I've blogged before about treating people kindly, but now I'm touching on something deeper.  Our legacy.   

Our friend was a wonderful man.  I overheard my husband recall of him the words applied to Jesus...He did all things well.  he was a wonderful doctor, husband and father.  As an effort of consolation (though I know there is none) to my grieving friend I have said more than a few times that her husband has done all his parenting in the time he had.  His children have a legacy to live up to.  Something noble to justify. 

Now this is what my own husband and I have been saying.  Neither of us is guaranteed tomorrow-or even the rest of today.  Yesterday our family both immediate and extended, and numerous friends (some of you who are reading this) were caught up in an incident involving a very possible and immediately imminent gas explosion.  It didn't happen and the fire officer told John later that nobody was in any real danger, though none of the dozens of adults evacuating children to a safe distance, grabbing tots that weren't theirs and shoving preteens behind walls knew that.  The urge for survival and to protect the tiny kicked in in a way I've never witnessed before. Incredible sight. 

So if John or I were to die tomorrow, or next year, or any time really...what legacy have we left?  Have we done our parenting well enough for it to be considered complete?  What would our children have to live up to and to anchor them through their lives?  What if we don't die?  Same question.  

We have to think long and hard what we want our children, or our spouse, or colleagues to say about us, to remember us by.  We need to then BE that person, or at least try. 

Surely write a bucket list.  I want to achieve certain things, ride in a balloon, write a book, speak French.  I want to visit Castle Leslie in England where Brideshead Revisited was filmed.  No harm in those dreams.  No harm in hoping they become reality.  But really, what matters if they don't?

I had a relative, now passed away, my father's cousin (first cousin once removed?) who,  just a few years ago, returned from a very very far away country for a visit and it was my honour to host a little family gathering in my kitchen.  One thing he said will always stick in my head.
Before he came home people asked him was he visiting Connemara, Cliffs of Moher, Dingle Peninsula?  His answer?

"I've seen scenery, I'm not interested in scenery, I'm only interested in people".

So the two of us have come to the conclusion that great ideas are only that, ideas.  It's actions that count.  In honour of and to live up to our two passed friends we are doubling up our efforts, ( and I emphasise effort, because we'll never realistically achieve what we wish to be) to be the person we'd like to be remembered as.  To be the spouse who made the other feel loved.  To be the friend someone could turn to.  To be the parent they'll boast to their grandchildren about.  

"My Dad/Mom was the best..."

We'll try anyway. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Little Mystery

A few days ago I found a little old dog-eared prayer book in a shoebox of little old dog-eared prayer books in my attic. My husband and I had accumulated them over the years from childhood prayer books to second-hand bookshop finds.  At some stage between moving house and de cluttering this little collection got packed away. Too many and too impractical for downstairs shelf space as they would be vying for position with Meg and Mog and Green Eggs and Ham and would most likely be torn to shreds by sticky little hands. This little book caught my eye as I was packing away last year's schoolbooks and I tucked it in my handbag to use during the little snippets of time I glean throughout the day as I wait in my car outside schools, ballet classes and sports grounds. The language is old but the sentiment is as new and untried as ever.

1929.  Who bought this? I love wondering about things like who carved this stone rope knot on the doorway of Selkirk court building in Scotland's Borders?



 Were they related to the man who runs the chipper there where a fish supper will literally feed our entire family.  No stomach could physically fit in the amount of delicious chips and battered fish wrapped in newsprint paper. Beautiful Selkirk where Sir Walter Scott sat in his courtroom just a stone's throw from his Abbotsford home in Melrose, a little village which God placed there for no other reason than to delight the eye. 

There are no useful shops in Melrose, just lovely places to pass the day like a little antique shop where my father stocked up on vintage sheet music, a toyshop selling handmade delights fit for Santa's elves...and best of all a pie shop which I knew I shouldn't enter but whose inviting window displays and a combination of pregnancy cravings and pregnancy laziness overcame the thoughts of cholesterol and heart health. 

I've digressed, the prayer book...

(But those pies...ooohhh).

Well I was sitting with it this morning and I found this in it:


What is it? There's the ever-so-slightest aroma of pipe smoke off it, or maybe it's the smell of a turf fire? It has been carefully cut off something and placed in someone's prayer book. Who did it remind someone of? 

I turned a few more pages and this fell out...a piece of a letter used as a bookmark.

Such beautiful handwriting. How many of us have such lovely scripts today? Not many. It's almost a relief that documents are printed out nowadays, one of our children's birth certificates is handwritten in such untidy immature writing that barely stops short of a heart as a dot on the i's.  such a shame for a document she'll have for her entire life. Oh well. 

Then on the other side an address:

I know of no relative on either side who lived in Liverpool so long ago.  Then again maybe my husband bought this on one of his many student hours spent (usually with me) rummaging in Greenes Bookshop when he should have been studying.

So I looked up Google Maps.  It's a funny old street.  On one side council terraces and the other beautiful red brick detached homes.  Of course everything in Liverpool is red-brick. Which side of the street was home to the writer of the letter? A simple council flat or a comfortable home with perhaps paid help?

So who was it? Who wrote that letter and who received it?  Who snipped the piece of fabric and placed it in his or her prayer book.  How did the book end up in a little  old bookshop in Dublin.  To be bought by a medical student almost 70 years later. 

One last discovery...


I recognise the handwriting...the same one that wrote me little notes every day (when he should have been studying). He was praying not only for the short falling 'other' but for the short falling self. Reminds me why I married him. 

To there it lies...


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Summer Bucket List

Our last two children are getting their summer holidays tomorrow. I have barely any summer camps booked as I've discovered over the years that more often than not I'm paying money to drag them away from the free fun they're having on the street. I'm more than happy for them to chill out with as much free play as possible (after they do some work of course, I never did write that post on how to get children to help out),  However, I've also discovered that they can vegetate or run out of ideas and days can slip away without creating any real summer memories.  With ideas thin on the ground they can end up resorting to 'bad old' electronic entertainment, which so often reminds me if the scene from the Dark Crystal of the Skeksis draining the life essence from the Podlings. Not pleasant.  

We have nine weeks bar two when we're on holiday to fill.  

So rather than waste a day of their ever ebbing childhood (our eldest will be a legal adult in 4 days sniff sniff.) I gathered a few of them and browsing the best of Pinterest came up with a Summer Bucket List.  We'll hardly get all if the things done but we might achieve a good number of them. We're much more likely to actually do something that's on a to-do list. 

So here's to summer. The photos are all on my Pinterest board which will link to websites & instructions.  Let's see how many we'll achieve in a harmonious fashion.  You'll notice most of these activities cost little or nothing...and all will be greatly enhanced by Mom (or Dad) turning off your phone.




This one for teens with the rule of no running.  
We only have the largest European branch of a major supermarket in our town. 
Every trip there is a game of hide and seek anyway as 
losing children is the default result of bringing anyone with you.

Everyone needs to do this once.
 It sounds so exotic and romantic. 
The reality is a bit different but hey! 


Is a lemonade stand the epitome of summer or not? 

Another one for teens only: henna tattoo.
 (Go somewhere reputable, whilst temporary, the results still last a while)

Have A Classic Disney Movie Marathon

Or a Harry Potter one.

Outdoor movies are a rare treat in Ireland, 
still...if the opportunity presents itself grab it!
 I did it last year with Lion King and loved it! 

Back Garden Camp Out.

(Thought I'd just throw that in!)

(And this, include some prayer in their schedule, you'll notice a difference.) 

Read Wind in The Willows aloud to whoever's willing to listen. 

Cook a meal for the family. 
And maybe one for the grandparents, 
they'll definitely appreciate any offerings grandchildren present them. 

Keep an eye out for discounts and competitions, 
my sister won a years family membership just by liking and
sharing on Facebook.      


Heritage Park

Tayto Park.
 (Tayto is Ireland's favourite potato crisp,
 regularly shipped to our crisp craving diaspora around the world).






Sharpie tie-dye. 
We did this last year, the results were stunning. 
You can buy surgical spirit in chemists. 



Grandpa's old ties.

Sand and PVA glue poured over an upturned bowl. 

Stone art.

More stone art.

And some more...


Doll up some cheap pumps.

Button Bracelets.

Laminated photos and white board markers. 

Make This!!

And this.

And these cool bags with old t shirts
 or cheap ones from a chain store.

Take a space in a car boot sale. 
I've already planned this with our middle few children and their friends. 

Visit our local Farmer's Market.

What's not to love with these 'sweet' bracelets? 

Neighbourhood Car Wash
 (or should I say leave your parents' and all the neighbours cars
 covered in muddy streaks and get everyone to pay you for it!) 

Use pavement chalk in more imaginative ways. 
There are lots of ideas online.

Finally, this I am going to do for myself using text from 
To Kill a Mockingbird, Brideshead Revisited, Little Women etc.

I'll photograph any of the activities we tick off our list for an end of summer post.  I promise to include disasters and the less than idyllic inevitable bickers, fights and messes. 

Happy Summer.