The New ‘If You Are Happy And You Know It’

clap handsI have what can only be described as a first world problem. My beautiful, adorable son loves to be sang to sleep. Awwhh. He likes to drink his bottle or suck a soother, lie in my arms and drift off to sleep. So cute.

A beautiful idyllic image, until you zoom a little closer to the situation and realise that (1) I cannot sing AT ALL so am probably turning him tone deaf with every passing nap-time and (2) he takes about a half hour to get into a really deep sleep from which he won’t wake when transferred to his cot.

(2) is the real problem area. I don’t know the words of many songs and those that I do are either have a banging beat making them unsuitable for lullabies or the modern lyrics about love-making make them unsuitable for my six-month old boy. That leaves me by and large with nursery rhymes which for the most part are about 6 or 10 lines long and take about two minutes to sing, so that is the same verse every two minutes for a half an hour until he goes to sleep. In some countries this could be used as a form of torture, and that fact that it comes in my off-key, occasionally squeaky voice adds a new level of horror. After six-months of this I am willing to tell anyone anything they want to know just to make it stop.

So I started to improvise. With the view that ‘every day should be a school day’ and knowing that nursery rhymes in the past have been used to prepare children for the world ahead of them I started to prepare my son for some of the appropriate actions to express emotion:

If you are happy and you know it clap your hands.

If you are happy and you know it clap your hands.

If you are happy and you know it, and you really want to show it.

If you are happy and you know it clap your hands.

So far so good. The next verse his singing dog told him was ‘If you are excited and you know it wag your tail’. Now I have an awful image of him at that weird pre-puberty age, seeing a girl that he likes and frantically waving his hips and arse from side to side, because he is excited to see her. Not a great start for any young man, so we changed it.

If you are excited and you know it give a big smile.

If you are excited and you know it give a big smile.

If you are excited and you know, and you really want to show it,

If you are excited and you know it give a big smile.

 
Then I thought this might also work out as a subtle sign language between us, so that he will be able to tell me what is going on with him in company, without actually having to say the words.

 
If you are confused and you know it scratch your head.

If you are confused and you know it scratch your head.

If you are confused and you know, and you really want to show it,

If you are confused and you know it scratch your head.

 

Then I thought, this might be an ideal time for a safety lesson (can never have enough of them subtly planted throughout his childhood).

If you are lost and you know it shout and scream.

If you are lost and you know it shout and scream.

If you are lost and you know, and you really want to show it,

If you are lost and you know it shout and scream.

And then I thought I could put in a few actions that would be important later in life.

If you are sad and you know it call your Mam.

If you are sad and you know it call your Mam.

If you are sad and you know, and you really want to show it,

If you are sad and you know it call your Mam.

And his Dad interjected with a little advice from the family firm

If your products are kinda crap, just rebrand,

If your products are kinda crap, just rebrand,

If they’re crap and you know it and you really want to show it,

If your products are kinda crap, just rebrand,

But I thought let’s not make his whole childhood a bit of a downer, let’s focus back on happier times.

If you are cheerful and you know it tell a joke,

If you are cheerful and you know it tell a joke,

If you are cheerful and you know, and you really want to show it

If you are cheerful and you know it tell a joke,

If you are joyful and you know it have a skip,

If you are joyful and you know it have a skip,

If you are joyful and you know, and you really want to show it

If you are joyful and you know it have a skip,

But remembering we are trying to put him to sleep I usually go back to:

 
If you are tired and you know it rub your eyes,

If you are tired and you know it rub your eyes,

If you are tired and you know, and you really want to show it

If you are tired and you know it rub your eyes,

 

If you are exhausted and you know if give a yawn,

If you are exhausted and you know if give a yawn,

If you are exhausted and you know, and you really want to show it

If you are exhausted and you know if give a yawn,

But as these sleepy times are never without their little moments
 

If you are over-tired and you know it arch your back uncomfortably and yell,

If you are over-tired and you know it arch your back uncomfortably and yell,

If you are over-tired and you know, and you really want to show it

If you are over-tired and you know it arch your back uncomfortably and yell,

If you are cross and you know it stamp your foot, really hard,

If you are cross and you know it stamp your foot, twice for emphasise

If you are cross and you know, and you really want to show it

If you are cross and you know it stamp your foot.

 
But as we always get there in the end
 

If you are conked out asleep lie very still,

If you are conked out asleep lie very still,

If you are conked out asleep, and no one better wake ya,

If you are conked out asleep lie very still,

 

 

At this point I lie him down in his cot, put on the monitor, creep out of the room and search for wine. It’s 12 o’clock somewhere, right?

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Cocktail Cupcake: White Maria

Cocktail Cupcakes: White Maria
Cocktail Cupcakes: White Maria

 

Topic: Cupcake, Alcoholic, Hens, Bachelorette, Baking, Party

Rolling into the Christmas Party season, with everyone praying for a White Christmas, I thought this little stunner might be a great addition to the festivities.

This is a variation on the White Russian, the famous cocktail which was named at the end of World War 1 after the anti-Bolshevik group,of the same name, so called because they stood against the ‘Reds’ which were the communists. The drink got its name because of its main ingredients Kahlua (for the White) and Vodka (for the Russians). However, vodka is one of those flavours that just doesn’t work well in cake, so this recipe does not call for any. Instead we have the creamy white coming from the white chocolate and sour cream, and the dark coffee flavouring of the Tia Maria, to give us the White Maria.

Cocktail Cupcakes: White Maria
Cocktail Cupcakes: White Maria

Ingredients

Batter

  • 110g unsalted butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 110g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 6 tbsp Tia Maria

Icing

  • 55g white chocolate
  • 110ml sour cream
  • 3 tsp Tia Maria
  • 225g icing sugar
Cocktail Cupcake: White Maria
Cocktail Cupcake: White Maria

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/Gas4 and line a baking tray with paper cases
  2. In a large mixer cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. While still mixing add eggs one at a time.
  4. Sift in flour and baking powder slowly.
  5. Mix in Tia Maria
  6. Spoon into paper cases and bake for 20 min
  7. Leave to cool
  8. For the icing: melt the chocolate. Add the sour cream and Tia Maria
  9. Mix in icing sugar
  10. Allow to cool so that it gets tacky. Spread over cupcakes
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Halloween Treat: Bairin Breac

Bairin Breac
Bairin Breac

Bairin Breac (or Barney Brack as it was called in my house) is the Irish version of the crystal ball. At Halloween this innocent mixture of fruit, flour and alcohol is transformed into a cake with mystical powers that can see into the future (or at least that is what we tell the kids to get them to eat it).

In reality this rich bread (I think ‘cake’ is generous) has a focused on a niche market in the fortune telling biz; much like ‘Yes To The Dress’ it has specialised in matrimony and left the broader spectrum of predictions to colcannon.

Unfortunately in our family, where we are more a stir-fry and curry sort of household, it’s going to be hard to find a companion for a big plate of cabbage and mash, because there is no way I am cooking (or worse eating) boiled ham just so an uppity lump of cabbage can predict my future. Instead I insist our bairin breac works a little harder and diversifies into the financial sector as well.

Bairin Breac Ingredients
Bairin Breac Ingredients

The Charms

  • Coin – this means you are going to have wealth in the coming year
  • Rag – this means you will be poor for the coming year
  • Ring – this means you will marry in the coming year
  • Button and Thread – these traditionally are the symbol of the bachelor and the spinster and mean you will not be married in the coming year.

 I use a modified Darina Allen recipe

Ingredients

  • 250g raisins/ sultanas
  • 50g glace cherries
  • 50g mixed peel
  • Zest 1 orange
  • Zest 1 lemon
  • 100ml of whiskey (DA only calls for 50ml but to her I say this is a festival of all things evil and corrupt; the dead walk amongst the living, ghouls from the other world return, we are going to need more than 50ml of whiskey)
  • 200ml of hot strong black tea
  • 1 egg lightly beaten
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 200g light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice (or if you forgot to get that in the shop and you need to improvise a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, coriander, and chilli)

For glaze

  • 2 teaspoons of sugar dissolved in 3 teaspoons of boiling water

Method

  1. Put the fruit and zest into a big bowl with whiskey and tea. Leave soak overnight if you can (or if you are doing this last minute as I am for at least an hour)
  2. Preheat oven to 180 degrees and line round tin with parchment
  3. Add to fruit egg, flour, sugar and spices. Mix gently
  4. Add charms wrapped in parchment (and clean the coin thoroughly – those things are disgusting dirt magnets). Cover charms completely with mixture.
  5. Bake for 1 hour 15 min.
  6. When cooling glaze with glazing

Serving suggestion

With a big mug of tea and a generous spread of real butter.

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Hen Party Cupcake Decoration

Hen Party Cupcake Decoration
Hen Party Cupcake Decoration

Topic: cupcakes, decoration, hen, bachelorette, party

I recently volunteered to provide cupcakes for a hen party. Now, it would have been possible to show up with a few butterfly buns, as my baking ability is not internationally renowned and the expectations were not high. But it was the hen party of my future sister-in-law and I thought it would be nice to put in a little effort and see if I could make something special.

Making the cupcakes was no problem. I cracked the spine on my favourite cookbook for alcoholic cupcakes and with a few modifications created Southern Comfort & Coke, Pina Colada, Margarita and White Maria cupcakes.

It can be sometimes tricky to get 40 women to eat cupcakes, especially if they are thinking of having to squeeze into their frock for the wedding which was only a few weeks away. I have found that the more appetising and interesting the cupcakes look, the more chance that they will be eaten. To help me with this I recruited Jean from Pretty Tasty Bakes to give me a tutorial on cupcake decoration.

The first thing Jean did was put a cupcake case in front of me. {Well, that’s a lie, the first thing she did was come into the house, unpack a suitcase worth of equipment and have a cuppa before getting started. But the first thing she did right after that was to put the cupcake case before me} so that I would keep scale in mind. There is no point making something with lots of detail that people either can’t see or that won’t fit on the top of the cupcake. Scale is very important.

I had trawled through Pinterest and picked out a few designs that I liked and saved them to a board. Jean reviewed this so that we were both on the same page. We started with the simplest design: black and pink hen party regulars.

 

Cocktail Cupcake: Pina Colada
Cocktail Cupcake: Pina Colada

Required

  • Cutting/chopping board on which to work
  • Rolling pin
  • Circular cookie cutter
  • Craft knife
  • Gem mould if available
  • Letter stamp impressions
  • Non-toxic shimmer dust

Method

  1. To make the black base: Take a blob of black icing, tease until warm and flexible, and roll it smooth, on a cutting board to protect your table, with a rolling pin. Black icing is one of the few colours that should be bought premade, because of the amount of dye it takes to colour white icing to make it black, as opposed to grey (red is another one of these, it takes bottles to move it from being pink to being scarlet). Then take a circular cookie cutter about the size of the cupcake case you are using and cut out enough circles to place on top of each cupcake. Put these aside to dry and harden.
  2. To make the learner signs take a blob of white icing, tease and roll out. From this cut the white square for the L sign. Use a ruler or guide to ensure these are square. Place to one side to dry. Next take a blob of pink, tease and roll out. Use a craft knife to cut out the letter L (being careful of scale). Place to the side to dry.
  3. To make the rings, take a blob of white and roll between your hands to make a worm shape. Once the worm has started to take shape, put the roll on the board and using one finger only roll until a thin long snake is made. Using only one finger will help to keep the width of the snake consistent. Once the correct diameter has been reached, cut and make a circle from it. Place to one side to harden. To make the gem, Jean had a handy gem mould which we used. However, if you did not have this, using a craft knife, impress edges onto a small ball of white icing, until it has a cut diamond appearance. Dust with shimmer dust to give gleam. Place to one side to harden
  4. To make the flags, take a blob of pink icing, tease and roll. Use a craft knife to cut out the flag shape. Use letter stamps to impress message onto the icing. Use toothpick to decorate the edge of the flag with small dots. Dust with shimmer dust to give gleam.
  5. Once the cupcakes are ready to decorate, stack pieces on top of one another, holding in place with non-toxic baking glue.

Some little tips:

How to get lots of different colours without spending a fortune?

There is no need to buy lots of different coloured icing to get different colours, instead buy small bottles of food colouring and a large block of white icing. Add a very small, tiny, miniscule drop of colouring to a blob of white icing. Mix this in by pulling apart and resticking the icing together (as you would to warm up bluetack) until the colour is uniform. This will work for ever colour except dark ones such as red, black, purple, for those colours you will need to buy the pre-dyed icing.

What to do if the icing gets too sticky?

Add some icing sugar, this will dry up some of the moisture.

Leaving it to dry:

It is best to leave your decorations harden overnight, in a cool dark space if possible. I find the oven an excellent place to do this, plus it gives me the perfect excuse to order pizza!

Hen Party Cupcake Decoration
Hen Party Cupcake Decoration
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How to dress for your office

1960s Office 2

We have all been there, particularly now in cold wet March –

You wake up late. Again. Drag yourself from the bed. Can’t find your hairbrush so do the best you can to tame the mane with your hands. Put on whatever looks clean enough. Throw the makeup bag in the bottom of your handbag knowing you are not going to get a chance to get near it until lunchtime at the earliest. Run for the bus and promptly fall asleep against the window giving your hair that much envied punk/manga look.

Yes that’s right, people only need to look at you to know you’re a winner. Or not.

Like it or not, people judge others based on their appearance – now I don’t mean their crystal white Hollywood smile or their gym-perfect abs, I mean their general presentably and professionalism. While your ‘Just Woke Up’ look is great for the weekend, this might not be the image you want to present to the people who determine your take-home pay. People make snap judgements and then stick to them. Treat it right, and this could work in your favour.

1. Be attractive, do not be overtly sexual.

Unless you work in the red-light district, slept with someone to get your current role and are planning to repeat this strategy for your next promotion, or are otherwise employed by the sex industry, don’t dress like you are. That means no underwear brandishing, no accidental flashing, no casual mooning. It might be ok for Rhianna to dress like that at work, but unless you are an up-and-coming pop star, it’s not ok for you. It is hard to listen to someone, take them seriously or act on their advice if you are distracted by their Coyote Ugly get-up wondering where they dance on tables at lunchtime. There is a line between attractive and sexy – find it and stay on the right side of it.

There are some guidelines that can help you find they line. Answer the following questions:

  • a) Do I look like a backing dancer in a hip-hop video?
  • b) Could my co-workers give an alarming accurate description of today’s underwear choices?
  • c) When I sit down, can I feel the cold seat on my buttocks?
  • d) When I sit down or lean over, can my office tell if I am a tights, stockings or hold-ups kinda gal?
  • e) If I were sitting opposite my mum/ my granny/ nuns/ leery old men would I feel exposed in today’s outfit choice?

If you answer yes to any of the above, you are on the wrong side of the line. Go home and put some clothes on before you catch your death!

2. Every day makes an impression.

Many people get their next job based on the network they establish in their current role. This should be born in mind as you interact with your current colleagues, people in the wider office and organisation and new people (aka your network). It’s not just common courtesy to remember their name, what they do, that not-so-funny story about their fourth kid – its information you could use to your advantage later, so pay attention.
Chances are they will also be paying attention to you, so if it looks like you fell out of bed backwards, are always running in late and really could not give a rat’s arse about this job, that will resonate and that will be their impression of you. Each time you are observed in a dishevelled state it adds to the person’s impression of you and that is the impression they will express if they are ever asked for their opinion of you.
Where are all these impressions leading – what do you care what these people think about you?

People are slow to hire disaffected, disengaged people who cannot self-motivate, as this is an important leadership skill required for senior roles. If people think you are happy swirling away at the bottom of the barrel, then that is where you will stay, and it will take an opportunity from outside your network to prove that wrong – which really defeats the point of having a network. Your attire contributes heavily to that impression. You don’t have to look like you just fell out of a Ralph Lauren Ad; just be neat, clean and presentable.

So find something, anything, you like about the current job to motivate you, get out of bed twenty minutes early to put yourself together and arrive on time.

3. Dress appropriately for the culture of your office

If you work in a financial house, legal firm or large formal corporation, the chances are it’s a suits sort of place. If you work in a creative, technology or new industry type, chances are it is a casual sort of place. Figure out which sort you are in early on and dress appropriately.

Wearing suits to an informal office is as inappropriate as wearing a tracksuit to a formal office, because it shows that you do not understand the culture of the organisation and that you hold yourself apart from the values of your colleagues and organisation.

That said, you should also remember your position in that organisation. Unless you are a maverick genius, it is advisable to be slightly more presentable the further you go up the chain. This does not mean suits and a tie, just newer jeans, the occasional kitten heel, clothes with no holes that were not there when you bought them.

4. Dress appropriately for your role in that office.

It’s all very well to dress for the job you want, but if your current role requires you to run all around town or be on your feet for eight hours, then there is no point in wearing those Jimmy Choo stilettos that you know you will be wearing when you rule the world.
Similarly if you are required to inspect properties, climb ladders, walk around dusty sheds, see into a crawl space then you fabulous white pencil skirt is not going to work.
Also, some organisations, particularly customer facing sales roles, hire based on a look, be it conservative or alternative, because it fits with the brand image. A bank teller is expected to be the perfect Pollyanna (even if they are not under the uniform), while a tattoo artist is expected to support some nice tattoos and have a more alternative look. If you change your look dramatically overnight you might suddenly jar with the brand, which puts your role in a perilous position. That is not to say that you cannot experiment with new looks – covered tattoos is always a fun look to explore! – just keep the day job in mind while you do.

5. Dress appropriate to the day’s agenda

While you might wear pretty much the same thing day-in day-out, some days you will be doing something slightly different to your normal day job, and it’s good to dress for those days too.
In the absence of other information, people think they are similar to those that share their style. You can use your clothes to exploit this simple fact and turn it to your advantage.
Clothes allow you to build up a rapport with people and given how easy it is to change an outfit, it is easy to use this to your advantage. Give people an outfit that will put them at their ease, and make them feel comfortable.
For instance if you normally dress very causally but today are meeting the accountants or other business minded people from your organisation, it can be better to dress more conservatively than you would normally, given that these individuals will be accustomed to doing business with people in suits. This is not the best meeting to debut your totally on trend Vivien Westwood outfit. On the other hand, if you are meeting clients who are hiring you based on your cutting edge alternative brand, then ditch the frumpy pants suit and rock that Westwood.

So they are our opinions – what are yours? Are there particularly bad dressers in your office and who are the worst offenders?

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I run because …

i run because

I run because … I love food. I must be the only person who fantasies about take-away as they are pounding the pavement. I picture Sweet & Sour Chicken with Egg-fried rice. I picture McDonalds Chicken Burger with large chips. I picture prawn cocktails, steaks, lasagne, bun-burgers and cheese fries. I put one foot in front of the other and think of what I am going to eat as soon as I get home.

 

I run because … I have a very expensive wardrobe I want to get back into. I can’t wear my temporary pennies wardrobe forever.

I run because … I want to get back home. I intentionally run in a circular circuit, at a time when there is nobody else home, with a dog that gets travel sick in cars. There is only one way home and that is to keep going. I can’t call a taxi as the dog will puke and I’ll have to pay for cleaning. I can’t ring home because there is nobody there. There is no point in turning back half way through my work-out as it is the same distance to the end. There is only one way out. If I want to get home I need to keep on going. Or else sit by the roadside for the rest of my life.

I run because … I’m a little vain.

I run because … I need to exercise the dog. I was conned into purchasing a dog bred for farm work, and then I put it in a garden the size of a postage stamp. Poor chap will go barmy if he is not exercised. Or worse bark all night and chew my new couches.

I run because … I don’t want to be the fat one anymore.

I run because … Doctors tell me that a cardio-workout will give me a healthy heart and prolong my life. Although I come from a family with a tradition of long life, so I am not sure how much past 102 I really want to live.

I run because … I like to dance, and I look better when there is less junk in my trunk.

I run because … It gives me head space and time alone to think my thoughts, listen to my music, be my own self for a little bit.

I run at night because … every family has one member people would prefer would exercise under the shroud of darkness. Red faced, sweat pumping, hair askew (and that is just when I am leaving the house), tethered to the worlds most excited dog on the way out, dragging the lazy mutt behind me on the way back. Darkness is my friend here.

I run because … I wasn’t born this way.

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Cocktail Cupcake: Southern Comfort and Coke

Cocktail Cupcake: Southern Comfort and Coke
Cocktail Cupcake: Southern Comfort and Coke

 

Nothing says “I have come to party, but in a controlled, safety-switch-on sort of way” like an alcoholic cupcake, but what says “I may even loosen my hair bun and unbutton my shirt collar” is chocolate alcoholic cupcakes.

One of my favourite recipes is an adaption of the Cookie Girls Jack Daniels from her Eat Me book. Jack Daniels is Cookie Girl’s hubby’s (say that three times fast!) favourite tipple, unfortunately I had an “incident” with Jack back in my college days and I now can’t stand the taste of it, so instead I use Southern Comfort. I think the Southern Comfort adds a smoothness which the dark chocolate compliments very nicely. And there is a bit of coke thrown in so people don’t realise I’m an alcoholic.

Cocktail Cupcake: Southern Comfort and Coke
Cocktail Cupcake: Southern Comfort and Coke

Ingredients

Batter

  • 200g plain flour
  • 250g golden caster sugar
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 egg
  • 100ml milk
  • 30g yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 110g unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp Coke (full fat, this is no time for Coke Zero, we need the sugar)

Icing

  • 110g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp Coke
  • 3tbsp Southern Comfort
  • 5 tbsp of black food colouring
  • 100g dark chocolate

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 170/Gas 3 & line your 12 hole baking tray with paper cases
  2. Mix flour, sugar and bicarbonate in a bowl.
  3. In another bowl mix egg, milk, yogurt and vanilla.
  4. In a large pot melt the butter. Add the cocoa and Coke.
  5. Pour the butter mix into the flour mix and mix.
  6. Add the egg mix and mix.
  7. Pour into cupcake cases so they are 2/3 full, to allow space to rise
  8. Bake for 20-25 min
  9. Once the cupcakes are baked and cool, begin making the icing
  10. Sift the icing sugar and add the Coke, Southern Comfort and food colouring.
  11. Melt the chocolate and stir into the icing
  12. Working quickly before the icing solidifies, pour over cupcakes. Then decorate.

I was asked to bring some cupcakes to a sporting event recently, so I mixed these dark boozy cupcakes (for the grown-ups) in with a milk chocolate Nutella cupcakes (for the kids). They went down a treat. Although some of the kids were a little too partial to the Southern Comfort cupcakes – ones to watch in the future!

Cocktail Cupcake: Southern Comfort and Coke
Cocktail Cupcake: Southern Comfort and Coke
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Getting and Owning Hens

Cathy with Maud & Hildegard

When the Celtic Tiger first fled and the recession began to take hold, one of the only actually useful pieces of advice to be bandied about was to get hens. It might seem counter-intuitive to add to your household when you really should be downsizing, but hens have many qualities beyond providing a regular good source of protein; they mean that there is always food in the house (the eggs, not the birds, this is a family show), you do not need a lot of space to keep them, they are very inexpensive to purchase and feed, and they can be a good source of regular routine and mild entertainment.

The house and territory

I stumbled across a great company at Bloom one year that made timber hen houses (or arks as they prefer) and would deliver anywhere in Ireland; CJ Sherran in Co. Laois. We bought an ark for 5-6 birds (about e400 at the time) but actually only ever kept 2 or 3 in it at a time. The reason I liked these arks was because they were very sturdy (no dog or fox could burrow in), they were fully enclosed meaning the bird run was protected at all times, and with pre-treated heavy timber they would be durable even in wet Irish weather. Friends of mine have made their own arks, which is an admirable endeavour, but to be honest they don’t look as well in the back garden and they are difficult to make sturdy enough to withstand a determined fox (they have had some fatalities).

One downside I will note against the ark (aside from the cost) is that the enclosed run is not big enough for even 2 or 3 birds long term. It takes two chickens only about a week to scratch up all the grass in that 2m x 1m area. Adding some grit and straw helped initially, but as the mud patch spread we thought we better do something. Initially we moved the ark to a new spot every week or so, but very quickly ran out of grass. Our solution was to release the birds. Thinking I could contain the madness, I enclosed a 5m x 4m area with a 3ft post and chicken wire fence, but soon learned that determined chickens can jump that (a pity, because it took me hours to build!). However, our back garden is enclosed by large 7ft walls on all sides, and our home is in the middle of a housing estate surrounded by countryside. We took a chance and figured it would be a very lost fox that would bother coming that far into suburbia for two chickens.  In the four years we have had the hens, we have had no untimely deaths. That said, chickens poop *everywhere* they wander, so while it was fine for us, a childless couple with no particular affection towards our backyard, I could imagine that parents of small children or gardeners proud of their growing creations would rather keep the beasts confined to a set space. I think a higher fence would have achieved this.

Getting the birds

Once we had the ark, the next thing we needed were birds. Just like dogs there are many breeds of hens and each have their qualities and quirks. We opted for a Rhode Island Red mix as they are reputed to be steady layers. We got ours from a local organic farmer, who was kind enough to sell us hens that were already laying. It is possible to buy chicks, and some people prefer this, but not all hens lay and as we only wanted hens for the eggs (as opposed to eating them), so it suited us to ensure they were laying already. Also it is normal for hens to be sold in couples, because as they are not happy without a flock, even if it is a flock of two. Our chickens cost us about e7 each.

Doing the paper work

Once we had the chickens, we had to notify the council that we had domesticated birds, and after one quick email assuring them that we had no intention of selling the eggs or using them in food which we would then sell, we were allotted a flock number.

Feeding them

Having purchased organic chickens I felt it would be a waste to feed them anything less than organic layers pellets. This can be sourced in a range of places, and outside of the usual farm-supply shops, places that supply specialised equestrian feeds are your next best stop. In Dublin, the closest place that I found was Coleman’s of Sandyford where a bag ranged between e15-20 depending on the mood of the owners and their stock levels that month.

Outside of their actual feed I found chickens will eat just about everything else in the garden (except something useful like weeds) and will KILL for tomatoes. Don’t know what it is about them, but like heroin to a junkie, they just cannot get enough of them.

Your return

Hens will lay about 5 eggs in 7 days, some more, some less. Their laying life in my experience is about 2 years, again some more, some less. Our hens also always laid throughout the winter, I have read that this is unusual with some hens laying only in the warmer months. We did nothing to deliberately encourage this, other than keeping them warm (by ensuring we closed up the coop each night) and keeping them well-fed.

One other downside

Another thing that people don’t tell you about hens is that every group has a squawker. This is the hen that announces day break to the universe (I thought it was just roosters that did this, but no) and won’t shut up no matter what you fling at it from an upstairs bedroom window (we received a collection of items from surrounding neighbours’ homes). Honestly though, the squawking is no louder than a dog barking, and after a few weeks people acclimatised to it and the death threats stop. I think this would be less noticeable in louder neighbourhoods, or the countryside.

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The New ‘ Wheels On The Bus’

wheels on bus

Lullabies have long been used to prepare children for the world outside their nurseries. ‘Oh dear what can the matter be’ is not just about the inevitable confusion that arises from sending a young man ill prepared into a haberdashers store – it’s about young men been taken against their will to fight in the American Civil War. Ring-a-ring-a-rosy is a prime example of society’s way of remembering an awful event in history (the Black Death) and passing this memory on to our children through the hive mind.

Ring a ring a rosy (the red swellings that were the first sign you got it)
A pocket full of posy (a perfumed handkerchief people carried to ward off the dying stench of their loved ones)
A tis-shoo, a tis-shoo (you are getting sick now)
We all fall down (dead)

Knowing the meaning brings new horror when you hear bands of school children singing it at the top of their voices with glee.

With this in mind, while singing (butchering) The Wheels On The Bus I thought I would take the opportunity to prepare my son for his inevitable bus going journeys. As a veteran of the public transport service I feel I have a lot of life advice to hand on to the next generation.

We did the first three verses that everyone does – wheels on the bus going around, the wipers on the bus going swish, swish, swish and the horn on the bus going beep, beep, beep. At this point my technical knowledge of bus mechanics ran out, and if I am honest, my son’s genes mean that the odds are stacked greatly against him being a practical mechanically minded person, so we moved inside for a look in there.

The crazys on the bus mutter ‘get outta that garden’, ‘get outta that garden’, ‘get outta that garden’.
The crazys on the bus mutter ‘get outta that garden’ so we avoid them if we can.

The drunks on the bus smell really bad, smell really bad, smell really bad,
The drunks on the bus smell really bad, so we open a window if we can.

The hoilligans on the bus tear up the seats, graffiti their names, try and burn the lino,
The hoilligans on the bus tear up the seats, that’s why they’re the undesirables.

Junkies on the bus usually sit down the back, sit down the back, sit down the back,
Junkies on the bus usually sit down the back, so we don’t sit there.

Babies on the bus cry wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah,
Babies on the bus cry wah, wah, wah, and the Mammies pretend they can’t hear them.

The school kids on the bus shout and scream, shout and scream, shout and scream,
The school kids on the bus shout and scream, all day long

The teachers with the kids say at least there’s a pension, least there’s a pension, least there’s a pension,
The teachers with the kids say at least there’s a pension, all day long

Commuters on the bus don’t talk at all, avoid all eye contact, try not to touch,
Commuters on the bus don’t talk at all, and wish they were somewhere else

Mean old ladies try and hit you with their stick, hit you with their stick, hit you with their stick,
Mean old ladies try and hit you with their stick, so don’t sit downstairs at the front

Criminals on the bus try and pick your pockets, pick your pockets, pick your pockets,
Criminals on the bus try and pick your pockets, so make sure your wallet is safe.

Kids mitching school always get caught, always get caught, always get caught,
Kids mitching school always get caught, so make sure you don’t do it.
{This is more of a life lesson that a bus story, but it cannot be repeated enough}

In the middle up stairs is the safest place to sit, near the window, where it is not too hot,
In the middle up stairs is the safest place to sit, so try to go there.

If the bus is packed you will have to stand, try and find a pole, or sit on the stairs,
If the bus is packed you will have to stand, and that’s the worst journey of all.

Now that I think about it, maybe I’ll drive him to school when the time comes.

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Bathroom Project Part Three: Soft Furnishings, Storage and Final Touches

bathroom project

As discussed in Bathroom Project Part One, there is always one room in a second hand house which tells you the previous owners were possibly colour blind and usually it’s the bathroom. Our previously loved home is no different. The bathroom we inherited was decorated in ghastly pink matched with snot green – one word ‘horrific’. Aside from the décor, the room had other issues: there was no storage, the shower was one of these hoses attached to the taps that you have to run around under to get wet, there was very little light, there was a leak at the bath taps and the wind tunnel caused by the draft from the ill-fitting vent was perishing mid-winter.

Having resolved the shower, leak and wind tunnel in Part One, the next step in, Part Two, was to change the colours. Now in Part 3, the final stage, it’s time to make this bathroom the throne room it should rightfully be.

Bathroom Grey

I started with storage. As you can see in the before pictures, previously storage in this room consisted of a wire rack beneath the sink and a towel rack beside it. This always made the room look messy because everything was on show, and, unlike the perfectly manicured bathrooms in the sales catalogue, in my bathroom the bottles are not all the same size or conveniently the same colour. However, the rack sufficed when we were just two, but now that our family is getting bigger, items that belong in a bathroom that I may have previously stored elsewhere must be returned and in general we will have more things in the bathroom.

The requirements for the storage was simple – I wanted enclosed units and as many of them as I could fit, without placing them unreasonably high. I also wanted to tackle the lighting issue with these units. Having ruled out under-shelf lighting because I was nervous working with electricity in the bathroom and didn’t want to pay an electrician, I settled on everything being mirrored. This meant that at least what light did come in through the window and from the ceiling light was bounced around the room for full effectiveness.

Initially I began my search with my old favourite, the masters of the small living space, Ikea, but I found their pieces either too big or too expensive. A scan of Woodies and B&Q gave the same result, however Argos came to my rescue. I managed to get two tall boy units small enough to fit in the space between the bath-and-toilet and then the toilet-and-sink. I also purchased three hanging units to hang on the wall at the end of the bath. Although as no trip to Ikea is ever wasted, I did pick up five hanging rails for towels (four for storing clean bath and hand towels , and one for the hand towel currently in use).  I also picked up a mirrored unit for over the sink.

Bathroom storage

Next thing I sourced was the shower curtain. Standard shower curtains are 200cm length, and even in Ikea, where everything is designed assuming it will be placed in a high ceilinged Swedish home, the longest was 200cm. I wanted a shower curtain that was at least 220cm length, because I wanted to hang the shower rail at ceiling height, thereby making the room appear taller ( or at least not making the ceiling appear lower because the rail was in eye line). A search of EBay found such the item, and in a very plain white. This meant that when not in use, I could tuck the shower curtain into an old elasticated bracelet and hang it from a hook stuck to the tiles, behind the tall boy. This prevents the curtain screening parts of the room, which makes the room appear smaller.

Bathroom Curtain and Towels

As with most bathrooms, the only soft furnishings are the towels. I was fortunate to be decorating at the time of a 70% sale in House of Frasier and made a killing on some luxury grey and white towels. These I hung in a checker-board fashion.

The last piece of decoration to be added was a Banksy poster above the toilet to add a splash of colour, which will be in Part Four.

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