Friday, November 23, 2012


It's well documented that Ireland is bankrupt and that disposable incomes are a long-lost dream of yesterday. 

So why then do Irish consumers spend the most out of any European country on Christmas?

A new survey from accountancy firm Deloitte predicts that Irish consumers will spend an average of €966 per household, of which €500 will be spent on gifts, €288 spent on food and drink and €178 spent on socialising. The European average is just €591 and the lowest spend is just €287 per household in Holland.

The good news is that Irish outlay is down from €1,300 at the height of the boom, with consumers reckoning they'll spend 1.7% less than last year.  Woohoo!

Yet all I ever hear from friends and countrywomen is how skint they are and how they can't afford to pay their mortgage.
So why do people spend so much at Christmas? It could be that the cost of living is so much higher over here, it could the hefty price tag of presents, it could be the huge chunk of VAT the tax man takes...

Or it could be the fact that most Irish men and women have some innate irrational fear of being seen to be miserly. Heaven forbid you can't pay the mortgage, but you must buy a massive present for your neighbour's daughter-in-law who's just had her third child.

Even when totally skint, they still try to buy you a drink at the bar. My hubby can't biologically be bought a drink by someone without squirming awkwardly until he's cancelled his debt by buying one back. Even if that person has had enough and wants to go home, he'll force it on them.

If someone is here for dinner, he'll keep loading up their plate as they plead with him to stop yet politely pick through it until they blow up into a ball and have to be rolled out of the door.

I call him Mrs Doyle when he gets like this.

So why does an Irishman detest the idea of being perceived as mean? It's always baffled me. As someone who grew up among tight Yorkshire men, most of whom prided themselves on being miserly, I've never been able to get my head around the force-feeding Irish spirit. It's beyond generous. It's so kind it's bonkers. 

The hubby says it goes back to his Colonial heritage; they may have been raped, pillaged and starved for Centuries, but they'll never give in to a nationwide complex of inferiority. 

You only have to look at last year's World Giving report from the Charities Aid Foundation to find out what a generous nation Ireland is. Our green and pleasant isle was ranked as the most charitable country in Europe and the second most charitable nation in the world (behind the US), with 75 per cent of Irish people donating money to charity and 38 per cent volunteered their time each month. 

Ireland also had the highest percentage of residents who said they often "help a stranger". This openness and friendliness of strangers has always been the main thing I love about Ireland.

Since moving to Ireland six and a half years ago I've been blown away by the massive gifts people give for Christmas, baby births, Naming Days, our Wedding and recently my birthday. But for every bit of largess, it raises the bar. I worry that I have to reciprocate equally - which I can no longer afford as our 3 little people soak up all our money now.

This year I've come to an agreement with family members to "NOT buy gifts for each other" because the list of people to buy for just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Desperate times - driven by my unassailable stress (where will I get the time or money to organise Christmas presents for 25 people?). I've not enjoyed Christmases recently because of all this stress involved in buying and wrapping so many presents. So I've been proactive this year, rather than stress about it, I've reduced the load. We've said we'll just buy for the kids.

My hubby has 8 nieces and nephews and five godchildren, and our own 3 kids are starting to ask for presents worth €100 (I know this is nothing compared to what it's going to become). 

So please, if you're reading this and thinking of buying big presents for us this year, please don't. Just a small thing for the kids if you must...

Lets cut down that crazy €1000 spend per house and then the New Year hangover won't be so long-lasting and depressing. 

Monday, November 19, 2012


I used to laugh at a friend who always ended up with 6 kids every day.

I was amazed and astounded at how she effortlessly juggled so many different kids, managing school pick-ups, playdate swaps and surprise extra kids - yet always remained calm and cool.

What chaos her life seemed.

Fast forward two years and now I am that person - and she laughs at the chaos that has taken over my life.

I'm now the one with a gang of kids. Most people look at me like I used to look at my friend - with disbelief: how many kids do you have today? How many extras on top of your own 3?!

But you know what, I don't even think about it. I'm just helping out friends, socialising my kids and giving them all a sense of belonging to a fun and friendly crew.
I call them my Chaos Crew, because we wreak chaos wherever we go. It's not uncommon for me to arrive at the local playground with all 6 of my car seats filled with kids. 

On Friday I took six kids to Fota Wildlife Park for an hour and we had a ball. They loved it. The park was closing, we were practically the only ones there and we had a great time (we're members so I didn't have to pay, otherwise we wouldn't have gone).

The way I see it, I'm socialising my kids. I'm getting them used to having friends around, getting them used to sharing everything and waiting their turn. I don't get paid for it, so that way I only take my friends' kids who I like and are used to playing with my kids (and it's not all the time). My kids stop whining at me, they have fun, mummy gets a mental break. 

In fact, here's my discovery, the more kids you have, the easier it becomes. 

[Unless they're under 2 of course. By far the hardest kid I have at the moment is my own 18month old, who needs constant watching because of his death-wish climbing and running away tendencies.]

The beauty of having extra/older kids around is when I have to drop everything and chase my little Crazy Horse I can shout back to the oldest, "you're in charge". They love this, even if it's just for 1 minute and they're safe in a playground or strapped into their seats in the car, they love feeling empowered and I think the other kids love the sense that a kid is in charge whilst mum is busy elsewhere.

All I have to do is make sure they all go to the toilet at the same time and make sure I have a few bottles of water and snacks.

The payoff then is that I get time off from my kids when it's their turns to go to friends' houses.

You see, once you've raised your game to the chaos of three kids, you really can handle anything. That's my own personal theory anyway. Once you get used to having more kids than arms, you learn to handle kids differently. Physically it's draining, but you get used to that, psychologically I actually find it quite liberating.

You learn to deal with them in order of urgency, as in, if there's a poo coming, you have to drop everything and race off to the toilet, but if someone is only whingeing for a drink or a snack, you can tell them to wait until the urgent things get sorted.

Don't get me wrong, at times I can't cope with my own 3. I get exasperated and overwhelmed and I shout at them to listen to me when I feel the balance of power is tipping in their favour.

But I'm used to the chaos now, I expect it, and anything less is a welcome break.

And although I dearly love silence and stillness, I'm learning to embrace the madness that used to frighten the life out of me. Because that's what kids bring. Total and utter chaos.

You can't control them, you just have to change your own perspective and go with their erratic flow - and just hope that along the way we find a happy balance where my shouty frustrations disappear as we navigate into a happier future.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Finding my joy at the end of the week....

New energy is coming into my life. The kids are growing up. I got a few hours off this week - and I want more!

So here are my Pockets of Joy...

* Deciding I need a part-time job - to get a break from the kids and bring some cash in

 * Finishing my latest newsletter from the Irish Childbirth Trust (Cuidiu)

* Beginning to feel like I'm capable again

* An 80s fancy dress party of a wonderful friend tonight. Happy 40th birthday lovely Eilish. (PS I'm being daring and wearing a pink wig, nothing at all like I wore in the 80s)

* Cleaning my manky carpets and employing a cleaner to do the rest. Oh the rare joy of a clean home

* Boys no longer waking (and wanting to get) up at 5am

* My eye has stopped twitching from sleep deprivation

* A lazy Saturday morning and a chance to get on my laptop as the boys play with their tractors and lego and my demanding girl still away after a sleepover.  It's almost peaceful. Ahhh...

*A decision to embark on a new course. Antenatal teacher training with Cuidiu. 

* A beautiful sunny autumn day - so why am I still on the laptop?!

Friday, November 09, 2012


Tired but smiling somewhere...

I'm exhausted at the end of a long, draining week of loads of kids, dozens of school runs and a teething toddler waking us all up at 5.30am every day. 

It's nice to end the week thinking positive thoughts... here are my pockets of joy this Friday....

Painting a wild stormy sky in an hour - loving the result

New driving glasses - funky pink! Kids think mum's suddenly cool

My 3year old acrobat doing headstands and effortless yoga poses

My weekly creative group - more like group therapy

My 18month old singing and talking

A sociable week meeting lots of friends

Rediscovering the calming effect of chamomile tea

My eldest going on a sleepover tonight -  maybe we won't have to get up at 6am tomorrow

The prospect of my lovely women's group on Sunday