Back To School......

With the swipe of my finger across the face of my phone, setting the early morning alarm for the first time in two-and-a-half months, the summer of 2015 was casually brought to a close. 

As simple an action as that concluded the months of lie-ins (10 am constitutes a lie-in) and the non-routine mix of lazy and busy days. The never-ending period of long sunny days that stretched out before us had..... well.... ended. The 'sunny' part of course being in my imagination. And in my pre-summer blog posts. If I ever wax lyrical about the joy of an impending summer again then you have my absolute permission to tell me to STOP! Note: If there's ever an early heatwave in April/May in future then we must treat it as our summer and make the most of it.

The dreaded back-to-school preparation has been completed. Although this being my boy's Transition Year (4th Year in Ireland) the 'dreaded' part was absent. With no books to purchase, and therefore no books to cover with the dreaded sticky-back covering that sticks to digits as well as to educational tomes, it was the easiest prep ever! Please note though that you must not compute 'no books' as less back-to-school costs. The cost is actually more. 

If the school has a good Transition Year programme (and ours does) then this gap year can afford wonderful opportunities to our teenagers who at (or almost at) 16 are on the brink of adulthood; so close you can sniff it in the atmosphere. 

With work experience opportunities being currently - and frantically - sourced this can help them with future study and career choices; it may even help provide a future part-time job. It can also, equally as important in my opinion, reveal to them that what they think is their true calling might be more difficult to achieve than they realised. An important lesson and one that has the potential to inspire when they commence 5th Year. 

Transition Year is an adventure with lots of opportunities, outings, projects and assessments. It is not a doss year.... to a certain extent it can be but shhhh - we must not say that within their hearing!

They will get out of this year what they put into it.

I filled my son's head with some of these thoughts as he went in for registration today. 

And these were the thoughts that filled mine as I mused about what being back-to-school meant to me....

The  daily 'Get out of that bed..... NOW ' 'conversation' still takes place but at a much earlier and ungodlier hour!

New rules apply for the almost 16 year old:  1) No breakfast or a cold and/or soggy one if he doesn't come down on time. The choice is his. 2) As this is a less pressured year and there's an excellent bus service daily school pick-ups are no longer required and are therefore reserved for the odd treat.

Earlier bedtimes are back so midweek Netflix 'Breaking Bad' binges are limited to one episode only, and viewing must end by 10 pm.

Not only does the teenager get routine back into his day but so do I. I never thought that I'd celebrate that but I do. I like lazy days, don't get me wrong, but I dislike the mess they can create, particularly when they become the norm rather than the exception! Some daily routine, which also allows some laziness, brings order to my day..... ending with a delicious and a deeper night's slumber. I can but hope! 

The daily responsibility for alternative activities for a teenager's mind and body are someone else's issue.

Some more time may be found for writing more blog posts?

Morning meet-ups are finally back on the agenda, in the midst of other commitments, and I can see some mega catch-ups in my future!

I was going to add 'Freedom!' to this list but really I can't. I've enjoyed this summer with him. He's fun to be with and fairly independent. 

I am glad that he too will now have more structure to his day again and I'm excited for what this year can mean for him.

Good luck son!

The Curious Case of the Invisible Visitor..... and the Incurious Cat!

We  had become aware of the presence of a visitor in our house recently. A mysterious type who left little signs of their occupation, in one spot only, whilst remaining totally anonymous and utterly invisible.

The ripped plastic rubbish bag under the sink, a couple of mornings ago, was the first sign. Was that Pretty Cat of ours rummaging where she shouldn't be again, we wondered? Hmmmm.... a possibility, I guess. I will admit to an immediate suspicion lurking in the back of my mind, one that I did not want to come to the fore, but if I was right it would be best to know for sure - right?

'Only one way to find out', I thought to myself as I gingerly placed three cubes of cheese in the contained under-sink area - before quickly slamming the doors shut! 'Eeek' ..... a sound uttered silently by me..... and not so silently by our visitor some time later upon devouring said cheese!!

It was official - there was a mouse loose about our house.

With a disinterested Pretty Cat snuggled up in her favourite daytime snuggly place, and no sign of  her moving - ever - it was up to us to sort things out, it seemed. I was not impressed I can tell you. This is the same cat who insists - insists I tell you - on bringing home a menagerie of critters, sometimes on a daily basis, for our approval. There have been birds, some of whom were almost as big as herself, teensy frogs and meeces of all sizes. There was even almost a squirrel to present to us one day, only I helped save it from her clutches. And dare you toss away any of her 'play things'? Why, she'll go over the back wall to retrieve it, bringing it back in through the window and laying it joyfully at your feet once more! Numerous times!

But a mouse loose about her house? Couldn't give a care...... curiosity suddenly being very dangerous for cats!

So we used a mousetrap instead and came down the following morning to an empty trap.... that had been triggered. A bit of a Houdini was our invisible visitor.

Subsequent cubes of cheese strategically placed in various locations over the next night, with Pretty Cat locked in the same room, were left untouched. Which begged the question: had our visitor departed of it's own accord? Hardly. They can burrow anywhere, right?

Okay, at this point I have to stop for a minute to tell you that I am shuddering as I type this and my skin is veritably crawling! But I must continue, for there is more..... are you ready?

Last night turned out to be a bit of a sleepless night for me, yet again. One of the many such nights during what has been pretty much a sleepless, and sunless, summer. So down the stairs I crept, book, glasses and phone in hand at about 5 am to be met at the door by our Pretty Cat; who was looking especially pretty and adorable as she wanted some food. 'Food for you and tea for me',  I mumbled as I put the kettle on. Then as I reached for her food I saw her suddenly taking an interest in the area behind the kick board .... near the sink. I'm shuddering again! Aha.... there ya go pretty girl! I'll get that kick board taken away when everyone is awake, I reckoned, and she can have at it.

Oh, how naive am I? Like, having finally taken an interest she's, like, gonna wait?? Really??

So, in my innocence, I snuggled down on the sofa, head buried in a pile of cushions which lay on the arm rest, reading my book and drinking my tea. Tiredness was hitting ..... eyes were closing .... closing ..... closed. Briefly awaking long enough to put the book away - with eyes still closed, it's my latest sleep-trick - only to snuggle deeper and to fall into a gentle slumber.

'What was that noise', I thought to myself as something tried to break through my slumber? 'Get off the fish tank' I sleepily admonished Pretty Cat, without even opening my eyes. Mistake #1.

'Oh,' I muttered a short time later as I felt a weight landing on the arm rest behind my head. 'Ah, Pretty Cat finally coming to settle down beside me for some cat cuddles' I thought. Only 'she' never got any further than the arm rest. I half opened my eyes to look but upon seeing nothing I settled down for some more glorious sleep. Mistake #2! I really, really am shuddering here!

The background noises continued, then came one noise that I simply couldn't ignore - the inevitable, undeniable and very audible 'eeeek' of a mouse VERY loose about my house .... with a Pretty Cat finally giving chase!

Oh my goodness did I leap off that sofa! And leaped about the room with squeals of horror and 'go do your thing pretty girl', in equal measure!

What happened next can only be described as the most unusual cat and mouse routine that I have ever witnessed; though in fairness 'Tom and Jerry' cartoons are my main comparison. And speaking of that cartoon, much favoured in my childhood home, I must tell you that I was only short of hopping up on a chair, donned in a dressing gown as I was, with my broom in my hand!

Although she'd obviously kept at it while I had dozed, and wouldn't let it out of her sight, our cat only seemed interested in catching the mouse if it ran. Definitely a play thing to her it seemed, I shouldn't have fed her!

So I 'helped' by gently 'encouraging' the mouse to move with my broom - with accompanying yelps of course! - before leaving the two of them alone in the room, with the back door open, while I made my escape to another room. Ooh... the noises, the squeaks and squeals that came from that room!

Eventually help arrived and our no longer invisible visitor was 'moved' out into the garden. Our cat was then joined by another, much younger and definitely hungrier, cat. Things were really getting interesting. I swear watching this trio in action was like watching a David Attenborough programme or taking a field trip in the Serengeti National Park!

Our cat lost interest but wasn't quite sure if it should let the other cat, a regular visitor here, hunt her play thing on her territory! So there were a few half-assed hisses and swipes at both visitors before she took a back seat to watch the proceedings. It was hilarious! The younger cat didn't quite know what to do with this indomitable play-thing of a tutter that just wouldn't give in, or run away. In fairness it was injured but I swear to you it faced up and fought back! Astounding.

Eventually both cats walked away leaving an injured mouse behind, but before we could dispose of it the younger cat crept back about ten minutes later and, like the robber's dog, swiped the mouse, quick as you like, and away with her over the neighbouring rooftops!

And just like that it was all over and our visitor is no more.

I'm just hoping there are no 'relatives' left behind?

And I will be checking my pillows before I sleep!

How about you?

Sweet dreams!!

Summer Bucket List 2015: The Burren

We have accomplished a couple more trips since our Glasnevin Cemetery trip to add to this year's Summer Bucket List in the last few weeks. Unfortunately due to a misplaced camera connection I have been unable to update you on our travels. However as this has since been rectified  I am now delighted to be able to finally share our experiences and accompanying photographs with you!

This was a very much looked forward to, special trip, that I have nicknamed my 'Good Karma Trip' - the reason for which shall be revealed shortly. It involved two friends, who are also related, and their two fifteen year old sons heading off to soak up the scenery and atmosphere on a section of Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way for a couple of days; just after the August Bank Holiday weekend in fact. And after our experience I can assure you that, although thankfully the rain held off for our only touring day, the Wild Atlantic Way most certainly lived up to it's name!

The Burren is a fascinating area of great geological interest in Co. Clare containing limestone pavements, among other things, and is one of Ireland's National Parks. An ideal location of great interest for teenagers, families etc to explore. Confusingly there are two Visitor Centres for The Burren - one in Corofin and the other in Kilfenora - and we mistakenly visited both! You see unlike other Visitor Centres these ones are not in situ - there is a ten to twenty minute drive to get from them to explore the limestone pavements of this karst landscape. After watching an informative, albeit twee and rather old, video in the Kilfenora centre and viewing their interesting display we headed off with directions in hand to embrace this fascinating region and its wondrous sights.

We walked the area surrounding the Poulnabrone Portal Tomb

The limestone pavements of The Burren stretch for miles and miles and we explored this relatively small area of it.

Marveling at the interesting shapes...

And at the vast and varied flora growing between the pavements. It is said that all sorts of flora, including Alpine and Mediterranean, grows here.

We could have spent far longer here but we had only one day to see all that we could. If you visit here for a few days you could go on one of the organised walks, or get the directions for one, at either of the above Visitor Centres. For us however it was time to move on as there were more sights to see.

The Burren area also has many caves, one of which is open to the public and was very nearby, as one of the signposts declared. Off to Aillwee Cave with us then so we reckoned ..... and off we went!

This was an interesting stop and well worth a visit. Again we were stuck for time so couldn't enjoy all that this had to offer. We bypassed the Birds of Prey, the lovely looking 'forest walk' and went straight through to see caverns filled with stalactite and stalagmites, an underground waterfall and the remains of bears long departed from this earth, and this region! It was an interesting thirty minute visit enjoyed by us all.

We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the atmospheric cafe here at the Aillwee Cave and admired the panoramic view of the limestone pavements which lay all around for as far as the eye could see.....

Naturally we couldn't come all this distance without visiting the famous Cliffs of Moher, therefore we immediately embarked on an hour long, extremely scenic, journey along the coast road. This took us through Ballyvaughan and Doolin, allowing us to admire the limestone pavements that spread from the hills and mountains we had just passed through right down to the shore, until we finally arrived at our destination. We had heard much about the 'astronomical' cost of parking at the Cliffs of Moher but as it turned out there was no charge for the boys and it was just €6 per adult, which included access to the Visitors Center for all four of us and therefore worth it, in our opinion. And this centre was perfectly, and environmentally, located right on the cliffs so that we could enjoy the science and informative part, followed immediately by the wonderful view of these majestic cliffs. A wild and windy day it may have been and although that did dictate where we allowed the boys to walk it did not take away from the stunning views.....

It was an incredible day filled with magnificent views that we will remember for a long time to come, that said I think the Cliffs were the highlight of our day.

For the two days we visited this area we were based at the Inn at Dromoland which is located on the ground of the very upmarket Dromoland Castle. It's poorer sister it may very well be but we'd definitely recommend it! It's very reasonable and it's location is ideal to access from Dublin, is perfectly placed on the edge of all the places we visited and allows for a shorter journey back to Dublin on departure than if you stay closer to, say, Ballyvaughan. The food in the hotel restaurant and in the bistro bar is plentiful and splendidly presented and the Games Room was ideal for our teenagers. Tip: give the pool area a miss and take a walk through the grounds instead ;)

And the 'Good Karma Trip' part? Well, this trip was originally planned for last summer but due to my back injury and subsequent hosptialisation on the August Bank Holiday Monday in 2014 we had to postpone. The day we left on our adventure in 2015? Why, it was Bank Holiday Monday of course. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate a years anniversary of being unable to walk properly for such a long time then embarking on such a trip!

I cannot wait to see where we visit next year. I'll be sure to tell you all about it!

As this post involves getting teenagers out of the house and exploring nature and our wonderful Irish scenery I'm linking this with Fiona's #CountryKids over at Coombe Mills .

#Netflix #StreamTeam Newbie News.....

Maybe you haven't noticed my absence of late from this lovely blogosphere, or maybe you have? If so then there are a number of reasons for this. Like .... well .... it's the summer holidays; a time to be out and about, and a time to relax when you are not. Lack of sleep has definitely played it's part too of course. And then there's the fact that the wonders of Netflix has finally entered the house of Jazzy!

Oh yes, it most certainly has and after my pre-holidays lamentations regarding the lack of prime time TV viewing, especially at weekends, I am as happy as a sofa-snuggling, tea-tippling (make that wine on a weekend night!) gogglebox-goggling person can be!

Before I go any further let me declare that my Netflix subscription and Apple TV device has been provided to me free-of-charge as a new member of their worldwide blogging #StreamTeam. All I have to do is watch it and review! Well, I did have to set the whole thing up too. Which actually isn't completely true. Although it's relatively easy to do it's even easier when you have a tech-savvy teenager in your house to do it for you! Thanks son....

So, what has been so riveting on Netflix to drag me away from these hallowed web pages then?

Well, myself and said tech-savvy teenager have been having a bit of a Netflix binge most nights and we've been so caught up with one series that we haven't done a lot of exploring. In fairness the series in question is five seasons long and we've decided to watch it in full before moving on. That said I've done a little exploration of my own. Here's what we've viewed so far:

Breaking Bad

This was top of our list from the moment we knew the Netflix kit was coming, and as the very first pilot episode had us hooked it sure hasn't disappointed. The beauty, and damnation, of Netflix is that just as an episode finishes leaving you dangling on the edge of the proverbial cliff-hanger, or on the edge of your jangling nerves, you simply click to watch the next episode! No need to wait until the following week. We are currently on series 3 - needless to say we're having some very late Netflix-streaming nights! This series isn't to everyone's taste; it is rather gruesome at times and in the earlier episodes the sex-scenes somehow manage to be graphic without showing much. If you know what I mean? But it is also gritty, humorous in a black-humour kind of way and totally riveting. As an over 18's show it really isn't suitable for an almost 16 year old and although I'm allowing him watch (only when I'm with him) this is very much under review. On the plus side we are having the most interesting conversations sparked by this show. Seriously, how else do you get to have the necessary talk with your teenager about sex, drugs, violence and morality without it sounding like a lecture? So far it seems that I don't have much to worry about. Not when he's still saving various critters, including a not-quite-dead-yet mouse, from the tenacious clutches of our Pretty Cat (a definite misnomer when she's in prowler mode) to release into the wild!

Orange Is The New Black

I like that Netflix isn't just your average box-set viewing and as this was a direct to Netflix production I wanted to watch it. I have to be honest and say that the first episode didn't really grab me, spoiled as I was from my Breaking Bad binges! I've watched 3 episodes so far and it is growing on me so I am likely to give it a chance and watch some more.

Unbreakable Kimmy Scmidt

A zany, quirky show with blink and you'd miss them moments and some rather cheeky one-liners that they somehow manage to get away with! I have to be honest here and admit that this show holds a special place in my TV viewing list. You see I won a blogging competition last March and got to attend the official launch of this show in London! It was a wonderful day and I really did enjoy it. We got to see three episodes at the launch so I was very much looking forward to catching up with this show. It's still fun....

House of Cards

There are so many TV series that I have yet to see and this was another one on my list. I've only watched the first episode and again I am hooked, I definitely want to watch more!

Better Call Saul

We are aiming to get further on in our Breaking Bad binges before we watch this one. Hurry up already!!

I have to say that so far our Netflix viewing is very enjoyable, it's a great way to spend lazy, relaxing time with your children and teenagers; and as screen-time goes it's a far healthier option I reckon! No more 'What's On TV?'.... with Netflix there is always something on TV. We will definitely be kept entertained for some time to come and there's always new additions.

Watch out for the recent back-to-school launch by Netflix of a brand new TV series for tweens called Project Mc2  This is a 'Netflix original series, Project Mc2  follows four super smart and science-skilled girls as they are recruited to join the spy organization, NOV8 (that's "innovate"). On the girls’ first mission as secret agents, they covertly and comically offer protection to a British Royal about to embark on a very important space launch. They use S.T.E.A.M (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Maths) and girl-power to save the day, proving that Smart is the New Cool™.'

And also Beasts of No Nations: an original powerful new film that will debut on October 16th 2015. It is 'based on the highly acclaimed novel by Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala, bringing to life the gripping tale of Agu, a child soldier torn from his family to fight in the civil war of an African country. Newcomer Abraham Attah gives a stunning portrayal of Agu, while Elba dominates the screen in the role of Commandant, a warlord who takes in Agu and instructs him in the ways of war.' 

This exciting trailer puts it on my must-stream list for sure!

So MUCH Netflix..... so little time.

I hope to re-surface soon and tell you some more!

DISCLAIMER: As a member of the worldwide #Netflix #StreamTeam I received a years subscription and an Apple TV device in exchange for some reviews. All opinions, thoughts and words are honest and mine alone. 

Summer Bucket List 2015: Glasnevin Cemetery Tour and Musuem

After a busy summer so far we finally made a start on our Summer Bucket List for 2015! A trip to Glasnevin Cemetery for the infamous tour and a walk through the museum was top of my list - ever since I watched the fascinating documentary One Million Dubliners last year. The knowledge, passion and vivaciousness of the Historian/Tour Guide Shane MacThomais came right through my TV screen and hooked me right in. It was a fascinating and very emotional documentary I found and I was very saddened to hear that he himself passed away some time after it was originally made.

And so it was that earlier this week that we found ourselves starting our tour at Daniel O'Connell's final resting place, a decorous crypt that we got inside to view and his coffin that we got to touch - for luck apparently - led by our tour guide. Brigid also featured in the above documentary and I found her to be equally as knowledgeable and passionate about, not just her job, but the whole ethos of Glasnevin Trust. The woman never stopped talking, she had so much information and quirky stories to impart. She was fantastic!

It was fit and proper that we started at 'The Emancipator' Daniel O'Connell's grave - he who founded Glasnevin Cemetery, which was the first non-denominational cemetery in Ireland. Both facts I never knew. His decorous crypt lays very close to the O'Connell Tower, built in his honour, which at 51 metres high affords fabulous views of areas far beyond Dublin. Well, at least it did until a bomb in 1971 destroyed the internal staircase. Glasnevin Trust fervently wishes to replace this staircase, Shane Mac Thomais was also very committed to this, so that people may once more make that long climb to the top. To do so though they need funds. Wouldn't it be great if our Government, or our National Lotto even, stepped in to assist?

From there it was down this beautiful Victorian Avenue, lined with deep green Yew trees, where lots more tales of burials of the poor and victims of disease and Grave Robbers - apparently there were none here thanks to the Watchtowers and Cuban Bloodhounds - etc were imparted, to arrive at the final burial place of Charles Stewart Parnell, who rests in the Cholera Circle. Not because he died from cholera you understand, there are reasons for this! His funeral was so massive that Glasnevin Cemetery practically had a riot on their hands. How future celebrity funerals were to be conducted were influenced by events that day and these days it is ticket-holder only!

From there we visited more graves - including the comparatively diminutive grave of our former President √Čamon De Valera, for which there are also reasons - before arriving at the second last grave on our tour that day, that of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa. And here I learned even more history that I'd forgotten. Two days after our tour we would see this grave side on our TV screens as the Centenary commemorations of The 1916 Rising started here with the re-enactment of this funeral. The commemoration events will apparently end next year back in Glasnevin Cemetery at the final resting place of Daniel O'Connell. Evidence of the firm place this cemetery holds in Irish history.

Of course the final resting place we visited was that of Michael Collins, also world-renowned and we heard more stories of his escapades that definitely didn't make it into our school books! And even at rest this man has his admirers with many leaving cards, flowers and letters when they visit. And apparently his long-time, regularly visiting, French admirer now has a rival!

             Glasnevin Cemetery does not lay flowers on this grave, visitors and admirers do....

Oh, we visited many other graves on our tour this week and heard many more anecdotes; but you'll have to take the tour to hear them for yourselves! I really do recommend it.

This tour is an express lesson in Irish History and includes anecdotes you will never get from a history book. There was so much I'd forgotten from my school days. We were also told that one-and-a-half million souls are presently resting in Glasnevin Cemetery - more than are walking around Dublin. Of that number more than 800,000 are in unmarked graves; pauper graves and the graves of people who died from diseases like Cholera and victims of The Famine, the biggest tragedy to hit our nation. There are people buried in mass graves - 14 buried per day on average in one grave during The Famine times - who bear no relation to one another. They may not have marked graves but Glasnevin Cemetery has a record of each and every soul buried there. How much they care about all buried here really came across on our tour. Their detailed care and attention has also been noted abroad and last December Concern got in touch to seek advice on how to record the mass deaths occurring from Ebola in Liberia.

Do you know something, we really are a country steeped in such fascinating, and devastating, history.

I wonder how more recent political events, and the people involved in them, will be viewed in years to come through burials at this cemetery; and what people taking this tour, or watching TV documentaries, will make of them?

This tour is ideal for older children and teenagers, and you save money if you book online! There is no signage from the M50 exit (that I noticed) so just stay on the N2 - learning from my mistake and by-passing the exit to Finglas Village! - until you eventually see this massive graveyard on your left and the sign for the car park to your right.