Definition of Kindness

Just when you start to despair, a ray of hope shines through with simple stories of random acts of kindness.  I opened Facebook this evening and the first two posts I read were from people I knew who had experienced random acts of kindness from a stranger today.  How uplifting to know that there are still those in our midst whose first thought is to do good for others.

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I read recently a suggestion from someone that if you make an effort to perform an act of kindness for someone every day, just something small and random, then by the end of the year you will have brought a smile to 365 people.  Speaking of a smile brings to mind the lines of a poem attributed to Spike Milligan.

“Smiling is infectious. You catch it like the flu.

When someone smiled at me today I started to smile too.

I walked around the corner and someone saw me grin.

When he smiled I realised I had passed it on to him.

I thought about the smile and then realised its worth.

A single smile like mine could travel round the earth.

So if you feel a smile begin, don’t leave it undetected.

Start an epidemic and get the world infected.” 

That doesn’t mean we should all go around every day grinning like Cheshire cats but we can make the effort to smile at those we interact with.  Think of the dozens of people you interact with every day, your bus driver, the barista in the coffee shop, the guy behind the counter selling newspapers and bottled water, the receptionist in the office or the security guard on the door, your co-workers or your bosses.  It could be the girl who serves you lunch or the tired retail worker who checks out your purchases for dinner on the way home.  Think how much better you will feel if you greet them all with a smile.  Think of the knock-on effect on those you meet, for when you smile at them, they more than likely will smile back and be more inclined to pass on that smile to the next person they meet.

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So, today I have decided that in future I will make an effort to be more pleasant in my interaction with others, to be friendly and considerate in everything I do.  I think that effort will be rewarded with a more positive outlook for me and the knowledge that I may just have made someone smile and brought a little light into their day.

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January

Now that New Year’s Eve is over and the month of January is underway, it might be a good time to think about the year ahead.  I love the idea that the year ahead has so many possibilities.  It may be good or bad but most likely it will bring a mixture of triumphs and tribulations.  We just need to figure out how we are going to deal with whatever 2019 has in store for us.

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I had a look back at my resolutions for 2018 and I managed to keep some of them, like spending more time with my father, like reading two new novels per month, like establishing a writing schedule.  Okay, I didn’t lose the weight or learn the language but maybe those tasks are for this year.  What I did learn to do is to look for the positives in life.  So this year once again my virgin diary sits in front of me and the possibilities of 2019 beckon.

I don’t expect 2019 to be the best year ever.  There are trials and tribulations ahead but there is also the anticipation of happiness and joy.  I wrote last year that you won’t find joy unless you open your heart to it.  It is found in the most unusual places.  In the smile of a loved one as you listen to them attentively, in the taste of good food lovingly prepared, in losing yourself in the imagination of others, in the taste and smell of sea air as it blows the cobwebs from your brain and energises your soul, in the satisfaction of a job well done.

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The old scouting motto springs to mind ‘be prepared’.  It is good advice, to be prepared for whatever life throws at you in the year ahead, prepare yourself to roll with the punches, prepare yourself to enjoy the here and now and above all to look for the positive aspects in life.

Happy New Year.

Merry Christmas

On December 25th Christians worldwide will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  But where did the traditions associated with Christmas originate?

The early Christians adopted and absorbed the old pagan holidays and made them their own.   Saturnalia was an ancient Roman holiday which was celebrated from December 17th to 25th dedicated to the sun God Saturn.  Romans would cut trees and bring them into their homes to mark the winter solstice.  All business was suspended, slaves were temporarily freed and children and poor people were given gifts.

The modern Santa Claus that we all love has had many names, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Sinterklaas and sometimes just Santa.

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Santa seems to have originated from Saint Nicholas, a 4th century Greek bishop.  Saint Nicholas was born in Asia Minor (Turkey) and became Bishop of the Greek city of Myra.  One story relates how when a local man lost his fortune and could not support his three daughters, Nicholas threw three bags of gold through a window into the house.  The gold was then used as dowries to marry off the daughters ensuring their futures.  One version I read suggested that the three bags of gold are the origin of the emblem of pawnbrokers, three gold balls.  Mind you, another story said that he threw the first bag of gold down the chimney and it landed in a sock that was on the mantelpiece, the origin of hanging a stocking on Christmas Eve for Santa to fill.  I don’t know which version to believe if any!   The Dutch figure of Sinterklaas (which eventually became Santa Claus) and the British figure of Father Christmas both originate from Saint Nicholas.

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The modern image we have of Santa Claus as a jolly, overweight bearded man wearing a red coat with fur collar and cuffs, black leather belt and boots can be traced back to the influence of the poem first published 1823, ‘A visit from St. Nicholas,’ better known as ‘Twas the night before Christmas’ and brought to life by cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1881.  This image was further enhanced by the illustrator Norman Rockwell with his depictions for Boys Life magazine in 1914 and various publications in the early 1920’s.

Of course, Coca-Cola would have us all believe that they gave Santa his red suit in their advertising campaign in 1931 but Santa’s red suit goes all the way back to the 4th century and Saint Nicholas’s red bishop robes.  Having said that the Coca-Cola Christmas advert on TV is the one that signals the Christmas season has started.  Well, the Coca-Cola and the Pennys advert with the little girl saying HoHoHo.

Traditions evolve over the years, influenced by media, particularly film.  Over the years our Christmas films have changed to reflect our changing world.  Remember ‘It’s a wonderful life” and ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ “White Christmas” “Home Alone” “Elf” “The Santa Clause”, the list goes on.

In the last few years, we have seen the arrival of the ‘Elf on the Shelf.’  This new tradition is based on a book written in 2005 by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell.  The book describes how Santa’s scout elves are sent to look over the family and report back to Santa each night on who is being naughty or nice.  They return each morning and hid in a new spot to play hide and seek with the family.  The scout elves get their magic by being named and loved by a child but they cannot be touched.  The child can speak to the elf and tell it their Christmas wishes and then on Christmas day the elf leaves to stay with Santa until the following Christmas.  What a charming story and a heart-warming new tradition in many households.

So whatever tradition you follow in your household, whether Christian or not, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving

It’s a great name for a public holiday, ‘Thanksgiving.’

It conquers up images of family and eating together and the idea of being grateful for everything we have in life.  Of course, the reality rarely matches the ideal but everyone strives for it.  On the 4th Thursday of November, Americans celebrate their harvest festival with turkey dinners and parades.  It is a celebration of being American and of everything American.

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Macey’s parade kicked off at 9 am (NY time) and wound its way from Central Park West, the 2.5km to Macey’s Herald Square.  Over 8000 people took part, thousands lined the route and millions watched it on TV and then tucked into their turkey dinners.

Thanksgiving Day is by far, the biggest holiday in the United States and I hope that all my friends and family had an enjoyable day.

To my daughter Ellie on her fifth Thanksgiving celebration in Miami, I hope you have a wonderful day with your husband and his family.  To her in-laws and their extended families, thank you for looking after her, for taking her to your heart and making her part of your family.

To my niece, Sarah, who followed her cousin to Miami and made her home there with her husband and his family, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

To my cousins, The McMullens, in Pensacola in Northern Florida, I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving and enjoy this day of celebration.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

The decade of centenaries

This coming Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the ending of the Great War.  It was supposed to be the war to end all wars and it was expected to last approximately four months.  Instead, it went on for over four years, ending on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.  Of the 210,000 Irish men who went off to fight, over 36,000 never came home.  Thousands returned injured in mind and body to a country whose political landscape had changed completely.  As a nation, it has taken us most of that 100 years to acknowledge those men and to commemorate their sacrifices.  It is now fitting that we remember them.

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St Patricks Cathedral in Dublin has a unique commemoration, aptly named Fallen.  Messages in the shape of leaves have been suspended from the ceiling, 36,000 messages in all, each leaf commemorating an Irish fatality during the Great War.  The installation is temporary and can be viewed during the month of November.  There are commemorations being held the length and breadth of the country.  To find out if there is something happening near you, look up the website: https://www.decadeofcentenaries.com/category/forthcoming/

McMullen, James, Rifleman, Royal Irish Rifles, 23 Sherwood Street Belfast, WoundedIn Kildare next Sunday a civic commemoration will take place in Aras Chill Dara where a memorial to the Kildare war dead will be unveiled.  I hope to attend the Kildare event and remember not just the Kildare dead but my great uncle, an 18-year-old Belfast man, who signed up in August 1914 with the Royal Irish Rifles and was one of only 42 Catholic men in the 36th Ulster Division.  He lost a limb in battle in 1916, returned to Belfast and never spoke of his time in the trenches, like so many others of his generation.  He married and settled near Clonard Monastery off the Falls Road and died in the 1960’s.  It was only during the research for our family tree that I found out about James’s service in the British army.  My novel ‘Charlie Mac’ covers this period of our history.  (available on Amazon for Kindle and paperback)

We are living in the decade of centenaries.  Two years ago we commemorated the Easter Rising.  Next Sunday we commemorate the ending of the Great War.  Over the next few years, we will commemorate 100 years of women in politics and the election of the first woman member of parliament to Westminster.  We will commemorate 100 years of Dáil Éireann, the War of Independence, the Civil War and the partition of our country.

It is important that we commemorate each of these anniversaries and respect the memory of all those who lived and died in those turbulent times.

 

Halloween

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On October 31st we celebrate Halloween.  Our children dress up as witches and superheroes’ and go from door to door singing, ‘Trick or Treat’.  We eat barmbrack and apple tart and we bob for apples and eat our body weight in chocolate, ‘candy’ and monkey nuts.

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When I was a child we used to sing ‘Penny for the Púca’ although I didn’t know what a púca was or even how to spell the word.  I’ve since found out that the ‘púca’ was a mythical creature in Celtic Folklore, a shapeshifter, who could assume a variety of forms including human, although usually with a tail.  As an animal, it most commonly took on the shape of a black horse with a flowing mane and golden eyes.  Black Beauty, eat your heart out!  Legend tells us that Brian Boru, High King of Ireland was the only man ever to ride the púca.  The púca can be mischievous and enjoys frightening humans whenever it can but it also has been known to lead humans away from danger.  I still don’t know why we wanted pennies for him, or when we dropped our Irish customs in favour of the American ‘Trick or treat.’

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Halloween is an ancient celebration which stems back to the ancient Celts and was adopted by Christianity.  Our ancestors called it Samhain, and it marked the end of the harvest and the start of the dark days of winter.  The ancient Celts believed that on this night, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, and the ghosts of the dead returned to earth   These ghosts caused all sorts of trouble so the Druids (Celtic priests) built sacred fires where the people gathered to sacrifice crops and animals.  Hence: the word bonfire, meaning ‘fire of bones’.  People dressed in costumes made from animal skins and heads as disguises to frighten away spirits.  They carved out turnips with scary faces to ward off evil spirits and used them as holders to carry home an ember from the bonfire to re-light their hearth fires.  The following day the ashes from the sacred bonfire would be spread over the fields to ward off the spirits from interfering with the following year’s crops.

We no longer sacrifice animals on our bonfires and the turnip has been replaced by the pumpkin.  We no longer fear the spirits of our ancestors but pray for them the following day on All Souls Day, clever move on behalf of the Christian Church.  We no longer believe in ghouls and ghosts.  Or do we?

 

Make it a good one.

I started the year telling myself that one of my new year resolutions was to find a saying that lifted the spirits, print it out and read it every morning before I got out of bed.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Well!  I did try.  I decided that what I needed to tell myself every morning was:

‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  Make it a good one.”

And I did keep to it for months.  And then I fell by the wayside.  Big mistake.

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It was good to have my first thoughts of the day life-affirming and uplifting.  Starting your day on a positive note is good for the soul.  I would recommend it.  Just repeating that positive affirmation makes you stand up straighter, lifts your heart and clears your head.  But then you face into your day and the rollercoaster that is life.  It is easy to maintain your positivity when your day is good.  When you don’t get held up in traffic; when the best parking spot is there waiting for you; when your offspring ring with good news or just for a chat or when your loved one brings you flowers for no reason other than to show you they love you.  Those are the good days.

But then you get the days when nothing goes right.  When you get caught in a traffic jam and your ten-minute journey turns into thirty.  When the tickets you wanted were sold out two minutes before you got to the top of the queue; when it lashed rain as you ran for the school gates without your coat and stopped the second you sat back into the driver’s seat, squelching and cold; when you got sidetracked trying to write something and forgot about the stew until the burnt smell permeated the house.  You get the idea.  A series of little irritations.  Not bad news.  Not life-threatening.  Just irritating.  It’s those days that threaten your positivity.

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I hold my hands up here and admit defeat.  I fall under pressure.  On those bad days, my positivity takes a battering and I can hear that saying ringing in my ears ‘if it wasn’t for bad luck I would have no luck at all.”

It can be so easy to roll over and allow those distractions to dictate your mood.  To bring you into a downward spiral that can be so difficult to shake off.  If you look around you to those who are always upbeat, they are the people who roll with the punches, so to speak; who take whatever life throws at them and deal with it.  They are in control of their own destiny.

I suppose what I am trying to say is, that life happens, it happens to you and your loves ones, but it’s not what life throws at you and yours that should dictate, it is how you deal with what life throws at you that dictates your frame of mind, and you can control that.  You have complete control over that.

Like I said, my life would be so much easier if I took my own advice!