January

Have you become accustomed to writing 2020 yet?

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I usually dread January.  Once the New Year is celebrated, the sparkle of Christmas comes down, packed away for another year.  The days are short, the nights are dark and it feels soooo long!

On a purely personal level, 2019 was a hard year and I was glad to see the back of it. Then 2020 started with news of the death of an extended family member.  Dealing with the death of someone you care about is always difficult.  When it happens at the end of the old year and the start of the new, it can be hard to see any light ahead.  But Spring is only around the corner.  Along with the news of a death, came the news of an impending birth.  The circle of life continues.  So, my new year’s resolution is to hug those I love a little tighter and more often this year.

January gets its name from Janus, the God of beginnings in Roman Mythology.  New Year, New Beginning.  Janus has two faces, one to look to the future and one to look at the past.  For how do we know where we are going, if we do not know where we come from?

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Think of all the new starts over the centuries, the new beginnings in the month of January.

On January 1st 1502 Portuguese explorers landed at Guanabara Bay on the coast of South America and named it Rio de Janeiro (River of January).  Five hundred years later Brazilians still speak Portuguese although Brazil was never a colony.

On January 1st 1801  The Act of Union created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.  Amended in 1920 by the Government of Ireland Act, which partitioned our country.

On January 1st 1892  Eilis Island opened in New York harbour and over 20 million people were processed through its doors until it closed in 1954, 3.5million of them were Irish.

On January 1st 1901 the Commonwealth of Australia was founded.  The British first established a penal colony at Syndey Harbour in January 1788 with the arrival of eleven ships with 788 convicts onboard.  How many of them were Irish?

On January 1st 1958 The EEC was formed by Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxemburg and Netherlands and then on January 1st 1973 Britain, Ireland and Denmark joined their ranks leading to the launch of the Euro on January 1st 1999, although Britain held onto their sterling and at the end of January 2020 will leave the Eu forever.

Where you born in January?  According to http://www.fatherly.com January babies are more likely to be famous because they are more creative and have superior problem-solving skills.  People born in January include Elvis Presley 1935, Edmund Burke 1729, Martin Luther King 1929, Benjamin Franklin 1706, Muhummad Ali 1942, Mozart 1756 and Lewis Carroll 1832.  Happy birthday to all you Capricorns and Aquarians.

Deaths in January included Queen Victoria 1909, Winston Churchill 1965 and Al Capone who bizarrely died from syphilis in Miami in 1947.

On this island, who can forget the massacre of Bloody Sunday, 30th January 1972 when fourteen innocent people were gunned down by British soldiers in Derry.  That day led to countless more years of suffering and bloodshed and will forever be a black day in our history.

On a lighter note, New Years Day is the most celebrated holiday around the world and rightly so.  On that day we have a full unblemished year ahead of us.  A blank page where anything is possible.  The first day of a new year,  and this year, of a new decade.  A day to be hopeful.  A day to dream.  A day to start again.  Let’s make those hopes and dreams and new years resolutions sustain us through the darkness of January and February until the start of Spring and new life.

Woman’s Best Friend

In last week’s writer’s group, we read a poem about a dog.  Everyone re-acted, even those who didn’t have dogs.  What is it about man’s (woman’s) best friend that brings out something in all of us?  Everyone had a story to tell and the mood of the meeting was upbeat as we swapped stories about our furry friends.

louie dunmore east

Our dog, affectionately known as Louie the lips, is an elderly terrier half-breed.  Half-bred with what, we can only guess.  There have been times, when he took to chasing our car up the road, that we considered him part greyhound, other times when he climbed in through partially opened windows, we reckoned he was interbred with a cat.  He was certainly an escape artist and we lost track of the number of times he managed to get over fences, under gates and at times, we had no idea at all how he had escaped.  He never went far.  Well, maybe a good 2 miles, down a country road to a housing estate in the nearest town and always to a particular house.  It was as if he went on a little holiday, a town break, so to speak!  We used to think that maybe, in his little canine mind, he was thinking to himself, ‘I need a break from the routine.  I will visit my other family.  They will talk to me, pet me, allow me on the furniture,’ and off he would go.  He would stand at their door until he was let in, or sometimes climb in a partially open window uninvited but sure of his welcome.  They would ring us to let us know he was there, and we would collect him, and he would trot out to the car without a backward glance, hop in the back as if to say, ‘what kept ye?’

louie under blanket

As a young terrier, he spent most of his day racing around the garden, barking at the wind and everyone that came within ten yards of the front gate.  Now that he is older, he still tears around barking if he feels he must, but he prefers curling up in front of the fire or in his favourite place, my husband’s knee with a blanket covering him.  He knows the hand that feeds him, but he still knows his place.  He is not allowed in the bedrooms, although he also knows that my sons flaunt that rule and sneak him in when I’m not looking.  He is not allowed on the furniture, hence the blanket hiding him when he is on my husband’s knee on his armchair in front of the window.  Like most dogs and small children, he thinks if he can’t see me then I can’t see him.  We are all openly affectionate with him, he is part of the family after all and what better feeling is there than relaxing in front of the TV with your pet at your feet.  I mean, directly on your feet, asleep, so you can’t move for fear of disturbing him.

Having said that I am always amazed at the number of people, mainly women I should add, who treat their dogs like small babies.  Women who shower more affection on their dogs than they ever did on their own children.  Cuddling a child and showering a child with kisses I can understand, but a dog is a dog, do you realise where their snouts have been?

louie me and gerry

No matter what your viewpoint, or your taste in our canine friends, every home should have a dog.  They hold your heart and soothe the soul.  They teach responsibility to your children and the joy of unconditional love to the entire household.

Dogs have a reputation for being ‘man’s best friend’ for a very good reason!

Happy Mother’s Day

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Tulips from my garden for all the Mothers the whole world over.

From first time Moms to old hand Moms

To Moms no longer with us but whose wisdom lives on through us.

From would-be Moms to could be Moms

From those who wish they were Moms to those who will be Moms

Have a lovely Mother’s Day.

 

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 1920s.

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.

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.

today is the first day

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!

Your own front door

This time of year is a favourite of mine.  I love the colours of the leaves as they gradually fade from green to gold and russet.  I love the sound as they crinkle underfoot and the way they flutter in the breeze until they find their resting place in mounds that grow in the nooks and crannies.  My other half loves the splendour of the autumn leaves as they change colour.  He would just prefer if they stayed on the trees and not into our gutters and pathways and walked into the house.  Every year he wages battle with them, brushing them off the driveway and sweeping them away from the front door, where, in fairness, they tend to gather in huge numbers overnight.  Then eventually he gives in and bows to Mother Nature.  He points out that the blanket of leaves on the lawn will die back into the ground and offer nutrients to the grass, ensuring a vibrant green come next Spring.  It’s all part of the cycle of life, he says.  And we soak up the autumn colours and the last of summer sun and prepare ourselves for winter.  The chimney is cleaned and ready for the cold weather and the curtains are drawn each evening once darkness falls.

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And my thoughts turn to those in our country who do not have their own front door to close.  Last week in our town we witnessed the allocation of newly built social housing to those that needed it.  It was a momentous occasion, a great day for the key holders and for the officials who oversaw the project.  Problem is, it just wasn’t enough.  The provision of these new units hardly made a dent in the numbers of people who are on the housing lists.

Last December the number of households on Kildare County Council’s housing list was 7,319.

Yet according to the Census 2016 figures, there are 4,650 vacant properties in Kildare.

Not all of these properties may be habitable and they may be a mix of private and public ownership but surely some of these vacant properties could be brought into use to alleviate the housing list.  What is wrong with us as a nation that we have allowed our politicians to continue to pursue a housing policy which has failed nearly 10,000 people with many more due to join their ranks in the coming months?  What is wrong with our politicians that they can stand over these policies and defend them when it has been pointed out to them time and time again that their housing policy has failed totally?  Why don’t they just build houses?  People need a home to call their own.  The workers of this country need homes.  Build social and affordable housing.

Simple.

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Balance

Autumn officially begins in a couple of hours, well in our part of the world anyway.  The autumn equinox heralds the beginning of Autumn or Fall as our American and Canadian friends like to call it.  The word equinox comes from the Latin words aequi, meaning equal and nox meaning night.  At the autumn equinox, on September 23rd, instead of the Earth being slightly tilted towards the sun, the Earth’s tilt is perpendicular to the Sun, making day and night of equal length.  In a nutshell, from tomorrow our nights will be longer and our days shorter.

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We knew it was coming.  The leaves on the trees are starting to change colour, the green giving way to russet and gold.  Autumnal colours are glorious.  What could be nicer than a walk through a park in the autumn, hearing the crinkle of leaves underfoot and the cosy feeling of a warm scarf when there is a nip in the air, a promise of the winter ahead.  The autumn equinox is celebrated by modern pagans as a time of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth.  Known as Mabon, they give thanks, they meditate and they pray for peace and stability in a world out of balance.  Mabon is the second of three pagan harvest festivals, preceded by Lughnasadh and followed by Samhain.

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In West Asia, the equinox marks the start of the Persian Festival of Autumn, the festival of sharing or love.  In Korea, they celebrate their harvest festival, Chuseok, with a three day holiday.  In Japan, Autumnal Equinox Day is a public holiday.  Higan is a Buddhist holiday exclusively celebrated by Japanese sects.  The Jewish holiday of Sukkot celebrates the gathering of the harvest and lasts for seven days.  It begins at sundown on Sept 23rd and ends at nightfall on September 30th.

All over the world, there are people who poise, at this equinox, when day and night are perfectly balanced and they consider what has gone before and what is yet to come.  Maybe we should all consider taking some time out tomorrow and just meditate.  Just imagine the earth on an even keel, balanced, at peace and try to follow that into our own lives.  Take time to remember our past and to contemplate our future.  Take time to find balance in our lives.

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Growing human beings

Where did the year go?  Last week in August already.  And what a summer!  The best summer we have had in living memory.  Heat, sunshine and a distinct lack of our normal rain!  We flocked to our beaches to frolic in the waves.  We trailed our mountains and our forests enjoying their natural beauty in warm sunshine and minus the usual wet-gear and waterproof boots.  We had stay-cations and weekend breaks and bought record breaking numbers of ice-creams and beers.

summer-clip-art-2018-15Festival lovers enjoyed a season of outdoor music without the accompanying mud and miserable drizzle with some commenting on how much more enjoyable the whole experience was, with the addition of sunscreen and dry sandaled feet.  This coming weekend, for the young and the young at heart, the last festival of the year takes place in Stradbally, County Laois.  I hope that each and every one of those attending have a wonderful time and pray that the autumnal rain stays away until Monday.

Some of the secondary schools are already back and into their autumn term.  The majority of schools return next week with the colleges the following week.  Whatever stage you are at, enjoy it.

rekfoto - orangeAs you are watch your child skip through the school gates, try and remember to give thanks and treasure the memory.  The years fly!  Before you know it, you will be dropping a teenager into school, maybe a surly one, maybe not.  Some will kiss you goodbye, some will ask to be dropped a mile away so that they don’t suffer the embarrassment of their parents dropping them at the school gates.  Either way is completely different from the eagerness of the national school child.  And as for college students, well, they’re adults.  They only need their mammy and daddy for washing and a good meal.  And that’s the way it should be.

Our children are on loan to us.  Our job is to bring them up to be self-sufficient adults who make a positive contribution to society.  The schools they attend will teach them the academic subjects they need, the Maths, the English the Sciences, the Languages.  Our job as parents is to teach them the values they need to be the best human being that they can be.  Our goal should be to teach our children the value of family, the value of hard work, the value of community and of respect for themselves and for their fellow human beings.  We should aspire for our children to have compassion for those less fortunate, to always lend a hand to those who need it.  We should aspire for our offspring to always stand up for themselves, to be confident in their abilities and their place in the world.  We should teach them the skills to make their own informed decisions, and how to change course if those decisions turn out to be the wrong ones for them.  Our goals for our children should be that, first and foremost, they become good human beings who will love life, love themselves and those around them and who will experience true happiness.

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