Thursday, December 24, 2015

HAPPY YULETIDE SOLSTICE

Happy Yuletide
 
Today is Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and the longest night.
People all over the world tonight will celebrate the pagan ritual of saying goodbye to the old and welcoming the new.
The Winter Solstice itself lasts only a moment in time, so other terms are used for the day such as "midwinter", or the "extreme of winter". It marks the "turning of the Sun" and the days slowly get longer. Celebrations of the lighter days to come and nature’s continuing cycle have been common throughout cultures and history with feasts, festivals and holidays around the Yule festival.
This culminated in a feast and gift-giving on Dec 25, which is why that date became so significant.

Over the years, religions have seized the same date as the birthday of Christ, and retailers have introduced rampant commercialism to raise expectations of excessive feasting and gift giving.

But do you ever wonder about the true origins of the big event? I’ve scoured the internet and pulled together lots of information about the Pagan origins of Yuletide. Here’s my top ten:

 
1. Few people realise that the origins of many Christmas traditions were Pagan and celebrated long before anyone had heard of Jesus Christ. Among historians, debate has always raged about when Jesus was born, especially since the Bible mentions shepherds tending their sheep in the fields on that night, meaning it was unlikely he was actually born in December.

2. In ancient Babylon, the feast of the Son of Isis (Goddess of Nature) was celebrated on December 25. Raucous partying, gluttonous eating and drinking, and gift-giving were traditions of this feast.

3. In ancient Rome, the Winter Solstice was celebrated long before Jesus came along, and named Saturnalia in honour of Saturn, the God of Agriculture. The Latin for this season is: Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. According to the Gregorian calendar the Winter Solstice fell on the 25th of December.



4. In northern Europe, Pagans celebrated their own winter solstice, known as Yule. Yule was symbolic of the pagan Sun God Mithras being born, and was observed on the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice. The ceremonial Yule log was the highlight of the festival. Huge Yule logs and candles were burned to honour of the sun/son. The word Yule itself means "wheel" and is the Pagan symbol for the sun. The word solstice comes from Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still) literally meaning Sun Standing.



5. Pagan festivals mark important times in the agricultural cycle of the year. The continuously revolving Wheel of the Year marked the days to plant or harvest crops, breed animals or kill livestock. Yule is a turning point, where the tides of the year turn and begin to flow in the opposite direction. It is the darkest time of the year, the time of the longest night, but there is also the promise of the return of light.

6. The tree is the one symbol that unites almost all the northern European winter solstices. Live evergreen trees were often brought into homes during the harsh winters as a reminder to inhabitants that soon their crops would grow again because they stay green throughout the season. Evergreen boughs were sometimes carried as totems of good luck and were often present at weddings, representing fertility. Mistletoe was considered a sacred plant, and the custom of kissing under the mistletoe began as a fertility ritual. Holly berries were thought to be a food of the gods but also good luck.  
 
 

7. In 350, Pope Julius I declared that Christ's birth would be celebrated on December 25 to coincide with Pagan celebrations of the sun. It is widely believed that he was trying to make it as painless as possible for pagan Romans (who remained a majority at that time) to convert to Christianity, who slowly assimilated religion into their rituals.  
 

8. Historians agree that Christ Mass began in Germany with the earliest record of an evergreen being decorated in a Christian celebration was in 1521 in the Alsace region of Germany.

9. The day after Christmas Day in some parts of the world is Wren’s Day, a traditional Pagan sacrificial day where Strawboys hunt a wren (bird) and put it on top of a decorated pole. It can feel a bit Wicker Man when you’re caught up in the crowds dressed in masks, straw suits and banging drums parading through towns and villages (believe me, I've been to Dingle on Boxing Day/Stephens Day). It is thought that the pursuit and capture of the wren came from the Pagan custom of sacrificing a sacred symbol at year’s end – and in Ireland the wren was revered as the king of the birds but also symbolised the old year.



10. Could it be possible that the story of new life (Jesus) and the Pagan rituals of decorating a tree, making evergreen wreaths for doors, gathering mistletoe, feasting and exchanging presents have become so intertwined we no longer know why we celebrate the Yuletide period? And don't get me started on Santa's origins from Coca Cola Company!



Here's some other websites that discuss this further:





*Easter is another Pagan celebration that has made its way into the Christian calendar. The name actually comes from Ishtar, who was the goddess of fertility, symbolised by a giant rabbit and eggs. http://www.mamadynamite.com/2013/03/happy-goddess-eostre.html
 

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

What Christmas movies are on Netflix UK?

The weather is wet and windy, the days are short and dark, so what else is there to do other than slow down and watch Christmas movies during the Christmas holiday?

Here’s a list of the Christmas movies we'll be watching this Christmas on Netflix:
 
Arthur Christmas
We love Aardman animations in our family and now the seasonal animation of Arthur struggling to save Christmas with a range of high-tech gadgets has arrived.
 


Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure

Santa’s presents have been stolen, so the big Saint Bernard dog saves the day.


DreamWorks Holiday Classics

Featuring Shrek and Donkey, Hiccup and Toothless, and the animals from Madagascar, doing DreamWorks Christmas stories.


The Muppet’s Christmas Carol
The return of Kermit and his fuzzy friends in a fun adaptation of the classic Christmas story. Arriving 25th December.

The Santa Clause
When a man inadvertently kills Santa on Christmas Eve, Tim Allen finds himself magically recruited to take his place.


Something for mum and dad: Wonderful Life.

And my 4 year old: he’s currently making his way through 3 Power Rangers Christmas specials.


For those savvy enough to set up a US DNS, you can enjoy the delights of Get Santa and Saving Santa, both great family movies with a few laughs thrown in for good measure.


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** I am part of Netflix’s Stream Team and I’m enjoying it immensely**



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Monday, November 30, 2015

Something for all the family on Netflix

Here are some things we’ve been watching on Netflix recently:

My youngest 2 kids have been loving the antics of Spongebob Squarepants – although my four year old is convinced he’s actually called Sparepants (always handy to have a spare pair of pants!).



The same small boy is currently obsessed with Paw Patrol, an animated show about a high-tech boy and his clever dogs who rescue people from tricky situations. He must have watched every one of the 26 episodes 3 times at least.

The youngest two will happily sit for ages watching any of the Lego Friends and Barbie shows on Netflix, even if they are a bit inane and the characters are all air-heads. I suppose at least it’s age-appropriate, unlike some of the Minecraft videos they all always want to watch on YouTube.

My eldest is still a fan of Lego Chima and Lego Ninjago – having also watched them many times, but a new release of Batman Be-Leaguered and Lego City has given him something new to watch. The lego movies and shows are great action adventures and can be really funny at times.



 

And the hubby, well he’s just watched the whole series of Narcos, which he said reminded him of Breaking Bad, and he likes Prison Break too.

The whole 24 series past me by whenever it was made, but I can now watch it back-to-back and binge-watch until I drift asleep. I can see where so many TV shows since then got their ideas from, in terms of split screens, and real-time pacing of action, especially shows about government agencies such as Homeland.

I also really enjoyed the newish movie About Time. From the Richard Curtis stable of emotional yet feel-good movies, this one is sweet and heart-warming with a few tears at the end. Perfect for Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas, it’s time to start finding movies for the kids to watch to feed their Christmas frenzied excitement, so I’ve lined up Christmas Angel and Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure for the kick off, and I'm sure we'll find loads more recommendations once we get going.

Personally, I can’t wait until I have some time off work and I’m less busy, so I can stoke up the fire and finally get to spend a few days chillaxing in front of the TV. Not much longer now…


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** I am part of Netflix’s Stream Team and I’m enjoying it immensely**


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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sickness leads to a health kick

I've not been well.

I've been blighted by a yeast infection that has left my scalp feeling like Mount Everest and has caused snow to fall all over my shoulders.

So I've been dramatically changing my diet, engaging in hard core detoxes, using oils, vinegar and steroids (from the doc) on my scalp, fermenting foods, taking hard-core probiotics and eating raw garlic, but nothing has cleared it yet.

It's called Seborrheic dermatitis and it's a bugger to shift. It causes the scalp to be very itchy and inflamed. It's a very anti-social disease in that I don't want to be out in public much when I'm itching and flaking, even though it's not contagious.

The silver lining is that it's sent me on a health kick, so now I don't eat gluten/wheat, no dairy except Kefir, no sugar and I try to avoid carbs wherever possible as they turn to sugar in the gut.

I drink a large daily dose of Diatomaceous Earth (microscopic fossilised Diatoms) every day to rid my body of parasites and even though I have more energy, I've less brain-fog and my underactive thyroid is cured, the scalp (and scaly ear) thing persists.

I've not been blogging recently because I've needed to be so focused on finding a cure and self-care. But once I finally rid myself of it, I'll write all about my journey to health and all the amazing products and detoxes I've discovered along the way that have dramatically improved my health, and inadvertently made me lose weight.  


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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Milestone Day: When all 3 are in school

It’s a big week for my baby this week.

My youngest child – aged 4 – took a giant leap into the big unknown that is school, breezing through his first morning, as cool as they come.


Not an inch of nervousness about him. Not a worry on his face. Just pure excitement and joy that he is embarking on the start of his next big adventure.


I see other mums at the school gates a little emotional and a little worried about their small ones in school. I don’t feel that. I just know that he is confident, secure, capable and thoroughly enjoys everything he does.


Maybe there is a small part of me missing the baby in him. But there’s an even bigger part of me grateful that the exhausting baby stage is behind me. A part of me that is as
proud as punch that he’s independent enough not to need me so much anymore. He ran into his school room this morning without even waiting for me or his teacher.

He moved his chair next to his best buddy because he said he didn’t want to be with someone he didn’t know. I smiled, thinking how confident he is to do that, whereas another child might have cried about it and been miserable and lonely for the morning. I know I would have done that.


Lorcan, as a boy of action and impetuousness, just did what came naturally to him, taking charge of the situation and giving his comfort zone some space to breathe for the morning.


His teacher only laughed and said she loves a kid with personality. He’ll do well with her I think - he has bags of personality.





This is a major achievement as a parent, to get all of your kids settled into school. Just to have done all the hard work of baby rearing and to get to this stage in the first place is no mean feat.


The milestone is achieved. This is a big turning point for our family, where our crazy youngest one learns to follow instructions and to stay in a group (as opposed to running away and getting lost. Where he learns to be more independent. Where he truly becomes an amazing individual who can teach us all so much about confidence and self-esteem.


Life can only get easier now...




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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Finding my new comfort zone

Sometimes you really do have to push yourself out of your comfort zone in order to grow.

Learning to live outside of your comfort zone can really help to prepare us for many of the unexpected changes in life – something I’ve struggled with since having kids.

The point of stepping out of our comfort zones is to embrace new experiences and to get to a state where anxiety is managed better whilst not adding to our stress too much.
 
I did this when I took a big leap of faith when I ditched everything (a career, a home, lots of friends, a great social life) in London to move to Ireland and marry an Irish man I'd only just met on holiday. I decided I would jump off the cliff and build my wings as I went along.

 
 
Fast forward 9 years, and I recently took the plunge again. I dived straight into the deep end miles away from my comfort zone when I taught my first antenatal class in front of 3 pregnant woman and partners.

I was terrified. Months of planning and preparation and mindfulness helped me to get through the day without going to pieces, but inside I was hot and shaking with adrenaline and it took a few classes of wine afterwards to come down from that.

My point here is that I could have easily stayed in my bubble and stagnated, but I wanted to finally overcome a fear that I’d had since childhood of speaking in public. Not only did I speak in public but I facilitated a full day of antenatal exercises and information sharing. And my attendees loved it!

I faced the fear and overcame it. So maybe next time it won’t be as terrifying because I’ve already shifted the parameters of my comfort zone to an expanded level.

It scared the life out of me and probably knocked a few years off my life in terms of the stress of preparing for it, but I feel I’m becoming a more-rounded and stronger person because of it.

I’m also feeling quite proud of myself for achieving something I never thought possible – which I really enjoyed telling my kids about, hoping in the back of my mind they would find that inspiring when faced with difficult situations in life.
 
Now that the dust has settled a bit, I’m able to take in the bigger picture of this new bigger me; someone who has evolved from a shy, quiet-as-a-mouse child to a teacher of women fearful of giving birth.

And it’s taken me 6 weeks to get to the point where I can reflect on this and assimilate it into my psyche.

I'm now starting to feel ready for my next teaching day soon – and at least next time, I’m sure to find it a lot less terrifying. I hope so anyway.

 

 

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Netflix: Dragon's party time

Yet another wet summer's day in Ireland. What is a mother to do with her kids (and two extra friends) when it's lashing outside?

But thanks to a massive parcel that arrived in the post recently, courtesy of the lovely people at Netflix, we have lots of inspiration for party ideas.

The treasure box full of goodies contained loads of paraphernalia for a themed party around the new Netflix original TV show: Dragons: Race to the Edge.



So we studied the map, stuck Netflix flags in our food, coloured in Dragons characters, painted our faces and gorged on popcorn whilst watching the new series.

Here's some pictures from that fun day:


Getting faces painted:


The girls didn't want dragons, only butterflies and hearts:


Lorcan went for FIRE:

The package even contained a fab new tin Dragons lunchbox which will do very nicely for Jago's school lunchbox when he's back to school in Sept. Thanks Netflix.



And here they are chillaxing with the popcorn and the new Dragons TV show.




My work here is done.


 
And if you haven't come across Dragons TV yet. The new series is a 13-episode season based on the 'How to Train Your Dragon' franchise. It introduces new dragons and takes place in the period between the first two How To Train Your Dragon films. 

It's kind of like the "college years" of the main characters Hiccup, Toothless and their dragon riding Viking friends.

And the verdict? "We loved it!" they all shouted.

Then guess what happened? The sun came out and the fog cleared up and the kids all ran outside to play on the trampoline.

Happy days.


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** I am part of Netflix’s Stream Team and I’m enjoying every minute of it **

 

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Camping with kids

Since going camping as a child to Wales every summer, I’ve always had a yearning to introduce my own kids to that joy of simple living in the great outdoors.

I love the notion that camping with kids can bring you back to the beauty of nature and all of life's bare essentials. It helps that tents don’t have plugs to incessantly charge up phones and tablets which means that the kids eventually stop asking to play their favourite electronic games after a short while and get on with the business of making up outdoor games with their new friends. 



Here’s my tips to camping with kids:
  • Wait until your kids are all toilet trained and independent so that they don’t cling to your leg when you’re doing all the tent putting up manual labour. If you have a 3 year old, take a potty, as it’s much easier for them (and you) to let them use that rather than walking to the camp toilet every hour. 
  • Arrange to go with other families so that you can have friends to talk to and the kids can have friends to play with.
  • Take loads of pictures, because afterwards you won’t believe you did it and your memories will fade and your kids will recall amazing things when looking at the pictures.
  • Don’t camp under a tree, it may look like shelter at first glance, but it will become a prime target for birds playing a game of ‘shit on the tent’ and ‘wake up the campers at 5am’. We met a large family of very angry crows who seemed to be the loudest and earliest to rise crows in the Western Hemisphere. The downside of tents is that they are not soundproof!
  • If you can afford it, go somewhere where the tents are already put up – one of these new fancy glamping places.We didn't, so we spent hours putting up the tents and then taking them down less than 2 days later.
  • Take loads of socks – as kids refuse to put on shoes/wellies and run around in socks on the grass. All 3 of my kids ran out of their 3 pairs of socks for the weekend in the first 2 hours of arriving at the campsite! Thankfully there was a Dunnes close by, which gave us a good excuse for some respite from the rain the next day.
  • Bring plenty of fast, easy food for the kids (such as wraps, crackers and pasta). Good nutrition went out of the window for us over the weekend, but I did insist on them eating some fruit and cereal at least.
  • Don’t forget toys, games, colouring books and give them a little area where they can play.
  • It’s a good idea to bring familiar bedtime items such as cosy blankets, special pillows and stuffed animals that make their room really comfortable so they want to go to sleep in there. I put all my 3 together in the same pod, which means they all got a good night’s sleep together and kept each other warm. 
 


Overall, whatever you forget, you can always make a special trip to the shop to go and buy it (if you can't live without it), and that can be really fun too.

Camping with kids is a lot of hard work and I really feel we deserve medals for all the manual labour we had to do in just two short days, leaving us pretty shattered, but it was definitely worth it and we’re building fabulous, nature-based socialable memories for our kids.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

NETFLIX: Something for all ages

Recently I’ve been introducing our Spanish workawayers to Netflix and they look on in awe at the amount of content we can stream in seconds. “I can watch it for free?” they ask, aghast. “Yes, do you not have it in Spain?” I reply, dumfounded. 

We don’t realise how lucky we are that we have this service given that a lot of our EU cousins do not. I tend to look to the UK, where they enjoy so many additional streaming services, including Amazon Instant Video which is not available here in Ireland yet, and I must admit I feel envy. 

But having someone living in your house who has never ever seen or heard of Netflix is like going back 5-10 years. It gives me a little bit of perspective, and makes me glad we live in Ireland where at least we have one streaming content company for everyone to use, even if we might not get as much content choice as our American friends. 

The latest press release from Netflix has me enticed by loads of kids’ programmes to keep me subscribing to Netflix for many years to come. On the heels of this month’s earlier announcement of kids original series Kulipari: An Army of Frogs, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan and Jane, Netflix is also introducing preschool educational shows Cirque du Soleil, Luna Petunia, Word Party, Kazoops! and True & the Rainbow Kingdom. Many of these won't appear until 2006 and 2007 however. 


In the meantime, Netflix has been going retro, by offering us tons of old content from my youth. Recently, I've been introducing my kids to one of my favourite TV shows as a wee girl growing up in Yorkshire: Dangermouse.  

"He's amazing, he's fantastic, wherever there is danger he is there, Dangermouse..."  

My kids think it's mad that I liked something as hatstand as a superhero mouse who lives in a London postbox, but I did, I was crazy about it, but back then the show was on only once a week and at a set time during the day, and if I missed it, I missed it. There was no such thing as catch up TV, or streaming.

I was so mad about this show that I even made a lifesize Penfold out of papier mache for a school art project! Probably ended up in a bin somewhere!

Now, for my next retro mission, I want to introduce the kids to Bananaman...

"This is 29 Acacia Road. And this is Eric - the schoolboy who leads an exciting double life. For when Eric eats a banana, an amazing transformation occurs...

Eric...is...BANANAMAN, ever alert for the call to action!"


I just wonder what TV shows my kids will be remembering fondly and showing to their kids in 30 years time.


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** I am part of Netflix’s Stream Team and I’m enjoying every minute of it **


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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Channelling the Pollyanna Principle

I learnt a new word recently: Pollyanna, a term given to a person who maintains an unbreakable positive outlook on life.

The Pollyanna principle is when you tend to remember pleasant items more potently than unpleasant ones, and sustain this bias towards being optimistic, no matter what gets in your way. 

I used to be like this, before my anxiety levels were increased by having three high-energy, death-defying kids, working really hard and having zero time for myself. It’s amazing how extended periods of hard work, selflessness and stress can eek away at your positive energy lifeforce and drag your vibrational energy down.

I read recently that studies have shown that negative influences can often outweigh the positive 4 to 1, which means that if you allow the negative to cloud your judgement then you need four positives to pick you up. When we are under stress, we don't handle the negative very well so it can eat away inside us, so that's why thinking positive thoughts and not dwelling on the bad can be the best tonic for anxiety.

Thankfully, now that my youngest is nearly four, I’m starting to really enjoy them and not give out so much, I'm getting some breathing space, and I'm regaining that lost sense of joy inside myself. So long Mrs Serious, hello good-time funny mummy. 
Thankfully, I don't have to deal with a tantrum a minute anymore; I don’t have to scream at (2 out of 3 of) them to stop running in front of cars; and I don’t have to carry them and all their stuff around anymore. In fact, every day they’re surprising me by how helpful, polite and capable they can be when they try. Yes, I’m actually starting to have moments of pure joy with them, which is helping to soothe the overwhelmed feeling I've had since I found myself with 3 under 3 a few years back.  

I’m starting to think more positively again now. I’m taking a herbal pill to give me more energy and help with my anxiety (Ashwaganda), doing a spot of mindfulness, and I’m finding the scary thoughts about something bad happening to my kids are lessening (do they ever go away?). 

And I’ve found a new role model for my new happy-go-lucky ambition in life: the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Now, normally I would hate cheesy American satirical comedies like this, but for some reason, the enthusiasm Kimmy has for life is infectious. She lived in a cult for 15 years, imprisoned underground by a religious nutter who told her the world had ended, but now she has rejoined life in New York City and despite everything, always sees the good in people. 

"Life beats you up you can either crawl up into a ball and die, or you can stand up and say you can't break us.”
 

Kimmy Schmidt: New Folk hero of our times

Last year I was all about trying to be more assertive like Claire Underwood. This year, I find her too cold and unfeeling, and I’m drawn instead to the effervescent Kimmy, who doesn’t overthink things, finds positive solutions to everything and refuses to be broken.
She’s my new folk hero!
“Be you, be what you want to be. And then become unbreakable.”

Oh and I love the theme tune, it's so damn catchy! You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYNbp0u8WjA

Who is your current role model? Do you have one?



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Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is an original Netflix series. I am part of Netflix’s Stream Team Ireland.






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