Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Secret Garden

When I was a little girl my favourite book was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett. I have gorgeously, sleepy memories of both my Mother and Father reading it to me at bedtime throughout my childhood. I also recall loving having it read to me even when I was quite old enough to read it myself. Of course, I did read it myself too. Many times over. Though I haven't read it in a long, long time now.
I recently rescued my beloved copy of The Secret Garden from my parents attic. Leafing through the pages stirred up even more wonderful memories for me. You see, I think one of the reasons I loved the book so much was because I could identify with little Mary Lennox, the main character. It wasn't that I was a cross or sickly child, like her, or that I lived in a house with many locked doors and unpleasant relations. 
It was that I too knew the thrill of having a secret garden. A place that I visited regularly, but that no one other than me and my family seemed to know about.
Like Mary's, my secret garden wasn't mine and there was a delicious, forbidden thrill about being there. It was not far from our house, which was on the edge of a large town, but it was wild and overgrown and had a faded grandeur that was evident even in it's decay.

On Sunday afternoons we would walk there and climb, one by one, through a hole in an old stone wall. We'd make our way down the overgrown slope to the ancient fountain which was in the centre of the ruin of a Victorian walled garden. The fountain was empty, save for a rusty old pipe that stuck up out of the centre of the floor. We would have balancing competitions there. Seeing how long we could stand on one leg on the pipe while the rest of the family counted the seconds. The fountain was one of the only things that wasn't choked in weeds so we would sit and rest there, eating apples and maybe a biscuit. If we were lucky. Lots of ants ran around us.

Me and My Brother doing our balancing act in 1985
There were little brick plinths in the garden too and I remember we would stand on them, posing, pretending to be statues. I remember the grass always being really high. I remember having to watch out for thistles and stinging nettles. I remember blowing countless dandelion clocks and making wishes on every one. But most of all I remember feeling like we were the only ones that knew about this place. That it was all ours.
Dad balancing in 1985 and Mam posing with my sister in 1987
My Dad tells me that it was on the market for many years during the years we played there and that, if we had had the money, we could have bought it. He believes the price was £10k. Not very much, for such a lot, but too much for anyone in 1980's Ireland!
Little Sister, Gorgeous Mama, Uncle (Napleon Dynamite?!) and Hipster Dad in 1986
I have known for some time about what became of my secret garden. In fact I was back there two years ago and had been intending to bring my family ever since. It's actually really close to where we live now, but somehow we never got around to it. But recently, we finally did. And now it's not anyone's secret anymore. But that's ok, because some secrets are worth sharing.
My garden now has a real name. It's called Festina Lente (Hasten Slowly) and the people who run it do amazing work with people with intellectual disabilities. They have an equestrian centre, allotments, a little garden shop and a plant nursery.

AND, they have painstakingly restored my secret garden to its former, Victorian glory.
It is beautiful.
But, to me, it was always beautiful. 

I'd be lying if I said the nostalgic part of me wasn't pining for the ragged wilderness of my youth, but another part of me is so happy that many more people get to share this magical little part of the world too.

Festina Lente is open 7 days a week and entry to the gardens is free. Do visit!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Easy Easter Bonnet


I had grand plans to make a special yellow spring flower crown for my girls instead of an Easter Bonnet this year. Unfortunately, work and college essays got in the way and all of a sudden it was almost Easter and I hadn't even begun stitching. I did, however, get my essays finished and submitted (yay!) but I'm exhausted and have no energy left to get started on the crowns at this late stage.

Instead, I decided to let the girls create their own Easter Bonnets. My Mother had bought the girls a couple of inexpensive sun hats which were a great base to begin with (thanks Mama!). The girls' birthday brought lots of new craft supplies and there are always plenty of bits and bobs in my own craft stash, so I knew we'd have enough 'stuff' to decorate the hats.

This craft is probably the easiest and least messy I have ever set up for the girls, but it still gave plenty of scope for creativity. They are delighted with the outcome and I know they will wear them with pride on Easter Sunday. If you'd like one too here's the shortest tutorial in the world:

You will need:
  • An inexpensive woven 'Bonnet' (ours were €1.50 each)
  • Stick-on felt flowers
  • Stick-on foam shapes (we had ladybirds, leaves and little chickens)
Method:
Stick everything onto the hat in whatever order you like. 

If your name is Lile, you should also add a random 3-legged horse. Presumably for good luck. 

Then, just pop it on your head and commence eating lots of chocolate!

Happy Easter!


Here are some other lovely Eastery things from other Irish Parenting Bloggers:

Easter gift tag printables over at My Country Girl Ramblings
Easter Hama bead activity over at Learner Mama
Fun Friday – Easter Eggsperiment Special over at Dr. How’s Science Wows
Great dairy free treat ideas over at Dairy Free Kids


Friday, 11 April 2014

The Stolen Birthday


The year the girls were born we spent the night of Devo's birthday in a horribly stuffy hospital room. It was a 'practice night' before we took our premature babies home. In hindsight it was a disaster. I mean, it was a lovely gesture from the hospital - giving us a night with our teeny tiny babies who were still attached to wires and things - with the support of the special care unit right outside the door. But the room was grim. They wouldn't let us open the window and it was HOT in there. Neither of us slept a wink and it left us exhausted and completely TERRIFIED of actually bringing our babies home. As if somehow that experience was what parenting twins would really be like, which it's not. At all. For one thing, there's not a special care unit outside our front door.

Anyway, ever since the girls have come along, Devo's birthday has been somewhat overshadowed. His birthday is just over a week after Lile and Sábha's and, because I have usually used up all of my energy making the girls' birthday special I have tended to flake a bit on making their Daddy's day special too. He still gets gifts, but they've usually been grabbed last minute without a lot of thought. I'm pretty sure I've even forgotten a card at least one year. But even if I remember, there's never even anywhere left for him to put it because every surface is already covered with the girls' huge collection.

Now, he's a big boy and can take a little neglect. In fact, I'm sure he's more than happy to play second fiddle to his darling girls, but still, birthday's are special and everybody deserves to be made a fuss of at least once a year.

So, this year I'm trying to give him back his birthday.... the gifts were still pretty last minute, but they were things I knew he'd love. He got this DVD which he's wanted since he saw the movie in the cinema and this, because I thought he would like it and a Breaking Bad Notebook for writing songs in.

I had an overnight work thing this week so I've managed to wrangle a day off today and there are plenty of plans for birthday adventures. The girls gave him his gifts (very) early this morning. There will be lunch out after we collect them from preschool and maybe a spot of shopping. Then birthday cake. Of course. 

There will also be a night out. With drinks. Something that is extremely rare for us, so that will be fun.

As an extra treat, I also got him a selection of 'Bars in Jars' from the amazing Cheesecake shop in town. They make the best cheesecake I've ever tasted. Ever. And they put some of their flavours in pretty jars which makes them a really nice gift. I got Snickers, After Eight and Crunchie for Devo. It will be tough for him to choose which to eat first, I imagine!

AND, as if all that wasn't enough, the day began on a massive high for him because a member of the band he's been obsessed with loved since he was a child has 'liked' some of his photo's on Instagram. Now, how can I compete with that?!

Happy Birthday King Dada!


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