Archives for category: inspire

Thankfully, the warmer weather and brighter evenings have given us the opportunity to be outside more. After the winter storms, I have a bit of cleaning up to do in the garden, but I’m not naive enough to think the kids will want to help me with that.

So, I had to think of something that will encourage them outdoors. We have the trampoline, and they were excited about being able to use it again (after they remembered we had one!). But that wasn’t enough. I’m a fan of Pinterest, so I collected (pinned) a few ideas of ‘gardens for children’ over the winter months. This is the time to put some of them into practice. You can see below what we’ve done, and in an effort to prevent you from staying indoors reading this, I’m keeping this post short, and hope you enjoy the possibilities of good weather.

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The picture above shows our tic-tac-toe game. I gathered a few stones from a local beach and painted them to look like bumble bees and ladybirds. I also painted a pallet table we have in the garden to create the board, and now we have a outdoor board game.

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For less than €30 I got some concrete flag stones to put across our gravel path. Then with the magic of chalk, we also have a hopscotch game. The added advantage of these stepping stones is that the kids can cross the gravel towards the grass in their bare feet – resolving one of their issues from last summer. 🙂

So, that’s just two simple changes to the garden this spring that brought the kids outdoors. We’ve also planted some seeds, so check back with us in a few months to see the results. Bye!

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Before I go out and celebrate St Patrick’s Day with the kids I just wanted to mention a few things that have been on my mind.

Firstly, an amazing event we attended a few weeks ago was Babytalk – a parent and baby type show. However, that description isn’t fair, as this was more than a show, it was an experience. They catered for everything. I went for a few hours and stayed for the weekend! There was a dining section with natural light, looking out onto a pond and manicured lawns, a kiddies play area, face painting, a reading corner and every hour there was an activity to inform or entertain the attendees. Grandparents and kids were free, so plenty of the maturer child-carer was visible on the day, while the younger parent strolled around the stalls. This must have been a bonus for stall holders. So I’d definitely recommend it, and their logo and branding design are very eye catching.

While there I came across a new app for expectant dads by IQ Content. Very simple design and simple to navigate through the material. It’s for a general international audience so there aren’t any local details. However, in terms of getting to read something about pregnancy and birth, while fiddling with your smartphone means that you are making an effort. DaddyO will definitely inform you and prepare you for the role of parenthood. Once the baby arrives, you will need more than an smartphone app!

That brings me onto a great piece I read on the new Parent.ie website by stay at home dad, Tom Evans. He captures the emotions of the roller coaster ride of parenting, and it’s good to hear it from a dad’s perspective. It’s a short enough piece for you to read quickly enough to be informed if you’re on the road to being a parent, and if you’ve already arrived here, well then you will empathise with the words. Read the article here.

And lastly, it’s one of my favourite times of the year – Offset! It’s an annual design conference in Dublin – 3 days of back to back international design talk. It reminds me of how much creativity is out there and how much I want to be a part of it. So, in less than a week I will be a non-practicing parent of sorts. After dealing with, and participating in, two weeks (or more) of non stop illnesses in this family household I’m really looking forward to it. 🙂

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

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Image from mi9.com

Of all the Oscar nominated movies this year, many parents will probably only recognise the award winning feature ‘Frozen‘. It’s a typical Disney style movie: amazing animation, love themed storyline (this time with a twist), and lots of singing! A bit too much of the latter for me, but my body-building brother impersonates it so well that I’ve fond memories of the musical theme now. Well done Disney!

Thankfully, I’m lucky to have a mother-in-law that is happy to babysit for us, so I often get to the cinema, and therefore I’ve seen a few of the movies from this year’s Oscar nomination list. The Best Picture winner ’12 Years a Slave’ was an amazing film and definitely deserves to be on the list. It’s an amazing depiction of an enslaved freeman on the northern States; I felt nauseous throughout most of it – watching a brutal slavery period of the United States is not ‘entertaining’ . Watching it play out in such a realistic manner was hard to stomach at times.

On a lighter note, the movie Gravity was equally amazing – it’s so quiet in its delivery – with a bit of action as well. Brilliant performances by the small cast, and I really appreciated the 91 minutes they used to tell the story. If it had been longer I would have felt they were dragging the story out to keep up with the expected 120 minutes of movies today.

The Great Gatsby was another Oscar movie I was lucky to see. I’m a big fan of Baz Luhrman films (not his Chanel advert!) so I’m probably a bit biased in my review. Brilliant portrayal of the book, really enjoyed watching the film – Leonardo Di Caprio is a great Gatsby (sorry!) but casting Toby Maguire was a bit distracting. He did well in the movie, but I would have preferred to watch a lesser known actor in the part so that Gatsby (DiCaprio) was more of a ‘celebrity’ next door.

I hope to see a few more movies from the winners and nominations of the Oscars. I might have to wait for my babysitter, or a quiet night for renting a DVD, or for it to play on Netflix.

We have lived without a tv for many years so when Netflix came to Ireland I was intrigued and loved the first month free option. I was hooked within a week. There is so much online that I had endless hours of entertainment. I will admit that the attraction was enhanced by the fact that I haven’t seen or heard of many of the programs listed, so it’s a novelty for me to see so much at once. The option to watch a whole series back to back is simply amazing. Breaking Bad and the popularity of the Netflix series ‘House of Cards‘ demonstrates how many people appreciate that option.

Thankfully, there are many movies also available with this subscription, so I’ve managed to catch up with some previous Oscar winning films as well. The Iron Lady, The Help, Capote, The Usual Suspects, Fargo, The Aviator, are all available on Netflix – and can be watched on a tv, smartphone or tablet. It’s great! They’re also showing The Square, a documentary based around the Egyptian Revolution and tells the story of the power of citizenship. I’ve watched some of these movies while sitting in the car waiting for the rest of the family at various events. I reckon I will get to watch a whole lot more in the weeks ahead. With the current weather conditions, view on demand, any kind of device, huge selection of programming and movies, you couldn’t be bored! Just remember to share the popcorn. 🙂

Please Note: I did plan to write about the flexibility of programming Netflix offers to parents, so this post is still very much my own opinion. However, to be totally honest with my readers, I have to mention that I recently received an annual subscription to Netflix in return for mentioning some of their updates and offers. This is one of them – but without a doubt, Netflix have loads of movies for you to watch – some are Oscar winners.

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Pics courtesy of IMdb.com

In an effort to try keep this Christmas a less stressful holiday, my wife and I decided to keep things simple this year. We planned and bought gifts early, and wanted to prioritise a family day out the weekend before Christmas. We wanted a day where nothing but having fun with our kids would be the task of the day – no last minute shopping! It sounds simple, but I’m usually unorganised at Christmas time, and therefore stress and tension creep in easily. Thankfully, our plan went well and we had a wonderful, family day. We also got to spend time with other members of our families – the in-laws, cousins and their family. It was wonderful.

The magic of Christmas was felt today. We had pizza at a very child friendly restaurant (Milano) that was decorated in festive splendour. We walked through streets lit with magical light displays. We got to visit a fairy-themed park and watch the kids ride a carousel, and eat chocolate filled crepes afterwards. It is definitely one of the days I hope to remember for ever. I’m also hoping our children will remember it as fondly. And it got me thinking about the happy memories I have of Christmas time with my parents when I was a child. There are many enjoyable moments, thankfully. One of the most memorable involved a lot of thought and action from my parents in order for me and my siblings to be surprised. I’m not sure how old I was at the time, probably about ten years of age.

The story involved the whole family at the time – my parents with their four children – heading to a Christmas Fair about two miles from our home. We arrived late in the afternoon so the visiting Santa was already gone. Four disappointed children were told that Santa left a message that he’d catch up with them soon. For the rest of that day we strolled around the various knickknack stalls and bought tickets to the raffle. We left with a few simple prizes and strolled home in the dark winter evening.

The next morning, we went to school as usual and then walked home that afternoon. A typical Monday for the average school going child. However, when we arrived at the back door of our house it was locked. Nothing strange, it usually meant my mother was probably gone to the shop, or a neighbour, so we just had to stroll around the block to the front of the house. In those ‘good auld’ days, a key was always in the front door. The four of us walked along the road to the front of the house. When we pushed open the front gate of the house we saw four wrapped presents on the doorstep. We ran and grabbed the gift that was left for us. A single letter was also on the doorstep, addressed to us all – a letter from Santa apologising for missing us at the Fair the previous day. He explained he had the presents wrapped and knew we were expecting something, so he dropped them off that afternoon. We stood amazed, we just looked at each other in awe – the idea of Santa calling to our house while we were in school, to drop off presents to us. It was truly an early Christmas present. It was magical!

Coincidentally, our parents arrived home ‘from the city’ within seconds of us finding the gifts. They were as thrilled as their four children at the sight of the presents and the letter from Santa. They celebrated this most extraordinary event with us. It is a lovely memory, and I still feel some of the excitement today when I think of it. The magic of Christmas is said to be in the time we spend with our family. Today was one of those days for me. I hope this Christmas brings such joy to others.

Merry Christmas.

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Picture Credit

It’s Friday 13th, and Christmas is near, so I thought you might find this short animated film interesting! This is a beautiful, creative and simple story on a child’s desire for new toys. Hope you enjoy it!

Watch it here

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Squid
Konrad Kirpluk

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Sky High
Mark Kelvin Horton

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This evening I arrived home from work to an empty house. Those of you who are parents can probably understand the beautiful silence that this brings and the contrasting wondering of why is the house empty? Within five minutes my wife, with the kids, pulled into the drive. It was only five minutes of peace and quiet but it was lovely after an intensive day in work.

While we all gathered in the kitchen, my wife explained she wasn’t feeling well and just wanted to get into bed and forget everyone and everything. I can understand that – I think most people can recognise that feeling. So I suggested she go there and I will sort out something for me and the kids for the next few hours. She initially struggled with this notion of surrender but eventually disappeared.

So, first off was dinner. The kids didn’t want the spaghetti that was prepared for them earlier, they wanted chips. I have to admit I wasn’t in the mood of the salad my wife had made in the hope of summer showing up somewhere soon. So chips was a great idea for me as well. However, I took the lazy route and suggested we head down to the local chipper to get a ‘single of chips’. [this is a bag of chips in case you are wondering – heard Ian Dempsey explain this to his guests the other morning on his show].

The local chipper was quiet, just us and the two staff, with the intrusive sounds of the music channel playing on the tv in the corner. Although, I’m always grateful it’s not some sports or sky news playing in the corner. While we waited for our order to deep fry – this is not our regular diet to any health conscious readers – we stood looking out onto the street. Within a minute, a young man carrying a huge box of soft toys enters the chipper. The box contained a huge selection of various coloured animals of our natural and fictitious worlds. When he set the box down on the floor, my two kids jumped at it thinking Christmas had arrived again.

The guy proceeded to open the door on a vending machine (a claw-attempts-to-grab-a-toy type of machine) in one corner of the tiny waiting area to refill the prizes. I reckon I’m not alone in my loathing for the existence of these machines when visiting various locations in our locality – the shopping centre, the cinema, the chemist, the play zone. You know there’s a high chance of pestering going to happen and there’s a better chance of winning the lotto than getting a toy from the claw machine!

Well tonight our luck was here rather than the lotto. I had given the last of my money to the guy making the chips. There was no money left for this game and I anticipated the words of torment that can follow when the kids discover such ‘treasures’. The words were uttered, “Daddy, can we play the game when the man is finished filling it?”, as they rifled through the large cardboard box, picking out their favourite toys.

Before I could answer the question, the guy turned to my two eager kids and simply said, “Sure, take one now, don’t wait for me to finish!” It was so unbelievable that they didn’t really hear him. They asked me again, and I looked at the guy as he repeated his offer – “pick one out now before I put them into the game”. The smiles on their faces indicated that they heard him this time. They looked through the box again and picked out a prize each. They were thrilled. All three of us thanked the guy. The lads in the chipper added to the festivities and gave each of the kids a lollipop. This was one great trip on a Monday evening.

When we got home they shared the story with mammy and were thrilled to explain they got the toy for nothing, and lollipops, it was the best trip ever! Easy joy, easily shared. As we sat down to eat our chips, my daughter (still cuddling her newly acquired pet dolphin) explained that she wants to bring some of her other cuddly toys to the charity shop tomorrow. “I don’t play with them anymore so I’ll let someone else have them. Just like the guys in the chipper – I want to share”. Paying it forward was a nice lesson to start the week.

Anyone else want to share their ‘pay it forward’ story?

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I think we have several chairs like this in our home! 🙂 http://pinterest.com/pin/66076319505256217/

A few weeks ago I met a long time friend for dinner, to celebrate the recent passing of my birthday and the eve of hers. It was a simple pizza and wine chat on what’s been happening since we last met. Inevitably, we discussed how we have changed from our interaction with family, friends, colleagues and society in general.

My friend is teaching and loving her job. She is aware that my wife and I home educate our children and she asked what ‘schooling’ my children were getting. I explained we were unschooling and this kept the conversation going for a while. We discussed the merits and worries of schools versus home educating, but I felt a bit lost for words in trying to explain the education style we use. In bed that night I decided not to go into the topic until I could explain unschooling better. Until now, that is. 🙂

I’m writing this to try figure out my understanding of my decision. Each day I see my children learn something new. They interact with people of all ages quite well. My daughter asked to do some number games recently, after we finished baking cookies. My son is learning words and tries each day to say a few new words. ‘Ham’ is very clearly understood, but not so much the word ‘grandad’ at the moment! It’s a joy for me to learn with them each day, even when my learning involves me apologising to the kids for getting so easily annoyed about their behaviour at times.

In trying to establish an understanding of what I do in educating my children I’m always drawn back to comparing it to a school based education. However, that is one of the main reasons I want to home educate – to avoid the structures and categories of learning that schools implement. I liked the flexibility of my daughter baking with me, then sitting down to do numbers and tables. She called it her homework. Then she played a word game on the computer so that she could challenge herself to the next level of the ‘game’. She led all of this learning. I helped her follow the ideas she had to learn more. She wanted to learn and by doing stuff, and by doing this with her I learnt how much she loves moving from one task to another throughout the day.

I’m still not sure how to describe what I do to ‘educate’ my children, other than to say that I help them learn and then watch what happens. Just like many other parents. Around the world, every day, parents help educate their children whether the child is in preschool, primary school, secondary, university and the home. My children probably learn things in a different format to many other children their age; and they will probably prefer to learn some tasks more regularly than others – just like their friends. And this is another key concern for all parents – helping our children to interact with others and create friendships. This might be a bit of a shock to some people (based on the No.1 question I’m usually asked by adults) – Yes, my children have friends! Home educated children are not kept in boxes away from the community they live in. They interact with people every day and learn something from it.

I have learnt many things through school, work, university, travelling and simply by interacting with people and my surroundings. I continue to learn something new each day. I like to share with others some of what I’ve learnt. In my work outside of the family and home, I have many people who are grateful for me sharing what I know. I am often challenged to research something so that I learn something new. Thankfully, learning can be a reciprocal arrangement, if we allow it to happen.
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Cartoon taken from the brilliant imagination of Bill Watterson in his ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ books

In less than two weeks I’ll be heading to Dublin for Offset 2013. It’s an annual designers conference that I discovered last year – a couple of weeks after the event! So this year I was one of the early bird ticket holders, and I’m getting really excited about it now.

As mentioned before, I’m a wannabe designer of sorts. I’m fascinated by the work of the creative industry, the variation in the work, and the joy someone can bring to us through their skill. For the last twelve months I’ve spent time researching and following designers and started to recognise names and their work.

One designer I discovered is Sarah Illenberger, who created an amazing infographic from food (see below). I’ve always used food to express my creativity, but only in the guise of cooking a nice meal. Illenberger uses the raw material as props for her designs. So, needless to say, I was thrilled to see her added to the Offset 2013 line up. It’s a three day event so there are plenty more designers who have work I admire and others I’m eager to see to learn more about.

Others designers talking over the weekend are Oliviero Toscani who did the infamous Benetton ad campaigns I remember from my days in Dublin. Niamh Sharkey, the author and illustrator of one of my daughter’s favourite books – The Ravenous Beast – will also be there. Street artists, photographers, digital creatives, and more illustrators (Oliver Jeffers has just confirmed his attendance) will take to the stage so I’m hoping to learn a lot. I’ll share more when I get back, or follow me here for updates.

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