Disclosure: I was given a free copy of SIX by Alma books to review, but all opinions are my own.

Imagine losing your mum, being uprooted from your safe and secure family life in the UK and having to start afresh in a new country and a new school where bullies lurk around every corner. This is what happens to Parker, the main character in the young adult sci-fi novel, SIX, by M.M. Vaughan.

Then your Dad disappears too and you have to find him, with the help of a hi-tech device he invented to help the family communicate with your sister Emma who is deaf. As the plot unfolds, Parker and Emma realise that their Dad, Dr Banks, was involved in a huge 'scientific' breakthrough that could change everything for the world.

As well as a compelling plot with lots of twist and turns and revelations, there's thoughtful touches too, like the children's anxieties over some of the more outlandish technology they find they have to use to get back to their Dad. And I liked this quote too:

A friend of Parker's parents had once mentioned that if you want to know what a person is really like, take a look at their bedroom.

But I totally fell in love with the book in chapter 20, when the significance of the book's title is revealed...

You'll just have to read it to find out.

When a Netflix series ends...

Finishing a Netflix series can feel like the end of a friendship: A really good series that you look forward to at the end of the day, when your chores are done. So it's like a mini bereavement when you watch the credits on the last show.

The next night you're probably in denial as you frantically check google to see if there is another series not yet on Netflix. Anger when you find out there isn't. You desperately check Netflix again. Become depressed as you wonder how you will fill your evenings now that your beloved series has finished. And finally acceptance that you cannot change the situation, usually helped by finding something new to watch. And that is exactly what happened here.

The perfect antidote to Netflix grief? A new series of course. Especially one that makes you laugh like  Grace and Frankie. I like that it's about older women (and men) even though I'm not that old. I'm sure you've seen it if you have Netflix. If you don't, it's another good reason to sign up. And again, there's no magic involved, except in the acting, of course.

To me it's like an old fashioned warm hearted family comedy, and there's not many of those on terrestrial TV these days. The ones the critics like always seem to be sharp and pointy and clever and a bit dull. Not Grace and Frankie though. Series two was more serious in parts and there were also moments of toe curling embarrassment and a few scenes when you might want to push the children out of the room, especially in the last episode, but mostly it was very, very funny.

And then it was over, and the grief returned!

But this time Netflix found something for me, and it is perfect.

Falling Skies

Weaver leads the 2nd Mass after another alien attack
As you *may* be able to guess from the picture, it's another series set in a post apocalyptic future, complete with cringy aliens, dodgy science, clich├ęd story lines, social commentary and poorly disguised political messages (though I totally enjoyed the dig at Goldman Sachs). I'm loving it, of course!

It's about a small group of survivors following an alien invasion. Our hero is a History professor and father of three sons, one of whom is missing. Tom Mason joins the 2nd Massachusetts Militia Regiment, known as the 2nd Mass, which becomes like a family, one that loses many members, gets dispersed, faces unimaginable horrors and dangers, but never loses loyalty to the group.

But the real star of the series is not the handsome history professor, but the grizzled, grumpy and sick old soldier Colonel Weaver, who has to dig deep to keep up the spirits of this motley band of survivors.

The series is not exactly plausible, but it is easy viewing and emotional at times too, and moments of inspiration when Mason and Weaver have to put aside their own fears and find words to comfort and encourage everyone else. If you like that sort of thing, I'd definitely recommend this show.

For all the TV shows and films I should have mentioned, check out the Netflix news over at Bumbles of Rice.

Disclosure: I have received free Netflix streaming, a streaming device and an iPad as part of my membership of the Netflix Stream Team. All words and opinions in this post are my own.

Grated Apple Cup Cakes: RECIPE

I collect recipes like this for when I enthusiastically stock up on something healthy - apples, in this case - only to discover them still in the bag looking sad and tired a few weeks later,

Between that and the random feeding habits of teenagers, it always seems to be my job to try and create something from all the leftovers in the fridge (I hate food waste).

Sunday was dull and rainy in Ireland, and I felt too exhausted and busy to manage a trip out with Smiley, so baking was a good alternative to letting her watch videos all day. These are quick and easy to make - maybe a bit slower if you give a spoon to the kids!

After I posted a picture on Instagram, my friend Carol @ Jennas Flowers asked for the recipe: so here it is (and there's a printable version below too).

Grated Apple Cup Cakes

(makes about 12)


4oz/100gm butter
6oz/150gm brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
6oz/150gm self raising flour
2 eating apples.

  1. Put oven on at 170 degrees Centigrade.
  2. Melt the butter in a large pan.
  3. Turn the heat off.
  4. Stir the sugar into the butter.
  5. Whisk the egg and stir in, together with the vanilla essence.
  6. Sieve in the flour and fold in.
  7. Peel, quarter and grate the apples and fold in.
  8. Spoon the mixture into about 12 cup cake cases, placed in a muffin tray
  9. Put tray in oven and bake cup cakes for about 25 minutes.
  10. Remove cup cakes from muffin tray and cool on a wire rack (or eat!).

I think they'd be extra nice with a crunchy topping of maybe demerara sugar and finely chopped walnuts, but I haven't tried it yet. Reduce the amount of sugar if you want a healthier version.

print recipe

Grated Apple Cup Cakes
  • 4oz/100gm butter
  • 6oz/150gm brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 6oz/150gm self raising flour
  • 2 eating apples
Put oven on at 170 degrees Centigrade. Melt the butter in a large pan. Turn the heat off. Stir the sugar into the butter.Whisk the egg and stir in, together with the vanilla essence. Sieve in the flour and fold in. Peel, quarter and grate the apples and fold in. Spoon the mixture into about 12 cup cake cases. placed in a muffin tray Put tray in oven and bake cup cakes for about 25 minutes. Remove cup cakes from muffin tray and cool on a wire rack.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 12

Getting organised and other reasons to be cheerful

I must've tried everything at this stage: As a teenager I used little brightly coloured handbag diaries, in my 20s it was filofaxes in different sizes, some of which I still have, but I never fell madly in love with them. Owning one was expensive, especially the refills, which were never configured quite right for me. And there were lots of things that didn't fit neatly into the format. Nor could you customise a filofax. You needed a special hole punch, special paper, and it all cost ££££s.

My Mum used to buy the same Boots diary every year and sit down religiously on January 1st and fill in all the birthdays and other important dates. I tried that but it just didn't work for me. It was cheap and cheerful, but not portable or flexible enough.

I toyed with calendar apps for a few years, but (shhh) they are so slow and fiddly to use, putting in codes here and opening this and typing that, when you could just scribble down a note in a few seconds. But since I had my phone I was never without it, a definite plus.

Recently I've been reading about Bullet Journals like this one from Midlife Single Mum, which are beautiful diary organisers that you design yourself.  And I've successfully borrowed the idea of monthly "to do" lists (though my list for June is worryingly up to 49 items with very few ticked off!) . They look gorgeous, but also a bit too complicated and intimidating for me.

What I needed was a system that was easy to use, flexible and used nothing that couldn't be bought on the weekly supermarket shop. So I found some free downloadable diary pages on the internet, printed them out on A4 paper and stuffed them in an ordinary lever arch folder. I can write in an appointment or event and add in the letter, or the event details printed off the internet. Okay so I can't easily bring it around with me, but I am home-based, so that doesn't really matter too much.

And my reason to be cheerful? I've just printed out July to December and am happily filling in all the important dates...

And there's more:

  • A lovely and unexpected lunch out with a friend on my birthday.

  • And another invitation for lunch from a walking group that rotates lunch and I dropped out because I just couldn't mange the catering bit! They've asked me back anyway. I was in floods of course, as usual when people are kind.

  • The exams are finally over and my son can relax for the summer. Hooray!

More reasons to be cheerful over at Lakes Single Mum.

Mum may die without respite for profoundly disabled son

What do you have to do to get respite for a severely intellectually disabled young adult? One Mum believes that the Irish Health Service (HSE) would let her die before they help her family. She lives in Kerry and worked in the transport sector until she was floored by serious illness. She and her husband also care for their 19 year old son who has a profound intellectual disability, yet now when they need respite after she almost died in hospital, none is available.

This is her story**:

"My son Ben is a lovely, happy, friendly young man. But there is a lot of work involved in caring for him. And we used to have help. We got weekly respite for our son from age of 5 to 18 and spent 2 years having case conferences with the service providers and the health service to plan his future. We wanted a smooth transition to adult services for him. But when he turned 18 in March of 2015 he was just chucked out of his service. We have no idea why our son wasn't kept on. He never caused them any trouble. And neither did we. We had a very good working relationship."

Since then they been trying to cope with their son's difficulties without any outside help.

"Ben has very little language and is completely incontinent. He is also tall and strong.  He does a lot of high pitched screaming and flapping, but we are lucky in that he doesn't get violent (the odd outburst with his little brother so they can't be left unsupervised). He also likes to break things and throw things. Its not malicious, its just a fascination he has. At least one morning a week we will wake up to him, his bedroom and anywhere he has sat, covered in excrement. I find that very hard."

Their lives got a lot harder when Nicola ended up in hospital with a serious illness at the end of February.

"I spent 2 1/2 weeks on life support. My family were told to make funeral arrangements. I am 39! When I woke I was told I would spend 2 months in hospital recuperating, but I had to leave after nine days, because nobody would provide help with our son. We made an emergency case to the HSE and it took them two months to arrange a meeting."

But there was bad news at the meeting.

"Our emergency respite application was rejected due to lack of funding. It also became clear that the majority of emergency cases stay on the emergency list for a minimum of 6 months. Meantime my life is in danger. If I don't take care of myself, with proper rest and recuperation, we don't know what will happen. I will never have full lung capacity again. Also I have problems with memory, coordination, balance and my hair is falling out. My husband asked today what constitutes a genuine emergency and we were told that we would be getting respite if I died. So I just need to die for my son's respite services to be's just unimaginable."

Can you imagine being told you have to die to get help? But not getting help may cause you to die? The HSE and the new Government needs to act now to end scandals like this, and stop ruining people's lives.  And don't use the lack of funding excuse, the money is there, it's just being spent on the wrong things.

** Based on Facebook posts and printed here with her permission to try and help raise publicity for her situation.

6 things to do before I'm 60

Yet another birthday as I hurtle into my mid 50s. It's shocking how fast they come around and how much less they mean. The only constant now is how much less time is ahead of me and the need to make every day count.

There will few presents - I can't think of anything I want or need that can be neatly wrapped into a small package and tied with a bow. The big things I desperately want - health and happiness for my family and friends and their loved ones - sometimes seem like an impossible dream. For myself I'd like a measure of contentment and acceptance of my situation, but without losing the drive to change things, make things better, make a difference while I still can.

Today I will indulge myself. Just a small bit. Angel made a few suggestions: getting my hair done, eating out, but none of them appealed. I was surprised to find that the only thing I really want to do today is write...

And what of the future? I've 6 years until another landmark birthday: If I followed tradition I guess I should be compiling a list of 60 things to do before I'm 60. But I'm thinking that might be a tad ambitious, considering that I can find it hard to find the time and energy to even do basic things like cut my nails...

So I've come up with 6 things to do before I'm 60 instead:

  • Go on a date - I did a bit of internet dating back in 2007, but I found it dull, time consuming and depressing. Since then I've been too busy to even think about it. There has to be a better way.
  • Portraits - I would like to brave enough to ask people I see in the street if I can take their photo. I'm always spotting people that I want to photograph and then kicking myself as I let them walk by...
  • Special needs - I want to have a long term support and service in place for Smiley by the time I'm 60 and for my son to be living independently.
  • Dublin Women's Mini Marathon - This race has a special place in my heart, but I want to compete as a runner, not a walker. I'm determined to get fit enough to meet the qualifying time once again.
  • Tattoo - Yes I've left it very late and I know it smacks of a mid life crisis, but the great thing about being middle aged is that you don't care as much about what other people think. My biggest problem is what design to choose.
  • The Camino - for years I planned to walk the Camino for my 60th, but I don't think that will be possible, so I'm hoping to walk the Sligo Camino instead! I've never been to Co. Sligo and since it's in Ireland it just might be doable.

So that's it, I'd better get started. Only six years to go...

An Afternoon in Temple Bar

Temple Bar. It used to be an alternative arty place to hang out. Now it's a drunken debauched den of iniquity where the streets heave with rivers of beer and staggering stag parties. Or so the narrative goes.

The decision to venture into Temple Bar on a Saturday afternoon after an Ireland match was surely a moment of complete madness. Especially with a young disabled adult in tow. But there you go.

There was drink, a lot of drink. And a lot of excitement too. Smiley fed off the atmosphere and radiated it back to the happy revellers. The young people in Meeting House Square weren't staring at my daughter, they were smiling with her. Perhaps it was the beer goggles or perhaps the new generation really are going to be a lot more inclusive. Let's hope so. Because we had a great afternoon pottering around and I'm sure we will be back again soon.

On the street

With And Without You (A Day with Smiley)

If I'm lucky I get to sleep until 5.30am when the alarm goes off. Sometimes I think that Smiley can hear it too, because I hear her calling on the baby monitor at the same time. Today was one of those days: she wanted her wet nappy changed, and then I sat with her and had a quick coffee while the water heated up. I left her with the telly on, had a quick shower and dressed, ready for the day.

At 6.40 her home help arrives and between us we get her showered, which involves lots of logistics and hoisting and mopping - so I wash the whole extension floor at the same time. While her home help gets her dressed, I dig out and iron the clothes, and find her leg splints and put everything within reach.

Once she's hoisted into her chair, it's breakfast time and that gives me chance to help my other children while she is helped to eat and drink as needed. After the home help leaves I have a quick breakfast and a peek at Facebook and twitter on the laptop. Smiley enjoys watching it and joins in the chats with me and her siblings.

Then I pack her bag and hoist her on and off the toilet and get her ready in her chair for when the bus arrives at about 9.15 am to bring her to her (centre-based) programme.

I can fill the next 6 or so hours in a number of ways: spending time with the other children, shopping, cleaning or maintaining the house, administration, appointments for any of us, lobbying or advocacy for special needs or autism, or even some self maintenance so I can keep doing this!

It passes quickly and when she arrives home she has a drink and a small snack while I chat to her about her day and unpack her bag.

Then there's more toileting, followed by floor time: I encourage her to lie on her right side first to stretch the tight muscles in her neck -- with the help of Britney and a bit of massage and tickling, she does very well. Then her left side with the addition of a different splint - she can relax like this for a while, but I often sit nearby on the computer before heading across to the sink to start three different dinners.

Hopefully we'll all be fed by 7.30pm and then I'll clean up the kitchen to the sound of Smiley giggling and the Tweenies singing - and I'll join in with the dancing too. Some days it's the Bananas or the Rug Rats - the same shows she's been watching for more than 15 years. I do try different videos and shows, but she usually objects, at least when she's at home.

Finally we start the bed time routine: the washing, teeth cleaning, toileting, hoisting, pyjamaring, and a long stretching session to relax her muscles so that she can tolerate her sleep system, which is essential to prevent her body getting twisted. Then it's lights out and soft music on.

Sometimes I have to pop back and move her around until she is comfortable, but usually she is asleep by half past nine. And sometimes she sleeps all night.

So I am without her for a number of hours during the day, but that is an essential break for both of us! It's full on when she is with me, and I wouldn't have it any other way, I love it when she is happy and I love making her happy. But she needs more than just me and a care worker or two in her life. I believe that she needs the company of other young people, just as she would if she was in college or working at Google, and she loves company, there is no doubt about that. Apparently the activity she most enjoyed this week was watching one of the Euro 16 matches with a gang from her adult programme...

So please can someone help me ensure that the good life that she has right now can continue. Would you deprive her of that?

Reasons to be cheerful 16.6.16

I'm still here. But I've been very busy elsewhere, supporting my son through his exams and publicly advocating for my daughter - something that makes me very uncomfortable but it has to be done, and so far it has been well received. The exams are also going much better than expected, and there's only two more to go. So that's my first reason to be cheerful for this week. Here's the rest:

  • A nature photography challenge that provided the perfect level of distraction - here's one shot that didn't make the cut.

Bloom, Bray and Boats

Some background: In case you're wondering why I did all this on a weekend when I was feeling very ill and when my son was counting down the days to the start of his state exams this week: I decided that I could be happy and ill with Smiley in the sunshine or miserable and ill and under pressure at home. So with the help of Angel, we made sure that my son had company at all times and Smiley and I got out. Also in the back of my mind is the new Capacity Act and its implications that Smiley could be removed from my care if I can't prove in Court that I am giving her a good enough 'Good Life.'


I was prepared to dislike Bloom intensely. An artificial festival about plants that I expected to be expensive, crowded and beset by traffic jams. But I gave in a few years ago when I was stuck in Dublin on a sunny Bank Holiday weekend and I needed an alternative to the Henry Street shops for Smiley.  As always I was anxious that first time, wondering if it would be disability friendly or more stressful that I could tolerate. But I needn't have worried, it always seems well organised and they look after disability fairly well - free parking close to the event, no queues for the disabled toilets, and enough space to get around on the (bumpy) paths. It has so much to offer too: a wonderful music tent (where we spend most of our time), lots of places to buy coffee and cake, an amazing food market, playground, even a science display, and of course all the show gardens and lots and lots of opportunities to buy plants (we bypassed that section since my fingers tend to be more brown than green).

The Breast Cancer awareness garden

Our favourite coffee place

On being a small person and trying to change things

I wasn't going to do any reasons to be cheerful this week. There's been good days, but you've probably seen the photos of those. There's been bad days, but the less said about them the better, and there's been some dull days too, and what can I possibly say about them?

The sun has been shining and I'm making progress on the garden even while the the pall of exam stress hangs heavily over the house. Which is why I make sure to get out of it every day.

For all those teens with aspergers who are being failed by the education system

It's not your fault!

Many pupils with special needs are being failed by the system.

Secondary schools and the state examination system are not designed to cater for the needs of teenagers with aspergers syndrome and anxiety. Especially as they all have different needs, because they are all individuals.

Yesterday Renata Blower from Just Bring the Chocolate summed it up on the BBC

And this is for my son today, although I know he probably won't ever see it:

Billy Bragg - To have or to have not

"The system has failed, you don't fail yourself."