Monday, October 5, 2015

Outdoor Activities for Toddlers in and around Carrigaline

Toddlerhood is a fabulous time for exploring the world with your child. They are so excited and enthusiastic about the smallest detail - a plane in the sky or water flowing from a pipe. It's also a challenging time to be outside of the house as it is so difficult to give them the freedom they desire while keeping them safe. Structured play centres including playgrounds and indoor fun houses, although ideal in theory, are sometimes not so suitable for the younger toddler. Or maybe just my toddler who is more interested in fire escapes, hydrants, opening doors and running for the hills than playing with swings and ball ponds. Here are some of the things we like to do in Carrigaline and the surrounding areas. All are free of charge and outdoor.

1. Fountainstown Beach at Low Tide

I usually park in the car park and walk to the furthest end of the beach by road with small man in the buggy. He's only just two years old so is still happy to be wheeled around, thankfully. The front strand is quite rocky so I find the far side of the beach to be much more child-friendly as there is a huge stretch of flat sand with shallow pools of water. Here they can have a really good run and splash around without going near the actual sea. Obviously fine weather is the optimum time for this but I am thinking about buying some neoprene waders so he can splash through water in all weather without a chance of getting soaked through.

2. Monkstown Wall and Playground

Another buggy walk, Monkstown Wall provides plenty to see from marine birds, wind turbines, speed boats, anglers, dog walkers, and my son is particularly fond of a pipe on the opposite side of the road that gushes out water coming from a stream. If you bring some food, there are plenty benches with a scenic view for some al fresco dining. For a run-around, there is a small playground opposite The Monkstown Inn on Glen Road. Although in excellent condition, it is not a great playground for very young children - there is no baby swing which is surprising - but it is well enclosed and there is a stream running alongside it (at the other side of the railings) which should interest a toddler.

3. Near the Ferry Terminal at Ringaskiddy

A popular loop walk starts from a small public car park by the ferry terminal entrance. It is not really suitable for a buggy as the path gets quite narrow and stony in places but is ideal for a sling or a toddler you can trust to walk safely alongside you. There are meandering paths through brambles with some open spaces but some of the path runs right next to the water. The view of Cork Harbour is spectacular. It is an unbelievable place for spotting rabbits - they are everywhere but watch out for the holes in the ground as some of them are quite large. A toddler running around excitedly could easily let their foot slip through. They wouldn't fall in or anything but I'd be worried about breaking or spraining an ankle. It is also a wonderful place for blackberry picking and if you are carrying your toddler on your back, you can do the picking and hand them berries over your shoulder while you walk around. Pure bliss.

There is a playground in Ringaskiddy village.

4. Camden, Crosshaven

The area around the fort is a lovely area for a walk, blackberry picking and watching huge cruise liners coming into Cobh. The views are unbelievable. I'm not a swimmer but gazing at the sea on a calm day makes me dream of leaping from a diving board in the sky and plunging into the shimmering, cool aquamarine expanse. It's lovely to see random people gather just to enjoy the scene in front of them. If you walk up beyond the car park, there is a football pitch that, if empty, is a great place to let your little one have a run around. There are great views from here also. And of course you can visit the fort but it currently only opens during the summer weekends.

There is a great playground in Crosshaven village.

5. Weaver's Point, Crosshaven

When you approach the roundabout in Crosshaven, coming from Carrigaline, take the third exit which leads you up past the graveyard. This road will take you to Weaver's Point, a road of amazing houses with extraordinary views. There is a viewing point where you can park and from here there are a few little paths that will take you down to a walk that runs along the side of a grassy cliff (I use the term "cliff" loosely - although it is steep in a few places). This is a perfect walk for sling wearers. The views make you feel like you are holidaying on an exotic island (I suppose Ireland is an exotic island for a lot of people) and you can eventually descend onto a little beach. At places the path opens out into big grassy flats that allow you to really immerse yourself in your surroundings and give older, responsible children a place to run around.

6. Carrigaline-Crosshaven Railway Walk

This is a mostly off-road linear walk and cycle path that runs along the water. It's 5km in length and is an extremely easy and pleasant walk. The car park nearest to Carrigaline town is often serviced by Lulus, a bright pink van serving drinks and treats with plenty seating. The coffee is amazing and the cake slices are moist and generous. Along the walk, at this time of year, you'll find blackberries, sloes, elderberries and hawthorn berries. The walk is dotted with benches for you to sit back and enjoy your surroundings. If you have a bicycle with a child carrier, this is a great safe cycle for you. At the end of the walk, on the Crosshaven side, is Hasset's restaurant which serves great food in a beautiful building.

7. Carrigaline Library Not outdoors I know, but I had to mention it.

The library is located near Dunnes Stores and is a wonderful relaxed place to spend an hour. They have a nicely sized children's section with plenty of seating and a great selection of books. It may stir a bit of nostalgia in you when you see old favourites such as Stone Soup and The Goose Girl. They do story time on a Friday at 3pm and a children's book club on the first Wednesday of every month at 3.30pm. From there you can take a walk up to...

8. Carrigaline Park and Playground

The large duck pond is a banker when it comes to amusing toddlers. Nothing funnier than being circled by a volery of ducks, seagulls and crows as you share a snack on the bench. If you're into rat spotting, which always excites me, the banks of the pond are a good place to see some rodents scurrying around. Beyond the ducks and rats, you can walk along the Owenabue river, preferably not at low tide so you're not "looking at shit" as my other half would say. Down here you can pick blackberries at this time of year and walk back on the other side of the pond. The park is dotted with public gym equipment for adults and has a large playground divided in to two - for older and younger children. Of course my escapee gives about five minutes exploring the play things until he makes a run for the exit but in general it's a pretty good playground.

Hopefully I've given you a few places to explore. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hydrangeas As Cut Flowers

I am only beginning to take an active interest in flowers and have started slowly adding plants to my garden. The choice in my local garden centre is over-whelming, and can be expensive, so I am taking my time to build up my collection, thinking about plants for specific purposes.

One desire of mine is to grow flowers for cutting. Having received a beautiful Hydrangea macrophylla Soft Pink Salsa for my birthday, I started experimenting with cutting the tumbling blooms for my pretty beer glass-turned vase (pictured above).

A quick search online brought me to an excellent site on all things hydrangea where I read about the hot water method of prolonging the life of the cut flowers. It works incredibly well and I've gotten almost a week out of some blossoms. Here's what I do:

1. Fill your vase with water.

2. Make yourself a cup of tea and save a cup of boiling water. Leave both in the kitchen.

3. Bring a scissors and a jar of cold water to the garden.

4. Pick a good looking bloom and cut at an angle, leaving enough stem to suit your vase.

5. Put the bloom straight into the cup of cold water and return to the kitchen.

6. Pick any leaves off and sit the bloom into the cup of just boiled water for 30 seconds. The stem will turn brown and this is good. I have found that if I don't leave the bloom in the hot water long enough, the stem won't turn brown and the flower will be wilted the next day. The reason for the hot water is that is removes the thick sap from the stem that prevents the bloom from taking up water. It's a plant that likes a lot of water and the clue is in the name - hydra.

7. Remove from the hot water, pop into your vase and position for all to see.

8. Enjoy your cup of tea while looking at your flower arrangement. I've added a few stalks of lavender to mine.

Monday, September 14, 2015

There's No Such Thing As Bad Weather..

...only bad clothing. This is one of my favourite sayings because being realistic about the climate that you live in is a big step towards a more enjoyable life. Apart from extreme conditions, which thankfully are not a major worry in Ireland, getting out and about should not be hindered by the weather. 

I am very passionate about rain gear. Every one of us, adults and children, should own a proper rain suit and wellingtons. In fact we should all own two sets of each so that one can be kept at a second location (vehicle/work/school). We live in a damp climate - accept it, prepare for it and enjoy it. Keep a bag in the car with a mix of clothes for everyone - warm jacket, rain gear, hats and sun cream! September is exactly the kind of month where you can get any type of weather. We headed to Fota early one morning last week and I couldn't believe how cold it was. Thankfully there were a few jumpers in the car since last winter (never empty the car of clothes no matter now messy it gets!!!) so we were able to wrap up and walk on.

Always by the back door:

Biking in the rain:

Fishing in the rain (that's a painted ray of the beach in Borth, Wales - he went back alive):

Walking in the rain (as you can see I never leave home without my trusty yellow (orange?) rain coat):

Playground in the rain:

Gardening in the rain:

So suit up, boot up and get out!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Growing Broccoli as a Perennial Vegetable

This is purple sprouting broccoli (PSB), planted April last year, which finished in March of this year. I left it in the ground in the hope of saving my seed but when I noticed green growth re-appearing, I decided to try to get a second year's crop from the plant. I didn't give the broccoli any protection over winter, it being a hardy plant, so there really was no work involved in prolonging its life. Aphids are a possible problem, and some of my other brassicas fell victim to them, but this plant escaped which is why it is looking so healthy. At the moment, I am being vigilant about checking for eggs lain by the cabbage white butterfly, which will hatch into hungry caterpillars. These bright yellow eggs are easily spotted on the underside of the leaves, and easily squished! I have an in-depth post about identifying and preventing caterpillar attacks here.

After reading that brassicas are notorious for cross pollinating, and having had brussels sprouts and cauliflowers in the same area, I decided not to save the seed but feel even more excited about the prospect of getting more broccoli. If you have been following my posts, you'll have noticed that PSB was the highlight of my last veg crop and we were eating it for the first few months of the year. Each plant will give you three cuts and it is excellent for freezing. 

I have four new plants that I sowed in April of this year, and if they are all successful, I will have a nice bounty of broccoli again early next year.

Similarly, one of my last year's brussels sprouts plant has healthy re-growth so I am leaving that in the ground also in the hope of winning the double.

I'll update this post in a few months with some new photographs. Hopefully this is the first step in establishing some perennial vegetables in my garden.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Herb Bouquet

I got a wonderful surprise today of this gorgeous scented herb bouquet that my auntie created using lavender, sage, rosemary and thyme from her garden. The smell would knock you to heaven and back. It is a perfect example of how interesting foliage and beautiful smell leaves no necessity for masses of colour. Another bonus is that the herbs retain their smell, form and culinary use as they dry out. I didn't have a vase so I upcycled a plastic water bottle using some ribbon and I think it looks fitting.

Best enjoyed up close.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

My Garden: 8th August 2015

I am currently on two week's holidays from work so I am trying to do a few jobs in the garden as well as just enjoying being out there doing nothing. Although we've had some nice days, this July has been quite wet and cold at times. It shows in the tomato plants which are all fruiting but not a speck of ripening. From a distance I thought one tomato was starting to blush red but on closer inspection it turned out to be a bit of scab. Sigh.  

My jalapeno plant is flowering its delicate white blooms and you can see a tiny pepper just beginning to form. Last year I got a few small peppers so hopefully I'll do better this year:

My courgette plant was fruiting nicely then seemed to be having some trouble. The flowers were falling off while still tiny, resulting in no fruits, and some leaves were dying off. I cut off the brown leaves and gave it some tomato feed and it seems to have come back to life. I wonder if the excessive wet weather is to blame. The plant needs a lot of water but I think the leaves might prefer to stay dry:

I am growing Indigo Rose tomatoes for the first time this year. The rich black colour deceives you into thinking that the tomato is ripe but it will have to change to a reddish/purple colour before it is ready to eat:

My lavender is flowering but I only get specks of purple with this little white feathery cap on top. I don't know if it is simply because of the variety or if something is lacking. It smells gorgeous but I'd love to get full purple blooms. Please leave a comment if you have any advice for me.

*Edit* I found the original pot that the lavender came in (now housing an Aloe Vera on my kitchen window) and can see that the variety is 'White Spirit' so it is supposed to look like that. I've added in two little plants that I was given by my aunt and they are the standard purple variety, so I should have a nice mix in time.

I planted beetroot in a container near the back door to use for salad leaves and they are doing nicely with a few bonus slug holes. I used soil from the garden, which isn't recommended for container planting, so I'm glad they are pulling along:

I should really get my purple sprouting broccoli in the ground. I have a few plants but this is the healthiest:

Brussels sprouts need to be moved on also:

I have some borlotti beans in a window box. They are planted later than most bean varieties so hopefully I'll get some lovely pink and white beans later in the year. I love the colour of the leaves:

And lastly, I have moved lupins that I grew from seed into individual pots. I won't get flowers until next year but the foliage is decorative enough for me at the moment:

That's it for today. Happy gardening.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Happy World Breastfeeding Week

Our first brelfie!

I've always had great experiences nursing in public and conversing about it, even now that my son is almost two years old, but it is still glaringly obvious how low the numbers of Irish breast fed babies are, particularly beyond the first few weeks of age. Instead of placing the blame on the mother, it is important to acknowledge where the problem begins, and that is in the lack of education and awareness about the realities of breastfeeding. 

When I was pregnant, a question I was often asked was if I was going to breastfeed. When I said yes, almost everybody told me a negative story, whether it was about their own experience or of someone they knew. That breastfeeding was extremely painful was the most common complaint but the other common denominator was that none of the mothers were prepared before the birth, but had "hoped" to breastfeed. Of course, when your baby is unsettled and seems to be at the breast constantly, if you don't know that this is normal infant behaviour, who could blame a mother for availing of the free bottles of formula that are handed around without question in the maternity ward? After all, she has probably been misinformed that she does not have enough milk.

I think we can all agree that feeding the baby is probably top priority when it comes to the list of jobs that comes with caring for a newborn. I suggest that on your first maternity visit to the doctors, a straightforward fact sheet about breastfeeding should be given to every mother-to-be. This fact sheet should highlight the mechanics of breastfeeding (supply and demand, correct positioning and latching), realities of breastfeeding (cluster feeding, frequent feeds, length of feeds) and the benefits of breastfeeding (reduced infection/allergies/obesity/SIDS in infants, reduced breast and overian cancer/post natal depression in mothers and it also helps your uterus return to normal size more quickly). 

Currently most references made to breastfeeding in the media are either to preface a baby formula advert or some hysterical story about a mother who nurses an older child. It's time to start treating breastfeeding as a basic, essential part of a child's life rather than as a lifestyle choice.