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Monday, November 07, 2016

Leaving home for the first time - an Erasmus diary

Leaving home is a hard thing to do, but for most University students, it is part of their course through the Erasmus programme and is unavoidable. 
Some take it on as close to home as possible and go to the UK, coming home most weekends, while others use the opportunity to go somewhere unlikely and experience a completely different culture. 
I was one of the latter and I went to Norway on Erasmus, while in the University of Limerick.

Starting this month, the Quinn's Quandries blog will play host to an Erasmus diary by Cork girl Áine Curtin. This is the first entry just before she got ready to leave. 
I have enjoyed reading her work and following her on her travels, so I hope you will too.

Áine Curtin who will be writing an Erasmus diary for Quinn's Quandries.
Leaving home for the first time
I suppose the first thing I need to do is introduce myself, my name is Áine Curtin and I am going to Ghent, Belgium on Erasmus until Christmas as part of my New Media and English course in the University of Limerick.
I am a third year student and this is by far the biggest challenge I have faced in the quest to earn my degree.
I have enjoyed a summer at home in Rockchapel, North Cork, doing next to nothing and taking things easy, watching an obscene amount of TV and YouTube.
Thankfully, I am not taking on this Belgian terrain all on my lonesome, I am being joined by three of my closest friends from college, Eilís, Maoilíosa and Roisin, so I’m hoping that the dreaded homesickness I’ve heard so much about will not strike too often.
Despite the recent terror scares in Belgium, a topic I spoke about on air on Live95FM, while doing my work experience, I am not reluctant to travel to that part of Europe.
While the attacks were unthinkable and deplorable in every way, I feel that you cannot let terror rule your world and I will not let it stop me from pursuing a dream to study abroad, see what the world has to offer and living my life to the full.

The lead up to leaving my cosy bedroom and the wonders of familiarity
I have been going crazy with worry the last few days trying to organise everything, planning what I will and won’t bring with me.
I have a serious problem with limiting myself with luggage (I have been known to bring seven bags to the Gaeltacht), so I plan on utilising whatever packing hacks I can find online and no doubt, emergency supplies will be brought over with family visitors or maybe even sent with a care package of home comforts (hint hint).
We have a lot of communication going on between the group members travelling and it can be a bit daunting, but the positives most certainly outweigh the negatives and it means that I am up-to-date with what has to be done and for when.
There is a crazy amount of paperwork to fill in and things to remember, for example, when going on Erasmus you still have to register with and pay fees to your own college.
I am a terrible person for leaving things to the last minute, I won’t be surprised if there is some emergency in the process of getting settled in my new home, so you can look forward to some stories of pure stupidity.
The one thing I am most worried about (aside from losing my passport) is the homesickness.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a serious home bird, I have spent the summer at home and have absolutely LOVED it!
I know it will be tough at times, but thankfully we live in a world of social media, where it takes minimal effort to keep in contact with home. Dad has already expressed his desire to learn how to use Skype! That learning process in itself could merit an entire entry in this blog, so we shall wait and see.
If I am honest, it has only hit me today that I am going to be in another country until Christmas, I am extremely excited for the weekend of travelling, which lies ahead. 
One of the reasons we chose Belgium was because of the opportunity to travel to the likes of France, Luxembourg, Germany and The Netherlands. We have plans to travel as much as our pockets and schedules allow. So more of that to follow!
Overall, I am equally excited and nervous about this, and hopefully I can keep you entertained with my many tales from Belgium.
Tot ziens!! (That means ‘see you later’ in Dutch)

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

'Pumpkin soup, the best you ever tasted' - a tasty recipe for those pumpkins

'Pumpkin Soup' by Helen Cooper. Picture credit: Caroline Hennessy. 
This time of year, shops and supermarkets have piles and piles of pumpkins lying around, on special offer and almost everyone tempted by a bargain is looking for a way to use these wonderfully orange and tempting looking pumpkins. 

In this article, food blogger Caroline Hennessy gives us a delicious recipe for those pumpkins and also a fun story about Halloween, the joy of eating pumpkins and how there is much more to a pumpkin than a carved scary face. 

'Pumpkin soup, the best you ever tasted'

"Deep in the woods there's an old white cabin
with pumpkins in the garden"
There's a suitably sinister start to Helen Cooper's superb picture book 'Pumpkin Soup' that's perfect for this time of year. Even though the five-year-old Small Girl and Little Missy, now seven, have graduated onto the more sophisticated scares of Roald Dahl's 'The BFG' and 'Matilda', there's something about Halloween that has them scrabbling through the bookshelves for this old favourite.

Frights aside, the worst thing you'll be left with after reading 'Pumpkin Soup' is a rumbling tummy from Cooper's evocative descriptions of the nightly supper enjoyed by the bag-piping cat, banjo-playing squirrel and small singing duck. They are friends who live together, make music together and cook pumpkin soup together. 

Each of them has a defined job:
"Made by the cat who slices up the pumpkin.
Made by the squirrel who stirs in the water.
Made by the duck who scoops up a pipkin of salt, and tips in just enough."

But one day, duck decides he wants to stir the soup. It all goes horribly wrong and he storms off in a huff, although not forgetting to bring along a pumpkin in a wheelbarrow. 

'Pumpkin Soup' might be about sharing and squabbling and making up, but it's the descriptions of the soup that get me every time.

"Pumpkin Soup.
The best you ever tasted."

How could anyone resist a siren call like that? When we see the first pumpkin of the year, it's dragged home to be – firstly – admired by the girls, then butchered, roasted and blended to make a cauldron of a gently spiced pumpkin soup.

Irish grown Halloween pumpkins. Picture credit: Caroline Hennessy. 
We've tried this with the monster orange pumpkins that are piled high in a threatening manner this time of year, but they are bred for looks and jack o'lanterns, rather than for flavour.

If you do manage to get your hands on a handsome grey crown pumpkin – the kind of one that looks fit to bring Cinderella to a ball – it works beautifully, but otherwise go for any pumpkin marked edible. Or even – whisper it – use butternut squash (just don't tell the kids).

But don't despair; not all of that king-sized pumpkin will go to waste.

When the children disembowel their jack o'lantern pumpkin, make sure they don't throw away the guts.

The joys of scooping out the pumpkin and getting it ready for carving. Photo credit: Caroline Hennessy. 
Get them to wash the fibrous strings off the seeds, toss with olive oil and chosen seasonings – salt is obligatory and smoked paprika works well, as does cinnamon – and roast in the oven (180C, 10 minutes) while the edible pumpkin cooks. They're the kind of pre-dinner snack that you'll have to stop yourself from eating and the smallies will be charmed that their pumpkin has more to it than just a pretty scary face.  

Pumpkin Soup
Roast pumpkin gives this soup a great depth of flavour. Feel free to use leftovers or to pop the pumpkin into a hot oven when other baking is going on. Vegan? Use vegetable stock instead of chicken and abandon the finishing yoghurt. Serves 4.

What you will need
1kg pumpkin, deseeded and cut into wedges.
2 tablespoons olive oil.
1 onion, roughly chopped.
3 cloves garlic, sliced.
1 teaspoon turmeric.
2 teaspoons ground cumin.
2 teaspoons ground coriander.
2 teaspoons garam masala.
1kg roasted pumpkin.
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock.
125g red split lentils.
1 x 400g tin coconut milk.
1 lime.
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper.
Natural yoghurt to serve.

·         Preheat the oven to 180C. Brush the pumpkin wedges with 1 tablespoon of oil and spread out on a  baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper then roast for 40 minutes or until tender.
·         Heat the other tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan and, over a medium heat, fry the onion and garlic for 8-10 minutes until soft and sweet. Add the spices to the pan and stir, cooking for a minute, until the mixture smells fragrant.
·         Scoop the roasted pumpkin from its skin and tip it into the saucepan, along with the chicken stock, red lentils and coconut milk. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the lentils are cooked.
·         Purée with a hand-held blender or use a potato masher for a more textured soup.

·         Season to taste with lime juice, salt and pepper. Serve with dollops of natural yoghurt and lots of hot buttered toast or naan breads for dipping.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Kerry runner aims for 2020 Paralympics

Pictured at the Charleville International Half-Marathon were (l-r): Liz Leonard, Ross Gallagher, Cllr Ian Doyle and organiser Michael Herlihy. Copyright Sandra Quinn 2016. 
For many people, losing the majority of their sight as a teenager would knock them for six, but Kerry man Ross Gallagher has risen above his visual impairment and is now training in the hopes of gaining a place on the Irish team for the 2020 Paralympics.

The 28-year-old from Castleisland was speaking before the Charleville International Half-Marathon, which is described as the flattest and fastest half-marathon in Ireland. This was Ross’ first half-marathon and in total, he has now covered a total distance of almost 18,000 miles with his running.

Living with a visual impairment is a struggle for many, but perhaps more trying for those who develop the issue in later in life, as they were accustomed to seeing the beauty of the world and suddenly that gift was stripped from them.

“I had good sight until I was 15. Then my eyesight went from 30% down to 5% in one day. It was very hard and tough at first. I did have dark days, but I got over it,” Ross said.

Since he started running twelve years ago, Ross has become somewhat of an inspiration for those in his hometown in Kerry, those among the running community and people scattered all over the world and is fondly known to some as the Kerry superstar.

Liz Leonard and Ross Gallagher captured in action in Charleville by Kevin O'Connor. Picture Credit: Kevin O'Connor. 
Ross is a member of Gneeveguilla Athletics Club and Vision Sports Ireland and said that he wouldn’t be where he is now without the unyielding support from his family, friends and fellow runners.

He uses Facebook every day and said that he has met great people through it, but it also helps him to find guide runners and people to give him a drive to races, as he travels across the country to do the thing he loves most.

“I don’t let it stop me. You can’t, you have to get on with life and live life to the full,” Ross said.

Asked what running means to him, Ross summed it up in three powerful words; “Running, Passion, Life.”

As a pre-cursor to the Paralympics, Ross is aiming to complete his first marathon in two years, to tie in with his 30th birthday.

Ross trains every second day or two or three times a week and he depends on different guide runners to help him through the course and he is always striving for a Personal Best (PB).

He completed the Charleville race with Liz Leonard, who he has known for nearly a year and they had done a number of races together at that point. He also had the added advantage that with Liz working for An Post in Kilmallock and being from Bruff, she knew the course very well.

Liz and Ross celebrating at the finish line in Charleville. Picture Credit: Robert Green. 
Speaking about how you have to be on high alert while doing assisted running, Liz explained what is involved.

“This is my first year doing the running with Ross and it’s a learning curve for me. You have to be on the ball. You have to realise that you are his eyes 100% and you can’t take your eyes off him,” she said.

Liz started out cycling a few years ago and then started running. She is clearly a natural and was born to run, as she has completed 13 marathons and finished her first ultra marathon earlier this year.

“There are things you take for granted, like you could be coming up to something and see an overhanging tree and I’d have to tell him about that and also factor in that he’s on the inside and is taller than me. I’ve got to be careful and watch for a lot of things,” she said.

She added that she will count down the paces when they are coming up to different parts of the road, but she said that you have to be particularly vigilant when it comes to things like loose stones or something jutting out, as these could really damage Ross, if he isn’t expecting them.

While she said that it is great to run with Ross, Liz added that it has made her aware of different things, such as the problems of people parking on footpaths, as this completely throws Ross off and is equally dangerous for people in wheelchairs or people pushing prams, as they have to move out onto the main road.

“I love running and the people you meet. Everyone is helping everybody out on the route. This is like your second family without the complications. Ross is a great source of inspiration for people,” Liz concluded.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Taste the delights The Brush and Spoon has to offer

Gallery Crafts and The Brush and Spoon in Kilworth, Co Cork. Copyright Sandra Quinn, Quinn's Quandries, 2016. 
VERDICT; I would give The Brush and Spoon in Kilworth five stars (read to the end for an explanation of the star ratings). 

I first met Fiona Turley when I visited her exquisite store, Gallery Crafts in Kilworth in North Cork, not long after we had moved to Mitchelstown.

I had just started working with The Avondhu Press and was still getting my bearings and familiarising myself with the area, local people and business people and Fiona turned out to be someone who I would often return to, not only for the perfect gift and now a sumptuous meal, but also for advice and guidance.

Gallery Crafts was heaven for me, filled with quirky items, bespoke gifts and the range varied from items for under ten euro to pieces, which would enhance and add to any home.

From that first day, I, like many others who travel from far and wide for the shop, was hooked and I was genuinely thrilled when I heard that she was expanding and opening up a cafe.

I know some of you might be thinking, a shop and cafe...could one person make both things work and perhaps they should just stick to what they know.

You know, if it ain't broke, why fix it?
The interior of The Brush and Spoon in Kilworth, picture courtesy of The Brush and Spoon Facebook page. 
This couldn't be further from the truth in this situation. Fiona is by her very nature as an admirable business woman and artist, a perfectionist (sorry Fiona) and she would never put a display out if it wasn't perfect and that has come through to The Brush and Spoon. No dish goes out unless it's perfect, everything is checked over and Fiona herself is often on hand to speak to customers, check everyone has what they need and she works tirelessly with the chef and her team in
The Brush and Spoon to ensure that they are up to date and changing and evolving in line with customer tastes and trends.

One thing I love about it, aside from how handy it is, just off the motorway between Mitchelstown and Fermoy (perfect to break up a long motorway journey) is that you won't hear a microwave pinging from the kitchen. Every single thing is home made and everything is locally sourced in so far as is possible and sustainable.
Enjoy a lovely cup of tea or coffee in The Brush and Spoon, picture courtesy of The Brush and Spoon Facebook page. 
Yes, the food might take a little bit longer to come to your table, but while you wait, enjoy the view, take a gander around the shop (if you are anything like me, you will struggle not to buy a few things), sip on your tea or delicious barista coffee or simply appreciate the artwork on the wall and the cool jazzy tones playing in the background.

I for one, would much rather wait a few minutes longer for something that is fresh and made from scratch, instead of having something served for the same price, which isn't fresh and has just been warmed up in the microwave or on a hot plate.
One of the many pretty features outside Fiona Turley's business in Kilworth, Co Cork. Copyright Sandra Quinn, Quinn's Quandries 2016. 
The day I visited, it was with my boyfriend for a slightly special occasion, so we went all out and got teas, coffees, lunch and dessert.

We got amazing vegetable crisps to share (these were so tasty that I bought a few bags to take home and they were a great alternative to a salty or unhealthy snack while watching a film) and I had a tartlet with fresh salad, while my boyfriend had a pie.

Both were amazing and we did that very daggy thing of passing forks of food across the table so that we could taste each others. It is safe to say that we both had food envy, but also were not willing to hand over our own dish. Hilariously, I got a bit distracted while one forkful was being passed and accidentally plopped it into my glass of water (there's a conundrum solved by the kitchen staff who must have been curious about the soggy lump of food in my glass after we left).

To go with the meal, my boyfriend had water and as it was a little chilly, I opted for a tasty and refreshing apple and mint tea (served in an adorable teapot and again I bought a packet to take home).

Even though we were stuffed, it was a special lunch, so we went all out and got dessert.

I got a cheesecake, which was sublime, and my boyfriend opted for his staple favourite - apple crumble. Both were really tasty, fresh and had that wonderful taste of just coming out of the oven or being made fresh that day.

Overall, we really liked it and almost didn't want to leave. We were going away for a romantic weekend and it was the perfect start to our few days of pampering.

The staff were amazing, Fiona herself came over a few times (not just to us, as she knew I would be penning this very review), but to every table, to make sure everything was alright and Marco was so polite and lovely to everyone.

I really enjoyed it and have been many times since for tea in the morning with a fresh scone or bite to eat, a light lunch, business meeting or a treat with a friend.

The area around Mitchelstown is already rich with delightful culinary offerings and has a lot to boast in terms of cafes, so it would be great to think that people could start to think of having a foodie tour in the area, with places like The Brush and Spoon in Kilworth, O'Callaghans Delicatessen, the newly opened Blueberries in Mitchelstown and Thatch and Thyme in Kildorrery.

They are all amazing and even if you are not local to you, they make coming down this direction worthwhile for any time of the year or any occasion. Your wallet and palette won't be sorry.

Quinn's Quandries star rating; 

***** So tasty, I didn't want to leave.
**** I loved it and could see me as a regular feature.
*** I liked it, but there are a few things I would change.
** It was OK, but nothing to write home about.
* Did not like it and would actively avoid returning.

Read all about Gallery Crafts and The Brush and Spoon here;

* Please note that the for the purpose of this review, one lunch was complimentary, but I have aimed to give an honest and helpful review.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Rare majestic bird spotted in Kildorrery, Cork

Courtesy of Gerard Casey. 
Seeing a cool looking bird is unusual, but not all that noteworthy for many and most of us will look up and think 'wow, that bird looks amazing' and then go about our day. 

Luckily, Fr Gerard Casey is not one such individual and when an unusual bird was spotted, which could have been a common buzzard or a rare eagle, he was part of a group who acted immediately, much to the delight of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. 

The unusual bird was spotted in Meadestown, Kildorrery on August 14, 2016 and Dr Allen Mee the Project Manager for Eagles Trust Ireland provided the identification. 

The very pretty and striking look bird was in fact a white-tailed sea eagle - a 15-week-old chick no less and was one of only six born in the country this year. 

On his social media account, Fr Casey reported that the bird was 'disorganised and disorientated'. 

Locals were quick off the mark and immediately set up a group to protect the bird and keep it local, while attempts were made to rescue it. 

This was not, however, merely a group of local people pitching in to help a distressed bird, Dr Torceir Nygard, the world expert on the white-tailed eagle travelled from Norway to assist in the operation.  

Dr Nygard and Dr Mee kept a daily watch on the bird while attempting to re-capture him and a local feeding routine was established. Talk about a stellar local operation with volunteers pulling out all of the stops to treat the bird as professionally as possible. 

The efforts to bring in the best from the field didn't stop there - they sought advice from Canada.

"A truly international event was taking place secretly in Kildorrery, to protect the presence of the unique visitor," Fr Casey said.

Courtesy of Gerard Casey. 

Fr Casey was afforded the privilege of being asked to photograph the bird and he did this by gently driving a farmyard jeep and using a Nikon Coolpix P520 bridge camera (for the tech heads, it had a 42X wide optical 4.3-180mm fixed lens) and the stunning photos can be seen throughout this blog post.

The majestic bird was captured by Dr Mee and Dr Nygard, was tagged, fitted with a tracker and returned on the same day to Portumna.

Since then, the tracking device has tracked its flight South past Nenagh to Silvermines, back up to Lough Derg near Mountshannon, back to Portumna and then along the Shannon River, North of Banagher in Co Offaly.

Fr Casey thanked all who took part in what he described as a "wonderful saga", including Dr Allen Mee, John Reidy, Dick Lillis, Sean Reidy, David Lee and Dr Torcier Nygard.

On an aside, but related tangent, years ago a female hen harrier made its way into my parent's garden in Rockchapel, North Cork. 

Unlike others who may have just glanced at it and moved on, Da was quite taken with it and immediately fetched his binoculars and got out the bird book (yes, we had a bird book on the shelf to call upon in these very instances). 

The hen harrier hung about in our garden for about a day and a half and was not perturbed by the presence of my parents. She even perched on the top of the lawnmower while my Mam was collecting the grass, after cutting it. 

Da took a number of photographs of the bird and initially, they thought it was a kestrel, but the trusty bird book proved it to be a female hen harrier and with its full wing span, it looked pretty immense and spectacular. 

Speaking to my Mam about the bird's visit, she said that at first they simply thought they were blessed to have this bird in the garden. 

When the cat Sooty, who had just had kittens, was on high alert and perched herself at the vantage point on top of the shed roof to watch the bird, Ma and Da realised that the bird, which was a predator, was probably biding its time until it could get to the four-week-old kittens who were all tucked away in a box by the back door. 

Da was so taken with the bird that he created a stunning picture of the bird using the good old fashioned paint programme on the PC, so it was painstakingly created, literally pixel by pixel. I must check if we still have it at home. 

Courtesy of Gerard Casey. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Go Gold for Childhood Cancer - Four Years Ago Ireland's Tiny Dancer came into her own

Since the start of September, the Go Gold for Childhood Cancer campaign has been going strong and as my own family has unfortunately, like so many others, experienced childhood cancer, I used this blog to raise awareness about the campaign throughout the course of the month.

As today is the final day of September, this is the final post about childhood cancer for the 2016 campaign and I do hope that the stories have stayed with people, made them think about the reality of childhood cancer and raised more awareness about the Go Gold campaign.

Less than half an hour ago, my cousin Paul Hayes (Lily-Mae's uncle) posted a memory on his Facebook page saying that today marks the four-year anniversary since Tiny Dancer A Song for Lily-Mae was recorded.

Paul explained that the song went to Number 1and is second only to Live Aid as the biggest charity single ever recorded in Ireland.

"What a journey it has been since then, but all that really matters now is that Lily-Mae is just a normal little girl, healthy and happy.

"We have 58,000 followers on this page and it is largely down to you that we are where we are today. You bought the single, you raised awareness of our fight, you sent us messages of hope in the dark times.

"So, from all of us at The Sunni Mae Trust, thank you," Paul's heartfelt words were accompanied by a video filled with love, joy and hidden pain and suffering, as Lily-Mae and her Dad Leighton sang a little duet of Tiny Dancer while Lily-Mae was really sick and was enduring stem cell treatment.

Even for those of us who have been lucky enough to have their lives untouched and unscathed by the scourge that is childhood cancer, please spare a thought for the families who have just been hit with devastating news, the children who are experiencing unimaginable pain and the adults of the future whose lives will be forever altered by the illness they endured as children.

It is not fair that such tiny, innocent and adorable people have to go through such horrible things at such a young age.

The statistics from the first Go Gold blog post were staggering and to think that so many children in Ireland are struck down by a cancer diagnosis in Ireland everyday, is really horrible, but what is even worse is that places like Crumlin Children's Hospital, Temple Street Hospital and the Bumbleance, have to fundraise in order to get the money to keep their services running.

If you can donate to any of the above, please do, or if you like organising events or running fundraisers, perhaps you will think of nominating one of the above as a beneficiary.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

When is your Monday?

Created using a meme generator. Copyright Sandra Quinn, Quinn's Quandries 2016. 

Earlier this week, one of my sisters was chatting to me and she said that today (Wednesday, as it was), was her Monday and it got me thinking that everyone has their own Monday in some way.

Now, she starts the working week due to the employee schedule, on a Wednesday, so she meant that her week doesn't start until then.

For me, I have spent most of my print journalism career so far working in weekly newspapers, so my Monday has always been the day we go to press (or get printed, for those outside the media circle).

I guess the point of the previous three paragraphs, is that you can choose your Monday. Monday does not have to be the first day of the week - it is just the day in which you get the most done, the day you feel like everything starts from a clean slate and you can approach all tasks with a fresh outlook and a rejuvenated feeling that you just don't get at the end of the week.

I see my Monday as when I get the most done, when I'm in a good mood and getting the jobs done does not seem like a wearisome chore that I just cannot face.

I'm not really sure if there was a wider aim with this post other than to make people aware that the standardised Monday on the calendar does not have to be your Monday, let that day be whenever you are at your most fulfilled, productive and happy.

On another note and to put a bit of authority behind this post, I spoke to a friend who reads Angel cards and she told me that the Monday for each person could be linked to their star sign, so perhaps it would be worth looking that up to see if your real Monday aligns with your star sign Monday or not.

Bit of a short and sweet post today and as always, if you enjoyed it, please share it and let others enjoy it too.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Why is bending down to your child's level to be shunned?

The perfect picture, as three generations of the one family all get stuck into figuring out a new toy. Copyright Sandra Quinn, Quinn's Quandries 2016. 

Yesterday morning, I read an article about Kate Middleton being potentially shunned by the Queen for bending down to her son George during a Royal tour in Canada.

A similar 'incident' if you can call it that, happened to Prince William when he bent down to George at another engagement and the media interpreted the Queen, or so they think, telling him to stand up immediately.

To give you the backstory, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had just arrived in Canada with their two adorable children George and Charlotte. They were greeted by the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie.

At one point, Kate bends down to speak to George, as she has Charlotte resting happily on her hip. I shall refer to her as Kate, as I think using the term, 'The Duchess' is a bit highfalutin - I had to Google how to spell this, rest assured that there are no airs, graces or notions of grandeur here.

What we saw was a picture of a real family, despite the Royal titles, if you ask me, and yet the picture is plastered all over the papers and Kate is being chastised for doing something, which the Queen 'may' not approve of.

Ridiculous if you ask me.

To me, children feel loved, respected and like equals if adults get down to their level (literally), sit on the floor to play with them and muck in, so to speak.

My parents used to always say that if an adult came into a room filled with children and didn't get down on their knees and start playing, that they were not to be trusted and it is a measure of trust that I have always used.

I come from a big family - I have five sisters and one brother, and growing up, we all had our own little groups of friends, so our house was a veritable hive of child activity, for a few decades to say the least.

I was also an aunt from a young age and did my fair share of babysitting as a young 'un, so I  am used to kids and they seem to like me (though not as much as they like my boyfriend - even with my own two young nephews, my boyfriend is the solid favourite).

If I walk into a room and there are children playing on the floor, you are far more likely to find anyone from my family kneeling down there with them and getting stuck into the wonderful imaginary game, rather than standing up chatting to the potentially 'boring' adults and drinking tea.

So, I ask you, are you the type to kneel down and start playing or are you the adult who tells the child to be quiet and play in the corner, while the 'grown ups' chat?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Go Gold for Childhood Cancer - parents will do anything for their children

Leighton and Judy with their darling children, Evan and Lily-Mae at the recording of Tiny Dancer, a Song for Lily Mae.

Judy - Lily-Mae's mother, is my mother's niece - the daughter of my late Uncle Tommy and when I found out her little angel was dreadfully ill, it broke my heart.

To be quite honest, our family is scattered generously across Ireland, the UK and a little further, so I hadn't even met Lily-Mae before she got sick, as they lived in Galway and at the time, I was living in Cork.

She may have been a tiny baby at a family funeral, but I did not know the little girl she had become.

I'm not going to pretend that we were all like peas in a pod, but for those of us who knew Lily-Mae and Evan and for those of us who met her after her horrible tale with wicked cancer began, her story and her plight touched all of her hearts and we wanted to do anything we could to help.

My sister's boyfriend organised comedy gigs in Kilkenny, others took part in marathons, runs and walks, others sold CD's for the charity single and we all did what we could to help out.

As part of her aggressive treatment, Lily-Mae, this tiny, fragile and adorable four-year-old, was travelling to Dublin regularly and it was my aunt's house where I first met her and really got to know her, both as my tiny cousin and the little darling the whole nation and most of the world were soon to fall in love with.

Lily-Mae's sweet nature, those eyes filled with wonderment and the possibility of tomorrow and her willingness to perform and take centre stage at every given opportunity - these were the traits, which endeared her to the nation.

With tubes coming out of her, tablets the size of marbles and more pain than any child should have to endure, Lily-Mae still wanted to perform, to have everyone smile at her and clap. To be the main attraction for the duration of her one-woman show (though sometimes Evan was given a token supporting role - as they have aged, their performances have become more like equal duets, as her little brother is coming into his own, both as a little boy and as a performer).

I remember it vividly, she sang a little song, which had terribly complicated lyrics, which I would struggle to remember and an accompanying dance. That night, she told her mother that her cousin could come in and say goodnight - even while feeling poorly, she was a formidable little lady, so I went in and was told in the sweetest and most hilarious way that I 'may kiss her good night on the cheek'.

From that day, she had a special place in my heart and as I read the updates from Judy on her own Facebook page and through the Tiny Dancer A Song for Lily-Mae page, I almost felt her pain, as I read about tests, infections, medication, treatment and how Lily-Mae would have to travel to America to have a true chance at fighting Neuroblastoma.

It was at this point that the strength, resilience and resourcefulness of Leighton and Judy shone through. With the help of Judy's family and particularly her brother Paul Hayes and their combined contacts in the world of show business, dancing, theatre, music, production and media, they soon had an army of people who wanted to do what they could to raise the funds to take Lily-Mae stateside.

Tiny Dancer A Song for Lily-Mae was recorded on September 30, 2012, just months after Lily-Mae's diagnosis, in The Black Box Theatre in Galway.  Countless people gathered together to add their voice to the song, which could help break down the barriers and raise awareness of childhood cancers like Neuroblastoma.

Despite how awful and harrowing each passing day must have been, Judy and Leighton were valiant in their efforts and in their fearless PR campaign. They went on television shows, they were in the news regularly, pictures of their family were scattered liberally across newspapers in Ireland and further afield and Judy's voice on the airwaves became a regular feature.

As a journalist in the print media, I know that it is no easy feat to talk on the radio and throughout my career, I have been on the radio many times (the first article on this blog about childhood cancer was followed by me speaking on Cork's 96fm with PJ Coogan), so I can only imagine how hard it is to open up your life to public scrutiny and let the media into your sitting room, all for the greater good of raising funds and awareness.

When a child is hurt or needs help, their parents will do anything they can to ease the pain or make the problem go away, but what Judy and Leighton did was amazing and went beyond all expectations. They put themselves out there and brought the plight of their little girl into every sitting room, office, school, creche and bus.

The stellar fundraising campaign raised 420,000 Euros. While Lily-Mae is now quite healthy, there is a 70% chance that she will relapse and if this happens, funds will be needed to bring the little girl to Europe or America and if she does not relapse, the money will go towards the Neuroblastoma Society.

Neuroblastoma is a rare an aggressive form of childhood cancer, which affects one in every 100,000 children in Ireland.

Many of you, my readers, will have seen Lily-Mae on television, on the news, in videos and have gotten to know her through social media, as we all went on the journey with her.

For those who don't know her, she is a little performer, she wants to be a ballerina when she grows up, she likes fairies, dinosaurs and the colour purple. One of the aims of the campaign for Lily-Mae was to raise awareness about Neuroblastoma, so that it would be a cancer that people wouldn't have to Google.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Peter Rabbit is not just a children's character

I, like many others, I am sure, now hark back to my favourite childhood characters in times of need.

Now, I'm not saying that I go to Peter Rabbit (my personal favourite) when there's an actual crisis or I'm trying to work my way out of a potentially life threatening situation, but the nuggets of wisdom do come in handy once in a while in adult life.

CS Lewis once said; "Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again," and that quote is quite apt here.

I'm not really sure why I was (and still am to be honest) so fond of little ole Peter Rabbit, but I suspect it was because there were so many siblings in Peter's family and Peter still managed to stand out.

I have one brother and five sisters, so was often vying for attention or trying (in vain I dare say) to hog the limelight and perhaps that is why Peter and I had a connection (he may not know about it, but it was there I assure you and it was rather a tangible connection at that). I think maybe on some level, I was hoping I could glean some tips or hints from Peter's behaviour.

Now, obviously I didn't go off stealing carrots from a neighbouring farmer's land, but my siblings will argue that I was quite bold and irritating as a young child (I know it's hard to imagine when you see the kind of adult I have become, or not), so maybe I did have a little bit of Peter in me.

Anyway, here are a few of my favourite quotes from Peter Rabbit and from the wise pen of Beatrix Potter (these are not only my favourite quotes, but the ones that I think can be applied to adult life as helpful, if a bit randomly sourced, kernels of wisdom);

  • "Peter was most dreadfully frightened; he rushed all over the garden, for he had forgotten the way back to the gate," - sometimes when you panic and stress out, you actually slow yourself down with your rushing and racing about. 
  • "Peter gave himself up for lost, and shed big tears; but his sobs were overheard by some friendlys sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement, and implored him to exert himself," sometimes it does take a friend's advice to see that more work needs to be done or that we need to work harder to get past something. 
  • "Twinkleberry and six other little squirrels each carried a fat minnow; but Nutkin, who had no manners, brought no present at all," never arrive empty handed. 
  • "In the time of swords and periwigs and full-skirted coats with flowered lappets - when gentlemen wore ruffles, and goldlaced waistcoats of paduasoy and taffeta - there lived a tailor in Gloucester," imagine living in those times and perhaps some day, people will say, in a time of laptops, tablets and smart phones when men wore skinny jeans and guyliner. 
  • "It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is 'soporific'. I have never felt sleepy after eating lettuces; but then I am not a rabbit," I love that a children's tale is so well written, that even as an adult, I may have to use a dictionary. This is true of anything, if you are a glutton, you will feel sleepy, sluggish and bloated. Everything in moderation I think. 
So, if you take anything away from this blog post, aside from all of the sage advice of course, maybe it will be to pick up that old favourite tale from your youth and see what the adult (and child within) thinks of the messages and morals it is trying to impart. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Smiling on the outside, broken on the inside

The knowing looks, hushed remarks and unspoken judgements - this is the reality of living with an invisible illness.

As many of my followers will know, I have arthritis and have had it since I was in college, so I'm used to the questions, queries and funny looks, because like many others with an invisible illness, it is very hard for someone on the outside looking in, to know that there is something 'wrong' with me.

Recently, I was out while my condition was flaring up and as often happens when I am stressed or going through something, I was in a good deal of pain.

To cope with this pain, I had been taking a number of tablets, which of course no one would know to look at me, but towards the end of the day, I decided I needed something more and I put on a pain patch.

As it was a hot day and I was wearing a dress, it was difficult to put the patch on somewhere inconspicuous, as it wouldn't stay put, so I opted for putting in on my wrist (it works better on smaller joints) and secured it with my watch.

Even though it just looks like a bandage, there were funny looks when I was in the supermarket, little whispered comments when I got into my car and questions from those who knew me, about what it was.

Now, while I don't mind and in fact, welcome questions about my disease, as I think that  knowledge is the answer to all ignorance and unfair judgement in most situations, I don't like it when people make assumptions or judge me because of one tiny thing.

I am also well aware that within the realm of invisible illnesses, there are people out there who have much more serious problems than I have and they are not just hiding a pain patch or a wrist support, but instead tubes, bandages, cathaters and much more.

One thing people often say to me is that I'm always smiling (firstly, this isn't true sadly, I get fierce cranky - particularly if I haven't eaten in a while or things aren't going the way they should), but just remember that if I'm out and about, smiling and going about my business, I'm having a good day.

When I'm having a bad arthritis day, you won't see me smiling, because you won't see me at all - I will be in bed, in agony, doing everything I can to simply go through the motions and get through the day.

My main point here with this blog post is not to make people feel bad or to point the finger at anyone, but to merely get people to stop and take a minute before they make a snap judgement, whisper a snide remark or shoot someone a dirty look.

You don't know what people are going through and as Bob Dylan's grandmother once advised him;  "Be kind, because everyone you'll ever meet is fighting a hard battle."

Sound advice if you ask me and as Bob Dylan's granny, I imagine she was a pretty cool lady to be honest. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Leanne Dixon has written a song for you...

Ballyporeen singer songwriter Leanne Dixon has just released her newest song, as a teaser for the EP to come.

'Song for You' was written by Leanne and contrasts to previous releases, which were written by her brother Stewart.

The young woman from South Tipperary has a 'Beautiful South' echo to her voice in this track and it is clear that the song comes from the heart and really tells a story, giving a snapshot into a scene from Leanne's own life.

With a slight country and western tinge to it, the song is catchy and will have you singing along.

I have been writing about the Dixon siblings since they first released their own music and they have been making waves on the Irish music scene ever since - Leanne's rendition of Skyfall by Adele is particularly haunting and stunning (request it the next time she takes to the stage in your vicinity).

Leanne released her debut EP in 2014 and Slide Away, Sail Away sold more than 150 copies, won seven awards and continues to garner acclaim.

'Song for You' will be released on September 23 and will be the first release from her new EP Brand New Day.

Time to sit back and await the EP release now...

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Go Gold for Childhood Cancer, because this shouldn't be something in our world

Top; Lily-Mae in full flight in the ballet studio earlier this year and bottom, a very sick Lily-Mae sleeping beside her brother Evan, as she tried to make her way through the horrible illness, which is Neuroblastoma (pictures courtesy of the Tiny Dancer, A Song for Lily-Mae Facebook page, with permission from Judith Sibley).

June 1, 2012 - this date may mean nothing to most, but to the Sibley, Morrison, Hayes and Quinn families in Ireland, it was the day that childhood cancer came crashing into our lives.

Childhood cancer, is, in and of itself, a term that should not exist, and it is one that should never be used glibly - it should always be accompanied by an ill feeling in the pit of your stomach, the knowledge that something, somewhere in the world has gone horribly wrong and that a parent somewhere is riddled with guilt, pain and anguish, which may never dissipate. 

On that awful day in June four years ago, we found out that adorable and care-free Lily-Mae had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma - a litany of furious Google searches ensued, but the results posed more questions than they answered and as a family, we suddenly realised that besides offering 'thoughts and prayers', there was very little that we could do to help Lily-Mae, her brother Evan and her parents Judy and Leighton. 

Nobody ever thinks their child will be sick, just as nobody ever thinks that their spouse or loved one will have to make a claim on their life assurance. 

Throughout the month of September, the Go Gold for Childhood Cancer campaign will be going strong and last year, if you recall, a number of landmark buildings from all over the world, lit up gold in support of the campaign. 

This year, those behind the campaign are calling on people to 'Go Gold for Childhood Cancer Awareness' and the campaign runs from September 1-30. Funding for childhood cancer research and treatment centres is lagging far behind where it should be and just this week, this writer got a delivery from Crumlin to sell a book of raffle tickets (a car is up for grabs) to support fundraising for the Nazareth Unit in Crumlin.

While almost everyone is raising money for something these days, the thirty tickets were not hard to sell and were sold in a matter of days - not because there was the potential to win a car, but because it was a way to help sick children who need better healthcare facilities. 

In this day and age, with things like iPads for kids, TV's in every room and the internet on every device, it is a crying shame to think that people need to fundraise to upgrade something like a children's unit in Crumlin hospital. 

Anyone in Ireland who has been unfortunate enough to have a sick child, has probably darkened the doors of Crumlin hospital and while the reports of the friendly staff and wonderful doctors, are glowing, the hospital itself has come in for some harsh criticisms. 

When you support fundraising for things like Crumlin Children's Hospital or the Go Gold campaign, you are not only giving money, you are giving children and their families a tiny beacon of hope and a light of the end of their very bleak tunnel. 

Throughout this month, I will be writing about childhood cancer to raise awareness about the Go Gold campaign and I will be telling my story about childhood cancer, how we coped with Lily-Mae's diagnosis, how we saw the lively and bubbly little girl turn into a mere shadow of herself and how there were bleak days and weeks, but also moments of sheer giddiness, utter ridiculousness and tiny little drops of happiness in an otherwise unthinkable time. 

A few horrifying facts and figures; 

  • Childhood cancer is the number one killer of children. 
  • One in every 330 children will develop cancer before they reach the age of 19. 
  • One out of every five children diagnosed with cancer, will die.
  • Cancer in children strikes regularly, randomly and without mercy. 
For more information, Like the Go Gold for Childhood Cancer Awareness Facebook page or follow them on Twitter. 

Monday, September 05, 2016

Support the Hillwalking Radio Group sponsored walk

The Hillwalking Radio Group are a small voluntary group of dedicated volunteers who provide emergency radio communication for various events around the Galtee Mountains and Glen of Aherlow in Southern Ireland. 

The group members give up their time voluntarily and are all dedicated to the cause of making people feel safer on our mountains and while out enjoying what Mother Nature has to offer. 

"The group is mainly funded from our own pockets and from donations from hill walkers," group member Denny O'Dwyer from Ballylanders explained to Quinn's Quandries. 

To boost their fundraising efforts and to ensure that they can continue to provide this service, the group are holding a sponsored walk in Sliabh Riadh on September 21. 

The walk coincides with the Autumn Equinox and those attending are asked to gather at the Church car park in Glenbrohane in South Limerick at 7pm on September 21. 

Registration takes place from 6.30pm and costs €5. Those who cannot attend, but still wish to support the group, can do so online by secure donation through 

On the day, there will be a selection of walks to suit all ages and abilities and the event is kindly facilitated by Glenbrohane Community Association (other clubs and groups will also be fundraising). 

There will be tea and much welcomed refreshments afterwards and all support would be greatly appreciated.