Ruby – our precious gem, disguised as a dog

April 2nd is Autism Awareness Day but we’re aware of Autism 365 days a year in our house.

Our home is a busy one by any standards. We have four boys within a five year age range, three dogs, two cats and four hens. Gerard and I both work full time, Gerard as a truck mechanic and me as a secondary school teacher. I commute 40 miles to work daily in Monaghan. Gerard drops the boys to school & works through lunch so he can collect the boys from school at 3 and drop them to our marvellous child minder, Caroline. In the midst of all this chaos, we have to have something to anchor us. We have a tight family bond and get great enjoyment from spending time together with our pets. I always had a dog when growing up in Dun Laoghaire. I have great memories of Pepi, Rex and Max from the 70’s and 80’s and within weeks of getting married in 1996, we had a puppy. We have had anything up to four dogs at a time since and loved them all but only a few leave an indelible mark on your heart. Monty, a lovable, loyal Border Collie that we had for 11 years was one and Ruby, our black Lab who can look right through to your soul is another.

Ruby ended up with us by chance. She was born into a litter bred by a friend of mine, Katherine, whose husband wanted to breed some hunting dogs and they just wanted good homes for the others. We went to pick one of the puppies in 2008 but we didn’t pick Ruby. We picked her brother, Rocket. Rocket was a great dog but he got suddenly ill one Friday evening early in 2011 and was dead by Sunday. He had developed an auto-immune disease and his organs failed. The boys were devastated as he was a dote. A short while later, Katherine let us know that one of the other dogs from the litter needed a new home. I decided it was meant to be (much to Gerard’s dismay at the thought of another dog – a pattern repeated over the years) and we picked Ruby up.

When she came to us first, she was a very timid creature and wouldn’t come down from the bank at the back of the house. She ran away from human contact and was very afraid. She hadn’t been a family pet so wasn’t used to children either. Thomas, our third son, is animal-mad and bit by bit, coaxed her down from the bank, slowly getting her to come near him at first and eventually working up to hugs. The hugs were here to stay. She has to be the most-hugged dog in Ireland.

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Thomas had huge issues settling into pre-school and a few things set off alarm bells for Gerard and myself. We had him assessed for Aspergers Syndrome in 2009 but it was inconclusive at that stage, in spite of our worries and experiences with him. We carried on for a few years but eventually things came to a head and we applied for assessment again in January 2013. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in June of that year. He has another assessment since that and been diagnosed with Autistic Syndrome Disorder, as the diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome no longer exists according to the diagnostic tests that are used as a worldwide standard in this area – the umbrella term of Autistic Spectrum Disorder covers everything, apparently.

Ruby has been an immense help in all of this. Thomas has problems with social interaction but is completely at ease with animals as they are so non-judgemental. He lies for hours with his arms around Ruby and she genuinely hugs him back. She is quite content to just stay in his company; she doesn’t expect anything of him except love and he gives that unconditionally. As Thomas’s world got more confusing to him and demanding of him, his anxieties escalated. This is a huge issue as it affects every facet of his life. When he became overwhelmed at home, and had meltdowns or shutdowns, Ruby was the only thing that made a difference to his internal thermostat. Ruby’s entry into the room where he was changed the status quo completely. She would nuzzle him and a smile would start on his face or she would stick her nose in towards him and start licking him which led to his giggles. Within seconds, the atmosphere changed completely. We go to Wicklow for the summer to spend time with my family and Ruby has to come for the seven or eight weeks too. She is one of the family and an extremely placid, docile dog. Last summer, we discovered that she had gone blind in one eye and she is now losing the sight in the other. Thomas was inconsolable at first, but then came around to the idea as it meant she had to be a full house dog and needed him more than ever.

Due to the amazing bond that Thomas had with Ruby, we felt that he might benefit from an Autism Assistance dog. This would mean that the dog could accompany him anywhere we went and would help calm and reassure him. Some of the charities that provide these dogs have had to close their waiting list due to demand and others have years of a waiting list. We felt that going the puppy training route with My Canine Companion would suit as Thomas could form a bond from the very beginning with a pup. We sent off our application form in the hope that we would have a pup by the summer of 2014. We were completely thrilled when we got a text in December 2013 telling us that there was a Golden Retriever Puppy ready for us. Our gorgeous pup, Potter, who began working his magic from the very beginning, came to us ten days before Christmas. We put a big cardboard box, covered in Christmas wrapping paper with a big red bow on top under the Christmas tree and told Thomas we had a surprise in the box for him. He was so amazed when he opened the box to see the bundle of fluff that was his new companion and confidante. It was love at first sight for both of them.

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Some family members, who knew of Thomas’s bond with Ruby, wondered how Thomas would cope with the idea of loving another dog as much. He took it all in his stride. Lots of mothers of one wonder how they will love their second child as much as their first but their heart always has room for more. Thomas stayed loyal all along. He calls Potter “the best Assistance Dog in the world” and Ruby “the best house dog in the world”. There are enough cuddles and kisses for both.

Potter goes to all of Thomas’s activities & all of his outings with him and is very well behaved. He just sits and wait until it’s time to move on. He’s there as reassurance and Thomas loves giving him cuddles every now and again. He’s been to swimming lessons, karate, clinic appointments, arts & crafts, dentist, cinema, Armagh Planetarium & lots of restaurants and shops. Before Potter came to live with us, Thomas hated going into shops and got very upset when he had to but now he manages a lot better. Potter even helped him pick his shoes for his Communion last weekend. Thomas has a lot of sensory issues with his feet so socks and shoes are a big deal. Usually, picking shoes was a nightmare for him but this time it went great.

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Potter and Ruby now share a symbiotic relationship of sorts. Potter has enough youthful exuberance to rejuvenate Ruby who enjoys their play more than I thought she ever would and Ruby has enough solid dependence and maturity to have a calming effect on Potter.

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At the end of every day, Potter and Ruby lie in front of the fire and Thomas lies beside or between them, hugging them and telling them about his day. He usually finds it hard to talk to people but he tells them all of his secrets and knows they’re safe.
Next year Potter has to go back to Cork for 12 weeks of intensive training and then he’ll be a fully qualified assistance dog. I know that Thomas and the rest of the family will miss him a lot but it will be worth it because he’ll come back so well trained and mature. Ruby will be on double cuddle duty then and will take it all in her stride.

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Hopefully, now you will understand why we were so devastated when she wandered off and was missing for three nights. Her bad eyesight led her to being disorientated and she couldn’t find her way back home. We had alerts all over Facebook and Twitter and had great help from everyone in getting the message out. Thankfully, someone just a mile or so away found her on the fourth day and put a photo on Facebook which led to some other people in the area identifying her as our Ruby and led to her coming home yesterday. She will never be let out alone again!!

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So our Ruby, a precious gem in a dog’s disguise, has led to so much joy, awareness and understanding. Her loyal and stoic bearing has taught us so much and brought so much love.

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Basic Weighted Blanket

I have been meaning to blog about making a weighted blanket for a while and I was about to write instructions for a friend on how to make one so I thought that perhaps a blog post would serve it better. This is now September and the blanket was made in April so some details may be a bit sketchy.

For those of you who don’t know what a weighted blanket is – I didn’t know too much until recently myself – it’s technically a quilt, pocket-stitched, that has weights in the form of beads etc, distributed throughout the blanket. Children, and adults, that have sensory issues (which often goes along with autism spectrum disorders) or sleep problems can benefit greatly from them. They don’t have to be restricted to night-time use. If a child is having a meltdown/shutdown, or simply is feeling overloaded from a sensory point of view, the blanket can be very calming.

I felt that one of my sons would respond well to one but the cost of most of them is prohibitive. I researched them and found that they could be easily made if you were any way good with a sewing machine. I can knit but sewing is not my forte by any stretch of the imagination. In spite of this, myself and Gerard, my husband, decided that we’d try our best and see how we got on. One of the Mums from a Facebook group I belong to had made one and explained how she made it so she inspired me to give it a go.

I bought a single duvet cover for €11 in Penneys. I got my son to pick out one he liked so that it would be a colour and theme that he would enjoy. We went with robot. I could have used the front and back of the duvet cover for the blanket but my son loves soft things so I bought the coordinating fleece blanket in Penneys at €6 to use for the underside of the blanket which left the blanket soft & gentle next to his skin. I bought some wadding in Hickeys (I can’t remember the cost but it wasn’t expensive.

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I ripped the seam of the duvet so that the front and back came away from each other. I also cut the seam off around the edge of the blanket as it would have made it too bulky to sew.I then laid the fleece blanket on to the front of the duvet and with some tailor’s chalk, I drew a line on the duvet so that the size of both were the same. I did the same with the wadding but folded it over on the double.

With the right sides of the fleece blanket and duvet cover facing each other, and the wadding aligned up with the edges, I sewed along the three outer sides to make a kind of pocket out of the fabrics. This left me with just one opening along the top edge of the fabrics. I then turned the fabrics “inside out” so that the right side of the fleece blanket and the duvet were visible and the wadding was on the double inside those fabrics.

I sewed five vertical lines (divided up evenly) down the cover of the duvet, making sure the four layers were sewn together. This gave me six channels in total. I then marked, using tailor’s chalk, five evenly-spaced horizontal lines so that I knew where to sew across when it came to that stage.

I had estimated that I needed about 3.6 kg of beads for the blanket so I reckoned that a 6 x 6 set of pockets (36 in total) would be handy for filling as I would need 100 g of beads in each pocket. I measured 100 g of beads on my scales and found a glass in the press that it fitted exactly into so that I could just use a glassful of beads for every pocket instead of having to weigh each amount individually.

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I poured a glassful of beads into each of the six channels and then shook the quilt so that those beads went to the bottom. I sewed across the first of the horizontal lines which sealed those beads in the bottom row of pockets. I repeated this process until all six rows, or 36 pockets were completed. I folded over the top of the quilt and sewed it tight.

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Things to look out for are – the wadding was difficult to keep in line with the fabric. It puckered up several times and we had to re-do it. Also, if the sewing machine needle hit a bead, the needle broke. We went through a fair few needles so make sure to have some spare ones just in case.

Ours is very amateurish looking but it serves its purpose well. All in all it cost us between €20 – €30; my son adores it and uses it every night so it was well worth the bit of effort. It helps calm him and makes him feel secure – just what we all need!

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Happy stitching.


It’s Beginning to feel a lot like Knitmas…. again

So the week started bad with a cold shower Monday morning due to the immersion timer being knocked off during a weekend power cut. Insomnia Monday night meant that the humour wasn’t great come Tuesday morning. That would have been different if I had known that my knitmas pressie was on its way🙂

I came back to my room before lunch and found this parcel waiting for me.

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The excitement. A lunchtime meeting and full afternoon schedule meant that I didn’t get opening the parcel properly and oozing over it until later that evening.

Upon opening, I found loads of wrapped goodies

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The card is beautiful and is handmade by my knitmas elf. Hmm, I wonder who on the knitmas list makes their own cards??🙂

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The knitted pressie is a fab beanie in a gorgeous turquoise colour (or should I say color?)

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Yummy goodies inside include

A sheep marshmallow lolly (who loves sheep memorabilia??)

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L’Occitane goodies of soap and hand cream

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A beautiful knitted facecloth

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The most scrumptious yarn in gorgeous lilac and grey shades. It’s “Shenanigans” label. I’ve never come across it before but it’s truly delicious.

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The next parcel I opened is THE CUTEST LEGO SET EVER – Santa, Rudolph and a sleigh full of presents. The boys will go mad for it but they’re not getting it. It’s MINE🙂

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Then I saw a really super-cute KnitPicks bag –

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I was delighted with it and all my pressies but as I picked it up I realised there were more goodies inside ….

A sock keyring with sock anatomy on one side and Kitchener stitch details on the back – what an excellent idea,

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a mini sock blocker with a pattern for a wee sock on it,

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a “Born to Knit” badge

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& the coolest keyring ever – a KnitPicks “Emergency Fix Keychain” with a double ended mini crochet hook on it – just amazing!!!

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I want to thank my lovely elf for such an epic haul. I love every single thing and am feeling very spoiled.

Thank you Sinead🙂


James is a poet too – who knew?

Being a mother to four young boys is great fun. It’s always noisy and hectic but they’re great pals, big old softies and no two hours are ever the same, never mind two days. Lots of my friends that have daughters told me on my last pregnancy that it would be great if that baby was a girl as I’d have a great friend for life. Friend for life? I have the four best cuddlers and chatters that I could ever have wished for and they worship me. It’s a great deal.

Their four personalities are so different – Patrick, the eldest at 9 (he’s a twin but eldest by two minutes), nearly tripped over himself, running to me with his poem & crepe paper flower on Friday evening but my patient son, James (the younger twin by 2 minutes but taller by a good four inches) delivered his on my breakfast tray this morning. He had also asked for a loan of €5 on Friday in the supermarket and purchased a big Toblerone so I suspected that was for me too – it was.

James’ Mothers Day Poem

My mum is a:

great cook
tight knitter
fast cleaner
hard worker
first teacher
amazing car driver
quick washer
really funny
brilliant
amazing
loving
super
My mum is great!

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Patrick and Thomas (age 6) are similar in some ways and Thomas gave me my card, complete with tea bag, Friday evening.

Rory (age 4) was well able to wait until this morning and tell me his secret “You’re the best mother in the whole wide world”, although he did tell me his secret last night too. He also gave me a beautiful A4 card with stuck-on flowers & painted vase.

Add to all this, a fabulous Tipperary Crystal basket-weave vase, breakfast in bed of heart-shaped pancakes, freshly squeezed orange juice and the fire lit for when I got up, complete with footstool & ownership of the remote control (a biggie) this has proved to be the best Mothers Day so far. As the boys have gotten older, they’ve made a bigger fuss each year. Can’t wait for next year!

Gerard has taken the boys up through the forestry beside us on a frogspawn-spotting hike. Fire lit, feet up, Pride & Prejudice on the TV, knitting out.

Happy Mothers Day everyone.

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Patrick’s Mothers Day Poem

Patrick couldn’t last until tomorrow to give me my poem. Apparently James has one too but he’s more patient🙂

Dear Mum
You are the love of my life
You’re a hard working teacher
You deserve a break
Well, today’s your day
You’re thoughtful
You love me, spoil me
Kind & nice
I wrote this poem for you

Thank you Patrick. I love you too. You’re making pancake batter in the kitchen at the moment for my breakfast tomorrow. Such a kind and caring wee man xx

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Spring Has Sprung, Cavan-Style

While on the internet last month, I noticed that Anke of Bear Essentials in Bawnboy, was preparing for a Cavan County Council Heritage Day on Saturday, February 25th, 2012. I should have been at the CESI conference in Port Laois that day but had to change my plans as something else cropped up unexpectedly. I contacted Anke and, luckily, she had places for the boys.

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We arrived at 2.00pm and there was already a great crew ahead of us. The boys were wrapped up in hats, coats and wellies and suitably excited.

The first thing they did was to pick stickers for the plant pots they were given on arrival. Lots of dinosuar stickers seemed to land on our side of the table, funnily enough.

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The group was split in two for separate tasks. We took part in some bird watching and the boys were thrilled to see that there were binoculars provided for the task. They stood silent, looking through the great big windows of the Silver Bear Centre, while counting the different varieties of birds on view.

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We then swapped with the other group and had a nature sounds quiz. Different bird & animal calls were played on a laptop and the children had to fill in their answers on a sheet.

Next was a nature trail. Each family was given a sheet with a few items to find on it ranging from a evergreen leaf to a winter bud. The little bags provided for their spoils was a great idea.

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When we returned to the centre (via a trip to the lovely playground in Bear Essentials), there was a short talk on bird calls and how the male birds liked to make lots of noise (gladly aided and abetted by all the boys present) while the female birds looked on preening their feathers. Then each child was given three gladioli bulbs to plant in their pots that were decorated earlier and set them to one side to bring home.

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This was followed by a very welcome and delicious afternoon tea. The children got juice, buns, chocolate and lollipops while the grown ups were very delighted with the scones, beautiful homemade jam and cream on offer, along with tea or coffee.

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Shortly after came the sticky part of the day which all the children loved. They put lard and bird seed mixture into big bowls and made fat balls for the birds to feed on. Each child chose either a coconut shell or pine cone and put their bird seed mixture into it to bring home for their own birds.

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When we got home, the coconut shells were put in the fridge to harden and one of my boys, Patrick, age 9, got up at the crack of dawn on Sunday and went out with his pyjamas and wellies on to hang his bird feeder up. A great success so.

Huge thanks to Anke of Bear Essentials, Heather Bothwell, Natural History Guide, and Anne Marie Ward, Heritage Officer, Cavan County Council for a fantastic fun-filled day.


Just an Owl Hat

It’s ages since I’ve written a blog post so I’m determined to make more of an effort now.

I’ve loads to catch up on so there’ll be a flurry of posts for a while.

I’ll start with James’ owl hat. It’s not very exciting but it was the first time I knit something without following a pattern.

James (age 9) was to play an owl in his school Christmas play and came home looking for an owl costume. Eek!! I had a look through Ravelry at owl hats and there were some fab crochet ones but I’m of the extremley-basic-crocheter variety so I decided I’d come up with something myself.

I settled on some Studio Donegal Aran Tweed in a chocolate colour for the main body of the hat. I just adore tweed with all the beautiful coloured flecks in it. My plan was to knit a plain beanie-type hat and then to knit some squares in other lighter shades of Studio Donegal, then felt them and cut out some eye shapes.

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I knit rectangles (20 stitches, 16 rows) in báinín Studio Donegal & black Lamb’s Pride then felted them at 60 degrees in the washing machine. I cut the eyes out of these felted pieces & then finished the eyes off with two buttons to give better definition. They felted really nicely and came out just as I hoped. What really helped drive this on was James’ excitement at each stage and his input into the design right from the choice of yarn and shade onwards.

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I cast on 88 stitches for the main body of the hat on the Saturday night and knit 8 rows in 2 x 2 rib. I knit the next row and continued to knit in stocking stitch until the hat measured 19cm (7.5 inches).

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I decided that instead of using decreases for the crown, that if I just continued knitting I could use a three-needle bind off and make cute owl-like ears from the corners. To get the tufted owl ears I used a 3 needle bind off on the 20 stitches (10 on front needle, 10 on back) either side of the hat. I used a Kitchener stitch to graft the remaining 48 middle stitches (24 on each needle). I then turned the tufted ears up a little and held them in place with a few strategically-placed stitches.

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When everything was assembled I still felt something was missing – they eyes just didn’t work well enough. I trawled through my button box and tried lots of buttons in position and we eventually settled on buttons that we thought suited the hat well.

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It was no major design per se but I got a buzz from it all the same and James was more than happy with the results which was the main thing. He loves the hat and has actually worn it in public since so that’s all good.