This morning Mabel had planned to walk to school on her own, with a friend from a few doors over. The friend, a year younger but much braver, was all for it. Mabel had been enthusiastic, but I wasn’t surprised when, last night, she started having second thoughts. On Friday, I had belatedly and panickingly wondered if she even knew how to safely cross a road (things you might forget to tell your not-firstborn), so I went over the importance of making sure a driver sees you even if they appear to have stopped. I’d done the job a little too well, though, and now she was worried about the roads, and the cars. (There are a few small roads to cross on the pleasant and suburban half-mile trot to school. The last is actually an exit from the school, but the big yellow buses come out there with their drivers seated way up high where they’re hard to see.)

Mabel often worries about things at night that are no problem at all the following morning (don’t we all?), but this morning she was adamant that she still wanted me to go with them after all. The friend, who appeared at our side door on the dot of 8:40 as planned, was a little disappointed, but I promised to hang back and let them pretend they were walking alone. Two sets of bare legs, not yet summer-bronzed, preceded me to school – Mabel’s skirt much shorter than I had thought; maybe it should be relegated to weekend use; where did those extra three inches of leg above her knee come from, I wondered – two smooth-haired heads turned towards each other with giggles and assertions all the way there, explanations of the project poster Mabel was carrying, declarations of a nonsense game where they were in higher grades, were each other, had funny names. Mabel looked back to make sure I was still there every few minutes, though.

I don’t really want to stop walking her to school, though I do want her to walk herself home (with some friends) next year because that will make my life a little easier. I have to push her a little, bolster her confidence and give her the tools she needs without making her too scared to venture forth with my talk of what could go wrong – she comes up with the worst-case scenario all too easily by herself.

She can rise to the occasion perfectly well, and she will.

Two girls on the sidewalk

Not today’s picture, but t’will do.


After a record-breakingly wet most of May, summer has arrived on our doorsteps with a thud. (That’s the sound of ladies fainting.)  It’s only 85 or so, but I’m convinced that I can’t possibly survive in such temperatures, that by July I’ll be dead, and that I have nothing to wear. (That last is true, of course. All my t-shirts have sprouted holes.)

School lunches at this point in the year are a half-hearted, last-minute effort, and for some reason the first grader has a project to do (the reason, I’m well aware, is multicultural day, with its PTA-related multicultural dinner, but for the purposes of my argument let’s pretend I don’t know that), which is not something I want to have anything to do with, except that I have to because she’s a first-grader.

I’m eating fruit all of a sudden: cherries, rhubarb, peaches. My next-door neighbour dropped in a bag of freshly-picked strawberries. It’s asparagus time. The farmers’ market has opened again. At this rate we’ll be grilling any minute.

After a long weather-related hiatus (you can’t play when the field is waterlogged), baseball is back on. Spring season part two, we call it.

Sunny little league baseball game with spectators

No-rain baseball

And I’m working. I have actual editing work that pays money, and I’m writing in between times. The new thing, not the old thing, which I’m going to publish as an ebook any second now, just as soon as my cover art is done. I have a website and a Facebook page for it too, so don’t say I didn’t do my own PR – at least as far as I can without being required to talk to real people in real life and say “I wrote a book; please read it.” Because I’m not sure I can do that.

Six-minute update (with very important information)

I need a blurb. That’s what’s at the foremost of my mind right now. The things that make people buy a book are the front cover and the description on the back – that’s called the blurb, honest to god, it is, even though it sounds like a pretend word that someone used because they couldn’t remember the technical term. It really is the technical term.

“Why do you need a blurb, Maud?” I hear you ask. Because I’m self-publishing this darned book, so I am. I got the last – very kind, very nice – rejection from the last person I’d sent it to, and now I just want to get it out of my headspace and into the world, where it deserves to be no matter what those other people say, so that I can concentrate on the next thing, which is halfway written but starting to meander dreadfully in search of some excitement.

I have to say it’s immensely satisfying to be able to take control and do something concrete and immediate with my work, after all this time of sending it off and waiting months for a response, amending things, sending it off again… Doing the work myself to get it uploaded to the system is so much better. (I’m not designing my own cover, I’ve asked someone, so I do have to wait for that, but it won’t be long.)

In other news, Dash got so much in the way of gift tokens and straight-up money for his birthday that he bought an iPad mini. This was sort of my idea, in that I suggested it, because I couldn’t imagine what else he could possibly spend all that on. Now, of course, I’m remembering all those reasons I had for why he shouldn’t have his own device yet, and thinking that maybe just buying 57 green light sabres instead mightn’t have been such a bad idea.

Mabel is disgusted, of course. She shouted for a while about how it wasn’t fair that he was born first so he gets to have big parties and lots of presents and he’s ten, and then somehow she made me say that we might get a fish. She is now set on a fish and I don’t know how to get out of this. I have no interest in a fish, but I suppose that’s not the point, is it?

Time’s up. Ding!

But I wasn’t finished… other things…

We went to Philadelphia, which I’d never really been to and it’s lovely, we should go back. We spent a lot of time in a very fancy hotel, not waiting for Justin Bieber like some of the other people there but attending a wedding which was lovely, and for which the children actually dressed up, which I consider a bigger achievement on my part than my elegant yet comfortable shoes or the fact that I really liked my dress. On the last day we walked around and the sun came out and the kids climbed on possibly the best statue in the world (so many animals!) and it was quite breathtaking.

And now my to-do list has nothing on it. Just “Hit publish”.

Oh, I know what I wanted to say. You want to buy my book, right? You know lots of middle-grade girls who like reading and have access to an e-reader? You love YA fiction yourself, actually, especially when it’s set slightly nostalgically in Ireland in the 80s, yes? But I don’t want to give up my anonymity – such as it is – here by linking to it directly. So here’s the deal: if you’re even a tiny bit interested in knowing more about it, drop me a line – yes, an actual email, it doesn’t have to say much at all, just what you’re looking for – to awfullychipper@gmail.com and I’ll open the door to the mysterious other side – that is, I’ll send you the link to the website I just made for the book, where you’ll find all the info on how to order it when it’s available. And you can share that, and the FB page that goes along with it, to your heart’s content.

In fact, I’d be awfully grateful if you would. You guys are my ground zero, you know. No, wait, you’re my Typhoid Mary. My… what’s a non disaster associated way to say that? You’re the inner circle, that’s it.

You know what you have to do.

Dash and Mabel at City Hall, Philly

Philadelphia in the rain

Mabel on the statue of a bear under blue skies

And in sunshine


We were at a wedding last night, and, as I somewhat effusively told the happy couple, it brought out all the feels.

It was really a milestone event, because it’s the first wedding we’ve been to where we’re “of the older generation.” As B is the baby of his family, he and I are the youngest of our rung on the ladder, and the nephew getting married is the oldest of my kids’ cousins, so the gap in years might not be a whole generation’s worth, but symbolically it remains true.

It was also my first non-church wedding. It took place in a hotel, just like in the movies. At first I thought it might be a little soulless (I’m such a hypocrite, an atheist who says it’s not a real wedding if it’s not in a church), but I cried just as much as I ever would at the lovely self-written  vows, and as a parent of two squirmy, unreliable children, I very much appreciated the tidy length of the ceremony. And it was nice not to have to worry about transporting ourselves from the ceremony to the reception, as all we had to do was step into the elevator and out again a floor above.

Also, there were babysitters laid on, so that we were able to send our children away to play raucous games of musical chairs and do crafts while we were civilized and ate our dinners and drank all the fizzy wine and danced to the Sinatra songs they played not intending people to dance to them. Our offspring did come back to us after a little while, but we enticed them onto the dance floor and ended the night with all four of us tearing it up to Uptown Funk at 11:30pm. That was a good moment.

These moments of ritual, though. Those were what got me thinking. The bride had a little trouble getting the groom’s ring over his knuckle; I remember exactly the same struggle and the same nervous giggle welling up when it happened to me. The groom is a marathon runner, like his uncle. She and he are two strong, determined, uber-smart people who will go far and do amazing things together.

A wedding date is really an arbitrary day to start counting from when you’ve been living together for a few years already; and yet, it’s important. This is why.

It’s important though, to mark this, to stand up, to have the planning and the party and the ceremony and the drama that goes with it all, because in some ways it’s one of your first challenges. It’s a time you’ll go through, and then you’ll look back and remember it at every other wedding you go to: we did this too, you’ll say, or we didn’t do that. And you’ll think about all you’ve done since, the twists and turns your lives have taken together, the glue that holds you together, the ritual and the symbolism and the flowers and the dances and the meals and the friends and the family.

And most of all it marks the point where you started out together to be a new family of your own, breaking free from everything you wanted to let go of, no longer forced into your role as son, daughter, sister, brother; the over-achiever, the stubborn middle, the baby of the family.

You get to go out there and be yourself, with your teammate, grownups together, to dance your dance to your own soundtrack whatever way you want to do it.

B and children dancing, blurry

On the dance floor


The weather has taken a retrograde step. It was just perfect there for a little while: warm, sunny, not too hot, delightful for sitting on the bleachers hearing the “pock” of the baseball bat or taking your lunch outside and listening to the birds twittering their tiny hearts out on the bursting green branches. But now it’s chilly and grey and the forecast is for more drippy, dismal, not-very-warm days. I know I like it not hot, but I also wanted to show off our perfect weather to our Irish visitors, and it’s not optimal. Warmer than Ireland, a bit, but just as unsunny.

But I keep looking around to see how it might seem to new eyes. I always do this when we have visitors. I always want to give them the full immersive experience of Life In America, which is impossible in three days, especially when they’ve never been to DC before so we’re really honour-bound to trek into town and take a few photos outside the White House and with Lincoln and so on. Posing outside the White House is not really representative of our day-to-day lives here, but it would be remiss to omit it.

If you come to visit me I will hoover upstairs as well as downstairs. I will dust the windowsills and the picture frames. I will put out the good slightly better towels and make up the guest bed. I will plan delicious dinners and stock up on wine. I will spend long happy moments anticipating our conversations, in which I explain everything that we do and impress you with how many people I know. (I don’t know why being acquainted with people is impressive, but for some reason it’s what I always want to do.)

I will drive you around and try to make you understand the geography of the town, because orientation is important, and the socio-economic undercurrents and the architectural history, because it’s all part of understanding how it is to live here. None of this will make any impression because you have other interests, but I’ll enjoy telling you. I might not even get to tell you, because we’re friends, so we’ll probably have other things to talk about. But the general gist is going to be that I like it here. It’s a good place. I want you to go home and tell people that we live in a nice place, that we have a nice life, that we’re very lucky.

We are very lucky. I should know; I’m here every day.

But you might be horrified by my children’s exuberance. (They’re always particularly over-exuberant when we have a visitor, because they want to impress you with their prowess at throwing themselves around, at singing and dancing and talking to you and interrupting and having your pay all the attention to them.) You might be appalled by their lack of discipline and the fact that I feed them separately, in front of the TV more often than not, so that the grown-ups can have a civilized meal in peace. That, in short, they are terrible and the jury is out on whether they will become less terrible as a natural course of events or whether they need somewhat more input from the parentals.

If you bring children with you, of course, you’ll probably be experiencing the same thing in reverse, so hopefully we’ll all just pour a glass of wine,  boot the children outside, and relax. The house won’t stay clean, you’ll notice things I didn’t expect you to and breeze right by the picture frames and the socio-economic lectures, the weather will throw an oar into our sightseeing plans, and we’ll have to remain flexible and patient, but we know how to do that because we have children.

We’ve got this. Come and visit me.



Deconstructed Quidditch for a Harry Potter Party

This is going to be one of those “Do as I say, not as I do” posts, because I will now tell you about how I envisaged Dash’s party games, not how they actually went. There were reasons why things didn’t go exactly as planned, mostly (a) too many kids, and (b) SOMEONE insisted on getting pool noodles so everyone could decorate foam swords, so of course they spent the whole party whacking each other over the head with them instead of playing elaborate themed games, and (c) way too many kids; but let’s not go into that just now. Dash had a good time and if your worth is measured by the percentage of invitees who show up at your birthday party, his stock is high.

But I had this idea, which was really all my own (unlike the wands, which I totally copied from that guy on Instructables), so I’m going to tell you about it in case you have a more modestly attended event, without pool noodles, in which case I really think this would work pretty well.

Deconstructed Quidditch

So you know that Quidditch is a flying game of three balls: the quaffle, the bludgers, and the snitch. The players, on broomsticks, try to score goals with the quaffle, the bludgers try to knock them off their brooms, and at some point the snitch magically appears and must be caught by a team’s Seeker to end the game. Not entirely practical for real life, though I know people do, somehow, play it now. I decided that for a kids’ party it would be better broken down into its component parts. This also stretches the whole event out nicely so that time passes before you get to the cake.

Part 1: Quaffling

Prop up two (or four) hula hoops as goals at each end of your playing area. You might need to stake these on either side to be secure, and they might have to be based at ground level so that nobody breaks a window. Divide your players into teams (five a side sounds good, though if you’ve a big playing field you could do more) and either have them stand still, spread out on the area, and throw a ball or a foam lawn dart or a frisbee from one to the other and finally through the goal, trying to intercept the other team, or let them take it at a run if you’ve lots of space. Something like ultimate frisbee might work well here.

Part 2: Bludging

I initially thought we’d use something like hard round paddles or bats for this, and maybe balloons, which could work (indoors, not on grass), but then we found a couple of sturdy foam cricket bats in Five Below, so we made it a bowling and hitting game. We used a foam ball that was larger than a cricket ball but smaller than a soccer ball, so it was pretty easy to hit with the bat, and the aim could just be to hit it as far as you can, or to defend a wicket if you have a wicket, or whatever seems right for your participants’ skill level. A parent could bowl/pitch or the kids could take turns at it. We had a cricketer and a few baseball players, so they were happy to pitch.

Part 3: Seeking

We have two snitches in our house: one nice metal one that’s actually a pocket watch, and one larger plastic one that came as part of a HP costume. But even if you had no official snitch you could use a small bright ball like a golf ball for this. As this part is a seeking game, you could hide it and let everyone search, or you could blindfold each player in turn and give them hot/cold directions to it. Alternatively, you could go for the catching aspect of getting the snitch and have it be a throwing/catching game. (Be careful if you’re throwing a golf ball around, though.)

Then you go and eat cake and congratulate yourselves on a party well themed.

Dash in Harry Potter costume

Old photo, but the Harriest I have.

Vestibular motion

Everyone knows that a vest in the US is what the Brits (and others) call a waistcoat, don’t they? That’s pretty much common knowledge, just like the pants = trousers thing. Americans might not know that a vest, to British and Irish people, is an undershirt. So if someone says they were outside in just their pants and vest, that’s actually pretty odd behavior, not just a warm day when the stockbroker took off his jacket before he bought a pretzel from the guy on the street.

But there’s more to this vest thing. There’s a whole dressing culture difference here that intrigues me. It’s about layers. Bear with me now while I meander to my point…

When I read Judy Blume’s Forever, mostly furtively, serially, in bookshops, one thing that stuck with me (other than never being able to take the name Ralph seriously again) was the fact that in the scene where they flick washing-up bubbles at each other until her sweater is soaked, and she takes it off, she’s wearing NOTHING BUT A BRA underneath! This was so perplexing that it totally ruined my savouring of the sexy moment. A sweater is not a garment that should be in contact with that much of your skin. Where was her other layer?

I grew up always wearing a vest under whatever my visible-to-the-general-public top was, whether that was the shirt of my school uniform or a thin jumper (sweater) or even under a t-shirt, unless the weather was really warm, which it rarely was. A vest is the shape of what Americans would call a tank top, or (ick) a wife-beater. (Yes, they really use that term.) As a girl gets a little older she might want one that’s more like a camisole (thinner straps, more fitted). But at the very least, to my mind, our Forever heroine should have been wearing one over her bra and under her sweater.

I still dress that way, at least one and two-half seasons of the year. (That is, winter, and the cooler ends of spring and autumn.) And I dress my children in layers too, as often as I can, because air-conditioning in schools is unpredictable. They might be in a classroom that’s stuffy and sweltering or one that’s freezing, so I want them to have the option of peeling off their sweater/long-sleeved top/cardigan and having a t-shirt underneath. (The fact that my children don’t seem to notice, or don’t think of doing it, or don’t want to because then they’ll have to carry the removed item, is something I have no control over. I can be content  knowing that I’ve prepared them for every eventuality.)

But I am pretty sure that this layering technique as a daily way of dressing is quite a European thing. I think the Germans I know here, for instance, do it too – and I’m pretty sure most Americans don’t. American kids go out in just one layer under their coats, even in winter. Maybe they’re confident of good heating indoors and warm coats outdoors. When I noticed this early in my parenting career, when my kids first started to interact with others, I thought it was a modern thing and that I was just old-fashioned. Probably nobody in Ireland wore vests any more and it was just me and my inveterate chilliness having this quirk.

However, vests are still alive and well in Ireland. Here’s a screengrab from the Dunnes Stores website, for example:
Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 8.03.31 PM

See? Boys wear them too. Here’s a shot from the boys’ section of the Marks & Spencer UK website.Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 8.06.46 PM

These are not outerwear, unless you’re a builder. These are for under your shirt or your jumper. These are to keep you warm in a country where central heating is not a given, where your washing is drying on the radiators and you forgot to turn the immersion on so you’ll have to wait for your bath. And yes, grown-ups also wear vests in Europe, just like I do.

So, Americans: What’s your defence? Just more warm-blooded than your transatlantic counterparts? Are you neglecting your children by denying them a proper old-fashioned vest? And, while we’re here, how do you feel about the name Ralph?

Only slightly bonkers

Most of the time I do a pretty good job of looking like a sane, fairly well-balanced individual. But every now and then something happens upon which I look back a few weeks later and think “Well, clearly, I was not entirely mentally stable just then.” It would be nice if I could recognize that I’m being a little bonkers at the time, but at least noticing it later is a start, right?

So it appears that every time I go to Ireland I fixate on something that I need, because that thing will
(a) make me look like a normal Irish person, not an American
(b) make me look really great, because when you see people you haven’t seen in ages you want them to think you’re looking fabulous
(c) signal that I have a good life and am happy even though I live far away
(d) magically make me look ten years younger, to prove that parenting hasn’t made me middle-aged and frumpy

(Stop the presses: It’s time that’s made me middle-aged. Parenting was just along for the ride.)

Sometimes I obsess over having the right jeans, sometimes I need new shoes, and sometimes, in a move that’s particularly bad for my bank balance, I just have to get a new pair of glasses because the old ones are horrible and the perfect frames will make me look so much better and then everyone will say “Didn’t Maud look great?” and “I liked her glasses” and “Yes, very on fleek” and … right? That’s my life, right? I say “on fleek” non-ironically and so do my friends.

This time it was glasses. Two weeks before I left I found myself in the glasses store, practically on impulse, browsing the frames. I wasn’t exactly due a new pair, but one arm kept coming off the ones I had, and had been glued three times now. (Three is the magic number, right?) I had planned ahead enough to call my previous optician and find that it was a little less than two years since my last test, so my prescription was still valid, and I had a copy of it with me. I had experienced buyer’s remorse with those glasses almost as soon as I had them: I felt they were too heavy-looking and too dark and generally just not nice enough. I vowed to fix that this time.

I found a pair of frames that were everything I wanted. The saleslady agreed that they were the perfect choice, gave me a big discount, and didn’t even try to upsell me on anything. I had to ask for the thinner lenses and the transitions coating.

I spent an impatient ten days convinced that my life would be perfect as soon as my new glasses arrived. I would look in the mirror at the face of a modern, savvy, attractive, grown-up woman; neither sad fashion victim nor tragically trapped in the last decade. I would probably look exactly like Kate Winslet when she put her glasses on at the Oscars. Only not blonde.

Then my glasses arrived, just a couple of days before I flew to Ireland. The nick of time, I thought. I couldn’t possibly go to Ireland in the same old glasses I had last summer: everyone would notice. I picked them up with Mabel in tow. Mabel was not impressed with my new look. I told her she could look somewhere else, then. She demanded that I put my old glasses back on. I put my old glasses in the case and walked out with my shiny new glasses on my nose, dragging a recalcitrant Mabel before she did something terrible, having had barely a chance to see what I looked like.

When I got home I looked in the mirror. Where was the elegant modern woman I had seen when I selected the frames? This was just my same old (and getting older) face again, behind a different pair of glasses.

It’s always going to be my face. It’s always going to be me inside. Nobody else actually notices the extraneous details much, they just see me, and they’re happy to see me because they’re my family and my friends.

Remind me of this next time, okay?

Colourful Maud with new glasses

Everything looks better in thermal-camera mode, right?


Making impressive Harry Potter wands out of paper

Six finished "Harry Potter"-style wands in a variety of sizes and natural wood colours

Are these not mighty impressive? Made by me, out of paper, glue, and paint. You can do it too.

Dash’s party is Harry-Potter-themed this year, with elements of Percy Jackson. Don’t ask me how all this will work out; planning is ongoing and involves a lot of negotiations because the type-A child has two type-A parents and everyone wants to run this thing.

But wands will be needed, obviously. I noodled around Pinterest for ages and found a good tutorial for wands using chopsticks and a glue gun, and then I procrastinated on ordering the chopsticks because deep down inside I had a vague notion that providing twenty ten-year-old boys with sticks to poke each others’ eyes out with was maybe not the best idea.

I mentioned this dilemma to a friend, who said her daughter had made paper wands at a party. Paper wands didn’t sound great – I imagined long floppy tearable things – but I googled it anyway. And lo! Instructions for wands made with paper that looked really great, and seemed achievable even by such crafting-averse people as me, given enough time and a modicum of preparation.

So, here’s the thing. This is not a craft for your party guests to do themselves. (Sadly, because that would be great.) It’s best to give yourself a few days to make them, so you can let each stage dry well and not stress yourself out over it. But, that said, there are some great things about it:

Children can help you, if they’re over about six, or maybe even younger. I’d advise you do the first one yourself to get the hang of it, but in general neatness is not important, so it’s an ideal way to let your kids help prep for the party.

Each wand really does turn out unique, because you never roll exactly the same way twice, and with a couple of paint colours you can mix lots of variations on “wood brown” (I kept thinking it looked like poo brown instead, but really it’s all in the eye of the beholder).

Enough blathering. I found the instructions on Instructables from CaptinSkarlet, who is clearly very clever indeed. You you should definitely read them too, for completeness, but I’m going to tell you my version, because I have photos, and it’s slightly different. Prepare to be amazed.

You will need:

  • copy paper (as many sheets as you want wands, and a few over for messing up)
  • double-sided sticky tape (you could use a glue stick, but the tape really does make it easier)
  • a few different colours of thread, foil, or maybe a tiny feather for the inside (nobody sees this, but you know it’s there; makes all the difference)
  • paper glue, like Elmer’s (liquid is better than a glue stick here because you need some smushability)
  • kitchen paper or tissues for stuffing the wand to make it more rigid
  • a glue gun (fun!)
  • spray paint, any colour, but brown is ideal
  • acrylic paint (or any non-water-soluble paint – apparently it’s emulsion in the UK/Ireland) in a couple of shades of brown and a black
  • metallic markers or paint for the finishing touches

    Three acrylic paint pots, a small clear spray paint, Elmer's glue, and double-sided sticky tape.

    Most, though not all, of my supplies.

Step 1 – Tape
Stick a length of double-sided tape diagonally across a page of copy paper.

Step 2 – Add magic
Cut a length of thread (red thread is dragon heartstring) or some very thin strips of foil (unicorn hair) or take a feather (phoenix, of course) and stick it to the tape. This is the magical core of your wand.

Page with sticky tape diagonally across it and red thread on the tape

Dragon heartstring this time

Step 3 – Start rolling your wand
Roll the paper tightly from the bottom left corner if you’ve taped as above, lengthways, so that it’s roughly parallel to the tape. Once you reach the tape it will stick well. Make one end slightly (or a lot) wider – this will probably happen without your even trying, and wands the kids rolled were much fatter and shorter than the long narrow ones I made. Variety is good, though you might have a personal preference.

Two-thirds rolled with glue on the rest of the paper

Be careful at this stage to keep rolling tightly

Step 4 – Finish rolling
Put paper glue (Elmer’s or similar) all over the last third of the page and finish rolling. The glue will smush out to the edge so that it seals up nicely. Leave to dry for a while.

Rolled paper wands

See how they’re all different?

[Take a break at this stage.]

Step 5 – Cut and stuff
Cut each end across in a straight line (as pictured above). Then stuff each end with small pieces of rolled-up tissue or kitchen paper, using the end of a small paintbrush (or whatever you have to hand) to push it down as far as you can. You might not be able to stuff the whole thing, but whatever you can do will help it be more rigid.

Rolled kitchen paper inserted in the end of a wand

Stuffing with small pieces of rolled kitchen paper

Step 6 – Add decorative hot glue
Plug in your glue gun to heat up. Fill in the ends of the wand with glue, and then artistically drizzle bands or lines of glue on the wand to define a handle (the wider end) and make patterns. My 10yo is a glue-gun master, and I let the 7yo have a go (with supervision) and they were both fine with this, though they did go through the glue sticks at a greater rate than I would have alone. Again, more variety is a good thing, so this is fine. And accuracy is not the aim. Leave it for the glue to dry.

Hot-glue pattern on the paper wand

Glue close-up

Wand with glue resting on a ceramic shape to dry

Mabel’s abstract ceramic masterpiece comes into its own as a glue-drying rest

[Take a break at this stage.]

Step 7 – Spray paint for rigidity
Spray paint time. This is not something you should let the kids help with. I did it outside on the deck and made them watch through the window while I held my breath: inhaling spray paint is no fun. The spray-paint step is just to make the wands more rigid – you’ll be painting over it, so it really doesn’t matter what colour you use. I got clear paint the first time, which basically just put a sheen on the paper. My small can ran out after about 18 wands, and I bought silver the next time, which looked uh-may-zing and was also more rigid. It was also easier to see where I’d missed with a colour, and in hindsight brown would minimize touch-ups later, so if you can, get brown. Let dry, turn over, and spray the other side. Let dry.

Three silver wands

Primed with spray-paint (and a bunny, for interest)

[Take a break here too. See why it’s best to do it over a couple of days?]

Three paint pots from above, showing the labels: metallic coal, satin camel, and satin chocolate

Two browns and a black

Step 8 – Paint it “wooden”
I got some acrylic paint in Target, and mixed the dark brown, the light brown, and the black in different quantities as I went along, so that each wand was a different shade. The trickiest part is doing the ends and finding somewhere to put your fingers, and then propping them to dry so that the paint doesn’t touch. I went back and touched up the smudged parts when I painted my next set of wands; it doesn’t matter if your touching-up shade isn’t quite the same as your base shade. Leave to dry. (This needs to be a non-water-soluble paint because the next coat will be watery and you don’t want it to wash off the paint you’ve just put on.)

Wands drying on newspaper

Painted wands drying

[Take a break! Yay for breaks!]

Step 9 – Black wash for fake aging
This is when you make the wand look old and yucky, because those are the best wands. Dash didn’t like the sound of this at first because he wanted his wand to be shiny and new, but in the end he let me do this for all of them. Mix some black acrylic paint with a few drops of water so that it’s thin and easy to swish on quickly. Swish it on to part of your wand quickly with a fat brush, and then wipe it off straight away with kitchen paper or a rag. (The black paint I got was accidentally a metallic black, which I really liked for this part because it left a sheen even where it was rubbed off.) You want the black to stay in the crevices of the glue bumps, to make it look aged and worn. Keep brushing on and smudging off until you’re happy with how it looks. Leave to dry.

Wands drying on newspaper

The five on the left are pre-black-wash; the six on the right are post. You can see the difference, right?

Close-up of wands

Close-up of the black-wash

[Take a break. Though they dry pretty fast.]

Step 10 – Final touches
Decorate your wand! The most fun part, I think. I had some cool metallic markers that have probably been in the house since pre-kid days when I would buy fancy markers to write schmoopy love notes in B’s Valentine’s cards, and they proved to be perfect for this job. I really enjoyed deciding whether bronze, gold, or silver would look best with each “wood”, and then I just traced over the glue blobs with the markers. You could use metallic paint here too of course. Let dry.

Bic metallic markers in gold, bronze, and silver

Fun markers

Finally, astound your friends, amaze your enemies, and cast spells with aplomb. Stupefy!

Finished wands close up.

Detail of wands


Quiet airport sceneOn Wednesday afternoon, I went to the airport. On Sunday afternoon I was back there. In between, I hurtled through the skies in a metal tube, kept aloft by nothing but will power and loud noises, as far as I can tell, to a small country 3000 miles away; and then did it again in the other direction.

It’s a strange life we lead, in this twenty-first century, where people can do things like that.

The first time my dad visited the US, he came on a boat. It took five days. He’s not so old that they didn’t have flights back then, but it was probably much cheaper by sea. But I can imagine that doing it that way at least gives you a sense of distance. You use the time in between to come to terms with leaving one place and going to another: you’re not so surprised when you finally get there that you’re a long way away now.

But when I walk onto a plane, time stops. (This does not apply when travelling with children. Then time becomes infinite.) Then I walk off, and – inexplicably – my surroundings are more familiar than anything I left behind me. The air is damp, the streetlights are orange, daylight creeps into being, voices sound like home. I can navigate to the other side of the city without thinking too hard, just heading in the right direction. I know which way that is.

I spent three days seeing a very few family members and friends. I did some useful things. I threw away a lot of ancient pieces of paper. I brought away a small amount of memorabilia and another tranche of my teenaged bookshelf. I decided I will live the rest of my life quite happily without being in possession of my piano exam certificates, my secondary school homework notebooks, or even my terrible teenage poetry.

Back in the airport before I left I couldn’t shake the feeling that, even though I was returning to nothing but a delightful life with the people I love, Ireland was the right place. Ireland’s just better, in spite of no concrete evidence to support that fact in almost any direction beyond scones and jam, cheese and sausages, people in the service industry who are genuinely happy to help, not finding your presence at their counter a tedious imposition.

The feeling persisted on the other side, at least for a while: I felt displaced, even after all this time, not at home.

Home. Other home. Wrong home, right home, different. It doesn’t matter, really, does it? Here I am.

Harbour scene