Marie Louise McConville: Family's truly inspiring story leaves me counting my blessings
Well, we're almost there guys.
The end of January is on the horizon and the dismal, depressing blues associated with the month will soon be packing up and leaving. (Good riddance).
I know that I for one will be glad to welcome February - and not just because it's the month of love.
Nope, for me February (though technically still winter) is the gateway to Spring and it reminds me that brighter evenings and Easter eggs aren't too far away.
However, to be honest, I leave January feeling a bit ashamed of myself - and not just because of all the extra bingeing and early nights I enjoyed.
No, this month (as horrid as it was) taught me a very important lesson by reminding me not to take too much for granted.
Like any job, working as a journalist has its share of good days and bad.
One day we could be meeting our favourite celebrity, the next we may find ourselves on the fringes, watching as someone's worst nightmare unfolds.
Recently, I was lucky enough to find myself in the company of a most extraordinary family.
Co Antrim couple, Amelia and Kevin O'Neill and their three children, Fintan, Mary and Katie welcomed me into their home outside Randalstown with open arms.
This may not sound like anything unusual except this visit took place one year after this lovely family experienced one of the worst days of their lives.
Brother and sister, Fintan (15) and Mary (13) were returning from classes at St Patrick's College, Maghera, and were getting off their school bus near their home when they were both knocked down and critically injured.
Found lying on the road in each other's arms - as it is believed Fintan grabbed his sister to save her - in this moment, the pair found themselves in the hardest fight of their lives.
Fintan made a remarkable recovery from a catalogue of broken bones and a bleed on the brain. However, it was his sister, Mary who astounded doctors after they had told her devastated family that they believed she was brain dead.
But, just when her ventilator was to be switched off, Mary grabbed on to her life and fought with every ounce of courage and determination to live.
Despite doctors telling her parents that she would never walk, talk, feed or move from her bed, the Mary I met when I entered the O'Neill home days ago was a typical, happy teenager, smiling and laughing as she walked unaided around her family's kitchen.
I was immediately struck by how humorous Mary is and how animated she became as she talked about her colourful hair extensions, her love for wearing stylish caps and how much she enjoyed spending time with her best friends.
When she talked, a smile beamed across her face - she did not strike me at all as a child who had been through such trauma.
Fintan took great pleasure in telling me how he received 82 Valentine cards last February when he was in hospital. He is also delighted to have returned to football for the first time since the collision.
However, what struck me about Fintan was his inspiring outlook as he told me how what had happened had "massively" changed him and left him always looking at the positive side of life.
Despite living with the scars of what happened and Mary living with a brain injury, both live life to the full, even though it may be a little harder now.
As I sat and listened to Mary talk about her new school and her dreams of becoming an author, I realised I take so much for granted.
Here was a family who despite things looking hopeless, came together and lifted by the support and prayers of others, decided not to give in and now they are looking at a bright future together.
I left the O'Neill house with mum Amelia's words in my ears - "...we are the luckiest people in the world because we could have been sitting here today with two children instead of three".
I want to thank the O'Neill family for sharing their truly inspiring story with me. It has certainly made me re-evaluate life and the people and things I hold dear.
I wish them a wonderful future and hope the stars align for their hopes and dreams - it's the least they deserve.
Dismal January is almost over – so how do you fancy celebrating with a fantastic family night out?
Roald Dahl favourite, George's Marvellous Medicine, is on its way for a run at the Grand Opera House in Belfast next month and I have two family passes to give away.
We all know that most grandmothers are lovely, kind, helpful old ladies.
But, not George's.
George's grandmother likes to gobble up slugs and bugs and is always telling George what to do.
But one day, when his parents leave him alone with the grizzly old grunion, George takes his chance and sets about creating a brand new medicine to cure her of her cruelty.
Little does he know that his perilous potion will be the start of a rather marvellous adventure…
This production, which runs at the Grand Opera House from February 13 until February 17, promises to be hugely imaginative and entertaining.
I have two family passes (each with four tickets) to give away to two lucky readers for George's Marvellous Medicine at the Grand Opera House on February 13 at 7pm
If you fancy winning a pass, simply email your name, address and telephone number – along with the answer to the question below – to firstname.lastname@example.org
Closing date for entries is Tuesday, January 30, 2018
(Q) Who wrote George's Marvellous Medicine?
Normal Irish News Rules Apply
Young Enough - Irish movie star Liam Neeson has revealed that despite being 65 he has no intention of giving up action roles just yet. Great news. We love you Liam. Keep up the good work.
Axed - Reports claim Channel 5 is getting ready to axe Big Brother and Celebrity Big Brother due to falling ratings. Hallelujah. Thank goodness, sense has at last prevailed.
Sweet - Seventies dessert favourite Angel Delight (which I loved) is making a comeback after being given a makeover. Instead of being sold as a dry sachet, the gorgeous sweet treat will now be sold already made in a single pot. Great news.
No Return - EastEnders fans have been left disappointed after soap favourite Shane Ritchie revealed he will not be returning to the famous square alongside his on-screen wife, Jessie Wallace. The 53-year-old said he needed "a break from television".
Too Early - I really think there should be a ban on Easter Eggs being stocked in shops until at least the end of February. They've been on the shelves since the beginning of the year - far too soon.
Awful - Goodness gracious, Justin Timberlake's new single `Filthy' is just an awful song. It sounds like aliens trying to make contact with earth and is just an assault on my ears. Not for me.
The winners of the Vita Liberata competition are Gemma Toner, from Dunmurry, Christine Steele, from Belfast, and Mary Oldenburg, from Larne
Easy Peasy Recipe
This week's Easy Peasy Recipe is Golden Vegetable Shepherd's Pie
You will need:
For the lentil sauce
2 chopped onions
4 diced carrots
1 head celery, chopped
4 finely chopped garlic cloves
200g mushroom, sliced
2 bay leaves
1tbsp dried thyme
500g pack dried green lentils
1.7l vegetable stock
3tbsp tomato purée
For the topping
50g grated cheddar
To make the sauce, heat the butter in a pan, then gently fry the onions, carrots, celery and garlic for 15 mins until soft and golden.
Turn up the heat, add the mushrooms, then cook for 4 mins more.
Stir in the herbs, then add the lentils. Pour over the stock.
Simmer for 50 mins until the lentils are soft.
Take off heat and then stir in the tomato purée.
Tip the potatoes into a pan of water and boil for 15 mins until tender.
Drain well, mash with the butter and milk, then season with salt and pepper.
Divide the lentil mixture between all the dishes you are using and then top with mash.
Scatter over the cheese.
Bake at 190C/Gas Mark 5 for 30 minutes.
Do you have an Easy Peasy recipe you would like to share?
Are you the queen of quiches, magnificent at muffins or can you turn out some nice scones?
If so, then we want to hear from you.
You can send your name, address, contact number and recipe (plus photo if possible) to:
Easy Peasy Recipes,
Marie Louise McConville,
113-117 Donegall Street,