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Month: June 2016

10 Activities for a Rainy Day

10 Activities for a Rainy Day

You would think in the height of the Summer Solstice we would be frolicking in meadows until the late evening, unable to choose from an abundant amount of activities available to us during our weekends. Alas, we live in Ireland and the summer is fleeting and usually very wet so we have to be creative with our summer plans i.e. be very flexible or very close to indoors!

 

If you’re ever feeling at a loss of what to do as you wake up to yet another grey Saturday, I’ve thought of a few wee ideas to give you a bit of inspiration to get you out the door. If that fails I’ve also got a few ideas to keep you busy if you’re dead set on not leaving the house! Either way, having nothing to do should not be an option!

 

Visit Your Local Museum

The Ulster Museum in Belfast is right beside the Botanic Gardens but on a rainy day you might want to make a bolt straight inside. The museum always has a good exhibition on; right now it’s ‘Remembering 1916: Your Stories’. The exhibition celebrates the centenary of the Easter Rising and draws on the experiences of those involved in the Easter Rising including lots of local stories. The museum also has dinosaurs to keep the kiddos happy, artefacts from Ancient Egypt and a fantastic collection of modern art. Definitely plenty to keep you occupied for a few hours!

 

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St. George’s Market, Belfast

 

Stroll Through St. George’s Market

I love this market with all my heart. I go in to a bit of a consumer frenzy because there’s nothing better than buying local products and meeting the people who have grown/caught/made them. The atmosphere is always great; usually there’s a bluegrass band singing in the centre where you can find a spot to chow down your Cuban pulled pork sandwich (note: this is amazing and even more amazing if you’ve been out the night before!). Go along, buy some fresh flowers to brighten your damp day and restrain yourself from buying a crate of homemade fudge.

 

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Flow Yoga Studio, Belfast

 

Book Yourself In To A Class

I hate feeling like I’ve wasted a weekend when the weather has been bad and I’ve nothing to show for it come Monday. One way to feel like you’re doing something worthwhile is to think ahead and join a class to teach you something new. James Street South have a range of cookery classes teaching the amateur chefs amongst us how to bake bread or how to cook the perfect steak. If you feel like you cook enough during the week (I hear ya) maybe you could try a pottery class, yoga or even sewing. I have enjoyed a few sewing classes with Shanti at the Magpie and loved it!

 

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Explore Your Local Bookshops

This is one of my favourite things to do on a rainy day. I can spend hours upon hours wandering around the aisles, flicking through all the pages and, if they’re second hand, imagining who owned them before they graced these shelves. In Belfast I would recommend visiting No Alibis, Belfast Books and The Bookstore then bringing your new purchase to a coffee shop for a read while you watch everyone outside getting soaked – mwah ha ha!

 

Tour Your Local Brewery

Hilden Brewery in Lisburn is the oldest independent brewery on the island of Ireland and can be explored by us laymen who get thirsty on the weekends. You can learn about the local craft from the master brewer and taste the whole collection if you have the stomach for it. Molly’s Chocolate Stout sounds amazing! Make sure to book ahead on their website.

 

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Create Your Own Indoor Herb Garden

I have a windowsill which gets all the afternoon light and is the perfect spot for growing some herbs that don’t require an awful lot of TLC. The herbs I have had great success with so far are thyme, coriander and basil – all low maintenance which is an absolute must for me. I’m thinking of branching out to mint and or maybe going completely mad and getting my own little chilli plant. On a rainy day it’s a brilliant chance to pick up a few from the local discount shop (Home Bargains is a great place to start), get some pretty pots while you’re there and get to potting. If you’re feeling extra creative, get some clay pots and chalk paint to make your herbs extra chic.

 

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Homemade Coconut Oil Scrub – Recipe Here

 

Get Those DIY Projects Done!

We all talk about how we will get those chairs painted/cushion covers sewed/candles made but we never make the time. A rainy day is the perfect opportunity to get a start on these and make a whole day out of it. On my next rainy weekend I am hell bent on getting shelves up in our dining area – the brackets we bought in a sale have been sitting in the corner gathering dust for the last 3 months! Making something for your home is a great way to add your personality, especially if you’re renting like me, so feel free to release your inner Picasso!

 

Create A Den

Now I know full well that I’m 27 and that making a den in the living room may no longer be socially acceptable but when it’s raining and all you want to do is watch movies and eat salty popcorn and maltesers (the world winning combo) then why not? Get all the cushions in the house on the floor, make a tent from a sheet and snuggle up with your duvet and download all your favourite childhood classics. My personal favourites are The Goonies, The Father of the Bride and Cool Runnings – they will never get old!

 

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Bake Up A Storm

Maybe there’s someone’s birthday coming up, you’ve a mate that’s got the flu or you just feel like making 5 different kinds of bread. This is the day to make a complete mess in the kitchen, cover yourself in flour and eat batter from the bowl. Andrew has recently taken up baking which is a bit strange because he’s not known for his cooking skills (I once had to help him make a Caesar salad for which he’d forgotten to buy Caesar dressing) but it turns out he’s a great baker! I think it’s the scientific side of things that he enjoys, measuring everything out to the exact gram. Anyway, if it’s raining today, watch an episode of Great British Bake Off and go get your Mary Berry on.

 

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Make A Scrapbook

Last year I made a commitment to start printing off photos and keeping them in albums and scrapbooks rather than losing them to the social network stratosphere where they are forgotten about. I realised that if Facebook ever randomly crashed I would lose so many memories because I have gone through so many computers and hard drives over the years. Bearing this in mind I printed off all my photos from Cuba and bought a scrapbook in preparation for a rainy day when I could glue in all my photos along with bits and bobs that I had kept from the trip. I enjoyed this so much that I decided to print off my favourite photos from 2015 to make another scrapbook!

 

Good luck with whatever you decide to do this rainy weekend – fingers crossed our summer will come back!

 

 

 

 

Deliciously Ella’s Roasted Tomato & Red Pepper Soup

Deliciously Ella’s Roasted Tomato & Red Pepper Soup

Sadly the rain feels like it’s here to stay for a while and the summer is slipping through our fingers. The only solace I can find is that I’ll be escaping the constant drizzle for a week next Tuesday when we fly off to Croatia (yay!) but in the mean time I have found myself reaching for a cosy jumper in the evenings and craving some warm soup in my belly to heat me up.

 

George's Market

 

Andrew and I like to make a big batch of soup in weather like this and freeze it so we have our lunches ready for our working week. It means we save a bit of cash and we don’t have to worry every morning about what we’re going to have but it can get a little repetitive which means it has to be extra delicious! This week I wanted something super tasty with a bit of a kick using fresh seasonal ingredients. I found this recipe on the Deliciously Ella site (her website is fantastic if you fancy something yummy but really healthy) and thought it was the perfect excuse to use some of the ripe tomatoes I had in the fridge.

 

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The recipe is incredibly simple and quick; it only took me about 45 minutes to prepare, cook and blend. The website says it makes 3 servings although I would say it’s 2, I like my portions big! I tripled the ingredients so we had plenty to keep us going through the long wet week.

 

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I hope you all are staying dry and warm  and have something sunny planned for the near future to keep you going. I’m optimistic we might see a little more sunshine – I’m not prepared to welcome the autumn anytime soon!!

 

Have a lovely week x


Roasted Tomato & Red Pepper Soup

Serves 10

– 24 plum tomatoes

– 9 red peppers

– 2 large handfuls of fresh basil leaves

– 2 handfuls of fresh rosemary

– 15 bay leaves

– 2 tbsp. dried thyme

– a 1/2 to 1 of a cup of water (I like mine thick so I used about a 1/2)

– 8 dessert spoons of apple cider vinegar (use lime if you don’t have this)

– 8 dessert spoons of tomato puree

– olive oil

– salt and pepper to taste

 

  1. Slice the red peppers into eighths, removing the centre. Then chop the tomatoes into four or five slices. Cover the bottom of a roasting pan or baking tray in olive oil and place the tomatoes, peppers with the basil leaves, fresh rosemary, dried thyme, bay leaves, salt and a drizzle more olive oil on top. Roast at 200C for 30 minutes.
  2. Once the vegetables have finished roasting put them into a liquidizer with the apple cider vinegar, tomato puree, salt & pepper, be careful not to add the bay leaves or rosemary sticks though. As the soup blends, slowly add in the water until you reach your desired consistency. Once you have reached this pour the soup straight into bowls and serve (or containers for the freezer).
Dining in James Street South Belfast

Dining in James Street South Belfast

Lots of positive things have happened for both Andrew and I over the last few weeks. We have both been offered new jobs with exciting businesses and both start on the same day! Andrew turned 28 on 16 June (although he may not be a huge birthday celebration person, I am and definitely make up for his deficit). And I was discharged from hospital with lung functions better than they have been in a long while! Yay all round!

 

So as some of you may or may not know, I was born with Cystic Fibrosis. In terms of daily life this means nebulisers, tablets and physiotherapy or exercise. It doesn’t affect me in a massive way because it’s all I’ve ever known and it’s never stopped me from doing the things I want to do. However sometimes it does mean a hospital admission when things begin to slip a bit and that part definitely isn’t fun.

 

I don’t like to talk too much about CF because I don’t like it to define me or what others think of me. But sometimes I have no choice in how it can control my life and it’s hospital admissions like the one that remind me of the unpredictability of life and how little moments should not only be cherished but celebrated! A positive outlook has taken me far and I choose to let that define me as a person instead.

 

Which was why I made a crazy impulsive and expensive decision to book a table at James Street South in Belfast to celebrate the good things that have happened for us recently and also to thank Andrew for being incredibly supportive during the hospitalisation. It’s not easy seeing the one you love vulnerable; it can make you feel powerless and for a control freak like Andrew, I know it wasn’t easy.

 

James Street South is a place I have wanted to visit for such a long time. It comes top of so many lists of the best places to eat in Belfast but because it’s a bit on the pricier end, I had always thought I should save it for a special occasion e.g. this one! With absolutely no trepidation I booked the table and knew straight away we were to have the ‘Taste of Ulster’ tasting menu – sure why not?!

 

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Shameless Selfie Before Dinner!

 

I got very dolled up and Andrew wore a crinkled shirt he didn’t iron (because we don’t own an iron – yes we are peasants). I was so flippin’ excited and for good reason because I had the best meal I have ever had in Belfast that night. I was constantly battling between savouring the taste of one course and dying to get to the next one. It was that amazing!

 

The ambience wasn’t excellent I’ll be honest, I’m not hugely in to that clinical vibe but we sat in a corner booth which created a bit of intimacy. This didn’t really bother me at all though because Andrew and I were too busy enjoying our own little gastronomic paradise, listening eagerly to the waiter explaining each ingredient and where it came from. The restaurant prides itself on sourcing the best local produce for each dish and that is evident in the taste; you’d have sworn they had the cow in the kitchen!

 

I would recommend this place to anyone and everyone who loves classical food served in a way that isn’t pretentious but focuses on taste. I can’t wait to go back again and I’ll be finding anything to celebrate as an excuse for another taste of that dessert. Sheer heaven.


‘Taste of Ulster’ Tasting Menu

 

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Chilled Portavogie Crab Lasagne, Lemongrass & Brown Crab Bisque

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King Scallops, Parmesan & Connemara Ham

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Country Antrim Beef, Charred Leeks, Peppercorns & Garlic

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Smoked Chocolate, Lime Sorbet & Toasted Meringue

What Life in Australia Taught Me

What Life in Australia Taught Me

I lived and travelled through Australia for over 2 years after I graduated from university and there are times when it feels like my life there was all a dream. My memories are of days spent under the hot WA sun, swimming in the ocean chasing turtles and waves and not having a care in the world.  No shock that these memories tend to intensify on a rainy Tuesday morning in February while sitting at my office desk trying to warm up against the radiator – Irish problems.

 

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Driving Through a Hailstorm in the Southwest WA

 

The majority of my time in Australia was spent in Exmouth, a small town found on a peninsula about half way up the WA coast. The town’s population is about 2500 people, many of whom are from other parts of Australia or far flung corners of the world. It’s a special place that has managed to stay under the radar of most travellers because of how isolated it is (it’s an 11 hour drive north of Perth and the nearest town is nearly 4 hours away) but those who do stumble upon this little gem amongst the desert rarely leave. My life was simple during this time; my biggest worry was what I would do on my days off – camp, snorkel, fish, surf, sunbathe.

 

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Sauntering Between Dunes in Exmouth, WA

 

Exmouth will always have a place in my heart and I suppose I do look back with rose-tinted glasses because why would I have decided to leave? The truth is I surprised myself with how much of a home bird I actually was. I have always been a traveller (Croatia will be country #29 next month!) and I’m used to moving from place to place. But after a while I realised that although I love exploring new places, I craved the feeling of soft fluffy grass under my feet and the smell of rain.

 

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Looking Across The Blue Mountains, NSW

 

Australia wasn’t to be my forever home but it did change me forever. I came away with a different perspective on life and knowing the importance of doing what makes me happy. I’ve listed a few things that I learned during my time in the red dirt and how everyone should get off the beaten track and enjoy this amazing country at some point in their lives.

 

Lesson 1 – How Much I Love The Ocean

 

I was born in Armagh, a ‘city’ (the population is only 15,000 but because there are two cathedrals this somehow warrants a promotion) found in the middle of Northern Ireland and about an hours drive from the coast. My childhood memories of beach days were typical Irish seaside holidays; a handful of days each year spent between wind shelters (to protect us from a torrent of sand grains), eating crisp sandwiches (usually containing sand) and, if we were feeling extremely brave, running in and out of the Atlantic screaming with a mixture of sheer delight and horror.

 

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Green Pools, WA

 

I never thought of myself as an ocean lover because I had never really experienced the magic it had to offer. That was until I lived in Exmouth and had the world’s longest fringing reef right on my doorstep. My love affair began after swimming with whalesharks on a day off from work. Exmouth is lucky enough to host these gentle giants in their winter months and I’ve swam alongside them several times. Each time felt more special than the last and even though they can be intimidatingly large when they get close, they’re completely harmless to humans. Watching them glide through the water instilled such a peacefulness within me that it felt akin to a religious epiphany. I was in love with the ocean from then on.

 

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Swimming With a Gentle Giant, Exmouth, WA

 

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Turquoise Bay, Exmouth, WA

 

My love affair with the ocean and I learned to surf (poorly), got dunked a thousand times and lost my temper until I finally stood up and nearly passed out with happiness. I snorkelled above corals of all colours following a lonely turtle or spotting a reef shark nervously out of the corner of my eye. I saw two manta rays performing the most intimate and graceful of dances. I swam close to a humpback whale and her calf, hearing her calls to make sure her baby didn’t stray too far. I caught my first fish!

 

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Baby Humpy Says Hello, Exmouth, WA

 

All of these things impacted me profoundly and since coming home I know how important it is that I base myself as close to the ocean as possible. I walk along the beach barefoot at Helen’s Bay and look out towards the Irish Sea and, even though I don’t see any humpies breaching out of the water, I feel happy and calm.

 

Lesson 2 – I’m a Small Town Girl

 

Growing up in a smallish town was at times a frustrating experience. Everyone knew you who you were and your business so gossip was rife, especially in all girl Catholic school! When I moved to Exmouth I quickly spotted the similarities; seeing the same faces every day, getting to know who was breaking up with who and who was pregnant. It wasn’t long before I was the subject of a rumour myself which I found out at a trip to the Newsagents:

Newsagent: Oh Alex, you’re really starting to show!!

Me: Em… Do you think I’m pregnant? *sucking in as I say this and thinking I am never having pasta for lunch again*

Newsagent: *colour drains from face*

 

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At Least the Crabs Don’t Gossip

 

While rumours might not always be fun (and might make you drastically change your dietary choices), being welcomed in to a community when you’re far away from your own home can be incredibly comforting. I worked at the Council in Exmouth (i.e. Shire of Exmouth – sounds like a town of hobbits I know) and I got to know so many different locals. I realised that I actually love smaller towns, especially when I’m new, because you can create a little family of your own.

 

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Mr. Koala on the Great Ocean Road, Victoria

 

Now that I’m home, I live in Belfast and that sense of community isn’t quite as strong. However I am a 5 minute drive from Holywood which has a lovely small-town vibe with a local butchery, florist and health food shop. I always end up striking up conversations with people and feel just like a local again.

 

Lesson 3 – I Need Girlfriends

 

I have had the same group of girlfriends since I was 13. We were, and still are, a fiercely tight knit group and so when I lived away I desperately missed them. I’m a slightly neurotic person and need girls in my life that I can talk about my fears and passions with, run free with and dance my little hooves off with.

 

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The Girls

 

In Exmouth, bonds can be quick to form and friendships are intense, as is this case with most travellers. I met an incredible bunch of girls there who I will always be in touch with because they helped me through tough times when I felt a million miles away from home. There was Holly, the Kiwi who made me laugh every day and was always there to feed me junk food; Mia, who mothered me and gave me unapologetic advice when I needed it most; Alice & Vasia, the earthy ones who I practiced yoga and how to drink a beer while riding a bike with; Cat, the ocean girl who helped teach me the wonders of the ocean; Kirby who taught me so much about being kind; and Jo Lee, the wild and fierce musician who serenaded me on nights I didn’t want to end.

 

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Holly Making Me Laugh As Always

 

Every girl needs another girl that will let her know how much she can shine, that whatever decision she decides to make, they will always be there to back her up. And to also tell her that she’s a maniac when necessary.

 

Lesson 4 – Always Keep a Travel Diary

 

Before I settled in Exmouth I travelled along the east coast and south west and learned how Australia was a country of contrasts. I drove through vineyards between Adelaide and Melbourne; I saw how the eucalyptus trees gave the Blue Mountains their name in NSW; I saw the tropical rainforests of Queensland; I saw a rainbow rising over Uluru.

 

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Beautiful Uluru, NT

 

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Sadly I Was Too Busy Looking At The Rainbow & This Is The Only Photo I Have

 

Although all of these sites have been etched in my brain forever, I really regret not documenting little details down and funny stories from my different road trips. Since I have been home I now keep diaries of all my new adventures no matter the destination. There’s nothing like recalling a memory that you had completely forgotten about and either recoiling with the embarrassment or beaming with happiness that you experienced it.

 

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Sydney Harbour Bridge on New Years Eve

 

Lesson 5 – Everyone Has To Backpack Through A Country At Least Once

 

I know it’s easier to backpack after or before university, before life gets serious and you join the ladder along with your peers. The thing is, getting away for weeks or months to explore a country doesn’t have to be so difficult. Or expensive.

 

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Great Ocean Road, Victoria

 

Australia was a great country to explore because it wasn’t entirely intimidating; it was English speaking, easy to get a work visa to fund the trip and well connected. I think it was the best way to see the country because it’s just so massive and to really visit and explore all these amazing places, a few weeks just isn’t enough. However I would recommend backpacking to anyone and everyone no matter what stage of their lives they are at because it doesn’t mean you have to go away for months and months.

 

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Wave Rock, WA

 

Smaller countries can be explored with a backpack in just a few weeks. I went to Cuba and explored the island (which was surprisingly much bigger than I expected!) in just over 2 weeks. Flights were only £420 return from Dublin and I spent around £800 on everything else – a bargain! However it was Australia that introduced me to my love of backpacking and for that I will always be grateful.

 

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Canberra, ACT

 

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Pit Stop On Our Way To Uluru

 

A little piece of me will always call Australia home because it taught me a great deal and introduced me to people who, even two years later, I still call family.

 

 

Danders Around Belfast

Danders Around Belfast

When I moved to Belfast just over a year ago, I was a complete newbie and had no idea how to make the city my home. I’m used to moving around (I think I’ve had about 10 addresses in the last 5 years!) so I know how important it is to discover places that I can make my own to help me feel more settled.

 

There are so many great places to walk in Belfast and because it’s such a small city, you can be amongst nature in no time at all. I am definitely an outdoors girl and I’ve discovered lots of places to go for a stroll or, if I’m feeling really adventurous, a jog! After a day in the office there is nothing better than surrounding yourself with nature and bringing yourself back down to earth again.

 

Here are a few ideas if any city folks are looking for inspiration…

 

Lagan Towpath

I lived in the south of Belfast when I first came here and my house was right across from the Lagan River. Soon after I moved, my friend Caoimhe introduced me to a walk that takes you up the Lagan towards the Lockkeeper Inn, a great dog-friendly pub that’s perfect for a summer pint. Within a mile of following the path, you can find yourself in a meadow and feel a million miles away from the city. Even though I’ve since moved, this is still one of my favourite walks.

 

IMG_0842   Springtime in the Meadow

 

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Following Caoimhe

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Cottage along the Lagan

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Divis Mountain

The mountain is located in the west of the city and a little out of the centre but it’s well worth getting in the car for. The views are incredible here – you can see both the Sperrin and Mourne mountains and since these ranges are found on opposite sides of Northern Ireland, it makes you realise just how small the country is. It also offers a great perspective of the city as well and on a clear day you can even see Scotland. There is a path you can follow all the way to Cave Hill which is great for cyclists otherwise there is a 3 mile loop walk for the those who want to dander.

Tip: if you ever hear of a meteor shower happening, this is the best spot to view them!

 

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Heathland at Divis Moutain

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View down to Belfast

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Star gazing last winter

 

Cave Hill 

The mountain is a landmark in Belfast with Belfast Castle and Belfast Zoo both found up here. You can park the car at the castle and make the climb up which can be a little tough (I took a fair few breaks pretending to take a photo but in actual fact I had a stitch so bad I could barely breathe!) and you need to be mindful of the stones when coming down again. The views are brilliant up here as well, especially of the port and you can even see Stormont in the distance as well.

Tip: bring a dog with you that can help pull you up on the lead towards the end!

 

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Spuds (Caoimhe’s spaniel) was a great pal and helped me up the latter part of the mountain!

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Bluebell Carpet

 

Cairn Wood

Andrew and I moved in together in March and he discovered this great wee walk not far from where we live. It’s located between Belfast and Newtownards and there are a few different routes to take depending on how fit you feel that day. The woodland is so pretty and through the trees you can spot the Irish Sea and Scrabo Tower in the distance.

 

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All rugged up!

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This photo was taken in April – looks more like November!

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There are so many great walks in and around the city – all it takes is some bravery to face the Irish weather in the colder months but it is always well worth it!

Vanilla & Coconut Oil Body Scrub

Vanilla & Coconut Oil Body Scrub

We’re well in to our summer here and we have been lucky enough to enjoy a lot of good weather recently i.e. more than 2 consecutive days of sunshine! People in Ireland tend to shed their clothes and sun bathe in temperatures most other countries wouldn’t even consider shorts but the sun has been consistent and there are fewer pasty bodies about Belfast these days.

 

It’s great to see freckles appear on my face and a real life tan developing naturally but with tan comes great responsibility. Peeling skin ain’t a good look for anyone and I’ve discovered how important exfoliation is in maintaining (i.e. clinging on to) this tan for as long as I can. By giving your body a good scrub, you’re exposing newer skin cells that are better at absorbing the sun and keeping the tan. Just make sure to keep moisturised and your skin protected!

 

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I decided to make my own body scrub because the 3 ingredients I needed didn’t require me to leave the house – win!! It is also very easy to make and it’s a great idea to give as a gift to anyone who might be heading away on holiday. It’s inspired me to make mini versions for lip scrub as well!

 

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If you want to have a whirl at making your own body scrub just follow the below instructions…

 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of solid coconut oil
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extra

 

Method

  • Combine all ingredients in a bowl and use a hand mixer to whip up the ingredients so they look creamy
  • Make sure not to whip for too long or the mixture will separate – if this happens you can pop it in the freezer for a bit
  • Pop the mixture in to your containers
  • Et vóila! Get to scrubbin’!

 

Seriously it is that easy. And surprisingly tasty! Although try to save it for your skin 😉

 

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The Lost Art of Writing Letters

The Lost Art of Writing Letters

Since I was little my Granny Una has written me and my sisters letters to congratulate us at different stages of our lives; birthdays, communions, graduations, new houses. I’ve kept most of these cards over the years because not only has she always something incredibly witty to say but because reading these handwritten words of encouragement from someone you love can be so much more enduring than hearing them.

 

Unfortunately Una has a knack for not realising the impact or severity of her words at times and some of us can become victims of the infamous ‘Una/Granny burn’. Her hints to change can be as subtle as a brick. Like the time she gently suggested that my cousin Pete might like to start going to the gym. Or telling my mother that she’s ‘quite a bundle’. Oh Una we love you.

 

Recently I was in hospital and she sent me a letter and although her writing is becoming more scrawled and less legible, those obscure pieces of advice are still there and she still has the ability to make me laugh. Reading her card made me think of how rare it is to receive anything in the mail other than what deals are on in Eurospar. Everything is communicated on Facebook – no one would dream of sending a birthday card when you can just type a quick message in 5 seconds. No letters to say well done on getting the new job, new house or new baby. How about we spend that extra few minutes actually writing down how happy we are for someone instead of our message becoming lost in a sea of others?

 

I have been trying to write more letters recently when I think it might brighten someone’s day and I thought I’d share a few ideas on how you can do this too. Nobody has time for anything these days which is why it feels even more special to receive a handwritten note, especially one with a stamp on it. I’m not saying we have to get an inkwell and write by candlelight but just letting someone you love know that you do – simples.

 

Here are a few times when you could write a little note…

 

When you know someone is looking for a job

We’ve all been there. Completing a million applications, hearing nothing back and thinking you will be forever searching for that job that will make you happy. This is an exhausting and wearisome time especially when we’re at the beginning of our careers and have no idea what direction we should be going in. If you know someone is trying to put themselves out there but getting little back, write a short note to them with a few words of encouragement and a few reasons why they should keep going. Maybe a quote is all they need or recalling a time they personally impressed you. Not only will it surely pick them up but it will also remind them of what they are capable of too.

 

When you know someone is grieving

Unfortunately, all of us will encounter moments of grief in our lives where we feel lost and alone. The days following the loss will be full of people and sandwiches but it’s the months after when you’re still learning to cope that can be the loneliest. In my last year of university in Edinburgh, I lost my sister Amy and it was the letters I received from family and friends that enabled me to dig deep and find the determination to finish my degree. Grief is complicated in that there are times when we are absolutely fine and then all of a sudden we are dragged under. Knowing that there is someone willing to bring you back up to surface, no matter how long it’s been since your loss, is a wonderful feeling.

 

When you want to share something beautiful

Sometimes the best time to write a note is when there is no real reason to except to share a little beauty. Maybe you’ve seen a pretty handmade card, read a moving article in a magazine or taken a photograph you’re dying to share with them via something other than Instagram. Posting a little memento in an envelope that you think might make someone smile is one of the best reasons to share something beautiful.

 

When you’re on holiday

Remember postcards? Usually sent by family friends and mostly talking about how many days it rained and who got the worst burns. Sometimes though they give a real insight in to an unknown country and allow us to imagine where the person was when they were writing it. My Granny, of course, loves them so I always try to send them to her. Even when I’m only away a week and I’ll probably see her before she gets it. When I write them now I describe where I’m sitting, the views I have in front of me and how I feel so the receiver can really picture the scene. I find these notes are a lot better at capturing moments than uploading a picture on Facebook intended for no one in particular. Maybe even write one to yourself so you can remember that time when you look back years later!

 

When you thought of a friend who lives overseas

I made some incredible friends while living in Australia but the likelihood of getting to see them again is quite small and so I made a decision to keep in touch through letters as much as I can. Pen pals were boring in school, it’s hard to develop a relationship with a French student when you can’t go beyond ‘My name is Alex’ and ‘I like to play tennis’ but nowadays we live in a global community where friendships can be made in the far corners of the world. It’s great to keep in touch online but letters are a great way to take a trip down memory lane and keep these memories forever.

 

When you are grateful for help you’ve been given

A thank you note is such a simple touch but it’s a great way to show appreciation to someone who has helped you in a time of need. Maybe your friend helped you prep for an interview, your dad gave you a hand moving house or your partner gave the house a clean when you were feeling low; these are all times we should be thankful. Communicate that to them personally to remind them how lucky you are to have them.

 

I’m going to practice what I preach now and write a few letters to those that might need a few thoughtful words and maybe I might get some back!

 

Happy Sunday folks!!

 

 

 

Tips for Belfast in June

Tips for Belfast in June

Evening all!

 

Living in Belfast offers a wide variety of activities to fill our weekends and evenings, especially in the summer months, but sometimes we just don’t realise just how much is going on around us. I moved to Belfast for the first time just over a year ago and have made it my mission to get to know the city as much as I can and be knowledgeable of all the different things to do.

 

June sees the beginning of summer where evenings are spent in the back garden, losing recollection of time as the sun refuses to descend. We’ve already seen the most glorious sunshine over the last few weeks and while the majority of us have resigned ourselves to believing the good weather has been and gone, I am determined to get out of the deck chair and see just what’s going on in the city.

 

I’ve rounded up a few things to do this June – small ideas that will only take up a few hours in an evening and events that might take up a weekend in your calendar. I hope I can inspire a few of you because once we pass the Solstice, you will be hearing everyone telling you that “the days drawing in now” so use the stretch in the evenings wisely!

 

So here’s what’s on this June…

 

Belfast Book Festival

The festival is only in its 6th year but this year’s programme is packed full of events between 9th and 19th June that will interest anyone. There are book launches, readings, a poetry tour of Ireland, music and discussions for everyone to attend for free or at a very low cost. I’m looking forward to going to a talk by Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korean defector and human rights activist who’s TED Talk about her life and escape from North Korea has received more than 5 million views online. Find more about the programme here.

 

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Belfast Flea Market

The monthly flea market runs on the first Sunday of every month from 1pm and 6pm and is a little treasure amongst the Union St Bars. Based out the back of the infamous Sunflower Bar, there is a plethora of wee stalls to explore for vintage gems, potted plants, records and general bric-a-brac that you don’t need but have to have. They have a great woodfire oven next to the stalls providing delicious pizzas to fuel the less energised shopper and the less enthused shopping partner. Wash the pizza down with a cold pint and you can’t ask for a better way to end your weekend.

 

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Belfast Blues Festival

Another Belfast festival still in it’s early years, the Blues Festival is on the last weekend of June between 24th and 26th. There’s a ‘Blues Trail’ that you can follow across the city taking in as many gigs as possible ending up at the Festival Marquee in Writers Square. The usual suspects can be found along the way e.g. Crow Black Chicken, Rab McCullough and Pat McManus but there are heaps of other unknown talents to be discovered in the back of a dimly lit pub. Have a look at the line-up here to create your own trail or choose a place to park yourself up with a seat for the day!

 

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Gobbin’s Walk

About 20 miles north of Belfast you can find a dramatic coastline with staggering cliffs that tower over the Irish Sea. One way to truly experience the wildness of the Irish coast is to walk along a man-made path that clings to these cliffs and that would test the bravest of us all. Gobbin’s Walk was re-opened this year and tours are now available to walk the path that was once popular among Edwardian tourists. Have a stroll at the edge of our island with the waves crashing below you and the wind whipping around your face. If you’re lucky you may even get spot some red beaks among the rocks as puffins can be found here at this time of year! Find out more about the walk and how to book tickets for the tour here.

 

Gobbins Path

Photo: www.gobbinscliffpath.com

 

Twilight at Mount Stewart

Mount Stewart is a 19th century manor house and gardens located about 15 miles from Belfast. The site is owned by the National Trust and has the most amazing gardens that are spectacular this time of year. For those of you who are fans of classical music, there is an event on 24th June called ‘Twilight at the Trust’ that will see individual rooms in the house opening up to host incredibly talented musicians. Tickets are £50 and include a canapé and drinks reception with the finale being held in the Great Room with all the musicians gathering together – not too shabby! You can book tickets here.

 

Mount Stewart

Photo: www.nationaltrust.org.uk

 

I hope these ideas give you some inspiration to venture out in to the city and further this June and fingers crossed the sun will return for us again!

 

xx

A Cuban Adventure Part 4 – Remedios

A Cuban Adventure Part 4 – Remedios

We got another taxi from Trinidad to Remedios; this seemed to be our preferred method of travel because the costs were pretty low and it meant we had more freedom to stop when we wanted to. Unfortunately our taxi driver couldn’t understand us any English and it was the first and only time in Cuba I doubted whether we were completely safe to travel on our own. The driver was VERY serious and blasted salsa music for 6 hours straight and by the time we reached Remedios we were on the verge of insanity!

 

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We had booked to stay in Hostal Buen Viaje after seeing some great reviews online before our trip. The hosts were Lester and Naty who were so accommodating that I felt like I was home. The room was airy which was great because we felt the heat up on the north part of the island a bit more. We also felt the mosquitoes too so I would recommend a net when you’re visiting these parts! I was running about like a mad woman one night trying to find the buzzing culprits.

 

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The Casa had the most beautiful courtyard where ate our breakfasts and dinner. Our hosts even placed a little St. Patrick butter knife out for us which had been a gift from their Irish friends – such a thoughtful touch! The food was amazing too. Naty cooked a local fish (I stupidly didn’t write it down) which we both devoured and Andrew isn’t even a big fan of seafood.

 

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Remedios also provided the best sunsets we saw in our entire trip. On our first time we were sitting in the town square drinking wine and the sky was the colour of electricity. A storm was brewing within the clouds the sun was setting in which produced the most intense orange colours. No photo would ever be able to do it justice.

 

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We only had one full day in Remedios which we spent on Cayo Santa Maria, a key which is just off the mainland and connected by bridge. When we were dropped off, we had to walk about 700m through mangroves which felt like a hike in the midday heat. However when we arrived on to the beach and saw the water we were awestruck. This was by far this most idyllic out of all the beaches we visited mainly because there was barely a soul there.

 

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There was little huts to sit under out of the sun although I never wanted to leave the water. It was shallow enough to just sit and watch the dark storm clouds gather in the distance. A hotel was located up the beach so we could grab drinks when we needed to because there was nothing else bar the huts. A full day in the heat began to take its toll on us after a few hours and we started to make our way back to the hut to meet our driver. Through the mangroves an Italian couple were startled by a snake and had stopped in their tracks. We felt so knowledgeable when we told them that there were no poisonous snakes in Cuba – a wee tip our guide Eddie had told us in Trinidad!

 

I wish we had have been able to stay longer in Remedios, especially at our Casa because it felt like a retreat after all our travelling. If we ever come back to Cuba I know we would definitely make sure to return to see Lester and Naty.

Homemade Skin Brightening Toner

Homemade Skin Brightening Toner

I’ve decided to do something rare and surprising: actually following through with something I have talked about doing for a long time! I’ve intended on making some of my own beauty products for ages now and even purchased this book to help guide me. I read the book, full of motivation to buy mountains of jojoba oil and beeswax but just never got round to it. What I realised though is that I perhaps set my intentions a bit too high and needed to start smaller instead of aiming to produce Body Shop quality products in my first week.

 

I read a couple of recipes online and saw this one for a toner which didn’t seem too intimidating. Toner is a great way to lift skin of products and oils and I thought it was a perfect beginner project for the summer. In this (short-lived) heat we have to constantly reapply sunscreen which can lead to a build up of dirt and grime across the day. If you suffer from oily or combination skin, using a toner between cleansing and moisturising can give you the assurance that those excess oils have been removed.

 

I only started using the toner this week so I’m yet to notice any miraculous differences but I do love the smell and how fresh it leaves my skin. I think it’ll be great for travelling to keep skin feeling clear and refreshed. For such a simple recipe it gave me a great boost in confidence in making my own products and I have now ordered essential oils to get a bit of a workshop together – will make sure to post more attempted efforts!!

 

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The toner contains witch hazel, lemon juice and water – that’s all! Witch hazel’s strong antioxidant and astringent properties make it excellent at killing bacteria and preventing cell damage. The lemon juice is a great antibacterial too and can really help reduce those pesky blackheads. As well as that, because it’s rich in vitamin C, lemon juice can lighten and brighten your skin helping to eliminate dark spots and irregularities – not a bad all rounder!

 

Al you need for your own toner is:

  • 1/2 cup of lemon juice
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2/3 cup of witch hazel
  • plastic bottle jar (I just bought mine off Amazon)

 

To make the toner you just need to mix the ingredients together in a jug and pour in to your containers – easy peasy lemon squeezy (sorry – not sorry)!

 

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Good luck with yours and hopefully there will be more successful DIY beauty posts to come in the future!

 

xx