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Month: August 2016

Pre-Wedding Care Package

Pre-Wedding Care Package

This weekend I will be flying over to England to watch my dear friend Rachel make the promise of a lifetime to the love of her life. Weddings are incredibly special and to be asked to be a part of someone’s day is always lovely since it means such a great deal to the people involved.

 

Rachel and I lived together along with two other girls throughout the four years of university in Edinburgh. These years were formative for me when I look back on them because I had so much to learn on my own and they watched me fail quite a lot. Failing at making it to any morning lecture, failing to be sober for more than a few days, failing at making any meal that didn’t involve spuds. Honestly it’s still a mystery how I managed to get through those years!

 

It’s so great to still have these friendships now that we’re a little older and not much wiser. Unfortunately we’re scattered across the UK and Ireland which means when these lovely weddings do take place, it’s not always kind on the pockets. I’ve written a blog post before on how to afford the difficult wedding season at an age where it seems your entire Facebook clan are getting hitched (see that post here) and unfortunately I had to make the decision not to attend Rach’s hen party because I couldn’t afford it and the wedding together.

 

The guilt when you have to let someone down is awful but a fair few of us have to make these tough choices. As a way of letting her know that I was thinking of her in the lead up to her special day, I decided to make a little care package for her. I’ve witnessed the stress some brides feel in the days before so I thought a wee parcel filled with some light-hearted gifts might make her smile.

 

This gift box was focused on thoughtfulness rather than a big budget and I wanted to include things that I could relate to her wedding. After some brainstorming, I came up with these treats…

 

  • Cosy socks – for the unlikely chance that she may get cold feet
  • Mini bottle of Prosecco – to calm the nerves over breakfast
  • Pretty tissues – to help dry her eyes and keep her make-up in tact
  • Homemade Lavender Pillow Spray – to make sure she gets a good night sleep
  • Homemade Lip Balm – to keep those peckers altar-ready (find out how to make your own here)
  • Homemade Lavender Soap – just because they’re pretty and they smell nice (and again, learn how to make them here)

 

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I really loved putting this together and it’s made me think that it would be a great idea for a different time of year that I’m not quite ready to talk about yet (it rhymes with Shishmas). Crafting your own little presents involves so much more thought than just buying a 2 for 1 out of the shop down the street and I reckon it makes the gift giving that wee bit more special.

 

Good luck to Rachel & Heather on their wedding day!!

Growing up with CF

Growing up with CF

Since before I can remember I have always been aware that I was different. Things that seemed normal to me I soon realised were not normal for other kids. At primary school me and my sisters would be called up in the middle of the canteen to get our enzymes (tablets we need to take with food), my Mum would line us all up on her double bed to do physiotherapy at night and days off school were taken to visit the hospital in Belfast to get our lung function checked.

 

Even though this awareness sometimes made me feel a little uneasy, I rarely believed that having Cystic Fibrosis would stop me from living the life I wanted to live. And it hasn’t for the most part. When I tell people what my daily routine includes (or should include, I’m a bit naughty sometimes) or about the disease I was born with, I can see the flash of pity in their faces. This doesn’t bother me because not only is it a natural reaction, it’s all I’ve ever known.

 

I was diagnosed with CF when I was a few months old. My parents were in their twenties and understandably terrified by the diagnosis, not having heard of the disease before. Thankfully there was no Google back then because I’m sure that would have led to full blown hysteria!! They learned as much as I can and managed to get on with despite the uphill struggle that lay before them.

 

And I was one of the lucky ones. After the diagnosis and once they had my medication stabilised, I thrived like any normal baby. In fact, I was an absolute tubster or a ‘barrel’ as my Mum lovingly recalls. Children with CF often struggle to put on weight because their body isn’t equipped to absorb nutrients effectively but thankfully that has never been an issue for me.

 

My two sisters followed soon after me and they too were diagnosed with CF. Having three girls with CF is extremely rare as parents who are carriers of the CF gene only have a 1 in 4 chance of having a child born with CF. Not exactly a gift to be grateful for but again, they managed to get on with it.

 

We had a very normal childhood despite the odds that were stacked against us. When I was born, the life expectancy was around 15 yet my sisters and I never had to endure any serious hospital admissions when we were young which was very lucky. We took part in everything; all the Sports Days, school trips, holidays, without any trouble at all.

 

I was 11 when I was first hospitalised and 13 when I contracted Pseudomonas. I’m almost positive that I contracted it while in hospital because patients had a common room where we could all socialise and I suppose feel a little more normal. This is shocking to think back on now because cross-infection is regimental in hospitals these days!

 

The hospital admissions became quite commonplace during my teens but yet I didn’t fear CF, just the needle that was used to thread the IV line up my arm that administered the antibiotics. Hospital was a time to get spoiled, avoid schoolwork and binge watch TV shows!

 

It wasn’t until my sister Amy was diagnosed with CF related liver disease that I understood how CF could take something from us, the family that managed to do so well for so long. Amy was the middle girl, the dark eyed and dark haired beauty that was the gentlest of us three. She was a year and a half younger than me and we clashed constantly over the years, like chalk and cheese in so many ways.

 

Amy was 11 when she started showing symptoms of liver disease which were horrendously scary to witness and I can’t imagine the fear she must have experienced. To be honest, it’s very difficult to think about how she must have felt because it riddles me with guilt.

 

She managed to battle liver disease for 9 years. Suffered countless surgeries and procedures to manage the varicose veins in her oesophagus that were continuing to bleed. Flying back and forth from Birmingham and seeing doctor after doctor. As if life as a teenager wasn’t hard enough, Amy had a whole mountain of crap to deal with more than anyone I know.

 

And then on a rainy Friday morning in November 2010, we lost Amy. She was 20 years old.

 

Our family has never been the same since and we have not tried to get on with it. We have felt it all. Our loss has consumed us and defined us forever. I miss her every day and I am still baffled by how the grief can come and go in uncontrollable waves. The emotion I feel the most is probably guilt. I think this is normal. Or I hope that it is.

 

Since her death I decided to live as much as I could. I graduated from University, watched lemurs dance between trees in Madagascar, saw a rainbow rise over Uluru, followed cheetah prints on safari in Africa, walked through the jungle around Angkor Wat, rode horses through Cuban tobacco fields. I have refused to let CF define or hinder my life.

 

In many ways, not letting CF define me has improved the quality of my health. I strongly believe that the mind has so much control of the physical body and that if you put your efforts in to living an active, happy, fulfilling life then your body reacts to that. But I am also lucky that I have a strong body that has been able to withstand a lot of medication and countless infections.

 

I contracted a nasty bug called cepacia when I was 20, the bug that no CF patient wants to get for it is extremely resistant to most antibiotics. The bug resulted in me not being able to come in to close contact with my sisters for years. I wasn’t allowed to hug Amy until they knew that she would be passing away.

 

My youngest sister Shannon has since contracted cepacia more than likely from myself because after losing Amy we needed each other more than ever. She was 17 when Amy passed away and dealt with a lot more than a typical teenager had to like Amy. Her bravery still astounds me.

 

I’m 27 now with lung function that sits at around 78%. I was hospitalised in June for the first time in 3 and a half years. I am incredibly lucky. Right now my life is good, I go the gym 2/3 times a week, I go walking with my friend every week, I try to be as active as I can but not just because I know it helps my health but also because being outside and amongst the world makes me happy.

 

The future can be a scary thing but yet I don’t know another person my age who isn’t afraid of what the future holds. None of us knows what’s around the corner in life so we have to enjoy what’s happening right now. Look around us and figure out if we’re living the life we want to live and if not, then knowing we have every power to change it. I know this because I’ve had a 27 year headstart.

 

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Homemade Lavender Soap

Homemade Lavender Soap

Before we flew to Croatia for our summer holiday this year, I had read that the islands we were hoping to visit grew lots of lavender and that you could take excursions to the farms to see them in peak season. Now, I know full well that visiting lavender farms wouldn’t have been high on Andrew’s priority list, or most people’s, but I had this image of us driving a scooter around the island with the smell of lavender in the air, purple hills rolling in the distance, Yann Tiersen playing in the background, that whole European cinema vibe thing.

 

When we got to Hvar I found out we had just missed the lavender season and that they had celebrated the big lavender festival in late June – gutted. Despite my disappointment, and Andrew’s relief, there was still so much to buy because the crops had just been harvested. There was still that smell in the air that I had daydreamed about when we walked past the market stalls and of course I bought as much as I could.

 

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Now that I’m home and I have given most of the lavender away to a few bewildered family members (I don’t think anyone seems to appreciate lavender or its smell as much as I do), I’m left with bags of the stuff that will more than likely sit in our spare room alongside our other souvenirs unless I think of ways I can use them.

 

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I’ve been planning on making my own soap for a while and have had molds and goat’s milk base waiting patiently to be used for the last number of months. Having an abundance of lavender seemed like the perfect opportunity to create something lovely with my lonely apparatus and it turns out that it is embarrassingly simple!

 

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I chose to use a little lavender oil, some honey and lemon zest with my fresh lavender to bring out as many good smells as possible (my sense of smell is shocking so I need to double the quantities of recommended servings of essential oils in order to smell anything)! The recipe only requires a few things you might not have lying around but I got base and molds from Amazon so it’s not too difficult!

 

I plan on giving these out to friends at a dinner party this weekend. I love that when I say dinner party it sounds like a sophisticated gathering but really it’s just a bunch of girls drinking wine and talking about their dogs. Speaking of, I’m the only one without a dog and this weekend we’re looking after my sister’s Cocker Spaniel, Bella, who I hope will win Andrew over and make him realise that dogs are just about the best thing that can happen to anyone!

 

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I hope the girls will like them because I’ve been loving the smell they have brought in to the house. I still have lots of lavender to use though so next up I think is Lavender Pillow S

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Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect

So my Halfway Summer Bucketlist has been sitting all sad and unticked since I wrote it as I have been waiting unpatiently for the last of the summer sun to arrive. Turns out I might be waiting a long time because the weather has been relentlessly grey and unaccommodating. August has been hammering past us though so it’s time I realised I live in Ireland and to not ever depend on the weather!

 

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Camping has been my biggest priority this summer; I’ve been aching to sleep outside and wake up hearing nothing, absolutely damn all as the sun comes up. We’re so lucky to be close to many beautiful spots where heading off for a night’s camping is super easy, shameful really that I’m leaving it until now to finally get moving!

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The Quiet Woman: 5 Ways to Embrace the Quiet

The Quiet Woman: 5 Ways to Embrace the Quiet

As I have gotten older, I have realised how much I crave silence. Not just silence around me but within me as well. My brain has an awful knack for refusing to slow down when I need it to e.g. overthinking a flippant comment a friend made, berating myself for a silly mistake in work, creating a mental list of the million things I have to do that day/week/month/whatever.

 

However sometimes the noise gets too much and I feel overcome with all that I think is expected of me but actually is what I expect of myself. We are all so hard on ourselves that we rarely congratulate the little moments, how far we’ve come and how great our lives actually are when not measured against someone else’s.

 

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In order to allow myself to see the positive things happening around me and appreciate the smallest of things that contribute to my happy life, I need the quiet. I need the judge to put down the gavel and step back in to the shadows because once all the noise stops my eyes are truly open. I can see all that is important and my perspective shifts to where it should be.

 

I need a quiet moment to myself every day and since I’ve done this I have noticed a great difference in the way I process my worries and understand them. Taking a step back from the chaos around me allows me to see it for what it is and know that everything, both positive and negative, is temporary. This means I cherish the happy moments in my life, I cling on to them and drink them in. When the bad stuff happens, I acknowledge it and move on (or try and fail horribly).

 

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I have a few ways in which I find my wee quiet times in case you might need some inspiration for yourself. What you must know is that there is always time, even 10 minutes, for yourself every day. No one will stop you from stealing a little time to yourself unless you let them. So do yourself a favour and zone out. Even just for a little while.

 

  1. Take Your Shoes Off

Sometimes when I feel overstressed and need to bring myself back down to earth, a wee thing like taking my shoes off suddenly makes me feel grounded again. I know it’s so simple but going out the back garden and feeling the soft fluffy grass or finding the nearest beach to stroll down does the heart a whole lotta good. Pay attention to the good noise; the wind, the leaves, the sea. Consciously focusing on hearing nothing can help empty our heads of all the crap we insist on keeping there.

 

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  1. Have Lunch On Your Own

And away from your desk for that matter! It’s always nice catching up with workmates over lunch but sometimes I need my own company to decompress and re-energise myself for the afternoon. Sometimes I read through a book to escape and other times I just go for a stroll near the office. I always feel the benefit especially on a frantic work day.

 

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  1. Create A Chilled Out Playlist

I know this isn’t necessarily quiet but for those of us who can’t trust ourselves to switch off on our own, music is always a good way to subdue the whirring in our heads. Choose songs that aren’t necessarily nostalgic so won’t take you to the past but songs you currently love and make you happy.

 

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  1. Book A Yoga Class

It’s no secret that yoga is my favourite tonic after a crazy day in my brain. It’s a sure fire way to help me bring my awareness to my train of thought, connect with myself and be a little kinder to myself too.

 

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  1. Craft/Bake/Cook

Making something with your hands is a great distraction from whatever thoughts that, quiet literally, might be doing your head in that day. When I’m crafting something, especially something I intend to give as a gift, I feel really good about myself. Sitting in a quiet room and giving one thing my full attention is a challenge but a rewarding one.

 

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Hope you all have a great week and good luck with finding that quiet!

 

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A Weekend Guide to Belfast

A Weekend Guide to Belfast

Belfast is a city that has seen the best of times and the worst of times – you can see its past in the ashes of the shipping industry left in the docklands, in the murals on the walls of the east and west and in the songs of the aul boy in the corner of the pub. Now the city is firmly looking ahead and there are new places popping up every weekend – so many activities!

 

When I moved to Belfast about a year and a half ago I was starting from scratch and I have loved getting to know it, make it mine – the oases among the concrete, the independent shops, the markets. There are so many hidden gems that many people don’t get the chance to see here so I thought I’d create a little weekend guide so any newcomers can make the most of their visit and see the best of Belfast.

 

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Friday

If you’re landing in the evening try and plan ahead by booking a dinner and a show for the night. The Lyric Theatre has some fantastic productions run all year by local theatre companies and it’s a great opportunity to see Irish culture come to life. In August the Lyric is showing God Bless The Child, a play based on the stories of Frank O’Connor – I’m promising myself to book a ticket!

 

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Before you hit the play, grab an early dinner at Molly’s Yard. This small restaurant is found around the corner from Queen’s University and offers some great simple dishes that will fill your bellies up before your show. After dinner, take a walk through the grounds of Queen’s University and on through the Botanic Gardens. This little dander will not only help you walk off the calories you just consumed at Molly’s, it’ll also give you a look at locals going about their daily life. Once you’re through the park you you just have to walk along the river a little further to get to the Lyric – all very handy.

 

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If you’re still feeling a little thirsty after the Lyric, then take the short walk further down the river to Cutters Wharf – a bar that sits in the reeds of the Lagan. In the summer this is the best place to enjoy the long evening sun and watch the rowers from Queen’s University doing their practice runs along the river.

 

Saturday

When you’re in Belfast you have to make sure to find a place that does an Ulster Fry – the staple weekend breakfast for most of us here! Maggie May’s or Conor’s, both beside Queen’s University, are great places that see the hangover troops descend. If you fancy something not quite as greasy, then try 5A which is found a little further in to Stranmillis. This place does AMAZING coffee and AMAZING foccacias. Please don’t leave without trying their salted caramel brownie either because it would be absolute sacrilege.

 

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After your brekkie, you have many options. If you feel like doing a bit of shopping (or shappin’ as the locals call it) then you can hit Victoria Square. My favourite shop is Avoca just behind Victoria Square – it takes all my power not to spend my tiny fortune in there. For independent shops, I love the Kiln & Loom found on Ormeau Road. It’s a wee shop that sells fantastic local craft, jewellery, bath products and local magazines like Freckle.

 

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If the sun is out though, first of all count yourself lucky and second of all make the most of it! Cavehill is the spot to climb and get the best views of Belfast. The Antrim Castle lies up in the hills and from up there you can see across to Stormont, down to the docks and across the Belfast lough that carried the Titanic for the first time. Make sure to make the big climb to the top though, through the woods and past the caves, it’s wild but beautiful. A bit like Ireland really.

 

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If you fancy getting up close to where the Titanic was created then there are great tours to enjoy down in the Titanic Quarter. There’s a bus that can take you round the different spots and the Titanic Centre itself. You can see the Harland & Wolff cranes, Samson and Goliath, up close down here. These huge monuments as they now are, can be spotted across the city and when I spy them flying in to the City airport, I know I’m home.

 

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You’ll be deserving a cold drink after all that activity and the city centre is coming down with places to quench your thirst. For cocktails outside, the Perch Rooftop bar is a great spot that has a long list to keep the picky happy. From around the corner you can fill up on food at James Street South for a fancy option or there’s Coco’s, Deane’s or Stix & Stones that are only an arms throw away.

 

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For the rest of the night you can only choose the Cathedral Quarter. This an area in Belfast that seems to have sprung out of nowhere and there are countless bars to entertain yourself with. There’s the Spaniard for the rum drinkers, Muriel’s for the gin drinkers, the Harp Bar for the beer drinkers and the Dirty Onion for the anything drinkers. If you find yourself not content on going home when the pubs start closing, you can pop your head in Love & Death to dance those little hooves off until the wee hours.

 

Sunday

Sunday is a slow day in Belfast – you won’t catch people moving too fast for fear that Monday will come quicker. St. George’s Markets is a sheer delight for the weary Sunday head and the buzz will revive what energy you have left. There is food from all over the world (Cuban sandwiches are not to be missed), local products to be bought, fresh bread, art, books and homemade fudge that you will promise to save but you definitely won’t…

 

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If it’s the first Sunday of the month head to the Sunflower Bar to check out the vintage gear on offer or even just to get the cure if the headache hasn’t desisted yet. This bar is an historical monument in itself, still bearing the security cages featured on most pubs during the Troubles.

 

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What you can’t miss though is a good traditional music session before you go. Fibber Magee’s, The Garrick and The Duke of York all have sessions that start early in the day so you can get to your bed early. Listening to traditional music in the corner of a tiny pub packed with people is the ultimate Irish experience and it doesn’t matter how predictable it might seem, the music can move the hardest of men. Anyway, it’s a good excuse to get the last Guinness in before you go and sure what more could you want?

 

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A weekend in Belfast is a good way to introduce yourself to the city although there is so much to see beyond the things I’ve spoken of. There’s Black Taxi tours of the troubled areas, museums, gigs, or festivals that seem to be on all year. Whatever you do, come prepared to see a city that’s found its feet after years of being dragged down. And a place where the craic is always mighty.