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The Struggle With Being Present

The Struggle With Being Present

Hello friends! It’s been a while hasn’t it? I so hope that you’ve been enjoying all the amazingness May has brought with her; wildflowers, blossoms, SUNSHINE! My goodness it feels great to be able to swish about in dresses again but not so good for the lazy git in me who hates shaving her legs (I flat out refuse to go above the knee).

While I would use this chance to apologise for my unplanned stint of absenteeism, I am choosing to forego excuses and admit to you that I was just busy living as best I could now that the longer evenings have slipped in and cold afternoon beers are perfectly acceptable. This refusal to apologise ended up being the basis for this post as I began to feel the familiar guilt creeping in when I realised I hadn’t written anything beyond work emails and social media captions in weeks.

Truth be told I am consciously trying to enjoy the perks of Spring with no strings attached. This might sound ludicrous to some people but for those of us who are on the never-ending hamster wheel of social media the struggle to keep up is very real. There’s a running joke amongst many that if you didn’t put it in on Instagram then it didn’t happen which is a frightening truth I have come to see in myself.

A few weekends ago Andrew and I took a stroll to a local woodland to see how the bluebells were coming up. I had taken the camera to snap a few photos and asked Andrew (the ever-patient Insta partner) to take a few portraits of me while I was there. Now this is nothing new for either of us but Andrew nervously commented how he would like to go somewhere just once without the need to document it and felt that I wasn’t being present when we were exploring these places together because of my addictive need to get as many beautiful photos as possible.

I might have looked hurt for a second but the truth was he was right. I’m not sure if this is because of social media or because I truly love photography but it is an obsession I am becoming more and more aware of. I have definitely been that friend at dinner who takes a quick video or photo of the food before we eat and I have definitely visited a place based on how Insta-worthy it is. And while I know there is no real harm in this (and I am certainly not alone!), I am only recently seeing how it’s beginning to affect my own ability to be present especially when I am with the people I love.

Doing it for the ‘gram is not something I want to be known for. I recently read a piece by Mel Wiggins recently where she spoke about adding value and being more conscious about what we decide to share with the world be it through blogging or social media and it made me think about why I started blogging in the first place. I have always wanted to use this blog as a way to make a connection with someone else, share my thoughts and discover places that you or I didn’t know about. However I also want to keep that separate from my own wee moments that I have to myself or with those close to me. I don’t want to interrupt that time just because I see an ivy wall and think “OMG I HAVE TO GET A PHOTO HERE!” because does it actually matter if I keep something for myself?

I want the people I love to get all of me when I’m with them, not a half-present scroller who is double checking if she got a decent photo or replying to comments on her latest post. I also want you guys, the folks who I love to share stories with, to see the real genuine side of my life. While it might be hard to believe, I actually do love to visit the apple blossoms when I go to visit my family in Armagh and I live for exploring new places on my weekends. However I will be making a conscious effort to not put pressure on my spare time to produce pleasing content proving I did something worthwhile with my time because we all deserve time to just be, right??

Don’t get me wrong, I will continue to share photos and words from places I want you to see and I think are beautiful because that brings me immense joy! Sitting here writing and editing cross-legged on the sofa after a day of work (with jeans unzipped naturally) makes me stupidly happy because I love nothing more than being honest whether it be through my writing and photography. I also want to be able to forgive myself for the moments of supposed weakness when I see something beautiful and want to capture it. There is absolutely no shame in doing something that makes us happy so there should be no shame when we want to record or share it but for me the key is creating those boundaries where I don’t feel like I’m living my life through a screen.

With that in mind and in the spirit of Mental Health week I have decided to set myself a few boundaries in the hope it might help me become a more present person but also become more relaxed and focused. In case you’re feeling the same I’ve decided to share them but please let me know if you have any of your own thoughts that you’d like to share too!

Allocate Time for Social Media

For a while I was sharing on IG stories, Instagram and Facebook multiple times throughout the day but now I allocate a short time in the evening after dinner to do all of this. It means I’m not having to constantly check my phone for replies or comments and I’m spending a lot less time on my phone because of it.

Leaving My Phone Behind

I’ve been doing this recently when I go for a big walk or get out in nature. I’ll take my camera just in case but just not having my phone in my pocket removes the temptation to check for updates and allows me to feel so much more present.

Posting Less

For a while there I was completely guilty for buying in to the social media climb. I really wanted to see my numbers grow which convinced me that I had to be present on social media throughout the day and post a photo at least once. This pressure meant I was posting photos and content that felt rushed and irrelevant which meant that my following weren’t really seeing me. At the end of the day, an authentic following is one who you engages with you naturally and who continue to support you no matter how often you post. This is a lesson I am so glad to have learned and now I’ll only post a few times a week when I have the time.

Using Apps

I downloaded the Forest app to help gain a bit of willpower in my moments of weakness. The app allows you to plant a seed and the longer you manage to leave your phone the seed will grow in to a tree. It’s been a great tool for me because I’m a visual person who needs to see the reward so I’ll be keeping it up (especially in the office!).

How Has Grief Changed You?

How Has Grief Changed You?

Grief is not an easy topic to write about for many obvious reasons but mostly because it’s so deeply personal that I feel that by sharing my own experiences I am exposing the very rawest corner of my soul, the part that is covered in scars and afraid of being hurt again. Suffering extreme loss is unfortunately something that most of us will experience and so I also feel a sense of selfishness too when I talk about my own grief; how dare I have the audacity to write about my own woes when so many are going through the same thing?

Except there are times when I must write about it because the words and memories are bubbling up within me when I am missing her more than ever. Losing my sister undoubtedly changed who I was and how I viewed the world from the second I let her go. I was suddenly left with an unbearable amount of questions about life that few were able to answer so I was forced to learn on my own, attempting to overcome the emotional roadblocks that would come shattering down at any moment.

When we lost Amy the process of saying goodbye to her was like an out of body experience, as if a part of me was watching down and thinking: is this actually happening? I was standing by her hospital bed watching the life slowly slip out of her but my mind felt confused; her hands were warm, her chest was rising, surely she wasn’t dying? It was an incomprehensible moment when I was left searching for the final words I wanted to whisper in her ear because words alone weren’t enough to encapsulate the love I had for her. How could I articulate how grateful I was to share a wonderful childhood with her? Or how angry I was that I wouldn’t have her for the rest of my adult life?

Suffering the loss of someone we don’t want to live without is an evolving rollercoaster of lessons that can last a lifetime; I continue to learn things about myself because of the grief I carry around in my heart every day. Some lessons can be dark and painful, mostly arriving in the depths of night when I am racked with worry and the grief washes over me in tidal waves. These moments are when I am at my lowest, targeting the weaknesses within me and dredging up the fear I battle to suppress in the light of day. For those that are grieving, bedtime can resemble the nightmares of our childhood and are when we feel most vulnerable because it’s when we feel most alone.

For me I am not only coping with the loss of Amy but I continue to feel robbed of the life I had before. Family celebrations, dinners and gatherings were never to be the same again and after she passed I was acutely aware that my role in the family had changed too. I am the eldest and I felt more responsible than ever for my youngest sister because I wanted her to still feel like I was going to be enough for her, that we would be OK just the two of us instead of the three we had grown up as. I also put more effort in to making my parents proud because I wanted them to feel like they’d done a good job, that they were still good parents despite everything.

While I would give anything to have Amy back, losing her taught me wonderful lessons too. My capacity for love and joy. My sense of adventure in even the simplest of moments. How aware I am when I see something beautiful. I have had to adjust to missing her every day but it has become threaded in to the very fabric of who I am, woven scars covering the cracks. I won’t get over the heartbreak but at the very least I can utilise it in some way to make life a little easier to bear.

The most significant change of all though has probably been how gentle I am with myself now during moments when my confidence is low. I no longer waste time beating myself down since this doesn’t accomplish anything other than helplessness. By practicing self-kindness I am allowing more room in my heart for the good things which is a bittersweet lesson I am very grateful for.

Grief has certainly changed me and it will continue to do so as I carry it over life’s hurdles but along with grief I will always have Amy. After all, she will always be my little sister and that relationship will never change.

Can you tell me about your own grief experience and how it has changed you? I would love to know x

Surviving February: 6 Actions to Take When You’re Ready to Make a Change

Surviving February: 6 Actions to Take When You’re Ready to Make a Change

Hello friends. It’s been two weeks too long since I’ve visited this wee corner of my life and while it wasn’t something I had intended on doing, it just felt right to ease myself in to 2018 rather than going in guns blazing. I feel like January is the month for ideas but February is the month to start actioning them. January is a time to give our dreams the wiggle room to grow, to ruminate on those thoughts that have been niggling in the back of our minds, slowly pushing to the forefront so we can give them our full attention. It’s a time for reflection, reflecting on where we are and where we want to be. Mostly, it’s a time to spend dark evenings curled up by the fire with empty pages spread out before us to capture all the wild and messy daydreams that tumble from our sleepy brains. Those blank spaces can provide us with more energy during the winter months than any fire can.

Most of our fantasies may be fantastical in the darkness of winter, most may never see the light of Spring but there might be just one that could slip through the cracks. One good idea is enough to eclipse all others and while it might take a little longer to see the idea become more than just that, there is nothing quite like the feeling of that lightbulb moment. So while I might have been a little absent on the blog, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about the words I write here and the content that I share. I’ve been mulling and mulling about where I would like to see this space go, how I can push myself further creatively and go beyond writing as a hobby. The winter nights are for nothing but for imagining a fresh start in the Spring, am I right?

Now that we’re in February we would be forgiven for thinking that Spring is on our doorstep but sometimes the shortest month can feel like the longest. What’s good is that we still have time to plan ahead and start making sense of the scattering of possibilities that have been swimming in our head all winter. There is still a whole month of stillness left before Spring arrives and our bodies bend towards the sun and in to distraction. So I’m telling you to utilise these last dark hours and use the opportunity to focus on what you truly want for the rest of your year because you’re capable of anything and now is the moment to push yourself further.

Is there an idea that you have been secretly coveting? Do you get butterflies when you think about it but quickly convince yourself that it’s not possible before getting too carried away? Let February be the month of shutting the fearful voices out and embracing the butterflies. Let it be the month for ACTION. The best ideas are those that make you feel sick to your stomach and if it’s all you can think about then the scariest possibility would be to deny yourself the chance to step in to the light of a new opportunity.

Of course this is all easier said than done and it you would be perfectly understood for crawling under the covers until the bluebells start showing their wee heads but you would only be doing your dreams a disservice. Choose to surround yourself with positive reinforcements that will only encourage you further. In case you’re in need of a little inspiration, I’ve listed some of the actions I take when I need help in making a step towards a change. Right now I have a notebook of scribbles that might turn in to something and that in itself is pretty exciting. Let’s go February.

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6 Actions To Take When You’re Read to Make a Change

Listen

Podcasts are all the rage right now of course and one that I keep going back to for guidance when I need it most is Hashtag Authentic by Sara Tasker. It’s a podcast mainly aimed at creatives but there is a huge range of topics that are incredibly useful depending on where you feel you need the most direction. Another great one is Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert (she of Eat, Pray, Love fame) which is a friggin’ joy to listen to in a bath on a winter’s night. I find myself just roaring out in unison with Elizabeth and her guests and feel ready to take on the world after an episode. Right after I dry my hair and moisturise of course.

Watch

‘In to the Wild’ is a movie I re-watch during the moments when I’m in need of a good kick up the ass. It never fails to bring a bit more perspective to any tough choice I’m currently having to make. Also the soundtrack is off the charts (Eddie Vedder you absolute LEGEND).

Read

There are enough motivational books out there to shake an insecure stick at but you don’t always have to stroll to the self-help aisle in order to feel inspired. One of my favourite books that I can rely on for some self-reflection is Walden by Henry Thoreau which I first read while I was in Africa for the first time. It was the reason why I fell in love with the natural world (second was David Attenborough) but mostly it engrained in me a sense that we have more power over our choices in life than we give ourselves credit for, one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned. If you’ve already read Walden then anything written by Brené Brown is sheer inspirational gold dust. The woman is a motivational wizard. 

Do

While February can still invoke the temptation to hibernate and stay under the covers, the ever-so-slightly brighter mornings and evenings are the perfect encouragement to brave the fresh air and start wakening yourself up again. At some point this month try and take yourself on one of your favourite walks alone, preferably somewhere that’s close to any water source be it a river, lake, sea or puddle (NB: puddles may not encourage that much inspiration). Leave the headphones behind so you’re not creating a barrier between yourself and the world around you. Walk at your own pace, listen out for new sounds that you would normally ignore and look for signs of Spring. While focusing on your surroundings you’ll be surprised at the amount of new ideas that will pop in to your head and those moments of clarity will embolden you further when making decisions that might have seemed scarier while sitting at home.

Write/Draw

Some people are good with their words and others need the visuals in order to map out their plans. I’m a bit of both so when it comes to the blog, I have a notebook full of potential blog posts, ideal locations for photos, people who I would love to interview. These notes could be a list broken down in to categories (just call me Monica Gellar) and others are mapped as a brain storm with offshoots when my head is buzzing with too many thoughts that I need to see the bigger picture. These notes can sometimes be a load of nonsense but it is such a good feeling to see my ideas streaming from my pen and trying to put them all together.

Attend

If you’re planning on making a leap or big decision then you need all the encouragement you can get from peers who have made the jump before you. Networking is a Generation Z term that has been beaten to death but making connections with people who are in your field or are related to the choice you’re about to making is more rewarding than any other action I’ve listed above. Finding your tribe (that’s right, I said it) can be tricky but there are resources out there to help you find it. I’ve found Instagram to be a huge source of inspiration and I have created friendships (both online and offline) that have helped made this blog what it is. It’s how I found out about the Assembly Gatherings, a seasonal event run by Mel Wiggins that acts as a haven for creative women seeking inspiration. It’s where I found my tribe (said it again) and it’s an environment in which I can connect with like-minded women, bounce ideas off them and bask in encouraging words. By immersing ourselves in knowledge through gatherings, workshops or classes we are dipping our toes further in to our own potential. Want to start a blog? Connect with other bloggers. Want to start your own business? Search for similar local small businesses and find out how they did it. Allow yourself to be guided by those who you believe are on the path you want to be on and get climbing.

What Not To Worry About #46

What Not To Worry About #46

Hello fellow Monday heads. I hope this week is starting out exactly how you wanted it to, with a brain full of plans and a body that wants to play ball. These January mornings have been rough on the old motivation for this gal. Last night I went to bed with the best of intentions for my Monday but instead I woke up and subconsciously talked myself in to pressing snooze half a dozen times before I leaped out of bed in a mad panic. It’s Blue Monday alright.

January is a weird time of year for the mind, isn’t it? There’s all this pressure to reflect and better ourselves but the wildness of the outside can permeate within us, wreaking havoc while we’re in the midst of pursuing calm. The best thing we can do during this month of chaos is to practice a little self-kindness. Forget the constant need for improvement and just welcome the little moments of progress you manage to accomplish despite all that’s stacked against you.

For me, the pressure has been finding the moments to take photographs that I can share along with the words I write. It’s easy to hide away while the rain lashes outside and it’s too cold to even think about trailing about about looking for a pretty landscape. The weekend past was so dull and miserable I couldn’t summon the energy, I just wanted to stay inside catching up with friends and family over copious amounts of tea. Which is exactly what I did! No guilt trips. None.

The wind is still howling outside as I type this (slowly since I had meant to have this posted hours ago) so the wild weather doesn’t look to be dissipating anytime soon. I still have good intentions for tomorrow; a quick 10 minute meditation before breakfast, actually completing my to-do list (or even just half of it), reading my book. And if the morning rolls in and I’ve realised I didn’t start the way I had intended to then I will just try again. There is always another chance to try again, right?

And here are a few more things I’m not worrying about this week…

Compliment receiving etiquette – because the balance between being gracious and arrogant is an oh-s0-fine-line for me that I just want to roll up in to an awkward ball. Setting up a Compliment Club like Joy the Baker sounds like the way forward and might also make life a little bit cheerier.

Driving in the lashing rain at night time – driving from Dungannon to Belfast in the pouring rain on Sunday was a white-knuckled ride for sure. I used to suffer from panic attacks when driving on the motorway once upon a time but I’m a fairly confident driver now except in the rain when I find my hand going to the top of my head as a comfort like it did circa 2006.

Not starting yet another diet – I am CRAP at diets so have just tried to slowly introduce more fruit as a snack rather than resorting to half a packet of hob nobs. This article made me a feel a little better though.

Not using public transport – I work about a 10 minute drive away from my office and because Northern Irish public transport isn’t too reliable, I shamefully drive the distance most days. Public transport is such a novelty to me though and reading these stories made me smile.

Annoying habits – the joys of being in a long term relationship means that you get to know all the wee quirks your partner has, weird as they may be. Andrew for example likes to put his (freezing cold) feet up against me in bed to warm them up which will result in a row on a nightly basis. My weird one is that I will never fully finish a meal – no matter what it is I will always leave a few bites left. Reading the comments of this piece had me laughing out loud at my desk because I identified with so many!!

Have a great week pals! 

 

Do You Journal?

Do You Journal?

I tend to start the year the same way without fail. Each January I am determined that this will be the year I finally organise my thoughts and that the only way I can execute this goal is by spending a small fortune on a beautiful journal that will surely encourage me to use it each day. Crisp white pages present the possibility of a ‘new me’, a more grown-up and sensible me that is just waiting for the opportunity to show herself. Except this plan doesn’t seem to last for more than a few weeks. Not long in to February I will find myself leaving it in the car or on the shelf at home gathering dust while the ‘new me’ retreated back for another year. Maybe next year, eh?

During my January purge I found about a half dozen barely used diaries in my bedside table drawer left abandoned and forgotten. Bare pages became more frequent as Spring arrived acting as a stark reminder of just how crap I am at sticking to my goals. But this year I made a decision. I decided that this year I would boycott Paperchase and invest in a journal that would encourage me to use it each day. Instead of blank pages I wanted my imagination to be coaxed with motivational prompts and to really make me think rather than make me clam up and draw a mental blank. My problem in the past has been that I wasn’t sure where to begin. Should I just jot down a few things that happened that day? Should I write about my worries or my dreams? There were too many options that I ended up not being able to commit to any.

With this in mind I set out to look for a journal that would bring a little light in to each day. I didn’t want too many blank pages that would pressurise me in to filling it with utter shite and I wanted help with committing to the goals I never seem to stick to. I ended up settling on ‘Happy – The Journal‘ curated by Fearne Cotton, a beautifully coloured journal filled with thoughts and ideas, mindful tasks to complete and daily prompts on what to focus on each day. It’s exactly the kind of journal I need and I have been carrying it in my handbag each day, itching to see what my task for the day will be. I know it’s early days and I don’t want to appear naive but I really think this might be the year I actually use a journal for an entire year! It’s turned in to a daily ritual that I am cherishing and definitely brings in the light I was searching for.

There are so many different ways to release our thoughts in to a journal; a few lines can be enough or the words can begin tumbling from our pen so that a few lines can quickly turn in to an essay of dreams. If you struggle like me to commit to your journalling then I’ve got some ideas for how you can best use that beautiful (and expensive) bit of stationery you bought yet again. Feel free to use them and let me know: how will you be using your journal this year? 

————————————————————————————————————————————————–Ideas for a Journal

Gratitude Journal

A simple idea where you can jot down a few things that made you feel grateful for that day. Your choices can be small (having a quiet moment in work with a good cup of tea) or big (that your body was able to carry you on your run) but they will no doubt help you to appreciate the life you have.

Dream Journal

Ever woke up and thought, “I am not well in the head to be dreaming that kind of craziness”? Yeh, me too. Keeping a journal by your bed and writing down your dreams is not just a good way to get a little insight in to your thoughts but is also a mindful way to begin your day. And might help you make sense of those dreams that make you question your sanity!

Kindness Journal

Noting down daily kindnesses is a fantastic way to check in with ourselves and how we choose to live. By keeping track of the kindnesses we have experienced as well as ideas for how to be kind to others we are encouraging a social conscience. Being good to others makes us feel good and by journalling these actions we are reminding ourselves of the good things in life.

Bullet Journal

Bullet journals can be as simple or as detailed as you like, there are no limits but I have seen people use them in the most beautiful ways, like this one. It’s an excellent way to track goals so if you’re in need of a journal to help you see improvements then this could be the way to go.

Travel Journal

Rather than committing yourself to a daily journal, how about just keeping a journal for different trips you take throughout the year? I’ve kept a journal for the last few holidays I’ve been on and I find I enjoy looking back on them far more than any photo album. It’s a great way to keep a record of funny stories, special moments or details that would normally be forgotten after returning home. You will never regret keeping one.

 

What Not To Worry About #45

What Not To Worry About #45

Happy Sunday friends! How has your weekend been? Things have been verrrry slow in the Donnelly/Moffett gaff as we attempt to recover the energy we were drained of over Christmas. It feels good to spend a weekend in one place, waking up in my own bed and taking my time to find my feet again. This morning I pottered downstairs and lit candles as the late morning sun poured through our living room. I put on a new vinyl I’d bought at a charity shop yesterday and played it while drinking a cup of tea and eating pancakes. I was so thrilled by the nothingness of the day that I barely moved except to get groceries and now I am right back on the couch again.

We need these kinds of days don’t we? Where we don’t have to answer to plans or feel guilty for not getting outside and making every minute count while we’re not working. I wrote in my last post how I am savouring the small moments of my here and now and this includes less guilt over staying at home, even when the sun makes a miraculous appearance after a week of rain. It felt good to see blue skies today but it was enough for me to admire the day from my cosy sun-drenched throne, watching the shadows move across the room while I stayed safe under lots of layers.

Yesterday we felt brave and ventured out in to the Baltic winds to go for a dander near Crawfordsburn, my new favourite spot near home. The wind was brutal as we approached the beach, so brutal that we swiftly turned around to find sanctuary in the woodland. While we were in the woods I had this mad impulse to take photos I had been wanting to take for a while. I’ve been wanting to get a bit braver with my photos, experimenting with styles and editing and so I chose yesterday as the day to remove my jumper, cape, boots and socks to parade up and down a log in a flowy dress. I got a few genuinely concerned looks, mostly from Andrew though as I shouted out instructions to him while he attempted to capture my mental idea.

Most of the photos were blurry because Andrew couldn’t even focus the camera with his numb fingers (wee pet) but it felt exciting to be pushing myself a little more creatively, even though some of the photos will never see the light of day! It’s the kind of energy I want to be starting the new year with. Trying something different, even if it sounds a bit mental to some people!

I hope your weekend was a slow one too, we all need to be making the most of this quiet time of the year pals! And with that in mind, here are a few things I’m letting go of before my new week begins…

Realising 2018 is the year I turn 30 – be prepared for lots of posts detailing the horror I feel about turning 30 folks. OK, so I don’t feel real horror but every time I look through old photos these days it feels like an episode of ‘This is Your Life’. There are some positives though I guess, like cherishing the good and true friendships over the ones you hang on to like a pair of pedal pushers. Here’s an article about all those weird friendships you have in your 20’s which sums it up well!!

Office Christmas decorations in January – a constant reminder that our festive break is over and that we need to book annual leave immediately in order to recover from that fact.

Not hearing Christmas songs anymore – I swear they make my commute so much more cheery. I miss them.

Drinking in January – I won’t be joining the Dry January gang I’m afraid and do you know what? Betty White, the 95 year old legendary actress has recently attributed her impressive age to her love of vodka and hotdogs. I mean, if that’s what it takes then I’m game.

The stable genius – how the fuck is this the President of the USA??!! 2018 better short this shit out. Read this for a laugh though.

Have a great week! 

What Are You Taking Control Of In 2018?

What Are You Taking Control Of In 2018?

Happy New Year friends!! How was everyone’s Christmas break?? Does it all feel a million years ago like it does for me?? I took a little more time away from this space than I expected to over the festive period but honestly, it felt like my brain ceased to function once I left my office. I completely clocked off mentally which is exactly what I needed to do although not what I intended for the blog BUT do you know what?? I’ve more energy for writing now that I have had for months. All I want to do now is write and keep writing and I’m hoping that’ll encourage you guys to keep reading too. Turns out my wee brain needed a rest while my jaw went to work on all things food!

My Mum, sister and I rented a house up on the Donegal coast over the Christmas break which was unexpectedly one of the best holidays I’ve had in a long time. We had the most spectacular view over a wee bay that changed with every hour as all kinds of weather battered us from the Atlantic. We had rain lashing against the sky light of the bedrooms; we had crazy winds practically shaking the house; we even had hail for feck sake which we watched from the living room, making sure to stay warm by the log burner of course. When the sun did decide to shine for a millisecond we would throw the coats and boots on us and run down the lane to an empty beach with our collars pulled up around our ruddy faces and hands jammed in to our pockets. We would return home, wild and weather-beaten, with a hot mug of tea to bring our fingers back to life.

The thing that struck me the most during our week in Donegal (aside from the winter winds) was how in control I felt of my own time. Moments melted in to one another without a single thought towards the next one. We didn’t need to plan ahead or stress about cramming in activities. We slept for as long as we wanted, had meals at screwed up times, took a spontaneous drive if we felt like it. For a person whose life is so wrapped up in plans it was the most liberating feeling to be totally living in the moment.

Now that I’m home in Belfast again I wanted to hang on to that liberation a little longer and drag in to to 2018 with me. I want to take control of how present I am in the here and now. My brain is so full of what lies ahead that I’m never fully engaged with what I’m doing at that moment in time. Books are scanned too quickly instead of absorbing each word that moves me. Music isn’t really listened to in the car because I’m too busy thinking about the destination. Cooking is rushed so I can sit down and eat rather than enjoying preparing the food that will nourish me. All these small moments make up the life I’m living and it has dawned on me that if I’m not truly present in those small moments then I’m not truly living either.

I suppose not having control is something I have been aware of for so long that it’s perhaps warped my own ability to live presently. Being born with CF has taught me that no matter how much I plan, my health can turn in the opposite direction so I try to pack in as many experiences as I can to make sure I’m living as full a life as possible. It’s been my way of taking control and yet in a way it’s prevented me from really experiencing the here and now. Being able to just sit and be mindful of what’s directly in front of me, who I am with, that is surely having a full life.

So that’s what I’m taking control of this year: my present, my here, my now. Old habits die hard so I’m not expecting this new mind-set to come easily but I want to at least try. Instead of always chasing the next experience I want to live as if I have already arrived at the destination. I’ve a wee feeling this will make me a lot happier!

I’d love to know if you’ve decided to take control of something in your life this year so please share! Will you be taking more control of your actions? Your treatment of others? Your choices? Your time? 

Will you be saying no more? Yes more? 

I want to know!

And a little thank you to all who took the time to read this wee blog last year. Every comment, every like or message that you send means the whole world to me and reminds me that I’m not just sending words in to an empty space, that there are wonderful people listening. Thank you so much and I so look forward to sharing more yarns in 2018!  

 

 

What Not To Worry About #44

What Not To Worry About #44

Happy Tuesday pals!! It’s been a chilly few days here in Belfast with the snow arriving and characteristically playing havoc with everyone’s lives. I secretly love how people suddenly lose the ability to talk about anything other than the snow and each conversation includes a rotation of the following:

“Did you get snow where you are?” – My Mum

“Mind those roads” – My Dad

“Traffic was mental this morning!” – My colleagues

“Thon road is like an ice rink!” – My country friends

“It’s fairly coming down out there” – My boyfriend

“It gives it to snow all night!” – My little sister

“Ye daren’t leave the house if this carries on…” – Me

Everyone I know becomes an expert meteorologist overnight that can judge the severity of the snow based on the shade of white the clouds turn. While this can be a little irritating (especially when the drama can reach apocalyptic heights – it has snowed before people!), the sense of excitement can be contagious and can encourage festive magic to spread across to even the Scroogiest of Scrooges. On Friday it felt perfectly acceptable to blast Christmas music all day long (the office was practically empty anyway!) as we spent most of the day with our noses pressed up against the windows gazing up at the torrent of snowflakes.

On Saturday we woke up to a blanket of white and I was practically giddy as we drove down to Murlough Bay to walk along a snowy beach. The air was icy but it felt wonderful to walk through the dunes with our coats wrapped up to our chins, spying a few snowmen along the way before reaching the sand. We walked along the waterline, taking pictures of the beach and the snow-capped Mourne mountains towering above us while we still had sensation in our fingers. Feeling thoroughly frozen, we sought refuge in Mourne Seafood Bar in Dundrum to warm our toes and our bellies. We sat beside the log burner which thawed us out in no time and I ordered seafood chowder which, although advertised as a starter, stuffed me to the brim along with the pint of Guinness I washed it down with.

I begged Andrew to take us the scenic route through the mountains to Armagh where we were headed to catch up with family. He eventually relented under the agreement that I would pay for any damage if he was to slide right off the mountain (another snow drama queen). It was worth the risk because it was a winter wonderland up there. Spelga Dam looked like something from a Christmas card with the evergreens dusted with snow alongside the water which was turning gold as the sun set over the mountain. Who knew Ireland could resemble a Nordic paradise?

On Sunday there was more snow and more pictures and more delight from me as I watched the sunrise from the country lane by Andrew’s parents’ house (who are always so dumbfounded by my glee at the scenic views they are spoiled with). After a walk with friends, I headed to Downpatrick for an afternoon of pure magic. I have spoken about Mel in the blog before and the Assembly Gatherings she organises for the creative women who are craving connections with other like-minded souls. I attended my first Gathering back in February and it filled me up with so much inspiration I felt capable of just about anything.

This Gathering was for the festive season and was focused on finding time for ourselves before the whirlwind of Christmas consumes our lives completely. We were told to gather in the hills outside of Downpatrick at Laura Bayley’s farmstead where the roads were just a little bit dicey in my new wee Polo! After a white-knuckled drive I arrived when everyone was just sitting down to dine in Laura’s stone barn that had been beautifully styled by Grace & Saviour (an Instagrammer’s dream!). We ate the most delicious organic food cooked by Laura while I forged connections with the new faces around me (and put faces to Instagram handles!).

After being stuffed with amazing food, we shuffled in to another room in the barn where we learned about organic chocolate from the lovely women of Nearnógs. We learned how to identify tastes within chocolate and were even given some truffle balls to take home with us which we rolled in our favourite flavouring – yum!

Having been well educated in deliciousness, we braved the bitter cold to go out to the nearby wood to forage for materials to make our own wreaths – you know I love to make a wreath! Janice from Gathered Threads showed us the best pieces to search for while the sky above us turned a crimson pink and the light started to fade. We had our very own workshop to work in after the sun went down, turning a bunch of ferns and evergreens in to something beautiful (if a little rustic in my case!).

As the temperature plummeted we gathered around the firepit and drank hot chocolate to keep warm. There was a gentle murmur of shared gratitude amongst the group as if we all felt the weight of such a golden afternoon and weren’t quite ready to let it go. Eventually we had to head on home to save us losing toes and fingers but I am still feeling the weight of that afternoon and have been carrying it around with me to keep me going during this crazy season.

The wreath is hanging above the fireplace too 🙂

And here’s a few worries I am letting go of this week:

Getting frustrated at Andrew when he is sick – I have zero sympathy when it comes to colds and flus but it turns out some guy actually went out and conducted a study to actually prove that men suffer worse than women when they have flus! I’m still dubious but maybe I should be a little kinder when it comes to sickness, just in case.

Having it all figured out – there is so much pressure to know exactly where you are meant to be going and what you’re meant to be doing but in reality a lot of us are winging it most of the time. What’s encouraging is to know that even some of our personal idols feel the exact same which was why I just loved reading this article. Joanna Goddard is someone who I have looked up to since I started reading her blog Cup of Jo a couple of years ago and it was great to know she’s as personable in real life as she is through her words.

Blue Planet – the series finished last week and it ended with a pretty ominous message that the plastic crisis is severely affecting the world’s oceans and all that live there. This is a very real problem that affects all of us but we can do something, even little things to help improve the future of the world’s oceans. Find a few tips here if you want to find out how you can help too.

Not reading enough books by women – I have read a lot more books written by men than women; not because I prefer the words of male authors but because it is so much easier for a male to be published than female. John Boyne wrote a great article on why he thinks women are better writers than men and how often he encounters men who write for the prizes rather than for the connection with the reader.

Not staying in a tree house – sometimes you just want to run away and live in a treehouse and live up high above the ground. Or even just pay a load of money to stay in a fancy adult version! Check this piece out for some serious treehouse-envy.

Have a great week! 

10 Festive Activities To Do This Christmas

10 Festive Activities To Do This Christmas

Happy Monday friends! Has your week started off the way you had hoped? Tired already? ‘Tis the season for constant tail-chasing after all which can often lead to us forgetting to just be and enjoy everything wonderful the festive seasons brings along with it. There is a lot of pressure, especially on parents I think, to have the most-absolutely-amazingly-fun-Christmas-ever turning moments that are supposed to be fun and light-hearted in to this mess of forced memories we are intent on making for ourselves.

How about instead of rushing around trying to tick off a crazy festive bucket list, we make time for the wee moments and not berate ourselves for missing out something that would have stressed us out? Don’t feel guilty if you don’t make it to the big Christmas light switch-on (crowds of people gathered in the freezing cold ain’t for everyone) or feel like standing in queue for another freakin’ grotto (for a photo that will probably scar your child). How about doing something that won’t stress you out or your family?

I’ve created a list of things I know will personally bring me a wee bit of happiness in between all the shopping and innumerable social gatherings (I am even socialising midweek now!). Feel free to take a few ideas for yourself but remember, don’t put the pressure on to do it all. Think about why you’re doing it and if you’re not doing it for the pure joy of it then strike it off the list.

Go Ice Skating

It’s not for everyone but I love the adrenaline of trying to stay vertical while giving my thighs the biggest workout they’ve seen all year. It’s fun (to me anyway) and is a real winter novelty that I have no shame in indulging in. For those local to Belfast there is always the trusty Dundonald rink that I’ve been going to since I was a youngster but there’s also a rink opening for a few days over the winter break at the SSE Arena OR if you want to go really crazy, grab some tickets for the Winter Wonderland at the Clandeboyne Estate which would be a real festive treat.

Christmas Crafting

For me, making a homemade wreath or crafting presents to hand out to my loved ones is something that can bring the most happiness at this time of year than anything else. It’s a quiet time for just me amongst all the noise which is imperative for me to keep my sanity (while making a complete mess).

Sing Carols

I am no singer and not a church-goer and yet there is something hauntingly beautiful about attending a carolling service. If you’re not part of a church like me then try something different like attending a night at the orchestra at the Ulster Hall? My favourite is ‘Fall On Your Knees’ all because of Home Alone, of course.

Local Christmas Markets

The Belfast markets can be complete madness and can actually be more stressful than fun. However smaller local markets can be just as enjoyable and filled with tasty treats that you don’t have to queue an hour for. Have a wee nosy at the Discover NI website to see when your local market is next on.

See a Pantomime/Play/Musical

Local theatres are packed with festive productions which we should make the most of getting off our couches to see. I have the best memories of sitting on the floor watching a pantomime at my local leisure centre as a kid (while losing all feeling in my ass). I’m trying to find children to borrow so I can see this musical otherwise I’ll be the eccentric lady on her own who brought her own snacks!

Watch old Christmas movies

You can do this at home of course with the fire lit and the family cocooned in a mass of duvets but some cinemas play the classics which can be a fun way to see the old favourites. I love watching It’s A Wonderful Life in the Queen’s Film Theatre each year. The theatre is a Belfast institution and has these old vintage cinema seats that feel about a hundred years old (probably because they are). They also cater for people with disabilities (dementia, autism) so everyone can delve in to a bit of nostalgia on the screen.

Celebrate the Solstice

Step back in time and celebrate the arrival of the Winter Solstice at the Navan Fort centre in Armagh. My hometown is steeped in ancient Celtic history and the Navan Fort are mirroring the customs of our ancestors through a morning of traditional celebrations followed by a lantern-lit walk up the fort were re-enactors will welcome the breaking of the dawn. The whole event is free unless you want to nibble on a bit of breakfast afterwards which you can enjoy for 4 quid – bargain!

Make homemade mulled wine

Or cider! Here’s an easy recipe for mulled wine that will scent your house like a friggin’ Christmas perfumery. Make a batch and keep some for the visitors that stream through the house. Not too much though or they’ll never leave.

Look out for others

Without sounding like a TV ad, this time of year can be tougher on those who live alongside us, especially the elderly who can be a tad more vulnerable in the colder months. We’re lucky to have Maureen as our neighbour and while she’s fully capable of looking after herself (she looked at me like I was mad when I asked if I could help her with the 10kg box of washing powder she was lugging in to her house the other day), it’s still good to check in once in a while. I would hate to think of my Granny on her own with no one looking out for her so it’s nice to treat those around us with a little more care.

Forage for decorations

We can all go a little crazy with the decorations this time of year which is the last thing our wallets need. To try and save pennies I’ve been bringing a few things back from my winter walks. A wee bit of holly, some ivy or even pine cones to roast in the oven (an idea I stole from my friend Caoimhe, you can find a way to do it here). I’ve been decorating the fireplace, the dining table and coffee table with these foraged finds which feels a bit more special than wasting money on another garland from a chain store.

 

Oh writing this list got me a little bit excited! What about you? What festive activities are you hoping to do this year??

 

What Not To Worry About #43

What Not To Worry About #43

Happy Thanksgiving Day to my transatlantic pals!! I hope the turkey is tastin’ good and the gravy turned out a tad thicker than aul Trump’s hair. I am playing American myself this evening and hosting some friends for my own Friendsgiving dinner with an Irish twist (no marshmallow on sweet potato thank you very much – absolute sacrilege) but most of all I am excited to try making bread rolls for the first time (and wine!), please pray that they turn out well!

It seems that the festive season is among us now whether we like it or not. The city Christmas lights have been switched on, the markets have been opened and the TV adverts are making us weep in to our dinners. And do you know what? I think I’m OK with it. Maybe because I’ve been abnormally organised and have ticked off half of my gift list (who even is this person typing this?!) and now I’m just patiently waiting until the 1st December when I can move my couch from the door that leads to the cupboard under the stairs where all my decorations are stashed.

I’m feeling just a little bit excited about untangling the never-ending stream of tree lights (and cursing them when I see there’s even more broken than the year before). Covering myself in bits of tinsel while blasting the Christmas music through the house which Andrew will undoubtedly turn down and then I will turn back up again. Unearthing decorations I completely forgot about and then go out and buy even more because there’s never enough. Making my own wreath at the dinner table and covering the house in pine needles. Rediscovering my love of red wine (but not the hangovers). Making hot whiskeys for my guests. Baking gingerbread that permeates through the house like a warm hug. Holidays are comin’ folks!

However you may feel about this time of year, there is no denying that there is just a little bit of magic in the air. The crisp wind bites around our ears and noses as the stars twinkle above us well before we go to bed. The little moments become more meaningful; a cup of tea that warms us up perfectly, a catch up with a mate you haven’t seen in ages, wriggling in to clean flannel PJ’s after a hot bath. Comforting in the smallest of joys is my favourite thing about winter.

Here are a few things I am letting go of this week…

People who put their decorations up in November – usually I give off about this because I am always afraid of being burnt out my Christmas before it even arrives but there is a wee sneaky glee when I’ve been driving past houses shrouded in festive spirit. The people who celebrate Christmas a little early tend to be the one’s that go hell for leather too – wonderfully tacky reindeers and Santa’s and elves. I always wonder, how much is their freakin’ electric bill?! I am old.

A cough that just won’t quit – I have had the most annoying cough the last few weeks and I have had to sleep propped up like a pensioner otherwise I bark all night which is no fun for anybody. The doctor diagnosed me with tracheitis and said I just have to “ride it out” which is exactly what you want to be prescribed, isn’t it? I’ve been trying ginger tea but if anyone has any other wee old wive’s cures then hit them this way please!

Being a wife – now I know I am not a wife but there might be a chance that I will some day and that terrifies the crap out of me. Will I suddenly have to don an apron and be responsible for keeping a tidy home? Being a Mrs. also sounds really weird too and reminds me too much of being a middle-aged teacher. A feminist manifesto from the 1970’s resurfaced in this article and I loved how relevant it still is for modern wives – they have to be everything to everyone and that sounds bloody exhausting doesn’t it?

Saying no – I talked about the workshop I took part in recently that talked about different personality traits and I discovered, to no surprise, that I am a people pleaser. If you’re like me then this time of year can be a struggle because you want to be stuck in with everything but this can be exhausting. This year, while I relish in being around friends and family, I’ll also be sure to take a little time to myself too.

Struggling with words – sometimes writing this wee blog can cause me to feel insecure about my words, if they mean something or if they connect with anyone. Reading pieces like this make me fall back in love with writing again.

 

Enjoy the rest of your week friends!