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10 Festive Activities To Do This Christmas (or not do)

10 Festive Activities To Do This Christmas (or not do)

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!

Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert?

Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert?

Have you ever taken the Myers-Brigg’s type indicator test? It’s basically a personality test that reveals differing psychological preferences in how we perceive the world and make decisions and can be scarily accurate! It’s also become hugely popular as a management tool within the workplace as it creates awareness of differing personal and professional traits and encourages a greater level of understanding amongst teams. I was offered the chance to attend a workshop last week where we discovered what “type” we were and how our type should be treated by others. It also taught us how to identify other personality types and how best to manage them which in an close work environment can be testing even for the best of us!

It was an intense day full of psycho-analysis but by the end of the workshop I discovered I was type “ESFP” which can be broken down as:

E = Extraversion (how I focus my attention and get my energy)

S = Sensing (How I perceive or take in information)

F = Feeling (How I prefer to make decisions)

P = Perception (How I orientate myself to the external world)

This will all sound like a lot of mumbo jumbo if you haven’t taken the test before but I found it unbelievable how accurate the “type” I was given fitted me and made me realise that I’m not a scatter brain because I don’t care, it’s my type! I also found that ESFP’s are true helpers and eternal people pleasers which wasn’t a huge surprise (my name is Greek for “helper of mankind” for frig sake) and that they love to lift others’ spirits with their contagious good humour and their irrepressible joy of living (you’re welcome!). The not so great side of an ESFP is that we can be a little too sensitive to criticism and avoid conflict at all costs which can be tough trait to have at home and at work for both us and everyone around us. 

Aside from finding out that I am a needy wuss, another thing I found super interesting was how my own definition of an extrovert and introvert was all wrong. I had long assumed that extroverts are the super confident socialites who have no problem with talking in a crowd and that introverts were the typical shy mousey-types that cower when spoken to. All wrong! Being an extrovert or an introvert is actually the way in which we gain our energy and isn’t at all about confidence. 

Extroverts gain energy from being around other people and might find their energy levels are zapped when they spend too much time alone. I identified hugely with this because while I do look forward to a quiet evening at home now and again, I notice that I become a bit down when I do this too much. This is especially wearying during the winter when we all tend to retreat inside and social gatherings can become less frequent (Christmas craziness aside).

Introverts on the other hand gain energy from being alone and tend to feel drained after spending a long time in a large crowd. Introverts are stimulated much more easily than extroverts so being amongst a big group of people might feel a little overwhelming. This doesn’t mean they’re shy or that they avoid social situations, it just means that being alone with their thoughts can be as restorative to them as sleeping and are a necessity for them to recharge their batteries.

Of course there are the ambiverts amongst us who feel that they fall in the middle. In fact, most of us actually are ambiverts because if we fell at at the extreme end of extraversion or introversion we might be a little wacky! Either way we will still be a little more on one side than the other and so should address this side of our personality when we are feeling low and in need of a recharge. We should prioritise those moments we know will lift us out of the funk we are in, especially at this time of year when the dark evenings can drag us down a little. Here are a few tips, whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, on how to recharge those batteries this winter.


5 Ways To Gain Energy This Winter

Extroverts

  1. Become a hostess/host once a week and invite a different group of friends over for dinner. I love having people in my house for food and I’ve decided to try and host friends once a week for a big meal and lots of conversation which I know will lift me up, especially in the middle of the week when I’m feeling meh.
  2. Join a club whether it’s a book club, wine club or friggin’ Stranger Things club. I joined my office book club as a way to get me reading more but it’s also something I look forward to because it helps me break up my week with interesting conversation. Do a little digging and get yourself out there (I’m going to Mel Wiggin’s Assembly Gatherings this winter because being around creative people is a sure fire way to inspire the bejaysus out of me).
  3. Stop eating lunch at your desk! I can do this out of bad habit but when I make a conscious effort to eat step away from the computer and eat with friends I have so much more energy in the afternoon.
  4. Get your partner and friends involved in decorating the house and wrapping presents this festive season. Blast the Christmas music, get the mulled wine on and the fire lit to fill your house full of festive cheer.
  5. Volunteer for a worthy cause whether it be at your local homeless centre or charity shop. Whatever it is, ensure you are engaging with people that you know you can help and who might help you too.

Introverts

  1. Prioritise social events with people who make you feel comfortable. You know those mates you’ve known since you were a cub and can still make you laugh until your sides hurt? Make plenty of time for them this winter and decline invites to events that fill your tummy with dread.
  2. Go for a solo walk on your lunch break. Fill your lungs with fresh air and clear your mind of all the crap you’ve just had to listen to all morning. You will feel so much better.
  3. Introduce a social media ban after a certain time in the evening and stick to it. Your mind can’t focus when you have too much stimulation so try and hide your phone in the next room when you’re trying to dive in to that good book you’re reading.
  4. Block book at least one evening a week to do nothing over the festive period. This time of year can become a bit manic so be kind to yourself and give yourself the time you need to unwind.
  5. Make Christmas shopping fun by treating yourself to a little afternoon on your own. Get your list written down so you don’t go a bit mad in the shops, treat yourself to a hot chocolate (or something stronger) on your breaks and finish the day with a wee pamper (I’ve been dying to try the Jo Malone counter in House of Fraser for ages!)

 

I hope you find these tips helpful this winter but in the meantime, take the quiz and let me know what personality type you get – I’m fascinated to know who everyone is now!

If you read this then you might also like this.

What Not To Worry About #42

What Not To Worry About #42

Happy Friday friends! Things have been a little quiet in this wee corner of the internet the last week or so and I have really missed nestling down and sharing my thoughts with you lovely lot. I’ve been finding it really hard to focus recently and the things that bring me so much joy (like this blog) have fallen to the wayside which has left me feeling even more disconnected. I have learned over the years to not rush myself when I am feeling like this since it’s important to let myself feel the hurt no matter how difficult it may be.

I spoke about losing my sister before and with her anniversary falling on the 5th November, this is a time of year that I struggle with her absence the most. It tends to bring back a lot of memories of the time we lost her which was horrific for everyone who loved her but it also stirs up memories of our childhood together too which is as heartwarming as it is painful. Grief, although omnipresent, can be harder to bear on certain days and despite the fact that it’s been 7 years since she passed away, I am still blindsided by my yearning to have her near me again.

Unfortunately losing someones we love is one of life’s greatest and most cruel lessons. Some of us may be lucky enough to be spared this lesson until we are in our thirties or forties but losing someone at a young age is a life-changing experience. We are thrusted in to reality unprepared for what lies ahead with few emotional tools to help us succeed in managing our grief. However we are given something that most people stumble through life unknowingly searching for. Something that allows us to appreciate everything we have. Gratitude.

Now I know the word ‘gratitude’ can be thrown about a little too flippantly and is normally associated with meditative jargon but to be truly grateful every day is nothing to be sneered at. Losing someone we love teaches us that everything in this life is temporary, that every moment and every word spoken has more weight carried within it than most people can even imagine and that even when things feel rough, we are still grateful to be alive to experience even a drop of sadness. I am grateful every day to have had Amy in my life and that gratitude allows me to appreciate all those memories. After all, I’m the only person on this earth that got to be her big sister, how lucky does that make me???

And with that gratitude in mind, here are a few things I am not worrying about this week. What are you letting go of???

Missing out on dating – Ah the single life. I do miss it now and again; the thrill of being attracted to someone and not being sure where it’s going, that little buzz in your tummy when you’re messaging and don’t want to ever stop. Reading this article brought all the fuzzies back but it also shared some really great advice for anyone who is single and in need of some encouragement.

Having weird turn-ons – OK so when Andrew and I met, these were the weird things that attracted me to him:

  1. He would be just as enthusiastic about Bake Off as I was
  2. He smoked rolled cigarettes (he has since quite bless him and I wasn’t a smoker but there was something so damn sexy about watching him roll, I was a hypnotised mess).
  3. He got excited about seeing his niece and nephew
  4. He would read aloud ‘Today I Learned’ stories from his favourite website before we went to sleep (this was from Reddit of course, he is a nerd after all)
  5. He wore a plain white t-shirt with jeans (I may have some sort of James Dean complex)
  6. He would keep everything from our dates and trips away knowing that I loved to make scrapbooks
  7. He loved board games
  8. He understood things I could never wrap my head around and would patiently explain them to me (coding, stocks, actually saving money)

The reason I’m sharing is because I read this article the other day and learned that having a bizarre turn on isn’t actually all that bizarre. In fact most of us have one or two – you have one too, don’t you?

Running out of conversation – I love having friends over for dinner this time of year, when people prefer staying indoors cosied around a table and eating good food. Sometimes the conversation can run a bit stale which is why I loved reading this, full of tips to ensure a good hostess never has to experience that awkward silence.

Gift mind blanks – The festive season is approaching and I’m trying to be organised this year with my gifts so I avoid the last minute dash to the week before Christmas and over-spend in panic. I’m trying to curate my gift list and man is it hard to buy for some people (especially Dads/boyfriends) – is there anything you use to help inspire you for gift ideas? Please help a girl out here.

Not being able to write – I’ve been feeling low about not being able to write because my mind was full of so many other things. I need to go easy on myself during times like this because it never lasts too long. I am so happy to be back here again.

 

Have a lovely weekend folks!!

A DIY Christmas Hamper

A DIY Christmas Hamper

There were a few days this past week where it felt that the sun had done a runner and left us in a perpetual state of dusk. Not seeing an inch of blue sky can definitely have its negative affects so I’m already feeling a little cheerier when I can see the low winter light streaming through the window, even if it’s just for half an hour!

 

Things have felt very busy this week and my bank account has taken such a battering in the last two months with trips away and now presents to buy that I’m afraid to even look at my statements! There is huge pressure to buy the most expensive gifts and not only that, pressure to have the house decorated, visit all our relatives and friends and drink our body weights in alcohol. Luckily there seems to be more and more people championing the simpler Christmas which I think helps to encourage less money spending and more thought.

 

In the spirit of this, I have decided against the usual mad rush of buying anything I think will do for my extended family in favour of making my own Christmas hampers filled with homemade products I think they will appreciate much more than a bottle of wine or another pair of gloves! I chose simple products that wouldn’t stress me out too much and I have staggered out the crafting process so I don’t feel overwhelmed and can actually enjoy it all.

 

I will list out a few of the things I’ve chosen to make however the gift of this is that you can be as flexible as you like and keep it minimal if it’s all you can manage.

 

ROSE PETAL BATH SALTS

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What You Need:

  • Petals from 4 roses
  • 20 drops of vanilla oil/essence
  • 3 cups of Epsom salts
  • Mini bags

These salts were embarrassingly easy to make and took all of about half an hour to make 18 small bags!

  1. The week before making them I bought a bunch of red roses when I was doing my groceries for £3 and enjoyed them until they were starting to wilt.
  2. When I knew their days were over, I took the heads off and sprinkled the petals in my Nutri Bullet. After a quick blitz the shredded petals were the most beautiful shade of crimson and the smell was A-MAZING.
  3. I added the petals to 3 cups of Epsom salts that were already in a bowl and added my vanilla drops.
  4. After thoroughly mixing through and feeling giddy with the pretty colours, I added them to the bags I had found on Amazon and they were good to go!

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CHRISTMAS SOAP

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What You Need:

  • ¾ Melt and Pour Soap Base Clear
  • Silicone Mould
  • 100 drops Orange Essential Oil
  • 50 drops Cinnamon Essential Oil
  • 20 drops Clove Bud Essential Oil
  • 3 teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
  • Pyrex Jug

This was a little trickier than the bath salts but well worth the smell it created in the kitchen I promise!

  1. First of all I cut the soap base in to cubes that would fit in to the moulds so I could guess how much I would need to melt.
  2. I then put the cubes in to the jug and placed in the microwave for 2-3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds or so until the base was melted.
  3. Once fully melted I added my oils and ground cinnamon and mixed well.
  4. After this I poured the mix in to the moulds CAREFULLY because I wanted the top of the soap to be smooth and not pouring over the edges (not so pretty). I
  5. I placed the moulds on a tray to keep steady and then in the fridge to cool for 1-2 hours.
  6. Once they’re solid you can pop them out and then dress them up any way you please!

 

CHRISTMAS CANDLES

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What You Need:

  • 1kg soy wax flakes
  • 3 Jam Jars (or whatever you have – I keep Bonne Mamam jam jars for my candles)
  • 3 wicks – I got mine here
  • 20 drops of Orange Essential Oil per jar
  • 40 drops Cinnamon Essential Oil per jar
  • 15 drops Clove Bud Essential Oil per jar

I play it a bit fast and loose with making these so the guidelines are pretty rough but easy to follow I hope! What’s handy is that you have similar ingredients to your Christmas soap so you can make your candles while your soaps are setting in the fridge (I paint a very calm picture don’t I?!).

  1. I placed my jam jars in a big pan filled about to about 2 inches deep of boiling water and then scooped about 18 tablespoons in to the jars. Make sure and take time when adding the wax as it reduces down as it melts so you will have to add them gradually.
  2. Once all your wax has melted and your jars are almost full, take the jars out of the pan and then add your essential oils.
  3. The final step is to place one wick in the centre and make sure it sticks to the bottom of the jar by using sticks to hold it in place (I laid kebab sticks across the jar and placed the wick in between so it didn’t fall away from the centre). This is the trickiest part and might take some patience!
  4. Wait for the candles to set and then cut your wick down to an appropriate length et voila!

 

LAVENDER HAND WASH

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What You Need:

  • Soap dispensers
  • Jug
  • 2 cups of castile soap
  • 2 cups distilled water
  • 4 tbsp sweet almond oil
  • 4 tbsp vitamin E oil
  • 20 drops of Witch Hazel
  • 40 drops of lavender essential oil

This recipe allowed me to make 4 of these bad boys and it took all of about 10 minutes #winning

  1. Using your jug, pour in your water first and then castile soap (prevents lots of bubbles) and then your essential oils.
  2. Give it a good shake around and then you are done!

 

WHIPPED SHEA & OLIVE OIL BODY BUTTER

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What You Need:

  • 1 cup shea butter
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 30 – 40 drops of vanilla essential oil
  • 2 x 500ml glass jars

This is a fairly messy process so one tip I have is to wash your utensils straight away after using!

  1. Scoop your shea butter in to a pan and gently melt.
  2. Gradually add your olive oil
  3. Add essential oils and remove from heat
  4. Once cooled, place the pan in the fridge for at least 30 minutes until the mixture has almost solidified
  5. Using a hand held mixer, whip the mixture until you get a light, airy texture.
  6. Spoon the mixture in your containers and they are good to use for a few months.

 

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I hope this provides a little insight in to how easy homemade gifts can be to make. All it takes is a little preparation and motivation on these dark evenings but the outcome is so worth it! Make sure to add some little Christmas themed sweets or crackers to try and beef out the box a little otherwise you can use some more of my crafting recipes here and here to help inspire you a little more!

 

Happy crafting x