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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!).

The Best Local Places to Find Wildflowers

The Best Local Places to Find Wildflowers

Fun fact: one of my first jobs was in a florist. OK maybe not that fun but it’s true! Back in yesteryear when I was 16, I worked each Saturday and Sunday in a wee shop called The Flower Bowl in Armagh for the grand whopping sum of £3.50 an hour. While the money sounds like absolute pittance now, in my mind I thought I was rich (it funded my addiction to Natural Collection lipgloss).

What brought me the most happiness though was the fact I was being paid to be surrounded by all kinds of beautiful flowers. Each weekend my fingers turned green and numb making up bouquets in a room that was freezing cold to keep the flowers fresh. I got to know the names of weird and wonderful exotics (Bird of Paradise, Proteas) and discovered that there were about a million species of Chrysanthemum. I beamed as I saw the bouquets I had created being sold because I saw how they brought such a simple joy to people’s day. As a teenager it was the beginning of a lifelong passion for flowers and nature and was probably one of the reasons I ended up studying Ecological Science at university a few years later.

Now that I’m an old lady that love for flowers is still there. I buy fresh flowers almost every week, breaking up a bouquet in to glass jars and dotting them around the house. I’ve even been known to dabble in a bit wreath making if you don’t mind. However when Spring arrives I stop buying and start foraging. Our woodlands, gardens and even roadsides come to life this time of year which makes it an absolute dream for gathering. ‘Tis the season for colour and beauty and in light of this I’ve decided to share a few of my favourite local spots with you lovely lot!

While it’s OK to pick flowers in most of these places, some of the areas are protected so the wildflowers are just for gazing lovingly at (and for plenty of Instagram pics of course). If you’re ever unsure about picking a wildflower in case they could be endangered, it’s best to look it up or just leave it but don’t worry, there are plenty of flowers that are free to collect (within reason, please don’t go mad and completely devastate a patch to fuel you’re habit, OK?)

Happy foraging pals!

The Best Places to Find Wildflowers

Lagan Meadows (for an urban oasis)

This oasis in the centre of Belfast provides the best spot for foraging and for finding a quiet place for a picnic in the city. The place comes to life in Spring with butterflies everywhere but just mind the local cows since they’re known to wander around the meadows too!

Loughgall Country Park (for wild garlic and apple blossom)

In my native Co. Armagh there are a few local woodlands to explore but this is one of my favourites since you’re so close to all the local orchards that come to blossom in the Spring. If you’re feeling brave you might find the courage to ask a local orchard farmer for a photo and some blossom to take home with you! I foraged for wild garlic here last year with my pal Rebecca taking the photos which you can see more of here as well as a wee recipe for wild garlic pasta too.

Rowallane Gardens (for manicured gardens rustic woodland)

While you can’t pick flowers in the gardens, this remains one of my favourite gardens in NI which comes to life in the Spring. There’s even a rustic conservatory with climbing foliage, a perfect Instagram scene! To find the wildflowers you have to walk up around the house to the woodland that spreads behind it. This is my favourite part and is a lot quieter than the gardens.

Cavehill Country Park (for bluebells)

A carpet of bluebells dominate the floor of the woodland for only a few short weeks but it’s worth a visit this time of year to see the sea of blue. Make sure not to pick the Spanish bluebells though since the species is endangered! You can find wild garlic here too which you will probably smell first since it’s so sweet.

Crawfordsburn Meadow (for diversity)

This reserve is protected so unfortunately you can’t forage here but it’s a beautiful place to admire this time of year and take plenty of photos! There aren’t many meadows left in Ireland so this place is really special especially since the woodland connected to it is just as beautiful. You can even hear the waves crashing on Crawfordsburn beach too!

Rathlin Island (for abundance)

This has to be my favourite place to scour for wildflowers since there is just so many different species to discover. The remoteness of Rathlin Island means that the wildflowers have the opportunity to really take over the island so while everyone is searching for the puffins, you can hunt for all the pretty flowers on the rest of the island!

Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta

Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta

Not so long ago a friend of mine took me to a secret woodland that lay hidden from the walkers of the nearby park. We followed an indiscriminate path that suddenly opened up in to a cathedral of trees and a carpet of bluebells and wild garlic. The scent was incredible (and my sense of smell is shocking) but it was the colours that moved me the most. It was as if the saturation was turned up wherever I looked as the sun streamed through the birch trees.

 

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We were there to forage for wild garlic before we reached the end of it’s peak season. I’d been wanting to start foraging for food for a while and wild garlic was a good place to start since it’s an easy substitute for other fresh herbs like basil. It’s also incredibly simple to find since you’ll find the stuff in abundance in pretty much every woodland. Luckily Rebecca (an extremely talented photographer/blogger who took all of these amazing woodland photos you see in this post) knew the perfect patch that was off the beaten path and on a slope which meant there was little human or animal footfall which makes it a little nicer to eat!

 

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I was planning on using the leaves in my recipe but you can add the flowers to salads to save any waste. Young leaves are the tastiest so I picked leaves with flowers that were newly opened or hadn’t quite opened yet. There was so much to choose from that I came away with a basketful – plenty to use for my pasta recipe!

 

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You can use the leaves in so many different ways; pesto, dip, soup, you name it. I chose to reinvent a favourite pasta dish that I cook by introducing a few cupful of leaves hoping that it might elevate it a little. It definitely did the trick! There was more of a kick of flavour (I used kale in previous recipes) and the smell when cooking was delicious. Cooking with ingredients that I hand-picked made it a little more special and I can’t wait to head out and collect more before the season finishes in a few weeks.

 

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I would recommend this dish for one of those spring evenings that has a chill in the air. We know this kind of evening well in Ireland; after a full day of sun the temperature suddenly drops and we find ourselves reaching for the winter blankets again. It’s warm, filling and a little bit indulgent but using foraged ingredients makes it a little less shameful!

 

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Happy foraging!!


Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta 

Feeds 2 – 3 people – depending how hungry you are! 

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 x chicken breasts, diced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 1/2 cups penne pasta
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 cups of chopped wild garlic leaves
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 tbsp double cream
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Method:

  1. Heat olive oil in a pan over a medium heat
  2. Add onion and stir for about 3 minutes
  3. Add chicken and stir until cooked all over
  4. Stir in garlic and cook for an additional minute
  5. Add uncooked pasta, chicken stock, water, wild garlic and bring to boil
  6. Stir and bring to boil, then reduce to a lower heat, cover and leave to simmer for just over 20 minutes
  7. When all liquid has been absorbed, remove from heat and stir in cheese, double cream and lemon juice
  8. Serve with crusty bread

 

 

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What Not To Worry About #17

What Not To Worry About #17

Oh my goodness it’s actually feeling like Spring and today was the first day I was able to spend some time outside after work – hurrah! I almost forgot what it felt like to take big gulps of fresh air after spending hours parked in front of a computer hidden in an office of artificial light. But today Andrew and I bounded up to Stormont while dinner was in the oven, we watched the sun go down on the city and I forced him to take photos of me amongst the daffodils – a true Insta partner.

 

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It takes something as little as a short walk outside to cure me of any restlessness or bad temper I might have been feeling that day. Today was a bit of a tough one not only because it’s a Monday but also because I had just spent the last weekend at a hen party drinking a little too much wine and way too much beer for my own good. The things we do for our friends eh?

 

My voice is slowly returning (and my sanity too I think) but it was all worth it for the laughs we had. Getting a whole weekend away with my friends is such a rarity and it reminded me of the time I spent travelling Asia and Australia in my early twenties; living out of a suitcase and not having a care in the world. I know to cherish these moments that return us to our girlhood because it won’t be long until we start becoming mothers and a whole new chapter in our lives begin.

 

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This week I plan to relish in the golden hour – even if it’s just doing a few stretches in the back garden or sitting on my back doorstep was my face pointing up to chase the last moment of light. The worries I carry around are easier to shed now and here are a few that I plan to shrug off this week…

 

Quiet Moods

Do you ever get in those moods where you retreat in to yourself and can’t bring yourself to summon the energy for chit chat? The girls in work know me well enough now to recognise my wee quiet moods. It’s not that I’m in bad form; I just become an introvert now and again and can get lost in my own thoughts. I’ve been like this since a child so much so that my Mum thought I was deaf because I would be in my own world while she would be roaring at me to come get dinner!

 

Writers Block

I never thought I would say this because I have never considered myself to be a writer but since I started this blog there are times when I feel at a loss. The words hang over my head taunting me while my brain goes dark. It’s not a nice feeling when I allow myself to think that I have nothing valuable to share but I have to remind myself that the words and stories will come again. Usually a wee dander and a cup of tea is enough encouragement!

 

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Chipped Nails

My little sister Shannon is a goddess with her beauty routine. She puts so much care and thought in to her appearance and not because she’s vain but because she actually enjoys it. I on the other hand try to avoid standing next to her in public because it’s so apparent I didn’t brush my hair that day/don’t own an iron/should never attempt to paint my nails. There really is no use in trying to paint these bitten-down talons because they get chipped within a minute which makes me look even more thrown together than usual. I’ll leave the glamour to the baby sister I think!

 

Snorting

When I was away this weekend I snorted A LOT. This is an adorable trait that I inherited from my mother and gets progressively worse when I drink alcohol. It’s something I have no control over and I tell myself it’s an endearing treat when in reality I sound like I should be in a barn.

 

Warm Toilet Seats

Because. YUCK.

 

Have a great week folks and make sure to get out and enjoy this spring sunshine!

5 Ways to Get Out of the Winter Funk

5 Ways to Get Out of the Winter Funk

Hello friends, it’s been a while. I am well aware of the fact that I’ve been neglectful of this wee space over the last few weeks and I want to use the excuse that it’s because I was without a laptop (no lie – it was more difficult being without Pinterest more than anything!) but in truth I was in the middle of a major funk that I am only starting to resurface from. I’m not sure if it’s the weather and my neediness for Spring to be here already but whatever it was it really dragged me under.

 

When I get in to this negative mindset my confidence and motivation are the first to go. I become lazy in just about every area of my life which only makes me feel worse about myself. I am the eternal optimist in the eyes of my friends and yet when this fog comes down I turn in to the person I least want to be; needy, insecure and just a little sad. I don’t really know what triggers the fog but I do think being cooped up inside and forever yearning for a sunny day does tend to influence my pattern of thought – living in Ireland doesn’t help this at the best of times!

 

This state of limbo is not something I talk about often because it doesn’t really happen that often. It’s so common for people to feel this way at this time of year; we’re all waiting for the chill to leave us and for the sun to warm our souls again. But why shouldn’t I talk about it? Because I might share a part of myself that I don’t like? This part of me that’s far from perfect and far from the positive shiny person I want people to see me as is not something I should be ashamed of. Learning to like ourselves is such a necessary step to happiness and so accepting these little negatives is a lesson I will always be working on.

 

The weather is turning though and I can feel the weight being lifted already. Right now I’m writing with speed for this first time in what feels like ages and my fingers can’t keep up with the ideas that are flowing out. Yes spring is here. Actual sunlight is streaming on to the table I am writing at and I can see blue skies from my seat. How good it feels when we can finally see the light at the end of a tunnel we didn’t think would end.

 

Of course the dark moments will come and go but they are always a temporary blip that I shouldn’t pressurise myself to get out of as quickly as possible. I will endure them at my own pace. I will talk as much or as little as I feel I need to. I will like who I am even when I feel I shouldn’t. I will be the first person I am kind to each day.

 

If you are feeling a little burdened by our long winter and are in need of a little positivity to help guide you in to spring, then try a few of the below ideas that I turn to even when all I want to do is throw my jammies on!

 

Make Plans

Every Sunday I like to make my plans for the week which can wreck Andrew’s head because it means planning his as well! But knowing that I have people to see and fun things to look forward to allows me to get excited about the week ahead of me. Surrounding myself with people I like reminds me that I am in a much better place than I think.

 

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Practice Yoga

I went to my first heated yoga class last week and walked out with my mind and body buzzing. I was soaked in sweat but I also felt like I shed a tonne of baggage that I hadn’t realised I was carrying that day. I have known how much good yoga brings in to my life for a long time but the heated class only heightened the positive change. Please try it out! I couldn’t recommend the Flow Yoga Studios in Belfast enough but there are sure to be classes near you if you’re not in the city.

 

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Do A Little Good

I am lucky enough to volunteer on the ‘Time to Read’ programme but to be honest I feel like the children do more for me than I do for them. Watching their confidence grow and the wee improvements they make over time is such a joy and it’s usually one of my favourite parts of the week. You don’t need to volunteer to do good, all it takes is a drive to make someone else’s day a little better. Bringing a smile to someone’s face will surely bring a smile to yours so it’s win-win all round.

 

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Notice Pretty Things

Being a self-confessed Instagram addict means that I am always looking out for the beauty in the things around me. Some people might think that Instagram can create a constant need to share everything and can lead to comparing ourselves to others (which is never a good idea). But keeping an eye out for the little things that I might usually take for granted encourages me to appreciate the corners of my wee world.

 

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Get Outside

Yes Ireland brings an awful lot of rain but this also means that there are endless fields, rivers and forests to get lost in. My favourite place to clear my head is Helen’s Bay. It’s my spot where I go to on my own to feel the sand, let myself get battered by the sea winds and watch dogs lunge themselves in to the waves (dogs make me SO HAPPY). Make time for those solo moments of gratitude, a time to sit and think of nothing. No internal arguments you will never actually have. No memories that make you feel bad. Just your own piece of wonder near you which makes your heart sing a little. Feel free to use mine if you don’t have your own!

 

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Do you have any methods of bringing a little lightness in during the darker moments? Any ideas that will always guarantee a happy head? Would so love to hear them!

 

 

BBQ Recipes to Welcome the Summer

BBQ Recipes to Welcome the Summer

Irish people don’t tend to take a run of good weather in their stride. There’s not a hint of nonchalance when there’s a chance you might be able to do something after work other than spending five hours deciding what shite to watch on TV. So when there were a few consecutive days of temperatures reaching over 15 degrees, an impromptu BBQ just had to happen.

We’re only in our new house over a month so this was our first time hosting a BBQ together. We aren’t exactly equipped to host outdoor gatherings as yet so improvisation was key to pulling the whole show together. Andrew had gotten a coffee table for free from someone he used to work with (he has quite a knack for accumulating free stuff… a talent which sometimes comes in handy, sometimes not so much) so we dragged it out to the middle of the grass in the back garden. I had a genius idea of creating a ‘boho’ theme by throwing lots of pillows around the table and decorating with flowers and candles but really it was because we had nothing else to use!

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We only had two people coming over – our friends Caoimhe and Lenny – which took some of the pressure off. However, this still didn’t seem to prevent the stress when I realised they were due in a half hour and I had been too busy curating my Aladdin theme instead of actually preparing the food.

Andrew claimed his title of ‘BBQ Guard’ which involved standing over the kettle BBQ, a last minute purchase from Homebase, and doing pretty much nothing for a while other than poking coals with a stick. What is it with men and fires? He was all stressed that the coals weren’t hot enough, running off to the shop to get more coals. Meanwhile I was sweating bullets in the kitchen knowing I had to prepare ALL THE FOOD.

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The whole thing reminded me of the annual family BBQ we had as kids when the one week of good weather would arrive. Dad, him being a man and all, was of course ‘BBQ Guard’ but seemed to be more concerned about his supply of cold Buds than the dinner itself. For fear of food poisoning I suppose the sausages usually resembled carcinogenic pencils which we rolled up in a slice of bread with some ketchup. We rarely had hot dogs in buns because someone either forgot them or there was none left in the shop with every other family in town having the exact same idea. A favourite way of cleansing the charcoal grit from our palate was having at least five ice cream wafers after, almost always raspberry ripple flavour. Heaven.

Anyway when our guests arrived, Lenny joined Andrew immediately as sous-‘BBQ Guard’. This position has to be handled delicately because the sous ‘BBQ Guard’ should never be overzealous with their advice to prevent the head ‘BBQ Guard’ from becoming flustered and undermined. Lenny was a fantastic sous ‘BBQ Guard’, and provided lots of helpful comments such as ‘Those burgers look grand’ and ‘You’re right, it does take the charcoal a long while to heat up’.

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When everything was finally ready and Andrew was certain he wasn’t going to inflict anyone with salmonella poisoning, we sat cross legged and it felt just like Morocco. I was actually a bit impressed with the spread! There were homemade burgers, chicken skewers, corn on the cob (always), sweet potato fries, cous cous and an amazing salad which Caoimhe made (and was much too sophisticated for our basic BBQ).

It was a great success and after our desserts (meringue with cream, ice cream and berries – no ice cream wafers here) we moved the table away and sat around the coals keeping warm until the stars came out. For a brief moment I felt I was abroad on holiday with sangria in my belly and warmth in my face.

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The run of good weather looks like it’s come to an end. I’ll be keeping an ear out for predictable comments such as ‘That’s it, that’s the summer over’, ‘Sure it was good while it lasted’ and ‘Ach but it’s nice to have it cooled down a bit, ‘twas getting a bit too warm there’.

I’ll keep our wee Homebase bargain close by in case we’re lucky enough to have another heatwave this year. In the meantime it’s back to the Netflix drawing board.


BBQ Recipes

I am by no means a chef so I don’t use accurate measurements when I cook food. I’ve listed the dishes we made and the ingredients used in them in case you fancy some inspiration but measurements are very rough!

  • Homemade burgers – I mixed 500g minced beef, a half cup of breadcrumbs, one egg, half a chilli, a quarter of an onion and a tablespoon of mixed fresh herbs all together and shaped in to patties. Cooked on BBQ for about 10-15 minutes each side
  • Sweet potato fries – sliced an unpeeled sweet potato thinly, drizzled in olive oil and mixed with about a tablespoon over paprika. Baked in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes
  • Chicken skewers – added chicken, halloumi, tomato, courgette and pepper to skwers and cooked on BBQ for 20 minutes
  • Cous cous – bought from a supermarket – I am not ashamed to say!
  • Guacamole – mashed two avocadoes, squeezed the juice of one lime, one clove of crushed garlic, a quarter of a chilli and salt and pepper
  • Caoimhe’s salad – mixed lettuce leaves, avocado, almonds, feta cheese, roasted peppers and lemon juice
  • Corn on the cob – boiled for 15 minutes before adding to hot bars for 30 minutes. Smothered in butter mashed with lime juice and chilli.