{Community}

We love to talk about community in Northern Ireland- we throw the word around like confetti.

“Our wee community.”

“The local community.”

“Helping the community.”

We group people together, call them the *insert adjective here* community and use the term to define a group in one fell swoop, because they’re all the same type of person.

Right?

The thing is, I’ve been challenged lately as to what the term really means. Until now, it was nothing more than the people I’m surrounded by, who live in the same geographical area. We live close, so we are a community – but that’s not quite so.

In recent months a new community has come into my life – a community of instagrammers and bloggers. We aren’t from the same geographical area, save that we’re all from Northern Ireland. For the most part we don’t have the same interests. We’re all different ages, from different backgrounds with different faiths and at different stages in life. On the surface, the only glue holding us together is a love of taking pretty pictures and sharing experiences, but that’s just enough.

In fact, that’s more than enough, and I look forward to every single occasion we get to meet up, the most recent being an evening spent in Belfast enjoying the Botanic Gardens, a lovely meal together followed by fancy desserts (which I think should be prerequisite for any get together). Through the little squares of Instagram, I’ve had the absolute pleasure of meeting the most dynamic, fun-loving and encouraging group of women that I otherwise would never have come across, and have the honour of calling them friends now. (At least I hope I do, because if not and you’re reading this ladies, it just got a little awkward.)

We have an ex-punk, a future bride (and you can bet we’re turning up to that wedding, invited or not, in our glam for the ‘gram), teachers, jewellery-makers, singers, students, dressmakers and office workers. Some of us are quiet, some of us are not and some of should be on a talk show. Whilst we we may not have naturally gravitated towards each other in other circumstances, our differences don’t keep us apart, instead they draw us together as we learn more about each other. They have unknowingly pushed me past my own boundaries and well out of my comfort zone whilst simultaneously cheering me along, and have given me confidence to go into a room full of strangers and make them new friends.

Community isn’t just who you’re surrounded by, or the people like you. It’s not just the population of your town or the members of a group you’re in – it’s the people who show you true friendship and support, no matter how far apart you are and how different your lives my be.  It’s the people who you can take goofy pictures with for the sake of taking pictures and laugh at for days. The ones who are there for a chat, who open your eyes to see things differently. The people you have so much to learn from, and so much to teach them as well. The encouragers who listen to your ambitions and say ‘go for it!’. The ones who except you for you. Dodgy picture poses and all.

I’m very excited for our little community, for the people we haven’t met yet, for the adventures we’re going to have and maybe even the small difference we might make.
We’re told never to meet strangers from the internet, but maybe, sometimes, it’s okay and can lead you to some of the most unexpected friendships. As the saying goes: “I’ve found my people!”.

Gillian x

P.S. “There’s no such thing as strangers, just friends we haven’t met yet.”

We bought a house!

I’ve been very neglectful of this little corner of the Internet lately. It wasn’t intentional, it’s just that I didn’t have anything to write about because if I started I knew I would mention the one thing I wasn’t allowed to just yet: our new house. I can’t ‘houl my water’, as they say. Given that this whole blog came from wanting document our journey of building our dream house, I’m more surprised than you are that we’ve bought one instead.

Around this time last year we passed one of the houses at the top of the lane where my parents house is. I’ve passed it hundreds of times before, sometimes multiple times in one day. It had barely been lived in due to the circumstances of previous owners and just sat there, empty. For whatever reason, I remember turning to Paddy and saying “I have a funny feeling that house is for us”, and thought nothing more of it.

We kept on trying to make our dream of building happen. Consultant after consultant, architect after architect, planner after planner- but everyone we spoke to said it can’t be done. Green belt land. Well, bother.

It’s not as though ‘can’t’ has stopped me before, but this time I knew we were up against it. Selfish prayers of “please let us find a way to get planning permission” gave way to “please let us get planning permission… but if we don’t help me be okay with it”, which eventually became “God, show us the house you’ve chosen”. A few months later (and if I’m honest, I can’t even remember how it came about), we started making inquiries about the empty house.

We discovered that the owner had been talking about selling it, and was planning to put it on the market this summer. Due to a burst pipe in the roof space and the ceilings on both stories falling in a lot of work had to be done in the house to get it ready for sale- which worked in our favour as the ceilings are new, the walls have been re-plastered and painted, new carpets  have been laid and the whole house just needs a good clean to be ready for new residents.

In the space of 4 months we quickly learnt the value of a mortgage advisor (seriously, I do not know why anyone would even bother with all this malarky without one), how important your credit score is (Experian, dear friends- none of the rest of the other credit score trackers count, apparently) and that mortgage lenders will ask for a whopping 40% deposit if your electoral role registration is not up-to-date (yikes!).

Thankfully, we’re nearly at the end of all that stress and just have all the signing to do, and we’re looking forward to the stress of getting our new home cleaned up and ready to move in to! If you’d asked me this time last year where I thought I’d have been in the process of owning a home, my answer would have been that we would hopefully be close to planning permission, or even have it. I never expected to be buying a two-story, 4 bedroom house at the top of the lane, but now that we are I’m SO EXCITED!!

Our prayers have been answered and I can’t wait to start picking out furniture, deciding on colours and putting our stamp on our first home. I also can’t wait for a bath (it’s not the same when you trek across the garden to your mum’s), indoor heating and 4 walls that don’t bellow with every little breeze. Most of all I’m looking forward to finally having the cosy little home Paddy and I have talked about for the last 7 years.

Gillian x

P.S. Of course I’ll be documenting every little change and purchase on Instagram – and I’ll be needing opinions too! (Pistachio coloured front door, anyone?)

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It’s not a race…

I haven’t been around here much lately, in fact, it’s more like ‘The neglected nest’ at this point. It wasn’t intentional, it’s just that I’ve been doing far too much.

I am exhausted.

If I have no other skills, I’m absolutely fantastic at burning the candle at both ends. It never ends well and despite the fact that I know it’s coming every time I still keep driving myself through it until I crash completely and end up sick.

It’s something I’ve always done through school, university and now adult life. Since the start of the year I’ve been working on so many different things around my 9-5 job amongst a few extra stresses and every Monday I’ve gotten up and put on my ‘it’s go-time’ attitude.

This week is a little different, this week I’m reminding myself to slow down. It’s not a race, I’m not competing against anyone. I’m not going to beat myself up because I didn’t get my Etsy shop restocked and tidied up this weekend. I don’t need the ‘house’ (well… you know what I mean be now) to be cleaned by tonight. My to-do lists can wait. I don’t need to do everything NOW.

It includes bigger things too- I want to go back to university and do a Masters degree in music, build a house, get a new car, do a violin diploma, become a full-time violin teacher and have kids… but I really, REALLY don’t need to do everything by the time I’m 30, and it would probably shock you if you knew how often I started to worry over all these things because I think I should have done it by now. Comparison often sneaks quietly into our lives and sets unrealistic goals that we don’t even notice until we’re disappointed and worn out. What’s the point in fretting at night because the to-do list for the day isn’t completed, when it only makes us more weary for the next day? We put too much pressure on ourselves to be where someone else is and although we may have planned it for ourselves, it doesn’t always work out that way.

Here’s my challenge for both myself and for you this week: SLOW DOWN. Ignore the dishes and enjoy your cup of tea. Run a hot bubble bath, and hop in with a good book. Watch a movie, play with your kids (if you have them), go for a walk, try a Pinterest craft. Even just go to bed early and don’t beat yourself up for it in the morning when you see what you ‘should’ have been doing. You’ll not get anything done if you’ve run yourself into the ground and haven’t taken time to look after yourself.

So, how are you going to take some time for yourself this week?

Gillian x

Keeping it Personal… {Shopping}

After I left university my first full-time job was in a diamond jewellers. I mean my degree is in music, so it was an obvious choice. I can’t lie and say I loved the job (it’s actually very stressful!) but I would also be lying if I said I didn’t love working with jewellery all day – bracelets, necklaces, earrings, watches and diamond rings… oh, the diamond rings.

(I think I could go back to working with diamonds.)

The job suited me because I’m a total magpie when it comes to jewellery of any sort, so I couldn’t help but notice a bit of a trend for name necklaces lately. Jennifer Hudson (what a gal) was sporting dainty little gold ‘Jennifer’ necklace on The Voice, and if it’s good enough for J-Hud, it’s good enough for me! (If I could have her singing voice too, that would be great.)

It turns out that a name like ‘Gillian’ isn’t that easy to find on necklaces (or coasters, keyrings, pens, etc…) so I love it when a company offers customisation. Ineffabless London offer gorgeous sterling silver pieces (they’re marked 925, I checked) as well as yellow gold and rose gold plated pieces – and they’re completely customisable! Each personalised name necklace is made to order; simply select your favourite design and enter anything up to 13 characters to personalise it. You can see how your name will look in their font with the preview too. I chose the name necklace in silver, linked here.

Of course the magpie in me struck again and I fell for a 2 bar-pendant necklace (again in silver, because I mostly wear silver) and got it engraved with my husband’s name and my own – a great idea if you have kids and want to keep their names close to your heart. You can find this piece here. Both necklaces are dainty and pretty, and both were reasonably priced – that’s my kind of jewellery.

Gillian x

P.S. It pains me to say it, but Valentine’s Day isn’t far away… it might be a good idea, guys 😉

Happy New Year!

I don’t normally like New Year’s Day. I just find it too depressing- the sparkle is quite literally gone. As is the chocolate. No more twinkly lights, no more cosy (if unfashionable) Christmas jumpers, no more mince pies and even Michael Bublé retreats back to the North Pole for another 11 months. I don’t make resolutions either- I’ve never kept them when I have in the past, and then I write myself off for another year. I’d rather accept my screw-ups and take each new day as it comes.

I get so upset that my favourite season is passed and is as far away again as it can be… but this year is a little different. I’m still feeling the post-Christmas blues, but I actually feel excited as well. Back in July when I started this little blog I spent weeks puzzling over what I should call it. It was right at a time when we were leaving the rented house that we had called home, but had never really felt like home, and I was worried that we would be moving into our mobile a little more permanently than I’d like.

During that time a song lyric keep playing in my mind: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me”. Over and over, it just kept going, day and night, and it reminded me of Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” God gives the birds- little sparrows, the most invaluble of all, everything they need, and He will give me everything I need, and what I’ve needed since then is a house.

I don’t want anything particularly grand (although, if you saw my secret Pinterest boards, you might not believe me on that one- hey, if I end up in a mansion I’m not going to complain!) and the reality that we may not be able to get planning permission to build our forever home is setting in. We’ve had planners, architects, consultants, 2nd opinions, 3rd opinions and 4th opinions… and we’ve only a few tricks left up our sleeve. Whilst we’re not ever going to completely give up on our dream to build (because realistically, the planning office change their rules daily) we know we might have to buy a house and make it our own, at least for now!

As gutted as we will be if we can’t ever build our own home, we’re still SO excited at the thought of buying a house and making it ours- I can’t wait! So whilst we have a lot (and I mean, a lot) of work to do, our goal (not a resolution!) for 2018 is either planning permission, or buying our first home… and I’ve been all over the Laura Ashley website for inspiration. Just in case.

We have no idea where 2018 might lead, we have no idea if a house will come up for us, or if we will get granted permission, but I’m looking forward to keeping you updated on the way!

Gillian x

“That’s it for another year.”

29D1772F-EE05-4EE3-AB98-5983ED555A96.jpegThere’s always one. One person who gets up and announces at about 9pm on Christmas Day: “Well, that’s it for another year!”. It’s usually Dad.

Thank you, Captain Obvious.

I remember Dad putting me to bed one Christmas when I was little (probably around 7 but I can’t remember that well). He tucked me in surrounded by my new toys from Santa, stood up and said those words: “That’s it all over for another year.” Being the sassy little so-and-so that I was (some might say argumentative… some might say I still am) I turned round and said “No, it’s not Daddy, we still have everyone coming for dinner tomorrow.” He laughed, and said I was right as he left the room.

(Of course I was right. I’m always right. Nearly.)

The thing is, it doesn’t have to all be over for another year. Okay, we don’t have the whole Santa and present thing to deal with everyday, but what about everything else?

The cheery greetings to everyone we pass,  the family dinner at an actual, real life table, the spirit of thankfulness and giving, the willingness to help another in need, the generosity towards charity- why are these only for Christmas?

If you’ve ever read or watched Charles Dickens’ famous tale ‘A Christmas Carol’ you’ll know Scrooge was one mean-spirited, grumpy, tight-fisted, old badger of a man. (Plot spoiler coming up here… although if you haven’t read the book, I don’t know how you couldn’t have seen at least one of the 738426 movie adaptions). He hates Christmas and everything it stands for, but by the end of the story he makes a vow: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

By January, we’ve loved Christmas, over-indulged in it even… but forget to keep it with us throughout the year. We might not be as grumpy and mean-spirited as the former Scrooge, but we lose the smiles, thankfulness, generosity, even the proper ‘family time’. It’s like we tick the box in December and that’ll do us until we need to top it up again in 12 months’ time.

I’m not a ‘New Year’s Resolution’ type of girl, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could all resolve to spend the next year with the spirit of Christmas in our hearts- smiling at strangers, being thankful and giving, helping the more vulnerable people in our society, or even just putting the phones down and having good, old-fashioned conversation with family over dinner at the table.

I’ll probably need reminded again and again to wipe the frown off my face and cheer up. I’ll probably be in a bad mood and not say “thank you”, because I don’t feel like it. I’ll probably avoid people collecting for charities who do valuable work, because I’d rather spend my change on a wispa. I’ll probably walk past a homeless person, or a little old man who’s struggling to find the change he needs in his wallet, because I’m in a hurry. I’ll probably even lift my phone out and start flicking through Instagram over dinner, because I can’t be bothered telling anyone about my mundane day, or listening to them talk about theirs.

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But I’m going to try to honour Christmas in my heart, and keep it all the year.

Gillian x

Winter Garland {Collab}

Recently I was approached by the lovely girls of Your World Blog to do a collaboration. These three gorgeous young ladies encourage having a voice and making it heard, loving and looking after the world around us and creativity, which is something big, sad adults need a little encouraging in sometimes. They each post a new blog on Sundays, and reading them is like sitting down and having a good, honest chat with an old friend. They share their own thoughts, ideas and influences, and spread a little bit of much needed sunshine and positivity.

To be honest, I haven’t done a collaboration before, so hadn’t a clue as to what to suggest, but after taking a look through the girls’ blog we thought it would be fun to give the old ‘DIY Autumn Garland‘ a festive revamp for them to try and get others involved with too.

It’s pretty much the same process, using the same natural products, but just for Christmas I’ve added in a little decoration and of course, glitter.

You will need:

– 2-3 large oranges (depending on how long you want your garland to be)
– Greaseproof paper, a baking tray and a sharp knife
– Cinnamon sticks
– Twigs/pine branches/pine cones/ anything you can find!
– Twine

(Optional)
– Glitter
– Glue
– Miniature baubles/Christmas decorations (mine are little, white, wooden stars from Sostrene Grene, but supermarkets, Home Bargains, B&M bargains, Primark etc would have something you could use).


Instructions:
Slice the oranges about 2mm thick and pop them onto a baking tray on greaseproof before putting them into the oven at 50-70°C for four hours, turning them about halfway through this time. Once cooled, pass a short length of twine through each slice and tie a knot, leaving a loop to attach the orange slice to the garland.

Bind a couple of bunches of 2/3 cinnamon sticks tightly with twine, leaving a gap or loop that you can pass the twine for the garland through.

Cut the twine to your desired garland length, leaving a little extra for the knots you will be tying along it. Lay out your pine branches, pine cones, orange slices and cinnamon stick bunches as desired – here you can add any little baubles or decorations to your arrangement. Thread the twine through the loops on the orange slices and cinnamon stick bunches and tie a knot before moving on. For pine cones and pine branches wrap the twine around a couple of times and tie a tight knot.

If you like a little bit of sparkle, spread a little bit of glue over parts of your garland and sprinkle with glitter. Allow to dry and hang up your festive garland for everyone to see!

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I love a little bit of sparkle (actually, I love a lot of sparkle, but I do try to control myself), so I added some red glitter to the red twigs I foraged from a plant in the garden.

To find out how Tea and a Read is getting on with her garland, go and read her latest blog post on Your World Blog, linked here. You can also follow them on Instagram @yourworldblog. We’d love to see you give it a go and share it with us- why not try your own festive garland and share it with us via instagram, using the hashtag #createwithgillandtea!

Happy Christmas crafting!

Gillian x