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

Supporting Local

My sister’s American fiancé Tyler pointed something out to me a few days ago that I was a bit surprised about: having a ‘bee in your bonnet’ isn’t a thing in America. He’d never heard of it. We had to explain it to him (he’s learning his Norn Iron speak, so he is).

In case anyone is wondering, it’s when something is of high enough importance to you that you blather about, or do it, again and again. You feel passionately about it. You have a bee in your bonnet.

I have a bit of a bee in my own bonnet at the minute, and that’s shopping local and supporting small businesses. I’ve been beating my ‘support handmade/ local/ small business’ drum for a while now, but I’ve turned it up a notch with Christmas coming and all the shopping that accompanies it. I didn’t include this in my ‘Savvy Shopper’ Christmas post because buying handmade or goods from a local shop can be a little more expensive. They aren’t mass produced, they are made or curated lovingly by a real person who loves the items they gather or make, and it’s not right to expect that person not to be paid properly for their hours of dedication, late nights and finger cramps.

I thought I’d share some of my favourite local makers and businesses for anyone in little old NI, and if you’re further afield, don’t worry, they’ll ship to you. (I think!! If they don’t, my bad, sorry for the fib.) If you’re struggling for a Christmas present (because there’s always ONE, isn’t there?) then these are the places to try.

White Chalk Studio (@whitechalkstudio)
www.whitechalkstudio.com

I first came across this beautiful lady’s work when I attended Country Blog Retreat NI (which you can read about here). She gave a foil print for each of the 140 goodie bags and I absolutely adore mine. So much so that I have ordered a custom print for a special Christmas present (I can’t say much more, you know… just in case a particular person decides to read this… but keep an eye on my Instagram). She has a beautiful selection of foil prints on her website that would make a truly unique gift.

 

The Natural Beauty Pot (@Thenaturalbeautypot)
www.naturalbeautyppot.co.uk

Another blog retreat find thanks to a near-edible sample of Calendula and Lemongrass bath salts, this lovely lady makes her own all-natural bath salts, make-up and skincare products, designed specifically for sensitive skin. The beautiful packaging has an old apothecary feel, and their products are vegan – no animal testing here! You’ll be chilled and smelling delicious.

The phrase ‘treat yo’ self’ comes to mind.

 

The Bottom Drawer (@thebottomdrawerportadown)
www.thebottomdrawerstore.co.uk

The Bottom Drawer is a gorgeous little shop located in the Portadown town centre, which is just bursting with clothes, gifts and homeware. Whilst sisters Frances and Rhonda don’t make any of their stock (that I know of?), they have selected a beautiful collection from well-known brands for their store with everything from Thomas Kent clocks to Charlie Bears to fascinators for a fancy Christmas party! Follow them on Instagram for ‘Friday Favourites’ and mini fashion shows. I’ve yet to see a blouse I didn’t like.

 

Words and Wildflowers (@wordsandwildflowers)

My cousin’s cousin – Jane. She was already gorgeous and intelligent, and then she unleashed a hidden talent for watercolour floral wreaths and hand-lettering. (Did not see that coming.) Verses, quotes, baby weights – she does it all, and adorns her custom words with eye-popping, colourful flowers to be framed and treasured. Send her a message for your custom requests!

 

Painted Earth  (@painted.earth)
www.paintedearthgifts.com

To my shame and embarrassment (given that I work about 3 minutes down the street) I’m not in this shop as often as I should be. This is the place you go if you want ‘something different’ – that unique gift that you know they absolutely, beyond a doubt don’t already have. They stock everything from Beard Shampoo (when did this become a thing?), to pieces from local ceramicists (like @rebeccakillenceramics_). They also design and make their own jewellery, which to me is the epitome of awesome jobs.

 

Shopping with big companies is a little easier on our bank accounts, but you won’t see the same workmanship, devotion or good, old-fashioned passion from them as you would from a small business. When you shop from them, you aren’t lining the pockets of fat-cats; you’re putting dinners on tables, clothes on backs and presents under the Christmas tree.

You’ll also be the best gift-giver. Go you!

What are your favourite local businesses?

Gillian x

P.S. Apologies for the severe lack of photos/anything pretty to look at. I thought about swiping a couple of their photos, but that’s not nice. Take a look at their Instagram accounts instead. 😉

The Savvy Shopper: Christmas

Remain calm.

We’re now using the C-word openly. With only 2 paydays left, it’s time to talk about everyone’s favourite task: Christmas Shopping.

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I always start my Christmas shopping early (I actually had my sisters’ Christmas presents bought and hidden by March one year- fluffy blankets are a whole lot cheaper when the weather’s getting warmer). If I’m honest, if I haven’t got at least the majority of it done by Hallowe’en I freak out a little. I love buying gifts for people and combining that with my favourite time of year and my love for a good bargain makes Christmas shopping something I actually really enjoy. Here are a few of my tips for keeping the cost down at the most expensive time of the year.

1.Make a list (checking twice optional) and set a budget.

It’s so easy to get completely and utterly carried away with it when it comes to Christmas shopping. Why do we think everyone’s going to be offended if we don’t buy them something? If anything, they’ll probably be relieved they don’t have to send money on a gift in return.
Make a list of who you need to buy a gift for, and be brutal if you have to – you probably don’t need to buy your neighbour’s granddaughter who visits once a month a perfume set. After you know who you’re shopping for set a budget for each person, and stick to it, otherwise it can still get out of hand.

2. Plan ahead.

Now that you know who you’re shopping for and how much you’d like to spend on them, think of what you’d like to buy them, and write it down before you even go near a shop. It’ll save you from wandering around (or internet browsing) aimlessly, before potentially overspending to buy something you think they might like out of desperation to get the job done.

3. Work the offers.

FYI: this isn’t an ad, and I’m not being paid to say this next bit (I wish!), I’m just a major fan!
One of my favourite shops, especially for Christmas gifts, is Boots. I collect advantage points throughout the year and hit Boots for their 3 for 2 offers on everything from Nando’s sets, to toys, to the Laura Ashley photo frames that they pull out of the woodwork for the season. If I have 3 £20 gifts to buy, I only have to pay for 2 of them, and if I’m paying with the points I’ve collected, they’re completely free.

Happy days!

I’m sure some other shops do the same, I just know of them..yet. (Give me a break, I live 5 miles from the nearest town, shopping is a great adventure from where we are.)

4. Outlets and discount sites.

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If you’re in N.I and remotely local, Kildare Shopping Village is only a couple of hours drive away, and filled with great outlet shops for designer items. Junction One and The Outlet are fairly handy too, although outlet stores can be hit and miss, but sometimes it’s nice to just have a Festive day out.
Your best bet for designer discounts is outlet websites – Secret Sales, Brandalley, Achica, etc. I’ve briefly mentioned them before, but they have surprisingly good discounts on massive brands and a huge variety… just be careful with their shipping times as sometimes it can take up to 6 weeks for an item to arrive.

There’s also old faithful TK Maxx (the Aladdin’s cave of shops- you just don’t know what you’ll find!), and of course bargain shops like Home Bargains and B&M Bargains, which are especially good for toys. Buying in a bargain or discount shop doesn’t mean you’re being cheap on someone’s gift, or that you didn’t put any thought into it, it just mean’s you’re being smart about it.

5. D.I.Y

Make something! Anything! Fudge, chutneys, shortbread, a scarf, a candle- even putting together a little hamper of goodies can make a beautiful gift. The possibilities are endless and if you’re stuck for ideas consult Pinterest, knower of all things arts and crafts! Handmade gifts are usually less expensive but will cost you more in time, and will mean so much more to the recipient because you made the effort to make something especially for them.

As per usual I could go on (I’m a bit of a blather, really), but I’ll stop. Christmas shopping doesn’t have to be a chore, and it doesn’t have to cost your savings either, you just have to know what you’re looking for and where. Happy shopping!

Gillian x

There’s No Place Like Home

I didn’t always like to admit it, but I’ve always been what we call a ‘home-bird’, which is ‘Norn Iron’ for someone who likes to stay in their own little neck of the woods. It must run in our family because we stay close together and like to be around each other when we can. (At least, I think so, maybe I’m just needy and they’ll tell you differently.)
I don’t often go away anywhere, and even throughout university I travelled from home to my classes, but our trip to Paris was the first time I was ever actually homesick. The night we landed I wanted my jammies, a cup of tea, my own bed and my fluffy little dog, which I did quickly get over the next day at Disneyland. (Successful ‘adulting’ at it’s finest.) I’ll not say much about the trip as I’ll likely write about it later, but when it took a near 48 hour extension due to flight cancellations, and I realised we were stranded in Paris for another 2 days, the homesickness kicked in again.
It’s not the worst place to get stranded- in fact, we pretty much landed on our feet with four-star accommodation and delicious meals. But for all our home is- a little mobile, in the middle of nowhere with a dodgy shower and no room to swing a cat (figure of speech guys, we don’t harm cats)- it’s still home, and I wanted nothing more than to be curled up in it with the heater on, my dog by my side and a proper cup of (Punjana!!) tea.
We all have our own ideas of what a home should be, and it’s slightly different for everyone. For Parisians, it’s a modern apartment, in an old building, in a cosmopolitan city – with a patisserie to grab a fresh baguette for breakfast and a busy, cobbled street 3 floors below. Whilst I can cope with it for a few days, I couldn’t ever imagine living somewhere like that, whereas for them, my home might be an eyesore, boring and just too lonely and quiet.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter what we think of each other’s homes, only that we love them. There are lots of people with a bigger, more beautiful home than mine, but there are many who also have much, much less. Tonight I’m more thankful than ever for my little corner of the County Down countryside, for my family only metres away, for proper china mugs and proper potato dinners and for my own little family in the mobile: a husband, a dog and a degu.
Gillian x