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

The Savvy Shopper: Clothes

Like most women, my wardrobe is more expansive than I’ll admit, and more varied than it probably should be. It ranges from 8-year-old Hollister hoodies (they’re over-rated, but you can’t dispute their durability) to last week’s Next delivery (I have problems with restraint when it comes to their Autumn/Winter collections), from Primark to Michael Kors.

 

I love clothes, shoes, handbags, scarves (especially scarves… Paddy has intervened on occasion), jewellery – everything that goes into an outfit – but with so many brands and designers you could easily spend the price of a decent car on one outfit. The obvious way to keep costs down is to get to the sales, but when the sales just aren’t working with me I stick with these tricks:

  1. Ask yourself.

When I’m in a pickle and find something I really like, but wasn’t particularly looking for, I ask myself 4 questions. Generally, if I can answer “yes” to 3 out of 4, it’s a purchase, if not, it goes back on the rail for someone else to love instead.

“Do I need it?”

If yes, could I find something similar for less? If definitely no, it’s on to…

“Do I want it?”

I don’t mean wanting it because it’s on trend, or wanting it enough to buy it, but never wearing it because you changed your mind, I mean actually really wanting it, because you genuinely love it and can see yourself wearing it again and again.

“Can I afford it?”

Hint: If you have to eat Pot Noodle for a month, then the answer is no.

“If I leave here without it, will I regret it?”

This is usually my decider; I put it back, try to walk away and if I just can’t do it, it’s coming home with me.

2. Know your Investments.

Socks are not an investment. A vest is not an investment. A polyester jumper is not an investment.

A winter coat, shoes or a handbag? They’re investments. They’re something that you can wear and use year after year if you take care of them. One of my favourite winter coats is a sheepskin coat my dad bought for my mum 30 years ago. Mum looked after it and wore it for years, and after saying how much I loved the faux sheepskin coats in Marks and Spencer last year, Mum revealed she had it hiding in her wardrobe for years, and it was mine if I wanted it. A solid investment there, Dad!

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3. Outlets and Supermarkets.

Back in my ‘Savvy Shopper: Food’ post, one of my tips was ‘don’t be a snob’. It’s the same thing here, really – why wouldn’t you shop where it’s cheaper? Whilst outlet shops often have last season stock or items that just didn’t sell well, they often have lots of hidden gems. Why pay full price for designer jeans when you could get them at an outlet price? No-one will ever know.

There are people who would be embarrassed to say their clothes from Tesco or Asda. If you can get over your brands, supermarkets have some fantastic clothing ranges: Florence and Fred at Tesco, George at Asda and the Esmara range at Lidl have been putting out some seriously heart-eye-worthy clothes in the past few months, at really low prices.

4. Google it.

When all else fails, or I want to see what’s out there, I google it. Their shopping search can bring up some unexpected results. My most recent search for ‘wedge ankle boots’ lead me immediately to a pair reduced from £49.99 to £8.99 on M&M Direct (which I have enjoyed rediscovering lately). I could have spent all evening opening a new tab for every shoe retailer known to man, but all it took was one search… and my boots arrived 3 days later. Of course, you’re not going to magically find exactly what you’re looking for every time, but it’s worth a shot!

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As with my last Savvy Shopper post I could go on, but I’ll not. Clearly, I’m very passionate about being a cheapskate.

Happy clothes shopping!

Gillian x

P.S. secretsales.com and brandalley.co.uk. If you haven’t heard of them, you can thank me later.
P.P.S. I still have nothing to wear.

 

DIY Autumn Garland

One thing I really wish we did in Northern Ireland is decorate our houses a bit more for Autumn. I’m not talking skeletons for Hallowe’en (eww…I’m sorry, but just nope) and we don’t need to go nuts with it either and have 3 carved pumpkins rotting on every door step; just the odd garland, apple create and maybe a fabric pumpkin or two on the shelf.

If you’ve seen my instagram feed you may have noticed that I’m pretty much always making something- I’ve got far too many ongoing projects all the time, and if I didn’t I’d just feel weird. My sisters are the same way, and whilst we all have our own niche, occasionally we like to stick our nose into what the others are doing and have a go at it ourselves.

My sister Christine (@christine.j.bell) is a talented designer – we’re expecting big things (and freebies) from her. She has some really interesting ideas for interior design and quite often uses earthy tones and natural colours for her designs. She’s also keen on using naturally occurring materials such as plants and flowers to make things, so when I walked in and found her in the kitchen last week surrounded by the smell of orange and cloves I knew she was up to something good. So good in fact, I stuck my nose in, stole a few dried orange slices and made an Autumn garland for myself.

It’s pretty, inexpensive, smells good enough to eat and adds a cosy Autumnal touch to the plain wall of our living room. They’re very easy to make and can be made using bits and pieces from the garden or a forest walk. Christine kindly let me share her idea, so if you fancy giving it a go, here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2-3 large oranges (depending on how long you want your garland to be)
  • cloves
  • cinnamon sticks
  • twigs/dried leaves/pine branches/pinecones/ anything you can find!
  • twine.

Most of the process is drying. From the garden we chose small pine branches and twisted willow, as the twigs from it curl- just leave it to dry a little to make sure no sap is coming out of anything before adding it to the garland. I figured that bit out the sticky way.

Slice the oranges about 2mm thick and press cloves into them before popping them into the oven at 50°C- 70°C for four hours, turning them over about half way through this time. Let them cool off and tie a short length of twine on to them and your twigs/cinnamon sticks/etc to attach them on to your twine.

Cut your twine to your desired length, arrange everything and then tie it on once you’re happy with it all.

Et voila!

One super-easy Autumn garland ready to hang! You don’t have to be particularly artistic, so the excuse of ‘I’m just not creative’ doesn’t wash here – there’s nothing more satisfying than being able to look at something beautiful and say ‘I made that!’.

Why not give it a go? (And share your pictures, so we can see them too!)

Gillian x

The Savvy Shopper: Beauty

As a self-confessed beauty enthusiast, I love buying makeup, trying new skincare products, making a DIY hair mask (which can get pretty messy) – even if I were completely skint, I could find the money for any makeup, hair or skin care products I need. Whilst there are some things I can’t compromise on (due to a girl’s best friend: temperamental skin), I have my ways and means around the rest.

The obvious answer to saving money on beauty products is simply not to buy them as they aren’t considered a necessity.

Good one.

Let’s be real: I’d rather go without chocolate for a month than not buy my Double Wear. It’s hard to tell which would cause more tears.

It isn’t pure vanity, although I do like to look ‘good’- it’s more that I feel comforable, confident and ready to take on what the day has for me when my hair is shiny, my skin is clear, and my eyeliner is winged.

Some products out there cost serious dolla, so here’s how I keep my stash stocked, without breaking the bank:

  1. Samples.

Ask for the samples. Don’t be embarrassed about it; all branded counters have magic little drawers that are just brimming with freebies. And don’t just do it in one shop the once- make sure you ask in every shop you go into on every trip. Some brands are more generous than others and some counter staff are too, but generally, you’ll end up with a handful of products that would do you for at least a few days.

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Clearly, I have no shame in asking… and this is a run-down version.

2. Hunt the offers, but check the price.

Particularly at this time of year gift sets come out for Christmas. You could buy your Clarins moisturiser now… or you could wait a few weeks and get a full size toner and cleanser with it for the same price. (You’ll find me hovering around Boots in my spare time waiting for this for the next few weeks.)

On the other hand, you have the fake offers. £1 for a bottle of your favourite shampoo? Yes, please! … but it may not be as good as it seems. Check your prices per 100ml: the 150ml bottle may be £1, but the 450ml bottle may be £2.50 so you’re actually getting less for your money with your ‘deal’.

3. Know when to compromise.

As I said before, there are things I can’t compromise on, like foundation. I stick to Estee Lauder Double Wear and that’s that. If you want me to use something cheaper talk to my grumpy skin, and then come back to me. I do however cheap out on powder, bronzer, concealers, blush, etc. If I have a good base application, the rest will stick. Boots Natural Collection, Collection 2000, Rimmel, Nyx – all cheap and cheerful, and all work as well as I need them to.

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4. Mix your products.

Okay, this one is a little weird. I have my ‘luxury’ and my ‘low-cost’ skin care products, aka, Clarins and Simple. I would love to use Clarins skin care range all the time, but at £25+ for each product, that just ain’t gonna happen. Cue the Simple range. All under £5 and used when my skin is generally clear. If I’m going out somewhere, having a wee spa night, or have a bad breakout, I’ll indulge in the Clarins products. Otherwise it’s a routine of Simple cleanser, toner and moisturiser every night, meaning I can draw out the expensive products for longer and not have to make a ‘big purchase’ so often.

5. Palettes

You can buy your bronzer, blush and highlighter separately, or you could get all three in one palette for less than their combined price. I also prefer to buy eyeshadow palettes rather than individuals – they give you the option for different combinations and although there may be one or two stinkers (I’m sorry, but I’m never using the righthand side of my Morphe palette), you still get a whole lot more for your hard-earned cash.

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I probably could go on, but I’ll stop here because if you’ve read this far you deserve a medal.

Now, go ask for your freebies!

Gillian x

Pink hair, don’t care!

I had so many questions and comments 2 weeks ago when I dyed my hair temporarily pink I decided to post on what I used and what I thought of it.

My hair is pretty boring: it’s thin, it’s poker straight so doesn’t hold a curl for long, it’s always blonde (because it’s true, we have more fun) and it’s soft so doesn’t stay in braids, or even a ponytail well without the help of 375926 cans of hairspray. All that being said, I still quite like it, but sometimes I just fancy something a little different that doesn’t cost too much – but only for a little while as I don’t want to damage it, and would miss my blonde locks.

I’ve had pink hair once before when I dip-dyed it a few days after my 21st birthday using Crazy Colour, but it stained for months and completely put me off trying a temporary dye again… until all the adverts for semi-permanent hair dye started popping up on our television screens. It started with Schwarzkopf Live Colour, then came L’Oreal Colorista, closely followed by Clairol Colour Crave.

Admittedly, I trotted off to Superdrug in search of Colour Crave, but as they didn’t have the shade I wanted I made a flash decision and bought the L’Oreal Colorista Washout instead, even though it was to last 2-3 washes, in comparison to Colour Crave’s 15+ washes.

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The box contains one tube of washout colour and 2 pairs of gloves, for a couple of uses if you aren’t going for all-over colour. I started by rubbing the dye into the ends of my hair and working my way up to the roots until my hair was completely covered. There was just about enough in the tube to do my whole head, but if anyone with longer or thicker hair wants to go all pink for a week it would be best to buy a couple of boxes. I left it on for 25 minutes as I wanted the colour to be a little more intense so it would last longer.

Then I hopped online and read reviews.

‘This dye has completely DESTROYED my hair.’

‘My hair is ruined, it’s stained.’

‘I no longer recommend this product.’

‘I had to go to my hairdresser to have this fixed.’

OH. DEAR.

My hair is very bleached at the ends in particular so I figured this stuff was going to cling like glue and I’d have to take the shameful ‘I DIY-ed my hair’ trip to the hairdresser’s (we’ve all done it) and beg for a fix.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case (PHEW!), the dye lasted 3 washes with a good colour, and by wash 7 was nearly completely faded! It’s left a little bit of a peach colour in my hair still, but I actually like it as it’s given my hair a warm tone without being brassy, and I’m pretty confident at this point it’ll wash out.

Some reviews are so over-dramatic.

My inner punk-rocker is satisfied for another while but I’ll definitely be going pink again.

Gillian x