2 Years and counting…

I can’t believe we’ve been married for 2 years.

2 years.

And now I’m on bridesmaid duties for my little sister!

Where does the time go? If you’d asked me 2 years ago where I thought we’d be now… it probably wouldn’t have been living in a mobile home in my parent’s garden with a sassy pomeranian. That’s just it though- we can plan all we want but it might not work out as we expect it to, and our wedding pretty much went that way too.

About 10 weeks before our wedding date my lovely Granda was diagnosed with a brain tumour – the third time in his life that he’d had cancer, and although he’d beaten it before, deep down we all knew what it meant. So the wedding was off, then it was on, then it was off, then it was on…off, on, off, on, off… and finally we sat down with Nanny and asked what we should do, because literally no-one could give us an answer. She told us Granda wouldn’t have wanted us to postpone the wedding and to go ahead, twelve short days after he passed away in the wonderful Southern Area Hospice.

The next morning was weird. All of a sudden there were no more hospital visits, no more days in the hospice, no more visitors trailing constantly through the door and we had to get into wedding mode. We had to get excited, or at least try. My plan all along had been to make a lot of things by hand myself and whilst I’d been futtering (footering? How do we spell that one?) at what I could, there was still a lot to do and it was a bit of a scramble to get to all together.

We wanted a wedding that was sparky and festive but, as per usual,  we didn’t want it to break the bank, and somehow we achieved it, despite it all. It was strange day without Granda, but we managed to enjoy it and find ways to honour his memory, including a collection for the hospice that looked after him so carefully.

My dress was a sample dress- originally a £1400 strapless fishtail that I had altered to a fit and flare with a boatneck top and sheer sleeves, and the bridesmaid dresses came from eBay, collectively costing about half the original price of my dress. I didn’t go looking for a sample sale, but I was chuffed at finding my dress that way.

The week before the wedding saw many 2am bedtimes (so much for ‘beauty sleep’ before the big day) as I sat making the crocheted flower hairpieces and assembling the bouquets for bridesmaids and flower girls from the bags of white crochet flowers my aunt had been helping me with. I wanted something unique for my bouquet so made it entirely from roses that I crocheted myself, with lace, pearls and angelina fibres woven through it- and I still love it.

DSC_6452.jpg

Paddy and I had gone down to our church the day before and decorated it with holly and ivy around the front steps, tea lights in jam jars decorated with silver bells on the window sills and baby’s breath sprayed with sparkling, silver glitter held on the end of each pew by a floaty white organza bow.

Our reception was held at The Mill at Ballydugan, a beautifully renovated old 18th century mill, with rustic stone walls and low wooden beams. We had little to do to get the look we wanted as they had already decorated with Christmas trees and garlands, but we made our mark with DIY centre pieces (glittery baby’s breath in a jar of diamonte and glitter water, sitting on a log slice surrounded by tea lights),  our seating plan was a 4ft tree (featuring Santa and his reindeer) and our favours were little personalised wooden decorations.

The biggest hand-made hurdle of all was the cake; with the help of a talented friend, it too was homemade. We spent 13 and a half pain-staking hours, baking, icing and decorating our wedding cake. If you take nothing else from this post, remember this: never, ever make your own wedding cake. It might seem like a good idea at the time, but nothing is worth that level of stress. And then you realise you have to transport the thing.

DSC_1205

Our wedding wasn’t exactly cheap as chips, but it wasn’t the £20,000-£50,000 extravaganza that weddings can be, and we still have lots of the little bits and pieces we made for the wedding floating about the house (well… mobile… you get the drift). How many brides can say they still have their wedding bouquet sitting in their living room? It was lots of hard work, stress, tears and a couple of tantrums but it was so completely worth it to say we made our day ourselves.  Strangely enough, we’re just as married, and just as happy as everyone who spent 5 times the amount we did, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

It was a weird, exciting, sad, happy, joy-filled, tear-filled, LOVE-filled day that we’ll always cherish.

Gillian x

P.S. If you make a charitable donation at Christmas, please consider a local hospice – they help the families through difficult times as much as they do patients.

IMG_3552

DSC_1101.jpgDSC_1636.jpg

DSC_1609.jpg

DSC_1215.jpg

fullsizeoutput_3b.jpeg

 

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.

F67187E5-EBBD-4C7C-A4BB-7F2EAB4033BA

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.

135F051B-97FB-4A9B-BEF1-C7481170C372

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: 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.

Samples

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.

fullsizeoutput_88d.jpeg

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.

fullsizeoutput_88e.jpeg

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

The Savvy Shopper: Food

There are a few things I’m good at: crocheting, the violin occasionally, and some days I can even cook, but one thing I’m really good at is shopping. I don’t mean that in the sense that I can spend a fortune in a short space of time – that’s something most of us can manage – I mean spending as little as possible and still having everything I need. I get a weird buzz out of saving money, and I’m a little bit proud of the fact that my wee Nanny calls me the ‘bargain hunter’.

To be fair, I’ve had worse nicknames – you’d be amazed at how much can be made to rhyme with ‘Gilly’…

I thought I’d share some of my tips and tricks for saving money when you’re out shopping and break it down into a series of posts (I’m getting cocky with this whole blogging thing now, eh?): Food, Clothes and Shoes, Hair and Make-Up, Home Decor and (dare I even say it) Christmas and Gifting.

Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way: food shopping. I hate it. There’s nothing I loathe more than trotting off around Tesco. Don’t get me started on self-service tills. Here’s how I stop the weekly shop from getting out of hand…

Tesco Shop.JPG

1. Don’t send Paddy.
Or your equivalent. You might not think you need 4 300g bars of chocolate, but he does. Don’t go hungry either – that does just about the same damage.

2. Plan your meals, and make lists.
Yeah, you’ve heard this one before- but it works! Think about what you would like to make throughout the week, and write out everything you need, then just follow your list. Try and make a little extra too, then you’ve got your lunches covered as well.

3. Keep it local.
I try as much as possible to get into the local fruit and veg shop. Their food is better quality and usually offers a better price because lots of their produce is locally sourced.

4. Pound Shops.
They don’t just sell out of date foods, although do check, no-one likes their Crunchy Nut to be chewy. Biscuits, crisps, cordial, canned foods, sauces etc can be nearly half the price of the supermarkets.

5. Don’t be a brand snob. 
I’m guilty of this. I fought Paddy on the Tesco brand Jalfrezi sauce thinking it would be pretty nasty, even though it’s half the price of the branded ones. Turns out I was… wrong, not that I would admit it at the time. It may not be the case with everything, but it’s worth a go!

And that’s how I keep tabs on our food spend. You don’t have to be completely miserable with your purse strings – set yourself a budget and if you come in under it, go back for the donuts – but money saved on food is money to spend on a house, holidays, shoes, clothes, days out… you get the idea, fun things!

Gillian x

P.S. I don’t particularly love Tesco, it’s just the only place within 10 miles of home!

P.P.S. Sorry there’s no pretty pictures to look at- there’s nothing overly pretty about a food shop. 🤷🏼‍♀️

Hello September!

So many people get really upset at this time of year. They lament that the summer’s gone, all the ‘good’ weather (all 3 days of it) is gone, there will be no more holidays or barbecues and that they have to put away all their lovely clothes for another year.

Alas, alack!

I don’t get it.

I woke up this morning excited for no other reason than today is the first day of September. Autumn is nearly here, and I couldn’t be happier to see it. From now until 31st December you will find me wallowing in blankets, hot chocolates, candles, fairy lights, knits and all the homemade stews and soups I can make/steal from my Mum. I have always loved September, even when it meant going back to school (yeah… I’m a nerd), and everything getting busy again, as it still does.

Despite the fact that September usually has the best weather for Northern Ireland, there’s something in the air, you can smell it in the crisp breeze – everything around us seems to feel the chill in the air, and knowing Autumn has arrived, begins to close up shop and bunker down for the winter ahead.

I start my own bunkering down – and it’s all a guessing game as to how bunkered down we’ll have  to be in the mobile this year! I woke this morning to dew covered grass, misty mountains… and a chill in the caravan that would have turned you blue.

September Morning.jpg

As pretty as it all is, I think it’s time to invest in a few more electric heaters, or we’re going to turn into icicles.

I’ve since spent my day doing all things Autumn; walking the dogs and enjoying the views in the September sunshine, picking blackberries, eating Great Auntie Violet’s Victoria plums and making apple tart.

Great Auntie Violet's Victoria PlumsBlackberry PickingSeptember ViewsBenny and Bear

What’s not to love? I can’t wait to see the leaves start to turn and to get stuck into making some blackberry jam and Autumn cakes… and of course, lots of cosy knits.

To my fellow Autumn-lovers, have a beautiful, cosy September. To all the Summer-mourners out there: cheer up, grab a blanket and a spiced coffee (yeah, I went there)- it’s a wonderful season!

Gillian x