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Christmas Catch Up Season



Belfast Woodfired Pizza

View from Ivory Champagne Bar

Bullitt Hotel
Camile Thai, Lisburn Road
Christmas is definitely a time to catch up and enjoy time with friends. I'm so excited to see my chums who have moved away this year but are returning for the holidays. I've listed a lot of my old favourites to visit this holiday season, added in some new places and have some wish list eateries that I want to head to. 

Drinks
I love a casual post work drink and The National never fails to disappoint me. I particularly love it on a Friday night - there's always a great atmosphere. I've also recently been calling into the new Bullitt Hotel for drinks (& the best hot chocolate ever!) - it's super cool and wouldn't look out of place on any London corner. For my birthday this year,  my friends and I headed to The Apartment largely for its handiness to the Christmas markets at City Hall! However, we were so presently surprised. It's had a very trendy makeover and the staff were so lovely. We sat and watched the world go by at the window with bottles of prosecco and sharing plates. A genuinely lovely experience! If you work up a thirst from lots of shopping, the new Ivory Champagne bar in House of Fraser is one to visit. With stunning views of the iconic Victoria Square festive decorations, there is no better way to catch up than over a glass of champagne & some macarons. (Also, I think everything is priced so well at The Ivory making it really accessible). 

Food
Of course, the Christmas Market is one to visit for the atmosphere alone (and my friend tells me the Greek Gyros is the thing you MUST try this year!) but I also loved visiting the brand new River House Yard. Located on Skipper Street between The National and The Spaniard, the mini market is full of fabulous local food retailers housed inside shipping containers. My must try from River House Yard is Belfast Woodfired Pizza. I recently visited their sit down restaurant on the Lisburn Road (beside The Albany) and it was incredible. Gourmet style pizza with surprising toppings - utterly divine. If something quick but ultra tasty is what you are after, try Camile Thai on the Lisburn Road. They do mostly takeout but have a few seats to sit in if you are lucky enough to catch one. I cannot describe how fresh this food is. You'll never want to eat normal takeaway Chinese again! A great option for a girly catchy up - especially as you can eat it in the comfort of your own home!

Again, if you are out shopping and want some sustenance, the newly opened Zizzi italian in Victoria Square is a great option. I've been twice over the past few weeks and I think it's tasty (fabulous salads!) and great value for money. 

If you want more traditional fayre, my go tos are always Home and Deane's (let's be honest, you get a good feed is any of Michael's restaurants but I have a particular fondness for the Ulster Hall and Lisburn Road variations). Plus make sure to check out my recent review of the Bull & Ram in Ballynahinch- well worth the journey. 

On my 'to try' list over Christmas are two new places - Noble in Holywood (all locally sourced tasty dishes) and Yugo, a new contemporary Asian restaurant located close to City Hall.

P.S. if you are looking for more things to do over the Christmas period in Belfast, I worked on this article with Go Euro. Go have a little nosey at it!

My Skincare Journey with Beyond Skin Part 1

My skincare plan

After my first pumpkin peel

After my LED facial

Products I'm currently loving 



When my favourite skincare clinic closed in House of Fraser to make space for the £5 million revamp, I was devastated. However, Jennie & Gillian of said clinic decided to take matters into their own hands and open their own business, Beyond Skin. Located on College Street (out of the back of Boots!), the clinic is easy to find, spacious and clinical. They offer everything from Botox to laser hair removal but my joy are the skin treatments they offer - peels, microdermabrasion and LED facials.

My skin can be very dry in areas and I'm prone to breakouts but my biggest concern is the scars I have been left with from cystic spots over the years. 

Beyond Skin kindly asked me to visit the clinic and experience it for myself. I want to highlight at this point that skincare is definitely a journey - Gillian recommends a minimum of three treatments to see an optimum difference. I'm a month into my journey and two treatments down. I started off with a pumpkin peel. People seem to have such a bad name about peels (I blame Sex and the City) but I assure you that they are totally safe & not painful. Pumpkin peels aim to improve the overall texture of your skin. When I first visited the clinic I had quite a few bumps on my forehead, some breakouts and as mentioned, my scarring. The peel was hot on the skin but nothing too unbearable. I was quite red afterwards (as pictured!) but this soon calmed down. I had some peeling afterwards, particularly in areas that were very dry but this is normal. 2 weeks after this I visited the clinic again for an LED facial. I had never experienced light therapy before. This aims to calm any redness in the skin. I found that a week after this treatment my skin looked fantastic and it has continued to improve since (pictured).  

For skincare I have been using an array of cleansers. My favourite at the moment is the Emma Hardie Cleansing Balm (largely for speed!). I also use Alpha H Liquid Gold twice a week as a chemical exfoliant to help with my scarring and I've been loving the Skinician Pro Radiance Enzyme Peel as a weekly treat - it really seems to boost the clarity of my skin. For serum for both day and night, I purchased the Dermaquest Vitamin B5 serum from Beyond Skin, At £61 it is not a cheap product but very much worth the investment. My dry patches have completely disappeared and my skin is definitely looking more plump. For moisturiser, I've been loving the Nip & Fab No Needle Fix. I find the especially great for morning time as makeup seems to apply beautifully on top of it. 

I'm due to go back to Beyond Skin this weekend for my 3rd treatment - the one which Gillian said I will see a huge difference with. I can't wait for the results! Stay tuned for more!

*Treatments were gifted to me by Beyond Skin. All opinions are my own. 

A mini break to Milan









I love a mini-break. Give me 4 or 5 days in a city over 2 weeks on a beach any day. I love exploring and there's no better way than to do this than with your friends. Mini breaks are the perfect bonding opportunity so when the flights from Belfast to Beragamo opened with with Ryanair, I booked straight away. The flights were super cheap - I think it was little over £100 or the two of us. Admittedly, we did not book cases (an over sight on the shopping front) but we managed just fine with hand luggage.

I was a little concerned about flying to Beragamo as I knew this was a) not in Milan and b) we had to travel to the city centre & we speak no Italian. However, there are plenty of buses outside that take you to Milan's Central Train Station for around €5 single.

We stayed in The Square Hotel as this was located about  5 minute walk away from the Duomo. If you are like me and are fussy about hotels, you will find that Milan is expensive. However, if you are used to going to Dublin & staying in 4/5 star hotels, the price is proper comparable. Our room was huge - a bit like a New York loft and the breakfast included was fantastic. The hotel also had a huge rooftop restaurant & bar which was such a joy to just chill at. 

If you are thinking about going to Milan you need to be shopper. There's everything from the coolest Zara I've ever been in to Gucci that has a coffee shop attached - of course we had to stop and have a snack for Instagram purposes alone! We visited la Rinascente - the most amazing department store I've ever been in. It is super high end but not pretentious. We spent about 4 hours just wandering around! The department store also has a lovely restaurant that over looks the Duomo. The Duomo (Milan Cathedral) is also worth a visit. I found it very moving - it was so grand but so silent. We also did the ascent to the top of the Cathedral where you literally stand on the roof - trainers or flat shoes recommended as the stairs are very steep!

We actually visited Milan during Fashion Week and expected it to be crazy but it is a surprisingly chilled out city. It's really easy to just walk around & wander and find little gems.

Admittedly, the food we had was a little lack lustre - but let's be honest, you go to Milan for the shopping, not the food. 

Would I go back to Milan? Yes I would. There's a lots of galleries & museums we didn't get a chance to visit and it was our first visit (plus hardly anyone I knew had ever visited!), it would be great to go back to explore a little more!

Bull & Ram




t's been a long time since I went to a new restaurant where I had a good feed. It's a very Northern Irish thing to want to go somewhere and leave stuffed but it is our way. I was recently asked to come and review the Bull & Ram in Ballynahinch. I live about 45 minutes away so despite the jaunt, I jumped at the chance as they had just won three YES restaurant awards plus had an outstanding review from Jay Rayner in The Guardian.

Two things sold me before I visited - the mention of the interiors and the steaks. The Bull & Ram is located in what used to be an old butchers - the tiles depict farm animals and the stunning high ceiling looks so modern (but it actually is the original ceiling that they found behind 2 false ceilings!). The restaurant has massive big shop front windows that wouldn't look out of place in any cosmopolitan city. I wanted to go to try out their steaks, sourced from Hannan's meats in Moira. In fact, most of their menu is locally sourced. I'm a huge steak fan - no matter where I go in the world I will always try a steak. I've come to the conclusion that we do have the best meat in the world in Northern Ireland - nothing on foreign soil ever tastes as good as our stunning home produce.

I visited the Bull & Ram on a busy Friday evening with my friends. The restaurant is cosy, seating just 70 covers. I would recommend booking if you fancy making the journey down like me. There were couples, groups of friends and people of every age enjoying the atmosphere. They also have an extremely extensive wine list that also includes artisan wines hand picked by their amazing team. The Bull & Ram is headed up by Kealan McMichael. He has worked extensively in kitchens across Northern Ireland including the much loved Poacher's Pocket. His choice of location & building seems to perfectly match the beautifully selected menu on offer. 

The menu is so good that I had quite a time actually picking from it! The menu isn't huge or complicated - everything just sounded so good! They also have a list of daily specials based on what is in season - duck and mushroom were the call for October. Based on another review I read, I picked the French Onion soup. I'm a bit of a French Onion soup connoisseur - it is something so simple that SO many places seem to get wrong very easily. The best soup I ever had was in the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas... that was until I went to the Bull & Ram. BEST FRENCH ONION SOUP... in the world! It was so satisfying and homely. My friend had mushroom soup (which she said was lovely but had deep food regret after tasting my French Onion soup). For mains I chose a 40 day aged fillet steak. Fillet is always my cut of choice and it was delicious - truly living up to my belief that we have the best meat in the world. I tried both mash & the beef dripping chips. The chips were outstanding - I could quite probably eat those and the French Onion soup everyday for the rest of my life and die a happy woman. My friend is a huge fan of duck and picked a special they had on the menu which she really enjoyed. 

For dessert we enjoyed a range of things from ice-cream to white chocolate creme brûlée. The brûlée was incredible - it tasted like a melted milky bar without being too sweet. Another menu stand out item!

The service was fab at the Bull & Ram - a really welcoming & polite team. Overall, I had a really great experience. The Bull & Ram is everything you want a Northern Irish restaurant to be - delicious, value for money, filling and friendly.

And the ultimate conclusion - would I drive the whole way to Balynachinch to eat at the Bull & Ram again? You bet I would..... just for the French Onion soup alone! 

For more information on the Bull & Ram, please see their website: www.bullandram.com 

For reservations, please ring 028 97560908. 

Many thanks to the team for a beautiful meal & their hospitality. 

Forestside Cookery School




A cookery school in a shopping centre? On first saying this, it might sound like a crazy idea but when you factor in free parking and ease of access, it's actually a genius idea (Plus, the Dunnes Stores in Forestside is fantastic... I went and bought a few things before my class..... Oooopps!). 

Chef Stephen Jeffers is the brain child behind this fantastic new venture. Located upstairs in the shopping centre (you grab the lift beside Sainsburys), the Forestside Cookery School is a beautiful hidden gem. The fit out of the cookery school is stunning - light colours, funky prints by Rory Jeffers and Smeg appliances (I have a life long obsession with Smeg fridges!). Local supplier Musgrave MarketPlace NI is supporting Stephen in his new endeavour by providing locally sourced ingredients for many of the cookery classes. Plus, the school also has a fun Cookery Shop were you can stock up on ingredients on your way out! 

The school runs classes practically every night of the week ranging from Asian to a Sunday Roast. There are also visiting expert chefs who specialise in things such as sushi if you want to learn how to make your favourite rolls! The school also is great for private parties and work team building days. 

Stephen Jeffers himself is a powerhouse. I really took to him when I met him a few years ago when he headed up another cookery school. He's a man who has really lived life - from working in some of Belfast's best restaurants to eventually owning them. His passion for cooking comes from working in restaurants since he was 16 and now he wants to give back these skills & knowledge to a new generation of budding chefs. 

At our particular class, we made a stunning salmon dish for starter. The whiskey smoked salmon from Musgrave MarketPlace NI was absolutely incredible, as was the fillet steak used for the main course. Stephen makes you feel like the cooking is easy, especially as you are assisted by two lovely Forestside Cookery School members (who also do the washing up for you!). I felt I learned so many new skills - chief among them that you oil your steak and not the pan.... who knew? A tip for life! 

The best bit about the experience is eating the food you have created with such a sense of pride. There is a really simple & fun sitting area where you enjoy your food accompanied by some outstanding wine.

The Forestside Cookery School experience is one not to be missed - it's fun, something a little bit different and a great laugh. I highly recommend it for a birthday present or team building exercise. I know I certainly can't wait to return and learn more new skills. Stephen can also create a private class for you if there is something special you want to learn or would like a family day out to create some classic heirloom recipes! 

To book your class, visit www.forestsidecookeryschool.com 

Belfast, I still love you


Many thanks to Liam Scott from Scotty Photography for the photographs. Check out his work on his social channels. 

Two of my best friends moved away this year- one to the Middle East and one to Wales. These were two of my friends who formed my core friendship group - the type of friends you can phone when you get a flat tyre or crying in the middle of the night. It has been a hard adjustment realising I can't just stop at M&S, buy some buns and drive to their house. 

It seems to be a real trend this year that people are moving away, whether that's for work, love or simply because they are fed up. This feeling of being fed up with Belfast seems to be a huge wave amongst people my age. I'm 24 and I get it. You think the grass might be greener. I spent my whole university years here - all five of them; four at Queen's and my Master's year at Ulster University's Jordanstown campus which is close to my house. Moving away was never an option for me - my best friend was staying to do nursing at Queen's and I would be across the street doing Politics. We have always gone on fabulous holidays so the idea of travelling or seeing the world never really phased me - I've seen parts world with my mum & my friends.

One of my core reasons for starting this blog under this name was my love of Belfast. As a city, we have suffered. But as someone who is 24, I proud to stand here and be part of a new Belfast... a Belfast that isn't known for bullets and bombs but for the Titanic Visitor Centre and a flourishing food scene. It really upsets me that people I know complain there is constantly "nothing to do in Belfast". Usually these are the same people who go to the same nightclub every Saturday night and eat in the same restaurants, week in and week out. There's nothing wrong with that - I can too be a creature of habit. However, open your eyes to the new businesses that are out there for you to support and experience.

The job scene here is definitely improving and it is encouraging to look in the business pages of the Bel Tel and see investment from huge brands and companies. 2016 in retail alone has heralded a whole new range of products available for us as customers.

Belfast is my home and it will always have my heart. Although I know many of my friends who have left for work may eventually come home, it is hard to hear Belfast being run down by my generation. I feel we need to be positive and try something new - head to the theatre, a new restaurant or bar, drive to a different park for a walk.... there's so much to discover on your own doorstep.

Home is truly where the heart is. I challenge you to find somewhere else in the world that has the humour we do, or in fact, the fish & chips, soda bread, veda loaf and tasty treats in general that we have.

Belfast, I still love you and I always will. 

The Therapy Rooms at the Rosspark Hotel






I'm not very good at relaxing. It's a life long trait. My doctor once told me I was highly strung and needed to calm down.... this advice I have obviously taken on board (not!). I have a really busy brain and taking time out has always been an issue for me. However, my best friend Jayne couldn't stop raving about the team at The Therapy Rooms at the Rosspark Hotel so I knew I had to take some time to go and try them out in order to de-stress!

I hadn't visited the Rosspark Hotel in years - in fact, I think the last time I was there was for a family wedding when I was still at primary school. Located just outside Ballymena and about a 30 minute drive from Belfast, the hotel is easy to get to. The grounds are lovely and I've heard their afternoon tea is outstanding (I'll be going back for this!).

The Therapy Rooms are located upstairs in the hotel. The location is really discreet so if like me, you were rolling up at 7.30pm on a school night with no makeup on, you felt like you where going to a beautiful home away from home. The team at The Therapy Rooms do everything from bridal hair & makeup to LVL Lashes (one of my favourite treatments!) and all sorts of skincare treats. I went to the salon with my mum - she enjoyed a cup of tea downstairs whilst I stepped into relaxation with my therapist Nicole. I was booked in for a facial & reflexology. I had heard reports about Nicole's reflexology and that is was nothing sort of outstanding.

Nicole started out my treatment by assessing my skin. I have some breakouts at the moment so we discussed how we would help to treat these. The Therapy Rooms are a Skinician salon. Skinician is a range made in Northern Ireland. I hadn't tried the rang before so I was excited to experience it in action with a facial. The stand out product for me from the range was the Pro-Radiance Enzyme Peel. This is a treatment in masque form that helps to exfoliate and leave you with a brighter completion. As my breakouts were not active and rather just red marks on my skin, this really helped to calm the redness and smooth out the texture of my skin. 

After my facial, Nicole moved on to the reflexology. I have had reflexology before but this very much focussed on the physical aspects of my health such as stress or IBS. If you have never had reflexology, it is a treatment that involves massaging points on the feet that correspond to parts of the body. Reflexology is a great way to relax and Nicole was fantastic at it. She focussed not only on physical aspects but also the holistic aspect - she was able to pick up things I had been worrying about. I let her work away without saying much until the end when I told her everything she said was correct including that I had bad hips and that I am really hard on myself! I really felt the benefits of the reflexology days following my treatment which was great. The Therapy Rooms also kindly provided me with some Skinician products to take home which I have loved using so far. 

Nicole was the most lovely girl - she had such a calming voice & kind nature. I really do think that therapists make your treatment - it's a bit like customer service in shops. You'll always return to people if their manner is pleasant and they go out of their way for you. I can't wait to return to The Therapy Rooms for my next treatments and I have a long queue of friends who also now want reflexology with Nicole!

Appointments can be booked with the team at The Therapy Rooms on 07720618551 and you can check out more of their work & latest offers over on their Facebook page

Many thanks to Zoe from The Therapy Rooms for organising my treatments. 

*Treatments and products at The Therapy Rooms were provided to me FOC. All opinions are my own.

Why cake dates should be your new Friday night






Friendships really change when you get into your 20s. Everyone has started to couple off, weddings, babies and stressful jobs mean that you probably see your bestie less frequently that you would like. I find that I know have one big night out a month on a Saturday night whether that be to a birthday party or into town for a bit of a pub crawl. It's nothing to do with money but everything to do with being busy.

However, I have got really into Friday night cake dates. Cake dates are fantastic for a few reasons. Firstly, you can go for a few hours e.g. 8pm-12am and be home for a good nights sleep. Secondly, you don't wake up with a banging hangover and lastly, it actually gives you a chance to chat! There's nothing worse than trying to have a life chat with your friends over the banging tunes of a nightclub!

My friends and I really favour two place - both located on the Lisburn Road. The Lisburn Road is actually a good meeting place - it's central to the motorway and easy to scoot up from town. We love Miel et Moi which is located on the upper Lisburn Road, next door to the The Albany. Famed for their delicious cakes, the setting is super cute and if it's a good night, you are able to sit outside. They are also licensed meaning if you fancy a glass of wine (or 3) with your cake, you are able to do that. We also recently tried out the new French Village on the lower Lisburn Road. Unlike the French Village of delicious salads and frys that you know of you student days, this is the grown up version that is part Patisserie and part Brasserie. Again, they are licensed if you fancy a drink with your cake. Their cakes are really outstanding - I don't think I've met one that I don't like!

If you are in the need for some friend time, schedule a cake date. They'll cheer you up and really inject some quality time into your relationship. 


SIX FOR GOLD







Every so often, a new brand steps into my life and I fall in love. I love really cute accessories but as with my fashion, I love to have things that are just that little bit different.  I recently met girl boss Brenda who works in tech by day but runs Six for Gold Boutique by night. Her story really struck a chord with me, as like myself with this very blog, it is a real passion project. More than that, she runs it out of her Belfast home and ships across the globe! The jewellery she stocks is stunning pieces, hand picked by Brenda. I've been rocking my Native Gem piece which she kindly gave me and I know this will be the start of a very long addiction with Six for Gold! 

I sat down with Brenda to discuss sixforgoldboutique.com....

What inspired you to start Six for Gold Boutique?
I’ve always loved jewellery and accessories and I’m a bit of a magpie (the name sixforgold comes from the magpie rhyme), anything sparkly catches my eye. I’ve always travelled a lot; for work and holidays and jewellery was something I always picked up along the way. I’ve never been a fan of mass-produced jewellery and I love discovering less well known indie brands. People often stopped to ask me where I found a particular piece of jewellery (often in airports for some reason). Over the years many people had commented that I should leave software and source jewellery for a living! Well I’m not living the dream just yet but when an opportunity to take some time out from the corporate game appeared I grabbed it with both hands. I took a few months out and created sixforgold. I’m back to working in software for my day job now but my free time is spent building sixforgold and discovering new designers.  

Where does your jewellery obsession come from?
I really have no idea! My Mom rarely wears any jewellery so I didn’t pick it up from her! I really love all accessories but for me it’s the little details that make an outfit. The right jewellery can transform your outfit and I love that is often tells a story. 

Tell us about the brands you stock and why?
I seek out independent designers whose pieces can’t be found on the high street. Everything has to be handmade and in some cases pieces are made to order. I really look for affordable luxury when I source new pieces. I want the jewellery I stock to be a ‘treat’ but I also want it be affordable. I love to stock designers that have no other outlets in Europe too as I think women today want that little bit of exclusivity, Native Gem and Leighelena are a great example. The best jewellery comes from designers with an amazing passion for what they are doing; I love to meet the designers face to face so I can learn about what inspires them.

Do you have a favourite brand that you stock?
Right now I am loving the Native Gem collection – I have a real thing for druzies and the pieces are so unique. They look so much more expensive than they are. I discovered the line when I was in New York earlier this year and it was a moth to a flame moment! I just knew that my customers would love it and it’s been my best-selling line this year.  I also adore the SVP Bonbon rings and every so often I treat myself to a new stone, the blue chalcedony is next on my list!

Is there a jewellery brand that you wish you owned?
I do a like a little high end jewellery too! I’d love a gold Tiffany key pendant and I’m loving the new Dior fine jewellery collection!

What is your own favourite piece of jewellery that you own?
I’d have to say it’s my engagement ring – it’s art deco in style with a yellow diamond.

Who is your dream celeb/style icon to wear a Six for Gold piece?
From a sales perspective I’d say Kate Middleton as everything she wears is sold out in seconds! Her style is classy but I think she could use a little edge! Failing that I’d say Jennifer Anniston; she really can do no wrong in the style stakes. She has her off duty look down to a T! I can see her wearing the Australian Chrysophase pendant from Native Gem with a white T-shirt (one of my current favourite summer looks). 

Brenda has so kindly given me the code thattbelfastgirl15 which will allow you have an amazing 15% off everything on www.sixforgoldboutique.com

Happy shopping!

A love letter to County Kildare




I adore Belfast but for the past two years, I've been having a sneaky love affair with County Kildare. It all started with a trip to Kildare Outlet. Kildare Outlet is the perfect place to visit for designer bargains - they have a Mulberry, Kurt Geiger, All Saints, Kate Spade, Calvin Klein... need I go on? I visit regularly to stock up on essentials for each season. I takes about 2 hours 20 mins for me to drive there and I can easily do the trip up and down in a day. I've even done the trip and stopped at Blanchardstown on the way home. As one of Ireland's biggest shopping centres, it's definitely worth a visit. 

I feel in love more with Kildare when we decided to stay on a  girl's weekend. I attribute the falling in love largely to the Japanese Gardens located at the National Stud. Kildare is horsey country with The Curragh race track located just up the road from Kildare Outlet. The pictures attached in this post are of the Japanese Gardens. I visited during very sunny weather and I can truly say it was one of the most happy, content days of my life. There is something extremely magical about it that I can't explain in words. 

Also located close to Kildare is the Newbridge Silver Flagship that is home to the Museum of Style Icons. They have lots of amazing outfits from films ranging from Audrey Hepburn to Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson. It's free to visit and it was a lovely surprise as we just called in to have a nosey around the shop! Also located in Newbridge is Whitewater Shopping Centre - it has really great retailers without being too big or overwhelming. If you are a Zara fan, it's a must visit! 

In terms of hotels I have stayed in, I've stayed in both the Killashee House Hotel and the Keadeen Hotel. The Killashee has amazing grounds to walk around and the Keadeen has very comfy beds - take your pick! 

Overall, Kildare is well worth a visit for a girl's weekend. It's more chilled than Dublin and I always feel really at home when a visit - definitely one to try this summer! 

Taking Control



I think this might be one of the most touchy subject blogs I have written so before you read it, please bear in mind these are my opinions and experiences. I'm not a doctor and you should alway seek medical advice if you want to start or stop taking any medication. 

I'm 24 and I don't take the contraceptive pill. I sometimes feel like I must be the only person my age who has made that decision. No I don't want to get pregnant and no, I'm not stupid... you might think the chances are higher without taking the pill but you'd be wrong. There's other options. 

I was on the pill for almost 5 years. I started it when I was 17 - I was still at school and my doctor suggested it as a way to combat a number of different things (other than just pregnancy!). At 17, I knew I wasn't alone in this as some of my friends seemed to be on it and it seemed to be a simple enough solution to many problems. Within six months, I saw my boobs almost double in size and I slowly saw myself starting to gain weight. However, I never attributed any of this to pill. Not for one minute did I ever question what I was putting into my body. 

I continued on the same pill for almost years until I had to get a major surgery. I had to come off it because of the clot risk associated with the contraceptive pill. Finding this out at my medical a few months before my surgery scared the life out of me. I had never thought about the clot risk of the pill before but ironically, in the press in the past year I have read as I am sure you have, with great horror at the number of the young women having DVT through taking the pill. I came home after my medical and threw the pill in the bin. However, coming off it to prepare for surgery 8 weeks away was not a joy. I don't think I had a period in that entire timespan and I remember being really irritable. I suppose after almost 3 years of taking something your body has to get used not to having it. I had my surgery, had a natural period but I was still a bit poorly. I somehow thought in my sick state that going back on the pill would be a good idea. So I tried to go back on my original much loved pill of 3 years. But on no, my skin erupted into cystic acne. I tried another brand. It gave me migraines. I finally settled on another brand and went on and off this for another 2 years. 

In November 2014, I finally had enough. My body didn't seem to have a clue what was going on. If I missed one day of my pill I lived in fear that I'd messed up the cycle. I decided to chuck everything in the bin and go au natural - really and truly for the first time in my adult life. I think a huge problem in our society is that we don't let our bodies have a chance - we have such a reliance on medication for all sorts - coughs, colds and everything in between. As someone who has had to take a lot of medication for numerous medical conditions, it took coming off the pill for me to realise that I had an over reliance on an abundance of things- from painkillers to throat sprays! Now at 24 I'm able to answer "Nothing" when I get asked about medication I take when I go to the spa. 

One of the biggest problems I feel our society faces is a distinct lack of proper education about sexual and reproductive health. In fact, I'd go so far to say that it wasn't until I left school that I truly understood my own cycle. Considering that the average age of that people start having sex in the UK is 16, I would say that my lack of understanding extended to my peers and this was too little, too late. I relied on the pill to determine my cycle without understanding for myself what was going on.I've loved discussing this topic with so many women over the past year - it seems that women of many ages are confused about their cycle and only investigate it more when they are trying to get pregnant. I find it a shame that this is what it takes for women to truly take control. I wish more doctors would advocate self-education for younger woman. Dishing out the pill might cause less unwanted pregnancies but when young women come off it for whatever reason, there is a distinct lack of encouragement to ensure women know what is going on down there.

Something I have advocated for a long time is the app, Clue. I have been using this app for a long time. Whether you are a young woman like me just trying to track your periods, whether you are trying to get pregnant, whether you need to remember to take your pill or you're on the other end of the spectrum with scatty periods on the way to menopause, this app is a LIFESAVER! You can track all sorts of habits from sleep to sex and it makes understanding your cycle and your fertile period much easier. Download it and use it. It will honestly change the way you understand your own reproductive health. 

Incidentally, this topic of female health feels even more topical as I turn 25 in November. This means that for the first time this year I will have a smear test.  My great aunt died from cervical cancer and I saw directly the effects this had on her body as it finally claimed her life in her 60s. I have huge fear of having a smear test - I think I've heard so many horror stories but not for one minute would it discourage me from going for one. On a recent discussion with someone I met, I found out that women in Scotland get smear tests from the age of 18 - why we in Northern Ireland must wait another 7 years is beyond me. 

This post isn't about me and my experience but rather an encouragement to you all out there. It isn't a hate speech to the pill - the pill has been a wonder to so many people. It's an encouragement to women to educate themselves because the education system has largely let us down. Whether you are 13 and just starting your period, whether you are in your 20s and struggling to find contraceptive method that works for you or whether you are 30 and trying for a baby, look after yourself. Learn about your body - it's an amazing thing. Don't let something else be in control. Take control of your own body - it's the least it deserves. 

#DuvetDining with TK Maxx





I adore TK Maxx. However, I didn't always. I remember a few years ago I used to get really overwhelmed by all of the stuff they sold but now I have my system of going through my favourite stores (Boucher Road and Newtownabbey FYI), down to a tee. You learn where your favourite things are kept so in my case, I always head to the underwear, the handbags and the homeware. Plus, their website is really great, especially if you love the gold label higher end designer items.

I've recently fallen in love with the homewares they sell as I slowly start to build up stuff for my own house (that I have yet to buy....!). I've recently picked up great Jamie Oliver Cutlery, a gin scented candle, Hotel Collection bed linen and some unique platter pieces. I was delighted to be invited to a TK Maxx event in Belfast that celebrated the "Ridiculous Possibilities" that the stores offer - I mean where else could you go in and buy pasta, some knickers and a designer handbag? 

TK Maxx teamed up the ever so stylish chef Gizzi Erskine for a 7 course taste fest of crazy combos and flavours, all served inside a tent of TK Maxx duvets and pillows. It was a unique experience to eat on the floor and I wanted to take home so many of the fab duvets I was surrounded by. The food was crazy and amazing all at the same time. The cold clear tomato soup that we started off with was served in a tea pot and it was weirdly tasty! However the stand out of the night for me was the Crispy Tuna Rice - it was so moreish! 

Overall, a fabulous evening that served as a fun reminder of all that TK Maxx has to offer!

Many thanks to the team at TK Maxx for the invite. 

The Friendship 411




Friendship is hard. Anyone that says otherwise must live in a different universe. I've realised in the past year of my life that as my life has changed, my relationships have changed. I've lost people from my life that I never thought would leave and I've had people walk into my life that have added so much value to it. I recently was discussing this with a friend and she said (literally copy and pasted from a text!) - "...people come in and out of our lives for a reason. If they are meant to be there, they will. Be thankful for the good memories you may have had and embrace the new memories to be made with new friends". Her words really inspired me to write this post and share what I've learned from the past year of my changing relationships. 

My friendships are hugely different to how they were when I was a teenager or at university. The structure of your life really starts to change when you are working 9-5 and are more tired mid-week. I was always someone that loved to be doing something every night but now, I'm quite happy to be on the sofa with a big cup of tea and reading a magazine when I come home from work. However, it took me a long time to realise this. I was working a 9-5, running to blog events, trying to see my friends, go to choir and be a daughter & a grand-daughter. Sometimes you can't be everything to everyone and you have to learn to prioritise what is most important in your friendships. 

Just like any relationship - romantic, platonic or parental, it can break down if it deemed that one person is making all the effort. It is in some people's nature just to be more giving - I know this is certainly in mine and I really enjoy being able to give people my time. I certainly think that getting the balance right can be a challenge but sometimes you do need a little friendship health check - what are you getting from the relationship? Are you being drained all the time? Sometimes these can be hard conversations to have if you have been friends for a long time or if you have always been the "picking up the pieces" friend in the relationship. You often don't realise this until you need support or encouragement yourself and your friend isn't there. 

My friendships have changed in structure, but never in heart. I think this is a common feeling amongst people my age. Actually, I would say I love my friends more than ever and realised I need them more than ever. Growing up we had a fridge magnet that said "Friends are the family you choose for yourself". I don't think I realised this until last year when I had to go to hospital for a procedure and my friend offered to take me. It sounds silly but it was such a practical thing to do and her being there made a huge difference to my anxiety levels and how I dealt with having needles poked into me. 

I have three top things that have really helped me with my friendships over the past year. If like me, you might be struggling because of other factors in your life - whether that be work, kids, family or something else, I hope my tips can help you out. 

1. Have a mate date
Everyone arranges romantic dates with their other half to keep the spark alive but often forget to do the same for the friendships in their life. I've found that arranging dates with my friends - whether it's for brunch, cocktails or dinner, is the easiest way to keep in touch. Texts and phone-calls are great but there's nothing like giving someone a big hug - if you have a long distance friendship you'll particularly know this feeling. I have found that you tend to fall into a rhythm with mate dates. Some people you see every week for a standing slot and some you see once a month if they live further away or your schedules don't fit. You'll find what works for you but keep it up! Take it in turns to do the arranging and take turns to pick where you want to go. 

2. Start a shared hobby
One of the greatest ways for me to make new friends was by joining a choir. Some of my existing friends then joined the choir too! Your hobby doesn't have to be singing - it could be the gym, crafting, gardening or just about anything you can imagine! The best bit about a shared hobby is that not only do you get to spend time with your friend but you also start to make tons of new friends together to expand your friendship group. This is something that amazes me even as an adult - you're never too old to make a new friend! 

3. Weekends away
This is an obvious one but often an over-looked one. Whether you go once a year on your friendship anniversary (which I think should be celebrated!) or a few times a year if you can afford it, spending quality time together away from the stresses of normal life is so healthy for your relationship. I have found it is often when I am away with a friend that I have found out something new about someone I love or our friendship has managed to become even more strengthened. Whether you go for a facial at the spa for the afternoon or you go to France for a week, there is nothing better in the world than quality time with someone that makes you feel good. A weekend away is often a good time for the aforementioned friendship health check!