25 June 2016

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! 
14 June 2016

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. 
12 June 2016

#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. 
01 June 2016

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!