Retreat from the Renovations

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And so we bought…. and moved… and are “all happy”.  But as I have previously mentioned, and as the estate agent clearly never would, buying a century old house and living in it while the renovation work is ongoing is no walk in the park.

Some days, chemical paint stripper perfumes the air like a Yankee Candle scented by someone with a weird sense of humour – and trust me, 100 years of gloss paint on woodwork and banisters requires quite a lot of the stuff! Suffice to say that no amount of scented candles can neutralise a chemical odour of this magnitude.

Other days, dust from an industrial sander creates a thin veneer on every conceivable surface, as a century’s worth of wear and grime is stripped away (I would like to say “lovingly” but frequent audible expletives from the man – hopefully still a friend – attached to the machine may attest to the contrary).

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And then we have the worst  – the mortar and dust that were remnants of the wall skimming. The walls look great now – but Oh My God that dust would stress the Dalai Lama!  It teases and taunts you, and then invariably has the last laugh as you wash it away for the 1000th time, only to leave and return to that lovely film of grey still all over the floor. You swore it was gone, you watched it dissolve in the boiling water but, like those annoying birthday candles that keep relighting, there it is again as soon as the moisture dries. However, as one of my wisest friends keeps reassuring me, progress is being made, and soon the worst will be behind us and our little bijou terrace will be suitable for occasional visitors.

But we are not there yet and so, in the short term, I decided to take a much needed trip home to recharge and escape the grime…..

And what a lovely trip it has been so far….

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People who have never been to Kerry really need to sort that one out because long walks on deserted beaches are the best cure I know for stress. I can assure you that there is no expensive therapy that will so physically and metaphorically blow away all traces of dust!! Some days I go to Banna Beach, well deserving its recent Trip Advisor accolade (No. 1 Irish Beach), and other days to the slightly more local and generally deserted Derrymore Strand. Here’s a few shots from the last two days.

And when fresh air and exercise have done their thing, there is family and friends to chat with and laugh with. Lots of home cooking and lazy afternoons, peppered with an occasional treat meal. Like, for example, a girlie dinner in Cellar 1, the restaurant of The Ross Hotel, was a perfect treat for the weary DIYer.

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I have featured The Ross on the blog before and it is one of those places with which I have never been disappointed. It is funky and modern without trying too hard. The restaurant has an ambitious yet compact menu that comes accompanied by the inoffensive and atmospheric background noise of a resident pianist. The bar is bustling, serving cocktails in fancy glasses to the well heeled. The vibe throughout is contemporary and youthful. It struck just the right chord for four female friends, who share amongst us decades of memories and a love of good food. We were not disappointed.

Starters sampled included a spicy Arancini, mussels in a red curry sauce, scallops and monkfish skewers. The menu is seafood heavy but there is a twist to every dish and there were no complaints about any of the offerings on this occasion.

For mains, we all toyed with the idea of surf and turf but only one of us went for it in the end – and I for one was guilty of a little food envy. The other carnivorous selection was an extremely attractive looking pork belly, while the two of us remaining opted for a prawn dish in an agave and tequila sauce. All four dishes were deemed successful… what more can you ask for?

Only half of the group had the stamina for dessert, the other half opting for a strong espresso to aid digestion, although we did all put a fork or two through the chosen sticky toffee puddings. A nice slow Hendricks with Elderflower tonic in the bar before the journey home rounded off the evening, reinforcing the notion that most loads can be lightened by a good natter, delicious food and great friends.

I am still on retreat in The Kingdom but the new smell in the old house is apparently fresh paint (surely a sign of progress). And although I am aware that when I return next week it is likely that there will be no operating kitchen sink or cooking facilities, and a whole other range of debris that will need to be disposed of, I will face it refreshed and re-energised. And, given that the aroma of a rack of lamb with stuffing is currently wafting from my mother’s oven, and over the next few days an afternoon playing with my adorable goddaughter and lots of walks and coffees still await, I am happy to be distracted for now.

Dingle in a Day

One of my favourite things to do is travel and, of late, my ventures have been somewhat scarce, so when opportunity does knock, I like to be ready with my toothbrush packed. This post features a very local trip but when there is a suitcase to be packed, a hotel check-in and meals in new spaces, I still think it constitutes travel blogging.  And if you have never been, you may learn enough about West Kerry to contemplate a little trip of your own.

Dingle was the destination for this short but sweet overnight stay-cation.  If you have never had the pleasure of visiting, it is a town with a distinctly bohemian vibe. Almost all businesses are independent, lots are artisan, and it has a paradoxical sense of being a bustling yet laid back town. Artists come for the peace to create and the landscape to inspire. Chefs appear to want to allow the fruits of land and sea to take centre stage, making restaurants feel more about the food than the business model (not unfortunately the case everywhere). Musicians know they can just drop into a local licensed premise and simply start to play, soon to be accompanied by some collective foot-tapping, while writers can find both solitude and inspiration in this bi-lingual hamlet that has a lyrical soul.

Dingle is a small town, with 38 pubs, that doesn’t take itself too seriously  (potentially related observations!). But it is clear that this is a town that is making the most of its assets. As a tourist town, it extends a welcome filled with genuine warmth.  The art of conversation is celebrated in many languages, but mostly with dry local wit and buckets of sarcasm. Despite its remoteness, there are ways in which Dingle is contemporary and multicultural. In other ways it is a slice of an Ireland of yore, where tradition is valued and heritage preserved.

I know this part of the world quite well so if tour guides and museums are your thing, this will be the wrong type of travel article for you. But if you like slow drives through stunning landscape, great food, local products and understated luxury then I just might have some tips for you.

I started my day in Tralee, in perfect driving weather. There was a chill in the air but pretty clear skies. I popped some music on the radio and followed the twists and turns of the road, high up over the ever-stunning Conor Pass. The narrow roads with steep drops may see hearts occasionally leaping into mouths but the views are a very worthy reward. Have a look…..

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Eventually, the road descends towards the sea, and before you know it you will be looking for parking and nourishment in the town. On a Monday lunchtime, I was lucky to find both with ease. Usually I research where I will eat in advance but this was a trip without a plan and so I just worked on instinct. It was a good move. I had one of the best lunches in a long time in the very welcoming Goat Street Social. It is a small space, channelling an industrial chic look. The menu is a compact mixture of some salads, a variety of hot dishes and a couple of sandwiches. There were a couple of specials on a chalkboard and I ordered one of these – haddock in a sesame and garlic tempura with sweet chilli and coriander mayo. This was served on a bed of wilted spinach with a side of skinny fries. It was exceptional!!!!!

Happily sated, I took a little stroll, shopped for some locally produced candles and a new book, before grabbing a coffee from Bean in Dingle. This very cool cafe has some great cakes to accompany some quality coffee, and the vibe is as much Williamsburg or Shoreditch as it is Dingle. And then it was back on the road….

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I have been lucky in life to have seen a lot of the world…. not as much as I would like…. but quite a lot nonetheless. I am not sure where I have been or could dream to go that would rival Slea Head when the skies are blue. The landscape is both welcoming and threatening. The sea sparkling and foreboding. The locals warm and weathered. The charm is in the contradictions. Again I will let the pictures do the talking….

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By late afternoon it was time to return to town and check into our lodgings for the night, the highly rated Castlewood House. It is an antique-filled, small hotel with a big heart. The rooms are spacious and each one is individually styled (this wasn’t my first visit).  It is full of little touches that make a stay feel special – a buck’s fizz on arrival, Lily O’Brien’s chocolate treats in the room, complimentary tea and scones served during the afternoon from vintage china and a takeaway coffee for the long drive home. The justifiably award winning breakfast has more choices than most dinner menus and the accompanying buffet stands out from the norm. For example, my fruit bowl had plums poached in a honey syrup and apples stewed with cinnamon. There was desiccated coconut, almonds, banana chips and chia seeds to sprinkle on top. All this was before a made to order Eggs Benedict for me and fluffy pancakes with berries and maple syrup for my slightly ginger travel companion. It’s easy to see why Castlewood House is continuously winning awards.

Based on several recommendations we dined at the Global Village, where food is presented with a nod to fine dining. The early bird is great value, but after that this place is definitely at the upper end of affordable. We were early birds!! The confidence and competence of the kitchen shone through, the staff were friendly and efficient and there was an impressive drinks selection. The menu had a good balance of land and sea, not always the case in this maritime town, and the food was definitely Instagram worthy. Having read and heard so much about this place over the last number of years, my slightly anti-climactic sensation was perhaps inevitable, but it was still a lovely meal. Definitely worth a try in Dingle.

Finally, even those who are teetotal are unlikely to leave Dingle without checking out some local watering holes and here is where humour, charm and local colour are most abundant. There was the cheeky local barman in Foxy Johns, who allowed the German tourist to sample two beers before choosing, but warned him that was his lot “because it’s not a feckin icecream parlour we’re running“.  Dick Macs had a man handcrafting products out of leather behind the bar, beside the barman who smugly informed the French couple that there was wine “both red and white”. And finally, in my new favourite pub (which feels like a farmhouse living room) Kennedy’s, we encountered a charming local girl who regaled us with the impassioned tale of how her very conservative parents sent her to an all girls convent, a boarding school in another part of the country, in an effort to get her to change her mind about her sexuality. Scary thing was this was since the year 2000!!!! It was also a bit like sending sand to the desert!!! But all ended well, she clearly emerged no less gay but her parents adjusted to this reality with time. Although it sounds like granny needs a little more time.

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So all in all, the verdict is that you should definitely find a place for Dingle on your travel itinerary. And maybe try and stay a little longer than me.

Celebrate Yourself….

“We can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.” (The Mill on the Floss)

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The classics can be a drag to read sometimes (and that sacrilegious declaration comes from a teacher of English) but they invariably conceal hidden diamonds in the rough rock, like the above kernel of wisdom from George Eliot. Eons before mindfulness was a thing, or wellness a cliché, Eliot realised that every now and then we need to actively search out the things that make us happy. Simple? Yes. So why in the mania that is modern life do we so often put our own happiness last?

I don’t really have the answer, but I do accept that sometimes only you can be the rainbow on your own cloudy day and, if it feels like the sun isn’t shining for you, maybe you need to take proactive steps to reverse the unwelcome climate change.

Personally,there was quite a lot of grey in the kaleidoscope of my life this past month. We are renovating a house we are living in – not for the lovers of luxury (or sanity) I can assure you – and there were evenings with no heat, walls with exposed wiring, more dust than you can imagine and not a floor to be seen that didn’t have a hole in it for some reason. This, combined with fairly miserable weather, spiralling costs and a workload that is barely sustainable, and you will see how the sunniest of dispositions could be a bit more muted than normal.

But with days lengthening, the chill in the air dissipating and life simply being too short for self-pity, there comes a time to take control and seek out the beauty and the light. A time to hunger after the beautiful and the good. So here’s a few options I am favouring to inject a little colour into the dusty reality that can sometimes settle just about everywhere.

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Take More Walks:

If the problem is the grimness of the four walls that are currently surrounding you – get out of the house and see the beauty that is everywhere. I know the walls won’t be bare forever, the new floors will be stunning soon, the kitchen will once again be my sanctuary, but in the meantime I need to remember that if I don’t love what is in my eye-line, then I can just avert my gaze. So I’ve been doing it, getting out more and seeing the beauty in the ordinary, the sensational in the simple and the little winks of wonder from a natural world awakening for winter and bursting into spring. Take a look…..

Pamper, pamper, pamper:

Do something just for you! Something relaxing, something fun, something a little self-indulgent. For me it was a morning at the hairdressers and, to be fair, it was well overdue. I have to say I chose well with this one. I was home in Kerry and decided to check out a salon I have liked the look of for ages and I was really not disappointed. From the cute decor, to the cupcake and coffee with vintage reading material, it was exactly what I was craving. The stylist was also lovely and my tired locks were rejuvenated just the way I wanted – a real success. A reason to smile.

Enjoy a Date Night:

My husband will cringe at the phrase…. but I am afraid that’s what it is when a couple venture out on their own to do something recreational together!!! It doesn’t really  matter what you do – it matters that you take the time to do it. Consume some art – a movie, a piece of theatre, a gallery visit. Drink a cocktail. Eat great food. Go to a gig. Basically whatever floats your boat. For us it has been a mixture of all of the above. Prior to Lent (weird Catholic self-deprivation ritual) there were some cocktails. Alternatively, there is always room in my world for dinner or lunch somewhere delicious. And, as we are currently booze free (more a personal than a religious penance tbh) and on a very tight budget, we are seeing some movies to unwind. Last week it was Loving (I think the trailer really has all the highlights of this one – although I did quite enjoy it) and tonight we are going to try Moonlight. Cheap cinema tickets and a tub of popcorn – remember it’s the simple things.

 

I guess the moral of today’s story is that it doesn’t matter what you do, but if you feel like you need to do something to inject some cheer into your soul – then do it. You deserve it. We all do. Anne Frank (who was scarily wise for one so young) said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” I think we can paraphrase and revel in the reality that we need not wait a single moment to improve our own world, just for us, just because we are worth it. Find the light, see the beauty ..have a happy Sunday xo

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Sunday Night Meal Prep..

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The roller coaster that is healthy living seems to get derailed with frightening ease at times, especially if you head in to the week unprepared. Personally, I find that my most successful weeks always start with a disciplined, well planned Monday, but that in itself requires some Sunday pre-planning. And so here I am, on a chilly Sunday evening, trying to organise the perfect healthy Monday, when really I want to cuddle up with my book by the blazing fire.

For the last little while, I have been using the app 8fit (on a 30 day free trial) to help organise my eating and workouts, so I thought I would give you a sneak peak and share my plans for a healthy tomorrow.

Firstly, I start my day sipping some water on my way to the gym. As tomorrow is to be img_2305freezing, I don’t give myself time to think about things (i.e.press snooze and drift back to sleep), just set the alarm for 6.40am, dress in the dark in my work-out clothes that are lying by the bed, brush my teeth, grab my bag and go. The 8fit model  is based on daily (or as close to it as possible) short workouts, but to justify the trip to the gym, I either adjust them or do a couple of them together with some added cardio, whatever adds up to about 45 mins. I also did a couple of ‘at home workouts’ last week, but our beloved dog Herbie thinks it is a game and it all got a bit comical and slobbery…he’s not really ready for ‘yoga with your pet’ classes, and I am not really that kind of pet owner. Here’s a glimpse at my modified version of tomorrow’s workout:

Workout:

The actual workout is completely different every day, but tomorrow is:

  • Warm-up of 5 mins cardio, 30 secs fast feet, 10 arm rotations, 10 inch worms, clockwise and counter-clockwise leg circles and 45 secs of mountain climbers.
  • 4 sets of swimmers (45 secs) with a short rest in between.
  • 4 sets of push ups (45 secs) with a short rest in between.
  • 4 sets of mountain climbers (45 secs) with a short rest in between.
  • 4 sets of deep squats (45 secs)  with a short rest in between.
  • I then finish with another 10 minutes cardio on whatever machine I fancy and a couple of plank exercises.

After this I eat breakfast at work with a strong black coffee. Tomorrow’s option is Greek yogurt with blueberries, flaked almonds and always a drizzle of honey. This is usually enough for me, but if I am starving, I keep some of Lizi’s granola close by and I can sprinkle in a handful.

Lunch, and here is where the prep is vital, is all packed up and waiting just for a little re-heating. I need something quite substantial on a Monday, because I teach a sports class in the afternoon, and then have to take my best friend Herbie out, so it is my most active afternoon of the week. Tomorrow, lunch is a chicken faijta wrap.

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Ingredients:

  • Coconut oil
  • Free Range Chicken Breast
  • Half a red onion sliced
  • Sliced peppers (I use red and yellow)
  • A handful of sliced mushrooms.
  • Generous sprinkle of cajun seasoning
  • A handful of mixed leaves
  • A tablespoon of hummus

Method:

  • Melt the coconut oil in a large frying pan and add the chicken.
  • Add the red onion, peppers and mushrooms and fry until the chicken and the vegetables are cooked.
  • Season with the Cajun spices.
  • Add to a wrap spread with hummus and a handful of salad leaves.

I cook a big batch and pop it in Tupperware to use over a couple of days for lunch/ supper.

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After work, I wrap up warm and get some fresh air with the dog, before starting on the evening meal. I try to cook mid-week meals that work for the next day’s lunch so tomorrow, given that it is to be freezing, I have planned a beef and green bean stew. It’s healthy and full of veg, especially with a portion of steamed tender-stem broccoli on the side.

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I am not a big snacker, which may seem like a good thing, but I think it leads to wanting portions that are bigger than advisable. I am working on this, and have a plan to buy smaller plates in an effort to play tricks on my errant appetite. I drink a peppermint tea after dinner to aid digestion, and like a little dark chocolate for a treat.

Coffee is one of my big vices, so I am going to try and limit it at least a little more this week in order to up my currently paltry intake of water. So, with good intentions in place, shopping done and meal prep underway, I am hoping this will be a good week on the road to health and fitness. If more days could be like a well-organised Monday, and wine and pizza Fridays became a thing of the past, maybe just one year I would achieve those bikini body goals…..but man would I miss wine and pizza. And who could live a life without crisps??  xoxo

Life after TV….

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32075816076_0e74ff801bOf all the slightly bizarre things I have done in life, none seem to have bemused people as much as getting rid of our television set. It evokes really strong reactions in people, although it has no impact whatsoever on their lives. It shocks people, upsets people and almost angers them. Many doubters rolled their eyes and predicted we would last a month at most. Some seemed to think we needed a psychiatric assessment. More that our marriage would not survive so radical a move. There seemed to be an impression that we would be surrounded by a wall of silence and spend our evenings staring at walls or into the open fire. But it really is not as tragic as all that.

Firstly, the reason behind the madness. Basically, we had found that the TV had become constant background noise in our lives, an inanimate object that had gained the stature of a family member. If it was quiet it was worrying, so it was always flickering and murmuring in the background. It demanded attention, baiting the eye, even when it had nothing worthwhile to offer in return.

Our decision was finally made when we reflected on our viewing habits and had to admit that we were essentially watching little other than re-runs of shows that we knew almost by heart – Frasier, Two and a Half Men, Friends and other 90’s sitcoms. I also had a penchant for some pure chewing-gum TV like Made in Chelsea and Keeping up with the Kardashians, offerings that my world can surely survive without. Yet there it was, requiring its own licence, guzzling energy,  but not really contributing enough to warrant 50 inches of space, in our new and rather tiny abode. So that was it – we moved to our new house and sent the TV to a different geographical location. Now we live sans gogglebox.

But let’s keep things in perspective; it is not as if we have reverted to a bygone era, where we huddle around the wireless, awaiting news from the outside world. We don’t, although there is a wireless. It’s weird but I feel the constant need to reassure those struggling with our decision that we do have  Netflix, albeit the most basic package, so only for use on one device at a time. And I hear those of you smugly now thinking….sure that’s TV!!! And I don’t argue; remember this was a casual enough decision to us and not one that seemed any big deal. I don’t claim to never watch a series or a movie – that was never what this was about. There is just far less of it, and it is far more focused.

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And that’s the main difference. We don’t consume Netflix in the same way as we did traditional television. In my experience Netflix, for all its promotion of the binge watching epidemic, requires some active decision making on the part of the viewer. It is not about constant random flicking, and we have never left it on when no one is watching it. There is also a greater tendency to go for new, good quality productions and, while I have to admit to watching very little of late, my husband has been very taken with The Crown and more recently The People vs OJ Simpson. But our use of Netflix is more conscious, less passive, and we watch it very sparingly.

We also….wait for it….. READ BOOKS.

Actual books made from paper and even borrowed from a library….it is all delightfully booksquaint.  And yet I am not reading anything as much as I would like – my phone may need to go out the window for that – but I do read on a daily basis, and with the benefit of giving the piece of writing my full attention. Having never really got the huge fuss about The Alchemist, I am currently loving Paulo Coelo’s The Zahir. It is the simple wisdom that peppers the pages that I am enjoying, particularly gems like this:

“It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.”

And we listen to music, currently a lot of vinyl, which is expanding my musical knowledge no end. I am a bit of a philistine I admit but that allowed me to only yesterday discover Manfred Mann, and if you have never heard the song “Waiting for the Rain”, please give it a listen. It is stunning…I love it, and am pretty sure that if the  TV stood where the record player now resides, this, and discoveries like it, may never have happened.

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I do have to concede that for all the time devoted to books and vinyl, far more is still devoted to YouTube and general internet trawling. I do want to cut back, but I may be an addict living in blissful denial. That is not to say that I do not have some wonderful gems to share from the wonderful world of the web, I really do. For a glimpse of journalism and general penmanship at its finest, I love the New Yorker. For example, “What happens to the Deported” is a poignant and honest look at the human side of anti-emigrant policies, similar to those advocated by the inimitable Mr. Trump. The New Yorker is definitely one of the world’s seriously quality publications.

redOn a lighter note, I love to check in with Red Online, almost as much as I love poring over the physical magazine with a coffee, and the reviews of books, films and Netflix are proving particularly beneficial in a post-tv era. In blogs, the lifestyle blog “The Tig” is visually stunning and has some fab inclusions in its Living & Food sections  – you can make Sweet Potato and White Bean soup while listening to their Winter Vibes playlist – bliss.

And lastly, there is no escapism I am currently enjoying more than curling up in a big armchair by the fire and listening to the beauty and lifestyle updates of Lily Pebbles and Megan Ellaby. Love these girls and their individual styles.

And so I say with conviction – that old TV, I don’t miss it at all!!!!!

 

January Favourites

January can be quiet on the retail front, due to the financial incontinence of the festive season and some general January sales fatigue.  I hate rooting through racks and racks of sale stock, preferring my occasional shopping sprees to be a little easier on the eye. I am far more into a simple, clean aesthetic than having to search through the rubble of the previous season, frantically seeking a diamond in the rough. Therefore, I like to wait until the shops restock and reorganise and the sale racks are packed away again. This said I have still manged to uncover a few January favourites, and here are a selection of my top picks from the beginning of 2017:

Oskia Renaissance Cleansing Gel

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I picked up a mini version of this cleanser in the Space NK January sale while I was in London. It was reduced by 50% due to the festive packaging (it was in a cracker), making it a bit of a steal at just £9. Although I was aware that this is a bit of a cult classic, especially among beauty bloggers, I knew very little about the product and had no idea what to expect. The product describes itself as “an illuminating vitamin melting cleanser” and to be fair, it does melt into the skin, before cleansing and illuminating it. In short, it does what it says on the tin!!

The cleansing gel is orange in colour, has a pleasant perfume and a little goes a long way. It looks very oily on application, and this alarmed me a little, as my skin can already be quite oily, but this was not an issue as the Oskia Renaissance cleans and moisturises without leaving any greasy residue or tacky sheen.

Using just one pump, I apply the cleanser to dry skin and massage it in for a minute or so. Generally, I leave it to work on the skin while I brush my teeth and then rinse it off, after jumping in the shower, using a facecloth soaked in warm water . Although it does dissolve make-up, I rarely use it to remove mine, preferring a different routine in the evening.

Overall this product, with its combination of ingredients like pumpkin enzymes, Vitamin C and E and Starflower Oil, is a beautiful cleanser that leaves the skin feeling soft and nourished. I will definitely repurchase this new favourite.

Kiehl’s Amino Acid Conditioner

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This, in my humble opinion, is a life-changing purchase!!!

Yes, I know it is just conditioner. Yes, I know it is not imperative to my survival. But OMG, this has made my life so much easier and sprinkled it with just a little extra happiness. I had heard Anna, from The Anna Edit, mention this product on her YouTube channel a few times, and so decided to pick up a travel size version in Selfridges. What a great decision. I genuinely noticed the difference instantly and just a few days later, I was splurging on the full size version in the Kiehl’s Duty Free Shop at Stansted Airport. It is so so so good.  I really didn’t know it was possible to feel so strongly about a hair care product but, given that I had started to really struggle with knotting ends, even with recently trimmed hair, I was crying out for something to help.  TBH I didn’t expect the results I got from this silicone-free daily conditioner, as years of blonde highlights tend to call for some strong chemical detangling, but just a little worked through the ends and, left for a couple of minutes, makes tough tangles a thing of the past. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.

A Classic Blazer

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My next favourite for the beginning of the year is a fashion buy and it was a bit of an emergency purchase for a work event. This type of panic purchase does not always work out too well but this time I think the item is divine. It is this blush pink blazer from the new collection at River Island. It fits well, I love the ruched sleeve detail and the colour is on-trend as winter gives way to spring. I think it will get loads of wear both for work and leisure. I paired it with simple black skinny jeans, a vest top, heels and a little statement jewellery. Cute but classic.

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Generally, I make my own granola, but the oven situation in our new house is not great and so, until the kitchen refurb is complete, I am largely avoiding recipes requiring baking. fruit bowlHowever, granola with Greek yoghurt and berries is my favourite post-gym breakfast and so I had to seek out a good shop bought version. I opted for Lizi’s Original Granola which contains  Jumbo Rolled Oats, Cashew, Walnut and Hazelnut pieces, Pumpkin, Sunflower and Golden Linseeds, and Desiccated coconut. It is delicious, filling and releases energy slowly. I like it with a spoon of Total 0%, a drizzle of Agave and a sprinkling of fresh berries. Yum.

So, in a pretty frugal month, as pennies are pinched for the cosmetic overhaul of a kitchen, these were a few of my favourite purchases. And now for a few other bits and bobs…

At the beginning of the month, I really enjoyed the Will Smith movie, Collateral Beauty, which I thought was really under-rated by reviewers. Based on the premise that as humans “we long for love, we wish we had more time, and we fear death”, the film looks at what happens when death steals what is most precious from you, and love and time no longer seem to hold any appeal. This is a movie all about grief, and personally I thought it was sweet, sad and really tugged at the heart-strings. Now I just need to work on curtailing catatonic sobbing in public places when I watch something emotional  – a New Year’s Resolution perhaps!!!!

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We no longer own a television, and instead rely on YouTube and Netflix for our viewing choices, and so, this month, I really loved the relaxed vlogging style of the beautiful Estée Lalonde and some healthy living inspo from Niomi Smart. I have been listening to lots of Simon and Garfunkel Live in Central Park on our new record player. And finally, I am reading and enjoying a novel called Freedom’s Child by Jax Miller. And that’s a wrap for my January favourites 2017. Hope you are having a lovely beginning to the new year xo

 

 

 

La La Land: A Little Review

img_2265In a subtle dig at Los Angeles, and possibly contemporary society in general, La La Land suggested that the denizens of the modern world “worship everything and.. value nothing”. Given that we live in a world which appears to consider the Matcha Latte or cooking with Coconut Oil necessary to its very survival, I had to admire the insightful observation. But in satirising a Samba and Tapas bar for trying to cater to whims and not sticking to one thing and doing it right, I felt the movie came dangerously close to unearthing its own major weakness. In trying to be a musical, a romantic comedy and a nostalgic look at movies through the ages, my personal opinion was the film slightly over-extended itself.  Its 14 Oscar nominations suggest that I am in a minority of one in my more critical appraisal.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a movie without strengths – far from it. Its ability to be modern yet still nostalgic was admirable, and in ways it managed to answer one of its own big questions. “How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist? You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future.” This was the movie equivalent of the Jazz debate – a film that wanted to be both revolutionary, yet traditional. A movie striving to embrace cinematic triumphs of the past but remain very much of its own time – and to be fair there was obvious successes, with the movie justifiably achieving critical acclaim.

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It is also a beautiful movie – opening as a traditional musical (with a completely over the top but fabulously choreographed chorus scene on a freeway) and sidestepping into a dramatic rom-com at intervals. The score was well-written and the music largely upbeat and catchy. The costuming had a beautiful retro-feel and the cinematography was exquisite throughout – especially for LA lovers. Although the singing and dancing was definitely not flawless, there was something endearing about that, and both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are engaging actors who have a girl/boy next door likability. He has the cheeky twinkle in his eye, she is all under-stated beauty and affable charm. So what was the problem?

For most viewers, it would appear nothing. But for me – well I will try to explain. This was ostensibly a bittersweet love story where romance and ambition are placed on a collision course and the decisions made will change the trajectory of both characters’ lives. Classic themes – universal and engaging. Both hero and heroine reciprocate the notion that “I am always gonna love you” – but with very different dreams, can such noble sentiment translate into a future? The problem with this film was that I didn’t care. I love, love, love romance in my movies but I really didn’t care. I didn’t believe enough in either Mia’s acting dreams or Seb’s unending love for her. The story of her big break was unconvincing, the veracity of his love no different. Personally, I felt between channelling nostalgia for old Hollywood, breaking randomly into song or waltzing around LA; the movie lost the plot a little – and for me, when the film loses sight, even just a little, of the story it is trying to tell, then it loses just a little of where its heart and soul should be.

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This was a lovely way to while away a couple of hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon – but a record number of Oscar nominations??? Sorry guys, I just don’t quite get it.

August Favourites…Beauty

Between travelling and my birthday this month, I picked up quite a selection of new hair and beauty odds and ends and so here is a rundown on some of my faves. All you beauty aficionados will instantly realise that I came very late to the party with almost all of these products, and I am the first to admit that I can be very lazy when it comes to changing up my make-up and skincare routines (she says, as if she has ever actually had a skincare routine!!!!).But this month I was a little more adventurous and I am hoping to continue paying much more attention to this aspect of my lifestyle.

The first new product I tried was Pixi’s “Glow Tonic Exfoliating Toner”, which I picked up in Pixi’s own store on Carnaby St, having heard Lily Pebbles and several other bloggers that I love endorse it. I use it most evenings, having first taken my make-up off with Garnier’s Cleansing Micellar Water and I must say I love how these products combine to cleanse my face at the end of the day. Although Pixi recommend using the Glow Tonic twice daily, I think that much exfoliation – no matter how gentle – would be too harsh for my skin which can be a little sensitive. I have heard some people say they even found daily use a little too severe but for me that has been working out perfectly so far. The product is simple to use and very good value. You just soak a cotton pad with the product and wipe it over cleansed skin. I am not sure if my skin is “glowing” since I started using this toner but it definitely feels smoother and I love knowing that my face is completely make-up free before drifting off at night.

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My next August favourite has again become something of a cult product and it is really not hard to see why. In fact I think this is my all time favourite cleanser, words not uttered lightly. It is the Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser. I mentioned in an earlier post that I was attracted to this product because I loved the idea of the hot muslin cloth on my skin. At that stage I had purchased but not tried the product. Now I am completely hooked and will definitely be repurchasing this little gem. I pop the cream cleanser all over my face and neck just before jumping in the shower. Then I soak the cloth in warm water before gently cleansing my face section by section. I genuinely feel my skin is softer than ever before and every part of the process feels fab. As I was in the airport when I purchased this, travelling with hand luggage only, I did not pick up any of the other products in the range but I am now determined to experiment with Liz Earle products a little more. I am very close to needing a new moisturiser so it may be a little more Liz Earle for me.

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My next favourite is quite a big purchase and lucky for me it was actually an extremely thoughtful gift. I wear my hair straight and it does not sleep well! Basically it needs almost daily washing and drying and is abused by hair straighteners most days. This favourite is a salon strength hair dryer and it has made my daily wash and blow-dry so much quicker and more efficient. It is the ETI TurboStratos 3800 and mine is in a really cute purple colour. It is so powerful that my hair dries really quickly and it also leaves a lot less work for the straighteners to do afterwards. It is available in Ireland from Peter Mark and if you have hair that takes ages to blow dry or is prone to frizz it is definitely a worthy investment. It was a great present!!!

Finally, on the list of things I am loving, I mentioned previously that I was switching mascaras from Benefit’s They’re Real, to MAC Extreme Dimension in Extreme Black. Now it may be a little early to judge, as I have only used the product a few times but so far this is another purchase worthy of the favourites’ list. It is a really strong colour as you would expect, goes on easily and really defines the lashes. It is not messy or gloopy which is great, and most importantly it is very easy to remove. I have very long lashes, so mascara that smudges even a little has easy access to my cheeks. I also have very sensitive eyes that water when I use poor quality products. The MAC has caused neither problem, so it looks like it could be a keeper.

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Finally,  I have been trying one new product that definitely won’t be repurchased and that is the NYX soft matte lip cream in the shade Antwerp. This was an important lesson relating to “don’t buy before you try”. I just grabbed this, having read great things about the range without even swatching the colour. And it is a disastrous purchase. The colour on the bottle and the colour of the product are really different, and unfortunately, despite the pretty colour of the packaging, the cream itself is an obnoxious hot pink colour that I would never wear. I also don’t like the texture of this product, although I know a matt lip is very on trend right now. The product feels heavily perfumed, sticky and drying. Ugh!! Just not for me and I still really need an everyday lipstick. I am going to give the new Kate Moss range for Rimmel a whirl instead and fingers crossed for more success.

That’s all from my hair and beauty faves this month and I hope it reads pretty coherently . I enjoy writing posts like this because it encourages me to try new products and really think about their performance, but, to be honest, make-up and beauty is not really my thing. I am guilty of using products sporadically and without too much thought. This makes me worry a little about pulling a post like this together as my vocabulary may not have quite the same range in this particular realm.But practice should at least lead to improvement if not perfection.

Til next time, xx.

 

August Favourites – Books

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” – Stephen King

As the summer is quickly drawing to a close, and I have to consider the reality of returning to work after three months (yes, I hear all those tiny violins) I thought I would do a quick review of some of the “stuff” I have been loving (or not) lately. Today I am going to start with books, because I can be happy pretty much anywhere with a good cup of coffee and a good book. Anyone who knows me will attest that paradise for me will definitely have a library.

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In recent weeks I have read three bestsellers and here is my two cents worth on their varying strengths and weaknesses.

“Sometimes he fantasised that at the end of his life, he would be shown a home movie of all the roads he had not taken, and where they would have led.” – Anne Tyler

This first book was a kind of romcom in pen and ink format, although I am sure this description would make the author cringe a little. “The Versions of Us” by Laura Barnett focuses on the moments that can change a life forever. It takes a “Sliding Doors” style approach, and the reader follows the central characters Eva and Richard through different versions of their respective lives. One moment, a choice of responses, a decision that will change the course of both their lives. From that moment we follow all three versions of the lives of our protagonists. The way their lives play out after that first meeting in Cambridge in 1958, and how the response in that blink of an eye encounter could open or close a variety of different doors. Robert Frost’s “The Road not Taken” explores how, as “way leads on to way”, we do not get to come back and travel the other roads, or ever know the outcome of a different decision when faced with choice. Barnett uses the power of imagination to follow both roads (or in this case all three) and tell, effectively, three stories in one. For the writer, this is no simple task. The success of the typical linear narrative is due to its simplicity. We trace a story from beginning to end in chronological order – it is difficult to “lose the plot”. Deviate from this and you set yourself a great challenge. The writing has to be skilful to see this through. It was. The characters were engaging, the language both simple and poetic and the plot not overly complicated. Like Frost, Barnett explores lives unlived. It is a perfect theme for literature as it is an intrinsic element of life; every door we open sees another close, every choice brings new opportunity but inevitably leaves other possibilities unexplored.

We have one life. Eva and Richard in the pages of this novel had the luxury of three. I loved the reality in this narrative  – there is no perfect path – there are ups and down, joys and heartbreaks, sacrifices and rewards – no matter what choices they make. That’s what life is, no matter which of the divergent paths you choose in Frost’s “yellow wood”. And so a realisation dawns….“because he is old enough now to know happiness for what it is: brief and fleeting, not a state to strive for, to seek to live in, but to catch when it comes, and to hold on to for as long as you can.”

This was a great read; simple yet engaging, suspending reality yet paradoxically grounded in reality, poetic and conversational – grab a coffee and a comfy chair and give this one a go.

My second recent read was again a work of fiction and this time it was “The Reader on the 6.27”. The blurb of this really captured my attention, as it was set up as a book that explores the power of the written word, specifically storytelling, to change a life. The central character, Guylain, works in a factory that pulps books, and hates his job. However, he takes random pages from various publications and reads them aloud on the 6.27 train, saving those words in some way, giving them the life they deserve. The pulping machine is personified as a monster, the stories themselves a panacea for life’s difficulty and monotony. So far, so right up my street.

But I just didn’t really engage with this narrative, as the larger-than-life characters just had an air of unreality, and personally I felt the plot just didn’t quite hang together. That said, the story’s central thread really begins when Guylain finds a memory stick containing the musings (almost in diary form) of a public toilet attendant called Julie. Personally, it was the writings of Julie that made me see this novel through to the end. I found her voice hilarious and sweet in equal measure, and, although I wasn’t really invested in the love story of sorts that Didierlaurent was striving to create, the ending of this novel was ridiculously cute. Now I am sure that just as Barnett would not want to be viewed as a literary romcom, Didierlaurent would cringe at the term “cute” to describe his concluding moments – but that it was, and, make no mistake, it was the silver lining in what for me was a slightly cloudy read. If your eye has been caught by this book, I would not let this lukewarm review put you off; it is a really quick read, and not one I regret at all. I read the entire book in a day, and it had enough merit to sustain me through airport waiting time and a short flight. What was good was golden, but there was a little too much beige.

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Finally, I picked up Matt Haig’s “Reasons to Stay Alive” in a hurry and without reading the blurb. Never a good idea. However, this is a very readable, autobiographical account of the author’s struggles with anxiety and depression and there is no doubting its honesty or integrity. It is quite an engaging read, with sprinkles of humour and a generally positive outlook on a dark subject. It is an important book for a society that still has a way to go to destigmatise mental illness.

But I am going to be honest here, this book did not touch my soul, probably because it wasn’t written to be soppy or overly morose. And, possibly because to this point in my life, I have been blessed with pretty good mental health. It did, however, help me understand depression a little better and I did enjoy the listing technique peppering the pages.  Lists of warning signs associated with anxiety or depression, famous people who experienced mental illness, tweets from fellow sufferers regarding their reasons to stay alive and ways to support someone enduring a period of darkness. All this I found informative and very accessible. I also LOVED this passage:

“The world is increasingly designed to depress us.
Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser?
You make someone worry about ageing.
How do you get people to vote for a political party?
You make them worry about immigration.
How do you get them to buy insurance?
By making them worry about everything.
How do you get them to have plastic surgery?
By highlighting their physical flaws.
How do you get them to watch a TV show?
By making them worry about missing out. “

I have no doubt that this book has changed lives. It vocalised the emotions and experiences people struggle to find the words to describe. It gave people someone to relate to. It created a sense of being less alone. I admire all this. I admire the reality. I admire the honesty. I admire the individuality. Personally, I just didn’t really connect, though reviews would suggest I am part of the minority. Again, this is a quick read that is well worth a shot. Just because it didn’t change my life doesn’t mean it won’t change yours.

Now I have laundry to do and a new book to dip into. Til next time xo

What I ate on my Birthday

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While this week has been mainly about all things healthy, a couple of days ago it was my birthday, and so there was some pretty major deviation from that plan. However, as I will explain, it could have been worse!!

My birthday surprise was essentially a whole day of foodie treats… and I mean the whole day from dawn to dusk. So for those of you sensitive about gluttony, it may be time to click to a different post, or even a different blogger, because I amazed myself with my ability to keep eating. WP_20160319_12_59_05_Pro

The first stop on this culinary expedition was in my home town of Tralee in Co. Kerry, in a bustling town centre cafe and restaurant called The Roast House. Now this is not my first brunch here by any stretch, it is a place where I regularly catch up with some of my closest girlfriends, but I do think it was my favourite breakfast to date. Given that this place does a really great pancake dish, with fruit and cream, that is quite a statement. I ordered a Vegetarian Breakfast Bake (see healthyish) and I expected that it would be like a baked full Irish just without the meat. Turns out I had pictured it completely wrong and what a happy surprise that ended up being. What appeared was actually a type of potato hash; with summer vine tomatoes, fresh thyme, mushrooms & spinach all mixed through the delicious little potato cubes. The dish was topped with a free range egg with a runny yolk, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan and a little french toast. It was so so tasty, the perfect savory (meat free and gluten free  – if like me you don’t eat the toast) breakfast dish. The Roast House take their coffee seriously, so as is the norm, the accompanying Americano was also an excellent blend – black, strong and just bitter enough – a great caffeine kick to start a long day.

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Allowing breakfast to digest there was time for a short walk and a longer drive, as we snaked west over the mountain to the coastal town of Dingle. Now if you are not familiar with Dingle, look it up and if you have never been to Dingle, go! I have been many times, although to be honest more often for booze and nightlife than lunch and shopping but I am starting to think that it is the latter that the town does best. Unfortunately, the day was miserable, otherwise this post would be full of some of the most beautiful scenery this planet has to offer, but I promise that will follow some day soon. This was a day that was all about the food. First we shopped for it and then we ate it. The shopping centered on two local gems – The Little Cheese Shop and Crinkle Stores. Both are stunning little artisan stores, showcasing local and other carefully sourced products. I could have bought so, so much more and I am sure over time I will.

I started with The Little Cheese Shop and it is exactly as it looks in your head – cozy, smelly, chockablock with Irish and European cheeses and all the culinary delights you would want to go with them. They are quick to offer a taste, the cheese is cut to your specification and expert advice is on hand. Good luck nipping in for cheddar and coming out with one wax paper parcel when you see the array of fresh bread, pesto, hummus, hand made chocolate and chutneys that sit side by side with more cheese than you can dream of finding time to taste. If it is not clear, this place is a gem on the West Kerry food scene. I left with some fresh buffalo mozzarella,  some soft goat’s cheese, some seaweed speckled cheddar (I think), delicious basil pesto and a generous portion of chunky hummus. I have been working them into my meals since.

Then to Crinkle Stores, when I got over my complete obsession with the fabulous tiles in this shop, it was time to browse the products. There is an exceptional salad bar and some quality coffee on offer, not to mention an exquisite cake display. The shelves are lined with artisan skincare products, Irish vinegar made with foraged ingredients like thyme, gorse and blackberry. Jams, chutneys, fancy cordials, herbal teas and numerous other delights. I added some Mountain Thyme Vinegar, a bar of Dark Chocolate with Apricot and Almond and a rhubarb and apple pop to my foodie haul and regretted that the day wasn’t better for a salad box by the sea. Again that will come another day.

And then, it was time for lunch. And yes we did at least keep it light(ish). We sheltered from the rain in a welcoming little cafe called Chowder, and ate predictably and sensibly, bowls of chowder. Well I did, my shellfish averse husband had an equally comforting steaming bowl of carrot and ginger soup. What appeared was a really satisfying bowl of steaming chowder, thickened with local potato and containing the widest array of fish I have ever encountered in this very common Irish dish. There was the usual white and smoked fish, but how often do you get squid rings in your seafood chowder and the garnishing mussels were a great touch. I didn’t eat the bread (healthy!) but it was wholemeal and  homemade, served with real Irish butter.

Then to dessert – it was my birthday remember – and Dingle is home to Murphy’s Ice Cream – handmade here in the town. It comes in cones and cups, served with a smile by staff sporting farmers’ caps and happy to let you taste before you choose. I had a special called Dreamy Creamy Caramel that was full of the flavours of caramel, butterscotch, chocolate and whipped cream. Better than cake, definitely better than cake!! This product is not cheap but it is quality. Worth every penny, I promise.

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After lunch we again took a break from eating, visited my parents and my adorable godchild. Then we shopped a little more, completing my birthday present buying with a divine scented candle for the kitchen and a book called “Happy People Read and Drink Coffee”. Seriously, how could I not!!!!!

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And then I am embarrassed to admit (almost) that we went out to dinner. But it was not a dinner I would want to have missed. We went to Allo’s Bistro in the little market town of Listowel, where John B. Keane once observed local life with the eye of a poet and the wit of a rural publican. His smiling statue now welcomes you to a town that has retained its soul better than almost any small town I know. It houses a range of excellent independent boutiques, some interior shops that are perfect for the lazy browser and Woulfes, one of the best independent bookshops in the country. There are also more pubs than people and a delightful old-style hotel in the middle of town. Come for Writer’s Week to see Irish culture at its very best but there is also a food festival and a race week in this town’s packed social calendar.

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Now that I have done my bit for the Listowel Tourist Board, on to the food. Allo’s Bistro is as bistros should be, homely and welcoming, with cosy small tables and larger communal ones, wine served by the glass and specials on daily changing chalkboards. For obvious reasons we skipped straight to main courses and I opted for a smaller size portion (see healthy choice! – although it was still extremely generous) of prawn and coconut curry served with jasmine rice. The other dish for the table was a salmon fillet with Bearnaise (unusual I thought) that was well cooked and tasty, accompanied with al dente veg and buttery mashed potato. The curry was delicately spiced with a very generous amount of prawns and a mixture of spring onion, courgette and peppers adding a welcome crunch. Despite the day that had gone before, plates were left completely clear, the message to the chef not in any way encrypted.

I presume you are now imaging that we called for the bill, opened the top button on our jeans and shuffled for the car. Alas, I have something of an affliction to admit to. I cannot resist creme brulee and although I don’t see the need to pepper it with various fruit purees, I still cannot leave it unordered – EVER.  And so I devoured every morsel of a perfect passion-fruit creme brulee with a hazelnut biscuit. Had the jeans button popped before I got it open, it would have been worth every added inch to the waistline. It was yum!!!!!

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So home we went….to my in laws, who were putting us up for the night, and you won’t believe it but my very sweet mother-in-law had bought a cake!!!!! Now  of course I was full but what’s a girl to do, if some one buys you a fluffy sponge cake, filled with fresh cream and strawberry jam and sprinkled with icing sugar, and there’s a candle in it…there really are no options. You eat the cake. Don’t you?? Well of course I did.

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Now before there is an intervention, I promise I have eaten like a gourmet loving rabbit since. But more of that in the next post, where we will celebrate the humble salad. There is a good reason birthdays only come once a year….the world could not sacrifice any more jeans’ buttons. Have a great weekend. Til next time xoxo