It’s my birthday – I can blog if I want to… 

So when it comes to birthdays in your 30s, it’s hard not to feel a little down about how old you are getting and evaluating what have you done with your increasing years on this earth. Today is my birthday and so I am refusing to do that and so this is why my birthday was the best:

  1. I woke up to a load of birthday messages from my family, close friends and a gorgeous video message from my two-year-old niece that put a smile on my face before the day even began. 
  2. I was working this morning and when I arrived in the office I was greeted by a desk decorated with confetti filled balloons by my lovely work colleagues – I am tempted to keep my work space like this all year round!
  3. Once it hit 11am (aka tea break time) I heard a chorus singing Happy Birthday before being presented by the most awesome Green Day birthday cake from my amazing desk buddy Gemma. She certainly knows how to make a girl feel special. 
  4. I finished on a half day and as I had been showered with some lovely gifts, I thought it was only right time give something back and so I met my sister to donate blood at the NI Blood Transfusion Service at Belfast City Hospital. 
  5. After our good deed for the day, we headed to treat ourselves by visiting The Gallery on Dublin Road, Belfast for lunch. This building is impressive on the outside but simply stunning on the inside. With walls adorned with fabulous artwork, ceilings boasting exquisite chandeliers and floor to ceiling windows ensuring it is bathed in natural light, it is already my new favourite place in Belfast. The customer service was professional yet personal, the food was delicious and portions were immense and the prices were reasonable. And, with a bill with a personalised birthday message, I can’t wait to go back.
  6. I got to spend the evening with the husband sipping chilled Cava and generally getting spoilt with a fabulous present (tickets to see the Pixies, my face has fallen off with excitement), a homemade dinner and a Red Velvet cake. I’m a happy girl. 

So from start to finish I have had an amazing day and yes, I am getting older, but I am doing it whilst riding a sugar high and being surrounded by an amazing family, husband and group of friends! Sure, you couldn’t ask for any more! 

Posted: 22/06/2017

Happy Father’s Day 

I am very lucky that my parents are also my best friends; I adore spending time with them. There is no place like home home to get any problems I’m having off my chest, to get advice on any situations that are bothering me as well as to have a good, stomach-aching giggle. My parents are my role models and on Mother’s Day I embarrassed my mum with a blog post dedicated to her, so I felt it was only fair to do the same to my dad. 

Ever since I was little my dad has always been my go to person if something broke. From toys to jewellery, he could mend most things. As I’ve gotten older he is still the first person I call when something needs assembled, fixed or replaced. He has also taught me so much; not just how to drive a car, check my oil or to change a fuse (although that was a good one as I reckon my house has a Guinness World Record for blowing fuses), but also major life lessons such as to have confidence in myself, to follow my dreams and to believe I can do anything I put my mind to, and most importantly, he has taught me that there are few things more important than family. From his relationship with his own mother as well as his connection with his mother and father-in-law, he was always so selfless with his time and went above and beyond to help them anyway he could. When it comes to my mum, sister and me, not to mention his son in laws and, of course, granddaughter, I can honestly say there’s isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for us. 

As well as being loving, caring and supportive, my dad is also one of the bravest people I know. There have been a few serious potholes in his life’s journey that have rattled him, but he always keeps going. He is smart, creative (if you need proof see here) and the best haggler you will meet. He is sharp as a tack and has a wickedly good sense of humour. 

My dad has always set an example to me of what a good man is. As a result, when it came to dating I wasn’t one of those girls looking for a bad boy. I understand it’s the good ones that will look after you and, when he isn’t being a lunatic, I am pretty sure I married a good one. 

So today, when it’s all about the daddies, I just wanted to say happy father’s day to mine, I love you and I am very proud to be your daughter. 

Posted: 19/06/2017

In Conversation: The Unmumsy Mum Diary 

Blogger and author Sarah Turner in conversation with BBC Radio Ulster’s Kerry McLean at the Belfast Book Festival. 

The Belfast Book Festival is jam packed with a fantastic mix of events and last night my sister and I were excited to get to experience one of them first hand: In Conversation with Sarah Turner, author of The Unmumsy Mum Diary at the Crescent Arts Centre

Sarah, whose blog The Unmumsy Mum has gone from strength to strength, has just published her second book: The Unmumsy Mum Diary. She was joined on stage by BBC Radio Ulster’s Kerry McLean to discuss what inspired her to start the blog, how she moved into the world of writing books and what’s next for The Unmumsy Mum. 

From the start it was very clear that Sarah Turner is naturally warm, funny and engaging; it’s not a surprise so many readers have been entertained by her musings, whether on paper or online, or that so many mothers have found her relatable. 

One theme that ran throughout the evening was, as Sarah coins them, ‘glossy mums’, who seem to have the perfect life, versus ‘truthful mums’, who admit that having a child is wonderful but they also come with many moments that will try you on every level. Of her inspiration to start the blog, Sarah said: “For me it was an outlet to venture the frustration of motherhood. I felt I was massively screwing it up.” Although I don’t have kids myself, when my neice was born I got a glimpse of how competitive fellow mothers can be and how that can have a detrimental effect, especially on new mothers. I think for a long time the ‘glossy mum’ blogs, which Sarah admits she does enjoy, ruled the online world, and so when The Unmumsy Mum came along it was a refreshing and comforting read that showed women that there is no one right way to parent, instead it’s best to follow your own gut, do what works for you and if you make mistakes, learn from them and move on. Women, especially those in the public eye, are constantly being judged whether it’s their looks, their lifestyle or their parenting skills and so it is restorative to find someone who doesn’t use their very public platform to do that to others, instead Sarah Turner says things most mothers can relate to but felt they couldn’t admit to. 

Another subject that Sarah and Kerry touched upon was the inequality in the perception between mothers and fathers. Whilst Sarah remarked that when she has a work engagement, people wouldn’t think twice of asking what she had done with her children, whereas the thought of asking a male in the workplace the same question seems rather absurd. Likewise both Sarah and Kerry touched upon how their other halves at times feel people who see them on their own with their children treat them like glorified babysitters, asking if they are giving mummy a break, rather than treating them as an equal parent who is doing their part to raise their children. 

Although my perception of raising children is from an auntie’s perspective, I found Sarah Turner, both the woman and the author, inspirational. Whilst many people like to edit their lives online, Sarah is brutally honest, which is incredibly brave. She has faced backlash from critics, such as from tabloid stories, as well as in comments from people who read those stories. However that doesn’t deter Sarah from sharing her life with her readers, and I distinctly got the impression that many women at this event were delighted for that. As a trying-to-be blogger myself it was also inspirational to hear Sarah’s story of how her blog went viral leading to a book offer from her publishers, as well as how she has remained steadfast on not doing sponsored posts so she can keep the blog true to her and her style of blogging. 

As the event came to a close, I had a smile on my face. The rapport between Sarah and Kerry was captivating; both are fascinating women who come across as very open and honest and as a result it seriously felt like spending an evening with friends. If you have tiny humans of your own, are thinking about having some down the line or just enjoy a giggle, I can’t recommend Sarah Turner’s The Unmumsy Mum blog or books enough! 

The Belfast Book Festival runs until 17 June. Check out the rest of the programme at: https://www.belfastbookfestival.com

Visit The Unmumsy Mum blog at: http://theunmumsymum.blogspot.co.uk

Posted: 15/06/2017

The Belfast Book Festival Family Fun Day

It’s not every weekend that we get a sunny Saturday and so it was my mission to get out and about today to make the most of it. Thankfully the Belfast Book Festival is in town and today saw it host a family fun day in Lower Crescent Park. 

I tagged along with my sister Gail, bro-in-law Alan and niece Rachel to see what all was on offer. After entering through an arch welcoming us to The Emerald City, it was clear from the start it was going to be pretty magical. In addition to Dorothy and Co bringing a taste of Oz to south Belfast, there was also storytelling sessions with local authors, facepainting, craft stalls and food stands to enjoy. 

After walking the yellow brick road and getting her face painted with glittery flowers, Rachel wad delighted to receive a free lolly, which was almost the size of her head, from a sweetie van. Sugar rush unleashed it was time to enter the storytelling tent to hear about the adventures of Fitzy-Foo before checking out what books and crafts were on sale. With a signed copy of Annie Holmes’ Katherine of Carrick purchased, it was time to enjoy some food whilst listening to music and soaking up some sunshine. 

As someone who loves reading, I love when the Belfast Book Festival comes to town. With over 100 live events and workshops taking place until 17 June, there’s some for everyone. From My Back Pages: An Evening with Bob Dylan, which combines live music and readings to The Unmumsy Mum Diary, a conversation with blogger and award winning author Sarah Turner, as well as festival favourite The Lifeboat poetry readings, plus so much more, the offerings are so rich and diverse the only problem you will have is deciding what to go to. For younger readers, the creative workshops help encourage a love of reading and writing whilst today’s family day was such a fabulous and fun way to introduce children to books as well as to feed the obsession for those who already are little bookworms. With if you’ve a love of words, be sure to check out the Festival whilst you can!

The Belfast Book Festival runs until 17 June. For the full programme visit: https://www.belfastbookfestival.com

Posted:10/06/2017

Theatre Review: Sinners 

This week I enjoyed a trip to the theatre to see Sinners, which was written by the superbly talented Marie Jones and produced and staged by the Lyric Theatre. 

The play tells the story of an isolated farming community that comes under the spell of the charming yet mysterious preacher, Pastor O’Hare. Whilst his unorthodox style of preaching has won over the locals, not everyone is sold. Her husband has declared his devotion to the new ministry, but Tania Simpson is not convinced; with the help of her family and friends she is on a mission to find out what the Pastor’s true motivations are.

The first half of the production was very much about setting the foundations of the story, whilst the second ramped up the drama and the comedy and when it finished I had an ache in my side and a smile firmly on my face. With a sharp script, clever staging and an accomplished cast, it definitely made a lasting impression. When it comes to plays at the Lyric, Michael Condron has become somewhat of a measuring stick for me as to whether to get tickets. I’ve seen him in a few productions now, such as The 39 Steps and Smiley, and he has always been a highlight, so with Condron cast as the charismatic Pastor O’Hare, myself, and my culture buddy Mark, were really looking forward to seeing what he brought to this production. Condron gave a mesmerising performance, making it seem completely plausible that he could cast a spell over and entire community. He also has an amazing ability for physical comedy and at times had me laughing without having to say a word. However, Condron wasn’t the only talent in the cast. Seáinín Brennan as Tania was fantastic at playing a woman who will go to any lengths to protect her family. She was passionate and fierce and utterly compelling to watch. Louise Mathews as Coleen, Tania’s sidekick and best friend, honestly had me snorting with laughter. She is a natural performer who commanded your attention anytime she put a foot on stage. Charlie Bonner as Tania’s husband Stanley, was a revelation. He perfectly captured a vulnerability which made it very realistic as to why he would be willing to dismiss his family’s worries to offer up his worldly possessions in return for redemption. Alan McKee as Stanley’s brother Sydney provided lashings of comedy to the proceedings. As a culchie living in the city, I found something comfortingly familiar about his portrayal of a local farmer. He perfectly captured the hilarious colloquialism of local life and that seriously amused me. I also have to say the younger members of the cast: Adele Gribbon as Millie, Michael Johnston as Jed and Patrick McBrearty as Dino added an unbridled youthfulness to the show as well as each having impeccable comedic timing that added a new dimension to the play. 

Unfortunately Sinners closed its run last night but if it returns to the Lyric or you get the chance to see one of these wonderfully talented actors in another production, I suggest you get yourself a ticket booked. Right, I am away to get ready for a new show coming to the Lyric; The Ladykillers (which runs from 10 June – 8 July and is adapted from the classic comedy by Graham Lineman); I’ll maybe see you there! 

Posted: 4/6/2017

The Reunion 

Bronagh and Kellie – we got back together.

Sometimes it’s not always easy to make true friends in the work place; making the transition from colleagues to friends can be tricky. However when I joined Ulster Tatler many years ago, I didn’t have that problem when I met Bronagh. We bonded over Green Day, a love of books and Jared Leto. Over the years Friday night cocktails became a regular occurrence. More thought went into birthday and Christmas presents. And we eventually took the final step into establishing a fully fledged friendship: travelling to a different country together (you know you must really like someone when you get to that point!).
After over a decade working together, Bronagh started a new job two months ago. Whilst I was devastated to lose my ‘work wife’, I was delighted she found a new challenge she wanted to explore. And although we no longer see each other every work day, we have vowed to ensure we get a ‘cocktail night’ in the diary at least once a month. 

Friday was our most recent catch up and so the mission was set to find somewhere amazing for dinner as well as an epic spot for some dancing afterwards. For food we went to the French Village Cafe & Bistro on Botanic Avenue. The family run business, which also runs a wholesale bakery and patisserie on Montgomery Road as well as French Village Patisserie & Brasserie on Lisburn Road, Belfast, has made a name for themselves for producing homemade baked goods, and so when we visited we knew dessert was on the cards, even before we were seated. 

After a look at the menu it was clear that French Village offer a selection of main dishes that sound just as tantalising as the desserts. I was tempted by the Dexter beef burger, however after a guilt trip from Bronagh about how cute Dexter cows were, I opted for the chicken and chorizo hash served with peppers, onions, spinach and sautéed potatoes. After it arrived, I appreciated the guilt trip because the chicken and chorizo hash was not only beautifully presented but it was bursting with an amazing array of flavours. To be honest, my mouth is watering now just thinking about it again. 

Chicken and chorizo hash.

After cleaning my plate it was time for the hard task of picking a dessert. They all sounded delicious, but there was no way I could resist the warm salted caramel brownie. It was gorgeous; the combination of flavours and textures worked superbly well together to create a dish that was rich, decadent and completely satisfied my sweet tooth. 

Warm salted caramel brownie.

If you haven’t been to French Village Cafe & Bistro before, I would whole heartedly recommend it. As well as a quality selection of dishes and professional service, the venue, which exudes a rustic charm and eye-catching decor, is also BYO making is the ideal spot for a catch up over a bottle of wine.

French Village Cafe & Bistro.

Once our stomachs were fit to burst, it was time to find a destination to dance off some of the delectable calories. We decided to go to Howl, the Friday club night at Love and Death on Ann Street. It was £5 entry, and the door staff had me thinking we made the right call, because not only very welcoming but one of them had on a t shirt of the legend that is Ron Burgundy – he’s kind of a big deal don’t you know! Our first impressions were confirmed when we got into the club. The club opens from 10pm – 3am and whilst some DJs wait until later in the night to play the good songs, we danced from the minute we arrived until it was time to go home. From the Chemical Brothers to Prince and Black Box to Paul Simon, there was a real mix of music but I loved it all! 

As well as good tunes, the staff were friendly and the venue also offers a range of drinks offers making it the perfect spot, especially during those periods when pay day seems like a long time away! 
From start to finish I had the best time. With good food on the menu, the opportunity to dance until I could dance no more and especially getting back together with my ex work wife, this is what Friday nights were made for. 

Posted: 29/05/2017

Alicante in Pictures 

It’s a beach life; soaking up the sun in Alicante.

I am still walking on sunshine after spending the weekend in Alicante. I was invited to spend 48 hours in this port city, which is located on Spain’s Costa Blanca, as part of a press trip organised by Aer Lingus. I had not been to Alicante before and so I was super excited to get to explore all that this city has to offer, from sandy beaches to unique culture as well as gourmet food and wine to a remarkable history and stunning architecture. Whilst I am writing a full travel review on my experience for Ulster Tatler, I fell so in love with Alicante, which offers everything you could want from a city break, that I just had to share a little video collage I made of my time there. I hope you enjoy it…

Aer Lingus fly from George Best Belfast City Airport directly to Alicante. For more information on flights visit: http://www.belfastcityairport.com