Author: Aly Mcloughlin-Harte

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On my podcast this week I share the tips that I have and some words about my own journey (and struggle) to/ with happiness. An ongoing journey where I have to stop, re evaluate and reset every once in a while.
I made this over a year ago.However, I think it continues to be relevant. I am sure many of you can relate.  

Go away grief

  Grief, you are the boyfriend I never asked for and the meal I didn’t order. You are the loud symbols in my silence always craving for my attention...
Creativity and healing   Before I utter the words “ I am an artist” it is more than likely that I say “I have three boys” as my opening line.   Our three children and their thoughts, habits and activities shape family life. My career as a professional painter and educator has grown organically around the boys.
I remember when I realised  I had a “print” shop on my first website. At the time I was photographing weddings and family events as well as making “ scribbles” . Now when I mentor creative females and I look back at my own career, I see how little I valued my work by calling the artwork “scribbles”.  However, to this day my husband and I laugh at how I just whizz a pen about a page a bit like scribbling. This is where the idea came from.

  The medics on the front line are the heroes and I made a doctor figure demo on my youtube to demonstrate the appreciation I feel for them. As well as the government, farmers, postal workers and many more keyworkers keeping this country afloat. But I...

Rather than ramble on as to the reasons why we may need these 7 tips right now, I’ll just let you scroll and apply as needed. Stay safe and stay home.  
  This morning on my coffee break I went to see my 71year old Mum at her work. Like most of us in  Northern Ireland, Scotland and England we are anxiously waiting for the inevitable closure of our schools. So, I thought I would take her for a takeaway coffee before she is potentially quarantined and while my children remain in the classroom.   To be honest taking the time to visit her was a relief from news articles about coronavirus on what’s app groups and the general noise of panic.
It’s difficult for me not to think of my own Mother as Mother’s day draws near but then again it’s difficult for me to admit that, despite my writing to my deceased Father, to my deceased Grandmother and my dear cousin who passed away two years ago…I have somehow never written to or about my Mother - the only one still present. A constant in my life since Dad died in 1991. School, University, married life, my own journey as a Mother- she’s walked the walk with me. As with many of the personal pieces I write, my eyes begin to water with each click of the keyboard. But here goes…
My widowed Mother exclaims every time I write a blogpost about grief or sadness “ why do you torture yourself Alyson?”. She knows that I weep as I write. Some say it is cathartic to help me come to terms with my own grief from a young age, others say it is self serving. Yet, six years into my writing it feels bigger than that.
You had a turbulent day in work, a fraught journey home and now you’re sat on the sofa in your jeans and sweater after devouring some pasta with your hubby. You pop each wary foot into your slippers with the wool as light as marshmallows around your heels.

There is a reason we all take photos - so we can remember moments.

Another is so we can compare and contrast. A great example of this is on any fitness journey (my postpartum journey being an example of this and you can read here) we are so focused on the change in routine we sometimes forget to look at the results as we go along.
  Our family aired the tent out for the the first time this year. Last weekend we ventured to Portballintrae- the same area where I holidayed as a child with my Mum and my brother.
I posted recently about how I learned to smile with my mouth closed four years ago.  I noticed that my friend effortlessly smiled without showing her teeth and I wanted to to the same so I would stop scrutinising my crooked teeth when the photos were printed. I have a beauty spot above one side of my lip so always felt my smile was "wonky” anyway then my teeth were crowded on the top left and the crushed pegs on the bottom of my mouth made me self conscious. Don't get me wrong, if you see me from a certain angle and a distance you can't notice, but we all have our "thing" that bothers us don't we?

It’s hard for me to pinpoint a time in my life when anxiety hasn’t reared its head in some shape or form.

From primary school worries about being the smallest in the class to the torture of bullying for several years; through secondary education in an all girls school to career worries at university; and finally to post-natal depression and a diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder almost 5 years ago.

I had written this article for a magazine but after watching The Grinch UK with my boys today, I thought there may be some of you who will appreciate it now, in early November....
One son was at Cubs for the evening, another was playing with his wooden train track and the last was mumbling about no charge in the iPad. I had my biggest number of print orders on my art website that week and was amidst the hustle of making myself and my husband a late dinner. Stir-fry and prawns. Nothing too tasking. Without warning or reason the tears settled into the creases of my eyeliner. Thoughts of Dad rushed as I lifted the kids empty plastic cups off the table. The table he bought with his first pay cheque. Now a battered table and, when moved it almost loses a wooden leg. Yet, it holds meaning and it is one of the ways to be close to my Dad who died when I was seven. The older I get the more I cling to the physical elements where he once breathed life. The character of a man still lingering through this wonky table or white bulb light that hangs above my kitchen breakfast bar. A white light bulb light box with the words ‘duneight services’across it. This was the petrol station Dad owned with my, also deceased, Uncle Tom. Memories of him on every crevice and corner of my home. I pass such fixtures everyday and my eyes do not flicker, nor does my heart pull. However, in this instance, while the cinnamon candle burns and the Christmas advertisements begin to ring out on the television, I feel grief in all it’s force. And I cry. Tears flowing. To the point where my two year old asks “did you bang your knee too, mummy?”. Uncontrolled and wet. Wet soppy tears and a yearning for my Dad to be sat with a cup of tea and his oil stained hands from mechanic work at the table he used to own. A need for him to talk about the weather or to lift one of my sons into the air for a shoulder ride. It’s a pain I cannot put lightly into sentences but one that I have learned to let exist. In the busyness and the rough and tumble of being a business woman, a wife and a mum, I no longer reject these emotions and this… well, sadness. So much of my life was spent telling myself that I was “lucky “ because dad died of natural causes instead of being murdered or killed suddenly. Other times I had myself convinced that one parent being alive was all I ever needed and that grieving Dad was my way of looking for pity. But that is not the case. I don’t want attention or pitying eyes on me when I have these moments that stop me in my tracks as I boil potatoes on the hob. I don’t need hands on my back patting me. I just need that fleeting moment in time to remember who is missing so much of my life. Who no longer sits at the table at Christmas. My beautiful cousin died in January and this Christmas we will be without her on Christmas day. After both of our fathers died the two families and widowing mothers merged. Even after we had our own children everyone still continued to mash together like a herd of cattle to share Christmas shloer and cut the turkey. I remember a few years ago as I took the annual self timer shot of our family one of us commented how we have to do these things because “you never know what the next year will bring”. And its true, isn’t it? A few days, hours or months can change a whole lot in our lives. So this Christmas, if you dread the radio playing “the bells are ringing out for Christmas day” or, you find yourself slapped in the face by grief as you bundle the kids to send them to the school nativity. Please afford yourself that time. Tears can be wiped and make up retouched. But memories and moments in the short spaces of stillness that we give ourselves, cannot be replaced. Allow your mind to take that journey of engaging with the smells and sounds that once were. The ones that remind you vividly of the person you miss with all of your heart. Your life is all the richer for keeping the ones you have lost at the forefront. Talking about them, wearing their sweaters (or Dad’s boiler suit like I do when I paint. ) and playing their top 10 tunes on the hi fi that sat in their bedroom. Grief doesn’t disappear but it does linger and I’ve learned that it, in itself, can be a good thing. A two minute window when we are forced to stand still while the world spins - It’s ok to feel sad this Christmas. When your tears are wiped and your laughter returns you will be all the more merry for it!
If you have listened to any of the podcast interviews that I have been privileged to be a part of in the last month (She said club interview here and Best of Belfast here) then it will not be a secret to you that I am bringing out a workout programme!! I have admired and known Gareth for a long time. He is one of those physio type people (technical term for his profession is below) who I can spend two minutes with complaining about my sore shoulder and within that short time he uses his clever brain to fix it. Not in a freaky way but in a methodical genius way.
A psychologist I am not but a living breathing, emotional, reactive human being I most certainly am. Therefore, my blog allows me to share thoughts, some of my life and my (mainly personal) findings in relation to this topic of art and fitness. It is something I am so passionate about and excited to share with you. In this post we will discuss how art and fitness are linked and how they will improve your overall state of mind.
It's pouring with rain outside my studio, the lads are back from School and the babe has woken from his afternoon slumber.

To be fair I could reach for a glass of chilled white wine despite the short week I have had but failing that( it is not yet 3:30pm)  I have satisfied my need for a slurp with a Holly's coffee takeaway coffee.

I met Stefanie through Mike McCommish and we got along royally! She never stops smiling, laughing and inspiring online and offline. She personal trains clients with such genuine enthusiasm and care. Stefanie holds fitness, food and fashion afternoons in Podium 4 sport which you should keep an eye out for. She is also an athlete with a powerful personal drive for getting better and stronger. 

“ The emerging woman ... will be strong-minded, strong-hearted, strong-souled, and strong-bodied...strength and beauty must go together.”Louisa May Alcott

From Fifty shades of grey ( Jamie, I’m sorry, as lovely as you are, these movies are terrible) to the more serious cases in and out of court around sexual harassment, women are at the centre.
I read in last months Women's Health Magazine, in noted that we should be more open and honest in life. Apparently, this helps us to move forward with our lives and to prevent getting “stuck” in toxic friendships and relationships. When I read it I was drawn to the bullet points they had at the end of the article. One read “Tackle grief …”. It progressed to say how we are held back by unprocessed emotions, grief being one of them. As someone who “lost” (he didn’t fall of a pier but “lost” seems to be the terminology used often to describe death) my father a week before my eighth birthday, I can put my hand on my similarly defected heart (Dad died due to heart problems) and agree that the notion of dealing with grief stood out to me because it rang so true to me.
I don’t know about you, but the reality tv programme Love island was a shameless part of a my weekly tv watching last year. After it ended my phone battery took a hit as I crept online at the couples. Olivia and her baby faced farmer, Amber and Kem, Marcel and Gabby (my faves) and of course hot Calvin Klein model Jamie Jewitt and Camilla Thurlow. All of whom are fascinating to watch as they plummet into the wave of stardom since their departure from Majorca. What stands out for me about Cam and Jamie is their desire to serve others. Yes, you might think some of it a little contrived or look at Camilla and her privileged upbringing thinking “it’s alright for her standing in a soup kitchen while I’m here in my 9-5 trying to make my own ends meet”.All of which is perfectly valid but...
In response to my first blogpost of 2018 which you can find here -10 body shifts you need in 2018- tell me, what have you done for your self care routine since you read it? Share in the comments below as I am also in the position where I want ALL the change and want it ALL now - yoga in my life, less meat (I have actually managed that for two meals this past week) , stretching etc etc. However, no matter how good our best intentions are, often we feel overwhelmed and rather than start small (which is was what I suggest we do in the blogpost) we rush in. So, share your achievements even if they are one less meeting in the work diary or a stretch of the legs after dinner. I want to know and to support you as you allow self care to be a part of your world. In relation to self care I mentioned that I am attending physiotherapy for six weeks with Maura of Smart physio.
We first tried this recipe after the birth of one of our boys. My dear friend Hazel made it for us one of the nights we, no doubt, needed it after attending to a newborn amidst the mayhem that comes with adding sprogs to your brood. I have a feeling it originated from Jamie Oliver but can't find it online. See his other sausage recipes here. The tastes and flavours stuck with us and we have been making it ever since. There are a number of reasons for it appearing on our weekly menu- the first being how easy it is. The second that the kids eat it (they pick out the leeks sometimes but everything else they eat) , the fact that the leeks re punchy in flavour, the sweetness of peppers and the rich saltiness of the whole dish is delicious. Then of course the affordability of the ingredients. I grew up in the countryside where potatoes featured heavily in our dinner choices and they are so versatile and economic, they along with the sausages make up the bulk of the recipe.
Good, bad, ugly, inward, outward, to self or to others – words have impact. A few  weekends ago my one year old poured a 500ml bottle of water over my laptop. I can’t even say I was unaware of the water, the pouring, the puppy, the toddler and the busyness of the two of them in the hallway. I was in the kitchen and somehow thought “I’ll just mop it up later” as I continued to clean the lunch dishes.
This space on the blog is where I have the pleasure of introducing you to experts in the wellbeing industry. My last blogpost states how I feel about 2018 - this is the year I want you to invest in YOU. Be yourself, show yourself self care and invest in your body. The experts I feature can help and inspire you! Remember my self acceptance e bundle can viewed here. This notion of self acceptance rests at the core of my work - helping people to know themselves and to love and accept their traits and all the goodness they have to offer the world. Enjoy April's interview and all that she has to say and to educate us on. As she mentions, because of the internet April is able to do consultations and connect with people all over the world. No matter where you are you can follow her by scrolling to the bottom of the post and finding her social media tags. I love the colour and fresh approach to April's instagram posts - glorious food pics!
The new year can create a shocker for people, for any of us in fact who want to strive for better but feel bombarded by so.much.information. As you will see on my social media channels and if you were to meet me in person  you will quickly learn that I am an advocate for self-care. This means that I am not going to tell you that you need to change. Of course you are perfectly entitled to change physical parts of your body if you so desire this year (I have recently entered the world of lash extensions - WoW. Obsessed.).   If altering something or working towards losing weight or gaining muscle makes you stand a little taller or breathe a little deeper then I am all in. I want you to be YOU! Prioritise getting to know yourself over everything else and the rest will follow.
My late Father was a mechanic. He (from what I remember / have been told) was a warm, compassionate and vibrant business man who could turn his hand to any car.
I met Lisa through a mutual friend and have been following her amazing venture, Vibe Academy. I will let her tell you all and I cannot wait to show you the dance workout she has choreographed for us. Hip hop vibes are always going to be a winner in my world!
Name: Lisa Kernoghan
Age: 38
Occupation: Choreographer and Business Owner
Location: Belfast based with campuses and mobile workshops across the country
In case you missed it, for the month of October I am raising funds and awareness through sales of my art work (you can purchase the linked prints here) and here on the blog for two main charities - Fintan's fund and Cancer focus NI. The blogposts will showcase stories and you can learn about why these local charities do what they do. Rachael's story is incredible! Rachael thanks for joining us on the blog. In a few lines can you tell us your story and the motivation behind Fintan's fund.
For the month of October I will be giving 20% of sales from four of my art prints (priced between £10 and £30) to four charities related to tackling cancer. Will you join me? I kind of hate using the word ' cancer' because of what it means and how it sounds to so many of us who have been affected either directly or through a family member or friend. My good friend Laura changed cancer to " the melt" for the months following her diagnosis and I think that sums up the sinking feeling as those words resonate. So, with tears rolling down my cheeks and my hand firmly on my heart, I am going to use my little corner of the internet to promote the fight against all things cancer here on my blog and across my social media during October.
I am a great believer that things happen for a reason, what's for you won't pass you by and so on. I'm all for it. So, when things come up on my calendar that are perfectly in line with my ethos of nostalgia and positive associations to landmarks, objects or words - I jump at them. That includes this weekend the Armagh food and cider festival.  Normally we are a family who make the most of Culture night in Belfast. Our eight year old has attended since he was a year old and we love the buzz.
Wanting to open that shop front down the road where the hipsters gather and you just know fancy coffee will sell along with pea sized over priced salted caramel brownies.
I am so pleased to introduce you to Caroline who resides, bakes and raises her squad of four kids in Monaghan. To kick off the back to School mayhem she has this delicious treat recipe for us that we can rustle up in no time. Protein bites are so popular on the blog that I know you'll love it and that is why I asked Caroline to share one from her new business, Healthy bites. All the links to her artistry can be found in the short interview below. Enjoy and thank you to Caroline for sharing her wisdom! 
I started David Lloyd gym when I was pregnant with our third boy. I figured the money I would save on not drinking  prosecco for nine months would be better spent on something I would use and love!! I have had gym memberships in the past but this was a big move for me and one I am so glad I made. Due to hyperemesies (read about my experience with it in this post) and a number of other pregnancy complications I had to stall my membership for a few months. When I was seven months pregnant walking with an established waddle I returned to David Lloyd and Nathalia was one of the many smiling faces I met on my morning visits. She and her bump (now called Nico featured in the image below) were on the cross trainer. We exchanged words and pleasantries about our pregnancies and that was that. I was blissfully unaware at this stage about what a star Nathalia is in the fitness world and how close all the gym girls would become. We have a great little network now and I am so excited to have Nat on here.
You would be forgiven for thinking I have gone all beauty based on here. This post is more a response to the many e mails and private messages asking about my skin routine. To be honest these enquiries baffle me as I don't view my skin as anything special and I am pretty basic when it comes to make up or, in fact, cleanliness!!
Hello July! How is your Summer kicking off? We had the most glorious two weeks in Donegal. I ate, drank, worked out (a little!) and spent days on end with my three boys and husband. No flight to rush for or bags to pack suited to airport scales. A simple trip where you bung everything (including the dog!) into the boot of the car and off you go. Half of the beach at Narin came home in our car but we all left happy and refreshed. Find my print of Narin beach here on my online shop. Also the print of the two boys in the header can be found here. Now that I am back to work and the baby is back in day care I have the two big boys around my feet and had to get creative about where to put their bounding energy for a few days. I imagine some of you were prepared and booked ahead of time but sadly I am the mother who runs ragged on a Monday morning five minutes before the School bell scrapping money from the back of the sofa for dinner money. So there was no way I was going to be organised enough to get Summer activities in place before mid July!!
  Having worked out a few times at David Lloyd with Mike it has reminded me, once again, that small significant movements in personal fitness can make all the difference when wanting to get results. In case you are new to the site head over here to read all about Mike. The blogpost includes his back ground as a professional rugby player as well as his love for family time and all about his personal training. The resistant band routine above is all about making deliberate moves and executing them well. No fancy jumping around just straight forward movements performed well. I have added in another workout below with kettle bells that Mike showed me and we did after the band session. It was such a hit on my instagram and I know you will love it too.
I played hockey (briefly) in School with Mike's sister Kerry but I had never met Mike until his wife Rebecca and I got chatting at the School gates and over on Instagram. Many of you will recognise him from his days as a professional rugby player. He has a wealth of knowledge because of his background in fitness and I trust him when he gives advice on nutrition and workouts. As I say so much on the blog, I enjoy meeting professionals in the field of sport and wellbeing because they have an insight into a world I only know a glimpse of. I love to learn and you can learn a great deal about moving forward in your own fitness journey after reading what Mike has to say.  
If you spend more than five minutes on my blog you will know that travel is a huge part of what makes me tick, that along with my family life, prosecco,  coffee, fake tan and box sets. When you break down my happy places into little parts they will, when put back together, resemble a puzzle packed with stories about experiences which have shaped my life and my career. So, when the chance to add to my travelling experiences came along I was delighted to be spending some time in Alicante Spain.
Stephanie and I have memberships at David Lloyd and we love to train together. I think it stems from a similar interest in workouts that are based on fun and often high intensity. See more on my instagram. We are both in a postpartum frame of mind so gaining a positive attitude towards our bodies is at the centre of our training. This is good when we workout together for encouragement and accountability. Over the course of the past few months we have pushed and challenged each other in sharing our circuits with one another (as well as sharing our soundtracks!) Such a fun friend to have! Stephanie makes us gym girls her protein banana bread and post workout bites from time to time which is so generous and just delightful to have with coffee, especially for me, when I finish my work upstairs in the cafe at David lloyd.
I often get asked "Ah, so you blog about art?" which I know would make most sense, I am an artist after all. However it didn't come naturally for me to blog about other people's art or art theories two years ago. What came naturally and still does feel right in this space is leading you into my own day to day life which inevitably fits with my theme of "placing importance on the everyday". Fitness , food, family, wellbeing and life stories are the main leads in my daily life. Last night I had the absolute joy of attending Belfast late night art. Have you visited art in Belfast recently? I mean , more than just the Ulster museum. Saying that I adored the exhibit which showed my MFA tutor Willie Doherty's film included in The new past exhibition. The first Thursday in every month the art galleries in Belfast open their doors for anyone to visit and see the latest exhibits. Can I take a second to tell you that I have had three babies, two house moves and a whole lot of breast milk on my tops over the past eight years. For me, to be able to actively leave my house with the intention of going to an art event, UNACCOMPANIED , is a really big deal.
I have been hunting Ian and his expertise down since the blog started over two years ago! Ian and I played hockey for the same University and when I met my husband a few years after Uni it turned out he also knew Ian from playing Ulster U21 hockey together.

Photographs by Jayne Lindsay photography at Pineapple studios Belfast

This detox was set as a challenge (my husband’s idea, not mine) for personal reasons not related to weight or to body image. If you want to see before and after shots of me then see my postpartum posts here and here. Basically I wanted to feel better and to give my body a chance to cleanse after what feels like a year of drinking wine whenever I want, consuming a bag of fruit gums or sports mixture every other day. Or at least that's what it felt like. I just wanted a change and with most things in my life, I tend to go all in or not at all. I wanted discipline and I wanted to see how it felt waking up on a Monday morning not having had even one glass of red wine the night before while watching Luther . Side note – have you watched Luther? It is the scariest darkest programme I have possibly ever watched. The main character is played by Idris Elba who is just gorgeous. Perhaps that is what keeps me watching rather than the intense storyline that I tell my husband keeps me addicted!?! (I have a boxset blogpost here if you are like us and watch them from start to finish then have NOTHING left to give but a gapping black hole where your box set once lay).
Welcome to the "Five minutes with..." feature on my blog. A showcase for raw talented folks in the fitness and wellness industry. Claire started out as a follower of my wellbeing instagram account which I later merged into my business one to keep everything a bit more streamline. Her ability to run marathons fascinated and impressed me! Furthermore, like me, Claire has three young boys so we instantly bonded and haven't looked back! Claire lives in Scotland but the beautiful world of social media keeps us in touch regularly, if even just to send each other pictures of our Friday night wine and box set in front of the tele, or, to cheer each other in our fitness journeys. Enjoy the inspiration and fun Claire oozes with her practical and honest approach to life.
Running my own business was never at the forefront of my life's ambition. It really wasn't. Art College was a great fit and teaching seemed like a fun occupation so I sort of ran with all of it. Until teaching was no longer a passion or indeed an option. Then I had to get creative and start to open my eyes to what on earth I would do after I finished my Masters in Fine art. I want to say my business has been running for eight years but really I shuffled along paying more for childcare than I was earning at the start of this venture. So it is only in the past three years (possibly since launching my first website) that the ball has rolled more than it has had to be pushed. I grew so much in the early days- I talk about them here, and continue to grow with every podcast I listen to, painting I under price and fellow business mentor I meet. My love for sharing information and encouraging other people has been in my bones and I love that my business, and in particular this blog, allows me to extend from my art in your homes to helping you ( albeit on a minor scale) with all things wellbeing and business.
My postpartum body is a topic I didn’t think would become such a part of my blog but the lovely thing about this space is that I don’t have to adhere to sponsorship deals in order to get the "right content” or to say a certain brand a million times over. I can follow my audience and showcase my own journey so you in turn get to know me, a little bit about my family and my business. 
It's been a while since we had an expert of the month feature on the blog so it is great to be back with smiley and motivatiional personal trainer Hayley People. I first met Hayley when she worked with one of my best friends Holly (who I have mentioned on the blog before ) in a clothing store in Belfast. As far as I could see Hayley was always in great shape. It has been refreshing and insightful to read her story about becoming a personal trainer and changing her lifestyle. She works with clients on the PT front and also teaches reformer pilates which I have yet to go to but know I will LOVE! Anyone Belfast based fancy doing it drop me an e mail and we can book in together.

The picture above I am on one of the new pieces of equipment in my gym, David Lloyd Belfast. Wearing a Better bodies outfit.

It comes as no surprise to my regular blog readers that my life revolves around a few simple things- God, my family, my friends, travel and without a doubt exercise! You can read about my health and sickness journey here. One of the main influencers for the name of my blog was my Darling Granny Edna who passed away a year ago this week. She was, unlike myself, not a gym addict but she lived well. By that I mean she didn't drink alcohol ( at least not during my lifetime.), she picked salads over carbs (not that she would have seen it that way. Her love for heinz salad cream over scallions, cucumber, iceberg lettuce and garden tomatoes ran deep) and she drank lemon and hot water every morning along with her porridge which was steeped from the night before (she was on the bircher overnight oats before any of the rest of us!). Perhaps living consciously with regards to my health is in my genes, who knows? Either way I love it and I'm passionate about sharing my journey with you. Now, let's talk you! I am so aware that social media has bombarded you with "new year new you" slogans and "get fit quick" diet plans or exercise routines. I'm sure I am not the first to break it to you - There is no quick fix.

Healthy breakfasts.

I have always been an advocate for breakfast, it may be my favourite meal in the day. Although saying that, I love a cold meats platter lunch, or a steak dinner or a pizza. Nonetheless, a good start to my day includes a decent breakfast. The further I get into eating whole foods and nourishing foods for my body, the more intrigued I am about the variety of good stuff out there which can be sourced locally and/or easily in our larger supermarkets. I asked my instagram followers to share their favourite healthy breakfasts and I have included their recipes amongst the other links.
  Where do I start as I think about the relationship that my mother in law once called "loves young dream" ? T he one that started with monthly gifts (yes, every month a different gift) bought from him to me. Not just flower gifts - a stereo, tickets to the theatre, fun dinners. For seven months he swooned me and hit the nail in the coffin (for want of a better term) by proposing on one knee while we painted the bathroom of his new house. Deal.Done.
Holy heavens I can finally breathe! What a whirlwind year with so many adjustments and stages and fun. Career wise I made the shift and invited another member onto my little team in the studio. Stephanie is an interior design and architecture student who helps me to process orders and has added so much flare to the design side of my business. All the info you receive inside your prints has been made by Stephanie. I give her a project and she flies with it. We added another babe to the family, little Abraham. With having all these lads and no girls in our brood I was determined when I found out he was due in April, to at least share a birthday month with one of them so I was thrilled when he arrived four days after my birthday on the 30th. A small but a significant thing, for me. My Grandmother, who this blog is named after passed away in February which really shifted life. My mum's side of the family are a close bunch but Granny was the glue that held us altogether. I can't help but cry when I see amazing carol singers giving up their time to go to old people's homes, something that Granny, even in her years of dementia adored and sang along to. Christmas can be a tough time, right?
Put simply, here is my super special Northern Irish gift guide. It is quite literally full to the brim with makers, locations, drinks, interiors and more to help you decide what gifts to buy this Christmas. I have not been endorsed to do any of this by anyone, I am just an artist who is passionate about and happy to share the love and to support local.

Image credit Gather and Tides

I'm all for clearing out junk in the home. So much so I even made a post about minimalism here. My husband views my 'tendency' for "gutting out" as a bit of an illness. This urge to clear out normally raises it's ugly head on a weekend. You know the kind- all is well and quiet in the world of family time, there are no work emails to distract the mind, a general state of untidiness has already descended the minute the lads come in from school and dump their School bags on the Friday. So, with all of this in front of my very eyes, I take a head staggers and start to trail everything out. Literally. "You have to crack an egg to make an omelette" my good friend once said. Nothing will do except a good clear out from top to bottom of a drawer, a medicine cabinet,  the baby's room, my shoe boxes, even the pots and pans can take a bashing. Feeling overwhelmed by "stuff" is something I struggle with. It sits better with me knowing that someone somewhere else can use what I no longer will. Looking around my house and feeling overwhelmed often is perhaps not the best trait for someone who is in the business of selling prints which in themselves can be viewed as "stuff". Perhaps it is to the detriment of my yearly income that I don't like to harp on about sales over and over again, but if you meet me for more than five minutes you will learn that my driving force behind these long hours, juggling three kids (one aged six months) and keeping a large number of people happy on social media, e mail and face to face, is not to line my pockets.