Thursday, August 28, 2014

A five minute guide to school run make up on a budget - I'm in The Sun!

I'm in The Sun newspaper today. Something I never thought I'd hear myself say it has to be said. And no it's not on page 3, though I have a word or two to say on that for sure.

No - I've teamed up with the indomitable Mrs. Crunch to talk school run make up - on a budget.


There are so many great budget buys out there now that it's often hard to come up with an excuse for forking out on the luxury stuff. Though I do love a bit of lux packaging...



Anyway, pop over to Mrs. Crunches Corner for some great products that won't break the bank. Ok the morning bath or shower might be pushing it a little but the rest - no excuse. If I can find 5 minutes so can you!

And it really isn't a luxury to spend 5 minutes on yourself in the morning. You'll feel brighter, happier and more ready to face the day.

Give it a go!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sunshine on my Shoulders - Journeys of Discovery #1: Mexico

Waaaay back in spring of 1995, when I thought I was a grown up already, I was busy cramming for my end of year post-graduate exams in Maynooth Collage.

That upcoming summer would spell the end of my education after seventeen years of going through primary school, inter and leaving certs, a degree and my final I-have-no-idea-what-I-want-to-do-now-and-what-exactly-does-an-Arts-degree-qualify-you-for-anyway?' post-grad year in IT.

On wandering through the college one evening that final term, I saw a poster looking for volunteers to travel abroad volunteering for three months with the university. Instantly I knew that this was what I would end up doing that summer. There were only 12 expenses paid places available and a reem of applicants, but I knew 100% from that moment that I would be going on that trip.

I have no idea where that confidence came from, but a few weeks later I got the call to say I had been picked. Destination: Mexico.

There were four of us chosen to go to that particular location and I had never met the other three. As it turned out two of them were studying theology and the third was training to become a priest. The project that we would be staying at was a catholic one, with volunteers from all over the world. I made the sign of the cross, took a deep breath and decided to fully embrace the experience.

On touch down in the dusty streets of Tijuana we realised just how little Spanish we actually had between us all. Tijuana was a big town on the Mexican border, filled with ancient pick ups, stray dogs, and seedy bars. When our guide wasn't at the pre-arranged meeting place we did what any self-respecting group of Irish would do in such a situation - we went for margaritas.

A few hours later we had been rescued from our tequila cocktails and introduced to our fellow international volunteers. Our hosts were in equal measures horrified and amused at our little diversion. By the time we had been shown to our dorms we were all slightly panicking. It seemed that Hola and Gracias didn't quite cut it for conversation around these parts, no matter how much nodding and rosy cheeked smiling was involved. 

The next few weeks were a tough but wonderful emotional and physical journey. I was assigned to a hilltop village with another more experienced volunteer. The brief as I understood it - to make the local kids and families feel like somebody cared. 

We travelled to and from the village daily in ancient station wagons that had been converted into taxis. Two passengers sat alongside the driver, three in the back seat, plus another four facing each other in the boot. You could usually count on a few live chickens being snuggled up on the back seat too. The women were undeniably large and seemed to wear thirty pleated skirts at once. The men wore black, accompanied by hangdog moustaches and murderous expressions.

I spent my days and nights visiting families, strolling the sandy streets, noting the difference between the rich concrete houses and the ubiquitous corrugated iron shanty homes. I played basketball with the older teenagers, chasing with the smaller kids. I snuggled the toddlers that ran freely through the town, and fell in love over and over again with the big wide smiles and huge brown eyes that gazed up at me day after day.



A couple of months later, when the rest of my college group were returning home after their three month stint, I was changing my flights. I finally graduated - from packed taxi to dirty red pick-up. It was at least as old as I was, and I had the rusty keys to it for the foreseeable future. 

I'll never forget bumping and bouncing over those dusty hilltop streets in the burning sunshine with barefooted kids running and grinning alongside me as I drove past their family homes. They would call out my name and wave frantically as I bumped to a halt by the old buildings we used as our base. Sometimes I would let a bunch of them jump in the back and we'd go for a ride - their squealing voices ringing in my ears.



Instead of twelve weeks in Mexico I stayed until Christmas. Just over six months. I learned Spanish, taught English, met incredible people, made friends, listened to stories of survival, ate at roadside tacos bars, drank tequila, set up a football league*, dug trenches, swam in the ocean with thirty dirty and delighted kids and learned that sometimes the poorest people in the world are in fact the kindest.



It was six months that shaped me as a person. It had such a huge impact on me that it will always be one of the most important times of my life. 

And maybe after those six months, by the time I got back, I really was a grown up.



* When I paid a return visit to the project five years later my football league was still going strong with about 8 teams and over 100 people participating. Never been prouder. 


This is the first in a series of Sunshine on my Shoulders posts reminiscing about my past travels. If I don't write it down somewhere now they will probably be lost forever. If you feel the same about your own far flung adventures of old join in with #journeysofdiscovery. 


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Extreme Parenting

The summer holidays are coming to an abrupt end. As are my ever decreasing patience levels. 

Seven long weeks have seen perfect sun filled mornings back onto desolate tantrum-strewn afternoons. Wonderful, magical moments have walked side by side with desperate dismay. The moods of three young children have been ebbing and flowing like the tide at the end of their road. Their reaction to any particular event seems to depend solely on which way the wind is blowing when they stick a mucky finger up in the air, or, as likely, up their nose.

This particular evening looked set to be plucked from the embers of disaster by a family games night. We set the games up and played happily for, oh at least eight minutes. I looked at my three gorgeous children and thought how lucky I was, how I really should engage with them more often, be present, be mindful, don't let it all slip past. 

And then it happened. 

The wind changed direction, the 5 year old began pushing all the reliable old buttons, and the tide flowed on out the door with all the good feelings. 

First it was edging the game cards off the table and watching them fall with a smirk, then it was shoving random items in our faces, then it was 'accidentally' falling on top of his brother, then it was kicking an empty plastic bag around the living room. 

Then it was mums patience cracking.


Filled with an inordinate rage that he had once again ruined a perfectly nice moment, I had words and sent him up to bed before I lost it completely. 

Then I followed him up to the bedroom to make sure he didn't start trashing it. (You can have that one for free).

Instead however, he got quietly into bed and started crying. And there is was. A big wave of guilt immediately hit me, washing all the anger aside and leaving me winded. I climbed into bed beside him, and as his little arms threw themselves around me and he sobbed that he was sorry I thought my heart would burst. 

Happiness, Rage, Guilt, Love, Life - Extreme parenting is a really, really tough workout.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Wonderfest 2014 - Was it really that bad?

We've just come back from a weekend glamping at Wonderfest 2014 in Malahide. It was a weekend of self imposed offline-ness, so it wasn't until today that I caught up with all the negative publicity being generated on Facebook and beyond about the inaugural event.

Some of the issues raised were completely founded. Some people however seemed to be enjoying the public lashing a little too much.

I can only speak from my own experience - so here's how it went for us.

Check in was supposedly open from 6pm on Friday night. The early birds dutifully queued up ready to be admitted to the camping area. In hindsight it was a good time to get the queuing practice in - as it was going to be needed for the weekend. 40 minutes late and with no explanations they finally opened to the hatches to hand out the wristbands. Not a great start.

The glamping area was lovely, but on opening the tents there was a lot of confusion - two single inflatable mattresses per family. The poor festival staff were getting chased around the site by the poor campers trying to grab an extra mattress for the night. There were lists made, lists ignored, miscommunication and much grumpiness. We made the most of our extra duvets and blankets and bedded down happily enough. By the same time the following night the mattress fiasco was sorted. But still...


A brief moment of clear blue skies. 

Happy Camper



The next morning we set off for the free sunrise tour of Malahide Castle which was fab. Then on for free coffee, kids drinks and a gift from the Avoca cafe in the courtyard grounds. Unfortunately the communication issues continued and it seemed the Avoca staff hadn't actually been made fully aware of the arrangement. Oops.


Oh Deer

The castle, grounds and garden were lovely and there was lots of opportunity to wander and explore.




Then it was on to the festival itself.

The events on offer were a mixed bag with some considerably better than others. There were long queues for anything decent - the climbing wall (which disappeared after the first day), the Trinity College Makeshop, the bungee trampolines, even the bouncy castle - which were barely even up on the first day due to the wind and lack of staff. The magic and science shows were good, but the schedules kept changing so it was very much pot luck as to what you happened upon at any one time.








Free drinks at the lovely Vita Coco beach bar (non alcoholic of course)




Watching Knights of Leon with the rest of the audience

Since there wasn't enough to keep the kids occupied for the weekend in the festival grounds there was plenty of exploring of the area to be done. 



First up - a free rickshaw ride into town.



And then on to the beach

Poking Jellyfish on Malahide Strand

Sunrise at Malahide Marina

The festival had also organised free sailing and kayaking lessons - but they were sadly booked out before we called earlier that week. I also heard complaints that the complimentary transport to and from the site to the sailing school turned out to be non existent. 

Night times at the tent were cosy and fun. What kid doesn't love camping - especially when it involves a big bonfire and 'fire' twirlers. 



We had a really wonderful weekend, but the festival itself was a big disappointment. It is a great idea and has such potential - it was just badly organised and didn't live up to the promises it offered. The weather didn't really help either as it was mostly cold and cloudy - something no one can blame the organisers for. 

All in all I'm glad we did it. But I think it's safe to say we'll be booking the amazing Body and Soul next year instead. 

The weekend did give me one of my favourite photos of the year though - so all is forgiven!








Friday, August 15, 2014

Autumn Style Inspiration

Since part of my job includes rifling online through new season trends I've already started to look at what's hot and what's not for Autumn 2014.

Of course lots of the trends aren't exactly suitable for a school run dash on a rainy Wednesday - but there are still lots of exciting and wearable styles hitting the shops right now.

I've fallen hard for the new 'blanket' coats - I'm not quite sure I can pull it off but I'm sure as hell going to try. (No laughing at the back). The one below is top of the range and has been seen on the likes of Cara Delevinge, but the looky-likey cut price copies have started to hit the likes of New Look and ASOS already so keep an eye out!

Autumn also heralds the return of both boots and black. What's not to like?!


Autumn Style


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Want to look 10 years younger? Then consider teeth whitening.

Ever consider teeth whitening but been put off by the cost? Smile Brilliant may just be the answer....

They say whiter teeth make you look younger so when I was offered the chance to review Smile Brilliant's at-home teeth whitening kit I almost spilt my coffee over the keyboard in my haste to respond. (Actually it was my other vice - red wine. Can you tell how much I needed that kit?)

Naturally anything involving your teeth needs to be treated with caution and if you are considering at-home kits rather than getting your whitening done by your dentist you need to do your homework. As someone who lost a front tooth in a teenage BMX ramp accident (yes really) - believe me you don't want to go messing up your forever teeth.

Smile Brilliant have an excellent site full of information, advice and frequently asked questions.

Once I received the very professional kit through the post I was ready to get started.


The full kit contains pastes and trays to make up your dental impressions, which you then send away to be made into final whitening trays. Also included are whitening gel and pre-treatment de-sensitising gel, should you need it.



The impressions were extremely easy to do and were popped back in the post to Smile Brilliant the next day.



Once I received the perfect fitting finished trays back I started the treatment.

The whitening gel used by Smile Brilliant is 22% Carbamide Peroxide which would be on the highest scale of strengths used here. However levels of up to 44% are in fact available (though not recommended). 22% is strong enough to see rapid changes in a short period of time without causing major sensitivity issues. 

I once used the Crest Whitening Stripes which are available over the counter in the US and had to stop after two goes because of sensitivity issues. No such problem with the Smile Brilliant solution I'm pleased to report. 

Here's what Smile Brilliant have to say "Professional strength teeth whitening gel by Smile Brilliant is specially formulated with the highest quality standards. To obtain the fastest and most desirable whitening results, it is important to have a high quality, dentist grade product you can count on. Our proprietary "sticky gel" formula ensures even distribution and adhesion during your teeth whitening sessions. Our teeth whitening gel is guaranteed fresh and guaranteed to work! If you're not completely satisfied with your results, we'll refund your money!"

I began cautiously with one 20 minute session, then waited 2 days before the next 30 minute session. Then I upped it to 45 minutes. There were no sensitivity issues and I began to notice improvements almost immediately. 

The kit and company are extremely professional from start to finish and I really couldn't fault the entire service. Add to that the price - currently on offer at under $120 (€90 \ £70) - and it really is hard to beat. 

If you are considering this option do make sure you read through all the information first and if you feel it appropriate speak to your dentist before you take the plunge. 

Because one of my front teeth is an implant due to aforementioned biking accident I can only whiten the rest of them to the shade of that tooth (implants can't be bleached), so the difference may not be as pronounced as some - but it's totally up to you just how white you want to go. 

For me Smile Brilliant was a great solution. Do I look years 10 younger? Well....maybe 5!

Smile!







Brilliant!



Disclosure: I was sent the Smile Brilliant kit for the purposes of this review. The images above are real and taken by me, but different lights can cause different effects and it was hard to capture an exact replica in relation to both photos. The teeth are definitely whiter though!

Monday, August 11, 2014

'If you fail to prepare - prepare to fail.' And other good Triathlon advice.

I had two goals ahead of yesterday's dreaded triathlon. 1. Not to fall over. 2. Not to come last. I really should have added a third - To actually finish, but clearly I was being cocky at the time.

The morning of the race was full of nerves for me, honestly not knowing how it would all go. There's me looking small and frightened amongst the big boys at the race briefing:



And there's my brother looking more relaxed than anyone has a right to be before doing a triathlon - when you got in at 2am the night before.


A walk to the beach, some instructions I couldn't hear, and then we were off:

That's me in the yellow hat

There were a couple of lessons I learned over the course of the course:

Some people are unbelievably fit. Never underestimate the amount of training you need to do. I am really shit at cycling.

After a fairly good swim I watched athlete after athlete passing me on the cycle, but I actually felt pretty chuffed with myself at the time. 'I beat him in the swim' I murmured under my breath. 'And him.' 'And her' as they passed me by. These are ripped and toned bodies on expensive bikes with aerodynamic handle bars and painted on tri-suits. They deserved to be ahead of me.

But then the bikes started getting older, as did the people on them. The tri-suits became flapping t-shirts around ever broadening bodies. And still they passed me. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. I swear one of them had a newspaper under his arm and was whistling as he went by.

But I made it back. Eventually. I dumped my stupid-new-bike-that-didn't-make-me-go-any-faster and set out on the run. Meeting half the competitors coming back the other way was almost as demoralising as the cycle, but once I settled into the run I actually managed to claim a few places back. And so what if they were one legged grannies?

Anyway, I'm happy to say that I managed to tick off both of my goals and finished the race in 1:34mins. Not the greatest time in the world but crucially with no.2 goal in mind - not the worst.

Next year I'm planning on being much more prepared. You never know - I might even beat newspaper man.

All images: Alan Rowlette Photography

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