Day 45: So where now?

Well that’s the summer holidays over! And just like that it’s the beginning of autumn (my favourite season): children heading-off to school, beautiful light on the trees and the prospect of ever-cosier evenings by the fire. I really think it’s hard to beat.

So how was your summer? Did you get some time to yourself? A chance to rest? To do something new or take stock of a situation?

As with all goals, the stars don’t need to align before embarking on a project. Let’s not wait for Monday, for new year or for some other supposedly significant moment before we begin.

Sometimes I think we think everything has to be special or just right before we start something. The truth is that there is no better time than right now. The more we overcomplicate a situation the harder we make it for ourselves to succeed. We don’t need to change 100% of our lives to see improvement in one area. If you’re looking to lose some excess fat then adjust some of what you eat for some lower-calorie options and increase how much you move. If you want to become knowledgeable about something then set aside 15 minutes a day to research or read. If you want to work through a problem or deal with an emotional issue then put time aside with someone else to break it down and devise a plan to help you. The way we approach issues, the way we speak to ourselves and the things we prioritise or give time too all accumulate. Whether they have a positive or negative effect I believe, is very much down to us. 

I have been going through periods of anxiety of late and in the last while these have been accompanied with a recurring water infection or UTI. It’s been properly crap at times but I have noticed that the more I take a proactive approach and nurture myself the better I get. Talking about it has helped me too. When I let myself fester for too long or start imagining all the negative things that might happen I definitely get worse or at the very least don’t see an improvement.

Change doesn’t need to be a big extravagant affair. In fact the longest lasting change occurs through small, adjustments to our daily habits. I hope that somewhere over the last 2 months’ worth of blog posts that that has been apparent. 

So whilst it might have been good to get on board a mini movement over the summer to focus on your self care, what are you taking on into the autumn and beyond? It’s not just for the summer, it’s for all year-round. ❤️

Start with yourself. ❤️

Start with yourself. ❤️

Day 44: Simple pleasures

Take a moment to think through the low or no-cost pleasures in your life and see how long it’s been since the last time you enjoyed them. If it was a long time ago then see if you can build one or two into the remaining summer days ahead and if you like, let me know what your simple pleasures are!

Here are some of mine:

Coffee in complete peace

Eating breakfast outside

A new bar of soap

Walking & paddling on the beach

Time in the forest

Laughing hard

Music I love

My favourite soap.

My favourite soap.

Day 43: Joy thief

We’ve all heard the saying “comparison is the thief of joy”, right?! Today I am reflecting upon how true that statement is for me and why.

Never has the opportunity to compare ourselves to others been more available than now in the world of social media and mass media.

Whilst “upward social comparison” (initially coined as a concept by Leon Festinger in the 1950s) can be a driver for positive change; for instance seeing qualities in or achievements of others can spur someone on to reach his or her own goals or self development plans, it can also be extremely dangerous. 

At what point does watching the professionals, experts or celebrities actually become disheartening and demotivating and quite possibly, depressing? 

I don’t necessarily have an answer to this question as I would think there are so many factors at play here including personal circumstances, mental health, and relationships to name just a few. All of these things will be different for each person.

Professionals are just that because of commitment to a single thing. It is their life and work. I might watch professional weightlifters and aspire to be like them but without sounding defeatist, I won’t ever be like them. I’m not committed enough to it. I don’t do it for hours and hours, day in day out. It isn’t my life like it is for them. And do you know what?! That’s ok! Making that differentiation makes all the difference. Respecting and being inspired by an expert is good but we need to take that inspiration and make it relevant for ourselves in order to be motivated by it. That comes down to personal goals and how much we want something.

Just to complicate things we must also factor in “fake news” and veneers that are applied and then accepted as reality. Stories are conjured-up in the media to sell or promote people or products. Airbrushing and embellishing of photographs to give a more positive appearance all goes on but this is not always made explicit to the reader. This can leave us with an unrealistic target before we’ve even begun.

But perhaps we’re able to step away from the celebrities now and see it all for what it is. Take it with a pinch of salt and not have too unrealistic an expectation of ourselves? But what about the folk we follow on social media who aren’t famous? Maybe they’re acquaintances or friends of friends? Those people who we know well enough to be connected to but not so well that we know what’s really going for them? 

I think this is where the biggest problem lies.

People who we see to be similar to us but who appear to have more, do more, be more than us are where the true danger is at. In fact it’s not the people themselves that is the problem, it is how we perceive them to be.

When people post on social media, whilst it is used for many purposes, the large bulk of stuff on my feed is of people having positive experiences. Whether it’s a holiday, a party, a family member or a pet, people are keen to share something good about their day. Not many people post negative or less exciting things (I’ll not go into that now as I think it’s a separate topic) so when all we see of somebody is their high points we subconsciously start to form an opinion about someone’s life. We fill in the gaps based on what appears to be their life. We assume a lot about these folk we hardly know.

There is so much psychology that could be touched on here but I’m already verging on essay territory so I’m going to try to wind-up it now.

If you’ve got this far then well done and thank you for sticking with me 🤣 The point of this post is to reflect upon the assumptions we make about people we hardly know, to recognise that people use social media for different purposes that might if taken in isolation offer a very skewed view of what someone’s life might actually be about. To compare our day 1 with someone else’s day 100 is a ridiculous comparison to make. 

Remember that a photo is a snapshot in time and does not reflect the hopes and fears of a person. It just shows that on that particular day things were good or fun for them or certainly that they want us to believe that. However good someone else’s set-up might seem from the outside compared to our own, everyone has their own shit to deal with. Our own assumptions only harm ourselves and the worst thing of all is they are mostly inaccurate or only a mere sliver of the full picture! 

A moment on a sun lounger doesn’t sum-up a day, let alone a life!

A moment on a sun lounger doesn’t sum-up a day, let alone a life!

Day 42: Leftovers salad

Eating a healthy, balanced diet does not need to be expensive, labour-intensive or require much knowledge about cooking. 

There are so many cookbooks, magazines and social media feeds focusing on health that show complicated recipes using more exotic ingredients. Whilst it is nice to have the inspiration there to make something different we must not lose sight of the fact that healthy, nutritious food and the aim to have a healthy lifestyle does not depend on our ability to make these more expensive dishes. 

Fat loss, muscle development and improvements to health can be attained by eating more common and less expensive sources of protein, carbohydrates and fats. It is not necessary to buy the latest product or difficult-to-find grains and veggies. The humble potato, lean fish and meat, dairy products, rice and vegetables in all forms are great. You do not need to live on wheatgrass, quinoa and chia seeds to achieve good health. If you like those things, can afford them and enjoy cooking with them then great but my message is don’t write-off a healthy diet because for whatever reason the latest buzz foods aren’t attainable. A healthy diet can be achieved on a limited budget, with restricted time for food preparation and with little cookery knowledge.

This is a salad I made today for the family at lunch time. It was made of leftover vegetables, fruit, two chicken breasts, cheese and some pine nuts I had in the cupboard from a recipe some weeks ago. I made a dressing with a teaspoon of pesto from a jar in the fridge and some balsamic vinegar. It went down a treat!

public.jpeg

Day 41: Morning Pages

A friend recommended Morning Pages to me quite a long time ago as a way of helping me get into writing more frequently. If you’ve not heard of it before it is a tool from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

The idea is that each morning before you do anything else you sit and write three pages of whatever comes to you. You allow a stream of consciousness to flow from your brain through your pen and onto the page. It is not intended to be artistic or highly-styled. It is about allowing thoughts to flow and can be about anything and everything and perhaps even nothing at the same time.

I have never been a diary-keeper and I was hesitant to start this at first, however it became something I really loved doing and actually opened my eyes to so many different issues and thoughts going on inside of me.

Some mornings I wrote about my dreams and what I thought they meant to me. Some days it was about current affairs and things I’d read about in the news. My relationships and interactions with others came up, as did my hopes and fears for the future. I also wrote poetry, which was a truly special experience. I really did cover everything. 

So regardless of your intention behind it, why not try it out to see if it becomes something supportive to you? It’s very different to a diary or journal in so far as it seems to have so much more possibility about it. I can highly recommend it for so many reasons.

Morning Pages has been a brilliant addition to my toolkit.

Morning Pages has been a brilliant addition to my toolkit.

Day 40: Live music

Whatever your genre preference, live music is a powerful force. Last night my husband and I went to see the Foo Fighters in Belfast and it was a brilliant concert. Seeing talented, passionate people perform together is a privilege and such a mood booster.

Whether it’s an international rock band or a local musician, it doesn’t really matter. A partnership forged by Live Nation and research agency Culture Co-op documented trends and behaviors of 22,500 music fans between the ages of 13 and 65 in 11 different countries. The study concluded that live music helps make fans feel alive. 71% of respondents to the study agreed “the moments that give me the most life are live music experiences.” 

I’m already thinking about our next live music experience. What will yours be?

The Foo Fighters.

The Foo Fighters.

Day 39: Own it (I haven’t got time)

How often do you say to yourself or to others “I haven’t got time”? I found I would say it a lot more than it was probably a true and accurate reflection of the situation. 

Let’s face it, nobody likes to let anyone down and on the whole we don’t want to upset anybody either. “I haven’t got time” (or variations of this sentence) are usually half true in so far as we have busy lives and it can be difficult to juggle all the tasks and responsibilities. But how many times do we actually want to say instead, “I’ve only got a finite amount of time available and this is not a priority for me?” Whilst saying this could actually come across as rude or insulting in the first instance, we could also reflect upon the white lie being told and see that as rude and insulting too, no?!

How much better would it feel though to just say “I’m sorry I can’t make it” or “I’m afraid I can’t make time for that right now”? Saying, “I haven’t got time” is actually a bit of a cop-out but more importantly it subconsciously allows us to believe the story that we are victims to time itself rather than being able to manage it appropriately for ourselves and live within its limits.

Yes, we’ve got jobs to do, chores to work on, people dependent on us but we do have control over how we run our day, and how we prioritise the people and activities in our lives. 

This is not supposed to be a guilt-trip or a finger-wagging exercise, by the way. This is me reflecting on how liberating it is to be honest with ourselves about not wanting to do stuff. Of course, sometimes there are things we might do against our true desire to suit others or because our involvement is genuinely needed but I’m not talking about those things.

I am not saying we should all become less charitable and start being overly direct or harsh with others but rather when we’re going to say no to something, let’s not rush to blame time and instead feel empowered by our prioritisation and decision-making. If we want to do something but think that time doesn’t allow us, let’s check our priorities and ensure that the other things stopping us from doing the thing are well worth the sacrifice. 

And above all, at the very least, let’s stop telling ourselves stories about time alone being the reason why things are or aren’t happening. The things we really want to do usually get done. We just have to ask ourselves “how much do we want it?”

Time is not the enemy!

Time is not the enemy!

Day 38: Be kind...to yourself

What’s your inner self talk like? Do you tear strips off yourself or are you your biggest fan?

I know I’m very quick to refer to myself as “stupid” or an “idiot” when I make a mistake, do something accidentally around the house or forget something. I wouldn’t dream of saying that to anyone else! So why do I do it to me? I am also a bit of a worrier so I spend a lot of my self talk being concerned about things, running possible future issues through my mind or looking for risks to be aware of.

So with this in mind, Scott Trurow’s quote becomes all the more powerful: 

“Who are we but the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves and believe?”

What this says to me is I am what I chose to believe I am and the words with which I describe myself and the stories on which I focus are the foundations of who and what I become.

Connected to this is the concept of mantra. One definition from The Oxford Dictionary is “a statement of slogan that is repeated frequently.” Mantras can be used to embed or manifest information, so we become what we repeatedly tell ourselves we will become. Some people create personal mantras, which according to destinyodyssey.com is “an affirmation to motivate and inspire you to be your best self.... Its purpose is to provide motivation and encouragement to you when you need to focus your mind to achieve a goal.” 

The relationship we each have with ourselves is the deepest of all relationships that we have. The majority of conversations we have in our lives are in our heads, with ourselves!

So what do you say to yourself? Do you support yourself and buoy yourself up, put yourself down and convince yourself that things are terrible or perhaps you limit yourself and put obstacles in your own way? 

We can’t control the comments of others but we can control our own. The chats we have with ourselves are often the harshest and the most limiting words that we hear. And sadly, all too frequently we choose to believe them.

Have you stopped to consider how you talk to yourself? It could be interesting to reflect upon your words and style. Would you speak like that to a friend or loved one? How would you feel if you overheard someone speaking in the same way to someone else? Perhaps you might create your own personal mantra you repeat to yourself each morning to get yourself in a positive frame of mind? I’m going to give it a go and see how it affects me, my beliefs about myself and what I do.

What do you say to yourself when nobody’s listening?

What do you say to yourself when nobody’s listening?

Day 37: (Late) Mid-summer check-in

So we’re well over half-way through the school summer holidays here and the same goes for the #summerofselfcare How is it going? Are you managing to carve out some time for yourself? Have you made any small changes or tried something new that has felt beneficial?

Writing this blog is as much about my own self care as it is about seeking to share ideas. I believe that establishing a dialogue about caring for ourselves can be powerful and can be enough to start a positive movement of support and understanding.

I don’t sit here thinking I’ve got it all together and that everyone should be doing what I do. I like exploring different things and when I find things that work for me I want to talk about them. I don’t believe that doing all the things I post about is the answer to self care but I think that offering up suggestions and points for consideration can support others in establishing what self care means for them.

Some topics go deep, take for instance saying no, forgiveness and liberating ourselves from old thinking. Some are lighter touch, such as improving our snack choices, making more time to pamper ourselves or heading to bed earlier. Each area will have a different significance for each of us at different times in our lives. I am aiming to cover the breadth of this awesome topic by the end of the summer but will undoubtedly not catch everything.

I am hugely grateful to those of you who have taken time to comment and share and get in touch with me on the topics I’ve covered so far. It is a pleasure to interact with you and it’s a boost for me to know that people are engaging with my content and finding it helpful. Please get in touch if there are any areas you’d like me to include before the summer’s out. But in the meantime have a check back over the summer so far and consider what you’ve done for you and how it’s made you feel. Is there anything you still want to work on and what will you do over the next couple of weeks and beyond to keep self care at the heart of what you do?

Self care: Are you getting what you need?

Self care: Are you getting what you need?

Day 36: Small actions, big results

There are countless ways that we can make a difference to the state of our environment on both a local and global level.

It’s easy to think that we shouldn’t bother because what impact could little old us possibly have? However, some small acts performed by one person can have many positive repercussions not only by virtue of what they are but by setting a good example to friends, family and other generations, and becoming a springboard for future green activities. 

There has been a lot in the press about how unless we make enormous full scale changes that we’re not going to make enough of a difference but the following quote from Anne Marie Bonneau and the Zero Waste Chef gives me a little hope: “we don’t need a handful of people doing it perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.“

This restores my faith. I do believe that doing our bit will make a difference. For instance, purchasing patterns will communicate messages to big businesses and in turn could change how they make decisions about produce, products and packaging.

Just choosing a few products that have less packaging compared to our usual choices will immediately mean that there’s less plastic in the local area, less in landfill, less in binbags to be ripped apart in the street for the wind to blow rubbish away into natural habitats.

So outside of considering how we buy food, especially fruit and vegetables, what other small things can we do to make a difference? Why not consider investing in some of the following?

Washable & refillable coffee cups

Washable & refillable water cups & bottles

Reusable cutlery & straws for lunches on-the-go

Fold-away shopping bags

Mini refillable bottles for toiletries or soap bars.


I find I often have the intention but forget to take the item with me so devising a system or a reminder is going to be an action of mine. I’m going to put a note on the door or by the coat hooks to help me to remember to pack things for when I’m out and about. Keeping shopping bags in the car and a fold-away one in my bag so they’re always accessible could be a simple action that makes all the difference.

Growing your own can make a difference.

Growing your own can make a difference.

Day 35: Nutritious homemade treats

This is one of my go-to recipes for when I want something sweet but I also want to keep on top of my nutrition. They’re a great post-gym nite too!

The original recipe came from a supermarket magazine some years back but it was such a long time ago now I can’t recall which one it was. 

Ingredients

100g oats

100g peanut butter

50g honey

50g dried cranberries

Method

Melt the peanut butter and honey in a large pan over a gentle heat until fully combined.

Add the oats and dried cranberries and stir thoroughly until all completely mixed in.

Take small lumps from the mixture and roll into balls.

Place the balls on a tray and then pop in the fridge to firm-up.

These keep really well in a sealed tub or jar in the fridge. 

Why not add some spices or replace the  cranberries for another dried fruit? Or what about some melted dark chocolate drizzled over the top? Mmmmm.

Peanut butter & cranberry bites.

Peanut butter & cranberry bites.

Day 34: Slowcooker bone broth

Keeping with the theme of gut health from yesterday I thought I’d share my slowcooker bone broth recipe.

When bone broth started appearing everywhere I looked some time back I have to admit that I was extremely sceptical. “What is bone broth anyway?”, I thought to myself. “Surely it’s just stock? And we’ve been making that without a moment’s thought for forever?!”

So I did a bit of research to see if what had become a bit of a fad or buzz word was really all it was cracked-up to be...

I used bonappetit.com to help me understand the difference between a broth, a stock and a bone broth. Here’s a very quick summary:

Broth

Meat cooked in water for a short-medium length of time, producing a thinner consistency liquid.

Stock

Meat-stripped bones cooked in water for a medium length of time.

Bone broth

Stock cooked for a much longer time, also using meat-stripped bones, producing a thicker consistency where the collagen-rich gelatin has leeched out of the cartilage and bones. It is this that is heralded as being good for our skin, hair, nails and gut health.

Whilst they are all variations on a theme, the bone broth claims to offer greater health benefits. 

So where the thought of having to be near the hob for several hours is really very off-putting for me I did a little digging and have crafted a very lazy slowcooker version. 

Ingredients

Carcass & any unwanted parts of the slowcooked chicken

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

2 carrots, chopped into chunks

2 celery sticks, chopped into thick batons

1 small onion, roughly chopped

Piece of fresh ginger (for its anti-inflammatory benefits & because it’s tasty)

Boiling water to cover the ingredients.

Method

After cooking a whole chicken in the slowcooker remove the meat from the bones and leave all unwanted bones, skin and juices in the crockpot.

Add the vinegar and stir, allowing a few minutes before adding the remaining ingredients.

Don’t peel the carrots or ginger but roughly chop everything and add to the pot.

Cover the ingredients with freshly boiled water, pop on the lid and turn the slowcooker to high and allow to cook for a few hours. 

If you have a muslin or fine cloth then line a colander and sit it over a large bowl in order to drain the bone broth. I use a sieve on top of a colander to ensure the broth is clear and golden.

It should set in the fridge like a jelly with a fat layer on top. It doesn’t look particularly nice but see past that to all the deliciousness inside. You can add it to soups, stews, ragouts, curries and even just drink it as it is (warmed-up of course! 🤣) If you pour it into several smaller sealable jars the bone broth should keep for a couple of weeks, sealed by the fat layer on top. If you put it all into one larger tub then you may only get a few days from it. It freezes well too though.

Bone broth with stir fried vegetables.

Bone broth with stir fried vegetables.

Day 33: Gut health

We read and hear a lot about it these days and rightly so, the health of our gut influences a great many elements of our overall health and wellbeing. 

The balance of our gut microbiome has a direct impact on key bodily functions and systems. Digestion, mood, immune system, weight, blood sugar, cholesterol, inflammation and blood pressure are all impacted by the balance of “good and bad bacteria” in our intestine.

Research suggests that gut bacteria affect our brain health too, so by positively changing our gut bacteria balance we may actually be able to improve our brain health.

Not only do we know more about the power of a healthy gut from research conducted but this information actually has a great deal more relevance to us these days. With increased use of antibiotics (which aren’t good for the balance of our gut bacteria) and increased accessibility of processed and high sugar foods, our diets include more items that fuel the bad bacteria and reduce the good bacteria that help to keep us healthy. According to healthline.com, “a diet high in processed foods and added sugars can decrease the amount of good bacteria in the gut.”

There are a lot of pre and probiotics for sale to assist with the development and maintenance of a healthy gut but these do come at a price and with varying levels of quality. I’m not an expert so cannot recommend which are the ones worth seeking out, however, as with vitamins and minerals it is usually best to aim to get our quota through our food wherever we can. Did you know that there are a lot of natural pre and probiotics that you probably already eat or can easily include in your diet?

Probiotics

These are live microorganisms that have health benefits once consumed. They are usually beneficial bacteria that can provide benefits to the body and brain.

Some probiotics have even been shown to improve symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.

Probiotics in the following (but not limited to):

  • Yoghurt

  • Kefir (Milk & water-based)

  • Sauerkraut

  • Kimchi & fermented vegetables

  • Sourdough bread

  • Miso

  • Kombucha

  • Pickles

  • Some cheese, including Gouda, mozzarella, cheddar and cottage cheese.

Prebiotics

These are types of dietary fibre that feed the friendly bacteria in our gut.

Prebiotics in the following (but not limited to): 

  • Dandelion Greens

  • Jerusalem Artichoke

  • Garlic

  • Onion

  • Leeks

  • Asparagus

  • Underripe bananas

  • Mango.

So if you think your gut could do with a boost why not have a look at these lists and see where you could up your intake of tummy health-promoting foods?!

Homemade fermented veggies 🤗💚

Homemade fermented veggies 🤗💚

Day 32: Green fingers

I’ve already posted about the health benefits of being out in green space but did you know that gardening is also supposed to be a great healer?

According to eartheasy.com gardening can have positive effects on stress, self-esteem, heart health, hand strength and dexterity, brain health, immunity regulation, depression and mental health. 

I know for sure that time spent in the garden relaxes me and helps me find a sense of calm in my day. Light gardening and nurturing of plants is gentle exercise and evoke a sense of gratitude within me, which are real mood boosters.

Heavier garden work can be a great workout and a real opportunity to be mindful and present in the moment. That said, unless you are keen on outdoor work, it may not be your idea of a fun way to spend the afternoon 😉. 

Still, I’ve got big plans to get back in the garden and 2020 is most definitely going to be the year of the garden for me. In the meantime I’m going to incorporate short bursts of weeding and tidying into my week to get my fill of fresh air and earthly nourishment. 

Out in the garden. 

Out in the garden. 

Day 31: Lagom

When my friend Ciara thrust a book about hygge into my hands some years ago and said, “read this, you’ll love it!”, she most definitely had me figured out! I fell in love with the concept right there and then and have tried to build many elements of the multi-faceted Scandinavian cultural principle into my life ever since. I ran a 1-day workshop on it a while back to share my interest with others and help people find ways of  incorporating it into their lives too.

But if hygge wasn’t already great enough, I then discovered Lagom. As my blog topic for the season is self care I think it’s pretty fitting to introduce Lagom into the mix.

According to Linnea Dunne, Lagom can be summed-up as “the Swedish art of balanced living”. Much like hygge, it cannot be translated into the English language in one word but basically means “just enough”, so not too much, nor too little. It can be applied to all aspects of life and is hailed as a key factor in the success and happiness of the Swedish nation. 

Applying it to food, work or money is pretty straight forward but the real beauty of it lies in its application to situations, community and society as a whole where balancing acts are performed, fair exchanges made and codes respected and rarely abused.

It makes me reflect on the fantastic Wilde quote I used earlier in the summer about moderation. Lagom embraces the Friday night treats and weekend late nights in order to balance out the healthy eating and sensible bedtimes of the week. It looks at both sides of the coin and honours them with appropriate measure. 

“If you know what’s just enough, why go overboard?”

This quote really resonates with me, particularly in relation to habits I’d like to stop. To me it says, “don’t stop having the treats or staying up late, just don’t do it all the time!” I can apply it to so many other parts of my life and I find it really helpful.

The benefits of Lagom are listed in Dunne’s book and include the following:

Improved physical space as a result of more conscious consumption and therefore less clutter;

Improved mental space due to taking a step back, observing a work life balance and being present in the moment;

Improved finances as a result of consuming in line with needs, with the planet in mind and by being thrifty;

Improved connection to community through shared responsibilities.

It’s hard to find anything not to like about it really. 

Are there ways in which Lagom already features in your life? If you’re interested to read more I can highly recommend Linnea Dunne’s book. It also makes a lovely gift. 

Lagom your life! This is a great read. 

Lagom your life! This is a great read. 

Day 30: 10 tips for a blissful bathtime

Ok, so I waited until 30 days in before I mentioned bubble baths! 😉 When I first started The Woman Next Door I sold a variety of homemade products, including hand scrubs, body oils, bath salts and bath tea bags all made with natural ingredients. I thought I’d share my top 10 tips to make bathtime a little more luxurious without forking out a fortune or adding unnecessary unpronounceable additives to your bath.

Milk: Well it was good enough for Cleopatra, right?! Rather than donkey milk though, why not add some oat milk to your bath water? Not only do the natural oils in oats have moisturising properties but they have skin soothing benefits too!

Flowers: Just making a bath look luxurious or special can give us a greater sense of taking care of ourselves. Adding the heads of some fresh flowers or a handful of dried flowers (I particularly like lavender and rose petals) can make the bath look really pretty and also add a natural scent to the water.

Essential oils: I find their scent alone so powerful. Adding just a few drops of your favourite essential oil to the running water as you fill the bath not only scents the water and offers you all the wonderful properties that your chosen oil gives but it fills the air of the bathroom with a spa-like aroma that can transport you to another place. My favourites are peppermint, eucalyptus and ylang ylang.

Oils: Apricot kernel oil and coconut oil are lovely things to add to a bath. You don’t need much and the coconut oil also adds its gorgeous scent. 2 things to note though, whilst oils offer moisturising properties they also make baths and feet slippy and can leave a bit of a cleaning job behind so beware!

Seaweed: We’re lucky enough to live by the sea so grabbing a few handfuls of seaweed to bring home is relatively easy for us. Seaweed has stress-relieving properties and can help with skin conditions and irritations. I just love the calming smell of the sea too. But if you don’t fancy bringing the sea home then Sea Haven do fantastic seaweed baths at the harbour in Ballycastle. 

Epsom salts: It is claimed that these have muscle relaxant properties so are great for aches and pains and post-workout. Usually available in chemists but you can buy large bags online very reasonably.

Sea salt: Salt has the power to heal and soothe and even just a couple of tablespoons can add to the benefits of your bath.

Bicarbonate of soda: I included this in my bath salts as it has skin soothing properties that can help with irritations and skin complaints.

Simple bath salt recipe: 3 tbsp Epsom salts, 2 tbsp sea salt, 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda, 4 drops of essential oil of choice, handful of dried flowers.

Bath teabag recipe: To make a small jar of mixture mix 2 cups of fine oatmeal with a handful of dried flowers and several drops of your favourite essential oil. This keeps for a couple of weeks in a cool, dark place. Use the small bouquet garni muslin bags you can buy for cooking to make your teabag. Fill the bag with some mixture then ensure it sits under the flow of the tap water so it starts to infuse before you get into the bath.

Baths that are pretty AND good for us. 

Baths that are pretty AND good for us. 

Day 29: Speak your truth

I’ve been toying with this topic for a couple of weeks now but a brilliant meeting I had this morning with a super woman brought it back around to the front of my mind. We had been introduced by a mutual friend who believed there were some synergies between what we both do and are looking to do in the future. She wasn’t wrong!

As we chatted about our work and life’s twists and turns I found myself talking about how I’ve come full circle with The Woman Next Door.

You’ve maybe heard me say before that I never set out to become a jam maker - I refer to it as a happy accident. When I established the blog, initially just on Facebook, it was intended to be a food and lifestyle blog: a channel for me to share my passions, namely food, gardening, health and fitness.

The jam making became an exciting plot twist that has allowed me to work with hundreds of wonderful people and interesting businesses. The creativity and effort I have literally poured into the jars over the years has been significant. The support from private and commercial customers alike has been at times overwhelming. I look back on all the small achievements with pride and recognise how they have opened up so many doors to me and my friendship and professional networks.

But in the last 12-18 months during which I have returned to a greater focus on health, both in the events and activities I have participated in and the blog posts I have written, I recognise that I’m coming full circle. Here I am, back where I began, wanting to share my passion in health and wellbeing and this time wanting to actively take it one step further to actually support others in their own journey to good health.

The development of Women’s Wellbeing that was initiated by Jenny Morris of Wise Sole Reflexology has provided me with another platform to talk about the importance of moving and fuelling our bodies and minds to greater health and wellness. I am excited about what we might achieve with this group. Initial feedback from our first 2 events and from the content we are developing on social media has been really positive. There is work for us to do!

I am now pouring so much of myself into my nutrition training too. It is so interesting and I’m loving getting into the detail. Things are really feeling like they’re fitting together in so many ways.

I do reflect upon the jam detour of the last few years and wonder how it happened, especially when I have now come back to a point where I’m keeping it small and limited to very few outlets. It wasn’t my plan at the outset but I’m so glad that I took the opportunity as I did. It has been a big part of my journey but now it needs to play a smaller role to allow me to focus on what is truly inspiring and meaningful to me. Letting go of it feels strange as there is so much of me in the products but I have a more pressing purpose that I need to pursue and I feel as though it’s all coming together just as it’s supposed to.

What truths do you need to speak? Are you being true to how you feel and what is right for you at this time? What needs to shift to enable you to speak your truth?

📸 Islander Visual

📸 Islander Visual

Day 28: Pear & apricot flapjacks

These are a healthier take on the traditional flapjack as the recipe does not include butter or sugar. This is my version of a recipe that I regularly make from a lovely book by Dale Pinnock, The Medicinal Chef. His recipe uses apple, cranberries, cinnamon and pumpkin seeds. This version was born when I wanted to make the recipe but had to improvise with what I had in the cupboard!

There is enough to make 2 x 20cm square trays of flapjacks in the recipe below. They’re so tasty that 1 batch just isn’t really enough. They’re great for lunchboxes, post-gym fuelling, tea breaks and even breakfasts. They are full of great nutrients that can boost digestive and circulatory processes too. 

Ingredients

4 tbsp coconut oil

2 tbsp honey

4 pears, cored

360g oats

4 tsp mixed spice

2 tbsp dried, chopped apricots

2 tbsp mixed seeds of choice 

Method

Gently melt the coconut oil and honey together in a large pan.

Whizz-up the pears in a food processor, smoothie maker or with a stick blender until they resemble apple sauce consistency.

Stir the puréed pear into the oil and honey mixture. 

Once combined stir-in the oats, mixed spice, apricots and seeds until the wet and dry ingredients are completely mixed together.

Press the mixture into the 2 tins that have been greased and lined as required. Then bake in the oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes or until they are brown on top. 

Allow to cool before removing from the trays and slicing. 

Pear & apricot flapjacks.

Pear & apricot flapjacks.

Day 27: A summer read

We’re almost half-way through the school summer holidays here. Perhaps you’ve already got through a few books? Our children certainly have as they’re participating in the library’s Big summer read again.

I tend to read non-fiction, mostly health and wellbeing-related. That said, when I do settle down to a novel I really get hooked and love the escape it offers me.

I found a Reader’s Digest article online that discussed a fascinating study conducted in 2016 by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health. They reviewed 12 years of data about the reading habits and health of more than 3,600 men and women over the age of 50. They discovered that people who read books of any genre for as little as 30 minutes a day over several years were living an average of 2 years longer than people who didn’t read anything at all. The research also went on to conclude that between 2001 and 2012 the readers of that group reporting more than 3 hours of reading each week were 23 percent less likely to die than their peers who read only newspapers or magazines. 

As with all studies they are open to interpretation but it certainly gives me food for thought.

Many of the books I choose because there is something in them that I want to know or learn. I guess my aim for reading is often self-development. A friend of mine recently said that she’d started reading again for the first time after having children (her children are a similar age to ours) and she was thrilled to be reunited with that sense of escapism that reading for pleasure was giving her. I’m about to start Michelle Obama’s autobiography. It was a birthday gift from my husband. I’ll let you know how I get on but I am already excited at the prospect of reading purely for pleasure and no other reason!

My summer read.

My summer read.

Day 26: What type of laugh do you have?

Mine’s a cackle! 🤣🧙🏼‍♀️But how good does it feel to have a really big belly laugh?! Many say that a sense of humour is one of the factors that sets us apart from other species and makes us human. It is certainly quite hard to beat the feeling of the giggles taking over - genuine mindfulness when our whole body senses and reacts to something in the present moment.

I love the different types of humour or comedy that exist. Some tickle me more than others but it’s such an exciting and expressive art form. Without doubt it is the genre of entertainment that I consume the most on television. 

According to research conducted by helpguide laughter can boost immunity, reduce anxiety and tension and strengthen relationships, among many other things. There are some interesting facts and tips for introducing more humour into your day at the following link https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm

For now though I’m going to ensure I watch and read some more comedy during my week to see how it impacts me and my health. If you decide to try it too let me know how you get on. 

Laughter is the best medicine. 😂

Laughter is the best medicine. 😂