Dressing the kids for Christmas with M&S | Life Lately

For my regular collaboration with Marks & Spencer, I'm featuring kids clothes - for a change. Though as you know, it won't feature my actual kids...just flat lays. I know you understand this - I've pretty strong views on kids on blogs and most brands are not interested in working with me for this reason. But M&S don't have an issue with it and I greatly appreciate that they respect my views.

Starting with the almost 15 year old and any of you who have kids this age will appreciate the difficulty dressing them. So I was amazed that he found an outfit that he loved (and has worn twice already).
The chinos are a good slim leg fit and he's wearing Age 14-15. He's teaming them with a navy moss stitch knit which he got an age 12-13 in as it was quite oversized in the bigger size. There's lovely detail on both - particularly like the navy trim on the turn ups of the chinos.
Shoes wise, he had to go to the men's section...frustrating as men's shoes are generally more expensive but these suede boots are just £35. He also put some of his own money towards this yellow puffa style jacket as he loved it. It's an age 14-15.
It's mind boggling to see him order a coat in age 14 and men's shoes in a size 10!!!

Next up the twins did what twins do so well - pick something COMPLETELY different to each other! The older girl chose this black floral playsuit. She will usually only wear black leggings for me so this was a welcome departure. She added 60D opaque tights and some black ankle boots with a zip and croc effect detail.
Size wise, the playsuit comes up small so definitely size up - I got her the 10-11. She's tall but slight and needs every bit of it and she's one just turned 10.
My other daughter is a real texture girl - she loves fur, sequins and velvet and this outfit combines all three!
The boots are particularly lovely with their glitter perfect for Christmas! I bought her sequin shorts last year too and she wore them endlessly - daytime or springtime, she's always happy to have a bit of sparkle.
Not wanting to be left out and I should say, at my own cost, I added this dress to the order - which I've already worn to a Christmas lunch with my Field Day friends. It's a perfect buffet dress (see Susie's post here for an explanation of that!) and the lovely mix of colours make it so wearable. I also love that it's not leopard but it's got that animal vibe going on. 
Boots & Jacket - both preloved

Life Lately....
I've not been on here much over the past month - a combination of Christmas approaching and work means I've had less time to blog. But I'll be back in the swing of it again in the New Year as I've got more regular hours in work and fewer parties/events to go to. The job is still going well though my project is likely to come to an end in January. I'm not sure if I'll be kept on but hopefully they will find another project to keep me busy! 
I'm hosting Christmas this year and I can't lie - I'm a bit anxious. I know I have no need to be but I can't help it. I've a tendency to forget things and I'm making lists galore to ensure I've everything here for the 12 people I'm feeding on Tuesday. If you're also cooking for many this Christmas Day, I will gladly take all the hints and tips you have!

I guess all that's left for me to say is a massive THANK YOU for reading, watching, following and commenting. I know not as many people read the actual blog anymore but I won't ever let it go - there are still many thousands of you here every week and I appreciate you dropping by. I've always struggled with Instagram and the competition that you face on there, both from the millions of other accounts vying for your attention and the feeling that you might not be quite achieving & succeeding as well as others. So this space will remain - no pressure and hopefully a place where you find inspiration and an escape from day to day.

Have a wonderful Christmas and every good wish for 2019 my blogging friends,

Avril x
Disclaimer - I was not paid to write this post but was supplied with vouchers to purchase some (but not all) of what I've featured. My links are affiliate links which means M&S know you came to their website from my blog and they may pay me a tiny commission if you purchase and keep anything after you click the links. This doesn't change the price of the item for you and the modest income I make from these links helps to cover some of the costs of this website - so thank you!


Daily Moisturisers for Older Skin | Beauty

This beauty post was supposed to be about foundations...I was so close to clicking on publish but when I mentioned foundations on Instagram the other week, one brand kept coming up that lots of you were urging me to try. So I felt I should try it and hold off on the foundation blog until I had. I’ll report back soon so for now, I am tackling another beauty must have that I get asked about all the time - a really good daily moisturiser

I’m very loyal to Epionce. I've used the products for more than 3 years and have blogged about them before on this link. Nothing has changed there - I still love the brand but I’m lucky to be given the opportunity to try other brands and that’s good. Because not every brand/price point/texture is going to suit everyone. Skincare is so subjective-you have to try lots before you find the one you love. So as a blogger, it’s important I keep scouring the market and testing different brands. Even if I do always go back to Epionce.

And when I say test, I really do test them. At least for a few weeks but mostly for months, under make up/at nighttime/alongside other brands & products. So the two I’m featuring here have been ones I’ve tested over the past year. Beauty PR’s don’t like me for that reason-I take too long to review. But I don’t blog for PR’s and I won’t rush beauty posts!
Starting with Clarins and their Extra Firming Day Cream - SPF 15 - pictured above.
Now I’m the biggest advocate for the Clarins Double Serum:
I’ve been using it for about 2 and a half years and I’m only on my 3rd bottle. It’s pricey but worth every penny because it has definitely improved my skin since I started using it. I’m also never without my Clarins Instant Eye Make Up Remover. Amazing product...constant repurchase for me. 

But this day cream wasn’t for me - for a premium product retailing at £58, it didn’t wow me. I didn't like the smell or the texture and I found that my skin was wanting more. Also my make up didn’t sit well on top of it - I even bought a primer thinking that would help but it was the cream that was the problem. So I’ll not be repurchasing-all my Clarins dollah will go on the serum instead.

It's interesting that when I got the link above from the Clarins site (after I wrote my review), I saw it's having awful reviews on there too. Looks like it might be another discontinue for them soon (they're lethal for discontinuing stuff in Clarins!!).

Next up, it’s Esthederm. A brand I’d not heard of but when I researched more, I liked what I read. French, established for almost 40 years and it seemed like one of those brands that those gorgeous youthful looking French women were keeping to themselves.
So for the past few months, I’ve been using Institut Esthederm Cellular Water Cream - and it was like night and day going from the Clarins to it. It’s beautiful to use - really light but deeply moisturising and it leaves my skin so soft. And my makeup sits perfectly on it - an absolute pleasure to use and I look forward to applying it every morning! Works well with the Clarins serum too, which is important.

All told, it’s a lot of lovely face cream for £39 in a world full of £60 and £70 products. It’s not cheap cheap but I say it over and over, you get what you pay for when it comes to your face in your forties. Invest as much as you can in your day cream and it will pay dividends for you in the future.

I should say that throughout all of the tests above, I continued to use Epionce Lytic TX.
Forget your retinols, this is the gentle & effective way to treat skin imperfections. I don't know enough about the science behind it but I know it's clinically proven and has so many 5 star reviews online. I can't be without it.

It should be used with the Epionce Renewal Cream and that's what I do when I'm not testing others. It's truly amazing stuff.
But you know what, it's great to break the routine now and again. It's almost like your skin gets used to the same products constantly.  Or maybe Epionce just feels amazing after a break because my skin has deteriorated in the interim? Who knows - but if you have a Woodford Clinic near you  (they're not just in Belfast!) or a beauty salon that uses Epionce, go and explore. I buy mine in the Woodford Clinic on the Lisburn Road and Kerry there is an amazing woman. Well worth a visit if you're local.

And there you go - three of the day creams I've been using over the past 6-12 months and hopefully this answers the frequent questions I get about this part of my beauty regime. Next up - foundations!



#FridayRetailTherapy | Dunnes Stores

Back with a Friday Retail Therapy after a little break. My phone is full of pictures to share every week but I don't always get the time to write up a post. But this week I was determined to get a post up about Dunnes because I was blown away by their current offering when I popped in for a quick visit earlier this week.

When I was growing up, Dunnes was where we went for groceries and basics - underwear, school uniforms etc. It was known for being good value and a bit better quality than Penneys/Primark - it definitely wasn't recognised as being a particularly fashion forward store. It's fair to say that in recent years, it's struggled to find its place in a busy supermarket fashion space with the likes of Tesco and Lidl extending their clothing range so a couple of years ago, there was a massive investment put into some of their flagship stores turning them into something more akin to a department store, with dedicated brand areas and designer collaborations, including Paul Costello and Lennon Courtney.

My local Dunnes in Forestside was one of those flagships and every time I visit I'm always so impressed with the merchandising and the quirky and beautiful pieces. Look at the beautiful display that currently greets you at the door:
What I love is that none of this top notch merchandising has come at the expense of the staples they do so well like tights and underwear.  It's still my shop of choice for basics. But I'll not bore you with big knickers and flesh coloured tights...instead here are some pieces that you'll want to show off starting with these on trend pumps from designer collaboration Carolyn Donnelly, of Quin & Donnelly fame - remember Q&D? I LOVED them!
Red leopard is all over the high street this season - a Christmassy version of traditional animal print. This dress is from Savida but it's not showing online:
Also Savida, this is THEE Christmas jumper for discerning fashionistas:
This Chanel inspired boucle bag caught my eye:
Perfect stocking fillers - a leopard purse and red cashmere gloves:
Also loved this red collarless coat:
This orange dress is one you'd have to try on - it's the most gorgeous colour and look at that sleeve detail. There's a great model photo on the website - link below:
Also Lennon Courtney, this black based print dress has the most gorgeous print - beautifully made too with lovely detail:
Moving to the Gallery range and I was tipped off about this next snakeskin dress - it's not unlike the M&S one with a black stripe down the side and an elasticated waist:
My eye was drawn to accessories all over the shop - just look at this embellished clutch:
Staying on a blue theme, this blue shirt dress is stunning:

Here's the snakeskin dress in a different colour way:
These boots caught my eye - knee length is making a come back again and the elastic in these means they will fit all sizes of calves - the biggest headache for longer boot wearers:
I'm always asked about where to get great leopard heels and scarves and right now, Dunnes have both. These shoes are great because the leopard print is black based, making them more wearable. I avoid brown based ones as I find you'll wear them less often. Great heel height here too - sadly not online:
This scarf is an amazing buy - a great size, cosy and leopard. What's not to love....only the fact that it's not showing online:(
And if you can't decide between leopard and snakeskin, how about a dress with a bit of both?
Back to Savida and on a similar colour palate, this cream jumper has the most gorgeous embellishment - another classy Christmas jumper option:
A curveball here with a bright yellow dress which would take you right through to spring summer too. But for winter, add some opaque tights and a blazer and make a statement on your Christmas night out!
The embellishment theme continues in Savida with this mermaid inspired top to bling up your blue jeans:
but if sequins are not your thing, how about ruffles and pearls in a stunning shade of pink:
And finishing with a fab throw it on dress for this time of year. It's a boucle shift style dress with a waist cinching tie and a subtle sparkle. Add some body blur and blingy heels for a night out, add a black roll neck and ankle boots for a cosy Christmas Day outfit or add tights, court shoes and a white shirt for work:
And there you go - that's just a tiny proportion of the gorgeous womenswear section...I only wished I'd had time to try on. As for the homewares and kids....two separate blog posts required there! Hope you enjoyed the round up. I've linked where I can - the entire range is not online and I should say at this stage that I've no relationship with Dunnes, I wasn't invited in store and none of my links are affiliate links.

Have a great weekend! 



Life Lately | Back in the Workplace

(not my office...but let's pretend)
My poor neglected blog - I have missed it so much! I've had a head full of content and no time to write so I'm hoping that a quieter couple of days this weekend will allow me to catch up a little bit. 
But I thought I should share a life lately post as it's been so long since I blogged. How is is December tomorrow? 

November ended up being a month where I prioritised a return to the workplace. I was offered a temporary contract until the end of the month to deliver an event for a local company. It meant that the couple of weeks leading up to the event last week were beyond hectic but it was also a couple of the most empowering weeks I've had in a long time. 

I've talked about returning to the workplace in previous blog posts. Thanks to blogging, I've written content and worked with brands throughout the past 8 years, so in theory I've been 'employed', keeping my social media and content skills fairly current. However, I always wanted to return to doing the kind of work I did before I became a full time mum (internal communications / employee engagement) but every time a role came up and I enquired, I was told my experience in that field wasn't current enough.

So it's fair to say that the company I've been working with took a leap of faith in one way by bringing me in to deliver this internal comms project but isn't it the reality with most jobs that it's all about people skills - more than technical skills. It was as if I'd never had that break - I was back into the groove within a few days. Because if you had the skills in the first place, it doesn't matter that you took 9 years out to have your kids. 

In a labour market that frequently struggles to get quality candidates for roles, why is this not appreciated? Why do the essential criteria in so many cases demand 'recent' experience or qualifications, sometimes in courses that weren't even invented 5 or 6 years ago. 
It instantly excludes men and women who take time out to be the main caregivers at home. Yet, we make pretty amazing employees - highly engaged, masses of life experience and resilience (we've had years of functioning on little or no sleep) and Olympic level multi-tasking skills. We have the very real fear of expensive teenagers and college fees and we're not ever (EVER!) going to take maternity leave again. In fact, work is where we want to be - to escape the hormones and endless food requirements of our children.

In a criteria driven recruitment space, attitude, ability, life skills and personality are pretty much disregarded. It's all in an effort to standardise the application process and ensure fairness but I think it does the opposite. You end up interviewing a ton of people with lots of the same easy to measure criteria and it's all about who answers the same set of questions using the words you are looking to hear as an interviewer. A skill in itself but not necessarily an indication of whether you'll be any good in the job.

I think it's why smaller companies and start ups are so agile and forward thinking - they're willing to look outside set criteria and tend to recruit for attitude, train for skill.

All told, I'm endlessly grateful that this local company took a punt on me and they must think I'm ok because they're keeping me on for another chunk of work. The feedback was really positive from the event I delivered and the associated work I've been doing on their strategy. I realised I have this - I CAN do this. I never couldn't - I was just fortunate enough to be able to take a childcare break.

And that's where I am in my Life Lately. I've (for the short term but hopefully for longer) achieved what I set out to do in my Blog Detox process - created a decent income outside of the blog space. An income I can feel proud of earning because it's not based entirely around encouraging consumerism and meeting brand guidelines in a brief. 

Will I keep on blogging? Yes - definitely.  My blog is like a child to me and I'm so proud of it. I love that it's a mix of my own content and brands that I love to work with - who don't force me to write what they want, who can't always pay me but that's ok because they're local or just amazing brands that I love. The important bit is that it's content that I want to write, written when I am able to write it and without prior approval from anyone! 

This has become a longer post than I intended...there's been more going on with me lately apart from work and more to come in the next few weeks but I'll be here all night if I keep typing. As always, I'm over on Instagram most days - watch out for a wee Christmas shopping day in Bangor on Monday with my blog husband Jeff from Belfast Times.

For now, I'll sign off and get back to my other posts I've got on the to do list. I've a couple of beauty posts and one about blogging FAQ's. I've also a M&S post in the pipeline and another non fashion one that many of you will relate too. I'll be back very soon...



Must Have Essentials for AW18 - Coats

I'm writing this with trepidation as I have a weakness for coats but it's my most requested 'must have' post and I knew I'd enjoy compiling it so let's go. It helps that I got an email this morning telling me there's up to £50 off Coats and Boots at Hobbs - 2 of my favourite coats are from here and they're most definitely investment items so every bit of discount counts. But I've mixed them in with a whole range of price points over the 5 main coat types. If you're a coat addict like me, you'll have one from each category. Don't judge. Starting with a classic wool mix crombie style coat:

1. Crombie Style Wool
An absolute classic that I think is best bought in Black or Camel. Some people like navy as a basic but I find I don't wear my navy one anywhere near as often as my black or camel.
Starting with the best I've seen out there at this price point. It's a great colour too, especially if your'e not too keen on the super warm caramel tones that some camel coats come in:
Investment time and I have the Hobbs Tilda coat in black and it's just amazing. I'll have it for life. It comes in forest green, camel and red too. £50 off for a limited time.
Mango is a great source for coats and they feature lots here. This wool mix coat is a lovely classic cut with some nice detail including a button detail on the rear vent.

2. Mac/Trench Style
I've said before on here that I have a Karen Millen trench coat I bought about 12 years ago and I wear it every year. It just never goes out of fashion. I've a few different price points here starting with this beauty from Oasis:
Back to Mango for a shorter style:
And a curveball one from Hobbs - I tried this on recently and it's surprisingly neutral. A little more grey-toned in real life. Stunning fit and a lifetime kind of coat. It's part of the £50 offer too at the moment:

3. Parka
Next up, a parka and my faithful Warehouse one comes out year after year. It makes me want to invest in this Hush one - looks so great...
This next next one is Oasis and I'm liking the grey colour and grey faux fur:
Finishing with a more traditional cut and colour from Wallis:

4. Puffa Coat
The essential sports supporting mum coat - my puffa is never off my back once the hockey training returns in September each year. Nothing keeps me warm like it does. This Warehouse one is a little longer in length and just a bit more on-trend I think:
Mango have a great range too - this shorter black one has a lovely shape to it with its nipped in waist:
And a not black one from Oasis - can't beat a bit of grey!

5. Statement Coat
And finishing with the Statement Coat - the one you throw on when your outfit is a bit safe and you want your coat to do the talking. This M&S one has to be top of the list - I have it in the purple but look at this yellow colour...(and that skirt)
No coat addict's wardrobe would be complete without a leopard print coat. Mine's from Topshop (via eBay) but this Oasis one is a great example and is reduced at the moment too:
And a faux fur or teddy coat is the other great statement coat of the season. I'm not a massive fan I have to say - I've never found one that works on me but I love them on other people...always so huggable!

I have to finish by saying that coats are one of the best things to source in Charity shops and on eBay. About a third of my coats are preloved - so do keep an eye out for a bargain via those channels. Search for brands like Hobbs, LK Bennet, Boden and Jaeger for the best of the preloved coats.

Wish I had an outfit to finish on but I wore gym gear all day today...the glamour! Back soon with a make up post - the search for the perfect foundation...
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