Marie Louise McConville: New York trip helps take the sting out of big birthday bite
So, there we have it - it's all over and done with - and now I'm officially middle-aged.
I feel like overnight, my hair has turned grey, age spots have appeared and my joints are aching - it's not nice.
This week, the big birthday - when I turned the age I can't say out loud or write - came and went and I have managed to survive it, but only just.
Of course, it helped that I had fabulous family and friends around me to help me see the positives of turning this certain age.
Whilst I was spoilt rotten with lots of beautiful cards and wonderful presents, I have to say, the prize for the best husband in the world must go to my fantastic hubby, Darren, after the effort he put in for my big birthday.
He decided to forget the flowers and the chocolates and the jewellery and instead - much to my surprise - whisked me off on a wonderful, child-free, trip to New York.
For months he had obviously been planning this brilliant trip and I am so thankful to him and to his kind parents, Angela and Michael, for having Abbie and James for us.
Having also organised for his sister Tracy (who was also celebrating the same big birthday) and her husband Neil to meet us at JFK, the four of us set off on a wonderful four-day adventure and honestly, I had a smile on my face the whole time.
My first surprise was that Darren had booked us into a suite at a hotel in Times Square, which had its own balcony overlooking the colourful landmark. The room was simply stunning.
After checking in and leaving off our bags, we immediately set out to sight-see and shop and I had such a good time.
Over the next few days we visited the Empire State Building, the Rockefeller Centre and its famous Christmas Tree and ice-rink, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the World Trade Centre site and Central Park.
We also hit the famous NYC shops including Macy's, Century 21, Victoria's Secret and Sephora and then there was the Disney Store in Times Square where I spent most of my time. Come on, who could resist?
We enjoyed gorgeous food, especially in the Irish pubs, and ate mouth-watering cheesecake and don't get me started on the cocktails - simply yum.
And all the time I was getting spoiled with presents for my birthday.
Before we knew it, our time was up and it was time to fly home.
Of course, we all know I'm a terrible traveller.
I absolutely HATE airports and just don't deal very well with it all so I was dreading the journey.
Imagine my shock then when the Aer Lingus lady checking us in announced that we were flying home business class.
Once again, Darren had come up trumps in his efforts to make this big birthday extra special.
I can't tell you what it was like to turn left on boarding the aircraft and getting comfy in our large seats which converted into lie-flat beds.
And then the air stewardess arrived with a glass of bubbly for me - real champagne, no cheap stuff either.
The next six hours were spent in pure luxury with the feet up, eating a steak dinner off a proper plate with proper cutlery off a table cloth following by raspberry tart and plenty more champagne and then there were the canapes and the luxury bedding when I lay down for a snooze.
It was heaven.
We also enjoyed an indulgent breakfast and more champagne and we arrived feeling rested and revived.
So, all I can say is thank you to everyone who helped me mark this special occasion but especially to Darren who went above and beyond to make me feel special.
Thanks for the trip and the gifts and the fun and laughs and the experience and also the Afternoon Tea (yum). But more importantly, thanks for the upgrades - I will never forget it.
Your kindness knows no limits and that's why Abbie, James and myself love you so much.
Now to begin a new year at a new age but I suppose I have plenty of new gifts to help me on my way.
Maybe turning 40 isn't so bad after all - nope, still feel sick.
If the festive season always leaves you feeling drained and run-down, how do you fancy winning a post-Christmas night out?
Blood Brothers, the heart-breaking story of Mickey and Edward, two brothers separated at birth but brought together again through an unlikely friendship, arrives at the Grand Opera House in Belfast in the New Year and I have two pairs of tickets to give away.
With their familial relationship concealed by their parents, who have striven to keep them apart because of superstitious beliefs, Mickey and Edward find themselves irreversibly intertwined.
Despite relocating, their lives continue to be tangled, although the deep divisions between Edward's privileged life and Mickey's poverty-stricken existence begin to be a burden.
As they try to conquer social divisions, their friendship is damaged and they are forced to deal with the harsh realities of class consciousness.
Further information about Blood Brothers is available at www.goh.co.uk
I have two pairs of tickets to give away for Blood Brothers at the Grand Opera House in Belfast on Tuesday, January 23.
If you fancy winning a voucher, simply email your name, address and telephone number – along with the answer to the question below – to firstname.lastname@example.org
Closing date for entries is Tuesday, December 5, 2017
(Q) What are the first names of the brothers featured in Blood Brothers?
Normal Irish News Rules Apply
Swifty - My absolute favourite performer Taylor Swift has announced she will play a gig at Croke Park in Dublin on June 15 next year. Tickets for the 27-year-old's Reputation Stadium Tour go on sale today at 9am. It will be fab.
Caffeine - New research has found that drinking coffee is good for most people's health. It was found that drinking three to four cups a day can help cut the risk of heart disease and the chance of an early death. Sounds good.
Heart-strings - Based on the New York Times bestseller, Wonder arrives at the cinema this weekend. The movie tells the incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson star.
Split - TV presenter, Davina McCall has revealed her 17-year marriage to husband Matthew Robertson is over. The 50-year-old mother-of-three said she was "very sad to say that Matthew and I have separated" adding that their children are "our number one priority". Sad news.
Plead - Ex-Coronation Street star, Bruno Langley - who played Todd Grimshaw on the cobbles - has pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting two women in a Manchester nightclub in October. The 34-year-old was given a 12-month community order and must submit to a curfew.
Overpriced - Christmas shoppers have slammed some retailers after it emerged that the price of a Terry's Chocolate Orange has doubled for this festive season. Last year, the household favourite was £1 whilst this year it is being sold by some for £1.95. Very grinchy behaviour.
The winners of the Norma competition are Cathy McCartan, from Benburb, Liz Patterson, from Comber, Eileen Stevenson, from Belfast, Lucia Morgan, from Ballyward, and Margaret McIlwaine, from Glenariffe
Easy Peasy Recipe
This week's Easy Peasy Recipe is Mulled Wine Brownies
You will need:
100g dark chocolate
150g unsalted butter
200g light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
100ml red wine
50g cocoa powder
100g plain flour
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas Mark 4.
Butter and line a baking tin.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a pan of simmering water.
In a bowl, mix the flour and cocoa powder together as well as the nutmeg. ground cloves, cinnamon and ginger. Add a pinch of salt and set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together and butter and sugar. Add the egg and egg yolk and whisk again.
Pour the melted chocolate, wine and flour mixture into the egg mixture and combine.
Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 15 mins.
Put into the fridge to firm up before slicing up and serving.
Do you have an Easy Peasy recipe you would like to share?
Are you the queen of quiches, magnificent at muffins or can you turn out some nice scones?
If so, then we want to hear from you.
You can send your name, address, contact number and recipe (plus photo if possible) to:
Easy Peasy Recipes,
Marie Louise McConville,
113-117 Donegall Street,