Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A Life Update - Married 3 Months and What is Free Time Again?

OMG we haven't blogged for almost 3 weeks. Apologies guys, bear with us - since the wedding, and returning - having Laura's parents here, commuting, doing the Ride Across Britain, more commuting, Sarah away with work, Laura away with work - it has not felt like we have had a moment to breathe, let alone blog. We haven't had brain power to pen down thoughts on current events, or indeed anything except hastily written accounts of some of the things we've done lately. Our works have been crazy busy, our evenings have been short. It has been enjoyable, of course, but exhausting.

Because of this, I don't yet feel like I know what it's like to be MARRIED to this beautiful woman of mine, even though we have been wed for three months now. We need down time, date time, to be able to experience it. All I know is every time I see her marching up the street after a long day at work, rolling briefcase in hand, I'm so overwhelmingly happy she is mine. Soon, I'm sure, we will get back to our routine, and have more time for each other. But in the meantime we just need to plough through it hand in hand.

Luckily, tomorrow marks the beginning of my favourite three months of the year. I LIVE for October through December. I love all the standard autumn things, of course  - changing leaves, cooler weather, scarves, comfort food, etc etc - but I love it for so much more. The holidays, including my birthday, baking, the emphasis on family, songs of the season, being able to sleep with a duvet on without getting way too hot. It's just all so wonderful, and I've given myself a few goals for the next few months.

1. Slow the heck down. Enjoy my favourite time of year. I don't really know how to go about this, as I feel like I'm running around in a haze of admin and work, but it's going to happen, and we're going to love it. Yay for our first holiday season as a married couple!

2. Say 'sorry' less. I don't mean stop apologising for things I've done wrong, but when my mum was here she brought to my attention how the British influence has made me lose my.... American assertiveness, I suppose. I have taken hardcore to saying 'sorry' for everything - ie. when someone runs into me on the street ('sorry' for taking up your space on this public sidewalk), when a waitress gets my meal wrong ('sorry' for the inconvenience of having to go away to cook the correct meal), or for lots of other similar situations where I've actually done nothing wrong. I know its just something to say for the sake of it, really, but it has attributed to me being quite uncomfortable standing up for myself sometimes, which is not at all how I was for the first few years of UK residence. So I'm breaking the habit! It's been 1.5 days and I have broken it 3 times, but it takes two weeks to form a habit, right?

3. Get healthier. We have struggled to eat well and exercise since we returned from the big occasion. I want to eat more greens, and much less bread. So I resolve to do this, and exercise 4 days per week, throughout October and November. Exceptions being holidays of course. But all bets are off in December - I plan to bake and cook and eat up a festive storm!

To help with this, I received my first birthday present from my gorgeous wife today - a spiraliser! I'm so excited to use it tonight to make courgette noodles. I've enjoyed them before using a grater, but this will be so much easier and will make them better formed. I'm also going to try out my cauliflower fried 'rice' using this for lunch tomorrow! Excitement!

We are off for a secret birthday surprise trip away this weekend - I can't wait to find out where it is!! Sarah is giving me a clue per day - yesterday's was below. Please don't comment where you think it might be, until I know on Saturday! But take your bets now, I want to know if you've guessed it all along!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Evolution Of Our Cars!

I can't believe the information included in this post! I say that because I didn't think it would ever happen.....we got a new car and I mean NEW NEW car. So this post may not be on our usual topics but in recent weeks cars have been a constant topic of conversation and it is amazing how many cars I've been through! And as my memory is already fading I thought I would jot down the evolution of my cars!

Now we don't own the car out right it's on a lease deal with the option to buy at the end but however you dress it up we drove off the forecourt with 7 miles on the clock! Uh-mazing!

This wasn't a snap decision. Since I learnt to drive at the grand old age of 20 I have always had second hand cars. It started because I won a placement at WH Smiths (stationery chain in the UK)for my third year at Uni, I did Retail Management and my placement was as a Buyer, the only challenge was I lived in Reading and my job was in Swindon some 40 miles away! With trains costing over £100 a week I needed to learn to drive. And quickly!

In fact I had to learn to drive in a week as I had started my placement almost immediately after my last exam. And then there was the whole needing a car and the only one I could afford was a very old second hand one that looked like this:

And she was named Elcie, the number plate picked the name - and she was an old dear :)

When Elcie had been driven to the point of no return I upgraded to a slighter newer polo, my favourite of all cars until now! This one was racer green and I drove this car for ages! Even when I got given a company car I couldn't wait to get back to my polo, it was so quick and easy to drive. Plus it was kinda cute:

He's name was Phu! Again because of the number plate!

I gave Phu up when we moved to Australia where we shared ownership of Paulo, a car we bought off our bridesmaid Kate's little brother! This car was definitely the car that created stories - I ran out off petrol, I got pulled over by the police for going too slow - not intentionally, we were going uphill and the poor car didn't quite have enough power :(

I was so shocked we were actually able to sale Paulo at the end of our year out there!

On arrival back in the UK my parents kindly lent us money to get another second hand car. The plan was to have a back up car while we lived in London so we opted for a Corsa! It was also an automatic for the first time ever! Except that car lasted all of 6 months before kapputting!

Once again my parents saved the day and I bought my Dad's car - a toyota corolla! It was so laid back (seating wise) and long, it was almost like a boat so we named him Captain!

Then we broke Captain by doing our Reading to London to Birmingham drives, the poor old car just got worn out! So just before Christmas we had to find some budget to get a car that could do the miles and we got Jagger! Named because although he was old he could still shift - or he could move like Jagger!

Then about a month ago the exhaust blew on Jagger after 22,000 miles in 9 months :( We were devastated! The car is our life right now - we are still doing the Reading - London - Birmingham mile sand without a car we are reliant on expensive trains - nightmare!

And so to the Toyota garage we went! Voted the Best Car for 11 years running and with loads of positive reviews from friends and family we fell in love with the new Toyota Yaris Icon! So our newest car is Elsa! This time because she's a beautiful blue - the colour we associate with the Frozen film.

Laura on the other hand was lucky enough to get a brand new car on her 16th Birthday and ever since we've been together she has told me how amazing driving a new car is and since getting Elsa I understand exactly what she meant. I have never had so much fun driving, it is making the long drives so much easier and it is far more economical than Jagger, so yay!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Smith Family Take On Deloitte Ride Across Britain!

If you follow us on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook you may have seen some strange photos from the last weekend. Laura and I spent this last weekend apart, and even though it was the longest we have been separated it was for a good cause - Deloitte Ride Across Britain!

Laura works at a Sports Event company and has for some time now - each September they hold their biggest event, Deloitte Ride Across Britain (or RAB) except this year it's different - our very our Bob Smith (Laura's Dad) is one of the 800+ riders!

Bob Smith, coming into Bath - stage 2
Anyone who knows us or Bob has become interested in the journey he's currently making from Land's End to John O'Groats. And that is where Laura headed off to on Thursday - Land's End, her role was less cycling and more organisation. As part of the Threshold team my lovely wife was hauling chairs and tables and chalkboards around, putting people in tents and generally making sure things were running smoothly!

Picture from Threshold Sports Flickr Account
This event is run with military precision and management, from an outsider perspective I am fascinated.

Picture from ThresholdSport Flikr Account
Each night there will be a one-man tent set up for every single rider and crew by the event team, they will be offered 4 choices for dinner and delicious desserts - seriously in Laura's time away she's had beef bourginon, mac and cheese, chicken curry, sausage and mash and other delicious sounding things. This is not burger van catering - it sounds likes glamping rather than camping!

Then there the crew of masseurs and medics, bike maintenance guys and security, there are pit stops along the way (where Laura's Mum is helping out - that's right, it's a Smith family affair!) that are put up and taken down each day, and all the while the 800+ cyclists are making their way up the country at 100 odd miles a day. It is a serious feat for all involved!

I was lucky enough to get Laura back after she had got everyone started and on their way, her role of Office Manager makes her a needed resource in the office but she'll be heading up to Scotland to cover the last 3 days at the end of the week.

Her parents, however, will have done the whole journey - one by bike and one in a support car. I know who I'd rather be! :) and we will be waiting for updates and updating Twitter etc. when we have news. In the meantime I am getting inspiration for where Laura and I can go when we drive across Britain, that way we can take pictures and enjoy the ride!

Picture from Threshold Sport Flikr Account

Check this out for a taster of what's going on  http://vimeo.com/85832340

This has been the journey so far but for more info check out the site

The little cyclist at the bottom of the pictures shows you the inclines and difficulties the riders will experience! It's amazing right?!

Go Bob Go! We can't wait to see you at the end!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Have You Heard About Shared Parental Leave?

Have you heard about Shared Parental Leave?

Here in the UK if you child is born or adopted after the 5th of April 2015 you may be able to benefit from the new maternity / parental leave scheme that is coming into play!

While this may not be relevant to all our lovely readers or indeed us we thought it was such great news that we would share it as it is a change that anyone even thinking of becoming parents here in the UK should know about!

We think this is definitely a positive change for parents and kids alike, raising a kid should be a joint venture never left to one parent and should we ever have children I know that Laura and I would both bring very different attributes to the table so sharing leave is an ideal solution.

Having heard about this earlier in the year we had done a bit of research prior to today's announcement and couldn't believe how soon it was actually happening. The change comes with an aim to create a culture change for families and for employers focusing on flexibility that will benefit everyone, while allowing both parents to have an increased input into raising the child should they wish. All good things right?!

The starting point is of course the eligibility so here's the highlights:
      To qualify for Shared Parental Leave (SPL), you must share care of the child with either: 

     You must also:
  •       Have been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week  before the due date (or by the date you are matched with your adopted child)
  •       Be employed by the same employer while you take SPL
  •       Your partner’s eligibility
During the 66 weeks before the baby is due your partner must:
  •       Have been working for at least 26 weeks (which can be discontinuous) - they can be employed, self-employed or an agency worker
  •       Have earned at least £30 a week on average in 13 of the 66 weeks

52 weeks to share - amazing! Laura and I have always said if we do have kids (it's a long ongoing debate that has ended with a puppy......news on that another time!!) we would want to split the first year allowing us both to bond with the baby as well as share the task of going to work. So this plan will help us do exactly that. Of course a few of the details will depend on our employers but that's always been the case.

On the www.gov.uk/sharedparentalleave website you can check out all the exact details and this example is just one way that they explain:

The other good thing is the inclusion of Shared parental leave in touch (SPLIT) days in addition to the 10 ‘keeping in touch’ (or KIT) days already available to those on maternity or adoption leave. It allows you and your partner can both work up to 20 days during Shared Parental Leave. These are called ‘shared parental leave in touch’ (or SPLIT) days. Catching and kinda does what it says in the acronym.

For anyone wanting to know more check out the website or there is a free online guide here! 

And here's a real-life case study I came across that I think sums it up, the fact that the lady in the example works in my industry is a coincidence but it explains the way it works perfectly for me:

Real life case study from: Government News

Hannah is a Senior Project Manager in the e-learning industry and her husband Chris works for the Civil Service. When their son Euan was born they decided to split their leave entitlement. Hannah returned to work on a 4.5 day week when Euan was 8 months old at which point Chris took 7 weeks of additional maternity support leave to look after Euan. Both Hannah and Chris feel that sharing leave has been a very positive experience for themselves and their son.
Hannah said that knowing Euan was at home with Chris was very reassuring when she returned to work:
Chris and I felt that this would be one of the few opportunities we would get to spend an extended period of time with Euan before he started school. Going back to work it was nice for me to know that Euan was with Chris rather than going straight into childcare and when I returned to work we were able to meet up for lunches as a family which was great. Sharing leave is something we’ll definitely do again.
Chris said that having father and baby time together during the period of leave he took was very special:
During the 7 weeks I had with Euan we were able to take part in a range of activities like swimming, music and baby sensory sessions. It was brilliant to have that father and baby time together. It’s something very special and I felt that both Euan and I gained a lot from it. I’d really recommend it to any other dads-to-be."