Friday, 30 December 2016

It's been a Very Merry Christmas!

It's been a very Merry Christmas here, we hope you and yours had a wonderful festive period. This is the first time since the 23rd that we have had a chance to sit down. Well I have sat down and Laura is still working to tidy away all the Christmas decorations.

We have spent the last few days surrounded by family and friends and loved it. We have eaten WAY too much, walked miles on dog walks and opened and gifted plenty of presents. It has been the perfect festive period.
Everyone was lucky enough to get a present

Our Christmas Eve was spent wrapping presents, then attending a community carol service at the local church. We had Laura's 91 year old Nan with us and she loved every song. After singing out loud for all to hear - as is the order according to Elf - we returned home to a dinner of party food (sausage rolls, mini sausages etc) and cheese and meat. It was SO good. Then we settled in to watch Elf, which seems to be becoming a tradition. We also got stockings ready for each of our guests to open in the morning.

On Christmas morning we woke early to speak to Laura's Australian grandparents who were full of the of the Christmas spirit and were showing off a delicious looking passion fruit pavlova. As we were all awake we decided to start the day with a full cooked English breakfast courtesy of my wonderful wife. Then on to presents :)

Laura's wish list was set in place well in advance so I had an easy task, quite a few household and beauty requests that included a garlic crusher, a carving set and selfie light. Then a few extras of my choice like earrings and a mini party raclette. We also need to track down Philip Hue lights for the last addition and Willam's 'Suck Less - where there is a Willam there's a way' book arrived today.

I was lucky enough to get tickets to see Charlie and the chocolate factory, Britney's new album and an Amazon Dot.

From Laura's parents we received a lot of goodies from their travels in France that including syrup in peach and raspberry flavours for prosecco or champagne, tubs of Haribo sweets and slippers that get heated in our new microwave that was also a gift a beautiful table cloth and an Amazon Echo tower.

A snapshot of our goodies

From my parents we also got slippers, a few new clothes additions, lots of make up and Laura got a driving lesson to get her on the road.

From my sister we got tickets to Little Mix - woohoo - and from her boyfriend we got a Spa day - whoop! From Laura's brother we got tickets to the cereal cafe and as we now have one in Birmingham it's a reason to check it out.

We were also lucky enough to get great gifts from friends including a full size raclette grill, an Amazon Fire Stick and tons of sweet treats.

The house is bursting which is part of the reason we wanted to start the tidy up.

Laura is trying to make our house a smart house which is helped by the addition of the Amazon Echo devices and Philip Hue lights. Funnily enough after my confusion about what exactly it does and why we would need it Laura went into sales pitch mode and if hearing about all the 'benefits' from her weren't enough we arrived at my parents on Boxing Day only for my sisters boyfriend to be pushing the same pitch on my sister. Always one to fear progress for progress sake I never willing go in search of technology enhancements but I am told that over time shouting Alexa........' for any question I have, setting timers, turning on or off lights and getting news will become perfectly normal. We shall see.

After presents we visited Moseley Bog for a dog walk, it was all going so well with Bisbee walking nicely on the boardwalk that went over the bog until the last part when something got her attention and she performed a perfect dive straight into mud. Thankfully we had packed a towel and we could bundle her into the car to get home and into the bath.

Laura and i then cooked a beef roast dinner which was wolfed down by everyone in record time - I guess fresh air does that - and over dessert we played charades and guess who. Laura's Nan was on great form and after rolling from the dinner table we played a few games of Apples to Apples before dozing watching Miracle on the 34th Street.

Boxing day was another early start to get to my parents and we had a lovely day that included another dog walk and another roast. This time my Mum had done the hard work by peeling all the veg so we just had to turn up and figure out the cooking times, The turkey was delicious. Even though my Dad disappeared to watch Reading play we managed to fill the day with fun. We even manged to get in a game with the mouth guards - although I have now seen my families teeth way too much. It was hilarious though.

On the 27th Laura had organised a London afternoon so we could see Charlie and the chocolate factory. We walked around seeing all the lights but our plan to see the window displays failed as Selfridges, John Lewis and Harrods all had Sale signs up instead. We had Wahacca for dinner then planned to check out the new Lego store but the queue was around the block so we settled for a stroll in the French market. Only thing was we spotted mini pancakes / Poffertjes and they are SO good we had to get some. I cried eating them they were that good.

We spent the next morning hanging out with my my Mum psyching ourselves up for the journey home.

Once home we had less than an hour to get ready for our next guests. Thankfully Laura's parents had started dinner so all we had to do was finish it off. Our friends arrived and the rest of the evening was a merry blur of food, drink and Cards Against Humanity - which Laura's Mum was surprising good at. We all went to bed slightly disturbed.

To clear the cobwebs we headed to Cannon Hill Park for a dog walk in the frost and sunshine. It was just what we needed. After our friends packed up Laura started on the decorations while I had a much needed bath before we headed to our neighbours for dinner.

An evening of sitting around eating other peoples cooked dinner and watching everyone get more and more drunk was a great way to end a busy week.

Today we are tidying and relaxing before getting into the party spirit for a New Year's Eve in Sheffield.

I think work may come as a rest :)

We hope whatever you've been up to you've had a great time. Wishing you a very Happy New Year.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Two years of Bisbee!

On the 19th of December 2014 we picked up Bisbee Avie, our amazing, beautiful, funny, cocky, charming, entertaining puppy and life hasn't been the same since. It's 2 years since that gotcha day.

When I think about our life I can't imagine it without her. My daily routine when working from home revolves around her - I make sure pre-work calls that she has toys to play with and let her chill out in the kitchen. After my calls I free her and she goes back to roaming the house like it's her Queendom.

She is a guard dog, door bell and people greeter. She loves doing tricks and being part of any action. While Laura practices for choir she will lay on the couch and listen ready with licks of encouragement. When I close a deal or have a successful call she is ready to dance to cheesy music as if her job is to share the joy.

When we cry at TV shows or because we are having hard days she is ready to pounce and lick away the tears or step on us until we stop crying and give her attention.

As a family we are never happier than when all three of us are squashed on the sofa watching something, all getting slightly too warm and Laura and I unable to move from puppy paralysis.

Bisbee has brought smiles to not only friends and family but to complete strangers and we couldn't feel luckier.

Our Mum's adore her - my Mum has a whole new career as a dog walker because the fluff ball made her remember just how great dogs are. In fact if my Mum could only walk Cockapoo's I think her life would be made. As it stands she walks two.

Even our Dad's are in love. My Dad spent a whole 10 minutes fighting her for a penguin cuddly toy and Laura's Dad is often seen play fighting her.

We have a list of people ready and willing to look after her should we need and her pile of Christmas presents is bigger than ours. It's fair to say that our little girl is loved and adored everywhere.

On top of all of this her comic timing is on point, with human like burps she gives feedback on food and with yawns she'll let us know when we are droning on or need to change the subject. Her outfit choices seem to be ever increasing but when she plays a shark so well it's hard to resist buying them :)

She has taught us that working as a team means sharing success and that consistency and dedication will deliver results - even if results are new tricks that are purely for our entertainment. And we couldn't be more grateful.

We are also lucky enough that she loves the car and is happy just to pop out to pick someone up or travel for hours. In a pub she'll nap why we catch up with friends and in crowds she is happy to be held to see the action. I have never met a dog who barely blinks when a marching band in full flow marches past but Bisbee barely notices it.

We now arrange dog holidays/weekends, if new friends have dogs or old friends get dogs it something we actively talk about. We have explored more of our local area and seen more sunsets that in previous years - I can't thank Bisbee enough.

Bisbee's bestie Otis is also a firm fixture in many of our weekends (his Mum's are pretty awesome) and they are quite the adorable double act so we have a constant source of entertainment.

Our phones are filled with 100's of photos of Bisbee and as we follow Cockapoo groups on Facebook just so we can lose hours looking at cute puppy pics.

In fact I can't think of a single downside of owning Bisbee. Here's to many, many, many, many, many more Bisbee filled days.

Happy Christmas from my family to yours!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Countdown to Christmas!

Happy Holidays!
Merry Christmas!
Festive Wishes!
Good tidings and all other good things. How has December been so far?!

As you know Laura LOVES everything about Christmas and so December is always a busy month. So rather than go into great detail about all the fabulous December activities we have been up to here's the highlights with a few pics:

Thanksmas: our annual gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with friends and delicious food. This year we managed to squeeze in 13 guests by removing ALL our furniture.

Laura's Christmas choir concert: complete with Laura and two friends singing 'Let It Snow' - amazing! Followed by a night out in Birmingham.

Excuse my dodgy filming

Pre-Christmas Costco shopping trip with the in-laws....I think we are sorted....almost!

Christmas Queens drag show at Birmingham's O2 institute

Work Christmas party in Bournemouth - the photo booth was a definite highlight!

Date night at The Alchemist in Birmingham. If you love cocktails this place is amazing - what they do with dry ice is mesmerising, they have cocktails that change colours, flavours and create bubbles as you watch. It's entertainment in a glass. The food is bar style and the battered prawn lollipops were so good we ordered two portions.

Gift bags from Eness - seriously love this place, we missed the launch night for their new Argan Oil range which is great for moisturising and nourishment. Great for this time of year :)
I managed to organise and host a Christmas party for the Sales team at work which involved 4 rounds of activities and a meal out at an Indian in London. 

I also made it from Birmingham to London to Manchester and back to Birmingham in less than 48 hours thanks to Virgin Trains. 

Watching 'It's a Wonderful Life' at Birmingham cathedral with friends. 

Visiting the Coca-Cola truck in Birmingham city centre 

And we also got this family pic in our new AlderHey hospital charity pj's - because we can't get enough cute pics and because there is nothing better than relaxing at home on cold, winter evenings.

We hope your Christmas prep is going well!

Monday, 5 December 2016

Catfish - Our Experience

So we may be slightly obsessed with Catfish the TV show. Have you seen it?

Our love of Catfish (and Nev and Max) has made us slightly more wary of online followers, but in this day and age, safety is paramount - so we don't think that's a bad thing.

From the Urban Dictionary:
The phenomenon of internet predators that fabricate online identities and entire social circles to trick people into emotional/romantic relationships (over a long period of time).
Possible motivations: revenge, loneliness, curiosity, boredom

Here's the thing - Laura is too nice. I mean that in the nicest way, but online you have to be slightly less nice and slightly more wary. I am writing this post as a cautionary tale and not to scare. Take it or leave it, your choice, but I thought it was an experience worth sharing.

Our blog has first and foremost been a space to share what's going on with us with anyone who is interested. It started as a project for our family abroad and has grown and evolved in a number of different of directions. The full story of our lives can be tracked through the blog - but at a highlight level in most cases. Couple this with our Instagram and you get a more daily dose of us :) add in Twitter and you'll find I love a good rant about trains and a re-tweet of anything LGBT related, and finally if you want even more of us you can head to our Facebook page that keeps track of all posts.

We may be slightly over-exposed online, but as it's all managed centrally it's easy for us to update and we have different audiences on each social media platform so it works well for us.

We don't know if Facebook, as the most established platform, has the widest viewer range, or if it is easy to find our page. It doesn't really matter. On Facebook you can receive public messages and over the years we have received the loveliest messages, photo-shopped images of us and on occasion some hatred. In the main though it has been positive so we have left the option open to message us.

However, when people start searching and adding our personal Facebook accounts I personally draw the line, unless we know the person pretty well from an online point of view. Laura is a little more open and has accepted friend requests in the past. In most cases this has been absolutely fine but in the case of one individual this allowed contact on a whole new level.

Instagram is also a source of random messages. Again our experiences have been both positive and negative but on this platform to a more extreme level. The positives are that we have made and met genuinely amazing friends through firstly comments on pics, then moving to messaging before eventually meeting up.  The negatives are the number of accounts that spam us or are created just to send homophobic abuse.

It was on Instagram that our catfish story begins.

A few weeks ago, a new account was created to send us a message saying 'you are disgusting gross gays'. We ignored the message and a few days later the same account commented on a  picture saying 'can I ask you a question'. On seeing the comment we deleted it, and decided to block the account.

The next week a new account started following us that looked to be posting photos of photos, and a lot of the same photos. There is nothing wrong with that, but we noticed as it seemed odd. In this day and age posting a photo straight from a phone is almost easier that taking a picture of a photo. We thought nothing more of it until the account started posting 'can I ask you question' on our pictures. This account was very complimentary, but then started messaging us on Instagram asking us to email them. It was all a bit strange.

It just so happened that at the same time the random who had added Laura and subsequently me on Facebook started sending the same message via FB messenger. The only thing was that the person on Facebook was a man. The Instagram account was a lesbian, posting photos of her and her girlfriend.

Loving Nev's face!
As similar messages kept coming from both accounts, we decided we needed to investigate. We tried reverse searching the Instagram photos on Google search (thanks Catfish The TV Show).....nothing. On the hunch that it was the same person, we tried to look through his friends, but came up short again. Then Laura had the long shot idea to look through the guy's photos on Facebook, and lo and behold there he was with the girl from the Instagram account.

A quick search on her FB page showed she was very much with a guy and the tone and style of writing didn't match our messages. A scroll further and the same guy who had friended us had commented 'can I ask you a question'.

Boom! We had our confirmation that this guy was behind the lesbian Instagram account.

We Facebook messaged the girl to let her know about the Instagram account and she had it promptly shut down. It turned out that guy had been harassing her and her family on social media and so she had blocked him. The Instagram account was potentially revenge.

We then followed suit and blocked the guy on every platform we could.

It is not clear what the reason for contacting us was, why emailing him was a requirement or if there was any malice. It started as fairly innocent messaging and didn't go into anything inappropriate (although we have had a few of those requests) but it does show that you have to be careful.

In the case of this girl the Instagram set up with her photos was following 500+ accounts, mostly lesbian couples. We know that he was messaging at least one other account and had commented on other photos. It's just awful to think her identity was being associated with something she had nothing to do with.

Having watched Catfish we know that it could have been way worse. As in most cases, the guy was probably lonely. The stories he had made up were easy to pull apart and while we tried to be kind the messaging was an interference. We don't message our family as often as he messaged us.
We hope that he learns from this, hopefully the account was shut down before anyone else got involved but please be careful with who you message with and reply to. If there is cause for concern, don't ignore it. Most importantly if you suspect the images on an account don't belong to the person, tread carefully.

Have you ever been catfished?