Thursday, 27 September 2018

Review: Pieminister - Sunday Best!

We were invited to try Pieminister's Sunday Sundae and we were so grateful we had the opportunity to taste this amazing concoction! Put simply you get your choice of pie, it is on a bed of mash and topped with a yorkshire pudding that has a carrot and swede mash in it.

The choice of pie is from the regular menu. Laura went for Moo & Blue, it was packed full of flavour but you really have to like stilton to enjoy it. I went for the free ranger chicken and bacon pie. Again so full of flavour and seriously packed with meat. You can see why Pieminister's pies are award winning!

Oh and they do Gluten Free options so you have plenty of reasons to go.

We would say the yorkshire pudding was too hard for our liking but the carrot and swede mash was delicious and the mash was a good accompaniment.

The dessert options were great too. The range of ice-cream sundaes catered for those with more traditional tastes and those who wanted something different. We opted for something different and got the pork pie. Turns out bacon and ice-cream can work together, who knew!

The best thing, as well as the pies, is that the restaurants are dog and baby friendly. Perfect for our family. Although if you head to the Birmingham branch wrap up as it's a little chilly!

We loved the decor and the location at the top of New Street, overlooking the town hall, makes it a great lunch spot any day of the week. The Sunday lunch worked well for us as we checked out the shops and finished with the Sunday sundae!

Check out the story of Pieminister here but the highlights include the brand starting in 2003 in Bristol before selling pies at Borough Market. They then started winning awards and opened a store in Oxford in 2007 and continued to grow since then. They are the only nationwide pie company that uses 100% free range eggs and meat and won awards for their commitment to pig welfare. Who even knew that was a thing?!?!

As well as that they are creating a forest!

So if you want good food, that tastes delicious and comes from a company with a good heart then check where your nearest Pieminister here.

Also they do brunches...that's right. Brunch pies, skillets and bottomless booze for £20 per person. They run every 2 weeks on Saturdays and sit in two sessions. It is definitely on our to try list!

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Review - Dirty Martini, Birmingham!

Or specifically the Dirty Martini Brunch!

Let me just start by saying if you are debating going - just go, you don't need to read this whole review. But by all means please do to get an insight into what to expect.

If you like martini's and brunch then this is the place for you, again just go!

If you like brunch and are not fussed with alcohol this is maybe not the place for you.

Put simply the Dirty Martini Brunch consists of bottomless prosecco, up to four Martini's and a bird cage of finger food. Your challenge should you wish to accept is to consume this within your 90 min time slot. Time slots are 12.30 - 2pm or 2.30pm - 4pm on Saturday or Sundays. To book check out there website (if you are Birmingham based that's here).

The brunch costs £25 per person which is an ABSOLUTE bargain in our opinion.

The menu is simple - vegetarian or not vegetarian. The main difference being that the veggie option has samosa's instead of mini burger sliders. We went for the non-veggie option and everything was delicious. In fact it was so delicious we finished it within 15 mins.

Picture from Dirty Martini website

The more challenging part of the brunch is the choice of martini's. You have four so you could try a new one each time, the choices at our brunch were: Blood Orange and Vanilla, Mango and Chilli, French (vodka and chambord), Espresso and Passionfruit. Our favs were the French and Passionfruit.

Picture from Dirty Martini website
On arrival the seating process is a little chaotic as everyone's session starts at the same time but a hostess we find you and take you to your allocated table. In Birmingham the downstairs is nosier so if it is a romantic brunch we suggest asking for a table upstairs.

The tables are fairly close together and that has pluses and negatives. At the start we felt very much a part of the conversation the table next to us was having. But as the drink flowed we were in our own little world. In the end though we got chatting to the girls next to us and ended up going on somewhere else with them. The hen parties did seem to be grouped together on tables though which was good.

Currently (at the time of posting) there are 7 bars in London, 1 in Manchester, 1 in Leeds, 1 in Cardiff and of course 1 in Birmingham. The locations can be found here.

As well as Martini's you can get a selection of cocktails any time and there is a selection of bar snacks available too. For an idea of the menu see here.

So in summary you should really check this place out!

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Baby Blogging - Breastfeeding - The Truth!

Two months ago I wrote this post on breastfeeding. Annabelle was 20 days old and I would have classed myself as a complete newbie finding my way with the help of Annabelle. It has definitely an experience since then.

At 21 days I was starting to manage the pain and we were finding a routine that meant Annabelle wasn't constantly feeding and I wasn't able to go anywhere without her.

Now two months later here's the latest:

  • Annabelle is still breastfeeding like a champ
  • Our routine is clearer, after a nap it's nappy change then feed. We have 2-3 hours awake time then a quick feed and back to napping. Unless she is having an 'awake day' in which case napping is non-existent and the 'quick feed' is just a brief pause before needing another nappy change
  • I am enjoying it
  • It's not the bonding experience I thought it would be because
  • The back, shoulder and neck ache is real
  • I now express daily so other people (mainly Laura) can feed Annabelle and we can leave her with other people
  • Our freezer looks like a very weird ice-cream mix up with so many bags of milk
  • 'Have boob will travel' has become our response to being asked if we want to go anywhere
  • Being able to breastfeed has reduced prep time for heading out - we just make sure we have nappies, cream and a change of clothes and off we go
  • My boob has been out in restaurants, parks, the middle of Manchester and in plenty of car parks and I couldn't care less
  • Breastfeeding is mutually beneficial for Annabelle and I, and not in a mother earth way..... in a way that if I go too long with feeding her my boobs hurt so bad I will feed her before shes even announced she's hungry
  • Public loo pumping is a thing I do now
  • The amount of 'white' marks that are appearing on clothes, cushions, furniture is ridiculous.... it's amazing how much mess can be made out of milk!

Okay so that was a brain dump but here's the context.....
Overall I am glad to be able to breastfeed, it is super convenient and easy. It makes whole days out possible, like when we headed to Manchester, or our road trip to see family.  Yet the downsides do exist and in some ways I can't believe I have never heard much about them.

When I go more than a few hours without feeding the pain is crazy. Imagine inflating balloons in your bra, so they have no room to go anywhere BUT the balloons aren't soft, they are filled with concrete so they are heavy and the weight is painful. That's what it is like. It means that 2 hours into heading to see Britney I had to spend 20 minutes in the toilets (thankfully in the gap between Pitbull and Britney) with a hand pump expressing. The same happened at the wedding reception we attended. Oh and on the train to Bournemouth for my keep in touch day. And at the spa day I had with my Mum and sister. The hand pump is a life saver - a slow, hard work, manually intensive work out but a life saver. If I couldn't relief the pressure I would probably end up leaking everywhere and in a lot of pain.

Interestingly I saw this article about a Mum doing a 103 mile marathon race and at the stops she breastfeed and pumped. I was more impressed that she was doing the marathon than breastfeeding but reading the article this comment stood out from her: 'Oh my god I was in agony! Cormac usually feeds every three hours and it took me 16 to get to Courmayeur where he could first meet me so I was hand expressing everywhere I could en route. 
'I was so relieved he was hungry!'
This to me sums up breastfeeding.

And OMG this is TMI but if Annabelle has been asleep for longer than usual the pressure release when she does feed causes my boob to literally soak her, the pressure causes streams of milk to fly out and if she pulls back she gets a face full before I can stop it. It is both funny and awful all at once.

The other thing I am suffering with is back, neck and shoulder pain as Annabelle gets heavier. Sure sat at home I am surrounded by supportive pillows but that doesn't help the pain caused by stooping or gazing at Annabelle. Honestly the pictures promoting it as a 'bonding experience as you gaze at each other' are SO wrong. When I do look at Annabelle my neck hurts, when I look to long I get so round shouldered. In fact when getting a massage at the spa the lady commented how 'seized up my back was' and it's really common with breastfeeding.....oh and that I should get regular massages....I wish :) This trip for a facial really helped though!

So when I say it is mutually beneficial that is the truest statement I could make. Annabelle gets fed and my boobs stop hurting - I am not looking forward to when we start weaning her. The hand pump will have to be on stand by! The weight loss is also an added benefit....but my balance may be off as i'm sure I am eating more than the 500 calories extra a day.

On a plus side the nighttime leakage has stopped, I am using an old maternity bra with breast pads and it's only if and when Annabelle sleeps more than 7 hours that I wake up drowning in my milk. Or in soaking sheets. I mean seriously who romanticises breastfeeding????

The nighttime feeds are also easier as I can roll on my side and feed Annabelle as I doze so I am less 'awake' and therefore able to fall back asleep easily when she has finished. I did see this image that made me laugh though - I am sure Annabelle can relate!

Okay this is a pretty perfect moment...satisfied post feed!
Having said all that it is Annabelle and I time and I wouldn't swap that for anything. Her happy gurgling and the smiles when she's finished are enough motivation to get through any back pain. Plus she is growing well and is healthy so I plan to continue.

The 'have boob will travel' line has meant that Annabelle has just fitted in. We were asked the other day how life pre-Annabelle compares to life with Annabelle and we struggled to think of any real challenges. We pack a bit more, take a bit longer to get anywhere and you may have to continue talking to me why I get my boob out (with some dignity I hope thanks to the one top up and one top down method) but other than that we still get up and go. We have been able to continuing to discovering Birmingham on nights out thanks to Buckt (more on this later and on Instagram) and the support of my wonderful Mum and sister and local friends. In fact only last night was I feeding Annabelle in Grand Central station before leaving her with friends while Laura and I went to smash things up in a Rage Room.

What I would say is breastfeeding also involves a lot of support. Sure I provide the boob but if I din't have Laura shielding me when my 'boob removal' is not going to plan I would give some poor strangers a fright. Plus Laura is on hand with muslins, bibs, clothes as you never know when Annabelle will decide to give me back the milk or share it with someone nearby. When my back really hurts mid feed Laura places her ever supportive hand on my back to ease the pain and more than that she will help hold Annabelle when she is fidgeting.

More than all of the above Laura is also the first to say 'let me feed Annabelle' when we have had an awake day. That offer is no small/easy offer. Defrosting the frozen milk, heating it to the right temperature and doing it while Annabelle is screaming is not an easy task, yet she does it - often.

It's amazing as even having Annabelle I wouldn't say we have become super Mumsy, at the start I judged myself for that. I read posts by other saying that their child was 'everything' and don't get me wrong Annabelle is our everything but her easy going nature and willingness to be breastfeed anywhere have meant we and I especially have kept a sense of myself. Yes I know I breastfeed but yes I still go out, yes I still explore and yes Laura and I still have time to ourselves. We are like we have always been but with an extra amazing addition.

Post feed snuggles are the best
My final thought on the subject right now is the un-comfortableness I feel when propositioning Annabelle with my boob - anyone else notice how the terms used all sound a bit too.....erm weird to say to a baby. Lines such as 'come on you know you want it', 'just put in your mouth', 'stop messing around down there this isn't the time for fun and games', 'OMG that feels so good' (generally after a gap in feeding after the above reasons). I feel weird even writing that but it makes Laura and I laugh, often.

Are you breastfeeding? Do you feel the same? Have you experienced the pain? Any tips?

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Review: Serenity Beauty - Time To Relax!

As a new Mum it's hard to justify 'me time' but when we were contacted out of the blue by Kirsty at Serenity Beauty, about a facial treatment that refreshes and rejuvenates the skin we were interested to know more.

After a brief conversation we were invited by Kirsty of Serenity Beauty Solihull to come and try the Dermalogica Active Resurface 35 which takes 75 minutes and includes a cleanse, exfoliation, face and shoulder massage, masque, serum, eye cream and moisturise oh and scalp and hand massage.

I can honestly say my face has never felt so good!

The experience happened in Kirsty's home treatment room. From the moment you walk in the front door of her home I instantly felt relaxed. Situated in a quiet street in Hall Green you aren't faced with any of the usual parking drama or fees. You rock up, are welcomed by the lovely and super friendly Kirsty and walk into a calm, warm space to start the consultation. (On a side note if you are looking for interior design inspiration Kirsty's house is gorgeous!) Unlike most spa's where you are 'slotted' in this experience felt personal.

The consultation started with a few questions about me and my beauty regime. Based on a lack of time my regime is non-existent right now so answering the questions was simple :) Once we had run through problem areas and what I wanted to get from the facial Kirsty checked out my skin. It was confirmed that my skin was dehydrated - I really need to get back on drinking more water - and in good need of TLC.

Kirsty talked through every stage of the treatment and explained the benefits, this would have been really interesting had I not been in a state of complete relaxation. I'm not sure how many times I nodded off but I don't remember being that chilled out since before I got pregnant.

The exfoliation part was definitely effective, my skin was tingling during the treatment and felt great on. I literally felt my skin feel better.

Action Shot!
In fact after the treatment was skin looked and felt great for days. The relaxation lasted even longer. I slept so well that evening too. I think the massage element was an extra benefit, the tension in my neck and shoulders from breastfeeding had been eased and I was standing straighter. I felt thoroughly taken care of.

I'm not usually a big fan of pampering myself but this facial has me seriously reconsidering. The down time, the adult conversation, taking care of myself and the relaxation were all needed more than I realised.
Thoroughly relaxed

Before leaving we checked out the full list of services that range from nail treatments to massage, fake tans to lash treatments and lifts (Laura's going to try this), pedicures to waxing. You can check them out here.

And best of all you get 20% off your first treatment!

A bit about Dermalogica:
'The Moment Your Skin Changed. Forever.

When Dermalogica meets skin, skin health is redefined. Dermalogica is the number one choice of skin care professionals and consumers worldwide. Why? Because for over 25 years, we’ve been dedicated to delivering skin health results through education, innovation, and professional recommendation, not through sparkly packaging, promises of miracle cures, or overblown hype.

For years, Dermalogica’s formulas have pioneered new standards for product performance. Using only the finest ingredients available, all Dermalogica products are non-comedogenic and contain no occlusive mineral oil or lanolin, no irritating artificial colors or fragrance, and no drying S.D. alcohol.'

My treatment:
Dermalogica Active Resurface 35 – (75 minutes)

An advanced resurfacing treatment, the Dermalogica Active Resurface 35 features a cocktail of advanced cosmeceutical ingredients. The treatment is completely customised to your skin’s requirements, providing intense resurfacing to stimulate cell renewal and cell turnover whilst helping to treat some of the most prevalent skin concerns (pigmentation, dehydration and congestion).

Exfoliation is one of the most effective treatments for addressing major skin concerns. With maturity, our skin’s natural desquamation process slows, causing a build-up of dead cells on the skin’s surface. This decrease in cell turnover is also accompanied by a slowdown in the cell renewal rate. So, therefore, is perfect for signs of ageing and prevention.

A unique benefit of the Active Resurface 35 treatment is the lack of inflammation, tissue damage and peeling generally associated with intense resurfacing treatments.

Treatment includes consultation. double cleanse, resurface exfoliation, extractions, face and shoulder massage, masque, scalp and hand massage, serum, eye cream and moisturise.

So if you are based in Birmingham, Solihull or surrounding areas and looking for a great experience and amazing treatment check out Kirsty on Facebook here or on Instagram here. 

Friday, 14 September 2018

Blog Update: Our Love Story So Far!

Do you ever take a moment to reflect on life so far?

We attended a meditation class last night (as part of a blogging experience which we'll detail soon) and as we were given time to think I allowed my mind to stray and reflect on just how lucky I am. It also reminded me to get my butt in gear and update some blog pages that we hadn't looked at since Bisbee arrived almost 4 years ago.

So here is the updated 'LOVE STORY' so far page.
And the updated ABOUT US page.

Both includes links to key pages for our story so far.

I know one thing that will never change no matter how far we come and how much our life changes and that is that I will always want to make my life with Laura work. We both accept that Love is an action and as life gets busier I want to make sure Laura feels love, sees that I love her and knows, even on our hardest days that I am completely and utterly in love with her. All of her. The organising, the planning, her as a Mama, her as a best friend, as a wife, as a bad influence and good influence, the cooking, smoothie making, healthy eating encourager, the art, the mess, the clothes piles, the always having my back, being able to finish any sentence  - however random, knowing what I am thinking without me being sure. The direction giving, shopping list writing, booking of Christmas things in July. The fancy dress requirements, the photo taking and evenings chilling on the couch doing absolutely nothing. I love it all. Every single minute of it.

We have had challenges thrown at us over the years, a recent financial challenge is one of our biggest so far, but I know that together we can conquer anything. We have worked hard to build foundations that will allow us to grow and we can't wait for what the future brings. Life with Laura keeps me excited.

Every morning I wake up grateful to have a bed and heart full of love. Out littlest love and fur baby are never far from our side and watching them grow has been our greatest adventure.

Bring on the happiness.
Bring on the travels.
Bring on exploring near and far.
Bring on the memories, the photos, the stories.
Bring on the LOVE.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Manchester: 5 Reasons To Visit!

Okay it's official we love Manchester! I had suspected it for a while but this last visit confirmed it.

We had visited Manchester for pride previously in 2015, we added it in to our Northern road trip in 2015 and again in 2017 with Laura's family. I have also visited a few times for work. Each visit had been brief though and had never really discovered the city and all it has to offer. Now we have visited and explored here are our reasons why we think you should visit:

1) The mix of old buildings and new makes for a really interesting city centre and downtown. The fact that the old buildings are grand, beautifully designed, re-purposed places makes you want to find out the history. From the Corn Exchange to the banks, Spinningfields to Northern Square you can see the original purpose written into the buildings bricks. It gives you a sense of what a thriving city this used to be.....and still is.

The new buildings are still being added. From the Hilton hotel that stands overlooking the city from Deansgate to the newly designed Spinningfields they are worth checking out. The skyline is changing every time we visit.

2) It's walkable. If you plan to explore a city it's always good to know how far apart things are. Well the good news with Manchester is that you can walk around this city easily. What's even better is that it is flat enough to be able to take a pram and rarely get stuck.  We covered 8 miles in one day exploring every part of the city but our legs were fine the next day - mostly likely because it was flat to walk around not because we are super fit :)

3) You won't go hungry. Okay, okay, I know almost every city in the UK has a diverse range of food on offer but for accessibility Manchester wins. From the Alchemist to Almost Famous to Northern Soul grilled cheese restaurant you can stay mainstream or find all kinds of delicious foods in the pop up stalls and alternative areas.  

4) The graffiti. Manchester is jam packed with walls dedicated to the art and with the common association with bees you'll see plenty of them too. Up until the awful bombing in the city in May 2017 it wasn't widely known what the link was. The bee features in Manchester's coat of arms and during the industrial revolution came to mean that the city was 'working together like worker bees'. The symbol stuck and today it can be seen all over the city.

There are plenty of other graffiti pieces to see too if you head to the Northern Quarter!

5) As well as the graffiti bees there are other bees currently swarming the city - first came elephants in Sheffield, then came bears in Birmingham and now Bees in Manchester! Bee in the City is supporting the 'we love Manchester charity'. Over 100 bees have been designed and placed around the city until the 23rd of September. Click the link above for all the details.

Following the trail (on the free maps provided at locations in the city) you are guided to areas you would never find just strolling around. As well as beautiful designs each artist shared a statement about why they chose the design and it's significance to Manchester. From the influential women to the music (think Oasis, Joy Division, Cleopatra, Herman Hermits) to the industrial heritage as cottonopolis to the city's support of LGBT people, it is educational in an unexpected way.

I am sure there is plenty more to discover but after a day we certainly got a sense that the city has an eclectic mix of people, a thriving arts culture and a modern outlook. We didn't even touch on the huge amount of shopping on offer on Market Street and in the Arndale centre. With trams, buses and Manchester Piccadilly train station the city is accessible however you travel. Whatever you do add it to your must see list though. We will bee (sorry couldn't resist) heading back, i'm sure of it!

Friday, 7 September 2018

Travel: Card vs Cash - You Need To Know This!

As you know we LOVE to travel, at home and abroad and in recent years we have noticed a real change in how we spend money, have you?

When we started travelling together we would dutifully convert cash into local currency ahead of time and on occasion we would take the odd traveler cheque - remember them? However we took money we had to have a rough idea of how much we wanted to spend ahead of time or accept horrible conversion rates when abroad.

Image thanks to:
We noticed a real shift in how we spent foreign currency a few years ago when we realised more and more countries we visited had cash points that offered fair exchange rates so it involved less trekking around to find 'a good deal'. It also meant we could be less prepared with how much we could spend.

In the last couple of years it has got even easier to spend abroad with UK banks reducing or eliminating fees when you use your card abroad. It has meant that we have traveled with minimal cash - a safety benefit in itself. I remember filling underwear with cash I didn't want to carry around then burying it in a 'safe' space in a hotel room.

Then last year we were told about an app and card Monzo that allows you to track your spending and easily transfer money between your UK bank account and your Monzo account - and back again. There are no fees when you are spending abroad and the exchange rate is the same as Mastercards. You can also withdraw cash if you want. You can use it as your regular bank account if you wish too. It's worth checking out if you don't like carrying cash.

On the subject of cash vs card WeSwap recently conducted a survey to find the most popular countries in Europe for cash vs card payments and the findings were interesting:

Original map found here
Our experience agrees with this. When we visited Norway we were surprised that even street sellers had a way of paying then by card. Buskers, street vendors, market stalls etc all provided account details so the 'I don't carry cash' excuse never worked but it also meant it was super easy to spend.

We didn't notice is so much in Paris but it is interesting it is deemed more card friendly thank the UK and I would say we are very card friendly.

The WeSwap stats were:
  • Sweden tops the list as the most popular holiday destination for card – 81% of holidaymakers prefer to use card
  • Nordic countries make up the top-three holiday destinations for card use
  • Greece, Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia and Montenegro were the least card-friendly European countries
Interestingly Sweden, like Norway, are moving to being a cashless society - if you are planning on visiting the Nordic area it's worth being aware that in Sweden some shops are even putting up signs saying 'no cash'. 

As an alternative to Monzo it is worth checking out WeSwap: 
WeSwap is the People’s Currency Exchange. We’re striving to remove all the stress, hassle and smoke and mirrors normally associated with currency exchange, for as low cost to our community as possible. WeSwap matches travelers up and swaps their currencies directly, avoiding the costly fees imposed by other services. Having just won Best Travel Money Provider 2018, WeSwap’s people-powered platform helps travelers get the best rates of exchange – by way of a transparent 1-2% fee on the mid-market rate – along with a suite of tools to help travellers budget better and be more financially savvy when traveling. WeSwap stats from 2017 show people saved significant amounts by using the platform vs exchanging at notorious exchange hot-spots such as the airport. WeSwap provides users with a WeSwap Mastercard that can be used to load or spend local currency, withdraw cash or order before jetting off.

If you are heading outside of Europe WeSwap has more detailed card vs cash findings on their post here, that includes Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico, South Africa and more. For example did you know the USA is 71% in favour of card?!

Have you come across any other Apps / currency exchange services worth mentioning?

Happy Traveling!