Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Welcome, Goodbye and Hope To See You Again!

Why hello there, thanks for stopping by!

This will be our last and final post on our SarahplusLaura home, we've moved! Not too far I might add but to somewhere with a little more space, freedom to be ourselves and we think somewhere a little more fitting.

So come and find us at:

With the arrival of Annabelle we realised that 'Sarah plus Laura' was no longer our identifier, we are Sarah plus Laura, plus Annabelle plus Bisbee.....it's not quite so catchy. Our new name gives us space to grow.....

If you want to follow along with our new adventures, see where we are now or check out our latest content just click here: http://www.thesmithstory.co.uk, we'd love to see you!

We have also updated all our social media accounts to The Smith Story so come say hi on whatever account you are using. 

SarahplusLaura has given us so much, thank you for being part of it. For reading, for sharing your comments and thoughts, for the emails, the stories - for it all. We will be migrating content over to The Smith Story gradually so it won't all be lost.

We will still be at sarahpluslaura@gmail.com if you have any questions!

Monday, 19 August 2019

Review: Buckt - Birmingham and Beyond!

There are many things we love but high up on our list are:
  • The city we live in - Birmingham
  • Days Out
  • Great Value
  • Doing things together
So anything that allows us to do any of these things, or a combination of these things is something we can get behind. Buckt is one of those things!

You may remember last year we were lucky enough to be invited by Buckt to try our their subscription box for Birmingham (and surrounding areas), we shared our experience of what we got up to in these posts:
Buckt: A Great New Way To Explore Birmingham
Buckt: A Great New Way To Explore Birmingham and Beyond

A few of our highlights included Rage Room, Magic Lantern Festival, Ice Hockey Game, Bingo, Meditation and many more.

We've been invited to try out the subscription again, this time our box includes: A 20-20 cricket game, swimming in a quarry, trying (or retrying in our case) Subway sandwiches, a tour of Birmingham's Coffin Works AND taking on THE MONSTER - the worlds largest inflatable assault course.

We actually started with this activity and we may have made an error.....we are aching! But we had so much fun. Check out our Instagram stories for all the action!

Buckt is a great concept for so many reasons but a major thing for us is the opportunity to find and do activities that we have never heard about, in our own city. We would have never considered getting tickets for The Monster but we would have missed out. Being big kids for an afternoon was liberating. We don't often get out as a couple and of we do it's for dinner, it's not to do something out of our comfort zone or something as ridiculous as sliding down 18 metre inflatable slides, lounging in an inflatable Unicorn ball pond or climbing 8ft vertical walls.

The other amazing thing about Buckt is the value. It's £25 for a two people box and The Monster would have been £25 per person!!! It's also great value if you want to take friends along to the activity - they were offering friends of the Buckt subscriber The Monster tickets at £17.50!

We can't get a meal for two for £25 let alone 5 activities if we were left to our own devices.

When we arrived at the NEC we followed signs to 'The Monster' and followed the flow of sport clothes wearing people into the venue. The queuing took 10 minutes and then before we knew it we were in a massive hall converted into a party. The music was pumping, the food stalls smelt amazing and The Monster was imposing.

As we walked in we spotted the beer pong tables set up, a giant bouncy castle and a giant inflatable Unicorn jam-packed with balls. A DJ booth and stage was welcoming people and at the back of the hall was a free cloakroom where we could leave the belongings we didn't want to lose on the assault course. If you time it right they have drag queen karaoke, boozy bingo and lots of other things going on.

They also have family friendly sessions on offer earlier in the day.

Walking towards the start we both took a deep breath and joined in with the warm up. There had been a bottle neck created on The Monster so we were being held for 5 minutes - not ideal as we could see what was ahead for the entire time. When the siren did sound for us to start it was intense. You run in through the mouth in groups of 6 and are straight into the obstacles.

The course has you going over, under, round, through, up, down you name in you will do it. From hurdling inflatable fences to battling through rings, sliding down slides and climbing walls you will use every muscle in your body. The wall itself is a feat not everyone achieves. They even have staff there to give you an extra boost at the end as the top foot rungs are slippy and require every bit of upper body strength. I managed it in my first attempt and helped a few other girls up as Laura - dutifully and very Britishly queued! - when it was her turn she did it in two and I was so proud. She could have easily given up but she took a deep breath and before I could get a video she was up and over and on to the next. My wife is a warrior!

It took us half an hour to get around the course and by the end we were exhausted, sweaty and very proud. When we first saw what we had to do we were intimidated, when we finished we realised just how capable we were and best of all we did it together, as a team. It was invigorating.

We finished with a bounce for fun on the giant castle and rested our weary bodies in the ball pond before summoning the strength we had left to get us back to the car and into a warm bath.

The Monster is in Birmingham until the 20th of August then 23-28th of August in London.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Baby Blogging: The Truth About Sending a Baby To Daycare!

Growing up my Mum was a childminder; it meant I didn't leave my Mum's side - other than for afternoons at nursery school - until I officially started school. Laura had a stay at home Mum. We were lucky to have a lot of our Mums' attentions for our childhoods and so when it came to having our own child we knew our preference was to have one of us stay home.

That preference is changing though. It didn't change overnight but it did change when we talked about our reality. The reality of living on one salary. The reality of saving for future children. We just so happened to see a new daycare being built on the corner of our street and then visiting that day care shifted the preference too. And so we went from being set on one of us being a stay at home Mum immediately to factoring day care into our plans (although likely not forever, as we still plan on Laura being a SAHM hopefully next year!).

We both agreed that full time day care wasn't something we wanted but we agreed that some time at day care could be beneficial for Annabelle.

For us we could not have made a better decision.

As I write this blog I find it shocking that I have been back at pretty much full time work for 4 months (I shared my thought on the end of maternity leave in this post). I am fortunate enough to have enough annual leave to take two or three Mondays off a month to look after Annabelle this year. My Mum has her two days per week and she is in day care two days.

Her first observation
We're pleasantly surprised at how far we have come as a family and how much daycare has helped so many parts of our lives. That includes:

  • Annabelle eating - she is now a pro at feeding herself and a lot of that is because of watching other kids at day care, and their onsite chef has introduced her to new foods we may not have had a chance to expose her to!
  • Annabelle walking - of course she would have gotten there, but watching other babies figure it out definitely encouraged her
  • Imaginative play / playing by herself: at first, watching her play by herself made my heart sink until I watched her making herself laugh and I realised that actually it is a positive development. At home we are often quick to jump in and play - desperate to spend every moment with her - but we have learnt that giving her space helps with her imagination.
  • Confidence - Annabelle's and ours. Annabelle because she is encouraged to be capable. To help put shoes and socks on, to help tidy up, to join in on games, to play with different textures (water, sand, flour, food - thankfully with them clearing up :) ), in different environments (mud kitchen, garden, sand pit, dress up area, play kitchen, soft play area, climbing frame), with different children and daycare staff. All of it means that she walks into her room with confidence now and barely notices the goodbye. 

  • Our confidence because we get feedback on A's progress that assures us she is developing well for her age and we are doing the right thing. This is a big one for us. As first time Mums who don't know many kids I was worried about what I should be encouraging Annabelle to do and how I should do it. This development class I did was great but other than that it was just me and her at home and while it was great when she was a baby it would be a lot of work to entertain her and help her develop on my own day in and day out now. 
  • Social Skills - Our Annabelle shares, cares and loves big. If we are out and about or she's in daycare you will see her beeline to other children wanting to play. She will share her toys, kiss others and be gentle to babies - we love it so, so much and I don't honestly think she would have had the same exposure if it wasn't for day care.
  • Communication - I know kids develop skills as they get older but you can tell being around her peers has sped this up for her. Her pointing and happy squeals get us in the feels right now and you can tell she is really trying to have conversations.
  • Routine - at first we were afraid of having to adapt to the day care routine but they have actually been guiding us and telling us when they think Annabelle is ready to make a change. They've been good about working with our concerns/opinions too. Together, we have always guided Annabelle through routine changes very successfully.
  • So much love. I know that sounds weird, how can leaving Annabelle create love - in our world it's simple. We have quality time with Annabelle as we have been able to clear our life admin / get our jobs done without having to compromise time with her. Annabelle appreciates the one on one attention from us but loves being around the other kids - I mean who wouldn't want to play all day in a purpose built room :) And then the daycare staff, they all love Annabelle. I mean ,not in the same way as us, but they are excited to tell us how good she's been or when she achieved something, or enjoyed something. They smile when they see her and give her hugs goodbye. From the receptionist to the room leader, the chef to the garden attendant they all know Annabelle. And she waves at them like friends. It makes our hearts happy. 

At first Annabelle would come home exhausted, her naps there weren't as long as at home, but now she comes home full of smiles and we have three wonderful hours together. She has nap time there sorted and often sleeps longer there than at home.

It is amazing. We have mentioned before that we get video access and that does make a big difference but we also really like the reviews we get that score her development against the Early Years Foundation Stages. We also like term summaries that share things like:

'Annabelle has a good relationship with adults and her peers. She has started to engage more in activities and play alongside her peers, sometimes copying what they do.'

And the observations we get are great. They are pictures with descriptions of what she has been doing.

All in all we have had a very positive day care experience and we hope it continues. The fact that the day care is a 3 minute walk away makes it feel like she's not far away and we can get to her quickly should we ever need to.

Have you put your child in nursery/daycare, and what are your experiences with it?

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Travel: UK Day Trips - The South!

You may have seen our last post on Day Trips in the Midlands, if not see here.

Glastonbury & Stonehenge: If you love history and impressive sites then heading south could be your thing. Glastonbury is quaint but full of everything you need to entertain you for an afternoon and Stonehenge is just as majestic as you expect. The area is perfect for stretching your legs and enjoying impressive sights! To read more click here.

Brighton: We do love to be beside the seaside and this town has so much to offer come rain or shine, if you haven't been we would suggest you do. For a day, a weekend or a week - you'll always find something to do. See what we got up to here.

Cambridge: Pretty, interesting and jam-packed with history this city is worth adding to your to-do list. If you go for the day you can focus on the highlights - punting, Universities, pretty streets to explore but if you go for the weekend this place has so much to offer you'll never get bored! See what we did here.

Newquay: If you have time to head to the south of England you have so much beautiful coast to choose from you could easily spend weeks exploring. However if you need to pick a destination then Newquay should be on the to-do list. With plenty of sandy beaches, activities you can do in and out of the rain and so many places to explore here's what we got up to. 

Devon: The English Riveria, located in the South West and never more than 25 miles from a beach this place is perfect for families with dogs or people who like walks. The scenery is stunning and there are plenty of villages and places to explore. South Milton was a highlight as it had a dog friendly beach all year round, for other highlights check here.

Sudbury: A chance to explore Suffolk will take you back in time, with quaint villages and old timey places to discover. Another great place to take dogs and kids you can make a base from any of the villages and spend your time picking the next place on your to-do list. Click here's what we got up to.

Happy Travels

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Baby Blogging: The End Of Breastfeeding!

13 months and 5 days ago our wonderful Annabelle joined our family and from the moment she arrived she has been breastfeeding. For the entire time I have been her Mum I have been breastfeeding her.

That was until now.

I haven't completely stopped breastfeeding but it is slowing down. And both Annabelle and I okay with it. I think. It's time.

Independent lady

The last hurdle we have to overcome is the midnight snack. For the last few weeks we have been giving Annabelle a bottle of cows milk at bedtime - around 5oz. Then just as we are drifting off to sleep Annabelle will wake up wanting food. At that point breastfeeding is the easiest option.

The same can be said of mornings. We haven't figured out getting a bottle ready in time for Annabelle waking up so I often pick her up and feed her. I also like the time we get together in the morning as often Annabelle wakes up super happy.

We are aiming to have ourselves sorted and Annabelle fully weaned by 15 months as we were reading that at that point she will develop a new sense of attachment that will be harder to break.

It's not easy writing that this is (almost) the end but then very little is easy raising a kid. The upside is that the rewards are amazing and constant. The enjoyment is more than I ever expected as Annabelle is no longer a baby it does make sense that she doesn't need me in quite the same way.

It's amazing reading the first post here and how far we have come.

Two months in we were finding our rhythm and I shared this post here on how I was getting on.

At nine months I shared this post here about preparing to go back to work and still breastfeed.

At ten months I was able to share this post on breastfeeding and working here.

And then this was the last post I shared on a year of breastfeeding here.

Happy world breastfeeding week to those Mum's out there who are able to breastfeed and kudos to those Mama's making it work feeding babies in another way!

Monday, 5 August 2019

Life Update: After The Storm Comes A Rainbow!

So a few weeks ago I shared this post: Sometimes The Struggle Is Real! Life had become somewhat overwhelming for a number of reasons and I wrote the post as a way of clearing my head and sharing what was going on with us.

That was a few weeks ago and opening this page to start this post I am in a much better place. Thankfully. Things haven't slowed down but things have become more manageable.

In fact we have spent the weekend singing, dancing and celebrating at Brighton Pride with my Mum, two Aunts and sister. It was an amazing weekend and wandering down Brighton pier I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. I am surrounded by love and support and when things are tough I know my tribe are there for me.

My wonderful wife is the leader of the tribe, the brightest colour in my rainbow and the best support I could ever ask for.

In the last few weeks I have organised and run a conference for the growing sales team I am part of managing - 32 people at last count! We have launched new content in subjects I haven't had time to get up to speed on but have supported. I have been to different team meetings, met lots of new people and joined in with wider company activities in a away to get myself up to speed with things as quick as possible. The new normal is still a away off but I am working towards it.

And then home and Annabelle. Part of my struggle was because I was missing having time with Annabelle but in the last few weeks I feel like this has started to change, culminating with this weekend and today. This weekend I was able to get plenty of Annabelle time even though there were others that she spent time with. She was on top form and an absolute joy to be around. Today I had the day off and it felt so good - although she had a two hour nap which then left be tidying instead of spending time with her I was still able to enjoy her company, and catch up on Bisbee hugs. I guess naps are necessary sadly!

Annabelle has also been sleeping better so I am less tired. It's amazing what sleep can do for you. I always knew it but having the recent evidence has been eye-opining - or eye closing :)

I honestly don't think we could have handled Pride a few weeks ago. With the amount of house projects and stuff going on in life I think we would have felt too exhausted. However Laura really stepped it up and in the last week we had one of our bathrooms finished, the conservatory/playroom is almost completed - including a newly painted wall courtesy of Laura and the last bits will be down to us instead of workmen which is a really nice feeling.

It meant that the timing of Pride was a great celebration, a celebration of how far my Mum has come in accepting our relationship, a great celebration of being a rainbow family and a great celebration that love is really all you need.

We stayed in Worthing, a 20 minute drive from Brighton. we arrived on Friday, after a three hour drive from Birmingham and three hours of my Mum and Aunt Janette entertaining and feeding Annabelle. My Auntie Karen and sister arrived shortly after and we dined on fish and chips before catching up and bed.

Saturday was a fairly early start so we could get to Brighton, get parked and get to the parade route. We were able to find a spot and spread out on the curb so we could feed Annabelle before the parade arrived. It also meant we could rest our legs from the walk down. Much needed as we then spent two hours enjoying the parade.

After the parade we strolled towards Brighton pier and enjoyed the atmosphere, Annabelle loved watching the sea and we enjoyed the time with people special to us. Powered by doughnuts we made it back to the car and then the house for an evening of games and snacks.

On Sunday we explored Worthing and enjoy the beach front and another meal of fish and chips before heading back to Birmingham.

I don't know if it was the sea air, the rainbows everywhere we looked or just the outpouring of love but Brighton certainly brightened how I am feeling.

Onwards and upwards!

Monday, 29 July 2019

Travel: UK Day Trips - The Midlands!

The UK is amazing. I feel like we have started more than a few posts with that line over the year. Being based in the Midlands we have been able to take full advance of exploring this wonderful island.

We thought we'd take a moment to round up our UK highlights, it ended up being too much for one post so we have split it into three - starting with the Midlands, followed by the South and then the North! So if you want a day trip or mini break or long weekend then there might be somewhere for you to check out.

So without further ado here's our list:
Stratford-Upon-Avon: This beautiful town that sits beside the ever stunning Avon river is at its best in Summer. With events happening almost daily and enough history to keep you entertained for weeks this place is a MUST visit - here's a few more reasons why you need to add it to your to do list: post here.

Warwick: Another must for history fans and based in the middle of England is Warwick - home to the world famous castle and beautiful town sat among rolling hills. Easy to get to and jam packed with things to do this town is for everyone. If you want to read more on the castle check out what to expect here.

Birmingham: We couldn't miss out our home town. From the worlds largest Primark to entertain the shopping fans to Legoland and aquarium, more canals than Venice, parks galore, a wildlife conservation park and so, so, so much more you can't head to the Midlands and not visit Birmingham. Here's a couple of other reasons for stopping by: click here.

World's biggest Primark!
Photo from https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/guide/where-to-eat-birmingham

Nottingham: Home of Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest this city mixes ancient myth with modern offerings and is definitely worth a day trip. If you want to visit the area but avoid the hustle and bustle of the centre we suggest checking out Wollaton Hall, here's why.

Aston: Home of Aston Villa for the football fans - it is a super impressive stadium and home to Aston Hall - where James Watts (steam engine builder) this place is worth jumping on a train from Birmingham to see. The house offers tours and click here to see what to expect.

Cadburys World: A day eating and learning about chocolate is what you can expect with a trip to Cadbury's World and who doesn't love that?! Well actually if you don't there is so much more than a trip to the factory. Based Bourneville the factory is surrounded by the most chocolate box town you will ever see. Every building is beautiful, the park, the school - it's all perfect, and well worth a visit.  Oh and it's only a short drive or train ride from Birmingham. Click here for our experience.

The Cotswolds: We LOVE this beautiful part of the country so much. There are so many beautiful places to explore, small villages, chocolate box cottages, quaint cafes, stunning walks and places to relax. Whether it's admiring the fields of lavender (here's where you can check it out), walking by the river or figuring out is lower or upper slaughter is the prettiest you can get lost in the Cotswolds for days - we did and here's what we got up to - click here.

And if you want to wear your kids out or have a ton of fun yourself then Star City is also worth adding to the to-do list. With indoor mini golf, laser quest, bowling, roller rink and so much more you won't be bored on a visit. See what we did when we visited here.

Are there any Midland must do's that you would add to the list?

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Life Update - Sometimes, The Struggle Is Real.

I am lucky. I am super lucky. And yet despite being super lucky I am struggling right now. The wonderful world of social media allows a snapshot into our life - the highlight reel if you like. It creates a grid filled with smiles and happy moments that we love to look back on. A Twitter feed of life observations and a Facebook timeline of curated content that shares our story.

All of it is true. No picture is ever faked - it may be retaken half a dozen times when the baby and dog are involved- but it is always capturing a moment that happened.

But that is never the whole story.

Instagram Stories are the closest you will get to seeing our real life. To seeing what goes into everyday. The highs, the lows and the moments in between. Catch us on a good day and you'd think we lead a privileged life - and we do. We lead a life we are very grateful for. Even that isn't the whole story though.

Life right now, for me at least, is hard. There are some days right now that I am really struggling through.

Just before I came back from maternity leave in April my company announced it had been acquired by a much bigger organisation. I came back to a Welcome Day where the company was sharing its vision and what the acquisition meant for the the staff. It was a day I am glad I made it back for.

What wasn't shared at the day was exactly how much is involved in the acquisition. I'm not sure anyone fully knew. I'm still not sure people know. All I know is for me it has meant a LOT more work. I left for maternity leave with a team of 6, and came back to a team of 9. That team is now 12. That is double the amount of people and triple the amount of work.

To add to the challenge, the 6 additions weren't recruited by me - I am having to get to know them, they have their own requirements on me and my time and are double the work of the original 6. I am having to do a lot of 'sucking it up' at the moment. The team's roles are changing, their targets are increasing and the way they work will be looked at. There is additional training, for them, for me. There are meetings to understand the wider company, their products on offer and all the while the wider business is trying to get hold of our account book to approach them themselves, potentially jeopardising existing relationships. I feel like everyday is endless calls trying to figure things out and find out more info. It can be exhausting.

I have never travelled for work as much as I have the last few months and I find myself doing that terrible thing of switching the laptop on once Annabelle has gone to bed in order to get through my inbox.

I am tired.

I am tired because of work and I am tired because I am adjusting to a wake up of 6 am. It's the time Annabelle has decided is her get up time. Occasionally she'll nap while I feed her first thing but most often she is awake and ready to go. Initially I was exhausted - I used to get up at 7.30 am but I am adjusting and now I'm just tired.

I am grateful she didn't start this wake up time in winter, at least in summer I get up to sunshine. This morning I actually appreciated the time with her before leaving for the train at 7 am. We are dozy but able to play and I can make sure I see her smile for what may be my only time that day.

Here lies one of my biggest struggles. My lack of time with Annabelle, or should I say lack of quality time. It used to be that Annabelle and I had all day every day together and I loved it - more than I thought I would (if you ever read this post). In fact I loved it so much I debated extending my maternity leave. For all the right reasons, I didn't, but I really wish I could head off on maternity leave for a couple of months with her at the moment. She's adorable right now. Except I usually see her when she's super tired and ready for bed. It means she smiles at me then cries wanting milk. That's my brief 'time with Annabelle'. If I'm lucky I get a quick play in but as soon as the clock strikes 6.55 pm, it's bedtime.

Then there's the small matter of a flat I own in Scotland causing issues. Firstly there was a large tax bill (another story) but the long and the short of it being I didn't know I should have been paying tax and when I found out I declared it and got threatened with a £35k fine. This all happened on maternity leave. Thankfully it ended up being nearer £8k but that blew all our maternity leave savings. It's something I feel guilty about no matter how many times Laura tells me not to. Then my tenant handed in her notice and the fridge broke. It's a lot of expense at a time we really don't need it. We can't sell it as nothing is selling in that area and if we can't find a new tenant we'll have two mortgages to cover. I am struggling with a lot of guilt about it. It was an investment I made when I was younger and now we are both having to look after it.

The final thing I am struggling with is my role within our relationship. We are a team. We are a great team but Laura is the MVP. She cooks, she cleans, shes organises our life. She does the nursery drop off and pick up and looks after all Annabelle's schedule and preparation. She plans and executes - our conservatory wouldn't have been built for years (if ever) if left to me. We'd never go on holiday. Weekends would come and go without me noticing. Laura shops, she makes sure we are seeing our friends, she hosts events to thank our family and friends for their support and all while she is making me feel loved and appreciated. To say the roles are unequally split at the moment is an understatement.

My hero
Sure there are some things I do, I do my best whenever and wherever I can but I am best when I focus on one thing at a time and with my brain absorbed at work it means it takes me longer to achieve anything. Laura never lets her frustration show. In fact when I admit I am struggling she's the one who tells me I do enough. It gets me through.

I made a deal with myself and Laura on my birthday that I would focus less on what I am not doing and more on what I am doing. I will focus on my achievements and where I am making progress. I will stress less about what I can't impact and accept that sometimes things are shit, and that's okay, it won't be that way forever. And I will look after myself - prioritising doing what makes me happy. I did that today. I had a meeting scheduled for the end of the day that would have meant I got back at 8 pm. When the meeting was rescheduled I jumped on our booking system and changed my train time (I wouldn't have done this previously as it cost my company money but today I thought - I'm part of a bigger company and you know what, they won't notice the loss) and I will get a small time with Annabelle when I get in at 6.30 pm. This makes me happy.

I know this feeling of struggling won't last. I know that there are reasons for feeling like I do and those reasons will change over time. I know that getting more sleep will help. I know that acknowledging I am struggling, rather than persevering and feeling alone, will help. I know that making small changes is already helping. I also know that capturing the happy moments every day are good reminders that even on the hard days there are reasons to smile. I am lucky, I know that. I just have to get through this tough time and acknowledge that it's just that - a period in time.