Thursday, 14 February 2019

Valentine's Day - Throwing It Back!!

Bringing back a 2012 post:
Love was in the air yesterday, as we celebrated our first Valentine's Day together in London. Laura has always loved Valentine's Day (heck, what holiday doesn't that girl love??), and though Sarah hasn't ever taken much notice of it (except since being with Laura, because it gives her a chance to show off her amazing present-giving/spoiling skills!), she (Laura hopes) has learned to love it too. This is why we thought we'd share with you our Valentines Days of old. 

Now, we've talked a lot about Valentine's Day on this blog over the last week or so, but we hope you'll bear with us and enjoy a look back at our three V-Days as a couple. And also a fourth, when we were just close friends. It'll give us a chance to see how our relationship has changed and grown over the years! Lets go in chronical order, because we like it that way. 

V-Day 2009 
Valentine's Day happened less than one month after we became inseparable 'friends' (if you haven't read it, you can check out our love story here - SPOILER: The girl gets the girl in the end). We had become close (while Laura was consoling Sarah's ex-boyfriend) and Laura blew off her then-boyfriend to spend the evening with Sarah at her flat. He should have seen it coming, right? Anyway, we spent the evening eating Chinese takeaway, watching the Top 50 Love Songs countdown on VH1, singing along dramatically to most of them, and...full on spooning. Even though we didn't actually get together for another month (our anniversary is March 16th). Seriously, looking back, we were never really 'just friends'! Laura couldn't have been happier with her choice of date for V-Day. 

V-Day 2010 
Almost one year into our relationship, and practically living together to the point where Laura's poor roommates almost called an intervention about their elusive 5th housemate, we said goodbye to the awful job we were working at together, and headed to Australia for a year. As ya do. We spent our first Valentine's Day officially together on an airplane to Singapore for a 14 hour layover before heading to Sydney. As we sat in the departure lounge together, we each sheepishly pulled out little gifts we had gotten each other, despite agreeing we weren't going to get presents!! *Insert collective awww here* The little monkey in underwear (Hot Pants Monkey, as we call him) has gone on all our trips since. We drank our first Singapore Sling on the plane (at Laura's Mum's suggestion), watched movies and enjoyed our plane ride. When we arrived in Singapore, we explored the city in the time we had - took a London Eye -like ferris wheel, saw some monuments, temples, and got incredibly hot and sweaty. We actually fell asleep on the bus back to the airport, and the driver had to wake us up when we arrived!! 

VDay on a plane and in Singapore!
V-Day 2011 
This is the only not-so-great Valentine's tale. Laura flew back from her home in Idaho for the first week of February to be with Sarah in time for Valentine's Day (to provide back story, after Sydney we went to Idaho, Sarah came back to the UK for Christmas and Laura stayed behind with her family), but Sarah, who had just gotten a new job, had to go on a business trip to Barcelona for Valentine's Day!!! So Laura spent V-Day job hunting, and Sarah spent it at a conference. Essence of romance, right? When Sarah returned, Laura lit candles and placed them around the house, made her a few gifts, and we had a little celebration. 

That brings us to today!! 

V-Day 2012 
All is right in the world again [read: we work together now]. Before work, Laura got a lovely homemade card. Laura wrote on 30 or so red paper hearts - each one with one thing she loves about her Sarah. She hid them around throughout the day. Sarah obliviously missed two in the morning, one in the bathroom and one in the bedroom, but she can't be blamed, as nobody is fully awake until about 11am in our house! 

Ahhhh nice to know there's more than 1 reason to love me S xo
Sarah gave Laura a beautiful little card and a clue to the activity we would be doing in the evening. The clue was a handwarmer!! Laura was as in-the-dark as ever. 

Laura got delivered to work (actually, she snuck out to pick it up, and got the receptionist to tell her it had been delivered. Shhhh!) a giant cookie with the words 'Nothing's as sweet as you!! L&S' on it in strawberry icing, Sarah's favourite!! Funny though, when she went to pick it up, they had written 'Nothing's as free as you!! L&S' on it - erm... I don't think that sends the right message!! But they fixed it and Sarah was none the wiser. 

'Nothing's as sweet as you' - ahhhh
After a full day's work, lots of little paper hearts and even more cookie-eating, we headed off to our surprise location. On the tube on the way there, Laura got a card that finally told her where we were going - ICE BAR LONDON!!!! SO EXCITING!!!

It was really cool ;)
The Ice Bar was amazing. We were given warm hooded ponchos, and went into the bar - it was like stepping into a completely different world! The bar was made of ice, the walls were made of ice, the glasses were made of ice - so wonderful! We had 40 minutes in there, drank some yummy cocktails out of the ice glasses, and Laura took over 100 photos. In 40 minutes. That girl takes pictures at the speed of light. It was a lovely surprise, and Sarah kept her title of best present giver!!!

We then went home, like the poor old ladies we are, and ate Laura's homemade stew for dinner with Sarah's famous mashed potatoes (instead of going out to eat). It was delicious, and the added bonus of being able to snuggle right afterwards was so great!!

We ended the night Skyping Laura's little brother, Jason in Idaho - not the most romantic end to Valentine's Day, but as usual he was hilarious and we loved seeing him!

V-Day is over for another year, and we can't wait to see what next February brings!!

What was the best Valentine's Day you have ever had and why??

Lots of love,

Laura & Sarah xo 

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Valentine's Gifts - Is It Just For New Couples?

How long have you been in your relationship? How many Valentine's Days have you had together? How many Valentine's Day gifts have you received? Do you remember each one, have there been so few it's easy to remember?
Recent research has that 60% of Brits receive their best Valentine's Day gift in the first year of their relationship. 23% of those people received jewellery during the honeymoon period.

The honeymoon period varies between 9 months if you are between 16 - 24 and 2 years if you are 45 - 54.

The stats reveal that the longer you are in a relationship the less likely you are to make an effort. As my parents are approaching their 40 year wedding anniversary and they still do gifts we hope to be doing the same. Their gifts are never extravagant but a minding to show that they are still thinking of one another. We plan to always do the same. After all it's never about the money - just the thought!
My parents, and us, are thankfully not part of the 20% of couples who stop giving gifts after the first few years of a relationship. Or the 10% who stopped giving gifts all together after the first year!
Protect Your Bubble conducted the study as they insure gadgets, including phones and jewellery. they point out that if you do receive jewellery it might be worth insuring it!

Here are the stats when it comes to your probability of receiving jewellery:

Interestingly the likelihood of receiving jewellery varies widely between cities:
The results show that you are 33% more likely to receive jewellery, in your first year, if you are living in Southampton or Sheffield (44%) than in Bristol or Liverpool (11%).

The study also showed that Brits love a sentimental gift with a high percentage opting for a photograph or something sentimental (definitely Laura and I).  But by the 5th year only 4% of couples opt for a thoughtful gifts and, according to the research, Bristolians are the least sentimental of all cities though. 

Unsurprisingly flowers are still the top gift, 40% of couples receive them in the first year with dinner as the second option with 27% of couples heading out. 

If you are looking for something thoughtful, a little bit different and cost effective - no matter how long you have been in a relationship then check out our post on Valentine's Gift Ideas

And remember:

Monday, 11 February 2019

Review: Tots Play - Baby Development!

Since Annabelle turned 3 months old, I have tried to find things to keep her entertained and help her development, well aware that my skills are somewhat limited in that area. If the entertainment helps with her development then it's a win-win. It was when searching the 'Hoop' app that I came across Tots Play.

Tots Play classes incorporate a range of baby massage, baby yoga (dance routines to music), baby sign language and sensory play. Depending on the age of your baby you can go to different types of classes.

When Annabelle was six weeks old we attended our first Baby Development class, the first one was interesting as Annabelle enjoyed the first 20 minutes then fell asleep. We tried the next week and same thing. By the time the third one came around, I spoke to our session leader Fatema and we agreed it would make sense to wait until Annabelle was a bit older.

We headed back at 3 months and it was entirely different experience. Annabelle was engaged, awake and enjoying the whole experience. In fact, Annabelle was enthralled with the other babies and spent the entire class looking at everyone but me. After each class she slept soundly having thoroughly worn herself out.

After each class we came home with new dance routines to practice and the more we did them the more Annabelle would laugh and squeal with excitement. It was a lovely way to grow our bond and have some fun.

We also took away some of the sensory play ideas to put into practice but nothing has been quite the same as having the other babies to look at.

It was why we had no doubts in signing up for Discovery Tots. The class is for ages 2-9 months and follows a similar structure to Baby development. We start with a welcome song, move on to dance routines / baby yoga, then on to a group activity - like playing musical instruments, having some sensory play time with the other babies and then come back to the group for a wind down song and bubbles.

Oh the bubbles are at every class and Annabelle is mesmerised! Strangely I tried them at home and the reaction was underwhelming but at class she will sit and stare as they float towards her. Occasionally a little grin will appear but mostly she's transfixed. Who knew something so simple could be such a win!

I think that's one of the benefits of this class. What you are taught is simple, you can replicate it at home with minimal or no cost. You can also take what you do in class and enhance it at home. We use some of the dance moves we have learnt to dance to other songs. I have taken some of the sensory ideas and found things that we already have at home.

Another benefit is the confidence it has given Annabelle. I know this will sound strange but put her on the mat next to a baby she knows and she'll be engaging with them, touching them, smiling and interested in what they are doing. This class has given her a group of babies she has learned to recognise. We even have play-dates with one friend. In contrast, we occasionally attend a general playgroup and the situation, and Annabelle's reaction, are very different. There are kids of all ages and while Annabelle is happy watching other kids run around there are only a few babies for her to interact with. I don't feel like she gets as much from the session.

It's crazy to think that we have been attending Tots Play classes in one way or another for almost 7 months. Alongside the regular classes we have had a graduation, pj party for charity and a Christmas party. Fatema has really created a community that we can be a part of. The best thing of all is Laura can join whenever possible or I can take my Mum along so the whole family can be part of it.

At the Christmas party we took the option to get some family photos done by the professional photographer there which was a nice bonus as we forgot to take many as we were too busy playing.

Over the time I have been attending I have also seen a book seller and had the option to purchase some of the sensory toys - it's a nice option but there is little pressure to buy.

As Tots Play is a franchise, classes are run locally, you can see if one is running near you by clicking here.

With so many options of baby classes we were glad to find one that incorporates a number of the elements we wanted. It's also been nice to learn from Fatema and the other parents about what works for them. The social play part of the class allows the parents to chat while the babies focus on discovering the new toys and items. For someone socially awkward like me it has become a highlight of Annabelle and my week.

If you have one locally it's definitely worth a trial session if you are at home with a baby of any age.

Disclaimer: I was not paid in any way nor received any gifts/classes to write this review, it is based on my experience of Tots Play.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

5 Valentines Day Ideas!

Valentine's Day - have you thought about it? Are you doing it something for it? Do you want to do something for it? Or are you avoiding the whole commercialised event and ignoring it? However you plan to spend Valentine's Day we hope it you find some joy in it.

Over the years we have written about Valentine's Day for numerous reasons:

  • The facts and why it became an event here!
  • A history of our Valentine's days together here!
  • How we spread the Valentine's love with those around us here (think cookies and cakes)!
  • We had an outright debate on whether children should celebrate Valentine's Day here!
  • One Valentine's Day we dedicated to people we love (other than each other) details here.
  • And just for good measure:
  • We had 'wedding' in Australia with our family and friends to celebrate Valentine's Day here

But anyway onwards and to our 5 Valentine's Day suggestions if you are looking to do something this year:
1) Keep It Low Key - have a night in, get a take-away and watch the movie you have been meaning to. It may not be extravagant BUT time is often the best gift of all and if you can orchestrate and evening with minimal 'life' distractions it's amazing how you can reconnect to the love of your life!

This simple gesture was L's phone background was months!

Sometimes it's the simple things that mean the most.

A walk in the park?

2) Do Something Different - again doesn't have to be big, just book to do something you have never done before, or tried or that you have been meaning to try. It doesn't even have to be on the day, a nice card saying we are doing xxxxx on xx date will mean just as much. You may have seen our posts on Buckt a subscription service that sends you five new activities to do every month. Now subscribing may be a 'big gift' (although cost effective) but check out their site for suggestions and maybe gets some new ideas.....axe throwing, rage room, rifle shooting, meditation, llama walking, butterfly farm, dog rescue centre, local get the idea. Just do something different.

3) Afternoon Tea - If you are more of a traditionalist what about a romantic afternoon tea? Or if that's not your cup of tea (boom boom) what about a tipsy afternoon tea. It seems to be the new thing for traditional bars to increase their trade by offering a selection of afternoon teas. Take Slug and Lettuce for example, I have only ever known them as a bar stop on a night out, turns out they now have fancy decor and a afternoon tea menu. Check out the details here. Or if you want somewhere a little more unique check out Dirty Martini if you have one near by - there twist is 4 martini's as part of their birdcage 'tea'. Details are here.

Slug and Lettuce
4) Enjoy A Stay-cation or a local-cation (is that a thing :) ) anyway just as you could do something different you could make a plan to enjoy your local area and maybe include some new places to check out. As you know we live (and love) Birmingham and the way this city is growing means there is always something new going on. Not just that, even doing something we have done before creates new opportunities. You may have seen our day in the life vlog here, it was a fairly usual weekend day in Birmingham and yet we found 3 new restaurants we wanted to try and numerous newly opened stores to check out.

We often plan weekends for our guests to show them highlights of the area so it's great to look at your home town like a tourist. Here was one of weekend plans, we are fortuitous enough to have beautiful places like the Cotsworlds, Droitwich, Warwick, Leamington Spa and so many more within an hours drive. That's the great thing about the UK!

5) Make It A Mini-break! Okay so this is a 'go big' present but one that shows thought and is a great chance to get quality time together. Over our 10 years (eek) together we have often surprised each other with a mini-break or trip, somewhere not too far but far enough for a change of scenery.

A chance to get lost together
Our most recent trip was to Wales but our favourite romantic getaway of all time was to the Upper House Spa on the Welsh border. A scenic spot with a beautiful cottage and everything you need for a weekend, including a spa should you require it!

Time to just be together
So there you have it, our five suggestions depending on your budget, level of effort and partners requirements! Hopefully it'll help with the ideas process. I always find myself frantically Googling 'Valentine's ideas' to come up with something new and then I remember it's just about the time, thought and preparation......oh and LOVE!

Happy Valentine's Day

Thursday, 31 January 2019

What Are You Watching This Weekend? The Drag Roast, coming 1st Feb!

You may have seen or heard of a celebrity roast - you take one celebrity, invite a group of comedians and film them 'roasting' the celebrity with witty quips, jokes at their expense and funny banter. The format is simple. And you have probably seen shows with drag queens in them, if you haven't then Google RuPaul and have fun!

Revry (a queer-owned internet TV site! So cool!) brings together drag and a roasting for 'The Drag Roast of Heklina'. Never heard of Heklina? Neither had we and to be honest it didn't make a difference! A quick summary of Heklina though:
Heklina is one of San Francisco's most well-known drag queens and has been doing drag for over 20 years. She is well known for her influence in San Francisco's LGBTQ community, whether it be through Mother, her parody shows, or her landmark venue The Oasis.

Alongside Heklina, the roast featured Alaska Thunderfuck, Jinkx Monsoon, Bob the Drag Queen, Jackie Beat, Sister Roma, Julie Brown and Peaches Christ. A couple of those names may ring a bell if you're a fan of RuPaul's Drag Race. (like we are!)

The stand outs for us were definitely Alaska and Jinkx. You could see why they made it on Drag Race, their performances made us laugh out loud and Alaska especially was funny the whole way through.

If anything, Heklina didn't really add anything for us, as she sat with an unimpressed face for most of the show. She only really laughed when Alaska and Jinkx took the mic. What was brilliant though was when the Queens were roasting one another. We would watch this episode just for the Alaska and Jinkx roasting one another!

Creator's Comments
Throughout our career, we've worked in various capacities with a range of drag queens and comedians. After the success in recent years of celebrity roasts, and in the increasingly high-stress and polictically-correct atmosphere we live in, we wanted to bring the genres of comedy and drag together to bring some levity to the world. Underneath the shade that most people associate with drag queen humor, there is a deep bond of friendship and sisterhood. With the Drag Roast series, we wanted to showcase how drag can not only entertain, but also help us face reality and deal with it, through cruel, harsh and tasteless jokes.

To watch the show click here for Revry TV on the 1st of February! What's great is that you can access it currently on a free trial! 

If you want to see a preview click here.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Baby Blogging: Maternity Leave - My Story

While pregnant with Annabelle I read quite a bit about 'what to expect on maternity leave' - and I don't mean the pay. I wanted to know how other Mum's had found it, what they had wished they had known and what I could start mentally preparing for.

Let me start by saying that here in the UK I am appreciative of the fact that we get good maternity leave benefits; that I got 6 weeks full pay and get statutory maternity pay until 9 months. I know I am super fortunate and I honestly can't get over the fact that the situation in the USA is so bad when it comes to maternity leave.

Having 9 whole months with our little girl (7 so far) has been one of the best experiences of my life. Our little moments, our morning snuggles and afternoon giggles, our silly faces and ridiculous dance routines - the lot of it- that's what I'll remember.

I also want to say that the views shared in this post are my own. I, in no way, want to assume, presume or anything else that these feelings are shared by everyone else. I just wanted to record my own thoughts and if they resonate, then great.

Before having Annabelle I dreaded maternity leave. I thought I would be stuck at home with a screaming baby, unable to do much and eagerly awaiting Laura's return each day just to have some conversation. At the start there were definitely days like that. Rather than the crying though, it was the fact that Annabelle slept so much.

After a few weeks I got into the habit of using Annabelle's sleeping time to tidy, clean and get stuff done. During particularly long naps I could even write a blog post. After figuring out how to keep Annabelle alive, this seemed a productive habit.

Then the naps got shorter. At 3 months, Annabelle was enforcing a routine - bed at 8pm, 2 or 3 night feeds, then waking up at 8/8.30am. Naps then followed every 2 - 2 1/2 hours after that. Naps were 30 - 45 minutes in length and all of a sudden my 'productive' nap times were over before they started. Bye-bye blog writing, hello racing around putting on washing, cleaning/tidying. With every wake up the to-do list seems to have grown rather than shrunk!

This to me ushered in the hardest part of my maternity leave. I wrote about the Sleep Situation here but the summary is this: at 4 months sleep regression HIT us. We all got way less sleep and we suddenly realised just how lucky we had been at the start.

The quicker naps, coupled with a baby who now needed entertaining, meant my initial feelings/worries about being bored disappeared. Bored! Now I don't get 10 minutes to myself. I relate to the memes joking that Mum's hide in the toilet.....although that's not a safe zone as Bisbee likes to join. I don't want to hide so much, I just want to check my phone.

Laura and I try our best not to be on our phones constantly around Annabelle. That's why you'll see us update our Instagram stories in one go after 8pm as Annabelle is in bed. However, despite our best efforts, the phone is still something Annabelle wants to get her hands is the TV remote (anything that's not a toy right?!) - but the phone when in the hands of Annabelle is subject to chewing and all other delights. So my 'me' time is my checking my phone time.

Give me the phone.....
The routine we have leaves no time for thinking about work or the outside world. I thought I would miss the daily chat and banter. I thought I would miss work and its challenges. I thought I would be lonely. And yet I don't really miss of it and I am far from lonely!

That's not to say I haven't missed work on occasion. On my KIT days, when I am back in the swing of things, I feel like the old me. I enjoy it and feel reassured that I can still do it. I do miss the chats but I have great friends who constantly fill my WhatsApps (although I have gone from having work as my reason for not replying to having Annabelle - sorry!). But more than anything I have Laura. I have chats and banter with Laura that make me feel just as fulfilled. She listens to my 'day' updates with just as much, if not more, interest as she did when I when I came home with work news. The added bonus is that Laura and I now get more time together and that overcomes any feelings of loneliness that come up on the days when Annabelle just won't nap or is having a hard day.

In addition, I am fortunate that our local church (less that 3 minutes walk away) has a playgroup on Tuesdays and Fridays (with no added religion) so if the weather is awful or we haven't been out much we pop down there, mainly just to watch people and for Annabelle to play with different toys. I also have a development class on Thursdays and a few of the Mum's and I have gone since our babies were tiny so it's cute to see how they recognise each other.

I actually find by the weekend I am glad to have Laura to share tasks with as time in the weeks seems so busy. I almost feel naive that I thought I would be bored. Shopping trips take triple the time, a walk with Bisbee is at least double because the preparation is more involved, hell I can't even pop to the garden without prepping. I mean when I do return to work my preparation skills will be much improved!

I know I am so lucky that my maternity leave has been nothing like I thought. I am not bored raising a baby - I am entertained, enamoured, slightly obsessed, totally in love, amused, impressed, shocked, proud and happy. I also get extra time with Bisbee and that always puts a smile on my face.

My girls
There are hard days but they are few and far between and even the bad days still have moments of pure joy.

Referring back to one of the articles I read before having Annabelle (it's here) 30% of Mums feel the opposite to me - they enjoyed maternity leave LESS than they thought. 59% feel lonely and 49% feel obliged to be positive about maternity leave, even when they don't feel it.

One thing that does resonate with me is the 'sense of self'. Becoming a new Mum challenges that anyway and I have struggled with the 'how am I meant to feel' part. Ultimately I don't feel different, I just have someone new to love. But then sat on a train heading to Bournemouth for a KIT day I am sent a picture of Annabelle, of a moment I am missing and the tears start. I'm not sad. I'm just sad that this is what being myself, my old self, involves. It involves leaving, even only for a short period. I struggle with what my new self will be, what my new sense of self will be. I know I'll figure it out but my new self will definitely have to work on the tears!

As Annabelle gets older I know that the leaving will be different, not easier, just different. She'll love nursery as she'll get to play all day with kids her age and with new toys, it'll be way more fun than Mummy and the same toys. She'll have the space to run around and learn new things. We'll have a new normal and we'll all be thriving.

Seriously such good entertainment though - right?!
But for now I'd like to stay as stay at home Mummy for just a little bit longer. I'm happy as that me.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Baby Blogging: Day In The Life!

A while ago we were asked to film a 'day in the life' video and to be honest we didn't have a clue what we would record or why anyone would watch it. Anyway on Sunday we decided to give it ago, we thought worst case it will be a great reminder for us to look back on to see Annabelle at 6 months. She is definitely growing quickly!

So if you are interested in watching it's here.

We spent a family day visiting town, enjoying Nandos, taking Bisbee on a walk and relaxing at home. It was the kind of day we really enjoy having and we are lucky to have had a few quiet weekends so far this year.

Here's an old 'Day In The Life' video we did back in 2012 when we lived in London, click here.