Wednesday, 20 February 2019

New York, New York - We Can't Wait!

Six years ago we headed to New York for New Years Eve and a ton of unforgettable experiences. It was our first time visiting and when we left we vowed we would be back. After all have you ever 'completely done' New York?

Finally 7 years later we are heading back! This time we are hoping the weather is a little warmer - our New Years Eve in Times Square was spent in below freezing temperatures - the forecast at least is giving us hope.

Our post about our new years eve experience is here. We even did a Vlog while sat on Times Square!

Thanks to two friends we met through blogging we got to enjoy a thoroughly gay day in New York heading to Gay Street, the Big Gay Ice-cream shop (where we got to try weird flavours - see our reaction in the Vlog) and the Sex Museum. We also got to check out Grand Central Station and the American Girl Doll store (so Laura could live out her childhood dreams). Details of the day are here.

This time we are meeting one of Laura's school friends who appears in off-Broadway plays and a friends husband who is a photographer. Both have planned days to see us parts of New York we missed last time.

Not all of our last the trip went to plan though, it turns out Laura had planned to propose to me on the trip and had involved our blogging friends to help. The only thing that ruined the plan was weather.....well the hurricane that hit not that long before, leaving the area Laura had planned to use under water. Will we hopefully get to visit the area this time, without the water!

Proposal details are here.

New York had actually been a gift for my 29th birthday from Laura, she had planned a surprise party and delivered the gift in the form of a handmade book. The whole trip had been planned out and was one of the best presents I have ever received. Details are here

It's amazing looking back at this post and seeing how much has changed since that birthday. Some of the people there we don't see any more, we don't live in the flat - or London, we have moved to Birmingham, met some wonderful people, got married, added Bisbee to our family, had our wonderful daughter and fitted in plenty of travelling. It's been a busy 7 years! One thing hasn't changed though and that is us. We are still as excited for the future and our up and coming trip as we were then!

This will also be our first trip abroad with Annabelle, wish us luck on the 7 and a half hour flight. We have read so many blogs for tips on travelling with a baby - we have snacks, new toys, changes of clothes, we are flying early, we have an airport bag that we could survive a week on. We just hope we are ready......and that Annabelle wants to sleep for most of it :)!

Any last minute tips you swear by for travelling with a baby? Or when visiting New York?

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Baby Blogging - Top 10 Recommendations For a 6 Month Old Baby!

Annabelle is growing so quickly that remembering her newborn days is almost a distant memory. Thankfully we have tons of photos and blog posts to remember it all. It was when Annabelle was 6 weeks old we shared our Top 10 Must Haves for Newborns. So at 6 months, we thought we would share our recommendations for a growing baby.

Before diving in - these recommendations are based on our experience and what we have found particularly useful. We are trying to parent on a budget and have invested in things that we hope will last us a while. We have also learnt a few lessons about what we don't need and what others we know have had and never used.

These are in no particular order but here goes!

1. Car seat - We opted for a permanently fixed car seat that will fit Annabelle from birth to 4 years old. It also spins to make it easier to get her in and out. We spent awhile looking into and debating getting a seat with a ISOfix base so that we could take the seat in and out, but we decided against it. Our car seat shopping coincided with news headlines about the death of an infant who was in a car seat too long. Because their heads aren't stable for the first few months, prolonged sleeping in the car seat can cut off oxygen to the brain - this was enough to scare us out of bringing her inside or shopping while she sleeps in the seat, just in case! As it turns out, it was the best decision for our family, as Bisbee gets a bit excited when we arrive places and Annabelle always wakes up to her squeals, or to the car door opening, so we wouldn't have been able to carry her inside in the seat anyway.

If you want to read up on other health issues associated with leaving a baby is a car seat too long see here.

Just to be clear we know lots of people use travel systems to help keep their baby asleep and most babies are completely fine, we just didn't personally want to take the risk.

2. Car Mirror - I feel like we never really noticed how long we spend in a car until we had a baby. We used to think nothing of popping to the shops in the car. Now a quick journey takes double the time as strapping Annabelle in and making sure she has toys / blankets takes time. Once in, though, our lifesaver is the car mirror. Set up on the headrest facing Annabelle, we use it to check in on her (when it is safe to do so) when driving. We have Annabelle on the back seat and the mirror means that we can focus on driving. If she was in the front seat I couldn't trust myself not to look at her a lot!

In addition to the practicality of it, there is also the entertainment value for Annabelle, when she notices herself we know that she'll happily gurgle at herself for a few minutes.

3. Versatile Cot - having a bedside crib that doubles as a travel cot has been a life saver! We got our bedside cot on a GroupOn deal and it has been one of our best investments. From the day Annabelle came home until 7 months old she slept next to me in the cot wherever we went. With legs that tuck under a bed and adjust to different heights, it really fit anywhere. The fact that it came with a travel bag meant we could fold it down quickly and pack it in the car so Annabelle had the same bed no matter where we were staying.

4. Ergobaby 360 - We started off with a sling and loved it. It is still handy if Annabelle wants to sleep and I need to be on the move, but the Ergobaby 360 is next level. From about 3 months Annabelle was showing signs that she didn't want to face inwards. It started with her making every effort to turn her head to either side and ended with her full on pushing away from us when in the sling. We were told it isn't recommended for babies so young to face out because they can get overstimulated, but Annabelle is so nosy, and would make it so uncomfortable to face inwards, that we thought we should give it a go anyway. We headed to Mothercare to try her facing forwards in the Ergobaby and she was happy as larry. A quick online search for the best price and we found ourselves an Ergobaby 360.

The best thing about the Ergobaby 360 is that it can be worn so Annabelle can face in or out which is exactly what works for us. More often that not she'll be face out but if she gets tired I can switch her around and let her sleep. We have already used it so much, including Wales and the Cotswolds.

5. ZipUsIn - Makes every coat fit, this is something we wished we had found out when I was pregnant to have had full use of it. Essentially, it is a panel that you can zip into any coat to extend it over your baby in a sling or a bump!

I had to give up my favourite winter coat when I hit 20 weeks of pregnancy and this would have meant I could have worn it much longer. As it is, we are using it now and it has meant that we don't have to dress Annabelle in tons of layers as she sits snuggly in my coat in the Ergobaby. It is more comfortable than having an open coat or having my coat done up and Annabelle over that.

6. Vests - SO MANY. Under every outfit is a vest/short sleeve babygrow, they keep Annabelle warm, protect her from spillage on her top layer and protect her clothes from nappy explosions. The start of every day involves 'where's a vest?'. It's amazing looking back at the newborn vest and seeing how much she's grown.

7. Secondhand Clothes - While vests are needed, they aren't what people see, that would be the outfits. We had window shopped for clothes from the moment we found out we were pregnant but held off buying almost anything as we knew we would get clothes for gifts. We thought we would fill in the gaps once we knew what was missing. We are still waiting to fill those gaps. Our family and friends have been so generous. The gifts are always well received as Annabelle grows out of outfits every 6 weeks or so.

One thing that has taken us by surprise is the amount of clothes we have received from unexpected people. Our friend Laura turned up with a bag full of baby clothes, and then Laura's co-workers. One in particular, Faye, has a girl who is 4 months older than Annabelle and when having a clear out she gifted us a giant bag of clothes in the exact size Annabelle needed recently. We were/are so grateful!

Also, on Facebook groups people sell nearly new clothes for next to nothing, too. It makes sense, babies grow so quickly, they may only wear an outfit a couple of times. Our other 'go to' is charity shops. We got a snowsuit that was from M&S and would have been £30, for £7. It was brand new!

Thinking about it, we have probably spent less than £50 total on Annabelle's clothes and most of that was on occasion wear - Christmas and Halloween. :)

8. High chair - we took the advice of the Mum forums and got an IKEA highchair for £15, and it is one of our favourite things. WE LOVE IT! Not only is it incredibly easy to clean (no nooks and crannies or padding for food to get stuck down - how do babies get it EVERYWHERE? Annabelle had sweet potato in her ear yesterday!), there are no complicated straps to figure out - easy in and easy out, it's lightweight so we can easily move it. It's also portable, whip off the legs and remove the tray and you can take it anywhere, or store it. Honestly I would have paid double or triple and still been happy!

And because it is so cost effective, L's parents have purchased one in the USA and are bringing it to our apartment in NYC next week, so we can still feed her in the comfort and style she is used to.

9. Playmat - This was on our baby shower gift list and was one of our best gifts. It's another thing we have used everyday. For tummy time, for distraction, for playing, for teaching Annabelle to sit - everything happens on the mat. It has become a permanent fixture in our lounge which is good and bad, but either way we wouldn't be without it.

The one we have has the extra bonus that it has sides and turns into a ball pit, it's not necessary but adds to the fun and the balls have really helped Annabelle's grip - we also have plenty of fun with them!

The bright colours, hanging toys and easy clean surface have all been huge positives for the mat and if you are looking for one we would definitely recommend it! It's from Amazon.

10. Aldi Nappies - These were on our newborn list too but I had to include them as they are a lifesaver! 7 months in and we still love them as much as the first few weeks and we haven't found anything that comes near, including Pampers! We are sad that you lose the very useful soiled strip after the first two sizes but it is true that you get used to your baby's bathroom schedule so it's easier to know when to change them as they get older.

Also, our buggy should be on this list. We got one that has the option to lay flat, but unfortunately Annabelle really doesn't like to lay back (in anything, she always sits as far forward as she can and gets annoyed if straps stop her!), so the flexibility has worked out. That and the fact that it is also forward facing, as she's happiest seeing the world.

We are starting to move to using cloth diapers at the weekends as we appreciate nappies end up in landfill but we have been surprised by the cost of getting started and so have been slowly growing our cloth nappy stash when we see good value ones on Facebook groups. We'll keep you updated on how it goes!

There are plenty of other things we could add to this list and I'll be sure to do a follow up post as Annabelle grows and we discover what a baby on the move needs, but the 10 things on this list are all things we could not/would not be without!

What are some of your most useful items for baby?

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