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

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.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Baby Blogging: A Year Of Breastfeeding!

I didn't think that I would ever be writing the statement 'I have breastfed for a year'. In fact I am somewhat shocked that breastfeeding is something I have been able to do for a year. Physically and managing it having being back in a full time job for over 2 months.

I wished I had purchased a battery breast pump, it is amazing how requiring a plug to be able to pump really restricts you. The amount of time I have ended up hand expressing in bathrooms as the office I am in doesn't have a meeting room that doesn't have glass windows - great for airiness, terrible for privacy!

Breastfeeding has definitely been a journey for me. A fairly easy journey for the most part but at the start I didn't expect to be saying that.

My first breastfeeding post was when Annabelle was a few weeks old. You can read it here. My introduction to breastfeeding wasn't the idealistic experience we had been told about in antenatal classes.

Two months into breastfeeding Annabelle and I had found our rhythm but it wasn't without challenges. I shared my experience in this post here - it includes some breastfeeding truths I never knew about!

Being back at work has probably been the biggest change in my breastfeeding journey though. For almost 3 months I have had to factor in pumping in order to keep our supply of milk stocked up for Annabelle to have when I am not around. I have had to make time when I am in the office, I have had to find time in my work day and I have to plan to not be travelling too much in one day that would mean I couldn't pump once my boobs have filled up.  It can be a logistical nightmare.

This is meant to be a good read and full of advice!
I do love the morning feeds. I try my upmost to be there for the first feed of the day as it is time for just us. Annabelle usually sleeps until 6.30am-ish so I am often able to get up and feed her while we doze and then really wake up around 7am when she has finished. I also do my best to be home for bedtime feeds. Nighttime feeds are sadly more hit and miss based on trains and meetings but I only miss a feed once or twice a month so I can't complain.

When I am working from home (which I get to do fairly often) it is a benefit if I can do it on days that Annabelle is being looked after my Mum so she's in the house. That way I can time my lunch break so I can come and feed Annabelle pre-nap.

The one thing that has changed significantly over the year is the way Annabelle feeds. At the start feeds were short and it was easy to tell when she was done. Nowadays feeds can last anywhere between 20 mins and 45 mins. They are less frequent but it is also harder to tell if/when she has had enough. She can be easily distracted and will often have some milk, get down off me, wander around, come back for me. In addition it has created an interesting challenge in our relationship.

For Annabelle's entire life I have been a source of food and comfort and sometimes it is hard to separate myself from being that and just be Mum. I can walk through the door after a meeting or walk downstairs for a refreshment and Annabelle will be on me. I may get a hug but within 5 minutes if I am not feeding her she will meltdown. That is hard. It is not always related to her usual feeding times so it's not predictable, all I know is I get a few minutes of her being excited to see me followed by a really tough time. What's harder is she can be easily pacified by others - it's just me that gets the hard time.

I am at the stage now where I can honestly say I have no idea how much longer I will continue breastfeeding. I think we will try and naturally phase it out. Annabelle eats a lot and is happy drinking anything from a bottle (now) so we can start to introduce other milk if we need to. While I love the bonding and time we have together during feeding I won't miss the fidgeting, the hitting, the epic feeds that mean I can be sat alone (as Annabelle will be napping while she feeds) listening to everything happening outside. This isn't always an issue but at events it leaves me feeling isolated.

And then there are the leaps. When Annabelle is going through a leap then feeding becomes more of a priority, she uses it as comfort but also because she seems to need more food. Unfortunately in a leap Annabelle also seems to go off actual food or make it more difficult to feed her easily.

So there it is. A year of breastfeeding. We've been lucky to have had such a good run, I'll be forever grateful that I have been able to breastfeed, parenting would certainly have had different challenges had I not.
Climbing the stairs at Warwick Castle
I mean without breastfeeding we'll have to figure out whole new ways to comfort Annabelle, calm her down, feed her on the go, get her to sleep - we have definitely taken the easy way out so far!

I wonder if there will be an 18 months of breastfeeding post????

Monday, 8 July 2019

Baby Blogging: 4th of July First Birthday!

Unlike straight couples there was a certain amount of additional planning that went in to us having Annabelle. In fact you can read all about it here. What that planning meant was that we had a good idea on when Annabelle would be making an appearance.

As only 4% of babies arrive on their due date we knew it was never going to be an exact science but I secretly hoped that her arrival would miss our anniversary on the 28th of June and my birthday on the 13th of July. Laura, loudly, hoped for a 4th of July baby. 

As the due date drew nearer and it was confirmed that I was to have a C-Section we were given the date of the 7th of July. I could relax and Laura could give up her 4th of July plan. That was until I got a phone call moving the C-Section to the 2nd. Any relaxing went out the window and Laura decided that the 2nd was close enough to the 4th to decree that Annabelle would have a 4th of July themed parties until she told us something different.

Laura stuck true to that plan and on the 6th 2019 we hosted Annabelle's blue, white and red themed first birthday.

With family flying in from Australia and America and travelling from Kent, London, Manchester it was quite the gathering. Laura's colleague had her two young daughters and my cousin had her little boy. Add to the mix two pregnant ladies and 6 dogs it was a party to remember.

In true British Summer time style the beautiful sunny weather had left us with cloudy skies that turned to drizzle but nothing put a dampener on the day. We hosted the party at my parents and had thankfully left the marquee there from a previous event. First task of the day was setting that up followed by decorating the garden. 

Thankfully Annabelle was willing to have her regularly schedule nap on time and napped 45 minutes into the party allowing us to greet everyone before she made her entrance. 

Sleepy girl making her arrival
Our lovely friends Allie and Anita had made and decorated a phenomenal cake that Annabelle and everyone loved so much there was none left (gutted)! 

We had a BBQ with burgers and sausages accompanied by Laura's mac and cheese and a selection of goodies. 

The garden had separated the area into three - dogs, children and everyone else and it worked really well. The dogs had fun chasing each other and the balls. The babies were entertained by the dogs and had blankets covered in toys and everyone else had access to the food, drink and seats. Bisbee was the only exception to the rule and managed to sneak into the baby area, finish off the plate of a mac and cheese one of my aunts had left to tend to a baby, and then disappear leaving us all scratching our heads on to how well she'd plan the hustle!

The evening was mainly family that were staying but we set up a s'mores station and enjoyed roasting marshmallows before embarking on a highly competitive game of boules and finishing with sparklers.

It was a wonderful day, Annabelle was amazing - a little taken back at the happy birthday song but very happy to get stuck into cake. It was great to have so many of our friends and family there. They have been such a great support to us in the year since Annabelle arrived and if anything this party was a thank you to them. And a celebration of us keeping Annabelle alive for a year :)

We hope that you had a wonderful 4th if you were celebrating!

And thank you to everyone who sent Annabelle birthday wishes!

Friday, 5 July 2019

Vuelio Top 10 LGBT Blogs Announced!

In celebration of Pride Vuelio announced their Top 10 LGBT blog list for 2019 and we were lucky enough to be featured, again, and be invited to do a Spotlight Interview!

Our spotlight is here! We were asked questions about our blog, our experience as an LGBT couple and our experience as bloggers.

To see the full 2019 list click here.

We were first announced on the list as number 6 in 2017 - details are here. Featured at number 6 again in 2018, our spotlight from back then is here that included our Proud To Love YouTube video!

We are so grateful that our blog is seen as a useful resource and proud to be representing our wonderful LGBT community!

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Baby Blogging - Annabelle Turns One!

OMG Annabelle is one!

And we are totes emosh.

How was it a whole year ago that we were sharing this post with our birth announcement and this post about Annabelle's birth story.

Our first year as a family has been incredible. It has been full of the most amazing highs, memories that will make us smile forever and so, so many photos. Every day for 365 days we have found a reason to smile, sometimes unexpectedly, sometimes through silliness, sometimes in the face of ridiculousness.

Fighting over a flip flop
There are too many highlights. Too many firsts to keep track of and so many good times.

We've slept more than we expected - thank you Annabelle for loving sleep as much as us. We have asked Google for help more than ever before, top questions being: Hey Google.....
Can a 6,7,8,9,10,11 month old eat......
What temperature is too high/hot?
Is ...... okay?
Is ...... normal?
How do we get a baby to .....?

We have had more fun making food than before. We have watched less TV, we have danced and sung more than we have in 10 years together. Our preparation skills are on point (most of the time) but what we have actually learnt is that we are far more relaxed at parenting that we thought we would be. There are moments that we freak out but in general we let her be independent and find her way.

Annabelle has led us, she led us with her nap schedule, with her sleep training, with her new skills - sitting, eating, standing, crawling, walking. Entertaining her is easy as she loves watching what we are doing and is happy to play by herself.

Annabelle adapted to nursery better than we could have ever hoped - I loved our 9 months together but have seen the positive impact that nursery has had. I wished my return to work had been easier and a little less busy but that's life - see the details here. I still get to see her when I work from home and I have had the wonderful opportunity to take annual leave on most Mondays since being back.

We have travelled - to New York via Dublin, to Norway via Amsterdam, to Scotland and to so many other places in the UK. We've been on planes, on trains and had added so many miles to the car. Through it all there have been challenging moments BUT so many good times, so many moments where we have been amazed at how well Annabelle adapted. Annabelle smiling at passengers on the plane and making people smile back, having an entire tube carriage clapping, making strangers stick out their tongue in the supermarket. Hi-5ing old people everywhere and anywhere, making funny chatting noises on the phone to grandparents. Making anyone get to the floor to chase her to see her laugh. Annabelle is entertainment value.

Annabelle just brings so much joy. To us. To our families. To everyone. She lights up a room. I had always heard that phrase but having Annabelle I truly know what it means. At parties, at family gatherings, when people visit there is always joy wherever Annabelle is.

She is rambunctious, tenacious, determined, strong, funny, cheeky, charming, adorable, clever, stubborn, thoughtful, giving, witty and so much more. She has been so much more than we thought. She has made motherhood so much more fun and had us saying 'we need to have more' on so many occasions - not because she's not enough but because as she grows up and needs us less we will need to have more opportunities to experience this level of love.

Annabelle's hug will make you melt, her raspberries will soak you, her dinner time antics will force you to suppress giggles, her battle cries will make you move quicker than ever before and her kisses will have you fearing for your cheeks. Her smile makes you smile, her laugh will make you want to do anything to hear it again. She'll love on you, play with you and encourage you to build things. She'll show off new skills and applaud herself at every opportunity. You can't miss this kid, when she's around she pulls focus. She's sociable and mischievous. She's easy going and chilled out. She loves the outdoors, other children and dogs - OMG does she love dogs. She really loves Bisbee but really any dog will do.

And now she's one.

How have we only only had 12 months with her and yet how has it been 12 months already?

We have thankfully recovered from the latest trip to the hospital for concussion - I'm surprised we almost made it to a year before our first trip and are celebrating the big day with a trip to the swimming pool and cake. If all goes to plan.

We have learnt so much this year but I personally have learnt how much I need Laura. Our team is so dependent on the incredible woman that is my wife. I have always loved her and appreciated her skills but this year alone she had blown my mind with her incredibleness. She has helped me overcome personal challenges, kept us calm and organised and continued to keep our life on track. Annabelle couldn't have asked for a better Mama and I couldn't have got any luckier doing this life thing with her.

I can not wait to see what the next year holds. Thank you for joining us on the journey so far.....