Tuesday, 31 December 2013

It's The End.... of 2013

We have been up in our new home since before Christmas, and wow how it has flown! We can't believe how lucky we are, and how right this place feels for us.

We were lucky enough to have Christmas day here together this year. We went caroling at the local church on Christmas Eve, then put together an indoor picnic of cheeses, meats and things to dip, and watched Christmas movies as well as Santa fly around the world delivering presents on the internet.

On Christmas morning, we woke up late and opened our presents - we only gave each other one each, as really what present can top a HOUSE? So we opened ones from L's family, and friends. We then went for a walk around our neighbourhood, before Sarah's parents arrived for Christmas dinner.

They brought a few more prezzies, we watched a movie together, and we roasted beef for the first time, as we'd just had Sarah's family Christmas (and a turkey!) the weekend before. Luckily it went well, and everyone loved it.

Sarah's family introduced Laura to Pictionary - 25 and a newbie shocking!!!- whether it was beginner's luck or just pure skill we were the winning team. Oh and Jenga randomly found it's way out of the depths of our cupboards - that game is tension inducing! Her parents then headed back to Reading, and we had a nice long Skype with Laura's parents.

Our low-key Christmas was pretty perfect!

Check out our classy sheet/curtain! Thank goodness, blinds will be fitted in Jan
Since then, we've spent time DIY-ing, building things, painting things, eating (we made cupcakes twice from our new Hummingbird Bakery book from L's parents!) - we aim to do a house post on a few of the more completed rooms in our house in the next few weeks.

And tonight, is New Years Eve! We can't say we are sad for this year to end. 2013 has been a fantastic year, one where we have done a lot of supporting of others, while there have also been HUGE changes in our lives (like Sarah's new job, a new house, commuting and suddenly having to count every penny!) - all good, but stressful. It's been a year of finding new friends and bringing back old ones, it's amazing how happy old friends have been about our wedding and we can't wait to have all the important people - past and present, at the wedding.
Queue random photo of pumpkin pie and mulled wine
It is officially less than 6 months from our wedding, and in less than 10 hours, it will be the year we get married in. We aim for 2014 to be our year - it will be one of the biggest of our lives, and we are determined to enjoy every minute of it. And though it's not looking likely, we'd like 2014 to be less busy! :)

So, in light of that, we've made a few new year's resolutions - not something we usually put a lot of stock in, but we feel there are some things that we need to leave in 2013.

1. Sweating for the wedding! Though I'd done well in my weight loss before our trip to Boise in September, since then, with my birthday, and holidays galore, I decided to enjoy myself and forget about it until the new year. But with less than 6 months until the biggest day of my life, there are no more excuses - I will look the way I want to look in June. That means toning up, and not baking any more cupcakes (until July!).

2. This year, I resolve to worry less about others. I've spent a good deal of the latter half of 2013 stressing myself into upset about relationships that I can't control. It's awful for me, a pain and upsetting for Sarah, and completely unnecessary. We've had a few issues of this in 2013, the worst of which being someone we thought was one of our closet friends randomly stopped answering our calls/texts in March, no explanation. I need to learn that I can't singlehandedly keep friendships going - that they are a two way street, if I am giving my best and not receiving back, it is not my responsibility to push until I do. If you are important to someone, they will come to you if they have an issue, and if they just fade away instead after you've tried to figure out why, you need to let them. Caring too much is an odd problem to have, but it is especially important this year as I want to focus entirely on being happy, and spending time with the woman who is to be my wife.

1. Panic less! This year has been exhilarating, exhausting, exciting, challenging, terrifying but ultimately filled with gestures of such kindness. On this roller coaster there have been plenty of tears though - good and bad. And plenty of doubt - mainly in my own capabilities. Laura handles things - generally in a cool as a cucumber 'we got this' kind of a way. I panic. I cuss. I drop the f-bomb if anything looks to be going wrong and worse still I get myself worked up before standing back and working out a plan of action. I get there eventually but in 2014 hopefully I can get there without the panic! Or with less of the panic!

We are in more debt, with more responsibility and about to have the biggest event of our lives and I can't wait - but as much as the buying the house was the right decision it hasn't been without hours of hugging Laura to gain reassurance that it will be worth it. Borrowing money from loved ones has caused us both angst - not because we aren't grateful, quite the opposite - we don't know how to show just how grateful we are - have we really made sure our families know we appreciate it more than we can ever say. Our lives are great because we are together but hopefully 2014 will be the year of paying people back and celebrating!

What are your resolutions for 2014?

We certainly won't be sad to see the back of 2013 - it was meant to be our 'quiet year to save' and that is NOT want it ended up being so who knows what 2014 will bring. All we ask for is the health and happiness of one another and all our loved ones - and of course anyone who reads this :)

The best possible ending to our year - white hot chocolate, Santa size!
As Sarah's Mum Scottish we have the traditional house cleaning to occupy the rest of our day - something about the new year being a clean start! Then we'll be ringing in the new year in our home, hand in hand - we hope you have a wonderful night, and that 2014 is your best year yet!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas Miracles - Merry Christmas from Birmingham!

We hope you are currently enjoying your lovely Christmas Eve's - what are you up to today?

We have just returned from caroling at our local church (hey, just because we aren't religious, doesn't mean we don't appreciate a good hymn) and we're setting up a gorgeous spread of cheese, salami, bread, chutneys, and Elf!

We are really happy to be spending our first Christmas in our new home together. We've decided not to do presents this year, as really a house is the best present we could get! So Christmas this year is all about quality time together, snuggling, and food.

Tomorrow Sarah's parents are coming up for dinner, and we will be Skyping with Laura's parents and grandparents throughout the day.

While we're settling in, thought we'd tell you about a few 'Christmas miracles' we've experienced this season.

1. Laura left her phone at the photo printing area at Tesco's today, and we didn't realise until we'd left the store. When she rushed back in, someone had left it at customer services, so we were able to get it back safe and sound. How often does that happen these days? THANK YOU to the person who turned it in!

2. Our boiler broke on Saturday morning, and our house is big and cold without it! Thankfully, we were able to get it temporarily repaired today, so are sitting in a toasty warm home. On Friday our friendly boiler man will come back with the part it needs. We are very relieved we'd sorted homecare cover for our boiler when we first got in!

3. The high winds in the UK meant our fence fell down this week! We've had a serious homeowner reality check this weekend. BUT luckily for us, it is the fence owned by our neighbour - it's not nice for them, but we simply couldn't afford to have a new one put up at the moment.

4. Finally, and maybe miracle-tastic of them all, we had a 'fake' Christmas day with Sarah's family on Saturday. We both cooked the whole thing, and kept Sarah's mum away from the kitchen so she didn't get stressed (she hates the cooking, but Laura loves it!) - so the family (Sarah's parents, us, and Sarah's sister and her boyfriend) had dinner, games, and little presents. It was great - and we think it was the perfect sendoff for Fiona to Kenya for the big day. Who would have thought this would be where we'd be this year?

Enjoy Christmas tomorrow! We'll finish off the evening with some Lauren-made pumpkin pie, and watching Santa visit all over the world on the NORAD tracker.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Christmas London Date Night

Christmas is, if you can believe it, one week from today.

We've really struggled to get into the spirit this year, and I know we aren't the only ones, so I've got to blame the weather. It was 10 degrees this week. Celsius! Not at all Christmassy. Or perhaps its the commuting, the house buying, the fact that we are always on the move, and always very tired (3 hour commutes one way!), and currently have little quality time together or with friends. But whatever it is, I'm not a fan. Christmas is my favourite holiday, and only comes but once a year!

So we took it upon ourselves to stay in London for three nights this week, and do some London-y Christmasy things. We're in a very cheap hotel, which is probably more of a hostel, but it'll be worth it if we come out of this feeling restored, and festive. So last night, we braved the rain in search of a date night.

WARNING: This post comes with probably the worst quality photos in the history of blogging history. It was rainy, foggy, and I only had my phone with me. Sorry!

We went to TGIF in Leicester Square, which was delicious, as usual!

We walked up to Primark to get Sarah some clothes for her Christmas party at her new job today, and I got myself a £3 skirt. Score!

Then we headed through the streets of Soho, and happened upon something which made the night for us - a tiny old London pub, heaving with Christmas decorations, which inside had a drag queen cabaret act named Cookie MonSTAR. It was fantastic - her first song was Cabaret, which is my Liza Minelli fan's favourite, and she followed it up with one of my favourite Barbra Streisand songs. We were hooked!

Could I have taken a worse photo? Probs not.
As we stood in the warmth and sang along with everyone in the packed pub, something came upon us - I think it must've been what the Grinch felt when he realised Christmas isn't about presents (thank goodness, because we're very poor this year!) - it was Christmas spirit! And the realisation that everything is great, despite all the changes and all the rushing around we do lately. I particularly loved the two theatre gays in the corner who thought it was the best thing ever to harmonise with the last note of every song - it reminded me of my choir days, and of my high school Christmas concert I try to get to whenever I'm home at this time of year.

Tonight Sarah is going to her work Christmas party, so I'm going to Winter Wonderland with our friends Alison and Dave, and then to (hopefully) successfully do the bulk of our Christmas shopping. I feel like a boy, not having done it yet - hoping our family won't receive petrol station Christmas Eve presents from us! ;D

 Tomorrow? We're heading back to that pub for the gayest kind of Christmas cheer.

Monday, 16 December 2013

A new start for Sarah!

So I thought I'd do a quick post and clarify what we've been referencing on Twitter and Instragram recently - started a new job!

For various reasons I've tried to keep it quiet, partly out of respect to my previous company and partly because I didn't want to jinx it. But Friday saw my last day at the company I had worked at for 2 and a half years. The day was filled with mixed emotions. Sadness that my time was coming to an end, I had a great team that all got on well and it was nice feeling like I had people I could chat to over tea. Happiness that I was ending on a high - everyone said they were really going to miss me and were sad to see me leave. Amused as everyone was dressed in Christmas sweaters - how can that not make me smile?

My leaving presents were all things I love - Diet Coke, in all sizes, sweets/candy and a cake pop maker (more for L to make me cake pops :D )! Two girls I was particularly close to also wrote me a personal leaving card - it was so sweet - I shed a few tears!

Today was a new world though - I am officially a Unicorn Senior Relationship Manager. That doesn't mean I manager relationships for Unicorns (unfortunately ;D ) but that I will be working to build existing accounts who want e:learning. So I'm still in training just a different type of training. It turned out that an opportunity came along just when we were trying to work out finances based on our existing income.

In the short term my journey is longer as I have to get into Bank instead of Victoria but the first day was great and I really like the team. My manager is lovely and everyone was so helpful. It's a small office in London with a bigger office in Bournemouth, where I went to university, and eventually I'll be able to work from home! Perfect for when we eventually move to Birmingham!

My beautiful fiancee made my first day all the better by taking me to Nando's and surprising me with a wonderful card and packet of Nerds - as i'm her Nerd :) I could not love her more!

So that's all my news for the moment, but where better to record it that our blog!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Third Annual Thanksmas 2013 - Housewarming Edition

Thanksmas was this past Saturday, and as you'll know if you've followed us for awhile, it's one of our very favourite days of the year. 2013 was no different, and was extra special because it was the first time our friends had seen our amazing new home!

Friday night we put up our Christmas tree together, finished some painting, decorated the rest of the house, in time for the madness to begin Saturday morning! We'd set our alarms for 8:30, but in typical excited us fashion, woke up just after 7am. We started on recipes, made breakfast, and took the delivery of our dining room table (just in the nick of time!).

Preparation was so fun - we listened to Christmas tunes, I was in the kitchen figuring out how work our brand new oven, and Sarah was putting together the table and a shelving unit, and then we snuck out for a cheeky lunch break.

Our little niece, Willow, helped too!
Sarah continued decorating while I made cornbread, baked mac n' cheese, and we both worked on the candied yams before our first guests announced their imminent arrival.

I dressed and put in Reginald to cook (the turkey!), and we picked up our friends Alison & Dave from the train station about 4pm. Ali helped me finish cooking, Dave hung photos for us, and we got dressed in our festive gear just in time for everyone to start arriving!

Obligatory with-turkey photo
Our friends all arrived on time, in their most festive gear (and bearing some lovely housewarming gifts!) and after a tour of our home, sat down with their drinks to eat. All the classics from last year made an appearance - stuffing, green bean casserole, candied yams, Sarah's famous roast potatoes, cornbread, turkey (of course), and this year I added a new dish to the mix - macaroni and cheese! Made with spinach (due to accidentally picking up a can with my beans), it was absolutely delicious, and I'll definitely add it to the repertoire!

After dinner, we chatted, drank and laughed - towards the end of the meal is my absolute favourite part of the day, just sitting back and watching our loved ones all get along together just makes me so happy. We had homemade pumpkin pie, which is just unparalleled from others we've tried. Everyone loved it, but luckily there were three slices left - Sarah quickly swiped the tray away, so we could eat them during the week.

We played Apples to Apples, which is now a Thanksmas tradition - the newb, Dave, won! It's the only game I've ever played where I enjoy it so much that I don't mind if I don't win - which is good, because I hardly ever do!

We closed out the night with mulled wine, turkey sandwiches, and Christmas music until 2am. This year, most of our guests were staying with us, which brought a new element to Thanksmas - the morning after!

Each couple was on their own airbed, in their own room, and in the morning I made McLaura's (my famous breakfast sandwiches!) for everyone - and 'Thanksmas special' ones for Sarah, Dave and me, which added in turkey, stuffing and gravy!

We then said goodbye to everyone except Alison and Dave, who we took for a walk around our estate. They were so impressed with the space we have out here! We drove them into town to go to the Christmas market, then headed home for a much needed snuggle.

A local branch decided it liked my hat so much, it'd take it clean off my head!
Thanksmas is truly one of my favourite days of the year, and it's just getting better with age - our friend Pete has been attended every year, and now I feel as if we have a good group of friends who we love to cook for and host.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

London at Christmas 2013!

On Wednesday the 4th of December my beautiful Laura had her Christmas party and as we are still driving in from Reading during the week I thought I would offer to wait around in town so we could drive back together. The original plan was that Laura would leave the party at 9:30pm so I would have 3 and a half hours to entertain myself.

As it was cold, wintry evening in December and I had a budget of £0 there was one obvious plan – a walking tour of London. It’s rare that I ever get the opportunity to just walk and admire London and London at Christmas is special. The bustling streets, the fancy window displays and the lights all build a level of excitement that I love.

From Victoria where my current office is based I made my first destination the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, a short 10 minute stroll away. I prefer to head there during the day to enjoy the market but at night this place is a fairground filled with lights, music and crowds of people. The line of coaches was HUGE!

After a brief pit stop I head towards Marble Arch and down to Oxford Street. This was the most challenging part of my walk, it took almost 25 minutes and other than a busy road and impressive hotels the distraction is limited. I was so relieved to get to Oxford Street and be welcomed by the lights.

Selfridges is a third of the way down Oxford Street but the light it omits is clear from almost the top. In every window the main attraction varied from shoes to underwear, playdo to vodka – all covered in snow and little people – their theme ‘Destination Christmas’ was well executed!

Next with the impressive decorations were HMV, the ailing music store, and Boots – the UK version of Walgreens. They really committed to wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

House of Fraser
House of Fraser wasn’t shy either, with every part of their building covered in sparkle they gave Marks and Spencers a challenge as they have changed their name to Magic and Sparkle for the festive season.

On my long walk down Oxford Street I came across my favourite window displays, this year by John Lewis. 

Their advert has already been announced as the best this year and the clever concept of using household items to make animals was ingenious. I had to push people out the way to get a good picture!

I had heard that the Mr Peabody & Sherman display on Regents Street was also worth seeing so I took a turn that way thinking it would allow me to detour through Carnaby Street – it was worth it! Both Regent Street and  Carnaby Street were completely lit up.

Even the little back streets gave me windows to marvel and smile at – who knew Sumo fighters were Christmassy!!

Back on to Oxford Street I continued my journey towards Tottenham Court Road and my next stop – Primark! This store is seriously the BEST store I have been in – UK and USA! – Four floors of good value clothing, bags, shoes, accessories, Christmas decorations, Christmas outfits, Christmas gift ideas just CHRISTMAS – I loved it so much I lost 2 hours and £70 in there! Ooops that £0 budget was always going to be a challenge.

By this time I had heard that the party was now going on till 10:30pm!

It was 8:30pm by the time I left Primark so I thought it was worth getting a non-so-healthy snack to keep me going. I decided to head for Leicester Square for this.

From Tottenham Court Road I cut across to Covent Garden to see the lego London and the tree there – very impressive and festive with the carols in the background!

My final destination of Leicester Square welcomed me with a fairground, who knew London had so many Christmas fairs?! I debated walking in but my appetite drove me to Maccy’s and after that all I could think of was getting to the car.

Thankfully after a 20 minute tube ride and I was back at Turnham Green and had just enough energy for the 20 minute walk back to the car. The de-icing was almost the end of me but thanks to the motivation of seeing L shortly I powered through and with clear windows made my way to collect her from her Baker Street location.

I love London, especially at Christmas, but next time I head of on a walking tour i’m wearing trainers!!! 

Monday, 2 December 2013

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

Not to turn morbid at the beginning the Christmas season, but I read an article the day after Thanksgiving that got me thinking! Laura’s ‘Thankful’ post highlighted a few reasons we are incredibly lucky, if we were to list of all the reasons it would take hours, but in this post I thought I would reference an interesting article I read the other day- ‘The top five regrets of the dying’ – from the DailyMail.com (hate the fact that it’s the only online paper I can access!!!!).

When life is going so well, I have a tendency to look for the ‘BUT’. It makes me feel nervous that everything is going to plan – it shouldn't but it does. Over our almost five years together L has gone a long way to removing the cynic in me but the logical side of my brain feels the need to look at every eventuality – the what if’s. Having said that as much as these past few months have been the best we've had in setting ourselves up we have had our share of challenges and the sadness of losing Abby – an irreplaceable loss! It puts the joy and happiness into perspective.

However, very little will stop us or hold us back, money will come and go and must be managed, it must not be the be all and end all though. Over the years we have written this blog we have swung between having money to barely having any. From getting bonuses to having to ‘eat everything in the cupboard’ as we couldn't afford our weekly shop – damn unexpected bills and cars!! It’s taught us that if we are frugal, not excessive and most importantly SAVE we can do just about anything. Backed up by a credit card to catch the great deals and stop us missing out on opportunities we can balance our books and spend money where we want. We don’t really drink, we don’t smoke and we don’t shop excessively or spend money on brands – especially designer – our joy comes from holidays and spending our savings on our house, days out and trips together and really experiencing life! After all, you don’t need designer clothes in Iceland no-one EVER sees under the big coat!

But this isn't a savings guide or a spending guide, I just thought the context was important! Laura and I both agree on a mantra for our lives ‘life is for living’. I have seen age do terrible things to people from bad backs to false hips, from ME to MS, from blindness to cancer, and if I take any lessons from seeing loved ones suffer it is that you have to do things while you can. The theory of saving for a rainy day is a good one as long as that day comes. Both my Aunt and Mum were young-ish when they had kids and both planned to ‘see the world’ when their kids were grown but financial worry and health challenges mean travel is not easy. All their ‘when they're older’ plans have had to change. I never want to look back and say ‘I wished I’d done that when I had the chance’.

And so, to return to the ‘The top five regrets of the dying’ - they are:

I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
I wish I hadn't worked so hard
I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
I wish that I had let myself be happier

Deep, right?!

And now my thoughts on each of them.

I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
Coming out and being true to myself was one of the most liberating things I could have ever done. I was never suppressed or lacking courage as such, I was just unsure of myself and thought conforming was what was best. I would have missed out on so much had I not – with L’s help – found the strength to be myself!

I wish I hadn't worked so hard
The work thing can be a challenge. If I love what I’m doing I don’t see my job as work, I see it as an opportunity to talk to like-minded people, share ideas and help people. No I’m not a minister! I’m a training advisor – but seriously, when I've had a good day at work I bound home wanting to tell L about the exciting things I’m doing. When I worked in Marks and Spencer’s and Asda I loved making people’s day – it was so simple, provide service with a smile. Working has never been awful for me, I just need to make sure I’m in the right job and if things aren’t working – change it! Life is too short to hate where you spend most of your time!

I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings
Courage to express feelings – this one more than the others surprised me, to explain further the article says ‘Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.' In some ways I am glad that I’ve always felt the need to say my piece. I value the people in my life too highly to not express feelings. If someone has upset me I’d rather give them the opportunity to understand why I’m upset. If I see something wrong, I say it. Wrongly or rightly it’s better to be honest – right?!

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
Life is so busy but one thing Laura and I both agree on is prioritising quality time with each other – it was highlighted in our love languages post that it is important to both of us – however we both also value time with our friends. Thankfully we share almost all of our friends, ones we had previously are now our friends and it makes it so we can really give them time without being apart. One friend in particular started off as my Manager at a job I loved, she employed me some 8 or 9 years ago and even though distance wise we aren’t close (in British terms) I know that we will always be friends. When I introduced her to Laura the two hit it off and probably have more in common than I do with her – it makes our evenings together great. The time may be short but we’ll have a life time of evenings so there’s no rush!

We also spent Thanksgiving with one of Laura’s friends from school – I may have met her just over a year ago but I think she’s amazing and think we are lucky that she’s in our lives. As well as dating a man who makes a delicious turkey, she gives L the chance to reminisce and me the chance to hear all their old school stories. The time we spend together is NEVER dull!

I digress! What I mean to say is I never want that regret, there are a few people who have moved out of our lives that we are grateful that Facebook keeps us in touch with and there are friends we wished lived closer (Australia is WAY too far) but I know that when money allows we will spend it visiting the people we miss the most. Friends are the family you pick after all!

I wish that I had let myself be happier
Finally ‘I wished I’d let myself be happier’. The article mentions that this is often due to fear of change. People would rather stick to what they know if it’s OK rather than risk it to be happy. The best way I can think of saying I learnt this lesson weirdly relates to food. Before I met Laura, and even at the start of our relationship, my first reaction to a new food was usually ‘I don’t like it’. Often I’d never tried it or anything like it but by the look or description I was convinced I didn’t like it and my life was fine without it. Cheese. Sweet potato. Parsnips. Green beans. Kiwi’s. Pate. The list goes on. Now I love melted Camembert with pate – to think I had 26 years without either. I’m not saying that it changed my fundamental happiness but if I broaden the theory to my own life, thinking about missed opportunities, I do understand how fear means you miss out on things big and little. I just hope I never have to look back and say ‘I wished I allowed myself to be happy’.

Preaching session over!

Seriously though it does make you think! I never miss an opportunity to say I love you. I never consider or wait to text loved ones and friends – it’s makes my day when someone texts me and tells me they are thinking of me, or I get Facebook comment or a blog comment or make that any comment in any format- just the evidence that I’m / we’re thought off means something and I hope I always reciprocate.

So here’s to a life that means those regrets don’t feature in my dying days – may they be very far away!