10-03-2015

A Spring house update with ASDA George Home Collection

Considering that I once had aspirations to be an interior designer, it’s amusing (to me), that you will never find a completely finished, expertly decorated room in our entire house.

Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE to have an instagram-perfect house where I could go crazy snapping photos of the children against a backdrop that looks like something out of a styled interiors photoshoot. But having the motivation to maintain a house like that just isn’t me, and I really don’t think it would make any of us any happier. As long as our house is a happy, fun, place, I don’t care much what it looks like.

There is also the fact that it pains me to think about spending time and money doing up our current house when I know that it isn’t our ‘forever home’. We prefer to operate at a slower pace when it comes to home decor, updating things as and when they are needed, and making the occasional purchase when we find something pretty at a justifiable price.

Luckily for us, the ASDA George Home range falls under our idea of a very reasonable price bracket, and there have been some great offerings from their homeware collection in the past few years.

asda george home collection

At 4.5 years old, Arlo’s cotbed days are numbered. Whilst we are waiting to be able to make a bunk bed purchase, we are updating his duvet and bedding to single sized sets, in order to spread the cost.

With so many duvet offerings on the market, I find it hard to know what to pick. My main criteria after comfort, is that it washes well and dries fast. This Silent Night egyptian cotton duvet showed great strength during the great tummy bug catastrophe of February 2015. So far so good.

George is a bit of a not-so-secret gem when it comes to bedding sets. In particular, I’ve loved some of the children’s bedding designs from the past couple of years. As you might already know, Arlo has become somewhat of a London fanatic over the past year and a half. As soon as I saw this illustrated London bedding set (which also comes in double and king sizes, ahem), I knew it was perfect for Arlo.

asda george home

We also bought the matching London-set Tower Bridge and Big Ben cushions, and changed up his curtains to match the London theme. A few simple changes, but to Arlo, it felt like walking into a whole new room.

I’m currently on a mission to migrate the majority of the children’s toys upstairs to their room, leaving a bit more space and a ‘grown up’ feel in our living room. Toy storage needs to be easily accessible for the boys, and have a simple system to help tidy up time run smoothly. This coloured drawer unit is perfect for the job.

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Along with the wicker baskets and the large under bed box holding their extensive wooden train track collection, there are enough separate boxes for a decent toy rotation system to last the whole week – one box per day lessens the chances of toy-overload or boredom.

Hands down, my favourite pick from the ASDA George Spring Home collection, and the one I feel has made the biggest difference to the look of the room, is the chevron curtains that we have put up in our living room. We chose the natural colour, which actually, to me, looks more of a warm pale grey shade in person. They come in floor length and shorter sizes, and there is a charcoal grey version too.

asda george home chevron curtain

A backlit photo of our dingy living room really doesn’t do these curtains any justice, so on the right is the product photo from the George website, so you can see how they look in good light. 

I’m crossing my fingers that George keep stocking these curtains for a long while so I can purchase more sets when we/if eventually move house and I have more windows to furnish.

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Our selected home picks were sent to us for the purpose of this feature. 

 

 

 

 

 

03-03-2015

A Britax Max Way in a Ford Focus

britax max way

Arlo has been in a Britax Two Way Elite behind the passenger seat of our 1998 Ford Focus since he outgrew his Group 0 Maxi Cosi at 15 months old. Fast forward a few years and now with a second baby, we were determined to also keep Rory rear facing, but we knew that putting a second rear facing seat behind the driver in a small, old, non-isofix car would involve a bit more thinking.

Arlo at 4.5 years old in his Britax Two Way Elite ( his seat is very upright to allow space for Sam in front – the propped up towel is an attempt to stop the TWE from being completely vertical on our very sloped Ford Focus seats. PS. He’s not allowed to hold that drink whilst the car is moving)

britax two way elite four year old ford focus

Luckily for us, we had a bit more time to think about our decision – despite starting out in life as a bit of a giant, toddler Rory is more on the small-ish side, his Maxi Cosi lasting until 20 months. Sometimes, babies reach a stage where they want to be more upright than group 0 seats allow, but Rory remained perfectly happy, so we had no reason to upgrade his seat until his head reached the top of the back of the car seat. (I’ll also admit that I held out as long as possible because it’s far easier to move a sleeping baby from car to house in a portable infant car seat than attempt a car seat to cot transfer).

Things have changed slightly since 2011 when we were searching for an extended rear facing seat for Arlo. Things like the i-Size regulations (from approximately 2018 infants must rear face until a minimum age of 15 months) have meant manufacturers having to develop guideline-compliant car seats, and so we’ve found a (slightly) increased choice in extended rear facing car seats since we were last looking.

There were three main reasons that I chose a Britax May Way to be Rory’s new car seat in our Ford Focus.

1. I was intrigued to try out a different car seat to the Two Way Elite, to see how they compare.

2. It’s one of the smallest seats available, taking up a similar amount of space as the compact Two Way Elite.

3. The Max Way has a support leg.

My thinking behind a car seat with a support leg was that it would potentially give us, literally, more room to manoeuvre if the driver’s seat needed to be adjusted. Currently it’s just me driving, but Sam is taking lessons, and if all goes well, he should be on the road very soon.

The official word from the Britax installation manual is to NOT brace the seat against the seat in front, but to leave a small gap. However, the word from car seat safety experts is that bracing is just as safe, and is fine to do if not enough space. Our thinking was that when I’m driving, we’d have the small gap between seats, and when Sam is driving, he could push his seat back so it’s braced against the Max Way, creating the leg room that he needs.

In actuality, I’m not sure how well this will work out. I think Sam will need more space than the car seat allows. I like to drive quite close to the pedals, and there is really not much room at all to push the driver’s seat back.

There WILL be occasions when Sam needs to drive the kids (that’s sort of the whole point in him learning to drive), so I’m not sure what we will do if we can’t make it work with two rear facing seats in a Ford Focus. I’m not particularly happy with this idea, but I guess one thing we could do would be to turn Arlo’s Two Way Elite to forward facing behind the driver’s seat if Sam needs to take the kids somewhere and it’s on residential roads, and then I would do the rest of the driving and any long distance / motorway driving with them both rear facing. Another option I would consider would be to get a bigger car on finance at the expense of our mortgage-borrowing prospects. It’s well worth it if I know it means Arlo and Rory are much safer in the car.

We haven’t yet experimented with adjusting the recline bar or the leg, to create more space by having Rory more upright, so it could still be do-able, but I have a feeling Rory would have to be REALLY quite upright. Watch this space for an update.

Sidenote over. Back to the Max Way.

I really like this seat. And so does Rory. When he first sat in it, he was so happy to realise he could see out of the windows. The Max Way sits quite high up, so Rory’s head is actually at the same height as Arlo’s in the car now, which is much nicer for them – they can chat and play on the same level now. Looking at pictures, the Max Way looks like a bulkier seat compared to the Two Way Elite, but in the flesh it is compact and takes up no more room when installed in the car.

britax max way ford focus

 

The Max Way will last Rory until he is 25kgs, or approximately six or seven years old. The Max Way has passed the Swedish Pass Plus test, which is THE strictest safety test, and the only one that measures neck loads. (Forget ‘Which’ reviews, which include a comfort rating as part of their ‘safety’ scoring). There are just SIX seats that have passed the Pass Plus test, and they are all rear facing car seats. In the test that car seats have to pass to meet European Standard ECE R44/04, the effect of a car crash on the child’s neck is not measured. If the test did measure neck loads no forward facing seat would ever pass. Here’s what Britax have to say about their rear facing credentials.

Do I prefer the Max Way or the Two Way Elite?

There is not a simple answer to this question. I prefer the Max Way for a toddler, as Rory looks so comfortably supported, and the higher seat positioning gives a much better vantage point. But the Two Way Elite seems more comfortable for an older child – as their legs grow longer, the flat seat of the TWE gives more options for a child to position their legs, there is room to spread or cross their legs if they want to, whereas the high sides of the Max Way prevent this.

4.5 year old Arlo in the Britax Max Way:

four year old in britax max way

 

Compared to the Britax Two Way Elite:

 

four year old in a britax two way elite

Arlo crossing his legs in the Max Way

britax max way

 

If I needed to pick just ONE seat to last from baby/toddler to age six or seven, then I’d go for the Two Way Elite. However, if, like me, your older child will have outgrown their TWE in time for your younger child to use it should they find it more comfortable for longer legs, the Max Way makes the perfect interim seat whilst offering good support and a better view whilst your child is still very young. For the ages that my children are, I happy with our TWE and Max Way setup, and prefer this combination to having two TWEs.

The Max Way has an RRP of £225 and needs to be installed by a car seat safety expert. I am incredibly lucky to live right round the corner from one of the most knowledgeable and dedicated car seat safety advisers, who kindly fitted Rory’s Max Way for me.

20 month old Rory in his Britax Max Way:

britax max way ford focus

 

Margaret is based in South East London – She stocks and fits a wide range of rear facing car seats, as well as checking your group 0 car seats, and dispensing all sorts of knowledge on car safety. To find out what your options are for your specific car once your baby grows out of their infant car seat, or for any advice on rear facing seats, I definitely recommend getting in touch.

Margaret is also holding monthly free car seat clinics in partnership with Good Egg Safety at Sydenham Toys R Us. If you would like to have your children’s car seats checked completely free of charge, this page has the dates and times.

I knew a little about rear facing when we bought Arlo’s Two Way Elite, but I am learning so much more all the time since following Margaret’s Facebook page  – it’s the best rear facing resource I’ve come across, and it’s made me resolute in not wanting to turn my children forward facing in the car until they are six or seven. It’s not JUST about rear facing information (although you’ll never find Margaret advocating a forward facing car seat), but it’s also a great resource for child car safety in general (when do babies grow out of group 0 car seats, car seat appropriate clothing, etc).

I don’t really feel strongly about any aspects of parenting. I don’t care about comparing the choices I’ve made for specific, individual reasons, to the choices others have made for specific, individual reasons. But, I guess, I do feel strongly when it comes to a child safety issue that could be done so much better. I do feel that UK parents are currently being let down by a lack of widely available, correct advice on the matter of car safety for children. And I do firmly believe that the big names in infant retail should be investing in good quality training for their car seat advisers, as well as stocking a wider choice of rear facing car seats, so that every parent can make an informed choice.

Follow the Rear Facing for Toddlers FB page to start learning exactly WHY rear facing is so much safer. Once you learn the finer details of the facts, you won’t look back.

(There’s a pun in there somewhere).

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Thank you to Britax for supporting and understanding our wishes to keep Arlo and Rory rear facing, and for sending us Rory’s Max Way to review. And a big thanks to Margaret at Rear Facing car seats for toddlers for fitting Rory’s seat for us.

 

01-03-2015

A bit of me time at Ena Salon

hair

Back in the days of disposable income, my number one expenditure was my hair. And it was entirely worth it. I also took a lot of selfies, before it was even called a selfie.

I had an amazing stylist in Brighton, and when I moved back to London, I found my next ‘perfect stylist’, following him throughout several salon moves, until I fell pregnant and got ‘the guilt’ over spending so much money on my hair. And then later, when I quit my job after maternity leave, just plain old didn’t HAVE the money to have my hair coloured and cut every few months.

It was during this time that I had my most dissatisfying hair salon experiences to date. Maybe because it was so rare that I could find the time away from my children that it REALLY mattered when I got my hair done. Maybe because the money I was parting with meant so much MORE to me during those frugal years. Or maybe it was because, enticed by their discount offers, I was choosing to go to mass market hair salon brands . If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt, it’s that the big salon chains just aren’t that great at bold colour (my record was THREE visits to correct a failed colour attempt that still ended up barely visible), and it is rare to find a stylist who doesn’t just give you the same generic cut they’ve already done five times that day, no matter what your brief.

I haven’t been able to do much about that money-spending guilt or my lack of available time, (I’ve been compromising by sticking to my natural colour), but, these days, I am back to choosing salons that know their craft and place value in great training.

ena salon

My latest haircut was done by the lovely Gianna at Ena Salon in Covent Garden. I could tell we were off to a good start when she listening carefully to my rambling ideas about my hair, and then went on to give her own suggestions and talk me through EXACTLY what she was going to do with my hair.

I like a stylist who will tell me straight up if something won’t work, or if something might be improved by using a different technique, etc. I am quite at ease with a dramatic change, and have tried all sorts of things with my hair. I don’t suffer from new style nerves. But I do like to know that my stylist is confident, and that I’m going to get my money’s worth.

Ever had one of those cuts where it’s over in 20 minutes and you feel like they haven’t really ‘done’ much with your hair? Not at Ena – Gianna continued to talk me through each step as she styled. It never felt rushed, or like time was an issue at all.

Ena is based in a Grade 2 listed Georgian Townhouse. It’s unique features set it aside from your standard hair salon. My evening at Ena felt like a luxury bit of me-time. Ena also has a Beauty Salon in the same building, offering nails, body treatments, facials, waxing, threading, etc.

On Mondays, Ena is closed to business. There is no onus for stylists’ to hone their skills during ‘overtime’, they have an entire day dedicated to training. I think this speaks volumes about the way Ena values good quality training. There was not a hint of generic styling to be found during my salon visit. 

My hair cut was exactly what I wanted. My layers have been given some much needed attention, and my hair has a much nicer shape. Most importantly, this cut will keep me going for a good few months.

ena salon review

The thing that most impressed me about Ena was their attention to detail. From the epic head massage, to the blow drying and styling tips, they went the extra mile whenever they could. Gianna even patiently gave me a little tutorial on how best to apply the products she was using on my hair, all with absolutely no hint of a hard sale (another brownie point to you, Ena).

Whilst I was there, I also spoke to one of the colour technicians about an idea I have for my next style. Our quick chat gave me the confidence that Ena really do know what they are doing.

I think it’s about time to draw a close on my frugal years of boring brown.

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Disclosure: Ena Salon invited me to review their services and I received a complimentary hair cut. 

18-02-2015

What happened when I turned 30

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We haven’t really ‘done’ presents for each other in the last five years. But this year, I was keen to maximise my window of opportunity – big birthday, stable finances, an older baby who can feasibly go without me for a few nights, and no new babies on the horizon for now.

I wanted a trip away with Sam (our third no-kids break. Like, ever. Not even since the kids arrived). I don’t like wasting time on subtle hints with no guarantee that they will be heard. I was spelling things out BIG TIME. How else is Sam meant to know I’m game for being away from my breastfed toddler? Or that I’m turning thirty?

I was angling for a night or two in a nice hotel. Instead I got a five night stay in New York, travelling business class (a tick off the bucket list for this always-economy flyer).

I will blog about New York separately. I should have done it by now but my thousands of photos were temporarily delayed by a Photoshop meltdown. But, in summary, I got to travel somewhere new, and spend time just being me and Sam (two things I do feel I’ve missed out on a bit in my twenties – this has appeased those cravings a LOT). And perhaps best of all, a blissful FIVE nights of sleep on my own terms.

Cheesy pic alert:

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Phase two of the birthday celebrations involved food, lots of food. A Sunday pub lunch with my family, and continuing all the way on into February, a big meal with 20 of my friends. Sam did an amazing job as event planner. There were google spreadsheets and everything. Unfortunately, his thanks was getting to leave mid-way through the meal to tend to a puking Rory who had come down with Arlo’s tummy bug with predictably inconvenient timing.

Even more inconvenient was me going to bed after a great night out, only to wake up with the same bug five hours later. I’m still not talking about those cocktails.

Even MORE inconvenient was Sam getting it the next day and missing his driving test. Yes, this thing took down our entire house, and made sure we’ll NEVER forget how my 30th birthday ended. Well done, germs.

turning30

Five years ago, when I turned twenty five, I clearly remember feeling like I was on the cusp of something. I was craving a big change. I loved certain aspects of my life – I’d just moved in with three of my good friends, things were good with Sam and I, I was having a lot of fun. I had it really good and looking back it definitely feels like I took a lot of that for granted.

Turning twenty five, I distinctly felt that I needed to make the most of those years, that time could easily slip away without me having DONE anything much in particular. I was ready for a big change, and something had to give. I figured that it would be work. That I’d save up and do some more travelling before I missed the chance and it became REALLY important to focus on a career.

A few weeks later, I got a big change indeed. I found out I was pregnant with Arlo. And my life suddenly set out on a trajectory that I hadn’t factored for at all.

It is SO WEIRD to think that that was five years ago now. I am still exactly the same person as I was at 25, but it’s like I’ve added a whole new dimension to my life now. I’m sure this is the same for every new mum regardless of the situation, but I feel like that time has largely been spent assessing my new status as a parent with my pre-baby life, trying to balance the two, with varying degrees of success and contentment.

I think becoming a mum is one of the hugest moments in life, because you can so distinctly separate the ‘before’ and ‘after’. The change happens in an instant, and with that will inevitably come an adjustment period.

Turning thirty is another milestone birthday, so I was kind of anticipating that I might feel similar emotions about wanting to make changes or assess my life as it currently stands. But it’s felt completely different. I didn’t have any panic about reaching thirty.

The fact that I’m now the same age as some of the first mum friends I made when Arlo was a newborn has been weirdly affirming. My life is still very different to that of my friends, and I still haven’t found myself suddenly identifying with a whole new group of mum friends (But who does? It’s such a general factor to have in common). But these things don’t make me feel as uneasy as they once might have. Because I’m generally happy with life now. I’m happy with me.

The last five years has sort of felt like a weird internal struggle to work out where I had gone, because so much had changed so quickly, and it didn’t really feel like I was fully in control of any of it.

I’m happy with turning thirty. It’s been a weird sort of contentment.

11-02-2015

Laundrapp – the on-demand laundry app (It’s like Uber, for your washing pile)

 

I am a big fan of on-demand services, convenience apps…whatever you want to call them.

When I heard about this service, I thought “Of course there’s an app for that. It makes complete sense”. Laundrapp gives you a quote for your laundry, whisks it away and brings it back clean and folded as little as two days later. Door to door service within time slots selected by you, from your phone app. They also do dry cleaning and ironing.

Price comparison: Our local dry cleaners charge £7.50 for one suit. Laundrapp is £11. But our dry cleaners ask for 3 days, and when I go to collect, 3 times out of 5, the reply is “Oh, it’s not ready yet, can you come back tomorrow?”

All things considered, I would happily pay the difference for a guaranteed service from Laundrapp and the convenience of not having to take repeated trips to the dry cleaners and attempt to lug a clean suit home whilst juggling a buggy and a walking four year old alongside a very busy main road.

laundrapp1

How was the service?

I was kind of intrigued as to who would turn up at my door. I’m not entirely sure what it takes to get a service like this off the ground so quickly in an area like London, but I know there must a be LOT of people power behind it.

The driver was a polite and friendly guy, who was very helpful in explaining the best way to prepare your clothes for collection (no hangers, no suit bags – they return clothes in Laundrapp hangers and bags. I hadn’t found any info about this on the app). The clothes were handed over, the driver doubled checked the return date details and gave me a collection receipt, and off he went.

We opted for the ‘9 to 5’ promotion – 1 suit and 5 shirts (cleaned, ironed, and hung) for £18.

Sam’s garments arrived back right on time two days later. I opted for evening time slots as although I never know what’s going to happen with my days, one of us is always guaranteed to be at home of an evening, so waiting in for a collection/delivery is never a problem. The latest collection slot is 9pm-10pm.

laundrapp

The Laundrapp service was so hassle free, it would have been hard NOT to have been impressed. But seeing as I am unbelievably excited at the mere idea of anything that might make laundry an easier task, all Laundrapp had to do to make me happy was provide a smooth running service and return the clothes in as good a condition as I’d expect from any reputable dry cleaner. They succeeded on both counts.

Seeing as I work from home, outsourcing my general laundry seems a little bit indulgent, even for me. But the excitement level would be akin to ordering a takeaway when you just can’t be bothered to cook. Maybe even better.

I’m not saying that I’m totally ruling out a bit of indulgence every once in a while. I’m rather comforted by the sight of the Laundrapp icon on my phone, ready to deploy with one touch of a button in the event of an emergency…or a very neglected washing pile during a slightly more lucrative month.

For dry cleaning, however, I have been completely won over by the convenience, and what I think are fair prices for a swift and quality service. Next time I get a panicked “I’m going away in three days, I can’t remember if my suits are clean!?” text from Sam, I know who I’m going to turn to.

Laundrapp are constantly running promotions and offers which make the service a lot more reasonable. It’s worth keeping an eye out for those deals.

Like other apps of its kind, it has a ‘refer a friend’ scheme, where you each get a £10 discount upon downloading the app and entering a referral code. That makes your first order a bit of a bargain and for that alone I’d say it’s definitely worth giving Laundrapp a go to see what you think. Use my code and I will LOVE you. It’s SATMCB

Laundrapp launched just last month and was London-based at first, but now they have expanded into Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Download the app to check whether Laundrapp is available in your area.

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Thanks to Laundrapp for letting us trial your service and partnering with Sorry About The Mess.