Somerset Anniversary

It was our sixth wedding anniversary on Saturday. We’re not great at doing much to celebrate it. Twice we made a huge effort. On our first we went glamping in Pembrokeshire. Come to think of it, that’s the only anniversary we’ve had sans kiddos. Hadn’t realised that until about now. Another time we went to Harptree Court, mainly because we were expecting Ophelia and it was a last/first chance to spend a night just the two of us before starting the newborn thing all over again. But we’re pretty sure the other three kind of disappeared into the mists of life-with-baby madness.

This time we wanted to try a bit harder (though I only remembered to buy a gift the day before – I got him whisky so it’s all forgiveable). At nineteen months and with her recently waking up A LOT, leaving Ophelia overnight is something that’ll wait. Instead, Laurence’s parent generously had us come to stay for the weekend at looked after the girls while we went off anniversarying.

Somerset anniversary

We left mid-morning for Stourhead in Somerset. We’d first said we’d do a spa, then we figured on climbing a mountain so taking a leisurely walk around a stunning National Trust property feels like a happy medium. It did, however, make me feel thoroughly old that we’d both rather walk around a walled garden checking out squashes and musing over flowers than go nightclubbing or something (y’know whatever the young are supposed to do).

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How great are these harem pants? My mother-in-law brought them back from Thailand for me but wasn’t sure whether I’d go for them. I love them! The shoes were given to me by La Redoute and the shirt is a charity find. I love it’s retro feel. The cardigan is probably a bit insane. A friend gave it to me, suggesting the girls might like it. It probably is meant to be a child’s cardi but ah well!

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Stourhead has a childhood connection for Laurence as place his family frequented. He vividly remembers being bribed to walk halfway with the promise of an ancient grotto. He didn’t remember that there was a house, or any buildings there at all. There are a few. I’m guessing with three energetic boys to run, a quest around the grounds made more sense than attempting a gentle creep around a grand old house.

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The views there are just so unexpectedly beautiful. I can’t imagine how anyone can look at a mess of trees or bush or whatever was likely there before and bring such order to it. There were so many points where I stopped and thought, this must be the best view of this place, only to be proven wrong a few moments later.

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Laurence was keen that we find a spot by the lake for our romantic picnic. But it proved less than romantic when we were practically mauled by ducks. They seriously would not leave us alone. I now know what Peppa Pig’s family is dealing with when they go picnicking. We even changed locations, thinking we’d be safe and I ended up shrieking when two ducks who’d spotted us from across the pond came flying over, landing at our feet, followed by a load more swimming as quickly as they could, eyes firmly on our sandwiches. We wound up yamming our picnic rather quickly, periodically taking turns to get up and shoo them away.

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Having walked around quite a bit, Laurence suggested we go check out Albert’s Tower but I suggested we do cake in the tea room instead. It was one of those moments where we smiled at how different we are. He doesn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to just be on the move. I don’t get why he wouldn’t want to mooch around and eat cake. Seriously, cake.

We did drive past the tower later and I would have regretted not stopping a bit except that I was pretty exhausted (see Ophelia’s sleep above). I ended up napping in the car while he listened to sports on the radio. Now that’s love.

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In the evening we took sunset walk, past the church where we got married, to a local pub. It was such a good time of reminiscing and not doing what we usually do too much of, talk about the future. We have a few bigger decisions coming up but we decided last New Year’s that we wouldn’t make any major changes this year, though it doesn’t stop us from talking about it! I think we’ve finally reached a point where enough time has elapsed for us to have enough history to properly “reminisce”.

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We’ve only been together for seven years and four months, married for six of them. That’s such a short time, written down like that. Yet so much life has been lived in that brief time. It definitely was worth putting in a bit of effort to mark it.


Surviving the wedding season

Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary. Was it really six years ago that my arms and hands were covered in mehndi, my lengha hanging in the cupboard, ready for a walk down a country church aisle? I barely slept that night or many of the ones before it. I remembered this when we wondered how one of Laurence’s cousins might be feeling in the lead up to her own wedding earlier this summer.

Looking back, I doubt I’d change anything about our wedding day. Perhaps we could have spent less money but then we saved in many areas with creativity (friends brought cupcakes, our families made Jamaican and Tribagonian food). We splashed out on a few bigger things which were carefully considered (the stretch marquee and reggae band spring to mind). It was a relatively thrifty wedding but putting it together forever changed the way I’ve viewed weddings since. I’ve become far more appreciative of the time, effort and money that goes into them as well as the privilege it is to celebrate with the happy couple.

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Yet in all this talk about the cost of weddings, we rarely note that being a guest can be pricey too. Experian estimates that nearly 11% of people in a relationship have spent £800 on attending weddings. That blows my mind but by the time you account for hen and stag parties (especially stags – can anyone explain why they’re so often far more expensive?!), clothes, transport, accommodation, possibly childcare and a gift, I suppose it’s not that surprising, once you’ve been to a few. Many of my friends married young and I genuinely felt the squeeze attending weddings as a student and new graduate.

So it’s unsurprising to hear that Experian found that one in four people have argued with their partner about the cost of attending a wedding. In their Money & Relationships guide, they’ve included lots of helpful tips for couples seeking financial harmony such as:

  • Set ground rules for whether you’ll combine or separate accounts for spending
  • Agree on short and long-term goals
  • Don’t spend all your time together
  • Don’t talk about money issues when you are angry (I firmly second this one!)
  • Take time together to understand if you need to improve one or both of your credit reports

Last week, I played wedding guest at London’s Duck and Waffle, invited by Experian to dine with a small group of bloggers and chat weddings. With a couple of them engaged and my own anniversary looming, it was a fun topic to take apart over Chef Daniel Doherty’s signature sharing menu. The meal featured playful delights such as bacon wrapped dates, roasted octopus and, of course, duck and waffle.

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The restaurant is forty floors up, giving an enviable view of London. I must admit I struggled a bit with the glass elevator on the way up! Lunch there made me put it on my wishlist for my 30th birthday next year. We’re talking about possibly having a weekend away in London if one of our family babysitters is up for it, depending on what Ophelia is like at night by then. Failing that, maybe we’ll celebrate our seventh anniversary there. Seven. Now that sounds like a big deal.

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Surviving the wedding season

Experian have put together the infographic below, detailing their survey’s findings on how much people are spending on attending weddings and how they’re coping with the cost. Is any of this familiar to you? Have you been to many weddings this year?

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Do take at look at Experian’s blog for tips on how to prevent finances from becoming a pressure point in your relationship.

Thanks to Experian for working with me on this post

Photo credit (top two images): Courtenay Photographic


Top ten engagement rings for every budget

Laurence proposed to me on Maracas Bay (pictured above) in Trinidad. We were on holiday there for Carnival. I knew it was going to happen at some point but I didn’t know when. Apparently I gave him little opportunity as I hardly ever agreed to being alone, saying that we needed to see friends and family – not at all on purpose, mind!

He found this a total nightmare and eventually insisted we take a walk down the beach on our own. I actually started to argue with him about something or other when he got down on a knee and there it was. The ring.

It was beautiful. Of course, it didn’t really matter what it looked like but I’m not sure I would have taken him seriously without it. The fact that he’d been carrying around this precious object for weeks, trying to figure out when to present it to me told me that he was sure.

Engagement rings mean different things to different people. I have friends who have the biggest rocks I’ve ever seen and others who’ve opted to have something wooden or tattooed. For me, my engagement ring is the first piece of real jewelry I’ve owned as an adult. It’s not the most expensive thing out there but I still look at it and remember the excitement of that day on the beach with the guy I love kneeling in the sand.

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With this in mind, I’m welcoming celebrity jeweller and founder of Vashi.com, Vashi Dominguez’s top ten engagement rings for every budget. But first a word from Vashi:

“Beautifully crafted diamond engagement rings do not have to break your bank or cost thousands of pounds to obtain one. There are four factors that will determine the cost of a diamond – the carat weight (size), clarity (amount of imperfections within a diamond), cut and the colour. When purchasing one it is important that you buy from a reputable brand under the Kimberley Process to avoid purchasing unethically sourced stones.”

Top Ten Engagement Rings for Every Budget
(pictured above)
1. Diamond cluster ring – £419
2. Bespoke Marquise cut 18k White Gold Diamond Engagement Ring – £798
3. Round Cut 0.25 Carat DVS1 18k White Gold Diamond Engagement Ring – £815
4. Diamond and Blue Sapphire Ring in 9k White Gold – £999
5. Round Cut 0.37 Carat DVVS1 18k White Gold Diamond Engagement Ring – £1,376
6. Round Cut 0.45 Carat Blue Sapphire Side Stone Engagement Ring in 18k White Gold – £1,537
7. Round Cut 0.57 Carat Side Stones Engagement Ring in 18k White Gold – £1,879
8. Round Cut 0.9 Carat Side Stones Engagement Ring in 18k White Gold – £2,012
9. Round Cut 0.66 Carat Three Stone Engagement Ring in Platinum – £2,312
10. Round Cut 0.74 Carat Halo Engagement Ring with Side Stones in Platinum – £3,067

Collection presented by Vashi.com
See my disclosure for more information


How to use credit cards without wrecking your marriage

Laurence and I took a marriage preparation course back when we were engaged (the image above is from our honeymoon when we were loved-up enough to be at ease with couple selfies).

One of the activities was to take a quiz to find areas we needed to discuss. When we went through the results with the couple who were mentoring us, every statement regarding finances was highlighted as an area we’d disagreed about or just weren’t settled on.

It’s come as no surprise, then, that money has been a major stress-point for us in these five years of marriage.

We may not have gone away after the course and ironed everything out neatly but we have learned a few things amid the hand-wringing. Credit cards have especially thrown some learning opportunities at us. Here are a few simple but easily forgotten ideas that we try to keep holding on to.

Make a list
Make a list together of everything you’d like to have your credit card available for. We decided from the start that ours would be for emergencies only, partly because I don’t work full-time.

Yet, because we’d not yet defined what that meant, “emergencies” began to encompass things like pub lunches and train tickets for social visits. Uhh, not what we’d planned.

Making lists separately and comparing them helps to really figure out where we both are on this.

Discuss priorities

Of course, what we’re really talking about here is the bigger issue of defining your priorities as a couple. So, maybe a new dress isn’t a priority.

On the other hand, we both have close family who live abroad and, without being macabre, should anything happen to them, we’d likely use a credit card to get out there in a hurry if we needed to.

Think about alternatives
We’ve even got imaginative with this and sought alternatives when things have come up.

For instance, when we were in Trinidad, the friend who was housesitting for us thought that our fridge had given up the will to live. We actually, seriously considered living without a fridge for a while.

Have accountability
This is so helpful for keeping the credit card bill in check. If there’s no sneaking around, surreptitiously bunging something on the credit card then we’re a lot less likely to put crap like gig tickets on there. Rather, we talk to each other before we decide to buy anything with it.

We even, literally, froze it once when we were fighting to get our debt back under control. My brother found it hilarious when he found our credit card in our freezer, locked in a block of ice. I assured him it was “a thing”, thinking he was lucky not to come across a placenta in there, frankly. At least it meant that we had to make a joint decision to melt the block of ice before using it.

Budget together
Of course, credit cards aren’t free money, though they can feel that way at the time. So there needs to be a solid plan in place to repay them.

We’ve found that when just one of us does the budgeting, the other feels like they don’t have enough of a say or enough control of the situation and just ends up feeling resentful.

When we sit down and go through what we’re spending money on, how much we’re both bringing in and how we’re going to manage it all – boring as it is – we’re generally a lot happier with each other.

Five years ago in marriage prep, I’d never have pegged budgeting for a good date.

In Association with Santander


What the last decade has taught me that I want to teach my children

So I got up this morning somehow 28. It’s my birthday today. Really, 18 does not feel a decade ago, even though everything has changed in that time.

I’ve been reflecting on what’s changed and what hasn’t. It’s made me think about what I want my daughters (who have been the biggest change in my life) to know about what maturing means.

Ten years ago, I was learning to drive. Today, I’m still learning.
In fact, I have another driving test tomorrow. I’m actually in a pretty good place with this. I might pass, I might not. I will eventually. At least I’m not putting it off anymore. I’m determined, I’m going for it and I’ve finally reached a point where I believe I can drive. Even a few months ago I was still wondering whether I should just choose to be a lifelong pedestrian.

What I want my girls to learn is that just because something doesn’t come easily doesn’t mean it’s not worth learning. I also want them to know that it is OK for failure to be part of the journey.

Things I want my children to learn

Ten years ago, I hated my body. Today, I don’t think about it that much.
The other day, Talitha leaned in to tell me something very earnestly. It was spoken like a precious secret. “Mummy, I am very beautiful,” she said. I smiled and agreed with her.

I long for her to grow up strong against a world that will tell her that her body is public property and that her physical beauty is what’s valuable about her. I rage against these lies, knowing too that “You are not beautiful” and “You are not enough” are whispered with them.

Ten years ago, I thought I needed a relationship to feel complete. Today, I know that’s not true.
This year Laurence and I will have been married for five years. I absolutely love him more than ever. My admiration and respect for him have grown with time. The first blush of romance has faded and is growing into something far more meaningful, something I wouldn’t trade for the excitement of new love. But.

I have learned again and again that that does not mean we can save each other. Any demons I entered this marriage with are going to stick around until I find a path to freedom. He cannot fix me and to expect that of another person is not only unfair and unrealistic but cruel.

I want to model a healthy relationship for my children. That’s one of the best gifts a parent can give.

Things I want my children to learn that I've learned

Ten years ago, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Today, um, I’m still figuring it out.
At 18 I was on a gap year, having enrolled to study English Literature because I was good at it and, frankly, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, career-wise.

After my first degree, I did a Masters because I figured I wanted to research and teach. I fell out of love while writing my dissertation, partly because I’d chosen the wrong area of study, really, and partly because I was depressed at the time.

Then I embarked on a really short career in magazine journalism.

Then I got pregnant and realised I wanted to stay home with my baby, like long-term too because home educating was something I’d always thought about.

And now? Well, yeah, that’s the path I’m on but I still don’t know what I plan to do. I’ve been copywriting and doing social media stuff around Talitha for the last couple of years. It’s pretty decent but is it what I want to be doing with my one wild and wonderful life? I don’t know.

What I want my kids to learn is that there are different paths to things. You don’t have to figure it all out in one go or even early in life. It can unfold over time. Your purpose and dreams can also change over time. Life does not have to be spent doing just one thing.

What I've learned I want to teach my children

Ten years ago, I thought I knew everything. Today, I’m cool with some doubt.
I was so black and white about things when I was younger. I’m naturally very driven by rules and certainties. It makes me feel safe.

The last decade has seen me move country, meet a much wider pool of people with so many different histories and perspectives and have experiences that have made me question everything.

I want my children to grow up knowing that doubts do not invalidate your faith, that doubt can make you softer, more compassionate and more understanding.

What do you most want your children to know?

——
Circus Queen is a finalist in The MAD Blog Awards. Please vote for me to win “Best Pregnancy Blog”.


Who comes first, my spouse or my child?

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Four years ago, I made big promises to this guy and to God, before our family and friends. It’s still one of the best decisions I’ve made in life, the start of a real adventure.

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Photos by Courtenay Photographic. You can see more of the set here.

Two years ago, we were joined by this little person.

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And now we’re expecting to be joined by another.

16 weeks pregnant

So, we realised that we better get it in quick before February if we wanted to have a romantic getaway because the opportunity probably wouldn’t present itself for another few years.

The thing is, it just wasn’t as simple as that.

harptree court
We decided to revisit beautiful Hartpree Court, the 18th century bed and breakfast where we’d spent our wedding night and where this season’s Big British Bake Off was filmed. Holy ground, my friends.

You see, back when Talitha was 19 months and we’d made these plans, 27 months seems proper grown up. “So much will have changed by then,” we told each other. And we were right. She now sleeps in a single bed in her own room, doesn’t breastfeed at night anymore and mostly sleeps through. The “mostly” is what bothered me in the lead up to our big weekend.

Talitha recently stopped waking up and reassuringly staying in her bed, calling out or crying for us in the night. Instead, she disconcertingly comes straight into our room and asks for one of us to do something for her, usually me but Laurence does most of the nighttime parenting now. She has even gone downstairs looking for us if she doesn’t find us in our bedroom.

I didn’t expect her to do this at someone else’s house, though, but it turned out that she is so familiar with her grandparents’ house that when we stayed there the weekend before so she could try out the room she’d be in on her own, she happily got out of bed and came looking for us in the room we usually all stay in together.

So, of course, my mind started going into overdrive. What if she just gets out of bed and goes looking for us downstairs in their house? What if she gets confused and scared? How much of this “special holiday” we’ve been preparing her for does she understand?

We had a long chat about it and agreed that Laurence’s parents would likely hear her because you’re always more alert if you know you have to be. We also felt that Talitha has a strong attachment with them and would be reassured by their presence in the night, even if she’d rather have us with her.

I have, a few times in the past, brushed aside my discomfort with leaving her because I felt it was what was expected of me and it’s gone against my instinct. I’ve always ended up regretting it. But I knew deep down that it wasn’t the same this time. I wasn’t really worried. The fact that my concerns only surfaced days before the event made me think that they didn’t run that deep.

Harptree

As it turned out, they had a lovely time. Talitha did wake once in the night but it seems she wasn’t fazed by us not being there. She’s so at home with her Grandmum and Puppa. So, it seems that it really was good timing, even if we had been a bit worried about it all.

But it sparked for us a really interesting conversation about where the balance of needs are at this point in our family. I read an interview last week in The Guardian of a couples therapist who’s written a book about prioritising our marriages above our children for a number of reasons.

It irked me. Not because I don’t think Laurence is important or that our relationship needs to be guarded and nurtured but because it just seemed to be such a simplistic take on the matter. I haven’t read the book so I can’t comment on that but from what came out of the article, I just couldn’t understand how you could reasonably boil it down to “my child or my spouse”.

Harptree bamboo

Parenting our child is our joint mission. It has actually made us closer together. We are more deeply in love with each other because we are so in love with her. That dynamic will change over time as Talitha separates from us and goes out into the world. We will all change. And so will our needs.

There are times when her needs take precedence over ours because of her primal helplessness as when she needed to be constantly held. I sacrificed my need for space because I knew that her need for physically intimacy would not always be as great. At other times, one of our needs has taken that place. My pregnant discomfort led us to gently night wean. She is over two and I knew that she was able to cope. My need for sleep without nausea and nursing aversion had to take precedence.

Harptree the great british bake off

And now it seems that the balance of needs is such that we can have the odd night away – and so can she. No rushing or forcing necessary. Everything’s happened in its own time.


Test your Britishness

I passed the “Life in the UK” test on Saturday.

It’s a good job I did because my marriage visa expires this week and I need to apply for permanent residence before it does.

So, appropriately, I started studying on, oh, Tuesday. Nothing like a last minute rush to put the fear of God in you, right? I think I have a problem. I need Procrastinators Anonymous or something. But, darn it, I’m lucky. Or greatly blessed.

To be fair, quite a lot of what I needed to know was covered in the Public Affairs course I’d taken as part of my journalism training. We needed to understand how the education, social, judicial and political systems in the UK work.

I approached the Life in the UK handbook with suspicion, expecting to encounter the ridiculous. I’d heard rumours of how useless and niche its contents were.
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