Updating our family home

Our house was always going to be a project.  When we bought it nearly four years ago it was the first time it had been on the market since it was built in 1956 and although it was in a very liveable and good condition it was really outdated.  Being nearly 5 months pregnant when we moved in I was keen to get our bedroom decorated first so I had somewhere I was comfortable and could relax.  We also wanted to change the bathroom too as it was quite a big job and not one we wanted to be doing with a new-born in the house, plus with it being such an old bathroom I knew I would just feel cleaner using a bathroom that we had put in rather than using someone elses.  I should probably mention at this point that my husband is a plumber so thankfully bathrooms are kind of his forte! I didn’t have much say in that room and just let him get on and do his thing.  Lastly, we needed to the nursery too because although we knew baby wouldn’t be sleeping in there right away we needed a place to keep all the hundreds of things that come with a baby.  These were all big jobs; each room needed plastering, new electrics, lights, radiators, doors, windowsills, skirting, and architrave and that was all before even thinking about paint colour and carpet…so lots to do, I expect I’ll share photos of each of these at a later date.

Two months after our little girl was born Mr G was at it again, smashing the living room up this time.  This was another big job and he did most of it himself at weekends and evenings which was tough going with a two month old.

Fast forward nearly four years since we moved in and our dining room and kitchen still remain the same except for the addition of a set of bifold doors we had fitted last year in the dining room to replace the existing window. Our house has a very traditional layout for its time, we have a living room and dining room both with fireplaces and then a small kitchen next to the dining room.  It’s such an outdated floor plan as families just don’t live like this nowadays.  When I’m in the kitchen cooking I’m shut off from the rest of the house, which isn’t ideal when you have two little ones to keep an eye on! It’s also not a very social space and when we do have a large group of people over we all end up sitting in different rooms or I’m away from everyone else whilst sorting food and drinks in the kitchen.  It’s certainly no party kitchen! Also we only have one toilet in the house (I know first world problems, right?) so we really could do with a downstairs toilet too.  Finally this year we have decided it’s time to start the work! We’ve had our plans drawn up and the quotes are in and the builders are arriving in May to start the extension.  Exciting, dusty and expensive times are ahead for sure!

Our budget is fairly small so we’re limited to what we can actually do as we aren’t prepared to cut corners and still want a nice finish.  If we had all the money in the world I would extend it very differently but unfortunately we’re not in a position to be able to go crazy and so that will have to wait for quite a few years. It will help massively that we can do a lot of the work ourselves.  We are going to take an area out of the kitchen and turn this into a downstairs toilet.  It’s an area that’s half under the stairs so it’s going to be a bit tricky working out where everything will go, especially as I’m hoping to get a tumble drier in there and a cupboard for the ironing board.  We will then have a small extension on the back of the kitchen.  We don’t have a huge back garden so the further we go out the more we will eat into the garden which I don’t fancy doing.  What we lose in the kitchen by adding the toilet we will gain in the new extension.  I’d like a vaulted ceiling with a sky light on the new kitchen roof to maximise the light and we’re also considering adding a small window along one of the walls in the kitchen.  Then we are having the wall between the kitchen and dining room knocked down to make a kitchen diner which will make it a more sociable space and definitely more family friendly.  To make sure we get as much light in as possible we have also decided to add double doors in between the living room and dining room.

Mr G reckons it will be finished in autumn, if I’m being realistic I think it will be more like Christmas.  I’m not being pessimistic but I think if I think like this I’m less likely to get frustrated with living in building a site! The plan is for him to take some time off work to fit the kitchen and the cloakroom but the rest of it will need to be done evenings and weekends.  We are having some builders who we know in to build the kitchen extension and knock the kitchen walls down.  My dad is a carpenter so will be doing the roof (if I can get him off of the sodding golf course) and we also know a plasterer already too.  Everything else Mr G is pretty much capable of.  It’s true what they say, ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know’! I look forward to sharing some pictures as the work begins.

When 2 became 3. A birth story.

I love reading birth stories, I read so many when I was expecting my first.  Everyone’s experiences are all so different.  Both my labours although fairly similar were also different in many ways.  After each of my labours I made sure to find the time to write my birth stories so I could also one day share them.  Here is my first…

My contractions started whilst I was at home on the Thursday afternoon, three days before my due date. At first they were really mild and as I hadn’t had any cramps or Braxton Hicks up to this point I assumed it was probably nothing and carried on as normal (sat on my bum watching reruns of GBBO). By 9pm the pains hadn’t subsided, in fact they were now worse so I began timing them…you know, just in case. We went to bed as normal and I managed to sleep until 3am. My contractions were now stronger and coming more frequently but were certainly not regular or close enough that I felt we needed to call the hospital. At this point my waters hadn’t broken and I had had no other signs that I was in labour. At 5am (Friday) I decided to get up try and manage the pain on my birthing ball. We called the maternity triage line at 7am as I still wasn’t 100% sure ‘this was it’ as I hadn’t had any other signs. The midwife I spoke to was lovely, really reassuring. She told me that this was all normal and to take some paracetamol and to have a bath and that we didn’t need to go in until the contractions were much closer together. We tried the Tens machine for a few hours but as the contractions weren’t in my back I didn’t find that it helped at all with the pain. The contractions continued throughout the day and very gradually did begin to get longer and more frequent. By 9pm (Friday) the contractions were about a minute long and happening every 6 minutes and because they were still not frequent enough we decided to go to bed. After being in bed for all of about 30 minutes, the contractions started to became more painful and I was starting to experience a pain in between them too. We called the maternity ward again and because of the pain I was experiencing they asked us to come in. We arrived at the hospital and went straight to the Midwife Led Unit where I was examined by a midwife, she did all the checks and everything was fine with the baby although she told me I was still only in the early stage of labour. It wasn’t clear why I was experiencing this pain between the contractions so I was taken downstairs to the labour ward where a doctor offered me some diamorphine to cope with the pain which I accepted.  This allowed me to get some rest and I think I might have slept a little.  Around 5am (Saturday) I was examined and was told I was 6cm dilated and since the pain had subsided I was allowed back up to the Midwife Led Unit. Whilst in Midwife Led Unit I used the bath and gas and air to cope with the pain. As my waters still hadn’t gone the midwife decided to break them for me, hoping to speed things along. Things progressed quite slowly and by 3:30pm I had reached 9cm, after this point my contractions slowed right down and around 5pm they decided that I should go back down to the labour ward. By this time I was well and truly knackered! Once I was on the labour ward I was examined again and told I had an ‘anterior lip’ which basically meant part of my cervix had folded back on itself meaning that I was unlikely to get to 10cm (and be allowed to push) without the help of the hormone drip to increase my contractions which I gladly accepted. I think by this point I had become immune to the effects of gas and air and I asked for an epidural.  After the epidural was administered I didn’t feel ANY pain (Halleujah!) and as my contractions increased I was able to relax and get some energy back. Once I reached 10cm they allowed me to start pushing. I pushed for an hour but she was getting stuck as her head wasn’t in the right position. Baby was monitored the whole time I was on the labour ward and her heartbeat was consistent and she didn’t show any signs of distress, in fact each midwife that checked the monitor commented on how calm she had been throughout. At this point the doctor told me that as she was stuck he wanted to prep me for theatre, he wanted to try forceps and if that didn’t work they would have to do a caesarean. The theatre team were all fantastic and all so nice.  I’m not sure if it was all the drugs or just delirious from being so tired but I felt like they were all my best friends! They were all really reassuring and really calm which meant that I didn’t panic.  It did really help knowing beforehand (thanks to my NCT classes) that if we had to go to theatre that I should expect a lot of people in theatre with us.  After 5 or 6 pushes our baby girl was pulled into the world using forceps a few minutes before 9pm Saturday night weighing 7lb 14oz.
I obviously would have preferred not to have had her via forceps but she got away very lightly and barely had a mark on her. The couple of small bruises she did have disappeared after a few days. She also didn’t seem to suffer from any head pain afterwards either. I stayed in hospital for the Saturday night and was discharged the following day.  If I’m honest, it did take me a few weeks to recover from the pain as I think I had quite a bit of internal bruising from the forceps. It’s not something I had really given much thought to beforehand and I found it really frustrating in the beginning as I had expected to be up and out of the house and some days I could barely move around the house because of the pain. It took me three weeks before I was even comfortable to drive so was housebound for a little while which wasn’t ideal.  As disappointed as I was that my labour hadn’t really gone to plan I am extremely appreciative to all the staff at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.  Every single person we dealt with (there was a LOT) during our stay were brilliant.  From the first phone call to triage, to the midwives, to the theatre team and to the staff on the ward later who helped me with every single feed.  I will always be eternally grateful.

Family Meal Inspiration

I love cooking, I really do.  I’m a feeder and I enjoy feeding people, searching through my piles of cook books and online for dinner ideas for friends and family.  BUT, when it comes to feeding the family week in week out it is hard work. I mean really bloody hard work. It’s a whole different ball game and if I don’t meal plan for the week then it all goes t!ts up!  Basically the entire week is full of crap dinners, several trips to the supermarket (ARGH) and takeaways which ultimately leaves me feeling unhealthy, stressed (because who wants to take two mini savages to the supermarket?) and poorer too.  I meal plan for the week starting on a Monday and plan all the way through to Sunday, taking into consideration if we have any social plans for the week.  I try to plan for the week ahead on a Thursday or Friday so I have time to do an online food shop because taking the kids shopping is asking for trouble and is a serious wine time earner!

The hardest part of planning is actually deciding what to cook.  I don’t think I’m alone in that I get so bored cooking the same things every week and when cooking becomes boring that’s when it feels like a chore.  I try not to cook the same things each week as I like us to try new things, I also believe the kids are more likely to want to try new things if it is something we all do together as a family. I’m lucky in that most nights Mr G is usually home by 5:30 so we all sit down for dinner together which means only having to cook the one dinner.  As we eat with the children throughout the week I will sometimes plan a meal for just me and my husband on a Friday or Saturday night so we get one night off from ducking out of the way of spaghetti flinging or drink spills (sitting down as a family each night for dinner is not as idyllic as it sounds)!

One of the first places I head for ideas is Pinterest.  I find that because Pinterest is obviously more visual than some of the other specific recipe websites I spend less time searching because the meal suggestions jump out at me more rather than looking through a list of recipe names.

I will quite often grab a cook book too that I haven’t opened in a while and choose a couple of things out of it for the week.  My current favourite cookbooks are Deliciously Ella Everyday and Jamie Oliver Super Foods.  Other great places to look for family meal inspiration are Jamile Oliver’s website and the BBC Good Food page.  I always like to pick up the free magazines in the supermarkets too as it’s always good to have a reminder about what’s in season and they will quite often include a plan for the week.  When the kids were smaller I used the Annabel Karmel app quite a bit too.

Right now I’m trying to reduce the amount of meat we are eating and so am trying to do two meat free dinners a week and one fish.  Mr G is a huuugggeee meat eater so isn’t all that happy about this.  I tried to sell it to him by saying that if we are saving money on meat during the week then it means I will be able to spend more money on better quality meat for the rest of the week.  I’m not sure he’s all that convinced… This doesn’t happen every week but if I use this as a rough guide it can help because it forces me to find new meals.

Whilst looking for meal inspiration I like to keep a few things in mind:

  • Is it healthy (ish)? For obvious reasons.  If I eat crap, I will feel crap.  Plus I want the kids to eat a varied diet and grow up with an understanding of healthy eating.
  • Will the kids eat it? This means nothing to spicy (sob! Although I’ve got quite used to throwing chili seeds on top of my food when I’m dishing up if I fancy some heat)
  • Can it be cooked in under an hour but only about 20 mins prep? Master B is hard work (understatement) around dinner time so the least time I spend in the kitchen the better.  The slow cooker is my friend.

If I can say yes to all of the above then when it comes to the day of cooking I’m more likely to stick to my meal plan and not give in to the call of the fish fingers coming from the freezer.  I always like to have something in the week’s meal list that is in the freezer or a store cupboard staple.  That way if the week doesn’t go to plan we can jiggle our list around and fresh food doesn’t get wasted.  Something like a chili (with frozen mince) or pizza can work well for this type of meal.

It would be great to hear where everyone else looks for inspiration so I can change my routine up a little.  Are there any great sources out there that I’m missing?  I’d love to hear about them.