Toys for 4 year olds: Aquaplay

Happy Sunday readers! Yesterday we celebrated Bea’s 4th birthday and we bought her a bit of a last minute present that has turned out so well I thought I’d share it with you all here in a quick review.

I asked some friends recently what their 4yo’s liked to play with and one suggested a water play system like this. We didn’t really have a ‘big’ present in mind for Bea this year but all we had bought her were some dress up outfits and an electric toothbrush – I always try in vain to buy toys that might give me 5 minutes peace and encourage some independent play now she’s getting bigger and particularly with the summer holidays looming. I also hoped we might find something that was Cora proof too – Bea was always so delicate and liked to do arty things, we have never had to put the crayons out of reach – they were always out in her bedroom to use, but now Cora draws on everything so it needed to be something she could use too.


The Aquaplay Mountain Lake is amazing! Bea didn’t look up for an hour once it was set up for her and Cora has been wading in (quite literally) too! It’s an amazing toy for the garden and we are using it inside because our Karndean flooring doesn’t mind being wet. And it’s got educational value in teaching about water movement and imaginative play. Now just need to figure out where to store it! If you’re stuck for a present or have been eyeing this wondering if it’s worth it, I’d definitely recommend it! (more Aquaplay sets here, including a smaller transportable one in a case)

Rebecca

Building over the Monster Pipe…

I think its time I finally shared our house extension plans that I alluded to in my (not so) recent blog post. It’s been a long journey getting to this point but I specifically want to share it because its not been straight forward and I hope the information or just the story will help others in a similar position in future looking to do the same kind of thing.

So briefly, (because I feel like I’ve talked about it ad infinitum and you can read the full story and blog posts here and here,) we bought this house with the initial intention to extend it and create a family kitchen/diner living space at the back. the house is a bit front and top heavy – double fronted with lots of bedrooms but a small kitchen and two separate and distinct reception rooms which don’t lend themselves to family life. The day we exchanged contracts we found out there was a large pipe running beneath the perimeter of the houses’ footprint which meant we couldn’t build over it but we decided to go ahead with he purchase anyway. 2 years later, with one baby, I really felt trapped, the house layout wasn’t working for our lifestyle and I felt like we should just cut our losses, (fortunately there wouldn’t have been any as house prices in our area have sky rocketed,) and start again somewhere else. However we realised that if we did that we would be throwing money down the drain… stamp duty would have been hefty alone on a new property, plus agents fees, solicitors fees. It all amounted to not far off what a small extension would cost and we really didn’t want to move so we decided to invest some time and money into trying again to make it happen.

At this point I was fortunate to get in contact with someone really helpful at United Utilities to actually discuss the problem. Previously we had always been told that access to the pipe, should it need any routine maintenance, was the issue that prevented us building over it, but he conceded that actually any possible damage to the pipe was the bigger problem. He suggested that if we could find a way of ensuring the safety of the pipe, we might be granted permission to go ahead. So there was a glimmer of hope!

Next stop was finding a structural engineer willing to take us on. I had been through this process previously, looking for architects who might help us navigate the process and had been met with blank refusals to get involved. Responses ranged from ‘don’t bother, there’s no point‘, to ‘it’s not possible,‘ and I was immensely frustrated. What happened to all the people who make stuff happen on Grand Designs?! Eventually I spoke to a fantastic Structural Engineer, Nick Forman at BDI. He very helpfully pointed out that if UU were to want to access the pipe on our property then the hole they would have to dig would be so deep and wide to reach the pipe that the house would collapse into it. So it was never going to happen. I pretty much said to him, ‘I need somebody who is willing to take on a challenge and make this happen, it has to be possible.‘ And he made it happen. Nick is now basically my hero.

We invested in some preliminary drawings and calculations by BDI demonstrating how the load from any building work could be transferred into the earth beneath the pipe. We also were asked by UU to confirm where the pipe lay exactly (as they admitted that their public wastewater maps were very old and possibly inaccurate,) so paid for a CCTV drain survey. We are now the proud owners of video footage of the pipe beneath our home which is also essential to prove any pre-existing damage wasn’t caused by us, in case of dispute later. All of this was packaged up and sent of to UU and we waited with baited breath. Finally, just before Christmas almost 2 years ago now, an email landed in my inbox with no warning (we had expected to need to speak to someone again and explain further,) granting us a build over agreement ‘in-principle’. This essentially gave us the green light to invest the bigger sums required to get proper engineers drawings and calculations done and start talking to an Architect. We could actually do this! We couldn’t quite believe it.

Outside… looking in. I rarely look at the outside of our house in the dark because when we are outside it’s usually those long summer evenings. I love seeing life going on inside, framed by the windows, kids playing, Pete cooking (and sorry Instagram, all the daily detritus too like the back of Bea’s play kitchen ????.) it’s really the heart of our home so I can’t wait for it to be bigger and more family friendly! I also kind of can’t believe that nearly all of this glass and deck that we put in only 3 years ago is coming out ????????‍♀️… (Can you see the hydrangea heads drying on the Sputnik light too?! ????) #myhyggehome #instahome #bifolddoors #kitchen #modernheritage #lovemyrenovation #actualinstahomes #modernexterior #victorianhouse #igersmanchester #igersmcr #houserenovation #housetohome #housereno #bifolds #ecodecking

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We took the next step with SpaceAP, a fantastic local Architecture practice. At the beginning of the process our sole objective was to add a ‘glass box’ type structure to the back of the house, giving us the required living and dining space for family life. As a result we weren’t sure exactly how much Architect input we needed but we were keen to do things properly and get an outside view point. SpaceAP offered a design consultation session, where you walk around the space, talk about your needs then get some drawings done then and there demonstrating the possibilities. Obviously they aren’t usable for building purposes but we decided it was also a good way of testing the water with an Architect to see if we could form a working relationship. We asked Sonia and Sarah to give us two plans. One with the original glass box plan and one with the option of adding a utility room and extending the first floor bathroom.

Now at this point, Pete was all up for a two phase project, living area first, then coming back to do the utility and bathroom. I on the other hand was adamant that we were no way doing this twice. After this, bar one more project, the house will be D.O.N.E. so I wasn’t keen on dragging that out. At this point we were also planning a second child in the near future and I really wanted to crack on and get it done before that happened, if at all possible. Looking back that was really naive. We definitely could have done this all so much quicker by just being more on the ball pushing things along, but we intentionally had a hiatus from it (we weren’t ready to finance such a big project,) for several months in the first half of 2016, then I became pregnant with Cora before we picked it back up again. That was September 2016 and we hoped to start in January 2017, hoping to be finished in time for Cora arriving in late March. As time went on it became apparent that there was so much to plan and do that January was not realistic… and neither was the idea of being largely finished before baby number 2 arrived.
Eventually we resigned ourselves to starting later this year and I wrestled with the decision to start either in September, building through my last months of maternity leave, or on my return to work. In the end, the planning process has taken the decision out of our hands. Everything has taken that little bit longer than expected and we recently made the decision to wait until January, rather than start sooner.

So that’s where we are up to now. The process of contracting the builders has thrown up more uncertainty around the pipe, but I will leave all that for another day. Right now I’m enjoying the dust free house in the run up the Christmas and my remaining weeks of maternity leave, before it all descends into chaos in the New Year. We have a start date of 3rd of January, the legal Build Over Agreement has been signed of by UU and we are actually ready to go. As ready as we will ever be anyway… In all honesty, though it sounds exciting I can’t face doing it at all, but it will be worth it when it’s all done.

Next time I’ll show you the plans and write more about what we have actually end up doing! Fingers crossed work will have actually started by then. In the mean time, top tips for living trough the chaos of such a big project? I’ll take all and any advice you’ve got readers!

Rebecca.

January Joy: Make some Resolutions!

Hi again! Its so lovely to hear from you all again – thank you so much for the comments, I’m glad to be back. It would appear I’m not more timely than I was tho ;)

So as promised… my resolutions. I know some people dont like resolutions but I’m a goal setter and I just can’t resist January as a fresh start for getting some plans, aspirations and must-try harder goals on paper. I thought about not bothering but realised how negative it felt and although it’s seen as cliche, I can be found making resolutions most weeks of the year so the first is no exception ;)

Here they are. Resolutions, the 2016 edition.
1. Clear out and declutter corners
2. Finish the house
3. Eat better
4. Learn to Knit

I actually started my first one before Christmas with our Cellar. I was brought up purging (my mum is pretty good at it with clothes and as a child we were always made to go through the toy cupboard and get rid of some things before Christmas, which were taken to the local Childrens home.) Unfortunately I’m now busy, lazy and married to a man who hoards. The dangers of having a big house are that you fill it and our lives have exploded from a 3 bed terrace to 3 sprawling floors of space that is rapidly getting filled. The thought of having to pack it up if we moved terrifies me and I’m a BIG believer that if you are putting something into a room to keep it out of the way where it doesnt get looked at year to year, it shouldn’t be in your life. So I’m trying to use my resolutions to action that thought. Clearing out the cellar (4 car loads to the tip later and we are half way there I think!) was an amazing feeling and I want to keep going. To keep it achievable I’m tackling little corners and spots of clutter at a time, rather than unachieveable whole rooms and after reading this A year of tidying I’m thinking I’ll buy the KonMari book – Has anyone read it?

The second resolution is stolen from Pete. We still have several rooms to tackle and others that have been 80% completed but lack finishing touches. We also have an exciting project under investigation which I’ll share if it is actually going to happen. Either way there are lots more home posts to come from FF in 2016!

New Year, new house project…. Fireplace shopping today! #renovation #interiors #periodhouse #fireplace

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The last two are certainly the stuff of yearly resolutions. Delving a bit deeper though I want to expand my weekly standard recipe repertoire and find some less stodgy but satisfying and delicious winter options. We eat a lot with Bea and I obviously want her to eat well and try lots of things so that needs to be woven into he plan too. I’ve already branch out and bought Good Food magazine which Pete tried a Cod, Cauliflower and Chorizo dish from last night that was amazing, so I’m inspired to keep going.

And it wouldn’t be New Year without a new skill right? I suppose I could say I already know how to knit but I haven’t done any for at least 15 years and even then didn’t know how to cast on or off, so there’s plenty to learn and re-learn. I’d just love to whip up a new hat for Bea when I want to or little jumpers and cardigans, and to know she was wearing something I made with love would be, well… pretty special. Watch this space!

Of course there could be more… date night, trying to get fit again… but now it’s your turn readers. Have you made any resolutions? Got any goals? even if they are not for the year and just on your current to-do list, I’d love to hear them ;)

Rebecca x

PS Look how big Bea grew! I couldn’t resist including a few pictures as it’s been a while… ;)

Dream Destination: One World Observatory

When we visited New York recently we planned to visit the World Trade Centre site and museum but I hadn’t realised that there was a new viewing deck at One World Trade Centre and after seeing the promotional video we decided it was worth the trip. It remains the highlight of our visit now and I would unreservedly recommend going out of your way to stop by, it’s just breath taking.


Tickets are $32 (£20) for adults and can be bought in advance with a timed entry slot. We decided we wanted to go with the best weather so walked down one morning thinking if it was full we would book for later in the day, or another day. In fact when we went to buy some tickets we were told we could go now and so headed straight in.

I was a little nervous of going up there. Totally ridiculous I know, but I couldn’t help but think of the past. Stepping inside the tower is incredible though, its completely white as you descend (the photos here are of the PATH station below the tower,) and feels monolithic and permanent, making me finally understand why those poor souls in the towers on 9/11 didn’t flee instantly when the planes hit – the though of anything taking this down was unimaginable.

Although it was hard for me to forget at first, the OWO experience is very much geared towards the positive with no mention of the twin towers, just the pride this new building has become to New York. It starts a floor below, moving through a multimedia space with those involved in the planning and build taking about their experience then takes you in a ‘sky pod’ lift with video projected on all 4 walls. As the lift ascends it is as though you are moving through time, starting looking out over the swamps that NYC was first settled on then the early city and to more recent times with skyscrapers growing all around you as you arrive on the 102nd floor in less than 60 seconds.

Stepping out felt like being at the cinema, dark with an air of suspense. We were ushered into a gallery type area with the ‘See Forever’ theatre screen of New York scenes then without warning the screen lifted and the view out across manhattan was revealed. It was truly breathtaking.

The tour then moves through a small cafe and down to the main 360 viewing deck. There is a ‘Sky Portal’ which shows real time video footage of the street below, under a large glass area of floor, just as if you are suspended above the street. I also loved the 2 large ‘City Pulse’ view points with guides who stood and gave snapshot presentations on New Yorks history and neighbourhoods with local insight – it was a really nice touch that you didn’t have to participate in but I loved.

Of course the star of the show is the view and I was totally wowed. We had great weather which helped but it was amazing looking out there in so many directions, with helicopters buzzing around you and so many iconic buildings and for me, memories of trips past. As you can see, Bea loved it!

If you happen to be planning a trip to New York this was my absolute favourite (tourist) experience there – definitely do it! Find out more here: One World Observatory

Love,
Rebecca
xo

PS Theres a fancy cocktail bar and restaurant up there too – if you go childless or just don’t mind taking yours in, that would have been the icing on the cake ;)

On Vacay…


iPhone photo taken from the High Line looking over the Hudson River towards Newark.

I’m taking a little break until next week while we spend the last days of our holiday in New York. If you’re lucky, Erin may be popping up later in the week with Octobers ‘What to Wear’, mummy commitments permitting!

If you want to see what we’re up to and where we have been, head on over to Instagram online or follow me @rebecca_norris. We are having an amazing time and Bea is doing brilliantly :)

See you next week!

Rebecca xo

The big Autumn list…

I usually like to write these posts around the official calendar start to the season but holidays and warm weather in the UK took my mind off the impending season. Now we are in full ‘fall’ swing over here in the US however, I’m ready to think beyond our trip, but not as far as the Christmas madness ahead.

   

As is tradition, here is my list of things I plan to do to fully appreciate the season and some general life cleansing that needs to happen.

1. September shape up was a wash out for me, as after a busy couple of weeks I came down with a disgusting cold that put an end to breathing through my nose, never mind running. I still managed to get down to 1lb off my pre-pregnancy weight but am really feeling the lack of exercise. I suspect that will be even more of an omnipresent thought when we get back from 2w of American food, so I’ll be getting back to running and healthy eating, hoping to shed another half stone before December.

2. It’s bulb planting time and I love nothing more than crisp sunny autumnal afternoons in the garden – clearing leaves, planting bulbs and generally tidying, with a roast dinner filling the house with welcoming and warming smells for when the evening draws in.

3. I plan to use the longer evenings to get some personal projects done, instead of just collapsing in a heap on the couch. Most pressing are some photo books, I have all the images collated for a 2014 book but need to tackle arranging them into the book itself. After that there’s the mammoth task of documenting Bea’s first year and some big holidays we have taken over the years that deserve a book to themselves.

4. The house renovation continues and with limited budget post holiday and limited time pre-Christmas, we have to make some decisions about how best to proceed. In the offing are Bea’s playroom, the dining room or our dressing room, so I need to decide which and get a move on.

5. It’s also time we did some serious clearing out. With the upstairs bedroom being made over and the playroom pending we have moved a lot of stuff around and are slowly making usable rooms from neglected spaces that were just accumulating junk. There are cupboards full of stuff I haven’t opened in 12 months so I plan to be ruthless and start clearing out at least one, or even two of the rooms.

6. Autumn always feels like a time for comforting foods like sausage and mash or pies and stews but this Autumn I’d like to find some healthier yet warming options that don’t leave me bloated and in need of a lie down.

7. Given the list above this may be ambitious but I want to start incorporating something for me. Pete plays footie twice a week yet I struggle to get out on a regular basis. It’s starting to feel like I need the me time and yoga is so emotionally balancing that I want to make it a regular part of my week.

So readers, what do you think? Please share your seasonal to-do list in the comments, be it goals or simply a seasonal bucket list. I always love reading your thoughts. 

Love,

Rebecca xo

What to Buy: August

Morning Readers!

So far August has been a bit of a disappointment weather-wise. I guess the typical British Summer is “shining” through although we do have the promise of warmer weather in the coming week. Fingers crossed!

The cooler days though have got me thinking about the Autumn and with it the drops of new season stock that are coming into the shops.

The items on this months list consist of some that I’ve posted before (but are still great buys if you haven’t indulged yet) and also some final sale buys which will see you into Autumn.

The Boyfriend Shirt

 Topshop / Boden

Specifically in blue, these shirts feature heavily on press images into Autumn. Worn over slim trousers to balance out the volume or easily tucked into a skirt, their versatility is great. I love the pale blue versions and the Topshop one here has added interest with a hip pocket. I’ll be wearing with Skinny trousers and flats.

Culottes

 Leather / Black

Huge for this current season, the culotte is a modest way to wear a skirt – no flashing here!

A leather pair like these Autograph ones will see you nicely into the Autumn but are equally wearable now with sandals. The Warehouse pair are a bargain. Limited quantities on line but plenty of sizes in store at both Warehouse and John Lewis. I’ve also seen them in House of Fraser for £15. Still a deal at under £20 and the weight of the fabric is just right.

For something a little different and a bit more for now, this jumpsuit is a find. Lovely fabric and print, and very easy to wear.

Suede Skirt

 Jaeger / M&S

This trend isn’t going anywhere and I am still favouring the Midi style. The M&S version is my go-to here but there are other versions to be had. The Jaeger one above is good for the discounted price.

For something even more achievable and for a nod to the trend in a different way, this New Look button through version is great and comes in three colours. Size up to get the fit right so the buttons don’t gape. This style reminds me of being in Year 10 (or Fifth Year as it was called when I was at school). I had a black version back then ;) I know it may be tempting but do try and get a real suede version. The faux one can end up looking a little cheap.

Embroidery

 Sequin Jacket / Skirt / Coverup / Shirt

You may think that embroidery needs to be kept just for summer. By and large this is true but I’ve spotted some very grown up, autumn appropriate embroidery in the shops. Whilst the White “jacket” from Zara above is a summer piece, there’s hope we may have an Indian Summer so this would act as an excellent coverup. The colours are stunning. For true Autumn though, the H&M Trend skirt is lovely – K.I.S.S (can you tell I’m a marketer?!) it with a black polo and boots (the jacket in this sold out immediately!) The magpie in me also loves the Sequins on the Mango trophy jacket. Again, something to throw over even the simplest of outfits for that WOW factor.

Statement Flats

 Studded / Snake / Red

Hurrah! The flat shoe is big for A/W15 and the more statement the better. Here are some that are a nod to that trend in that they can multitask for you – not too out there but still something a little different. I like the Aldo ones as a nod to the Valentinos I covet every year. Another good option are the Russell Bromley Chester Loafers. I picked up a multi-coloured suede bargain in the sales after covering for ages and can’t wait to wear them!

Enjoy the rest of your Month readers. Do share any purchases you happen to make!

Erin xx

Secret Linen Store

Happy Monday readers! Now who is up for some bed linen inspiration, and interior style with a discount to boot? I thought so, read on!


Artichoke in Navy

Secret Linen Store were recently kind enough to send me some of their Navy Artichoke bedlinen for my bedroom. When I wrote about the yellow room which featured the Dotty Coffee spot bedlinen, I was a little sad it would only get used by guests, ;) so I am thrilled to have some to use myself. It’s breaking the habit of a lifetime for me to not have white bedlinen, so it’s different, but it’s so luxurious in feel I can’t help but love it. (You can see it on my bed here.)


Coastal Stripe in Navy

It seemed like a good time to share some of the current collection as the room sets themselves are rather inspiring, as well as the bedding!


Teasels in Dove Grey

Aside from the quality and feel, I think Secret Linen Store have really nailed the balance between style and colour. The designs are modern, fresh and stylish yet won’t date easily because of their timeless feel and classic choices like the coastal stripes. I particularly love the abundance of chic grey designs! ;)


Graphite Ferns


Giant Purple Artichokes


Coastal Stripe in Natural Linen

So if you are looking to update your bedlinen for summer, you’re in luck!I have collaborated with Secret Linen Store to give a reader offer of 10% off everything with the code SLEEPY at checkout! Offer ends on the 16th of August ;)


Luxury 600 thread count white bedlinen

And there’s still all white if you’re a die hard white bedlinen fan ;)

Happy shopping!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

PS! A Cow Parsley Attic bedroom

Spotted: Secret Linen Store Kids!

You all know I love the Secret Linen Store. Modern designs and great quality at competitive prices. Now I’m very excited to say they have extended their talents to kids bedding and it’s just as inspired as the original range.

We’re not yet at the stage of needing ‘big bed’ linen but when we do I have already shuddered at the thought of character emblazoned kids bedding or pretty pretty ditzy florals and cliched cars and space ships. These designs feel fresh, modern and on trend enough to keep stylish parents happy, while in bright and striking colours that kids will love too!

I love the stylish grey stripes and fun teal bubbles!

What do you think readers? Would your big kids like these?

Love,
Rebecca
xo