Back on the wagon!

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I’ve blogged before about being overweight and how I managed to get myself in shape, shed the lbs and finally squeeze into Size 12 clothes. Well after a bit of a break and the weight creeping back on, I’m getting my arse back in gear to shift it all again. Actually, that’s not true – I haven’t put it all back on, just some of it.

I was so focussed after losing the weight (it was about 4.5 stone when I stopped weighing myself) and knew that was the easy bit and the hard bit would be keeping it off. For 6 years I stayed the same, went to the gym, had a personal trainer and ate well. I wasn’t one of those who starved myself, if I fancied a take away I’d just work harder in the gym to justify it. On the run up to my Wedding in 2014 I was so determined to be in tip top shape so that I didn’t look back at my wedding pics and cringe. I upped my PT sessions to 3 per week and was really strict with my eating. I was really pleased – my wedding dress was a size 12 and when I look at the photos I just smile. After the wedding/honeymoon it was December and only 2 weeks until Christmas. I decided that I was going to take a break and enjoy it, I’d worked hard for years and deserved it. Come the new year I was back on track with my eating but sadly had to get rid of my gym membership and my PT as we’d moved out of the area. However, we had a home gym including treadmill, so I used it as much as I could….and I did.

Then in June 2015 I found out I was pregnant. Obviously I was happy but I was also worried as I’d worked so hard to lose weight and was really paranoid about piling it all back on. The first trimester was a breeze food wise as I had no appetite at all. From about 16 weeks onwards I was able to eat normally again and actually enjoyed my pregnancy. When my Daughter was born in March 2016 I was quite pleased that I’d hardly put any weight on – only 5lbs! I can only put this down to the fact that on the run up to the birth I’d been in a fairly active job. I’d walk around between 3-5k per day and was on my feet a lot. I also didn’t really overeat at all. However, once my Daughter was born and my husband went back to work I was on my own. I spent days in PJ’s as I didn’t seem to have the time to do anything. Breakfast was usually missed and lunch was at about 2:30 and consisted of whatever I could make quickly – usually toast or a sandwich and crisps. My Daughter wasn’t an easy baby and when I tried to go out on walks with her in the pushchair she’d just scream. So I stopped that as I’m sure people thought I was abducting her. I didn’t have the time to workout and had to breastfeed until she was 7 months old (the diva wouldn’t take a bottle) so I couldn’t leave her for long periods of time with anyone else. I knew I’d put weight on. My clothes felt tight and I felt uncomfortable but it was Christmas again and therefore mentally I just couldn’t even think about it until the new year.

So, here I am, January 2017 and the start of me getting back into shape. But how to do it??? I don’t like meal replacement diets, I’ve done Lighterlife and Herbalife and they work in the short term but then you pile it all back on as they’re not sustainable (well they’re not for me anyway). I don’t like doing Weightwatchers or Slimming World because counting points etc is something my brain can’t handle post baby and I also didn’t want my new regime to be a pain when it comes to cooking. My husband does the cooking and I don’t want him to be making two different meals. When I lost weight the first time I just tracked everything on My Fitness Pal and kept to a certain calorie intake and did more exercise so I decided I’d start doing this again. I also decided to give the 90 Day SSS (shift, shape & sustain) Plan by The Body Coach a go. His plan looks great – eating really nice meals (with normal person portions) and doing HIIT (high impact interval training) exercise, which at a minimum would only take up 25 mins in my day!! The plan is simple – you do 25-40 mins of HIIT 4-5 times a week and your menu for the day is 2 low carb and one carb meal on a training day and 3 low carb meals on a non training day – simples! You also get 2 snacks per day and they can vary from certain fruit, a protein shake, nuts, avocado dip or perhaps even some salmon pate!

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I haven’t officially started the plan yet as I need to find my tape measure to measure myself and submit those to my support team member. Once you submit your stats you have 30 days to complete cycle 1 – shift.  Once that’s completed you send in your new weight and measurements and you start cycle 2 – shape.Then you do the same before going on to cycle 3 – sustain! You get a new set of menus each time, so you don’t get bored and hopefully by the end of the 90 days you should be a shadow of your former self. I know I can do it, I’ve done it before and I do have very good will power when I set my mind to it!

So fingers crossed and watch this space……

Er…..why was I not told about this?

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So…..i’ve not written my blog for about a year because a LOT has been going on. Mainly that I’ve had a baby…..yep you heard right, a baby, ME!!…..Nicole….party animal and free spirit has become a responsible Mother (well Mother anyway). It’s during the last year that I also realised that there is a lot to do with pregnancy, labour and babies that you aren’t told about and isn’t discussed between new parents. I can only assume that it’s because other people don’t want you to know what the reality is – perhaps they’re struggling but don’t want you to know that or perhaps they simply don’t want to put you off because, no matter what anyone says, Pregnancy is hard, no-one is ready for labour (no matter how prepared you are) and the first few months of babies life are, pardon my language, SHIT! Perhaps that sounds a little harsh and yes, there are lots of lovely bits but mostly it tests you and pushes you to your limit – emotionally and physically. Now that I am 8 months into motherhood I feel that I have gained an insight to the way things work and can think a bit more clearly about the whole process. The ups and downs (probably more downs than ups) and that its completely natural and OK to feel like you haven’t got a bloody clue what you’re doing!

This blog isn’t here to tell you what to do or even what to expect as everybody has a different experience but it’s just documenting my experience and you might want to have a read or you might not.

Pregnancy

I was really lucky that I had an easy pregnancy – the only really annoying part was in the last few weeks when I got sciatica and was rendered immobile for a bit. Still, pregnancy itself is not easy and a lot harder than I bargained for. Headaches, backache, painful hips, not sleeping, going to the toilet all the time and waddling instead of walking. I remember at the beginning thinking “I don’t want to go through the labour part” and then with about 6 weeks to go my thinking changed to “Just get this thing out of me”.

I decided to not find out if we were having a boy or a girl and I’m so glad I didn’t – I had convinced myself it was a boy and when I was told it was a girl I was in complete shock. I have to be honest, I really wanted a girl, so I was overjoyed!!

When you get pregnant the people around you seem to fall into two camps – those who say “Congratulations” and those who impart their pearls of “wisdom” upon you. “Oooh make sure you get lots of sleep now” being the most common one. At the time it used to piss me right off and i’d smile politely but now I can understand why I heard that phrase so often. I’ve struggled with sleeping since I was a kid and thought that was going to prepare me but NOTHING prepared me for how constantly tired I am. Even if you have a “good”  night with only 1 wake up, you still feel shattered.

There were some brilliant parts of pregnancy for me and because I wasn’t one of these people who embraces pregnancy, it came as a nice surprise. Firstly, I have been plagued with Psoriasis (a horrible skin condition) since the age of 14. Twelve weeks into my pregnancy I started to notice that I had been using my medicated creams less and less, usually I’d use them every other day and it seemed to be more like once a week and then before I realised it I hadn’t used them at all for about a month. It cleared up completely!! I was SO happy, my Psoriasis is something that has ruled my life for so long and now I didn’t even have to think about it. I wasn’t bothered about baring my arms and shaving my legs was something I now did every day because I could! Annoyingly, it’s come back since I gave birth but for a little while I had lovely clear skin. The other great thing was that my hair looked lovely. Normally you lose about 100 hairs a day but when you’re pregnant you lose considerably less, so your hair feels thicker. I loved doing my hair and wore it down more often – again, 3 months after I gave birth I noticed it all falling out again and now even have a couple of little bald patches.

I struggled a bit towards the end, my hips were really sore from sleeping on my sides and I had sciatica, so I treated myself to a couple of pregnancy massages. My god they were just what I needed. When you feel like a whale and everything feels like a huge effort, its really nice to be pampered for an hour or so.

The BEST thing about pregnancy is that you get to go to NCT classes. I wasn’t actually looking forward to the classes. Heavily pregnant and giving up evenings to sit on hard plastic chairs with a group of other pregnant women is not my idea of fun BUT I cannot tell you how valuable I found these classes. I’ll be honest – I was shocked that a course of 4 evening sessions cost £250 and I really don’t feel like I actually learnt anything that I didn’t know already or that has actually helped me since becoming a Mum but I did make friends with the loveliest group of girls and I don’t think i’d have got through the past 8 months without them. I’m sure that everyone has help and support from either their partner or Mum or Sisters etc but to have a group of girls, on hand, to listen to you rant, cry or laugh about the latest incident is invaluable. Our group started by having coffee on a weekly basis whilst pregnant – we’d sit and moan about how rubbish the last part of pregnancy was whilst sipping a decaff coffee and eating our body weight in cake. Slowly the group got smaller on these weekly meets as our little ones started arriving. Once the babies arrived we carried on meeting and i’ve found that it’s a really important part of my week to see the girls and the babies and talk about cracked nipples, periods returning, the messy business of weaning and how to shift the post baby weight. They are a wonderful bunch of girls and I now count them amongst my closest friends.

Labour

After a bit of help from the midwife (I was 4 days overdue) and a lot of bouncing on a ball and eating pineapple, I started having twinges at 6am on Thursday 3rd March. I wasn’t even sure the twinges were anything so I carried on with my day. I’d been feeling a bit emotional for a few days and realise now that it was probably the very very early stages of labour. At about 11pm we made our way to the hospital – it was the longest drive of my life. Once there I was examined by a midwife and given the shattering news that I was only 2cm dilated. I was hoping that I was 10cm and ready to go as I was already knackered. During this uncomfortable examination my husband James made his way around the curtain to support me and hold my hand. It was then the midwife decided to break my waters…….all over his best designer trainers. It was difficult to laugh at the time but now when I see those trainers, which he no longer wears, I always have a little giggle.

After many hours in a birthing suite and struggling to get my breathing right I finally mastered the gas & air. It was now the next morning and I was given the great news that I could get into a birthing pool. Another funny thing happened at this point, which James didn’t tell me about until later. I had been wearing a TENS machine and since I could now get in the birthing pool I had to take it off. James peeled off the pads and I left to head to the pool. James stuck the pads to his hands so that he could carry my many bags but in the process he knocked the machine on. He walked, carrying the bags, whilst being electrocuted for about 5 minutes, I wish i’d seen it.

I cannot tell you how delightful the birthing pool was, literally the best feeling in the world. I also managed to eat some toast and have a drink. I was so happy that this was the way my baby would come into the world…….she, however had other ideas! By the Friday afternoon I had another examination and was told that I could no longer stay in the birthing pool but would have to head up to the labour room and be monitored by a Doctor. NOT what I wanted. However, you have to be adaptable in these situations because nothing is in your control. The only good thing was that the two lovely midwives that had been with me for the last 10 hours were coming with me. They were the nicest ladies and SO supportive. I was gutted at 8pm when they had to go home and a new midwife took over. They promised they would come and see me on the labour ward the next day.

As the evening wore on I began to realise that I wouldn’t be having this baby any time soon. They found that her shoulder was stuck, which meant I wasn’t getting past 9cm dilated. By this time I had been in labour for 22 hours and getting more and more exhausted. I’d already had some Pethadin and although that provided a little relief it slowed everything down, which was frustrating. At this point it was decided that an Epidural was the way to go, so I agreed. It was wonderful to not have to feel any more contractions but I couldn’t actually feel ANYTHING, so when they made me push for 2 hours I had to be told when I was having contractions. My contractions were also really inconsistent. Only 1 in every 4 was strong enough for me to push, so the process was again, really slow!! After a shift change of carers (my poor Mum had been with me and James since it started and went home briefly, to be replaced by my Sister) the sun set and I was plunged into the prospect of another loooooooong night. I was getting more and more convinced that this was going to end in a caesarian, which I was hoping to avoid, purely due to the longer recovery period. Eventually a lovely Doctor came in and told me that she was going to have to help the baby along by using forceps but that she had to go and do an emergency c-section first. So I waited for another hour…….then as the sun rose on my third day at St Peters Hospital my Daughter came into the world (I wont talk about the harrowing last 10 minutes before she was born, it’s too much to think about). At 5:28am Stella Rose Connell was announced as my Daughter, weighing 8lbs 12oz. Then the fun began………..

Postpartum

OH DEAR GOD – nothing prepared me for the next bit. After contracting for 60+ hours and being in labour for 36 hours I was then in charge of this screaming bundle. My first night in hospital I had 1 hours sleep!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Its the least sleep i’ve had whilst not being drunk at a festival. The second night I had 4 hours…………little did I know that was a good amount. There’s so much to think about – breastfeeding, why are they crying?, the first time you bath them, are they warm enough?, they’ve been asleep for a few hours – should I wake them (the answer to that one is NO haha) and it goes on. In the end I stopped worrying, made another coffee and did what I thought was best because at the end of the day, it’s all you can do.

Also, no-one but no-one tells you about how uncomfortable it is after childbirth. I mean, you expect some discomfort because, lets face it, you have jut pushed a watermelon through the eye of a needle, but for 4 weeks I felt like i’d repeatedly been kicked in the crotch. I will never again take for granted walking or bending down to pick something up and don’t even get me started on how scary the first trip to the loo is – I think that bit was more scary than the prospect of giving birth. These are the sorts of things they need to discuss at NCT classes because a lot of what you talk about really is useless information.

FYI – another thing they harp on about at NCT classes is that you shouldn’t co-sleep as baby needs their own space and its dangerous blah blah blah. I can tell you that after 3-4 nights of little to no sleep, you will do whatever you need to in order to get some shut eye. Surely if you and they are well slept and alert it can only be a good thing. It’s totally up to you but I am not ashamed to say we did a lot of co-sleeping and actually I miss it now. Also, there are tonnes of products for sale, that you will buy in a sleep deprived daze, whilst scrolling through the internet at 3am, which promise to get your baby to magically sleep. It’s crap – save your money!

8 months on it’s SO much easier – it starts getting much better and more fun around the 6 month mark. Once they are in a routine and you know when you can have some “me” time and they are happy to sit up and play with toys, it’s like you have a different baby. You don’t have to hold them for long periods of time, feeding is now fairly fun as they start to enjoy solid foods and bath time is for playing. They go into their own room, so the nights become easier and the sleepless nights get fewer and fewer. Actually, from the first time they smile (and you know it’s not wind) is a real turning point.

I don’t really like to impart advice on new/expectant mothers because everyone is different and what worked for me won’t necessarily work for them but all I will say is don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for help. Don’t worry about the housework, sleep when you can and don’t feel guilty about changing plans if you feel that you need to. Do what you have to in order to get through the day – if you can do that then the day has been a success!

In conclusion: enjoy the lovely moments and have a glass of wine (or a bottle) if it’s been a hard day. You’re gonna be great!!

Ps It’s totally OK to dress your child up for any occasion in fancy dress or in anything with ears.

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We are the Griswolds – Team Rose do Disney! Tips & Hints if you’re planning a trip :)

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My reason for writing this entry is to help any of you who are embarking on the mammoth Disney vay-cay in Florida because even for Team Rose, who are ultra organised, it was a bloody hard two weeks! AND if you think this is a “Holiday” you’re sorely mistaken (that’s sorely, as in, your feet will drop off they’re SO sore from all of the walking).

It was a cold December 2013 when Mumma Shiggsy turned 59 and declared “for my 60th I want to swim with Dolphins in Florida” so, what the matriarch wants the matriarch gets……along with the whole troupe, who decided this would be the best time for a family holiday GRISWOLDS STYLE! Yes, we are that annoying family!

There were itinerary’s, planning meetings and even a secret Florida 2015 Facebook page set up, where we could all add ideas and info about what we wanted from the holiday. NOTE: 7 adults, who are giving up 2 weeks of holiday and a few thousand ££ will all want different things out of this break – make sure everyone gets to do something they want, it will make life SO much easier.

We were lucky enough to have some Disney mad family friends, who prepped us about the best things to do, things to avoid and how to put your 2 week holiday together. I was then given the task of putting together the itinerary – the daily schedule of events which will rule your freakin life for 2 weeks of Mickey bloody Mouse fun. It was also the most pressure i’ve ever had – worse than doing my dissertation!

Florida FINAL Itinerary

Above is the itinerary we did – it is pretty packed and hard going, so I will tell you the best way to get the most out of your two weeks and also how to manage it all time-wise.

This isn’t for the faint-hearted so if you’re not up for walking 5 miles MINIMUM a day in 30 degree heat, this isn’t the holiday for you. Leave now, stage left – goodbye.

Tip 1 – The Airport

When you land at Orlando make sure you get off the plane and into the queue for immigration ASAP. It can take a while, so be prepared to queue for around 40 mins or so (that’s if no other flights have landed at the same time). Then make your way straight to the baggage carousel. Once you have your luggage you will head out towards the exit but will have to leave your trolley there and head up some escalators. Now this was a great tip from our friends – take your luggage and go up the escalators and carry it yourself. Don’t let the airport staff badger you into putting it onto another conveyor belt, which takes it up to the terminal for you because it can take around 45 mins. We managed this with much hilarity! There were 7 of us (one pregnant) and a one year old baby (not walking), 7 cases, 7 sets of hand-luggage, a push chair and a car seat! Carrying all of that was like watching something out of a slapstick comedy but we didn’t want to have to wait, so we did it. My niece was traumatised by the end of it as I was carrying her and trying to drag my hand-luggage at the same time – she ended up slipping so far down my body that she was holding on for dear life. The main thing is she survived (and so did we……just).

Tip 2 – Car Hire

Depending on how many of you there are and also where you’re staying will depend on whether or not you hire a vehicle. As I mentioned, we had 7 Adults plus 1 Baby and were staying around 30-40 mins from the parks, so we hired a 15 seater mini-van from Alamo. After we booked it we did think that perhaps it was overkill and toyed with the idea of down-sizing but I have to tell you, we wouldn’t have got all of us plus luggage in anything smaller. The Van was ace and after my Dad downloaded the Homer Simpson voice sat-nav it became the “Family Truckster”. We’re all National Lampoons fans and each car journey would start with my Dad playing “Holiday Road” from the National Lampoons films, which as you can imagine did wear thin after 2 weeks and many hours in the car. To give you an idea of the distnce we drove over two weeks – when we picked the van up it was brand new, with 7 miles on the clock. When we returned it, it had over 1000 miles on it!

The Family Truckster!
The Family Truckster!

Tip 3 – The Disney Package

We bought all of our park tickets months in advance and did a lot of shopping around to get the best price – they don’t come cheap. We ended up getting the Orlando Freedom ticket package through Attraction Tickets Direct which gave us all of the Disney, Universal & Sea World parks (Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach, Universal Studios, Universal Islands of Adventure, Sea World, Aquatica and Discovery Cove) they were all unlimited access for 14 days and for the princely sum of £519 per person (apart from the baby who was free as she was Under 3 years old). It’s a lot but that is everything you need and it’s cheaper than buying them separately or even buying them once you’re in the US.

Tip 4 – Wrist Bands & Fast Passes

So these days you can buy wrist bands which are allocated to a Disney account that you can set up online and you can use them at any of the Disney parks. The wrist bands are bought inside the park and are about $12 each and come in a range of colours (surprise surprise I had Pink). You then link them together and around the park you will see official Disney photographers, who will take your picture in front of a landmark and zap your wrist band, which then uploads to your account. This is called the Memory Maker package, which my Dad added for us at an extra cost of $150. Sounds like a lot but you will come home with literally hundreds of pictures on your account. They also superimpose Disney characters into the picture with you, which is really cute and just adds a bit of extra Disney magic. These wrist bands also then become your entrance to the park, so you can get through barriers quickly and they also hold all of the information about your Fast Passes – they’re great. Fast Passes do exactly what they say on the tin – they allow you to queue jump and get straight to the front of the rides. You can only have 3 Fast Passes per day and you can book them up to 180 days before you go to the park. If there’s only one thing you take away from reading this blog then make it that you book these early. We didn’t get the hang of this until we were in Florida and so were planning them a couple of days in advance. As you can imagine, the major more popular rides were already booked so we had to queue for those. If there’s someone in your group who is mega organised, get them to be the Fast Past person – my Sister did a sterling job at this.

Us at Animal Kingdom! they superimposed Timon & Pumba into our picture via the Memroy Maker package.
Us at Animal Kingdom! They superimposed Timon & Pumba into our picture via the Memroy Maker package.

The Parks

I won’t go on too much but here are some tips and observations about the best and easiest way to get round the parks and what they each have there:

Sea World: The land of Killer Whales and Dolphins – this park was a bit of a battle of the conscience for me. I love those beautiful little dudes and to watch them is amazing but I don’t agree with them being in captivity and struggled a bit with that. We were last at Sea World 20 years ago and since then a LOT has changed. Sea World now has 2 big Roller Coasters, which are both worth doing and the lines for those were short. Also, the biggest attraction is the Orca Show at Shamu Stadium – it used to be the case that the trainers got in the water with them but after an incident in 2010, they no longer perform with them, however, the Orca’s still put on a spectacular show. My tip here is that during the shows (2-3 times per day depending on the day) everyone heads into the stadium and the short lines become even shorter. So, if you don’t want to go and see the shows you can hit the rides during that time and probably get on 2-3 times without queuing for more than 5 mins! We also pre-planned the route we’d take once inside the park, what times shows were on and where they were, which made the world of difference. When you’re already going to be walking all day long, in the heat, don’t make your life any harder than it is already. If you know where you’re going then there’s no need to double back on yourself or miss anything. As you’d expect the food isn’t cheap in Sea World and there really wasn’t a lot for my 1 year old niece. My tip is: although you can’t take food into Sea World, you can take snacks for small Children – buy some lunchables and save yourself a load of money and have a happy baby!

Animal Kingdom: By far my favourite park! It’s massive and because it’s Disney be prepared for slightly longer lines but you can use Fast Passes. Animal Kingdom was brilliant – great rides and lots to see for both kids and adults. There were official photogarpahers everywhere, so we had some fantastic pics taken. If you want to (and money is no object) then I have been told the Wild Africa Trek is something else! It’s three hours long and costs between $189 and $249 depending on when in the season you do it – price includes lunch. There are Disney characters wandering around the park, which you can have your pic taken with and if you download the Disney app it will tell you which chcarcters are in the park that day. The queues can get quite long and the characters often leave for 10 min breaks every now and then (I was left waiting for Donald Duck as he had to nip for a loo break – totally worth the wait though).

Me & Donald
Me & Donald

Magic Kingdom: The park we’d all been waiting for……well it was for me and my Sisters (btw we’re 27, 32 and 34 years old but acted like we were 5). This park is a mission!!!!!!!!!! Be prepared for a long day and even longer queues. We went in March and the queues were 60 mins minimum!!!! There are obviously popular rides or shows that everyone wants to do so perhaps get the really popular ones on FastPass. It really is a magical day – there is so much to do and see here but again its very expensive and I would recommend getting to the parks for when they open and then leaving earlier OR head into the parks at about 4pm and stay until closing. If you rock up at lunch time I think you’ll be quite disappointed with how long you have to wait for everything. Probably the best thing about the Magic Kingdom is the Fireworks display they do at 10pm every night. It’s beautiful and magical and so well done. I stood with my family watching, which was quite emotional and something that we all enjoyed together – as you’d expect from Disney, it was SO well done. For a good Fireworks location, that doesn’t require you waiting for hours (a lot of people start waiting for the Fireworks from about 8:30pm to ensure they get a good view) head to Tomorrow Land and stand on the bridge. The Fireworks all take place around Cinderella’s Castle and it’s a good view from there and doesn’t get too crowded. Tip: It takes around 40 mins to get from your car to the actual park as you have to go on a shuttle bus and then either the Monorail or the Ferry – I suggest giving both a go although I preferred the ferry, it was great. Just make sure that if you have Fast Passes booked, you give yourself enough time to park and get in.

Cinderella's Castle: Magic Kingdom
Cinderella’s Castle: Magic Kingdom
Fireworks @ Night
Fireworks @ Night
Me at The Magic Kingdom
Me at The Magic Kingdom

Discovery Cove: A Sea World run park which is a water park like no other. It’s not your run of the mill water park with flumes and was a fantastic day. This is where we were swimming with Dolphins – my Mum’s wish for her 60th Birthday. After three consecutive days of walking and Disney madness, this was a welcome break. It’s set up like a beach and we were sat right in front of the lagoon where the Dolphins were swimming – such a nice view. There was a lovely river that you can swim round, with wildlife all around you and the water is beautifully warm. The floor of the river gets deeper in places and then levels out but it’s stoney and rocky and you can snorkel your way around it. There’s plenty of sun beds and the beach is great. The best thing about Discovery Cove is that the price you pay for the ticket also includes food and drink all day long. So you can eat breakfast and lunch there, which is buffet style with something for everyone and unlimited refills – which comes in really handy. To swim with the Dolphins, which is 1 hour, you pay an extra $60 and then if you want the pics and videos taken of your “experience” they are extra again. The Dolphin swim was lovely (despite a small incident where I was ram-raided by a Dolphin but to be honest, I didn’t blame her, I’d have been pissed off with being petted by strangers all day).

Hollywood Studios: This is the renamed MGM Studios and is probably the least good of all of the parks. I say least good because it wasn’t crap but there isn’t a great deal to do there. Saying that, in typical British style, we had paid for it, therefore we stayed all day and managed to be there for about 9 hours! Really long queues for the three biggest rides (Aerosmith’s Rock n Roller-Coaster, Tower of Terror & Star Tours) but since you can use 3 Fast Passes per day, if you book them early enough you could get them on those rides. We got to the park when it opened and headed straight to the Aerosmith ride – unfortunately after queueing for 90 mins we were told that it had broken down, so we had to leave. It was a bit gutting as we weren’t offered a FastPass by way of compensation to come back later, so I didn’t get to go on it. Tower of Terror was great and Star Tours was brilliant. Also, we didn’t do it on this trip but the Indiana Jones stage show is still there and is very much worth going to see!

Aquatica: Quite possibly the BEST water park I’ve ever been to! Loads of slides, a great set up and a fantastic day. Unlike Discovery Cove where there’s a 1500 person limit to the park, Aquatica is HUGE and gets very busy. However, you don’t spend very long queueing for the slides. There’s speed slides for the more daring, slides that go through a tank where Dolphins swim, a lazy river, rapids, slides for you to race your friends & family, a wave machine and a kids play area. Again, it’s set up like a beach, so lots of loungers (although I would say definitely get there for 10am when it opens to make sure you get some shade). They also do a deal, which is extra to your ticket, but for $14 you can eat/drink all day.

Universal Studios & Universal Islands of Adventure: Unlike Disney the queue times at Universal are great! Nothing more than 30 mins (note that we went in March so I imagine its busier at peak times). All round these were the parks that we all enjoyed doing the most. It’s much more adult, with LOTS of roller coasters and each ride is more of an experience. Something that America does really well, and in particular Universal, is how each ride gives you something to do while your queuing, which you do rather a lot of. It takes you on a little journey and theres a lot of build up to the main event, which is the ride itself. If you’ve got kids then its good because you don’t get bored in the lines, there’s always something to look at! We spent 13 hours at these two parks and did them in one day but came back again to do the rides at Islands of Adventure again one evening. Since these parks are on the same complex you can easily switch between them. I think the best part was the Harry Potter experience. In Universal Studios they have it set up like London, with Diagon Alley to one side (it was awesome) then they have the train station complete with Platform 9 3/4 (and yes, you do walk through the wall) where you jump on the Hogwarts Express *THIS WAS OUT OF THIS WORLD* and then you head to Islands of Adventure and it brings you out opposite a TO SCALE Hogwarts – absolutely stunning! All of the rides were great but I think my two personal favourites were the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (I have to admit I nearly had an embolism in the line waiting because it’s an immense looking thing) and also The Hulk ride which I could have happily gone on over and over again! if you’re not much of a roller coaster fan then Universal is great because there are lots of simulators and shows that you can go to. You can’t use your Disney FastPass at Universal but they have their own version which you can pre-order online or buy once you are there. I have to say though, we didn’t need them, the queues really weren’t that bad. We then ate dinner on the famous City Walk which was open until 2am and has a whole host of places to choose from – we headed for Bubba Gumps, not cheap but great food.

My Sister & Husband next to the Hogwarts Express
My Sister & Husband next to the Hogwarts Express
Hogwarts!
Hogwarts!

Blizzard Beach: Had we gone to Blizzard Beach before Aquatica I think I would have thought it was great but I was a bit underwhelmed by it. I’d seen on a forum that the best place to go for a sun bed and shade was quite far into the park, by the main pool and this information was great – we had a really nice set up. The flumes were OK but not as good as Aquatica and the lazy river was OK but long – it goes round the whole park. The best ride was Teamboat Springs where up to 6 of you could get in a ring which threw you down the long and fast flume – really funny. We also made our way up to the flumes on their Ski Lift, which was fun but no good if you don’t like heights. Lunch was all extra here and I didn’t see any deals for an “all in” option.

Epcot: We did this on our last full day and decided to go in the evening (arrived at 4:30 and left at 10 when it closed after the fireworks) I wish we’d spent longer. It was great – lots of rides and fun stuff, plus characters and probably the best fireworks display you have ever seen. If you decide to only see one set of Fireworks then make it the Epcot ones. The set up at there is great (to put it into perspective it’s 3 times the size of Magic Kingdom). At one end of the park they have set it up so that you walk through every country – there are shops and country specific restaurants in each country zone. Brilliant.

So that’s all of the major parks but other things we did were Kennedy Space Centre, which was different, although a bit of a drive. For me personally I thought it was nice and some parts were really interesting, but the entrance fee was $50 and I didn’t feel like that was value for money – I guess it was more about the history. The only thing that stopped me moaning about the entrance fee was that we got to see a launch that day, which is probably something i’ll never see again and was well worth it. We also spent a day shopping (not my idea of fun) and on the recommendation of some friends went to some outlets and then on to Millennium Mall. It was hard work and a LOT of walking (we did 10 miles that day) but we came away with more trainers, clothes and perfume than you could shake a stick at. We also took a drive in the second week and went to Clearwater Beach – it was lovely. Hot weather, cool sea and really pretty. We then jumped in the car and headed down the road a bit to John’s Pass which was really nice, strolled round the shops, ate and then headed home. It took up a whole day but after SO much Disney and a lot of walking, it was nice to have a relaxing day.

Tip 5 – What time to head to the parks

We were staying 30-40 mins from the parks in a villa, so were getting up at 7:30am, out of the house by 8:30am, in the parks by 9-9:30am and staying until around 6pm. Only on a couple of occasions did we head to the parks around 4pm and stay until they closed and at Universal we did a 13 hour day. It depends on how your group works but we had a 1 year old with us and it was better for us to do longer days and have her home ready for bath (or in her case Swimming Pool) and bed. At some point you are going to have to queue but we did find that going later and staying until closing was when it was least busy (apart from the Magic Kingdom which was ALWAYS busy).

Tip 6 – How to handle the day you come home

Going home is never nice and you quite quickly get into the “I just want to be home” mindset. Since we were staying in a Villa we had to be out at 10am and our flight home wasn’t until 9pm. We decided the best thing to do was to rent a motel room for the day. We were able to dump our luggage and have somewhere to swim for the day and then shower, re-pack cases for the 100th time before the short drive to the airport. It worked out really well and only about $20 each. Motel’s will often do you a deal since you’re only going to be there for about 5 hours.

Tip 7 – Where to eat

Obviously we had a villa, so there were times where we ate in, we even BBQ’d a couple of times but since we weren’t near the parks (or anything else for that matter) we had to drive about 10-15 mins to find any restaurants. If you’re in Orlando, head towards Old Town and International Drive and you’ll see some great diners to eat in, including the American favourites; IHOP, Waffle House, Denny’s, Golden Coral and Cracker Barrel.

Tip 8 – Currency

After a bit of research we decided the best way to take dollars to the US was by using a Fair FX credit card. You apply for a card, put the money on before you leave and then spend like its a credit card. All the parks take it and the convenience stores and you can top up really easily by logging into the app. It updates your spending live, so you always know how much you’ve got on there and we found it to be the best conversion rate. Also, because it’s set up for $$ you don’t get charged every time you use it, like you would if you just used your UK debit card. We did take some currency as we needed to tip and needed change for tolls as well as having cash to put into the house kitty but for the most part the card was what we used.

So there you have it – everything I can think of that you will need to know for your trip but if you have anything you want to ask just shout! Just one last piece of advice – make sure you have another holiday booked to recover from 2 weeks in Florida, it’s bloody hard work but SO much fun!!

Team Rose
Team Rose

A Nice Day for a White Wedding

 

As any Bride will tell you, they want a day to remember. I was no different but I guess the one thing that can be said about me is that I am probably an exception to the normal rule about Brides – I do not get stressed and I do not sweat the small stuff and I DO NOT worry about the day itself because I knew with my friends and family there it would be nothing but awesome.

I’ve seen brides get so worked up about their Weddings that they lose sight of the reason they’re actually getting married in the first place. Working yourself up is the quickest and easiest way to ruin your big day – so spend a lot of time, before you book anything, planning what kind of Wedding you want. What’s important to you? Where do you want to spend the money? (some people want the most flamboyant & expensive dress, others want something less fussy and to spend more on putting money behind the bar…..that kind of thing), talk to the groom and see what his vision is – don’t forget that it’s his big day too! The biggest piece of advice that I will give you is, as much as possible, use people you know to be your suppliers! I managed to use friends who were in that particular line of business and got myself a Photographer, Florist, Cake maker and Chauffeur with Cars – it doesn’t mean that it will be any cheaper (they are in the business after all) but you are guaranteed to have people doing the absolute best for you, you trust them and you never know, they may give you a bit of discount!

If you’re looking to plan a Wedding these are the first things you need to get set in your mind:

  • Date – you need this before anything else!
  • Venue – Church and Reception or will you have a civil ceremony and combine the two
  • Budget – work out how much you have to spend and try where possible to stick to it (ALWAYS add a contingency)
  • Colour Scheme/Theme – Some Weddings don’t have a theme, I had both!
  • How many people to invite – this will largely depend on your budget.
  • Kids or No Kids – some people want kids there, I chose not to due to the per head amount we were being charged for food
  • Wedding Party – How many Bridesmaids and Ushers/Best Men – this will again depend on budget as normally the Bride & Groom buy their outfits
  • Dress, Suits, Hair, Make-Up and everything else etc

Lets start at the top then………………….

Date

I got engaged on Christmas Day 2013 and we decided that we didn’t want a long engagement and I wasn’t fussed about doing it while the weather is “hot” so we picked November 22nd 2014. There were a couple of reasons we settled on this date. Firstly, it gave us enough time to plan the Wedding – we are both highly organised people and knew that 11 months was more than enough time. Secondly, it meant that we could afford the Honeymoon we wanted. If we’re honest I think we’d both have loved a Christmas wedding but the price of the Honeymoon we wanted was almost double what we wanted to spend, due to the fact it would mean jetting off in December. Lastly, We were planning on moving house and wanted to make sure we had enough energy to fit both in before Christmas.

The other important thing to remember about the date is that there are some months where venues will do you a deal because it’s not a “Premium” month – February/June/July/August/September & December are the most expensive times to get married – pick a month outside that and you’re guaranteed to make a saving!

The Date is THE first thing you need to decide. It’s the first question you’ll be asked when ordering anything for the Wedding – Flowers, Cake. Photographer etc

Venue

I was married in the beautiful Chobham Church – it holds many special memories for me. It was the Church connected with the Primary & Junior School I attended, it was also the Church where many of my immediate family have been married as well as where my Niece was christened. James was fine with a Church Wedding and I am so glad that I chose it because Mr Bessant, the Vicar, was wonderful.

Saying that, I have been to many beautiful Wedding’s in the past, some in Barns, some in Town Halls and even one at London Zoo – that was a brilliant experience! I think as long as you decide on something you both want then it really doesn’t matter.

If you’re getting married in a Church and going on to a reception venue then ideally you don’t really want your guests to have to travel more than 30 mins  – after looking around a handful of local venues, we decided on The Woodlands Park Hotel. The reason we settled on woodlands Park was because A) The Staff there were SO accommodating when we went to check it out. Nothing was too much trouble B) My Cousin had been married there some years before and I remember it being a great Wedding with accommodation, which makes it SO much easier for guests who are travelling from afar and C) I’ve had so many people recommend it – which is always the best reason to book somewhere.

Also, when you are organising the Wedding with them always keep in the back of your mind that you are spending a lot of money on this day, so make sure they do everything you want them to do!

Budget

Unfortunately, unless you’re some kind of celebrity or a lottery winner, you need to remember there is a difference between what you want and what you can actually have. Like I said earlier there are ways to keep costs down by using people you know as your suppliers, generally they will give you a discount, which you can either put down as a saving or do what we did and put the money saved towards another aspect of the day.

Get yourself a spreadsheet and do some research. Call suppliers and get rough costs/quotes for what you want, put it into the spreadsheet and use that as a guideline. The main things which will fluctuate massively are Venue and Dress/Suits – because this is all dependant on whether you go budget or no expense spared. We looked at venues and there were some we’d have LOVED but they were a good £2000 – £3000 more than our final choice. Like I said before you may bag a bargain if your Wedding is “Out of Season”.

Decide on what parts of the Wedding are the most important to you and spend the money on those. For instance – I racked my brains and couldn’t remember, out of the last 5 Weddings that I attended, what the flowers at the reception were like! So I made the decision quite early on that the only flowers I wanted were Bouquets & Button Holes. The flowers in the Church were whatever was in the Church at the time and instead of Flowers at the reception we decided to be a bit quirky and pick something else (which I’ll come onto later). Saying that, my friend Sarah provided the flowers and they were absolutely STUNNING – so many people have made comments about them (Contact Sarah @ The Flower Tubb, Haslemere, on 07894 270229)

Here are our BEAUTIFUL Vander Orchids, which everyone commented on. Don't they look stunning!!
Here are our BEAUTIFUL Vander Orchids, which everyone commented on. Don’t they look stunning!!

 

Your spreadsheet will allow you to track what you are spending and see at a glance if you’re going over or are on budget. There’s tonnes of advice on the internet for cost-saving ideas, so don’t panic that you can’t have the day you want, it might just mean compromising in some parts of the Wedding to accommodate the bits which are more important to you.

Colour scheme/Theme

It’s common to have a colour scheme for a Wedding – Spring normally sees pastel shades, the Summer brings Bright Colours, with Autumn seeing burnt Oranges and Corals. Our Wedding fell into the Winter category and Purple has always been one of my favourite colours, so I decided to have more of a Christmassy feel and go for a dark “Cadburys” purple. In my opinion, because we coupled the Purple with the gents wearing Tuxedos (which also saved us a bunch of money as they all had their own) it really looked smart and worked really well. We made sure that James had a slightly different waistcoat, so that he stood out and he had a button hole to match my bouquet.

In terms of a theme we sort of had two!! James was obsessed with Lego when he was little (actually still is) and we wanted to do something a bit different so opted for the theme of Lego.

I’ve always been a bit different, never one to follow the crowd and I really wanted people to talk about our Wedding and how it was unique, I don’t like to blend in. So Lego was the theme and I took it upon myself to think about ways of incorporating it without making it look tacky – I think we achieved it.

It started with the “Save the Dates” which we decided on because I found a Cake Topper made out of Lego people – as you will see from the pic below supplied by my friend Andy.

Lego "Save the Dates"
Lego “Save the Dates”

 

We also decided that instead of flowers on the tables, we’d provide bowls of Lego for people to play with. In a sense they built their own centre piece. I thought that perhaps it would only be the younger people who played with it but in fact everyone did. We found that it acted as a brilliant ice-breaker for those tables who had lots of different people on who didn’t know each other. Even though we didn’t use flowers as the centre piece, we still wanted the tables to look pretty, so we put glass beads and lights in the bottom of the bowls and put the Lego on top. Lots of people made comments about how unique it was – which really pleased me. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a cheaper alternative to flowers – Lego costs a fortune!

Lights off!
Lights off!

 

Lights on!
Lights on!

 

The other place we decided to use the Lego theme was on our Wedding Cake – my Bridesmaid Lisa bakes cakes and offered to do it as our Wedding present, which was lovely of her. This saved us some money because you will soon find out that cakes aren’t cheap! It was a really lovely addition to our quirky Wedding and again we had lots of people giving us compliments about the uniqueness of it!

Our lovely Cake with our Lego Cake Toppers!
Our lovely Cake with our Lego Cake Toppers!

 

James and I are also both really into Music. James is a Drummer in a band and I sing and we both love going to gigs – music really plays a huge part of our lives. So the second theme we picked was just that……well 7″ records to be precise.

The idea came to me when I was looking at how much Wedding invitations cost and I was loathed to pay a huge amount of money for something that would eventually end up in the bin. I was sure there was a way that I could send an invite that people would like to keep and it dawned on me that 7″ records would be a cool and quirky idea. Again, doing it this way didn’t save us any money as we had to buy all the components of it separately. Our Best Man, Neil, kindly designed the wording for us which would act as the label and James and I went onto eBay and bough 120 7″ records, heart stickers, record covers and envelopes for them. I then found a local printer, who didn’t charge the earth, had the labels printed and then spent a couple of hours putting them all together. I have to admit they did look fab and loads of our guests text us with pictures and videos of them playing the records at home to see which artist they had been sent.

Our whacky & unique Wedding Invitations!
Our whacky & unique Wedding Invitations!

 

We then extended the record theme on to the Seating Plan and also the Table names, which were all the names of our favourite bands! Again, not cheap and certainly a labour of love but I enlisted some artistic friends to give me a hand putting it together and all of the lovely comments from everyone made it all worthwhile.

The Table Plan
The Table Plan

 

The Table Names (with some people enjoying the Lego)
The Table Names (with some people enjoying the Lego)

 

As well as that we also made all the place names on the table Cassette Tapes – this also doubled as a favour, which they could take away with them and everyone did!!! It was really easy – bought tapes on eBay, sprayed them purple and wrote the names on with a heart in each corner.

Name Plates 1 Name Plates 2 Name Plates 3

How many people to invite & Kids or No Kids!

These two subjects sort of roll into one.

OK, so here’s the thing – everyone thinks they are entitled to tell you who should or shouldn’t be at your Wedding. When in actual fact it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, you invite who you want. Don’t start thinking people will be offended if they don’t get an invite or that you need to invite so-and-so because Mr & Mrs Bloggs don’t know anyone else – it’s crap – you invite who you want. If you’re like me and you worry about offending people then ask yourself these two questions:

1. Do you really want to pay £100 + each for them to eat the Wedding Breakfast?
2. In 10 years time, when you look back at your Wedding Pics, will you say “I wish I hadn’t invited them”?

If the answer to those two questions is NO then strike them from the list and forget about them (not literally of course, just in terms of wedding invitees).

You need to be a bit ruthless when it comes to day guests especially because of the expense and remember you’re the one picking up the bill. This is why we decided on the “No Kids” policy. Actually, there were a couple of reasons for that policy but it was mainly that I loathed to spend £100 on a child who wouldn’t like the meal put in front of them. The other reasons were that I wanted my friends & family there to enjoy the day without worrying that their little one was bored or tired! We were up-front and honest with everyone from the start and sent out notes with the save the dates, to those people we knew had Children – that way they had 10 months to sort out babysitters.

If you do decide on inviting Children (perhaps you have your own) then maybe think about getting some entertainment for them. I’ve been to a wedding where they have a kids magician and a sort of crèche set up for them – they loved it.

When you’re putting your list of invitees together, stick to Family & Good Friends for the day and then invite all in-sundry to the evening. Most venues don’t really mind how many people you invite to the evening (within reason) as long as you have catered for 80% of the total numbers. The other thing to remember is that it’s unlikely the Wedding planner at the venue will be there on the actual day, so if you tell her you have 35 evening guests, you can probably get away with another 10-15 without them noticing!

Wedding Party

This is an important one for two reasons:

1. The more you have the more you will fork out on their attire
2. Pick reliable people who will be there for YOU on the day

James and I decided that since we had a November Wedding, we wanted the gents to wear Tuxedos. All of our male Wedding party had their own – CASHBACK!! We then extended that dress code out to the guests too and chose Tuxedo & Cocktail Dresses. It looked really glam on the day and looks fab in all of the pics.

I had three Bridesmaids, my two Sisters and my Friend – I was quite clear that I was happy for them to have a big say in what they wanted to wear because they were ones who were going to be wearing it for several hours. Luckily they all agreed on one dress and on the day they looked stunning.

All of my Bridesmaids were fab – they all played a part in helping to make our joint Stag & Hen Party a great day. They bought me L Plates and Balloons etc and organised a Mr & Mrs style Quiz with some of my other friends.

It was really hard trying to decide who to have as Bridesmaids because actually if money had been no object i’d have had another 3. There are lots of important women in my life and I’d have loved to make them Bridesmaids too but you will soon learn the phrase “You have to draw the line somewhere”. Also, don’t feel badgered into asking people just because you have been their Bridesmaid. There are other parts of the day they can be a part of. My best friend is a guy, so I asked him to be my Best Man and he gave a speech at the reception. I also asked two of my other really close friends to do a reading in Church and also act as my witness – which they were both more than happy to do and were honoured to be asked. In fact, I apologised to one of my friends for not asking her to be a Bridesmaid (as I had been for her a few months earlier) and she said “Nicole, don’t worry about it. I like going to Wedding’s where I just get to sit back and relax and enjoy the Weddings without worrying about my duties”. If they’re real friends they will understand.

James had four Ushers and two Best Men – they were great and on the day he didn’t have to do anything, which was something we both wanted to make sure  happened. He and I are always the people looking after everything at events, so it was nice to be looked after for once.

If you have a reliable bunch of people around you who have your best interests at heart then all you have to do is sit back and watch your guests enjoy their day – it’s a great feeling.

Everything Else

I think I have covered all the fundamental stuff – there are other decisions like “The Dress”, hair, make-up, Time of the Wedding etc

The Dress is the best bit – go out with your Bridesmaids (and your Mum) and spend the day trekking around 5 or 6 shops trying on every dress you like the look of. Do not buy any of them until you have the “I don’t want to take this dress off” moment. I found a dress which I loved, until my Sister talked me into going to another shop. I put my dress on and just stared in the mirror for ages, my auntie burst out crying and because I felt like doing the same (I never cry) I knew that this was it – that’s when you know! Don’t settle on a dress, keeping looking until you find the one you fall in love with. I look at my pictures almost everyday and just smile looking at how beautiful my dress was (in my opinion of course).

My dress
My dress

My hair was also done by a friend. Most people go to the same hairdresser (and probably have been for years) so who better than to do your hair for your big day. Louise is actually a friend from Secondary School and I went to her with ideas and we had a trial to see how it would work. It was exactly what I wanted and on the day my hair stayed in from 8am to midnight, with barely a hair out of place. If you’re local to the Woking area and want a good hairdresser then contact Louise and mention my name!!

One of the parts of the Wedding that I was most worried about was that period after the meal finishes and before everyone is drunk enough to throw themselves around the dance floor. Luckily, my Dad and Sister organised some surprise performers for us and it meant the whole day flowed beautifully. We were lucky that someone surprised us like that but perhaps think about some entertainment, if your venue will allow it.

I went to town a bit on some aspects of the day, which at the time seemed to take forever to organise, but all of our guests commented on how they loved the personal touches, which made it more than worth it. I really do think it’s worth putting some little “You” touches on your day – people really do notice the effort.

For instance: We had a few tables of people where not everyone knew each other. So I made everyone a badge with something on it, either a nickname or a picture of something associated with them or how James and I met them. Put them all in bag and left instructions that they had to be handed out and people had to guess which one was for them. I made each individual badge myself, on a manual badge maker. It took me 4-5 hours but seeing everyone laughing as they read them out was a sight to behold. As well as that we also put out some rules of the dance floor, just for a touch of comedy (see pic below) and I provided all the women with a pair of Flip Flops each, so that at the end of the evening they’d still be dancing rather than resting their poor feet. I’d also REALLY wanted a Photobooth but refused to spend £500 on one, so I went onto eBay and bought lots of signs and props and let my friends use their own phones and cameras to take pictures with them. That worked REALLY well.

Flip Flops
Flip Flops

 

Instructions
Instructions for table entertainment

 

Photobooth 1
Our budget Photobooth

 

Photobooth 2
Helen, Gillian & Lisa demonstrating the budget Photobooth

 

Rules of the Dance Floor
Personalised Rules of the Dancefloor

 

Each badge had a Nickname, How we'd met or a picture of something associated with them!
Each badge had a Nickname, How we’d met or a picture of something associated with them!

I shall stop wittering on now – hopefully some of my suggestions will help you, even just a little bit. Before I do, one of the best things I did was set myself up a Wedding Website. I listed absolutely everything to do with the day on there, including an online RSVP and put the link on the invites – it stopped people asking you mundane questions and meant that nearly everyone RSVP’d straight away because it didn’t mean them having to buy a card and post it to you.

Take a look at ours to get an idea of what you can put on there 🙂

Lastly, make sure you enjoy what will most certainly be the BEST DAY OF YOUR LIFE!!!!!

The Kiss

New Years Resolution 2015!

OMG, it appears that for someone who normally has a lot to say, writing this blog has not been as successful as I had hoped for! Since I started my blog about AmDram, this one has slightly fallen by the wayside.

I suppose I do have a bit of an excuse – 2014 was possibly the BEST but most mental year of my life! I moved house and got Married within 2 months and there was a whole load of other stuff that happened on the way…..shows, Murder Mystery, James was ill, Holidays etc. So i’ve decided that this year will be the year that I make a concious effort to keep this blog up to date – i’m not promising daily or even weekly blogs (i’m sure they’d bore you to death anyway) but at least once a month I will update you……probably on the progress of the decorating taking place in the new house!

So, my first informative post will be about my Wedding 🙂

2014 – My Year!

James asked me recently when the last time I wrote my blog was? I suddenly realised that it was September 2012 – oops!

To be honest, i’ve been so pre-occupied with shows, my new job, the gym and wedding plans (yes, you read that right) and my exciting travels, that my blog has kind of fallen to the wayside.

So lets try and catch you all up – the end of 2012 was good in as much as I had a wonderful boyfriend and I was happy but I hated my job and had to spend Christmas and New Year without James who was off on a cruise (boo hoo). However, the start of 2013 was A-MAZ-ING!! James took me to South-East Asia for 3 weeks on a cruise, which was possibly the best thing I have ever done. That part of the world is just wonderful and I strongly urge anyone who wants to travel to go right away, especially Vietnam! This year i’ve been lucky enough to go on a Caribbean Cruise and saw some equally beautiful places (mostly beaches). We’re also off to our little Island, Corfu, in June for two weeks and we’ve even booked our Honeymoon for November and we’re off to Mauritius! So i’ve seen plenty of the world in the last 2 years……….

Bridge Over the River Kwai - Bangkok, Thailand.
Bridge Over the River Kwai – Bangkok, Thailand.

Work-wise, I got back in touch with an old school friend, who i’ve only seen a handful of times since primary school and he offered me a job! I started last April as the Head of Customer Support and I absolutely love it. The company is called Boosh 365 Ltd  and we’re a B2B Telecoms Company. It really is brilliant and so refreshing to enjoy coming to work. We’re a small ship at the moment but I was promoted in January to Operations Manager and am now helping my boss build the company and I really can’t wait to see how it all works out.

Halfway through the year my Sister, Helen, announced she was pregnant and I am now waiting, with baited breath, for the phone call to say that i’ve got a niece or nephew. It’s so blummin exciting – she’s the first one of us to have a baby and at the moment it feels like i’m watching a pot waiting for it to boil. She’s due a week Wednesday, so by the next time I write my blog (which I hope will be a lot more frequently) I will be able to share a pic with you all.

My other Sister, Gillian, has started a fashion blog and has won some awards for it, which is brilliant, so we are all crossing our fingers that she’ll be the next Carrie Bradshaw and start making a business out of it.

Show wise I am about to get out-of-my-mind crazy as this year we’re putting on Grease!!!!!!! I’ve watched this film about 1000 times and know the whole script backwards. I’m SO excited that I finally get to be part of a production. The theatre company is doing really well 🙂 we put on two productions last year, both were brilliant in different ways. I’ve started writing a separate blog about AmDram, which has allowed me to share some of my views about the subject. I felt after 25 years doing local amateur theatre and seeing so many groups fold, that some hints and tips may help other groups.

Simply Theatre Proudly Present "Grease" at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre 4th-6th September 2014
Simply Theatre Proudly Present “Grease” at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre 4th-6th September 2014

And finally, my wedding planning! I know, it was a shock to me too……from being a man hater to having the most wonderful man in the world, who not only lives with me but wants to spend the rest of his life with me! He was a cheeky little thing and managed to smuggle the engagement ring out to the Caribbean and proposed on Christmas Day at the front of the ship. Very romantic and lovely (and so is the ring). The Wedding is coming together nicely and so far we haven’t disagreed on anything….I just need to get my arse in gear and decide on which I dress I like the most.

Engaged!! Christmas Day at Sea in the Caribbean.
Engaged!! Christmas Day at Sea in the Caribbean.

I’ve got so many friends going through exciting times this year with Weddings and Babies etc and it’s all such a happy time. Looks like 2014 isn’t just MY YEAR!

What a difference a year makes!!

If you’d asked me this time last year where i’d be now, I don’t think anything that has happened to me in the last 12 months would have come to mind!

So I left my wonderful job at Axco last July because the commute was getting too much and WAY too expensive. I found work with a local company in the media industry (right up my street) and was prepared to finally forge the career i’d been craving! It was very short lived – 9 months later they used an excuse to get rid of me and I now find myself back working for my Dad. Not the most desirable job in the world but its a job nonetheless………

Simply Theatre has gone from strength to strength and this year we embarked upon our first straight play, Tennessee Williams “A Streetcar Named Desire”. I wasn’t going to audition at first as i’m not really your “straight play” kind-of-a-gal but after the read-through I was hooked and determined to play the part of Stella. I was delighted to be offered the role and would be playing against my best mate John Sherringham and newby to the group Katherine Perren. Getting over the hurdles of this show was some of the toughest acting i’ve ever done. I was so far removed from my character that I found it very difficult to shake her off afterwards. Alison was again our Director and she literally dragged everything “Nicole” out of me kicking and screaming, until all that was left was a downtrodden housewife who couldn’t look anyone in the eye! The whole experience of this play shocked me and I surprised myself totally with how difficult i’d find the romantic moments and how easy I found the violent parts! Kissing your best mate is not something that comes naturally to anyone but I really struggled with having to be tactile. However, letting him hit me came a lot easier than I thought it would and handling that was a walk in the park……well until he perforated my eardrum!! The play was a critical success and I could not be prouder of the whole production! (Here’s the review: http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?reviewsID=584)

Me as Stella and John Sherringham as Stanley Kowalski

My Sister got married a couple of weeks ago – insane to think that my little Sister is now a wife! She looked totally amazing on the day and I couldn’t have been prouder. It was nice to have Gill back for a few days too and to catch up with all the family. It doesn’t happen enough in my opinion, but with a family of our size its not easy to organise get-togethers without it becoming a military operation!

Me, Dad, Helen, Mum and Gill

And so we trot towards the end of the year and most recently my Birthday…..which i’m ashamed to say wasn’t as successful as other years! I had a little bit too much to drink (or possibly a bad peanut) and ended up being very ill in Bedbar….on the street……on people and on myself! I’d like to say that its one birthday I wont forget but I can barely remember any of it, which is probably for the best!

Oh….I also have a wonderful new boyfriend! I have been a man-hater for many years after being treated so badly by exes and had completely lost faith…….and then when I stopped looking my gorgeous prince charming arrived and swept me off my feet – and I couldn’t be happier.

So after a shaky start to the year it looks like its going to end rather nicely…………..

A Weighty Issue……….

If you’ve never been overweight you wont understand how hard it is to lose weight and how much time you spend thinking about it. The problem with your weight is that in the majority of cases its completely down to you and how you treat your body as to why its in this disastrous way. Striking a balance between eating what is good for you, what you need and what you have as a treat is often not equal and this is when you start gaining weight. I’m 31 this week and its only been in the past 2 years that I have actually got to grips with eating correctly, having the right portion sizes and exercising in order to keep myself in shape. I used to think that it was a big task and that eventually i’d find some miracle way to losing weight – how disillusioned I was!!

Me & my Sisters at my Cousins wedding – at my biggest – Size 20

You probably think that from reading this my family were all big and therefore that is the reason I have a weight problem, well that’s not true. My parents, if anything, are very conscious of what they eat and always taught us to eat everything on our plates but that we shouldn’t stuff our faces, just have enough to satisfy us.  My Mum always cooked proper meals and it was rare that we ate take away – that was always a treat. So I can’t tell you what first spurred my love affair with food and like any affair its only after you’ve had your fill that the guilt kicks in and you start to regret what you did, so you push it to the back of your mind – this is basically what I did for about 10 years.

Up until age 14 I was a normal kid, normal home life, doing well at school and no worries. It was around this time I started getting Psoraisis and this is something that has plagued me for most of my life. I remember looking at other girls, mainly my sisters and really resenting the fact they had such nice skin while mine was red, scaly and raw. I hated the fact that they could wear what they wanted while I had to think about what I was going to wear so that people didn’t look at me and wonder what was wrong. I don’t remember thinking “I hate how I look and my skin hurts, so i’ll eat more” but I am quite an emotional eater, so I think this is the reason I threw all caution to the wind and ate anything I could – I was already repulsive, so why not!!.

I knew that after I gorged on a curry that I would have eaten way more calories than I needed but it didn’t stop me – i’d normally give it an hour and then have a packet of crisps or two. I remember once having Fish & Chips and then eating a whole packet of digestive biscuits with a cup of tea – I was full but didn’t stop.

All the time I got bigger and bigger and still didn’t do anything about it. My family could see I was getting bigger and a few times tried to help me, but I didn’t want to know and just told them i’d do it in my own time. I wasn’t just saying that either, I did want to but didn’t know how to go about it or where to begin! By the time I went to University I was a size 18 and moved into a house full of skinny women and would watch them as they put on fashionable clothes and went to the union to meet people, while I sat in jogging bottoms and a hoody at home. In my second year I met a guy called Karl who was in the army and he was the first person who really gave me incentive to lose weight – he was a fitness fanatic and we used to go running. He taught me how to eat properly and I started to lose weight. By the time we went into the third year I had lost over a stone and felt really good. I had a new found confidence and started going out more, got a job in a pub and felt ten times better than I had in years. But that was short lived because once we split up and I moved home and met my ex-husband, it all piled back on……and more.

You’d think that being big and mixing with people in the Performing Arts world would have meant I tried to blend in – well for anyone that knows me, I DO NOT BLEND IN! I like to stand out. I wear brightly coloured clothes and am always the centre of attention. I’ve got a dirty laugh and like to have a joke. Me being fat was normally the first thing I joked about – if I joked about it before anyone else then they’d know I was aware of how horrile I looked and not say anything about me. It was a defense mechanism and to a certain extent I still do it now.

When I was getting married I wasn’t looking forward to dress shopping because apart from

Me and my sisters on my Wedding Day – I hate this picture!

not wanting to actually get married, I was dreading trying dresses on. I went to one shop with some friends and picked the dress that fitted me. It wasn’t a horrible dress but not something I envisaged myself wearing on my big day! And its not called your big day for nothing – I was around 16 stone and a Size 20!

When we split up I lost a stone almost straight away. I think this was due to the stress of the whole situation but also I was finally happy!! Plus Mum’s home cooked food helped.

The turning point for me was getting out of the shower one day and covering the mirror with a towel so that I didn’t have to see myself – I knew enough was enough and that I had to do something about it, so I joined a leisure centre and went Swimming every night after work. It was tough, especially in the Winter when it was snowing and I just wanted to get a take away and lie on the sofa in the warm, but instead made myself strip off into a swimming costume and hit the pool. I easily shifted a stone and as soon as people started saying I looked slimmer, it really boosted me. When I moved back to Woking I joined a gym and dreaded the thought of it. I hated the feeling of being sweaty (and still do) and I didnt want all the buff gym bunnies looking at me as I puffed away on the treadmill. However, it was a totally different story and soon I was completely addicted. Actually, its now got the point that if I can’t go then I HATE it – I feel sluggish and tired. My obsession has reached new heights with me now going to as many Spinning classes a week as I can – WHO THE HELL ENJOYS SPINNING????? Darren Street got me into that actually – and thank god he did because to be honest, if he hadn’t I think i’d still be as miserable as I was. Joining the gym and Darren helping me with my programme has completely changed my life and I can honestly say I will NEVER go back to the way I was.

Me now – after 2 years hard work and losing 4.5 stone!!

So, I still have about another stone to go, but I am definitely heading in the right direction – I now count every calorie that goes in my mouth and live by the 80:20 rule – good 80% of  the time and let myself go 20% of the time. Normally weekends is when I let the brakes off. I know I will never be “skinny” and I don’t want to be but it will be nice to look in the mirror without feeling disgusted with myself and know that I look good because of all the hard work I put in!

The only problem now is that I need a bit of a tummy tuck and a boob job!!!!!!!!

“If you are willing to make the changes then you will reach your goal” – Nicole Rose.

I have high cheekbones and never knew it!

Drinks, Dinner and Death!

I’m part of a new production company called “Hugh Dunnit Productions” – we are a Murder Mystery company and so far have been regularly booked to put on murder mystery themed evenings at The Lightbox in Woking.

Hugh Dunnit Productions – The Cast of “Poison By Numbers”

So far I have played Mary Christmas, a kiss and tell lovely……who isn’t lovely at all, Sandra Sienna the daughter of an antiques restorer and wife of Sidney Sienna a philandering serial adulterer and my last character was Virginia Pennyworth – Secretary to DD head of MI6.

The group I work with are fantastic – we have such fun. I have known most of them for many years having done amdram with them locally. In the words of Rosalie:

“It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on!”

We have a couple of new recruits but they have totally taken on board the task in hand and fitted well into the group. Its nice to be doing some performing that takes little effort – by that I mean not having to learn tonnes of lines. It also seems to have gone down well with the company we work for and the customers all seem to really enjoy themselves.

Rehearsals for these performances are normally a string of inuendo’s and laughter. I’m not sure anyone from the outside looking in would understand a word that comes out of our mouths. I think the reason I get so much enjoyment from this is because the people involved are a small select group who are all very open minded about things. There aren’t any LUVVIES…..well apart from Graham – but we love him anyway. The talent within the group is second to none and we write and direct our own productions too.

Wendy as Ivana Legover – Come Spy With Me

This is a picture of Wendy in all her finery! I’ve known Wendy for 25 years and she never ceases to amaze me with her acting talents – she’s a veterinary scientist in real life and i’ve often told her that she should pursue acting, but she simply says “I don’t love it like you do”.

If you want to book us by the way then you can find us at http://www.hughdunnit.co.uk 😉

Showbiz

So…..it turns out that I am not very good at this blog writing malarky – I have been too busy to update it until now.

Since I last wrote I have successfully auditioned for a part in “Little Shop of Horrors” and we are now only a matter of days away from opening night. I’m playing one of the Ronnettes and its been a long process but I am now getting into ‘enjoying it’ territory.

I’m immensely proud of what I like to call “My baby” – this theatre company has been through so much since its conception in 2005. It started out as an overflow from Woking Youth Theatre, a group I was with for just over 10 years. Being a youth theatre you had to leave at the age of 25 and I didn’t want to join another group, so decided to start my own. I was keen to try and keep the feeling that we had with the youth theatre. Originally there was a committee of people and we called ourselves “Phoenix Theatre” – we put on a production of A Slice of Saturday Night at the Rhoda McGaw in Woking and made a small loss. It was my first experience of putting a show on from start to finish and it certainly made me appreciate how much time and effort it took to get to the stage where you can put it on in front of an audience. After this we did a small Pantomime which we’d written ourselves, which allowed us to get some money in the bank and then went on to another big show – Smokey Joes Cafe. I think we broke even with that production and also learnt a very valuble lesson – never work with 20 under 16’s – it was a nightmare and the cast was huge. I was in that production as well as producer and it was then I realised how much a show can really take over your life. Saying that, it was a godsend to me as I was 26 and going through a marriage breakdown – it was like a comfort blanket to have something to cushion the blow.

Not long after that show ended, my business partner and I decided to change the name. We had a Kids Saturday school which was called SIMPLEtheatre and we thought it might be easier to run it all under one umbrella. It worked quite well, the school subsidised the shows and we were able to put on some sterling productions. It also had a third branch, which was a touring professional company. We only performed one piece as a pro company, called Much Ado About William which was a Shakespeare review. Under the normal Am-dram group we put on The Hot Mikado, Comedy Tonight, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and Return to the Forbidden Planet. It was then we really started to take off, with some great team members and a fantastic reputation as being one of Surrey’s premier Theatre Companies. Last year my business partner and I went our separate ways, not very nicely either, which was a shame. However, we both had different ideas with how we wanted the group to be run and the types of shows to be put on, so it was for the best.

So now you find us embarking on our first show as Simply Theatre (see what I did there?) Little Shop of Horrors – and with Alison Hough as Director we know the show is going to be amazing!!

The only problem is that now we are so close to show week my insomnia has kicked in! I’m so heavily involved in it from Producer to Box Office to Acting that I don’t get a moment to not think about it. Last night I lie awake for hours thinking about everything I need to do before our “Get In” on Sunday! I am also going to be driving up to Coventry on Sunday at 9am to collect the Audrey II Plant we are hiring……..I am not looking forward to this but offered as I didn’t think anyone else would want to.

Us in rehearsals – I love this picture!

I will update you with how the show went afterwards 🙂