Thursday, 30 October 2014

Turning a Garage into an Office Space

Comparing modern day houses to those build 70 or so years ago there are a few clear differences, not only with design and layout (bathroom downstairs vs bathroom upstairs) but probably the most obvious being size.
Older houses generally seem to be more generous in size, compared to the modern day version. For example, our modern 3 bedroom house is smaller than my mums older 3 bedroom house. Our house consists of 2 double rooms and then the dreaded "box room" whereas the rooms in my mums house are considerably bigger with her "box room" still being big enough for a double bed.

Dining rooms seemed to be the standard in a home a few years ago whereas these days we are happy with a kitchen diner.

When it came to us looking to buy our own home an office space was essential as my husband would be running his own business.
We toyed with the idea of buying a house with a dining room which we could convert but with my husband working in media production we needed somewhere he would be able to go without worrying about sounds elsewhere, and where I wouldn't be disturbed by the boom boom boom base coming from his computer speakers.

Working from home can be tricky and full of distractions so having your own space, away from everyday life is essential, and for us there was one room that we knew had to be top of our "must have" list when we were house hunting.
A garage.

I think a garage can generally be quite overlooked when it comes to office space, or indeed as a living space, particularly if it isn't attached to the house and therefore accessible via an internal door.

For us there were a few things we needed to consider:

Sound-proofing. My husband worked incredibly hard to make sure the studio is sound proofed as best it can be. It's essential that noise from the inside is kept in, and the noise from the outside, be it traffic, children or next doors yappy dog, is kept outside. We used acoustic foam treatment tiles like these from Amazon to sound proof our garage and we are amazed at how well they work.

Planning permission. Before changing the use of a room such as a garage it is essential to know whether or not you need planning permission. Planning permission will most likely be needed if you decide to build something new, make structural changes such as building an extension and even if you decided to change the use of your building. If you carry out work on a building without getting planning permission you could be hit with an enforcement notice, forcing you to take down any work you have already done. This could prove to be costly so it's worth checking your options beforehand.

Can we use the garage for storage and as a working space? Although we have a shed, and a loft in both the house and the garage, we still needed a little extra space in the garage for our essential items such as tins of paint, tools and cleaning bits for the cars. By designing a clear layout and looking at the space we had, breaking it down into what would be suitable storage space and suitable office space we were able to create a room which catered for both of these needs.
Partitioning Solutions provided by Warehouse Storage Solutions Limited  are an ideal way to divide your room to make sure you are able to provide not only the perfect working space, but an organised storage space too.

What can we do ourselves? I think it's a general need these days to save money where possible. From the outset have a plan of what work needs doing, and then from that list work out what you can do yourselves, and where you will need to get others in to do the work for you. Make a list of possible plumbers, electricians or builders and make sure you gather a few quotes before settling on someone straight away.

And lastly, have a deadline. The worst thing about any room changes or building work is that it can be unsettling. Set a clear deadline from the beginning, and have set goals for each job that needs to be done. Chase up any work done by others and make sure they too are clear about the deadline and sign off date.

Soon enough you'll be in your perfect workspace.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Zizzi Autumn Menu #zizzigoodtimes

One thing I love about blogging, and I know I've mentioned this so many times before, is the friendships it has brought me. And yes, Hayley in particular. (sorry not sorry for mentioning you). In the past year we've made the most of seeing each other when we can, although it is slightly tricky being 120 miles apart.
We planned to go to Blogcamp together and with other blogging fav Donna coming too we all decided to make the most of a child-free girls night. After discovering that there was a Zizzi Restaurant in Birmingham, within walking distance of the conference venue, we knew exactly what we wanted to do.

We were checking out the new Autumn Menu and usually when I go to an Italian restaurant I would sit and umm and ahhh for quite a while as I struggle to decided what to have from a menu where actually I want everything. We decided to have a go at....sharing.
We ordered 4 dishes from the new menu and then had a plate each so we could try everything.
Because we would be sharing we decided against having a starter, which was a big decision in itself as there are so many items we would want to choose from there.


Our Choices 

Wild Boar Ragu Pappardelle
Rich wild boar ragu with red wine, garlic & tomatoes, pappardelle pasta & Grana Padano.

Warm Duck & Pomegranate Salad
Pulled confit duck, pomegranate, beetroot, butternut squash & long stem broccoli with mixed leaves, balsamic dressing & dough sticks. Vegetarian? Swap the duck for aubergine!

Classic Caprina (We ordered this Rustica)
Goats’ cheese, pepperonata, spring onions, roquito pepper pearls & baby watercress.

Rustica Pulled Pork Rosmarino
Pulled pork on a cheese base of Fior di Latte mozzarella, Grana Padano & rosemary. Topped with crispy prosciutto shards, roast squash & baby watercress. Served with apple sauce on the side.

Oh my, where do I start? When there is pizza or pasta on offer I wouldn't choose a salad, however I was really intrigued by the Warm Duck and Pomegranate Salad on offer. I think the advantage of sharing meals is that it would encourage me to order a salad so it's not a complete carb-fest.
I have to say, after seeing the portion size, and the vegetables in the salad I would definitely recommend this and would order it again. 
I am a fan of duck so did enjoy this salad, however I felt there was something missing in form of a dressing, it needed a little something extra to make it perfect...although something that isn't the obvious hoi sin or plum sauce.

The Wild Boar Ragu had all three of us groaning. My goodness, I'm not sure how to put it in words. Not only was it full of flavour but it tasted so fresh. And don't be put off by it being Wild Boar, only in the past year have I been more adventurous when it comes to food and meat in particular and I am so glad about that as maybe in the past I would have avoided pasta like this. 

Without fail everytime I go to Zizzi I have to have a pizza. Back in Spring when we visited the Norwich Zizzi and tried out the Spring menu I absolutely loved the rustica bistecca formaggi  [thinly sliced steak on a cheese base of gorgonzola, gruyère and pecorino. With slow roasted tomatoes, rocket, mozzarella and grana padano] so I was excited by the Rustica Pulled Pork Rosmarin.
This was, as we expected, amazing. Although, we were too busy eating the pizza that we forgot about the apple sauce that came with it until my last slice. It seemed odd to have apple sauce with a pizza, and I wasn't sure that it would work but it really did and was a great addition.
As with the steak pizza back on the spring menu the pulled pork pizza also came on a cheese base and this is something that would put me off, however I think with a tomato base this pizza may not have worked so well.
My favourite thing about this pizza was the roast squash topping. I felt this worked really well and isn't something I have seen on a pizza before.

Although I am not a vegetarian I did look at the dishes available to those who are and it wouldn't disappoint. Zizzi has a great variety in it's menu in that not only are there dishes that cater for vegetarians, they also give suggestions of changes on some of the meat dishes so that it would be suitable for a vegetarian. For example, on the duck and pomegranate salad they suggest substituting the duck for aubergine.
We ordered the Classic Caprina, although opted to have it rustica so it has a bigger base (more food!). This is another aspect of the menu that I really like, the option to have your pizza either classic or for small extra charge you can have it rustica.
I am a big lover of goats cheese, in fact it seems to be a tradition that when I eat pizza with Hayley that it has to have a goats cheese topping.
My husband is very much "I am a man, I need meat" so this isn't a pizza I could usually see us ordering and sharing, however, I think even the biggest meat fan would love this.
The extra special wow factor with this pizza is the roquito pepper pearls. Oh, hello there small pearls of utter deliciousness. Because of the pearls being quite spicy I wouldn't be able to eat a whole pizza like this, however as a sharing pizza it is ideal. I did add some of the apple sauce from the pulled pork pizza to this and it worked equally as well.

Once our plates were empty, we just about resisted licking them clean, it was time for dessert.

We decided to have our own desserts although wanting to try out the new Pomegranate Sorbet we ordered that to share.

Our Choices 

Pomegranate Sorbet
Smooth & creamy, made with sweet, Mediterranean pomegranate.

Lemon Meringue Sundae [Donna]
Gavin placed each of the cocktails in front of us and I couldn't help but squeal and praise him for placing the Biano Italiano in front of me. I love a glass of Baileys at the end of a meal, and usually choose this over a coffee.
It was deeeeelicious. 
Donna was given the Mixed Berry Cooler which was, as expected, fruity and refreshing.
Hayley had the Winterberry Prosecco, which we couldn't find on the menu and were then told it's actually part of the Christmas cocktail menu....a great excuse to go back at Christmas time I'd say!

I couldn't fault our meal at Zizzi at the Mailbox in Birmingham whatsoever. The service was fantastic, and I do feel I should point out that this wasn't because we were there to review. We looked around at other tables watched the staff secret-detective-stylee and they were so attentive and everyone looked pleased not only with their meals but with the service they received too.
We do have to give a special mention to Gavin who was so fantastic. He was really passionate about the menu and the meals he was serving us...and got the cocktails spot on.

Not only is Zizzi perfect for a family meal out, but also for an evening with the girls. 
And you know what, sharing food isn't so bad after all!

Zizzi Vegetarian Pizza
Zizzi Wild Boar Pasta
Zizzi Autumn Menu

Thank you Zizzi for providing us with amazing food and amazing service in exchange for this review.

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Scrambled Egg

It's only in the past year or so that I've really started to eat eggs. Before, I only really liked them pickled (come on, I'm not the only pickled egg lover am I??) and only really cooked them as part of a fried breakfast, or if I was making my husband an egg mayo sandwich (which I tend to avoid as the smell lingers for so long!).

Since my "lifestyle change" and introducing healthier foods into my diet (note to self, get back on that) eggs have been quite popular and I've surprised myself by actually enjoying finding different ways of cooking them and making meals with them.

My favourites egg recipes being the banana pancakes and sweet potato pancakes, and the scrambled egg.
Up until recently I wasn't a fan of scrambled eggs. I didn't see the appeal, and in all honesty I found the flavour too much.  I don't like a intense egg flavour and instead like it to be a bit more mild, and after experimenting I found the perfect solution.

Rather than whisking those bad boy eggs up with butter, I simply replace the butter with creme fraiche. Not only is this a healthier way to make scrambled eggs, but it also gives them a lighter, fluffy, creamy flavour.

Since discovering how nice scrambled eggs can be I've been experimenting with different scrambled egg recipes, stepping away from the standard 'egg on toast' or 'English breakfast' set up.

How do you like yours?

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Birmingham and Blogcamp

Since starting my blog in February 2011 the only conferences I've been to are Britmums Live, in 2013 and 2014. I never made it to any others, mainly due to distance but this year I really wanted to make an effort and attend another if I could.
When I saw that there would be a Blogcamp conference in Birmingham I suggested to Hayley that we go. Her parents live nearby and very kindly put us up for the night on Friday, saving us an early morning journey on the Saturday morning.

Getting the train into Birmingham, we headed to Starbucks to get an all important morning coffee and eventually found The Studio, where we would spend the day.
I've only been to Birmingham to visit the Sealife Centre, to go to the airport and to see Take That before so haven't visited the main city centre before. I was amazed at how beautiful a lot of the buildings were, and how different they were too.

I'd heard about how good Blogcamp has been in the past and I definitely didn't leave disappointed.
I was impressed with all but one of the speakers (I don't find bullying someone who attends your session to be very professional or necessary) and really felt I came away having learnt a lot, feeling inspired, and a notebook full of pages written with action plans, hints, tips and inspiring words.
The last session was a real eye opener as Claire and Jacqui talked about the PR and Blogger relationship from a PR's point of view.
It was really interesting to hear what is expected of us, about deadlines and most importantly what is expected of a PR from a client. I think we so often think we are in control as bloggers, like we are doing others a favour and we completely forget that the PR has a job to do, they have expectations, promises and deadlines to meet too.
This definitely made me think about how I work with people in the future. From making sure we are clear on what we expect from each other right from the first email being sent, and then fulfilling the brief, keeping promises and also keeping the PR updated with any setbacks or delays.

I stupidly left my notebook at Hayley's house (any excuse to have to go back to see her again) so can't share many of the tips I got on the day. However, these two things have stayed with me and I think are the most important points that I learnt at Blogcamp.

1: Just be a nice person.

2 years ago I would be quite passive aggressive on Twitter. I didn't really think about how I was portraying myself, and that actually what I was doing was the exact thing that I despised reading in my timeline from others.
I realised that I needed to change, and to be the same person on Twitter as I would be in real life. I looked around at those who I admired and decided to take a leaf out of their book and it made me enjoy Twitter more. I soon felt I was being me.
Our social media platforms and blogs represent us, and I think so many people forget this and are quick to rush to Twitter, Facebook or our blogs to rant about poor service or to moan at a company, or a person, over something which should be discussed in a professional manner via email or phone.
We seem to forget all to easily that behind every email address, or Twitter account, is a person, just like us. A person who actually probably wasn't the cause of the bad customer service you received, or didn't make the product that you received that was faulty. Passing on your frustration, annoyance and negative attitude to someone else causes them to have a bad day too, and is that fair? Probably not.
Being a nice person not only represents us in a much better way, but it also makes us a lot more attractive for any companies or bloggers who want to work with us in one way or another. Who wants to work with someone they can't trust? Or who snaps at the smallest thing without giving a brand, or PR a chance to explain or rectify the situation?

 2. Know your worth and do what you feel is right.

Sponsored posts, reviews and competitions etc all seem to be a controversial area when it comes to blogging. Sponsored posts being the biggest topic that divides bloggers and can cause a lot of upset and debates.
I have never liked the view that if you accept a low price for a sponsored post that you do not value your blog. I think this is a really unfair way to look at it. Just because you accept a low price it doesn't mean that you don't value, or love your blog as much as someone who wouldn't even accept half of that price.
Sometimes you need money. Simple as. And if £30, or indeed £20 is enough to cover the cost to purchase a new kettle or iron as yours has just blown up, or in fact pays for that school trip that your child desperately wants to go on but you can't justify paying for from your weekly grocery budget, then take it.
As the saying goes, needs must. And accepting that small amount may well lead to further work from that particular PR or SEO and those £30's soon add up.
Accepting a small amount doesn't make you a rubbish blogger, it doesn't put you any lower on the ladder than someone who won't accept lower than £100.
You blog for yourself and what others think or do really doesn't matter. 
I think the most important thing is to feel confident with any choices that you make. And if you are one of those who accepts a lower amount for some sponsored posts then at least make sure that you feel happy with it, and that you know that the money you have accepted is going to really help towards something.
You don't want to feel taken advantage of and should always feel confident in the choices you make for your blog. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks or what anyone else does.

One reason I really enjoyed Blogcamp is because it's quite intimate. There isn't a mass of bloggers all cramped into one room and as a result there is no feeling of pressure. I felt like I could really relax.
Oh, and the lunch was out of this world!! 

If you get the chance to go to Blogcamp TAKE IT. I am really glad I did.

Friday, 24 October 2014

A Smooth Sea

Being a parent is hard sometimes isn't it?
I'm sure we all have those moments when we think we are not really cut out for this role, closely followed by the realisation that there is NOTHING we can do about it now, it is far too late and we have to "man up" and take charge.

Children have a lot more power than I thought, at least mine do anyway. It might just be the emotional side to it. Maybe I'm too soft, or trying to be too much of a friend. Or maybe I'm just not good at it.

Before having children I had this airy fairy view of it. Everything would be perfect, they would be well behaved when shopping and eating out. They would have masses of respect for me, and would always do as they are told.
Sometimes it feels the complete opposite.

During bad moments I tend to think "that's it, I'm a bad mum. Why did I think I could do this? I clearly can't". I question everything I do and everything I've ever done.
I wonder if I made the wrong choices right at the beginning, from day one.

I question whether or not I should we should have had two children. Maybe I was only cut out to have one?

I remind myself constantly that there is no turning back, I can't change anything I have done. I can't go back and choose a different parenting style, I can't go back and make different choices.
I can't not have my children.
I need to learn and grow and change as we go along. I need to learn what works in terms of discipline, and what works in terms of rewards.
I need to learn how to communicate the best with my children. Sometimes, I can't help but to shout, I have exhausted all other ways of being nice and being calm. But maybe I am missing something, and the real thing is to not say "What am I doing wrong?" but to say "How can I do this right? How can I improve myself, my thinking, my actions and my behaviour to get the best out of these horrible situations?"

As with a marriage parenting is hard and need to be worked at. It's not always going to be perfect, and sometimes it would feel like the easiest thing to just walk away. To just hold your hands up and say "Hey! I'm done!". But you can't do that.
You have to instead learn, grow and move on from any moments that really tested you. You need to come out of it strong, and although learning from it, also forgetting how horrid it was and then remembering those moments that make you SO happy, and even making those happy moments as soon as you can, to block out the negative feelings and experience you just went through.

Parenting is not smooth sailing, but we can't give up. When our children are grown up, and we are grandparents we need to look back and say "My goodness, I did a good job". We won't be looking back on those bad times, instead relaying stories of embarrassment and joy to our sons future girlfriends, our future daughter-in-laws, and our grandchildren.

Maybe these hard moments and hard times are here to show me that I am a good mum, and that maybe sometimes I just need to reinforce my role in our house. Remind the children of my expectations of them and of "their place" within our family.

Parenting is hard, and life is hard.

Does anyone have an easy life? We all go through hard times, dark times, some worse than others but still, life is hard. And these things make us stronger, give us experience.
They show us what we are capable of.
Which just happens to be, an awful lot.