Chiswick Mum’s farewell to August – Season of Mists

 

Today we bid a fond farewell to August, and a hello to September.

Keats called Autumn ' Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness'.

To me it's also…

Season of Freshly Sharpened Pencils

Of New Socks and Squeaky New Shoes

Of murmured whispers – 'Shall we put the heating on..', 'do you want the extra duvet out tonight'

Of farewell to sleeping in underwear, and hello to cuddly snuggly onesies

 

 

Of the cat coming back to sleep in our bed at night

 

 

Of bedtimes at dusk instead of bright daylight

 

Of brollies in work bag, and tissues

Of playdates, and Christmas lists, and new goals because we all have that 'new term' feeling

 

 

 

Of new children in class, and missing old ones that left last term.

Of porridge for breakfast. And hot chocolate for bedtime.

 

 

Of packing away the tent for winter.

Of not buying any new flowers from the garden centre until next spring.

Of walks in the rain, and splashy puddles.

 

 

And running into cafes out of the rain.

Of real fires inside. And out.

Of crochet. And crafts. And reading under blankets.

 

 

 

And reading in Kew Gardens hot houses 'to get warm'

And card games. And monopoly marathons. And Mah Jong. And Backgammon. And chess.

 

 

 

And family.

 

What does September mean to you?

 

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A Chiswick Five Mins with… Beverley Ajayi from Toyin’s Kitchen

This regular 'Chiswick Five Mins with' feature lets us meet some of the local folk who together help make up our Chiswick life. The weather may be gloomy, but Chiswick and environs are full of people trying to make our lives a little brighter.

This week we meet Beverley Ajayi, Managing Director at Toyin's Kitchen.

Read on and find out why walking by the river, Chiswick Auction House and cooking help make up Beverley's Chiswick life.



How long have you been in Chiswick I have lived in Chiswick for the last 18 years


Favourite place to unwind here? Walking along Corney Reach by the river is gorgeous


What's your top local tip? Slow down, stop rushing and enjoy what Chiswick has to offer


And what's your hidden gem? Chiswick Auction House


Vacation or staycation? Staycation… I have travelled a lot but it's nice to be able to take in the pleasures that are right under our noses that we often overlook


Tell us about your day job, in a nutshell I am the Managing Director of Toyin's Kitchen


Apart from this, what other hats do you wear? I am the Project Coordinator for the homeless shelter in the London Borough of Hounslow) Called the Shelter Project Hounslow (www.tsph.org)



Is your glass half full or half empty? My glass is always half full to overflowing


Secret talent: Acting


Philosophy on life? My philosophy on life is to be kind to people, don't look down on anyone and never under estimate what anyone can do


And now some questions about cooking:


Best week day supper? Jollof Rice with Chicken Stew

What's always in your kitchen cupboards? Maggi Cubes

Bought lunch or packed lunch? Packed Lunch

Best gadget? My Ikea Garlic Crusher is amazing!

Favourite cookery book? Anything from the Hairy Bikers

Bargain counter or high end deli? High End Deli for great taste



Website: www.toyinskitchen.co.uk

Twitter tag: @toyinskitchen

Facebook: Toyins Kitchen

 

 

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Reflections on summer – what I learnt then, and now

The schools may not go back until next week, but this is my first week back at the day job after a much looked-forward-to and much enjoyed three-week staycation.

So for me it's the end of the summer and a time to reflect on August and what we learnt as a family. Plus a fond lookback on what the long summer holidays meant for me as a child.


Then: An eighties summer

Remember the school holidays when we were young… how they stretched on for miles and miles. We were never the same person in September that we were in the summer term.

Back then summer holidays were a time to grow, to discover, to get over old traumas and live through new ones. To build great dens, read fabulous books and spend hours inside on BBC Micro computers.

My dad had set up the computing department at the secondary school where he taught maths. One of the most exciting bits about summer in the eighties was that he brought home a row of BBC micro computers pre-loaded with Donkey Kong, Packman, Arcadia, Defender, Frogger, Space Invaders and my all time favourite – Chuckie Egg.

 

From Enid Blyton to Broomstick Hockey

So summer holidays were spent divided between playing spies in the garden, devouring Enid Blyton and getting the local kids in to play rounds of cutting edge computer games. Bedtimes were lax or non-existent, the days were long, ice-creams were in abundance.

Back then, six weeks of holidays seemed a lifetime. I set myself projects at the start of each holiday. One summer I decided I would read all the books in the children's section of the local library. In alphabetical order. I can't remember how far I got.

Another year my brother and I decided we'd become experts in hockey – using two broomsticks and a football at the back of our house. I've no idea how we came up with the broomstick plan but be assured that Broomstick Hockey is the best sport I've ever played.

 

 

Becoming a master detective

One year, when I was a lot older and finally allowed into town on my own to shop, I decided I was going to become a private detective. I blame this wholly on the Usbourne Spy's Guidebook. There was a chapter on 'shadowing' and I followed the instructions to the T. I'd go into town, dressed in my long mac, with the collar turned up.

I'd set my sights on a particular person or couple and then trail them for an hour or so. Stopping at the shop windows they stopped at, hovering outside when they went in to buy something. Why this story doesn't end with me being arrested I don't know. Maybe I was a jolly good spy. MI5 I'm still available.

 


Now: A twenty-first century summer

Suffice to say that these days the holidays don't seem to stretch on ad infinitum for me. But I do hope that they seem that way for Chiswick Boy. He's grown taller, and I have no doubt he's grown inside too. As a parent this growing up is bitter sweet. But this is meant to be a happy post, where I look at what we've learnt as a family. So here we go…


What we learnt

 

One: Foraging for fruit is a delight in the urban sprawl.

If you can call Chiswick, Brentford and Kew an urban sprawl. I honestly think it's easier to walk in nature here in London than it ever was when we lived up in West Yorkshire. Trees and green spaces in abundance.

We also love urban-country spaces like this stretch of the motorway that runs above Boston Manor Park. To me it's filled with drama and potential. So with glee I saw it pop up just a few days after our walk on an episode of Humans.

We found sloe berries – not yet ready for gin but give it another week or two, rosehips, elderflower, and blackberries in abundance. Chiswick Boy ate much more than he put in the bag – and that's how blackberry picking should be for kids.

 

 

Two: An enquiring mind is one of the greatest gifts of childhood.

Chiswick Boy unleashed his inner scientist this summer. Out of nowhere he decided he would mix up an experiment – just to see what happened. We were at grams' house for this and he started mixing old wine, mustard, dirty dishwater, lime juice, washing up liquid, a ton of flour – intermittently pouring it between containers, putting it in the fridge and adding bright blue food colouring.

It reminded me of when I was little and had a great microsope kit. My mum had sent my dad into town to buy me a Tiny Tears and he'd come back with the microscope instead. I spent a whole summer roaming the house with the – real – scalpel, cutting up things like slivers of soap so I could observe them.

The idea of letting my son roam with a scalpel these days. I'm like a hawk making sure he doesn't roam around even with a toothbrush in his mouth. But back then in the eighties, it was a different world.

 

Three: Kids have an inbuilt sense for nature and adventure

On one of our beloved pyjama days I put on 'My Side of the Mountain'. This nineteen sixty nine children's classic transfixed me when I watched it as a child.

It's about a boy who runs away from home to live in the woods and observe nature, just as his hero Thoreau did. He makes a home in a hollow tree, does experiments with algae and fishes for his supper.

Chiswick Boy sighed wistfully throughout it – 'I want us to go out and camp like that'. Me – 'well we do go camping, but I'll go and fetch the cool camping book and we'll pick somwhere rugged to go.' Chiswick Boy – 'no, I want to just set off like him, and discover somewhere.'

 

 

Four: Best laid plans and all that

You know that old saying – How do you make God Laugh… tell Him your plans…

I had so many aspirations for this three week staycation – that we'd do amazing craft projects, and go to all the South Ken museums. That we would try all the cafes on Chiswick High Rd, and do lots of swimming.

I was not prepared for how exhausted I would be on the second week and how I would just want to slump around. And because I was intent on doing other stuff I spent so much time feeling guilty rather than just embracing the tiredness and having full on pyjama days every day.

 

Five: Kids are the best lesson in saying 'yes' and conquering your fears

As you may know, if you read my blog regularly, I'm a massive fan of comedy improvisation. It's my passion. It's as close to mindfulness as anything I will do.

When you wait on stage, the most successful improvisors are able to have a truly empty mind – accepting in the moment anything that is 'offered' to them by their fellow performers and reacting to it without preceonceptions. This is a state I strive to be in while performing but rarely manage it.

The improvisors' motto is Listen, Say Yes, Commit. And I think this is an equally good motto for parenting too. To truly listen to our kids – not just their words, but their actions and their body language; To say yes – to mad ideas, silly games, seemingly wasteful use of household products and time; And to commit to being in the moment and spending 'play' time doing that, just playing. And giving our focused, undivided attention.

 

I like to think that I was in this state with Chiswick Boy a lot of the time. I wish that I had relaxed a little more, earlier. And that I had done more of being happy doing less. But I'm really glad to have had this three week staycation.

What was your summer like – and how did it compare to the ones you had as a kid…

 

 

 
 
 

 

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SprinkledMagic cupcakes – review feature

Last month we were sent a box of cupcakes from SprinkledMagic, to review. I know, I know, blogging's a hard life…

To be fair I had had a really dreadful day at the day job, and was feeling pretty haggard when I walked in. There is something instantly uplifting about seeing a neatly packaged box of half a dozen cupcakes waiting on the dining room table. So they came at just the right time.

 

Chiswick business

One thing I love about Sarah, who runs SprinkledMagic, is that she's a local success story. Based in Chiswick she set the business up two years ago to follow her passion of baking – turning it into a bespoke cake business.

She makes big cakes as well as cupcakes and does corporate cakes as well as birthdays, weddings etc. Plus she does tray bakes too. You can choose from some set designs on her website, or ask her to create something bespoke.

 

A little musing on cupcakes

Cupcakes are a strange phenomenon. They've taken the world by storm over the last few years. At work you can barely move for charity cake sales for this or that. At my son's baptism we even forewent the traditional Christening cake and instead had several tiers of cupcakes, baked and iced by my fantastic sister-in-law. [Now knowing how much work goes into making a cupcake, I can't believe we let her do that…]

As for me – I'm happy to knock up fairy cakes for my son's party and ice them in lurid colours, topping them with smarties or skittles or what not. And I'm also happy to do a full novelty cake – although I always need to get Chiswick Daddy to help me out with the icing.

But I haven't got the patience to inject little fillings, or make buttercream and chocolate icing, or make sure that they're baked the right time and don't spill out onto the paper cases.

 

What makes a professional cupake

These days, professionally baked cupcakes have moved into a league of their own. Elevated from food into mini art pieces. Edible ones.

So I think what sets a cupcake apart from a humble fairy or butterfly cake is the time taken to work on the aesthetics. This is definitely one type of food where appearances count even more than taste.

Having said that I have to say that the cupcakes we tried from SprinkledMagic tasted scrumptious too – but more on that later.

 

The qualities of a good cupcake

So it's pretty easy to knock up some fairy cakes at home – albeit a little bit crispy and mishapen in my case – so what is that really sets some pro cakes apart. Taking the SprinkledMagic cakes we were sent to review, I'm going to delve into this most important question. :-]

Ahem, can you tell I'm channeling my inner Mary Berry and the Great British Bake Off which we are watching for the first time this year.

 

The things I'd look for in a bought – ahem, posh – cupcake

Onethey need to look delectable

If you're paying for a baked cupcake it needs to look the bees knees. And it needs to look robust – so that you have something hefty in your hand.

The cakes we reviewed were generously portioned. The frosting had a lovely just-iced look. Creamy and smooth. As you can see from the pix, the toppings were fun and playful, and fresh. There's something really lovely about seeing a fresh plump strawberry on top of an iced cupcake. You can't get that out of a packet with a sell by date.

Two – they need to give you a surprise

Unwrapping a speciality cupcake should be like unwrapping a present. It should be even better when it's unwrapped and have a surprise inside. Just for the record, the surprise should not be that it tastes salty. This happened to me when I thought it was fine to guess and chuck in bicarbonate of soda rather than measure it out.

The red velvet cupcake in particular was stunning when we peeled away the wrapper. Redder than any red cake I've seen before – positively scarlet.

And the buttercream cake had a surprise pocket of cherries in the middle. A lovely find indeed. We had great fun oohing and aahing as we tried them out.

 

Three – they need to be too good to keep

Obviously you might want to order cupcakes for your party. But I think these cakes would also be perfect for these occasions:

  • Bringing to a dinner party – but I'd make it clear that they are a gift for the hostess and not to be eaten with the coffee
  • A lovely birthday gift. The last thing you want to do is turn up unbidded with a large birthday cake – too much of a risk. What if someone else has already sorted it. Or – worse – yours is better than the offficial one. But the cupcakes work if someone has already sorted a main cake. Plus are special enough to count as the main cake if none has been sorted. So risk free either way.

I've seen on Twitter that SprinkledMagic also does bouquets of cakes. Similiar to those bouqets of baby clothes you get, but with cakes instead of socks. That would be a gorgeous Mother's Day or special present.

 

http://www.sprinkledmagic.co.uk/

 

Please note – we were sent a free box of six cupcakes by SprinkledMagic. The words, pictures and rambling thoughts are all our own. You wouldn't want it any other way – and nor would I.

 

 

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Review feature – Kidzania at Westfield London

 

A couple of weeks ago KidZania invited us to come along and visit their recently opened attraction at the Westfield Centre in West London.

Now you may have seen some posters or newspaper reviews about KidZania – and if you're like me you may have been a little confused about what it was all exactly about, or what happens there.

The posters say that kids get to dress up and role play different professions. But I was unsure how it all worked, or how they mannaged to keep the kids – and parents – engaged.

Let me start this review by saying that none of the publicity I've seen does KidZania justice. It absolutely blew us away. Chiswick Boy had an amazingly fun – and educational – time. I don't think I would have visited if I hadn't been invited, so I'm really pleased to share a write up of our day out here.

Suffice to say upfront that it got the thumbs up from us. And if you have at least one child four or over with you, then I definitely recommend it as a last days of summer or back to school treat.

Making the most of your visit

I'm hoping that my review gives a flavour for the magic, but also gives a bit of a practical insight into how it all works.

The bumph says that a child can expect to have four to six different dress-up-and-try experiences in their four hour timed ticket. We managed to do a whopping eight, and still had time to smell the coffee, so I hope our top tips on how to navigate are helpful…you'll find these in the last part of my review, below.

 

Our Kidzania experience – in ten steps

ONE Arrival

Arriving at KidZania is set up like an Airline departure. So after several escalators, which add to the mounting excitement if you have a massive escalator fan like my son, you arrive at a check in desk.

 

 

TWO Electronic bracelet

You get a map, and everyone is fitted with an electronic bracelet. This bracelet is key to the experience. It allows children to roam free, checking in and out of activities, and helps parents to keep track of where their children are, by scanning their own bracelets at information points scattered around the attraction.

No child can leave KidZania or have their bracelet removed, without being with the adult whose bracelet registers them as being connected to that child.

 

THREE Timing is everything

Tickets at KidZania are timed. You get four hours to enjoy the activities inside. After this you can still visit the restaurants and wander around, but your child won't be able to scan into any activities.

If you buy an advance ticket, you mustn't be late or you'll eat into your slot.

When we were there the attraction wasn't overcrowded, and there was no tiresome queuing for individual activities beyond waiting for the currrent set of children to finish their go, and the next one to start. I'm assuming this is down to the timed approach. It's a refreshing antidote to the endless queuing that you do at Legoland etc.

FOUR It's all about the money

Each child gets a stack of KidZania money on entry – a bit like Monopoly money. Again, this is a core part of how KidZania works. It took us a little while to understand what to do with it – but all you need to know is that some activities 'pay' kids Kidzania money to do them. While some 'charge' them.

If you have spare KidZania money at the end your beloved child can visit the toy shop and buy something. We didn't make any effort to collect KidZania money, but at the end Chiswick Boy had enough to visit the shop and buy a medium sized rubber dinosaur.

Shopping was an experience in itself – with the assistant greeting Chiswick Boy as 'sir' and asking him seriously if she could help him.

We didn't get round to this, but your child can also set up a mock bank account while they are there and even get a debit card to use to pay for activities.

 

FIVE A whole new world

As soon as we passed through check in, into KidZania itself, I finally understood the scale of the attraction. It made all of us gasp.

'We're outside,' Chiswick Boy squealed. And it did seem that way. We had entered what looked like a real street in a real town – with street lights, shops, a theatre, a fire station, midwifery unit, restaurants.. and more stretching in all directions.

These ARE the attractions – because when you visit your child will be going into the places they choose, scanning their bracelet, dressing up appropriately and getting a fifteen to forty five minute lesson in how to do that job using true to life role play.

 

 

SIX Life on the beat

The first thing Chiswick Boy wanted to do was be a policeman. And it didn't take us long to find the police station. There were two different police activitites to choose from – one to be a policeman on the beat, and one to do forensic investigation.

It's all really organised – and for parents and caregivers, here's the low down on how the activities work:

Each 'building' or 'shop' has a sign on the door that explains in a consistent way:

  • Age range for the activity – most are four to fourteen
  • Number of children who can take part in any one time – usually around eight
  • How long it lasts for – most were fifteen minutes although some, like the theatre classes, were forty five minutes.
  • Whether you get paid

    KidZania

    money for the activity. Or whether you pay KidZania money.

 

 

SEVEN Loosening the cord

I mentioned the electronic bracelets that all visitors – kids and adults alike – wear.

Just to recap – there are interactive displays dotted around. As a parent or caregiver you scan your bracelet, see where your child was last scanned into an activity. You can also leave a message for your child that they will get when they next scan into an activity. And again – no child can leave KidZania without scanning out with someone who's registered as looking after them, in their party.

If you have more than one child in your group than this is a great place for kids to spread their wings and have freedom – dashing from activity to activity togther.

We let Chiswick Boy have a bit of free rein for a short amount of time – but he was always within sight. It wouldn't have been fun for him being off and about on his own but if he has a friend with him the next time then we will definitely give them the chance to roam free.

EIGHT Diving straight in

I also mentioned above that the leaflet says you can expect to fit four to six activities into your four hour slot. But we did eight – and no, we didn't run around with a list or plan. I think we managed to fit so many in by not using up play time to get food.

The leaflet suggests that you walk round first and work out what you want to do – but I say just dive in to the things that your child wants to do, as and when they see them. While they are in an activity you can always scout out other options.

It's surprising what's fun – yes, the anatomy class at the 'university' was educational. But one of the most fun things was when Chiswick Boy was a courier, entrusted with a list of things to pick up and deliver from different locations throughout KidZania. In fact I was queueing up for a coffee when I heard a cheery 'hello mummy' and there was my son, sitting on a delivery trolley cooly being pushed around by another kid with a clipboard.

If you're someone that has a bit of trouble loosening the cord – see point seven above – then Kidzania is as much about parents stretching their boundaries as it is kids…

 

NINE Impressed by staff

Adults aren't allowed further than the door of each activity. But each one activity an adult leader that takes the group of children. Adults can observe through glass windows and from what I could see, all the leaders seemed engaged and knowledgable. Chiswick Boy came out buzzing from each activity, with some new bit of knowledge.

There is a Disney-esque vibe in that every so often a KidZania theme tune comes out of the speakers across the site, and all the available staff come out of their shops etc and dance and sing along to the theme tune. It's certainly an infectious atmopshere.

 

TEN Know thy stuff

Things you may want to know before you go:

Wear closed shoes or trainers – we had some tears when Chiswick Boy couldn't go on the climbing wall because he was wearing sandals.

There is a section for younger children, but I'd say you really need to have at least one child of four or up to really enjoy KidZania.

Check out the theatre when you get there – these activities are longer, up to forty five minutes. So it makes sense to choose whether you want to do magic, say, or dance – and work out what time that activity starts that day.

If it all gets too much, and you're relaxed about giving your kids free rein, there is an adults only lounge. With coffee, beer etc on sale. And spaces to lie down and snooze, while charging iphones etc. There were a few dads in there sleeping when we visited…

 

Everything that Chiswick Boy did

  • Policeman on beat.
  • Fireman – this was amazing, with a real hotel on fire to put out with hoses, and a firetruck with sirens.
  • Courier.
  • Magic class at theatre – with live performance the parents could then watch. Very sweet.
  • Air pilot training.
  • University anatomy class.
  • Dentist.
  • Making ice-cream

 

In summary

Best thing: It's utterly devoted to the kids and their enjoyment – making it unique in days out.

Could anything be improved: More information upfront so you know how it all works before you go. But then again, I could have read the website first. I hope this review helps you have a bit of advance knowledge so you can pack more into your time.

I do think a longer time slot would be good – giving time to have a spot of lunch and then go back to activities. It's a pricey visit – twenty eight pounds for adults, and sixteen pounds fifty for kids. You definitely don't want to use your time up grabbing food.

The litmus test – would I go as a paying customer: Yes. We had a great time and I would definitely take Chiswick Boy back. I'd like to take him with a friend the next time so they can have free rein. It would make a great special play date, or a birthday treat. I'd like to visit with my mum too, as it would be such a nice grandparent day out.

https://uk.westfield.com/london

Please note – we were given three free tickets to KidZania to try the experience. The thoughts are entirely ours – you wouldn't want it any other way, and nor would I.

 

 

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Wicked Uncle toy website – review

 

I'll be honest – when I started blogging back in two thousand and twelve, getting things to review was the last thing on my mind. I had no idea that, in time, companies would start sending me products and invites to events.

Being honest again, this has turned out to be a lovely side bonus of writing a blog – and one that I never take for granted. Because of brands and PR companies, my family has got to experience a range of stuff that we wouldn't have otherwise. And to think that I've provided that for my family makes me feel really proud. And I'm really honoured that people actually read my blog. I've had some really lovely emails from readers and it still blows me away that people actually come and read me.

If my reviews can help other mums and families find good companies, events and things to do, then I'm happy.

I have been told that I can be a bit over enthusastic in my blog reviews – 'gushing over fairy lights' was how one pal who inadvertently found out my secret blog drolly described it… the thing is I do tend to get over excited and happy about fun stuff. I'm always authentic and what I write is genuinely what I feel. But I will try and make a more conscious effort to rack my brains for ways to be more constructively critical of firms I review. But I'm never a swap for expert advice or opinion.

Oh and I do ramble. As you can see, this is supposed to be a review of the Wicked Uncle website. So let's get on to the matter in hand… come on Chiswick Mum, time to focus :-o

 

Wicked Uncle – a website for children's gifts

I had vaguely heard of Wicked Uncle before. Once you know it's a toy ordering website then the concept of the title is clear – if you use this website you'll be the wicked uncle who gets the present right each time

I was sent a forty pound voucher code to use on the site. So I thought it was a lovely opportunity to set Chiswick Boy loose on the site with me and pick whatever he wanted. He was like, er, a kid in a toy shop.

The layout of the site is all geared towards that uncle, or aunt, or godmother, friend, granny, who is buying a gift for a child and hasn't a clue what kids that age like.

The site's really easy to navigate – designed to get you in and out of the site easily and quickly, with your purchase. You can add gift wrapping and a card at checkout, for an extra charge. So perfect for relatives who want to order and run, relieved – job done for another year. Or at least until Christmas.

 

Arranged by age

The left hand menu has buttons for each different age. One nice touch is that there's a crossover between age groups – toys have been grouped according to what ages are likely to enjoy playing with them, rather than just the ages on the box.

What I mean by that is that we went into the seven year old section – and browsed for a bit. Then I thought I'd go into the six year old and eight year old sections too, to see what toys were in there. But I realised that this work had already been done for me, and that the seven year old toys already contained toys from other age groups.

This is excellent – it means you can just go into the age you want and they've already selected age appropriate toys from other ranges. Again, perfect for the well-meaning but clueless uncle or aunt who is bewildered by everything that says 'three and up' when choosing for an eight year old.

 

Pink versus blue

The only bug bear I have – and I'm not even sure if it's a bug bear – is that the toys are also grouped into girl and boy. So if you go onto the boys aged seven it's all trucks and space exploration. And for the girls it's pretty jewellery and fashion making – although there is a rapid foam fire popper on the girls section too. To be fair, this isn't based on my scientific analysis, just a quick glance.

My main worry with this is that there are lots of 'pretty' toys that I know my son would love – and the girl-boy distinctions in so many toy shops do send messages that somehow boys should be more interested in dinosaurs than dolls. And of course the reality is that therefore this is where boys' attention wanders… I do think there is both nature and nuture in the toys children choose.

I know that when a frantic uncle or aunt would is choosing the right toy for their nephew-niece, that the gender distinctions help them select something they can be positive is a winner.

But I also know my son loves colouring, crafts and playing with little figures.

So I think that I'd like to see more crossover in the toys on the girl and boy sites, or a gender neutral section.

 

Noisy, light throwing and much loved

Now onto the product we chose.

I let Chiswick Boy choose his own toy and – after steering him away from the lower priced stuff, thinking that it's better to get one big toy than lots of little bits and bobs, he chose a UFO shaped nightlight that projects multicoloured Northern Lights effects onto the ceiling.

When it arrived in the post I was pretty impressed at the packaging. It was really well packaged – and had Wicked Uncle tape around it. So it instantly looked like an exciting parcel.

A lovely touch inside was a quirky 'thank you' postcard for the recipient to send to the person who had given the gift. I thought that was a witty touch – and a guarantee that the giver might actually get a thank you card. If you're like us, the intention of giving a lovely thank you card is always there, but is rarely followed up with action. And the guilt resonates every time you look at the darn toy for the rest of the year.

 

Dreamy viewing

To be hones, the toy itself seemed expensive for its price of forty pounds. I think thirty pounds would have been nearer the mark. don't think it's as amazing as I expected from the write up on the site.

But cost aside, in its own right it's a lovely thing. And Chiswick Boy is delighted with it – which is the main thing you want from a present anyway.

And I should say that the lights that it throws on the ceiling are gorgeous. Chiswick Boy and I have taken to lying in bed and just watching them on the ceiling. Ahem, I've even turned them on when I'm on my own. A great function is that it turns itself off after a while, so it's perfect for getting kids to sleep. I think for a younger child it could be really soothing too.

I'd have liked more sounds – there are three to choose from. A spacehsip sound that is vey unbearably discordant – of course Chiswick Boy loves it. One is a twinkly noise. And then there's a little otherworldly melody. Ideally I'd have liked longer of the melody before it repeats.

When you turn the sound off you can still have the lights – but they do make an electric type whirr which is a shame. You can also choose to have lights spin around the console itself.

 

Wicked Uncle – thumbs up

 

But this is a review about the Wicked Uncle website itself – and the site definitely gets the thumbs up. I think it's a great resource when you want to buy a gift for a child and aren't quite sure what they would like, or what they are into.

I'd trust the judgement of the toy choosers. And we'd have been happy getting anything from the seven year old site as a gift from a wicked uncle or even an evil stepmother.

 

In brief

 

Best things

The quirky card that you get to send to the person who sent the gift.

Toys chosen for what that age child will enjoy, not just the age that's on the packet. So our lamp was for age four plus, and much enjoyed by a seven year old.

 

Anything they could do better

See more crossover between the toys selected for girls and for boys – as mentioned above.

 

The Litmus test – would I use Wicked Uncle again, as a paying customer

Yes definitely. In fact I will probably use this when buying for my two year old nephew. And if Wicked Uncle do a sale then I'll stock up for my present drawer, for the never ending round of kids parties.

Here's a direct link to the toy we chose: http://www.wickeduncle.co.uk/childrens-presents/cosmic-ufo-nightlight

 

Please note – I was given a forty pound voucher by Wicked Uncle, for the purposes of choosing something from their site to review. But the views here are totally my own – I know you wouldn't want it any other way, and nor would I.

 

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Four big things I learnt last week – and six little ones.

One: I want to keep the fun with blogging and remember why I started this blog – to capture the small family moments that make up a life and capture the best things that make up living in Chiswick and London.

Recently I've been stressing about 'big' blog posts, keeping up with regular content and needing to create a proper blogging schedule. I've needed to remind myself not to lose sight of my original vision – to celebrate everyday family life on the leafy edge of the big smoke, as I call it in my bio, and to have a space to be authentic.

Having said that, I do have a big backlog of review features to write; plus a backlog of Chiswick Five Mins profile pieces to write. — I really love the Chiswick five min slots on my blog – interviews with local folk who make this such a fun and inspiring place to live.


Two: When it comes to great weekends, sometimes simple fun is the best. I know we all know this, but sometimes I just need reminding that I don't have to make the most of every second of the weekend, and don't need to fill it with crafts and day trips and curated happy family times.

Chiswick Boy spent hours running around the house with my digital camera last weekend, taking delight in photographing portraits of me, his pictures, er, the back of the loo.

He's used to taking photos via my phone and ipad, but for some reason the idea of an actual camera has tickled him. I don't get the camera out very often, hence its being all new to him. It took him a while to get over the fact that — shock, horror — it didn't have a touch screen. I'm struggling to understand a world where even a digital camera seems archaic and quaint to a seven year old.

But this new passion for photography in our house is also a great reminder to take more photographs. I've recently joined Instagram – so a perfect opportunity to get clicking more. I'm loving connecting with creative, quirky and very talented women on Instagram – this week I've been oohing and aahing over mystery craft boxes and acrylic jewellery.

 

Three: I'm an anxious person, and I've finally come to the realisation that I'm always going to be that way. I'm always going to have the five year plan, the three year plan, the routines and the to-do lists. I'm a sucker for a new organisational tool, app or book…Hmm… not sure if this is a plus side or not.

In my relationship it's definitely Chiswick Daddy who takes the chilled out, nothing matters in the grand scheme of things, role. I'm the one with about four hundred different goals in sight at any one given time – although again, my blog is meant to be a reminder to me to slow down and enjoy the glorious imperfection of the here and now, as a family.

 

Four: Tidying is a bit addictive. And quite frankly it's an addiction I could well do with. Let's just say that keeping a tidy house is not something I've mastered. Fly Lady, Home Routines App, My own sticker charts – I've tried all the systems. But have always spent more time getting stressed about mastering the systems than actually tidying up – see point three above.

But after blitzing the sitting room a couple of weekends aao, so that the piano teacher could come, I've been vigilant for anny bit of clutter lurking on the sofa or carpet. Please God, long may it last.

P.S. The piano teacher was David George from Notting Hill School of Rock – er, not in Notting Hill and not just rock. David kindly let me sit in on a trial lesson so that I could get tips for continuing to teach my son piano myself. See my interview with David on my blog soon. Er, hopefully soon – see point one above.

 

And here's six little bite-sized things I learnt

One – You can survive without question marks, exclamation marks, numbers, at signs and hashtags on your keyboard. I learnt that when I spilt a glass of beer over my keyboard last week. It's taken a bit of getting used to, and my emails and blog posts didn't seem as strange without question marks and apostrophes as I thought they would. It's just a question of where you put your emphasis in your sentence. Wouldn't you agree.

Two – No matter how much I play skylanders I am always going to feel that I am following Chiswick Boy around aimlessly and rather stupidly despite his encouraging comments and tips.

ThreeSquirrels will try and get into catflaps but aren't strong enough to push them open. I'm trying not to think of foxes.

Four – Somebody threw a Lucozade bottle over the fence and it landed in Chiswick Boy's paddling pool. Chiswick Boy was shocked, as most children would be. So I realised there's a point where some people stop being shocked at this kind of thing and become the kind of person who does it.

Five – Watering plants is a great lesson in action, reaction. When I remember to water them they flourish. When I leave them a day they wilt. This is similiar to my tidying situation – when I do a bit each day the table stays free of clutter. When I leave it, it becomes hard to tackle it at all. And also my sleep situation. When I get enough, my batteries recharge. When I don't, they fizz and plop.

Six – My son is immensely funny and entertaining. And weekends just doing nothing and being as a family really help boost this creative humour. Which make me realise that time spent doing 'nothing' isn't doing nothing at all – kids are always learning, developing, growing. Which I suppose is quite a big thing to learn and not a little thing at all.


What did you learn last week…

 

 

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A Chiswick Five Mins with… Booktime Babies

These features are the favourite thing about my blog. I love hearing about what makes people tick – their routines, their passions and their daily life.

 

We have so many interesting local folk in Chiswick and environs. So it's an absolute pleasure to delve into their lives in this weekly series. This week we meet Wendy from Booktime Babies.

 

Read on and find out why blossom, Chiswick Library and nights in help make up Wendy's Chiswick life

 

 

Name: Wendy Watkins

Business: BooktimeBabies

 

How long have you been in Chiswick? 11 months

 

Favourite place to unwind here? Anywhere along the river; I find water so calming

 

Top local tip? The Deli on Fauconberg Road serves amazing coffee

 

And what's your hidden gem? Not found one yet…but constantly exploring

 

Favourite signs of spring in Chiswick? The blossom in the gardens at Chiswick House

 

Describe Chiswick in a nutshell: A friendly and welcoming community with a great mix of creative people

 

Apart from Booktime Babies, what other hats do you wear? Mum of two and Secondary English Teacher in state schools

 

 

Is your glass half full or half empty? Always full (well mostly…)

Night in or night out: Night in…quiet time is precious at the mo with two children under 2 and half

Secret talent: I've just learnt to quilt, with the help of Badger and Earl

Philosophy on life? If you are worried/scared about doing something, you have to do it and conquer

 

And now a few questions about books & babies!

 

Favourite childhood book: Mrs Pepperpot

Favourite current kids author or illustrator: Julia Donaldson: absolute genius!

Best messy play activity: flour and water: easy, cheap and entertains for ages

Favourite trick to entertain a crying baby: Turn up the radio and dance with them

Library or bookshop: Since being in Chiswick, the library. We love reading and playing in the children's area

 

Booktime Babies info

 

Website: www.booktimebabies.co.uk

Twitter tag: @booktimebabies

Facebook: booktimebabies.co.uk

 

Want to be featured in this section… drop me a line at chiswick_mum at yahoo.co.uk

 

 

 

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That was my Chiswick weekend that was

So I'm meant to be doing these updates every week, to capture the small moments that make up a family weekend. Over the last few months I've had a pattern of not getting them done in time to publish on Monday, then I've gaffed for another few days until it's seemed so late that I may as well wait until the following weekend.

As part of my striving to realise that I can't obtain perfection, I've decided that it's better to post a weekly update on a Thursday than not to post at all. And so here we are…my very late Chiswick weekend that was, in all its imperfect glory.

One Chiswick coffee catch up

On Friday I had coffee, separately, with two local Chiswick folk. The two people were quite different from each other, but both had one thing in common – a complete and all-encompassing passion for their business.

Passion is infectious. And it got me thinking that the important thing in life is to have thatpassion. Whether it's for knitting, or economics, or teaching, or kiddie crafts… just something that makes you get up in the morning and say 'yes'.


We’ll always have Paris

Most of my blog features about local folks tend to be done as emailed questions and answers. But meeting people face to face is great too… and Friday was a gorgeous day to be out on Chiswick High Rd, lapping up the cafe culture that Chiswick does so well, with its wide boulevard style streets.

On days like this I sometimes pretend I'm in Paris.

So it's quite fitting that the first person I met was French entrepreneur Marie-Anne. Together with her husband she's the brains behind Pyjama Breakfast – a local home cooked breakfast delivery service. Sitting outside Gail's, sipping coffee, listening to Marie-Anne speak lovingly but practically about home made jam, crepes and good quality bacon was a great treat. And Pyjama Breakfast is such a great idea – expect a write up of our chat, and a review, in a later blog feature.


Dough a deer

Then I went off to meet Chris from Doughlight Creations, sitting outside at the Kitchen Pantry. I know – two coffee shops in one morning. It did feel very decadent.

I met Chris at the Kew Fete the other week, and was charmed by his clay models and the clay he uses – it air dries to an unbelievably light model. I'd bought a tub in bright colours at the fete as part of the Father's Day present, but disappointingly dropped it somewhere en route to home…

Chris gave me a bit of a modelling demo, and shared his story about how he got into teaching clay modelling and stop gap animation to kids. Plus he very kindly and sweetly gave me a tub of clay to replace the one I losts. More on Chris and his fabulous clay in a future blog feature too.

 

Two and Three: Sunshine and art

Picking up Chiswick Boy in the sunshine from school is an absolute delight. I can only do this on Fridays as I work condensed hours at my day job – long days Monday to Thursday for the delight of a day 'off' on Fridays.

I love speaking to the teacher to find out how his day has been, and watching him bound out of the classroom to give me a kiss. Chiswick Boy is seven now and still loves his kisses and cuddles – although I do wonder how long this will last. While I don't want to be maudlin about it, it's clear that he's now wavering between still being my baby and being a big boy… but it's a slow process and this helps mothers I think, as we ease out the apron strings slowly.

After school we love nothing more on a sunny day then to head back to our garden – after the obligatory stop at the ice cream van parked outside the school. We've recently indulged in sun loungers and they are worth every penny. Nothing can beat the sheer relaxation of lying back in the garden.

Chiswick Boy calls his his Hobby Chair… because he can lie back in it and do his hobbies – his drawing, designing games etc. But I call mine the Cloud Watcher – as I love to recline it all the way back and watch the clouds drifting along, accompanied by the regular drone of planes from Heathrow. We were lucky enough to see a cloud rainbow at the weekend – there is probably a technical term for this but I can't be bothered to go off and google it.

After drinks, snacks and recharged batteries we love to get stuck into some artwork. As anyone who's visited Pinterest will know – melted crayon art is one of the hot crafts doing the round and I've wanted to do some with Chiswick Boy for ages. It's the easiest thing in the world – stick your crayons onto canvas and then blast them with a hairdryer. In seconds they're melting.

We also decided to do a bit of Jackson Pollock emulation. First of all we watched some youtube videos of Mr Pollock in his studio, then we set to work. We laid out four canvasses on the table, poured a selection of acrylics into containers and had some very satisfying time, loading up paintbrushes and flicking them onto the canvasses.

The set of four canvasses is now hanging on our wall alongside the crayon art and I'm pretty thrilled with them all.

 

Four: Crocodile Smile

Chiswick Daddy also made this amazing crocodile headpiece for Chiswick Boy over the weekend. He took an old kid's police helmet, and then stuck long egg cartons on to make the long mouth. He then covered the whole thing with lots of masking tape layers, to make a great textured surface for painting.

The inside bits of egg cartons also make great teeth, which were painted bright white and stuck on.

Finally, when all the paint was dry, Chiswick Daddy painted eyes onto card and stuck them on.

I was really impressed with this bit of crafting daring-do. And so was Chiswick Boy.


Five and Six: Bloggers Day Out at Ripley's Believe it or Not

One of the nicest things about this blogging adventure is that sometimes I get invited to go out and try family attractions. It's great on two levels. Firstly, it encourages me to get out and about and try London stuff. Otherwise I'm so in love with my garden and Chiswick that I'd never leave them otherwise. And secondly I get to share these places on my blog and with you

On Sunday we were invited to Ripley's Believe it or Not. This probably isn't a place that we would have visited otherwise – and believe it or not we had a great time. The highlight was definitely the maze of mirrors. More on that and the rest of our visit a review on my blog later.

As part of this blogger day we were also invited to lunch at Bubba Gump. Did you know there was a Forrest Gump themed restaurant in London… no me neither. But there is… imagine how happy you would be if yu were a massive Forrest Gump fan. I'm holding out for the Breakfast at Tiffany's breakfast restaurant… maybe it exists somewhere in the world…But we had a lovely lunch and more on that at a later date on my blog too.

 

From central London to Ancient Egypt

After that Chiswick Daddy had to go into work, but I stayed in town with Chiswick Boy and met up with an old friend – an ex if I'm honest, from before Chiswick Daddy. But we're all great pals.

We took Chiswick Boy to the British Museum. He's mad on Egyptian mummies and we haven't taken him before, so a visit was well overdue. I wasn't sure how long his attention span would be, but he was massively engaged. He lapped it all up, excitedly asking questions and rushing to exhibit after exhibit.

It turns out my ex has become a big ancient history buff – he's an artist so works from home and claims he's got it all from talking books and podcasts. Chiswick Daddy is a great history buff too so I'm looking forward to going back with him. I felt a bitt guilty that Chiswick Boy was enjoying all this with me and my ex, and that it wasn't his dad showing him around and impressively answering his questions. But what can you do – as working-outside-the-home parents it's hard to enjoy everything together.

But we'll definitely be back to the British Museum together. We did two sections of the museum and I reckon that is just enough for a seven year old boy. So there are plenty of visits left to go to.

 

Stamping off

I was trying to have a no nonessential spending month. … but I fell by the wayside this weekend. And one of those moments was at the rubber stamp shop near to the British Museum on Bury Place. If you're at all interested in crafts then this has to be on your must-visit list.

This small shop holds every conceivable type of stamp and we had great fun choosing a stamp each. Chiswick Boy chose a skull and crossbones, and for me he chose a dolphin – 'your favourite animal, mummy' he said, pointing excitedly. We also bought a multicoloured inkpad for rainbow-hued stamping fun.


Seven: Missed the boat

I've also been a bit wistful lately for when we lived on that boat, nestled by Kew Bridge. Every time I look at the river near Strand on the Green, or walk over to Kew Gardens, I feel the river calling to me.

I wonder whether it's time again to think about buying a boat. At the very least a small boat to go up and down the Thames on. I've been wistfully looking at those little rowing boats tied into the mud on the Strand. After all, as Ratty famously said to Mole – 'Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolute nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing…'

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A Chiswick 5 Mins with… the editor of City Kids magazine

Hurrah – it's another Chiswick 5 mins interview. My regular catch up with the lovely folk who make up our local life.

This time, under the microscope it's Victoria Evans, editor of City Kids Magazine.

Read on and find out why walking by the river, Sunday lunch and garden time help make up Victoria's West London life.

 

Name: Victoria Evans

 

Day job: Editor, City Kids Magazine

 

 

How long have you been in West London?

 

We moved here in 2006 shortly before my daughter was born. The house was a wreck and the paint was still wet when she arrived 10 days early. They finished off around us while I was in a breastfeeding haze!

 

 

Favourite place to unwind here?

 

I’m not very good at unwinding, but I love walking by the river.

 


What's your top local tip?

 

Charlotte’s Bistro for Sunday lunch. Slightly extravagant, but it has never been a disappointment.

 


And what's your hidden gem?

 

This is a more of a “who is your hidden gem”. Reza at Optimal Spine is my go-to man for some proper massage. I see it as a luxury so I don’t go as often as I should. But, if you have a zillion knots in your shoulders and back like I do, he works miracles.

 


Vacation or staycation?


Vacation as I love the sun, sucking up different cultures, and different food. But we’ve discovered the Isle of Wight in the last couple of years. In terms of staycation, it’s hard to beat.

 

 

If you weren't here, where would you be?

 

Somewhere with a beautiful view, mountains or sea…

 

 

Tell us what your business is about, in a nutshell?

 

City Kids Magazine is literally about providing local parents with a go-to guide to classes in the local area and events and activities across London.

 

It came about as I used to spend hours trawling through magazines and websites trying to find things to do with the kids, and never really getting anywhere. I wanted to produce a concise, comprehensive guide that was relevant to me – I’m not interested in after school clubs in Hampstead, for example.

 

But while I may want to stay local during the week, at weekends, London has so much to offer – we like to go and investigate. Feedback from readers has been amazing and I’m so grateful to everyone who has contributed their time and energy in the last year.

 

 

Kids – screen time or garden time?

Garden time, but as our garden is the size of a postage stamp, park time or pool time. Screen time is monitored in our household as the kids would spend all day watching or playing if they were left to their own devices (no pun intended!).

 

 

Apart from your business, what other hats do you wear?

 

Mum, wife, cook, housekeeper, accountant, rule-maker, rule-breaker, diplomat, chief organiser and worrier. Recently also plumber.

 

 

What's on your bedside table?

A lamp, a glass of water, a book I intend to read, and my notebook. Ideas come at the strangest times.

 

 

Is there a book in your bag?

 

Well if you count a diary – very old school.

 

 

Is your glass half full or half empty?

 

Half full.

 


Secret talent:

 

Not sure I have one, but many moons ago I was quite a handy lacrosse goalkeeper! Not a lot of people know that.

 

 

Philosophy on life?

 

Get on with it!

 

 

House clean or house dirty?

 

Definitely, house clean, but a bit messy, particularly at deadline time.

 

 

 

http://citykidsonline.co.uk/

 

https://twitter.com/citykidswest

 

https://www.facebook.com/CITYKIDSWEST

 

Want to be featured in a Chiswick 5 Mins interview… or know someone who should be… drop me a line at chiswick_mum at yahoo.co.uk

 

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