Valentine’s Day in Chiswick with kids – the 5 top things

Ah Valentine's Day.

You sit opposite your beloved, candle light reflecting gently off your carefully brushed hair. A glass of something warm (or ice cold) in hand. A gentle shout of 'Mummmmeeeeeee, are there any more chips? Can I have the ipad yet? Can I have a sip of your coke?'

Yes, if you're anything like me there is no romantic dinner on Valentine's Day. It's Sunday, and a family day.

But it doesn't mean it can't be special. I've picked out my 5 favourite things that you can do this Valentine's Day in Chiswick and nearby. Things you can do with your partner AND your kids. After all – family is the biggest love of your life!


1. Go and see the Magical Lantern display at Chiswick House

Bit pricey, but looks amazing. And such a wonderful thing to do in the long dark evenings.

From 5pm to 8:45pm, entry every 15 the time of writing the ticket site seemed to be down, but I've contacted them and hopefully it will be up again soon.


2. Go and see the Camilla show at Chiswick House

This one's free. And you can combine it with a cup of tea and then a play in the sandpit and on the swings.



3. Go and see a family theatre show at the Watermans

Curious Creatures, 50mins, £7 a ticket. Starts at 3pm


4. Catch a cheap kids film

I'm considering Hotel Transylvania 2 at the Richmond Odeon. Starts at 10am, and tickets are a bargainous £2.50 each.

Drinks in the cinema are pricey (and fizzy), so stock up on what we call an M&S picnic on the way – crisps, buns and Percy Pig sweets.

You can get a decent cappuccino in the cinema, in the coffee shop. Take it in with you and enjoy the film!


5. Visit the London Water & Steam Museum

Okay, so Valentine's Day with kids about isn't going to get too steamy. Unless you visit the Water & Steam Museum that is. Although actually there won't be any steam this weekend as they have a technical fault.

It's still a good day out though – I particularly love the sewage exhibition. What could be more romantic than learning about all the poo that clogs up our sewers? You know the kids will love it!

A bit pricey, but pay a couple of quid more and you can turn your ticket into an annual ticket. So that's the option to go for. That's around £15 per adult and £9 per child.


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Job interviews – setting yourself up for rejection or a chance to shine?

I had a job interview for an internal promotion last week.

Job interviews are a funny thing. All the career websites and women's magazines (not that I read that many of the latter these days) are filled with the same advice:

  • Be confident
  • Know that you're interviewing the panel as much as they're interviewing you
  • It's not a test of your abilities – it's just a chance for them to see if you're a good fit for the role
  • Enjoy it and be yourself


But really we can't help that voice inside ourselves which says that a job interview is:


  • A test of my worth
  • A chance to feel utter failure and rejection if I'm not picked
  • In fact it's a little bit like standing in the playground waiting to be picked for netball sides. As the line of people grows smaller and smaller you're praying 'please don't let me be last again….'
  • A chance to feel judged not just on work experience, but on your wardrobe choices, your hands (should have replaced that nail polish) and your life choices (shouldn't I have got a promotion by now? What have I been doing all these years… oh yeah, raising kids.)



Work / life balance and the modern working woman


One of the things for me is that I want to have my cake and eat it. I want the promotion, but I don't want to sell my soul or trade in my work/life balance.


But is that having your cake and eating it? Or is it just the minimum you should expect in the 21st century?


What I value most about my current job is that I can work condensed hours – which essentially means that I work a full working week in just four days.


This means that although I have longer days, and get home later than I like, I get a whole precious Friday at home to do the school drop off, pick up and then fill the hours in between with blogging, writing that novel, and pretending to tidy the house.

During school holidays it means that I get that whole day to hang out with Chiswick Boy and have adventures in London.



Does work / life balance really exist?


But is there really such a thing as perfect work/life balance? Or are we as mothers always destined to feel that we're running from one role to another and not really giving 100% to each?


These days we're exposed to social media and are meant to achieve so much – that Pinterest-perfect birthday party, that Instagram-ready living room, that Facebook-ready dinner party with friends. (Friends – yes friends. Remember friends? That thing that went hand in hand with social life and expendable income, both fossils from the pre-kids era.)




Have we escaped our gender roles? And should we?


Currently I am the main breadwinner and I'm ambivalent about how this makes me feel. In many ways on paper I know I have the easier job. My partner works part time and Monday-Thursday gets our son and me out of the house in time! (I move slowly in the morning, and Chiswick Daddy has to prise me out of bed with coffee).


Chiswick Daddy gets Chiswick Boy to school. Sometimes even on time haha. (We don't do time keeping very well although it's on the new year's resolution each year.)

After supper beatle drive


Chiswick Daddy gets a gorgeous home made supper on the table every evening, and we sit around together and talk about our days (eating together is really important to us, even thought this means Chiswick Boy goes to bed later than many parents would consider responsible!).


I also know that when I go to work I get to use my brain, and have a life outside the family – all the things I missed when I stayed at home with Chiswick Boy for his first three years.


But goddammit I miss being at home for all the half terms and holidays. I miss doing the school drop every morning, and the chance to make proper friends with the other mothers.

Not pinterest-ready


I miss being able to blog about how tired I am, or frustrated I am, or how I have my child demanding my attention 24/7.


Not Pinterest-ready crafting

Because I can't miss those things, because I am at work most of the time. And so instead I gobble down all the time I can, greedily packing crafting and day trips and ample PJ matinee time into our days…

And in between that squeezing my blog time in, feeling guilty that I'm a 'parenting' blogger without being there 24/7.

Yet I know my generous flexible working package allows me to have much more time at home than if I had to work standard hours. And I know that if I worked in the City instead of the public sector that I'd be putting in silly hours way beyond dinner time, like many of my fellow parenting bloggers.

So what do you think? Do we need to do even more to create work/life balance for working parents? And if so, whose responsibility is it? Employers? Government? Or our own? And what are the solutions?


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Having fun on a London winter weekend – from PJ disco to feeding the ducks

We'd decided in advance that Saturday was going to be a pyjama day, and that Chiswick Boy and I would spend our day on the sofa taking it in turn to choose dvds.

Well the best laid plans never work out, because we got through one and a half films before realising that we both wanted to get out into the fresh air.

(The films were Kung Fu Panda on dvd, for the 20th time, and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull for the first time).


An oasis in the big smoke

I'm really lucky because we live in a really beautiful spot. I wish I could write more about exactly where we live, but it would be hard to be more specific without narrowing it down to the actual house we live in. And that's probably not a good idea, right?

We're so lucky that I think we really have got the best of both worlds – I can honestly believe we live in the middle of the countryside some days. (Okay, forget the shadow of the M4 which is the backdrop to most of West London life. Oh and the aeroplanes. How could I forget the aeroplanes). But then we have all the amazing cafe and street life.

And the buses. I only have to see a red bus going somewhere towards town and I instantly feel better. I may not go into town much these days. But the fact that I could just jump on a bus and head that way makes me feel connected!

This is probably a kickback to when I lived in West Yorkshire for the first three years of Chiswick Boy's life. I don't drive, and the isolation of not being able to get anywhere much off my own back really took its toll.


Kicking a ball – the best toy in the world

What I love about being outdoors is that this is about as high tech a toy as you need:

We fed the ducks (well I say we fed the ducks, really we fed the seagulls and pigeons.)

And I also spotted a few daffodils ready to come out. Which reminded me that I had a load of bulbs to plant out which I haven't done yet.

This is our favourite tree in Boston Manor Park. No filter needed!

When we got back I decided that I was going to make a cake with Chiswick Boy. But there were no eggs.
Then I decided I would make some bread. No yeast.
So decided to make soda bread. No milk.
A quick phone call to Chiswick Daddy (in which I was grumpier than I should have been, as I should also be capable of making sure that we don't run out of milk and eggs), meant that he arrived home soon with milk and we did make the bread.
I used the recipe from A Girl Called Jack, which I bought for Chiswick Daddy last Christmas. I love recipes that don't call for many ingredients. And this is as simple as it gets – flour, milk with lemon juice (or you could just use sour milk!) and baking powder.
It's really similar to the hot bread rolls my mum used to bake when I was growing up. In fact, when it was really close to the end of the month and my dad's schoolteacher salary hadn't quite stretched to the end of the month, my mum would make them with just flour and water instead of milk
Hot out of the oven, smeared with margarine (because this was the 80s and we all ate margarine) they are one of the tastiest things I remember from my childhood. Well those and cola ice cream floats – remember those? (It really make me laugh that people think we fill our children with sweet treats these days…how we all survived the 80s I don't know. Don't even get me started on the bags of coloured sugar from the corner shop. And the corona pop man who came round on Wednesdays with dandelion and burdock, and cream soda…)
Guilty television secrets
Remember how we all watched more tv in the 80s too without worrying about whether it was rotting our brains or stunting our intellect?
Having said that we didn't have a tv for large portions of my childhood. Sporadically my parents would relent and rent a set from Radio Rentals, and we'd always borrow one at Christmas.
In the years when we didn't I read books, wrote my own stories, and played with a lot of make up in my room, while dressing a lot of Sindy and Barbie dolls.
In the years when we did, I still did all the above. But I watched a lot of telly too.
My favourite thing was lining up a great selection of television for a Saturday night's viewing.
No television for our kids – and other lies new parents tell themselves
I always claimed that when I had children I wouldn't have a television in the house. And for the first few years we couldn't get a tv reception, although we did have lots of dvds – I've always had a passion for film and I'm happy to pass that passion on to my child.
Bur recently we've discovered that Saturday night telly watching is actually great fun. Now we're in a routine where I start cooking when the Getaway Car is on, watching it on my ipad in the kitchen while the others watch it in the living room.
Then we watch The Voice and Chiswick Boy takes photos of Daddy and me shouting at the screen and looking aghast at the terrible choices the judges make.
For some reason, this Saturday night sofa lounging takes me back to the simpler days of my childhood!
Pyjama disco
On Sunday we had an impromptu pyjama party disco, calling up our favourite tunes on spotify and bouncing around the living room.
Yes that's mess in all the corners of the photo. Yes that's a Christmas decoration still on the mantelpiece.
But you know what – pyjama discos are just as important as tidying up. And hopefully they're lots more fun for all of us too!
What do you think of television and its place in the family home? And what are your never-fail cheer-me-ups for a family weekend?



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Family Coffee time – Verdict coffee shop, Brentford – Review

I'm on a mission to explore all the coffee shops in Chiswick and environs. It's a mission which is going to take me to Richmond, Ealing, Acton, Brentford, Chiswick and beyond, in the search of the perfect cappuccino and the ultimate 'people watching' view.

Last weekend Chiswick Boy and I tried out the newish Verdict coffee shop and restaurant in Brentford, in the old court house, after a long, lovely and muddy walk in Boston Manor Park. This was a case of our forcing ourselves out of the house! As I blogged yesterday, we are firmly in January hiberation mode!

I have no photos because I forgot to bring my iphone charger plug – and as you probably know, the iphone only seems to keep its charge for about 10 minutes before running out! Ah – remember the days when you had a camera that never ran out of batteries, and you just had to wait until you finished the film, send it in an envelope with a cheque and wait for the photos to come back four weeks later… Life was simple then. If slow.


Verdict coffee shop – review

The damage: Cappuccino £2.50, Hot chocolate £2.50, Chocolate muffin about £1.50 I think… lost track a bit as I was foostering with change. (Do you say foostering? I think it's a family word of ours! My ipad is underlining it so I'm now doubting it exists outside of my wider family!).

Wifi: Yes – but couldn't test as I'd forgotten the proper plug for my phone, which was dead.

Plugs for low-battery: Great! Lots at the breakfast-bar type seating. Means it's definitely somewhere you could take your ipad or laptop and do some writing / social media-ing for a few hours.

Coffee rating – taste: 2/5 Checked when ordering that the small cappuccino had 2 shots of espresso. But when I got it, it tasted really weak. Took it back for an additional shot and it transpired they only put one shot in, which they said was standard. (The person who took my order had incorrectly thought two shots was standard.)

To their credit they gave me an extra shot without charging, and then it worked for me.

For my second cup I asked for a small coffee with an extra shot, but for some reason it came as a large coffee, so although it had two shots in was still weak for me.

The underlying quality of coffee is good I think – it's an Italian place so you'd expect it to be – just think need a bit more barista training for the staff. I should say, that as you may know I am really picky about my coffee.

Coffee rating – size: 2.5 The small coffee cups are just a little too small I think, but upsizing makes them too big for two shots. (Told you I'm fussy!)

Coffee rating – presentation: 2.5/5 The cups were a pretty blue colour.

Coffee rating – crema (that lovely foamy sludge you get on top that makes a coffee a coffee): 1.5/5

Atmosphere: 4.5/5 For whatever reason, the atmosphere in here was really lovely. It had a steady stream of people – and while we there it filled up with families and prams.

I love the fact that there's this breakfast-bar style informal seating, as well as tables. There's lots of natural light, and it had a really pleasant buzz.

I'm not sure why but it reminds me of some of the cafes I used to go into in Yorkshire. Actually I think I do know why. In Yorkshire, when you're in a good cafe there's a bit of shared kinship – you're all in the know, you've found a decent coffee shop (Yorkshire towns are spread out and great cappuccinos are hard to find.)

In the same way, there aren't that many cafes in Brentford. Although with the regeneration I imagine more and more will be cropping up. But at the moment there's that shared sense of excitement at having somewhere new to go.

think that's why there were quite a few prams in there. You know what it's like when you're a new mother, desperately looking for new cafes to go into with your baby, to get out the house. Hmmm… or am I reading too much into it?

Music: 5/5 Toe-tapping bluegrass… I loved the music. I'm pretty sure it was actually the radio. And normally I hate radios playing in cafes but this was fantastic. No idea what the station was, but perfect accompaniment to coffee and newspapers on a drizzly weekend afternoon.

Reading matter: 0.5/5 Half a mark is for the Waterman's brochures – up to date ones too! However be warned – last time I reviewed a coffee shop and said there were no papers, the owners politely contacted me to say thanks for the review but I must have missed the stash of papers AND books. So it's with caution that I say there are no papers, in case I missed a stack!

Anyway, I was nose deep in the Saturday Times, one of my favourite bits of the weekend. And Chiswick Boy was devouring the latest copy of Toxic. Weekend papers and comics are an indulgence that I can't live without. I'm addicted to the Saturday Times.

Staff friendliness: 2.5 As I mentioned above, they were really courteous about putting an extra shot into my coffee, and the staff carry the coffee to your table for you. I had the sense that they were flustered. While I ordered my second coffee the server had to break off to discuss whether to close the kitchen or not (I think). It's made stranger by the fact that there's quite a large counter between the customer and the till / ordering point/ coffee machine, so a little alienating.

In summary – a really lovely place to hole up on a Saturday afternoon with the weekend papers / comics. I'd like to check out the breakfast too – they do eggs florentine which is one of my favourites. We'll definitely be back.,-0.309373&sspn=0.0002136,0.0004573&q=verdict+cafe+brentford

Please note: I do my Friday coffee time visits incognito, I don't introduce myself and I pay for everything myself.


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Netflix, pyjamas and board games – January hibernation

These last couple of weeks I've not been doing much blogging about Chiswick, West London and family things to do. January is firmly for hibernation in my book. Our lives at the weekend and evenings consist of wearing pyjamas as much as possible, playing board games, watching films and boxsets on Netflix, reading and playing with toys.

We've been doing stuff like this – playing beatle drive at the table. Infinite fun with just a die, three sheets of paper and three felt tips.

Chiswick Daddy took his beatle drawing far too seriously:

I plainly wasn't giving this the seriousness it deserved. Here's my beatle:

Hibernating January

In short we've been hibernating.

My lovely blogging pal (ie a pal that I have not met in real life yet but whom I firmly consider as a pal) Helen Chandler wrote about hibernating January this week too.

It's a time to snuggle up, light real fires and enjoy some simple pleasures.

Great, yes. Well yes, but…


Feeling guilty

I've been feeling a little guilty about this. That internal critic we hold inside us was doing overtime:

— “Eeek, I'm meant to be a mother who finds continuously creative, playful and yet educational activities for her son to do.”

— “Eeek, I'm meant to be a blogger who blogs about getting out and about and enjoying life. But here I am lolling on the sofa with the boy in our pyjamas.”

— “Eeek, shouldn't I be baking a cake and posting picures of it on instagram.”


How do we measure success?

But I went to a great presentation about success today, at work.

Playing Carcassonne

And it made me realise that we tend to create rules for ourselves which aren't actually true to our ideals. Then we use those as a benchmark for our success, and we berate ourselves when we don't live up to those hopelessly unachievable rules.

So you get the situation where I howl to myself: “I'm a mother who likes to get out and about and explore and make the most of the weekends, so why am I sitting on the sofa…”

When actually if I stopped to think about it I'd realise that the very fact that I'm sitting on the sofa in my pyjamas with the whole family and ENJOYING it, means that I am the kind of mother who likes to sometimes sit on her sofa in her pyjamas.

If you look closely at the photo above you'll see that behind the backgammon board is a 'change your life in 7 days' hypnotherapy book! I quite like playing backgammon in my pyjamas though – don't think I want to change that! Particularly as Chiswick Boy, 8, is on track to being a mighty opponent!



Being authentic

Authenticity is a real buzz word in blogging. It's a buzz word in marketing and PR too. People are wise to corporate spin, the theory goes, they want to see real people behind brands, warts and all. They want a true voice.

In fact Page 23 of the latest Corporate Comms magazine says 'Authenticity is critical. Those brands that do not live up to the promises made could risk serious reputational damage.'

So perhaps I need to be a bit honest and throw my hands up in the air and say – I shall be watching a lot of films on Netflix, and a lot of playing pen and paper games at the dining table until Spring. Because quite frankly the thought of exploring London in this cold and drizzle is too much.

Anyway, who says you need to leave the house to explore? Chiswick Boy has taken to roaming the house with his ipad (present for his birthday), hunting dinosaurs and photographing them using all the weird settings on his camera.

Basically I think being authentic means admitting that you'll be inconsistent!

For now I say that I'll be staying in at weekends for the next two months as much as possible. Chiswick Daddy says that he gives it until Saturday afternoon when I'll shout 'cabin fever' and drag everyone out to a cafe.

Time will tell. In the meanwhile, chuck another lump of smokeless fuel on the fire please dear.


What about you? Is January your get up and go month, or has your get up and go got up and gone?



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That was my Chiswick week that was – 4 quiet things we did, and 1 night out

It seems a bit odd to write about my Chiswick week – almost as though I'm admitting that I'm firmly back in normal life after the fab holiday!

Look fab holiday pic below – taken on New Year's Day at Malibu beach – keeping me in denial that it's a bitterly cold winter here, back in London!

Actually I'm not in denial at all – I've been freezing this last week, and the main thing we did at the weekend was hibernate! We didn't even head out to a coffee shop, and heading out for coffee shops is one of Chiswick Boy's and my favourite things to do. We didn't go to the swings. We didn't go to the shops. In fact, from Friday night to Monday morning we stayed in. It was a lock-in, against the cold!

But if you wait to do something epic before writing about it, then you'd never write a blog post would you? After all, family life is family life – whether you're huddling in front of an open fire eating the remainder of the Christmas Quality Street or gadding out and about in full 'seize 2016' mode.

So here are 5 things we did this week, even with the self-imposed hibernation!


1.Learnt a new card game.

We eat together round the table every night. And while this means Chiswick Boy goes to bed later than some mums would find acceptable, it works for us. We like this bit of family time, and it's a strong focus of our lives together.

It also means that after dinner we're already at the table and in prime spots for a bit of game playing. I've decided to learn some new card games this year (I know! In with the big new year's resolutions!) and this gem was from The Children's Busy Book, which is one of my favourite boredom-buster books.

The game's called Pigs and I've recapped the rules, how we understood them, in my own words below:

1. Gather a full set of any number, for each player. (ie We had three players, so gathered 4 x sixes; 4 x nines; 4 x threes)

2. Shuffle and deal them all out.

3. Aim of the game is to get a full set of numbers in your hand. By doing this:

  • Look at your hand
  • Pass a card face downwards to your left
  • Take the card that's been passed to you from your right

4. When you get a full hand, press the tip of your nose so it looks like a pig snout.

5. Everyone else stops playing and touches their nose when they see you.

6. Last person to do it is the LOSER.

This is an infinitely fun, high-giggle factor after dinner card game for all ages. For minimum of three people and up to 13 (or more if you have two decks!)


2. We…spent time not tidying up

We're still in post holiday chaos. Despite infinite loads of laundry, and most of the unpacking done, we still feel that we're in chaos.

Before Christmas I made the decision to finally get a fortnightly cleaner. I feel moderately guilty about this (Hired help! Failure as housewife! Shameful use of money!). But the joy of seeing a clean kitchen floor is worth the guilt.

It does mean that before they come I spend three hours madly rushing around pushing clutter into the wardrobe and desperately picking up stuff and flinging it into (increasingly scarce) carrier bags.


3. Took the tree down

Normally we'd do this faithfully on 6 January, the Ephiphany. But we were still on hols then, and when we came back it seemed too sad to take it down straight away, so we left it a few more days.

Chiswick Boy was pretty emotional about taking the tree down. We went through this last year as well and that's when Chiswick Daddy first started telling the story of the Christmas Spirit.

We take the tree down, and yes chop it up and burn it (oh my word there were a lot of tears about that one last year), so that the Christmas Spirit can be released and go back to the North Pole, and come back to us in our tree next year. So that each year when we pick the tree it's the same Christmas Spirit and in essence the same tree.


4. Got our tortoise back from the tortoise-sitters

Chiswick Pets on Devonshire Road did a great job of looking after our tortoise while we are away. It was £9 a night which I think was a good price. I had a bit of a panic before Christmas looking for a sitter (I hadn't realised that small pet boarding was a) a thing, and b) in such demand that they get filled up weeks if not months in advance). Really pleased with Chiswick Pets though who were really friendly, had room and were really organised.

We were quite stunned to see how big Englebert had got in the two weeks we'd left him there. In fact first of all I declared to Chiswick Daddy that it simply wasn't our tortoise. And he told me that it definitely was as he'd taken photos of the shell markings just before we left him in. (Wow! How organised! A bit over the top I guess – how many tortoises could the sitter possibly have over one New Year?)

It was purely that we're used to seeing him growing a tiny bit, all the time. So a big gap of two weeks makes us think he's grown a lot all at once.

Here he is – back at home and tackling Mount Parsley.


5. Saw the (not so) dazzling lights of the Lumiere Festival the (very dazzling) lights of La Soiree cabaret

I thought the Lumiere Festival – which promised to show London in a new light as it lit up the light in the West End – was a bit of a washout. It was nice enough – some projections onto buildings, and nice wafty kites etc. But for me it was the kind of thing you expect to wander onto in London anyway – and not have a whole 'festival' status attached to it.

It didn't help that it was bitingly cold when my friend tried to drag me around it on our way to the La Soiree cabaret.

The cabaret on the other hand was breathtaking. I'm a massive cabaret and circus fan. I love the old variety show format, where different acts come on and do their thing. La Soiree was in the Speigeltent on the South Bank and was a life affirming tribute to quirkery, music, bubbles, sequins, campery and bendiness.

There's a part of me that will always want to run away to the circus. And inside me there's a cabaret star always desperate to twirl her way out. (I do perform musical improv comedy and on my 'big goal' list each year is always 'perform some solo comedy cabaret songs'

My old school friend and I have a 'culture vulture' club where we take it in turns to suggest somewhere to go. On the day I generally get a sinking feeling when I see the reminder in my calendar – 'Oh bother, it's freezing. I really just want to go home and see Chiswick Boy'. But I always feel refreshed and enthused afterwards.

Keeping these regular cultural outings is a reminder of all that London has to offer. And of the adventures that await Chiswick Boy as he gets older.



In the meanwhile I hope that next weekend I'll get my mojo back a bit and will do some exploring around Chiswick and environs again. In the meanwhile you'll find Chiswick Boy, Chiswick Daddy, the cat, the tortoise and me nestled next to the fire. Or lounging on the bed in our PJs, reading.


PS What have you been up to and what would you put on a Culture Vulture list of things to do in London? I need your suggestions!



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Our top 10 family things to do in Los Angeles – part one

I'm writing this at LAX airport in Los Angeles at the tearful end of a wonderful family 'vacation' (as they say in the States).

We've been staying in the beautiful area of Pasadena – as my extremely talented sister-in-law has been on a five week fellowship at the Huntington Library which holds a large archive of the 18th Century essayist Charles Lamb. (She's also a very big eight months pregnant!) And I've been on full-on babysitting duty of my two-year-old nephew.

It's been a wonderful mix of domestic life with full-on theme park adventures. And yes, a bit of indulgent tourism.

With two kids in two – my 8-year-old son as well as my 2-year-old nephew – it means we've needed to search out the best things to do with children in Los Angeles County.

Being a bit addicted to travelogues, family travel and top 10 lists myself I thought what better to try and banish the end-of-holiday blues by writing down our own top 10.

I've split it into two. So here's part one, and watch out for part two coming soon.


Chiswick Mum's (very subjective) Top 10 family things to do in Los Angeles


1. Huntington Library: Spend a day strolling around the botanical gardens

I wouldn't have visited here if my sister-in-law hadn't been based here on her fellowship, and I'm so glad we did.

Because I live just down the road from Kew Gardens I didn't think I needed to visit some more botanical gardens, but they really are delightful. In different themed areas – from Japan and China to Australia and more – they are a gorgeous way to enjoy the sunshine.

If we lived there it would be the perfect place to take a book or an ipad and read/work. For holidaying families it's a perfect place to explore, ramble and relax.


Top ranking is the children's garden which is an outdoor wonderland for kids – complete with hidden doors, water to play in, natural soundscapes and quirky sculptures. It's a great place to meet other kids for a while, if your child is missing their friends from home and needs a bit of child time.

Second favourite section was the Chinese Gardens: a picture book perfect walk complete with river and bridges and delicate stone work.

Where: Pasadena

Costs: Around $24 per person for day pass which includes art galleries as well as the gardens.

Snacks: Bring your own as you'll be rambling far from the cafe. Basic cafe at the entrance does hot and cold drinks and the sort of snacks and food you'd expect to find in a gallery cafe. So good to grab a drink at the end of your day.

Pocket money souvenirs?: Maybe not. The shop is the high gallery end of the maket – but there is a lovely cosy children's book shop in one corner of the shop, so one to buy your little darlings a literary souvenir from!

Buggy-friendly? Yes. Well built paths throughout.



2. Olvera Street: Immerse yourself in old Los Angeles and buy purse-friendly Mexican gifts

It's hard to imagine that the sprawling diversity that is Los Angeles began with just 11 families founding a new town called El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Ángeles It's just as hard to believe that the sprawl has happened so quickly. The oldest house in Los Angeles is on Olvera Street and dates from just 1818! When I think of the thousands of years that have shaped and reshaped London, it's difficult to grasp how quickly Los Angeles has grown.

Olvera Street gives a glimpse into what life was like for the first settlers here as well as giving an immersion in Mexican culture. Yes, it's touristy. And the Mexican culture is very much one that is being displayed for the benefits of tourists. But if you are robust enough though to not mind being a tourist then this really should be near the top of your list of places to visit.

In the square you'll probably be able to see a free performance (donations welcomed) of Aztec Native American dancing. And you'll hear Spanish spoken freer than English here. Tacos and tortillas are plentiful and cheap, and sitting in the sunshine nursing a coffee and tortilla is a very pleasant way to while away an hour or so.

The market has enough stalls to sastisfy some good browsing for gifts and token souvenirs in the sun. And there are some really interesting small museums along the street.

Where: Olvera Street, near Union Street Metro

Costs: Nothing, apart from pocket money for snacks and souvenirs.

Snacks: Authentic tortilla cafes at every turn. Hot, freshly made and cheap.

Pocket money souvenirs? Definitely. Take your pick from plastic cars and mexican wrestling masks, to ponchos and sombreros.

Buggy-friendly? Yes. Bit of a squeeze down some of the market aisles but plenty of museums to push the buggy through, and generous pedestinarised square and pavements.


3. Santa Monica and Malibu: Hit the beach and paddle in the waves

Driving to the beach is half the fun, as you join the famous Pacific highway which skims the coast.

Santa Monica and Malibu beaches are family friendly, with plenty of sand to lie on and luxuriate in the very non-British sun, and gentle waves to jump over in the shallows before making a sandcastle. (At least they were gentle waves on the days we visited – I've seen some photos of people surfing on these beaches, so I suppose it depends on the weather.)

What struck me is that the beaches were really clean. That means no cigarette butts to unearth while gathering sand for castles, which I've found a common occurence in European and British beaches.

Santa Monica has a famous pier filled with attractions for young and old alike. Including an automated fortune telling booth, like the one in 'Big'. You can also walk under the boardwalk, shoes in hand, listening to the strains of the buskers from the pier.

Where: Up the coast

Costs: You'll need between $6 and $20 to park.

Snacks: Plenty of burger and hot dog stands to fill you up.

Pocket money souvenirs? Yes. Particularly if you like stuff that has California emblazoned across it. (I do!)

Buggy-friendly? Yes on the pier, and Santa Monica has a boulevard running alongside the sand that you can easily roll the buggy down (some even rollerskate with their buggy!)

4. Universal Studios: Unleash your inner child on a fun filled movie-themed day

This was top of my list to visit on our holiday, and it didn't disappoint.

At $99 for a basic ticket it may seem pricey, but it's genuinely worth the money and I think it would be a real shame to leave California without visiting this theme park.

We intended to go with both our 2 year old nephew and our 8 year old son, but in the end our nephew was a bit sniffly and we thought it would be too much for him. This was a really wise choice. Although there are areas where younger children can play, the rides are really aimed at I'd say six years old and above. And being with just Chiswick Daddy, Chiswick Boy and me meant that we could stick together and go on the rides.

Don't worry – we're not talking tower of terror, turn you head over heels rides here. Most of the rides focus on using 3D and motion chairs to give the impact and feel of high action, without actually being thrown around too much.

Top ride for us was the Transformers 4D ride – which I say is the best ride I have been on in any theme park or attraction.

Me, checking out the rain effects in the Western themed part of the working studios. Yes, my hair really is that red!

The overall highlight though was the tour of Universal studios, in a tram. This lasted an hour and as well as driving you through the studios (which are still fully functioning as a film studio), it includes two 3D rides that happen along the way.

I'm a massive film fan and it was brilliant to see sets from such classics as Psycho, and the car from Knight Rider!

You also get to experience the full on action effects – from earthquakes to flash floods.

Another plus is that outside the theme park is Universal City, a pedestranised street with cinema, restaurants and gift shops.

All in all, a perfect day ut.

Where: Universal City

Costs: $99 for basic ticket. They tried to sell us upgrades at the door – fast passes, and even more expensive VIP passes. We resisted and didn't need them so it was a good choice, and the most we queued was 40 minutes for the studio tour, with the rest of the rides 15m max. If money's not an issue and time is, then you may want to get the queue jumper. But you can manage fine without them.

Snacks: Fairly pricey – but you're never more than a stone's throw from a themed burger or hot dog joint. Bring enough bottled water and snacks to see you through the queues.

Pocket money souvenirs? Not really pocket money prices, but it has to be done! Set a budget per child and then let them pick something. You'll want to budget $25 per child, although they may pick something worth much less.

Buggy-friendly? Yes if you're just walking around, but not for queues.


5. Disneyland – feel the magic and banish your inner cynic at the theme park to end all theme parks

You can't go to California without visiting Disneyland. I'm sure it's written into the visa waiver scheme agreement. And if it isn't then it should be.

Even if you don't know your Tinkerbell from your Minnie Mouse, even if you don't like Disney films, even if you don't have small children as an excuse – you need to go to Disneyland!

I've been to Walt Disney World before, but no-one else in our party had been to any type of Disney park before. So three generations of us (Granny, me, my brother, our kids, and my partner, Chiswick Daddy) trooped along.

There are rides of course – but it's not all about the rides. It's about immersion in the magic that makes Disney such a well branded organisation. Love it or loathe it (and I love, love, love it!) you have to admire Disney for building a brand that all its employees buy into. Nobody does customer service and experience like Disney.

It's open for a collosal 14 hours (and if you stay in a Disney hotel you get another 1-2 hours in the morning as extra time), and filled with enough zones to keep people of different ages entertained with shows, experiences and parades.

My dream is to go back and stay in a Disney hotel for two nights so we can have a much bigger explore of the park without being worried about the drive back (it's 45 minutes from Pasadena, where we were based.)

Where: Anaheim, Orange County.

Costs: $99 for a one day ticket per person

Snacks: Eateries can be pricey and confusing. If you are organised then book a character dining experience in advance, where you sit and meet the characters. If you're more like us, then you'll find people in your party want to eat and different times. So stick to synchronicity and grab things as you see them, from stalls and quick hamburger places.

Pocket money souvenirs? Shopping is one of the best things here – lots of different shops to choose from. Decide a budget per child in advance and try and stick to it! Minnie Mouse ears are a must.

Buggy-friendly? Incredibly. And where you can't take the buggies there are clearly marked buggy parks.

Okay, so the first part of my list was a bit predictable – with Disneyland and Universal Studios both making it into my top 10!

But I have a few surprises in store for the second part of my top ten. Watch out for it on my blog in the next few days…



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Chiswick Mum does LA!

Happy new year – all the way from Los Angeles!

As I write, the sun is beating down outside, reflecting off the cactus that stands guard outside our door. (We've festooned it in a solitary piece of green tinsel in a nod to the festive season!)

We flew here on the 29th December and even though the locals tell us how cold it is for this time of year, to us it's roasting. (Although sadly rain is forecast for next week so we're making the most of the sunshine.)

Today we've been celebrating New Year the American way, by watching the annual Rose Parade, just a stone's throw from the Air BnB rental we're staying in.

It was a real immersion in Americana, reminiscent of the big parade at the beginning of Miracle on 34th Street. Each float is festooned in fresh flowers and petals – painstakingly and individually stuck on.

In between the floats are scores of college bands and cheerleaders, mounties on horse back, and gangs of sheriffs on motorcycles. The biggest cheers were reserved for the uniformed poop sweepers who walk behind each set of horses, meticulously sweeping up any horse dung.

I do love the way that Americans are unashamedly patriotic. No matter what your political persuasion here, there is unified cheering when people hear the national anthem being sung from a float – and American flags are waved happily at every occassion.

In Britain we are so reserved that it seems incredible to see aeroplanes spelling out 'America is Great' in the sky. Having said that, we are the country that has chosen to call itself Great Britain! And we ran a full marketing campaign during the Olympics that played on the fact that 'Britain is great'.

I was most excited about seeing the cheerleaders up close after seeing them in so many American films from childhood to now! And they didn't disappoint. Smiles never wavering, lipstick never smudging, tan tights never laddering, they kept up their flawless dance routines, enthusiasm and marionette twirling for the full five mile march.

Clouds of politics

Used to public parades being so apolitical in Britain, I was amazed to see a fleet of small planes whirling through the sky spelling out in letters – America is Great… Anybody but Trump.

The letters continued forming for long after the parade ended – with the messages getting even more confrontational. 'Trump is a fascist dictator', 'Trump versus the world, this is war', 'Trump bend over'.

It will be interesting to see if this surprising show of politics at a parade ends up dominating the news coverage (the parade is broadcast across America), or even makes it to the UK news.

The planes were apparently paid for by a private benefactor – and it was strange to see a public parade taken over by a display of political opinion… no matter what your political persuasion. I was staggered – but I think I wasn't the only one. Apparently planes usually spell out some advertising slogan at the end of the parade. So whatever you think of the message, it's certainly a lot more fun than 'drink coca cola'.

Although if I had the money I'd love to pay to write 'Surrender Dorothy' in the sky.

Sleeping out

But the floats aren't the most amazing thing about the Rose Parade.

Nope. The most amazing thing started to happen at around 5pm the night before, when visitors started to line the streets, to secure the best views for the 8am start of the parade.

We took a ride through the nighttime streets to see the urban phenomenon.

I don't have any photos to do it justice (I felt a bit embarrassed winding down the window and taking photos of people. Plus the traffic was moving really slowly and my brother was hissing at me 'don't wind the window down' and 'don't let them see you gawping'.)

So I will have to try and describe the scenes instead!

Whole families were camped out on the street – toddlers, teens, grannies, and every age in between.

Some merely had fold up seats and gas heaters, wooly hats and jackets.

Some had full on patio heaters and three pieces suites. Some had air matresses. Some had proper beds, complete with duvets and pillows. Some had log burning fires and a supply of logs waiting to see them through the whole night.

Quite a few of them had silly string and plates full of shaving foam to throw at the cars – and yes we were got! And it was great fun.

Entrepreneurs walked up and down selling glow in the dark swords and tiaras, and hot dogs.


Authorities turn blind eyes to this mass camping out. Although our Airbnb landlord told us that this was tame compared to previous years, when teenagers would turn up two days early and it would turn into a lawless street rave. Nowadays people can only turn up the night before.


Commercial enterprise

The parade does seem to have been commercailised a bit. Some companies pay folks to sit on chairs all night and then hand these prime seats over to their favourite clients in the morning.

Other people pay for tiered seating along the route – starting at sixty dollars and going up to hundred dollars and beyond.


Sister-in-law and nephew enjoying the parade

We had veteran insider knowledge though and at 7:45am our Airbnb host picked us up and we strolled down and had a perfect view, just as good as the people who had slept out all night. And I think even better than the 95 dollar seats.


Beach life

For the rest of New Year's Day we headed up the Pacific highway to Malibu for a day at the beach.

Brother and nephew enjoying the beach

What kid doesn't enjoy jumping the waves on a beach? Chiswick Boy had such fun building channels for the Pacific to run into, and gathering stones for his sand castle. And yes we can do all these things on a day trip to the coast in England. But how much more beautiful to be under a blue sky, that turned salmon and then rose pink at dusk.

It's on a 25 mile stretch of beach – just one of the distances in USA that is so difficult to grasp.

Today we're off to explore Hollywood and old Los Angeles… so I'm going to stop my post here, and get us dressed to go out.

Happy 2016 – may all your dreams come true.


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Christmas is coming – and I’m all tired out

Well this week I've been mainly feeling exhausted.

I think there isn't a mother on earth who isn't exhausted.

(I know that I should mention fathers here too – and you're probably right, it's a parental thing rather than a maternal thing. But this blog is about me and right now I feel like a mother who is exhausted!)

I finished work for Christmas last Thursday, and since then Chiswick Boy and I have mainly been hanging out and taking it easy.


Which means that we've been enveloping ourselves in lots of Christmas films and hot chocolate – but not much running around Christmas shopping.



Sleep, sleep – can't get enough of that blessed sleep

I was tired before I had a child of course. But then I had more freedom to do something about it.
I remember leisurely lie-ins at Oxford, or going back to bed after the weekly tutorial. (Following the weekly 'essay crisis', as we called these all-nighters fuelled on Marlboro lights, coffee and jacket potatoes from the kebab vans parked outside the Oxford colleges.)

Photo from

Then after university, fresh-faced and in London, weekends were for staying up for half of the weekend, and sleeping through the rest of it.

Even in my late twenties and very early thirties, there was the freedom to 'have an early night', when there was nothing to do, noone to look after.

And of course 'having an early night' then didn't mean crawling into bed and falling asleep. It meant reading in bed, or journalling, and luxuriating in clean sheets that only you slept in.

Christmas chillaxing

So although London is filled with a myriad of seasonal things to do – lights to gawk at, shows to see, walks to walk, shops to shop in, Christmas to me means a time to hunker down and just be.

Chiswick Boy and I have been making paper chains, sticking cloves into satsumas, making mince pies and listening to Classic FM from dawn to bedtime.

And Christmas shopping has slipped down the agenda. Chiswick Boy will have a healthy selection of goodies under the tree of course, from us as well as from Father Christmas. His wish list is always small (one thing on it this year) so I augment it with treats and surprises.

But this year we're going on holiday for New Year and so the focus is even less on presents, as we'd rather use any spare cash for treats while we're away. Although it's not the money that is the issue, it's the faff of it all.

In fact this year we've made the move of deciding not to exchange any adult presents (of course I'll still buy for my mum – and Chiswick Daddy and I have a couple of small token-esque gifts for under the tree). To be honest, I think that all my aunts and uncles who are joining us for Christmas Day are relieved at the 'no presents' rule. Everyone is suddenly alleviated from the anxiety of buying presents in that manic week before Christmas.s

And we won't have to get down from the dinner table early to start the mammoth task that is the opening of presents. Instead we can concentrate on the main event – the meal and the parlour games that follow, rounded off by a great singsong.

It's the one thing money can't buy

I didn't use to feel this way. I used to love getting presents and love giving presents. And I also used to take great pleasure in seeking out fairly traded or locally sourced gifts.

But this year the afore-mentioned exhaustion has got the better of me. I see people struggling with presents and the massive wealth redistribution that is present manic buying and just can't be bothered. (And once again, lest you get the wrong idea and think that I'm all pious and non-materialistic, we ARE going on a massive holiday after Christmas – so we are all massively spoilt!)

I know it's a cliche (buckets at the ready as my dad would say, were he still with us), but the present I want most can't be bought: we're still trying for another baby and that is the thing I want more than anything.

In fact, at the risk of sounding self-pitying, the wanting each month and then the disappointment each months has been emotionally draining. I blogged about this a few months ago, and the guilt I feel at feeling disappointed – when I have so much to feel grateful for, and am blessed with an amazing son who is the centre of my world. When I know some families are suffering from loss, or from illness, or an inability to start a family.

A bit about dad

So actually ten years ago I was in a Midlands town for Christmas, with my dad at home for Christmas as a respite from the hospice where he had moved when the oesophageal cancer became beyond hope of recovery.

He was only in his late 50s.

It was a strange Christmas, making happy when you know that it will be your last Christmas together. But we treated it as my family does everything – with wit and very dark humour.

I remember my mum and I arguing in the kitchen over how often we needed to baste the goose. When we heard a shuffling noise. My dad had risen from his bed miraculously and headed to the kitchen to give the deciding verdict on how and when to baste the goose.

“You've actually woken me from my death bed for this,” he delivered acerbically before shuffling back to bed.

We had a good Christmas. My brother gave me a magic kit and I did the worst magic show in the world, which had everyone in stitches. I gave all the men lucky dip boxes that I'd assembled myself with silly party bag fillers and jokes from the party shop in Clapham Junction. We watched Miracle on 34th Street and the Coronation Street Christmas Special, which my dad insisted on. He got a version of Harry Potter in Ancient Greek from his brother, which he was delighted with and started on straight away.

He went back to the Hospice a couple of days later, and on New Year's Day we took him for a family walk in his wheelchair, through the Peak District.

In the photos he looks as though he's in his late 80s.

He died the next day.

It's the one thing money can't buy

I didn't know I was going to write about my dad, or my want for a baby, when I started this post. I was going to write about the Christmassy stuff we'd been doing over the last week.

But blog posts are like life really – you can try and plan them but in the end they just go their own way.

I hope you have a bloody marvellous Christmas. Whether you celebrate it by eating lots, or having a wrapping paper frenzy of unwrapping, or go all quiet and cultural. Just make sure you celebrate it.

Because life is too short not to. And I love Christmas.

Pass the Advocaat.


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5 Mins with…Niki from Barrecore Chiswick

It's my regular catch up with local folk, to find out what makes them tick and what they love about Chiswick.

This time we meet Niki Rein from Barrecore in Chiswick. Read on and find out why supporting small shopkeepers, Devonshire Road and almond milk flat whites help make up Niki's Chiswick life.


How long have you been in Chiswick?

We opened Barrecore Chiswick in October of last year. I just love the Chiswick community so couldn’t be more excited. In the past 9 months everyone from shop keepers and restaurant owners have been warm and inviting, as well as extremely helpful in spreading the news of us bringing the ‘barrecore burn’ to the area.

Favourite place to unwind here?

There are so many! High Road House for lunch, Hack & Veldt for my favourite almond milk flat white or a stroll down Devonshire Lane for retail therapy.

What's your top local tip?

I love shopping at mom&pop shops and supporting small shopkeepers. You get better service and quality, as well as knowing where your food and products are coming from.

Chiswick is THE BEST for this ‘old world’ style food shop. Just next to the studio on Turhnam Green Terrace, you pick up your grass fed meat at Mackan Brothers Butchers, your wild fish at Covent Garden Fishmongers across the street and Windfall Natural Foods have the rest of the things you would ever need. You feel like you are treating and nourishing yourself healthier, as well as building relationships.and dinner tastes so much better!

And what's your hidden gem?

I am a sucker for Scandi fashion so I love Wild Swan on Devonshire Rd.

What's your perfect Saturday morning in Chiswick?

Coffee at Tamp and then walking to the green to watch my dog Bruno go mental running and rolling over continuously!

Tell us about your day job, in a nutshell…?

My job as CEO and Founder of barrecore, is diverse, very busy and a lot of fun. It’s spent interacting with clients, instructors, creating new formats and exercises, marketing and just getting out in the community and talking to people.

My days start early with emails, then I might head in to teach a class at one of the studios, have meetings with instructors or studio managers and then head to Chiswick for the rest of the day. We have a lot of fun at the studios and office. We always have aspirations (that’s what keeps us going) so are never bored.

Usually, I head home to finish off work at home have dinner with my husband and then always to bed early!

Is your glass half full or half empty?

Half full! I make sure to show gratitude daily. My best friend in NYC and I send 3 bits of gratitude to one another every day over Whatsapp. I think this is the secret to happiness and getting through the times when you ‘think’ your glass is half full.

Secret talent?

I am a great at making a meal out of whatever is around. I can’t follow a recipe but throw random ingredients in front of me and I will make something special. Chopping veg is one of my daily meditations so I think I just get in the creative zone in the kitchen.

Philosophy on life?

Everything in life, good or bad, changes so I find it best to always seek the positive in what is thrown at you. Also, everything is better when done with a smile.

And now some questions about ballet, dance and teaching exercise…

Best ballet performance you've seen: It’s not ballet but I loved (loved!), Shoes. I saw it at Sadler’s Wells and I smiled the whole way through.

What's better – performing or watching dance: Watching for sure! I am actually not a dancer (I was a footballer).

Do you have a dance background, an exercise background or both?

Exercise – Yoga, Personal Training, Dance Based Personal Training & Barre

Best film with a dance theme? It’s a tie between Dirty Dancing & Sarah Jessica Parker’s teen flick Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

If someone's starting out on an exercise regime, what is the best place to start?

I think classes are the best way to start a routine. You have an instructor guiding you through the exercises, pushing you a little farther then you would yourself and knowing that the others in the class are going through the same sensations as you motivates you to stay the course.

The beauty of classes is the community of the other attendees, your favourite instructors and exercises, all of which, build your connection to the class or studio motivating and inspiring you to continue showing up even on the days you may not feel like going.

If new to exercise, make sure to show up early to talk to the instructor before class so you can let them know about your body and any injuries you may have so they can take special care with you in class. Everyone feels better and makes better choices on the days they come in for class. All you have to do is show up!

Best music for working out?

Fun pop music with some songs you can sing along to in your head (or aloud!). Good music makes a huge difference, that’s why we have a professional DJ compile our playlists each month.

Find out more about Niki at:


Twitter tag: @barrecore

Instagram: barre_core



Want to be featured in this '5 mins with' feature on my blog? Or know someone who should be? Drop me a line at chiswick_mum @



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