Friday 29 November 2013

Shopping at the Museum

Like most people at this time of year I'm currently thinking about presents.

Each year at the beginning of the present buying season (about now in my case) I start to think about  where I'm spending our money. I want to shop ethically and responsibly and I like to try to support businesses I believe in.
In London we are spoilt for museums... but the hidden gem of the museum is the shop.  I love museum and gallery shops. It must be a throw back from school visits when the shop was always the highlight of the outing... but they are also often full of really well curated product plus spending at the museum shop is just another way to support the institution (that's the way I like to look at it). They are great places to do Christmas shopping.

Back in October the National Gallery invited me, Coco and Henry to crafty tea party - Coco and Henry got to try out some of the products they're selling for children this Christmas and I got to drink tea. Well, there was a bit more to it than that...

Coco and Henry getting stuck into some of the activities...

The National Gallery and Usbourne Books have some lovely collaborations, there are various sticker books and colouring books.
We love to do a bit of London culture (yadayada) between Christmas and new year in London - a lot of the galleries and museums run family/Christmas programmes but I'm wondering whether I could make Coco her own little trail by adapting this book?

They had some great arts and crafts stuff - all just that cut above the norm, from full craft kits to stencils, my love of fake taxidermy drew me to this paper tiger head which was in a selection of tiger products inspired by Henri Rousseau's Suprised! jungle painting.

And then there was lots of tasteful London stuff - ooh, rubber stamps (anyone buying for me)?

The colour in table cloth is a genius idea for Christmas day... I don't think this would be exclusively used by children in this house.

So much choice...  The pre filled paint pens that Henry and Coco have got it this shot were great. There were also some lovely heirloom type toys like this beautiful wooden Noah's ark puzzle.

And then we were treated to tea.

And even the tiger and the cat got to enjoy some food.
The Peyton & Burne cafe do cakes very well indeed - another good reason to shop in Museums, good cafes and, well, the Museum attached. 

I was a guest at the National Gallery event -  I accepted their invitation on the basis that I would and do shop there anyway (last years advent calendar is an example... or was it the year before). 
Thank you very much for having us, we all had a really great time.

I would also highly recommend the V&A shop, the Natural History Museum Shop, The Tate shop, Science Museum shop and the London Transport Museum Shop as great places to get good presents.
Any other good tips for where to shop this Christmas?
I'm hoping to get my Liberty fix in this weekend and maybe a visit to the Crafty Fox Market in Brixton... how about you?

Thursday 28 November 2013

Coco's Sixth Birthday Party

Coco's birthday banner made by me for her first birthday

I'm quite a contradiction when it comes to birthday parties.
I really really don't like the waste that comes along with children's parties, the uneaten food, the useless bits of plastic that make up party bags and just generally the enormous amounts of money that get spent on parties (there is an establishment near here that I recently found out gets an average spend of £1100 per party. yep, mental).
Plus, like weddings I feel like children's parties are becoming these crazy events, type a typical party theme into google and guaranteed you'll find images of the most ridiculously colour-matched over the top super-styled parties put on for one year olds who will never appreciate or remember the effort that has been put in on their behalf.

I love these hanging honeycombe balls from Papermash and Tiger Stores

And yet...
I want to throw my child a lovely party for her birthday... and I like doing it. I want to challenge myself to come up with activities and nice party bags and to try to make a gingerbread house. It's what I kind of call fun, in that way that other people call marathon running fun - does anyone call marathon running fun? - Oh, you know what I mean.

So this was the plan for Coco's birthday this year...
We invited 11 of her friends over for a making and baking party- I'm slightly ashamed to say it ended up being an all female affair; mainly down to the fact that Coco's list of people she wanted to come was pretty much all girls and in order to keep the numbers manageable and not to offend people I went with it. And I'm kind of kicking myself. But hey; there's always next year. 

Basically the formula for the party was that the children arrived, made their own party bags (literally), made some stuff to put in their party bags and then baked some pizza to eat. At the end of the party they took away all the stuff they had made either in the bags or in their tummies.

Oh, and our non-cake eating daughter was getting a gingerbread house instead of a cake. I might have mentioned that here somewhere before.

Coco's sixth birthday party preparation

Athough I went on-and-on-and-on like a stuck record to Hugh about wanting to be organised in advance of the party of course I wasn't.
We had a little flurry on ebay last weekend and got a few supplies and we pretty much agreed on our activities:
1) Decorating party bags - these were plain white paper bags that Hugh got at Gardners on Commercial St (made infamous by Spitalfields Life blog)
2) Customising their own plain white aprons with fabric pens (pretty similar to when Coco coloured in her plimsoles)
3) Make name necklaces using some wooden letter beads we got on ebay.
4) Make a paper feather headress - this was actually a last minute addition to the schedule after one of the attendees requested or assumed that hat making was going to be one of the activities.
4) Make a Christmas decoration from felt and stick on jewels - classy, I know.
6) Ice gingerbread men/butterflies
7) Make pizza.

Coco's sixth birthday party preparation - gingerbread and headdresses

So on Thursday night Hugh went into mega gingerbread production mode... while I started prepping activities.
We borrowed a gingerbread house template which was brilliant and Hugh followed the Biscuiteers recipe for gingerbread which also seemed pretty good - including their instructions on rolling out your dough between grease proof paper instead of flouring the surface - top tip.
Meanwhile I was making paper feathers with a bit of help from my Dad who did some good vector drawing for me on the computer, and putting together the componants for the activities.
We went to bed on Thursday night feeling ahead of the game. ish.

Friday evening wasn't quite so straight-forward. In fact there are no photos, probably due to the fact that Hugh and I were too busy fighting. Putting together and decorating the gingerbread house should have been a task undertaken with love. But no. It was late we were all frazzled and having to make half a tonne of royal icing and get to grips with piping it... plus make pizza dough, tidy up etc etc.
Even though we roped Hugh's brother into help we still stayed up stupidly late and although we managed to make up before going to bed it was a close run thing...

Coco's sixth birthday gingerbread house

But the next morning Coco did wake up to this.
And she was suitably impressed...

Coco's sixth birthday party preparation

Last minute preparations...  (by parents still in their pj's)

Make a paper feather headress kit

Coco could not contain her excitement and was asking how long until her party every five minutes...

And then, finally the doorbell went and we were underway.

Coco's party underway with gingerbread house and coffee in foreground

At which point Hugh and I lent back and had a coffee... seriously. They were engrossed from the beginning...
It was lovely.

Coco's party the kids decorated their own party bags

All their party bags decorated with random bits of old cards and wrapping paper (no expense spared here).

A few of the finished items - Coco's necklace, a Christmas tree and mine and Coco's headbands.

Coco presiding over the great demolishing of the gingerbread house. 

Except for our near divorce moment and the fact that we hadn't got around to eating the pizzas when all the parents started arriving to collect their children this was the best and probably cheapest party we've done.

Our biggest expense was buying the aprons for £3.89 each and I spent a whopping £11 on stick on gems in a panic at Poundland on Friday... but we hardly used any of them so I'll be adding these to my stash in the present cupboard, the beads were about £5 on ebay
Pizza and gingerbread ingredients were all out of the cupboard more or less and all the other crafting bits were from my current supplies; I do keep pretty much everything for exactly these kind of affairs.

As normal I wish I'd got a few more photos - the way the biscuits were iced was priceless - it was like a competition to see how many smarties you could fit on a butterfly, but hey, it was all good and now it's all done for another year.
Now it's on to Christmas...

OH YES... and if you want a free children's gift idea which is very easy to do I've done a guest blog post over at Hattie's blog Free Our Kids - go have a look >>>

Wednesday 27 November 2013

47/52 A Portrait a Week


Coco - At her birthday party - surveying the scene
Henry - Watching Daddy make a cake.

It was a crazy week last week - we've all taken in turns to get ill, with Henry off nursery and then Coco off school at the beginning of this week and two boringly long trips to the doctors surgery. We had Coco's birthday on Thursday and then her party on Saturday plus a real (ie paid) work deadline thrown into the mix last Friday. And now it's straight onto the C word. As per last year I'm getting freaked out by all the organised people doing good stuff towards the midwinter event on Instagram and Pinterest etc... (people have their trees up already, that's just wrong isn't it? It's still November!) but I'm determined to enjoy it all and not get too lost in the panic. Of course I'm also getting inspired by loads of things too... Check out Davina's lovely Christmas posts - I love her Liberty print baubles, would like to have a go at doing those.

Only five more portraits to take before this project is finished. I'm going to push on for some good ones in this wintery light we are getting. I'd like to do it again next year - it's been a good discipline and has kept me on my toes, but also is such a lovely record of the little moments of life, moments that if I didn't record them would be forgotten forever, next year I might not worry so much about getting a great shot, sometimes a phone pic will do. It's keeping the moments that matters to me.

I do regret not really making the time to look at all the other peoples photos who are doing the project, but I do enjoy my little Sunday evening ritual of checking in on a few of my regular reads; Lou, Nell, Lottie & Abigail (the Bristol posse) are always pretty prompt at getting their portraits up, and I always like checking out what Stanley has been up to on Sarah's blog (which she told me she might stop at the end of the year... NO SARAH, please don't)!

One portrait of each of my children every week in 2013. 
A 52 project started by Jodi of Che & Fidel

Wednesday 20 November 2013

This Girl: Nearly Six

This girl is going to be six tomorrow.

I had a moment today, I stopped in my tracks as I was on the way back from buying some essential birthday supplies (balloons & candles). I was thinking about how this time six years ago I was in labour, when a moment came back to me in a flash. I've thought about it now and then over the last six years, but suddenly it was so clear.

When Coco was about a two weeks old I was in the lift in Boots on High Street Kensington and a women came in just as the doors were closing, she looked at Coco, so tiny in her pram and she said to me, "it goes so fast". Lots of people have said that to me since, I've said it to myself hundreds of times and to others. I've lamented it here on the blog, I've read The Happiness Project ("The Days are long but the years are short"). But that women was the first person to say it to me. And I looked at this tiny baby and I'm pretty sure I thought "yeah, right".

But here I am, and I've got tears in my eyes as I type this as I had tears in my eyes on my walk home earlier. I love this girl so much, she changed my life, made me into a better person, made me into a mother. I want her to have the best birthday, now she is six.

Four very random photos from the last year.

Saturday 16 November 2013

46/52 A Portrait a Week

Coco - I realised today that I hadn't taken any photos of Coco this week (except on my phone of course). It seems to be dark almost as soon as we get home from school/nursery pick ups so I haven't been pulling the camera out as much. I took this photo this evening as she was watching Strictly Come Dancing, the light was super low, the fire lit and the duvets were down from the bedrooms. This is the highlight of her week.

Henry - Whenever we are cooking he wants to be up there and involved, it's making life feel a bit hairy when he is shouting that he wants to stir something hot on the hob. This was last Sunday morning, making pancakes with Hugh.

One portrait of each of my children every week in 2013. 
A 52 project started by Jodi of Che & Fidel

Friday 15 November 2013

Renegade Craft Fair = Spending Spree

I have this theory about money. I must have read it somewhere sometime.
You must let it flow away from you in order that it can then flow back to you.*
This weekend I went to Renegade craft fair and I put my theory into practice.

*** If you think you might be due a Christmas present from me this year LOOK AWAY NOW***

Seriously, please, look away.

Right, so yes, I had a bit of a spending spree, but I feel entirely justified as I was buying directly from designers and makers, so really I was just supporting some very talented people right?... and there were a lot of very talented people with some beautiful wares to sell. I was tempted by so much - some of which I've noted down to buy later, but anyway, enough justification - here is my loot.

Mugs and tea towel from the food guide

Two mugs and a tea towel (so many good tea towels around, think I'm going to turn into a tea towel collector) from The Food Guide the tea towel shows examples of foods that are rich in certain vitamins and minerals (Emily took a photo of it for her blog too - here).

Mugs from the food guide

Beetroot and tomato growing season mugs. Coco wants us to keep these... she might be able to convince me.

London Skyline tea towel and sticty tape by Cecily Vessey

Another tea towel with a vaguely educational stance - this time showing some high lights of the London skyline... and also some Skyline tape, I just couldn't say no to that. Both by Cecily Vessey.

Beetle Cherry rainy day party colouring book

A couple of things for Coco's birthday next week (or maybe stocking...) A very sweet little colour-in story book by Beetle Cherry and something which I think Coco might enjoy - a make at home paper toy by Pappet.

Porcelain diamond ring by Moko

Finally - I bought myself a porcelain 'diamond' ring from Moko. A slightly spontaneous purchase, but one I'm very pleased with. And look at that packaging, brown embossed card and black and white string - beautiful simplicity.
There was lots of lovely packaging and presentation of products - and they're have been some good round-ups of the fair by other bloggers if you want to see more of what was on offer take a look at some of the following blogs:
Emily from The Start Up Wife
Davina from The Making Home
Francesca from Mrs Eliot Books
I also just spotted on Instagram that Lucy from London Loafing bought a print from Scout Editions I was eyeing up those too... but I've had a bit of a print spree too (as Francesca from Mrs Eliot Books knows only too well) more on that in another post - as I always say, but I promise, I promise...

I also have quite a haul of buisness cards to remind me of all the things I didn't buy. Next time.

*you know I have my tongue in my cheek right?

Thursday 14 November 2013

Loving Blogging

I'm feeling good (and slightly gushy) about blogging.

I'm off to meet some other London *ahem* Mummy bloggers tonight as I was nominated as one of London's Top Mummy Bloggers by West London Mum - thank you to whoever nominated me, I really appreciate it.

I've had a flurry of meeting up with fellow bloggers recently. At the weekend I went to a blogging meet up organised by Emily of The Start Up Wife and finally met Davina of The Making Home  - both were just as great in person as they come across online, plus Davina and I discovered a mutual friend (always love it when that happens), then last week  I met up with Charlotte again, who I really consider a friend nowadays... and this weekend I'm finally going to meet Madaline who is on the UK leg of her round-the-world travels with her children in tow.
All these people who I'd never have met except for the fact that a few years ago I decided to start blogging. (I could add Hattie, Sarah, Polly, Lynne, Katie and Hannah to the list too... and that's just the bloggers I've met in real life.)
It feels so good to have this wider network of like-minded, creative people who so often write/photograph posts that in turn inspire me to try something new or go do something I might not have thought of. 
I just love having a blog.
So if you are thinking of starting one but have never taken the plunge. Do it. And let me know when you do (Yes, I am looking at you Chloe)!

And to top it all off I had a heart-warmingly friendly email from a total stranger (Hi Natasha!) who reads my blog.
Thanks to everyone who comes here... and if you read my posts but have never commented, can I just let you know now, when a comment email pops up in my inbox it feels so good. So if you want to make me smile then go on, leave a comment!

Photo is of last night's mesmerizing sunset as seen on many an instagram feed...

Tuesday 12 November 2013

45/52 A Portrait a Week

Henry - He was very excited by bonfire night (mainly as Coco was beside herself with excitement) then wasn't so sure about it during the fireworks, but warmed up to it again with sparklers in the garden. Once again we watched the fantastic display at Chiswick Park (a sort of office complex near us) from the comfort of our house. We did make hot dogs and Lia's sweet potato wedges and mulled wine as has become our tradition, but it was just us this year. We'll do a party again next year.

Coco - Back in the school routine. She is loving school at the moment, but our mornings are still a challenge (much as back here). Look at her - a million miles away in the middle of breakfast. There is no hurrying this one, how ever many times you ask her to eat up. The arrival of all the winter garb doesn't help with speedy exits either, not that Coco seems to care, she is still refusing to wear her school tights.

One portrait of each of my children every week in 2013. 
A 52 project started by Jodi of Che & Fidel

Oh, and more for me than you, here are links to previous Bonfire Night parties...

Thursday 7 November 2013

This Boy: Henry at 2 yrs and 10 months

Henry pouring water coloured with food colouring

I'm sitting writing this and all I can hear is giggling.
Henry is upstairs with my sister and they are playing a game.* We have got to that wonderful point where Henry invents games... along with quite a few other milestones that, as normal have all crept up on us. Suddenly I find myself as a mother to a boy who no longer wears nappies, not in the day or at night. We are a nappy free family after six years, the baby stage has well and truly slipped away (how I feel about that must be saved for another day... it's complicated to say the least). No bottles or formula, even our sippy cups are lidless nowadays and we hardly need a buggy - not that I can quite bring myself to sell it... and no longer do I have an hour and a half to myself everyday with a sleeping baby upstairs, naps went when Henry started nursery in September.

Henry doing glueing and colouring

Joining in with arts and crafts... 

Henry on the slide

Lots of changes... but changes that come with having a happy, normal little boy, so changes that are good. I say it at every age I'm sure, but I'll say it again: I love this age. Henry is my little companion.

Henry at Embankment in London

The last day he spent in shorts back in October... "It's lovely in the sunshine Mummy" he said while we had our impromptu Pret picnic in Victoria Embankment Gardens.

We go on the overground train just for the hell of it. The other day we took two trains to get to Westfield in White City instead of just going 10 minutes on the bike. He loves the overground, I get a constant commentary of what he can see - and luckily a journey from South Acton to Shepherds Bush via Wilsden Junction delivers: cranes - canal - lots of train tracks - bridges - tunnels - parks - big roads etc etc. Much more fun than the tube... although he'll take a tube journey as second best. He does keep requesting that we go on either a service train (we saw a big maintenance train which made an impression a while ago) or a steam train - the subject of our favourite train books - The Little Red Train and Noisy Train (I'm afraid I get rather bored by Thomas so haven't really gone done that road track).

He is already only an inch shorter than Coco was at four (and all his trousers are grazing his ankles).

At nursery they keep telling me that he has been really chatty. They are starting to see the real Henry that you only get to see once he has overcome his fake shyness... He, like Coco, is cautious with people he doesn't know, he clings to my leg in new situations and is even coy with people he hasn't seen in a while. With nursery I think it took him about three or four weeks to really work it all out. He was very happy and busy, just not particularly involved, preferring to play by himself but now he is of-fay with everything I think the staff have been rather taken aback by his chattiness.

Hearing his language develop is amazing, after watching some trees being trimmed the other day he then gave a very comprehensive description of the process to his Grandma in Edinburgh, even explaining that the man had cut his hand (before) and there had been lots of blood, and about how the branches were put through the chipper on the back of a truck.
If I have the radio on he'll pick out words and ask what they are talking about. Today he heard the word 'balance', "Why did the man say balance Mummy?" and the other day he heard someone say Henry on the radio "They said Henry. What Henry"? he asked slightly indignantly.

Trying to shut his eyes - it takes a lot of concentration... and learning letters. Whenever he see's an H he shouts "It's an H for meeee!!"

He is constantly busy in that way that little people are; building duplo pizza's or houses, train tracks, taking the boat to France; he requests that we do this a lot - our overnight ferry ride to France was his summer highlight, but is also quite bidable and will often play with the toys you suggest. I've been instigating a 'do your jobs' routine when we come in the house and Henry now puts his shoes, little Elmer rucksack and coat away on auto-pilot (Coco is proving a bit more tricky in tidiness training... she's got away with being a mess for much longer than Henry I suppose).

Henry and Coco in the woods

There are moments when he is just like Coco's little shadow. He loves being involved in her games, packing up bags and going off on imaginary trips to the park or shops, or doing her strange versions of 'music and movement' classes, on Tuesday they were being fireworks, naturally.

He has also become her messenger. This morning our bedroom door flew open and Henry came in telling us "It's 7.30. Can we go downstairs now?" That's the first time she has delegated that task to him, normally she gets him to request more TV...

 *something involving wrapping Henry in the duvet and making him into a sausage roll I've since found out

Sunday 3 November 2013

44/52 A Portrait A Week

Coco - This is the face I see when she is begging me to do something... in this case it was playing chase. If I say no then this face is often followed with a whine or a wail.

Henry - Having fun pulling one of his Grandpa's old hats right down over his head. He got those dimples from his Grandpa too...

Last week I clicked through to look at this portrait from the link-up of this project on Jodi's blog and got sucked into a new good read. Grow. Cook. Sew is now set up on my blog reader, it's been a while since I had a look around the other people who are taking part in this project... I need to make time to do it more often.

One portrait of each of my children every week in 2013. 
A 52 project started by Jodi of Che & Fidel