The blog

British mummy blogger and travel blogger

Amsterdam snapshots

I always think you can tell a lot about a city from how it looks in the rain. I was in Amsterdam for… [more]

Amsterdam snapshots Amsterdam snapshots

Win a gorgeous set of luggage for your next trip

When I set up The Mum Blog I decided that travel and family travel would be right at its core; that's… [more]

Win a gorgeous set of luggage for your next trip Win a gorgeous set of luggage for your next trip

My big African adventure

Ever since I first started travelling (and after I'd backpacked my way across the US) there have been… [more]

My big African adventure My big African adventure

The Toy Story effect

We've been in our new house for exactly a month now, and most of it is pretty much organised. I've unpacked,… [more]

The Toy Story effect The Toy Story effect

The Message and White Lines

I'll let you in to a little secret. Tara Lara and I are *practically* the same age. So when she asked… [more]

The Message and White Lines The Message and White Lines

Sunshine in Madison Square

One of the things I love about photography is how even the slightest change in light can have a huge… [more]

Sunshine in Madison Square Sunshine in Madison Square

My top 10 family things to do in New York

In one of the episodes of the final season of Friends, when Monica and Chandler announce they're moving… [more]

My top 10 family things to do in New York My top 10 family things to do in New York

Amsterdam snapshots

Amsterdam in the rainI always think you can tell a lot about a city from how it looks in the rain. I was in Amsterdam for a few days last week and although it poured down pretty much all the time (and we got caught up in the mahoosive power cut that affected the whole of north Holland on the way home), the Dutch capital was as charming as ever.

ranunculusI’ve always had a soft spot for Amsterdam – partly because my favourite aunt is Dutch, but also because I love strolling along by the canals, the houses with their big windows, the culture (I think warming a stroopwafel on the top of a cup of coffee so the caramel melts into sticky deliciousness must be one of the most yummy inventions ever), the fact that there’s art everywhere you look, and, of course, the flowers; the exquisite, vivid orange of these ranunculus was so beautiful I couldn’t resist buying some bulbs to grow at home. A little piece of Amsterdam for the window sill.

family of bikes AmsterdamIf you get the chance to visit, I’d definitely recommend going in the spring, when there are flowers everywhere you look, or just before Christmas, when there’s ice-skating in Dam Square. Amsterdam is also a very family-friendly city, so ideal for a family city break and a great way to get the kids interested in art. And you can always hire bikes to get around (here’s a whole family of bikes).

Here are some more Amsterdam snapshots – enjoy :)

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Win a gorgeous set of luggage for your next trip

When I set up The Mum Blog I decided that travel and family travel would be right at its core; that’s why the header features two little passports – one to represent me, and one for No 1 Son, and why the tagline is ‘a magical rollercoaster journey’. Since the blog launched four years ago we’ve had some incredible adventures (and if you’d like to nominate The Mum Blog in the travel category in this year’s Brilliance in Blogging Awards, well, that would be AMAZING *flutters eyelashes, hopeful grin*).

Of course one side-effect of all that travelling is that our luggage is looking decidedly worse for wear, which is why I’m drooling over this fabulous prize giveaway to kick off the 4th blogoversary celebrations of The Mum Blog.

Constellation 3 Piece Galloway ABS Set PinkThere’s no chance of mistaking the beautiful pink Constellation Galloway 3-piece ABS luggage set on the carousel. All of the cases boast 4 multidirectional wheels so that they glide alongside you, making it much easier to navigate through a crowded airport or city. The cabin case is compact enough to fit in the hold but has room for all your essentials for a weekend getaway; and the larger cases are ideal for family holidays as well as long-haul travel. An added bonus is that they have a combination lock, so they’ll keep all your belongings secure. And, they’re pink #win.

Here’s what the cases measure:

  • Small: 57 x 38 x 23 cm
  • Medium: 66 x 44 x 25 cm
  • Large: 77 x 51.5 x 27.5 cm

Available from Littlewoods, the RRP of this gorgeous luggage set is £199, but I’m giving you the chance to win one in my easy prize draw.

All you have to do to enter is leave your answer to the following question by the closing date, 11.59pm on 30 March 2015. The winner will be chosen at random and the usual The Mum Blog competition rules apply.

Q: Where are you going on your next trip?

Good luck! And if you want some advice on how to pack then this Louis Vuitton video on packing tips is still one of my absolute favourites.

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Five brilliant books for kids

I’m a big believer in getting kids to start reading as soon as they can start to recognise the alphabet – whether it’s by using The Colour Purple method (writing the names of objects on pieces of paper and sticking it on to them to help the child read them, e.g table, chair, maybe not dog *cough*), or showing them the backs of cereal packets or the names of cars parked in the street; this is how we taught No 1 Son to read, and by the time he started primary school he was already reading books aloud to us. He also knew the difference between a Karmann Ghia and a Mini Metro.

Of course, books can be expensive and if your local library is anything like ours it will only have one or two copies of the most popular books, so if you’re looking for cheap books for kids (or indeed, yourself) then it’s definitely worth checking out the selection at The Works, because they have a brilliant range of classics for younger readers – everything from the Mr Men to Roald Dahl – and young adults, including Jacqueline Wilson and C.S Lewis. I’ve been having a look at their children’s classics and I’ve chosen five of my favourite books for kids – the ones I’ve chosen all have a movie link, so they’re guaranteed to entice even the most reluctant reader:

Paddington's London Treasury

 

*Paddington’s London Treasury

I grew up reading Paddington Bear books by Michael Bond as well as watching the adorable animation that used to be on right before the news; I even had one of those original bears from Hamley’s. So I was delighted when the new movie came out – a whole generation discovering the adventures of the little bear from darkest Peru. This treasury includes all the London classics – Paddington at the Zoo, Paddington at the Palace, Paddington and the Marmalade Maze, and Paddington and the Grand Tour. Magic.

The Cat in the Hat Dr. Seuss

 

 

 

 

 

*The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

Oh there is lots of good fun to be had that is funny; Dr. Seuss books are fantastic for getting kids to embrace language and discover the joy of reading, and of course this one features the craziest, coolest cat.

 

 

 

*DisneDisney's Frozen Storybooky’s Frozen Storybook

The only one on my list that came after the film – but actually, the story of Elsa and Anna and how the Kingdom of Arendelle becomes trapped in an eternal winter is still worth reading – and if you have a child (or several) obsessed with the movie, this is a great way of encouraging them away from the screen for a little while.

War Horse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

I find it very difficult to even think about War Horse without sobbing, but No. 1 Son absolutely adores War Horse, the book, the movie and the play. It’s a brilliant story for kids learning about the First World War – it follows the fortunes of Joey, a young farm horse, who in 1914 is sold to the army and thrust into the midst of the war on the Western Front, where his courage touches the soldiers around him *sobs again*. This edition features wonderful illustrations by Rae Smith, the designer of the National Theatre production.

The Lord of the Rings

 

 

 

 

 

 

*The Lord of the Rings

As you know from my post about World Book Day, No 1 Son wanted to be Legolas when he was younger, even though we are not even remotely elfish, because of the movies and action figures; but as soon as he was able to grasp the language in Tolkien’s classic novels we gave him the books to read, and he’s read them many times since. This brilliant collection features the books in paperback – seven volumes, so that should keep them quiet for a while ;)

Which books do your kids love most – and what are your tips for encouraging them to read? I’d love to know.

 

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Fab advice from a best-selling author

Here Come the GirlsSo last week I went to the launch of P&O’s Britannia and I was very fortunate that at dinner our table included the fabulous Milly Johnson and her husband; Milly is the best-selling author of 10 novels with over 1 million sales worldwide, including Here Come the Girls, and she’s incredibly easy to talk to. So naturally I found myself telling her about my own novel writing ambitions.

As you know two years ago I joined the Romantic Novelists Association with the intention of finally finishing at least one of the novels I’ve been working on; but then something happened. I got terrible, awful writer’s block. Every time I sat down to try and write I just couldn’t make the words come out. It’s so ridiculous – I can write thousands of words as a journalist and blogger, every day of the week, but when it comes to actually finishing any of the novels I’ve started writing – well, I just haven’t been able to do it.

Milly JohnsonI talked it through with Milly and straight away she homed in on the fact that it’s my fear of failure getting in the way, because I’m known for a kind of writing in my day job so I’m putting pressure on myself to succeed at writing fiction. Her advice? “Write at least 25 words, every day, until you’ve broken through it.” So that’s what I’m doing at the moment – trying to write at least 25 words every day, and trying not to be over judgemental about what I’m writing, either. On Milly’s website she also has some advice about the The Pomodoro System, a timed system for writing, which I’m going to work towards this week.

I’m so glad I met Milly because she’s a real inspiration – I love that she’s so open and warm, and despite the fact that she’s so successful, totally down to earth. She has spurred me on to carry on trying and see how far I can get.

And if you have any tips for breaking through writer’s block, please do share them below.

 

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My top 5 mum fails

So, I know it may *seem* as though I’ve got it all sorted in the motherhood stakes, and somehow I have actually managed to raise No 1 Son without any *major* major disasters. But that doesn’t mean it was all plain sailing; ohhhh no. So as it’s Mother’s Day, I thought I’d share my top 5 mum fails, and hopefully they’ll provide some comfort to those of you who sometimes feel like the worst Mum In The World, because trust me, we’ve all been there. Some of us more than once *cough*. My one comfort is that all of these happened before smart phones.

1. When No 1 son was a baby and we were staying in a cottage in Cornwall I stupidly left him on a table while I was changing him – and while I turned my back for A SECOND to reach for a clean nappy that was when he decided to roll over, on to the stone floor. Queue much crying (from him, from me) and Man of the House driving us 25 miles to the nearest hospital, where we were given the third degree. Fortunately No 1 Son was fine but it was a lesson well learned.

2. Another nappy story; due to extremely bad planning on my part one day we ran out of nappies. Man of the House took him to the nearest garage wrapped in a tea towel.

3. I went back to work on a national newspaper really quickly after No 1 Son was born; one night the news editor rang me and asked me to file a story. I completely forgot that I had the dummies on the stove in a pan of boiling water to sterilise. The pan boiled dry and caught fire.

4. When he was little we noticed he had hearing problems in one ear; at first our GP thought it was an ear infection, but after several courses of antibiotics didn’t work we were referred to the hospital for tests. It turned out he had somehow wedged a red chubby crayon right into his ear canal. I think it must have been in there at least a year.

5. On a holiday to Lyme Regis in Dorset when he was about five he was desperate to have a go in a little rubber dinghy. So I bought him a lifejacket and wet suit (it wasn’t that warm) and a dinghy, helped him take it into the water and watched him bobbing around happily. Five minutes later he was drifting out to sea, practically up to the harbour wall. I started screaming, people were panicking and someone said they’d ring the air sea rescue; but there was NO TIME to mess about and so I did the only thing I could do: I jumped into the sea with all my clothes on and swam to the harbour wall, managed to get hold of the dinghy and pull it back to shore. No 1 Son was completely unphased by the whole thing.

ice-cream on the beachSo there you go, my top 5 mum fails. Yes, we can laugh about them now. Yet in spite of everything, somehow I’ve managed to get this amazing kid this far. And I never forget how fortunate I am to have this beautiful boy in my life. Happy Mother’s Day ;)

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My big African adventure

Elephants in SerengetiEver since I first started travelling (and after I’d backpacked my way across the US) there have been two destinations on my wish list; one was Japan, which I finally visited for the first time last October; and the second is Africa, fuelled by an obsession with Born Free, Out of Africa and an overwhelming desire to see lions, elephants and rhino in the wild.

Well next month I’m flying to Kenya, then taking another plane to Tanzania, then taking another plane to the Serengeti in search of the Big 5. I KNOW.

Along the way I’ll get to see Kilimanjaro, and while I’m there I’ll be going on game drives and experiencing life in the Serengeti (although I can’t pretend I’ll be roughing it, because I’ll be staying at the luxurious Four Seasons Serengeti). I KNOW.

For the next four weeks I’m going to be running around getting visas and the dreaded yellow fever vaccination and channeling my inner Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen with a wardrobe of khaki.

It’s basically a dream trip for me, the fulfillment of a lifetime’s travelling ambition. The fact I’m doing it on my own feels like a bit of a challenge, a case of fearing the fear and doing it anyway. And although I feel *slightly* guilty going on this trip without No 1 Son I know he’ll have plenty of opportunity to explore any destinations he wants to, because he has caught my travelling bug. As a writer, my big African adventure promises to be an unforgettable travel experience, and I’ll be blogging, tweeting and instagramming about every minute.

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Why aren’t women paid the same as men?

“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792

Del Monte ad you mean a woman can open itIt’s International Women’s Day today, and this year there’s a lot of focus on the gender pay gap – not just in the UK, of course, but around the world. A report from the UN’s International Labour Organisation shows that women across the world earn 77% of the amount paid to men. Shocking, isn’t it? Women can lead nations, make laws and govern, and yet when you come right down to it we still live in a patriarchal society where men are considered to be of greater value than women. So why aren’t women paid the same as men in 2015? We’ve come a long way, baby, but not nearly bloody far enough.

In the UK, even though it’s been 45 years since the Equal Pay Act, women still earn on average 19.1 per cent less than men. 19.1 PER CENT LESS just because we have ovaries instead of a penis. Mums in the UK are particularly badly hit, because, according to the report, “provisions of daycare and after-school facilities enabling mothers to work full-time are lacking”. Quelle surprise. The Equality Act 2010 was supposed to make it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their sex (or race, or ethnicity). And yet it would appear employers are still doing exactly that. It probably doesn’t help that female MPs make up less than a quarter of Parliament. I’ll say it again. In 2015.

I’ve never understood how it can be considered acceptable that if a woman goes back to work after having a child, she can find herself sitting next to a male colleague doing the same role who will be on a higher salary than her, or a woman can be passed over for promotion in favour of a man or a childless colleague even if they have less experience or ability (and believe me, this does happen). As I’ve said before, you should NEVER underestimate a woman because she’s a mum. And this is really depressing: if you had a baby before the age of 25, or you have spent a long time out of the workplace raising a family, according to the ILO report you will “suffer a larger wage penalty”. My niece and her friends have been raised to believe that they can achieve anything they want to, if they put their mind to it; anything, it seems, except equal pay if they want to have families.

As Patricia Arquette said at the Oscars, “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all”. You don’t have to be Meryl Streep or JLo to know why that deserves a big whoop – and some affirmative action.

 

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Why ferries are fab for family travel to France

A few of my friends regularly take the ferry to France with their families, usually a couple of times a year. Sometimes they stay in France, heading down to the South or exploring Provence; sometimes they’ll drive across to Italy or Switzerland; sometimes they go camping, sometimes they stay in mobile homes or hotels. What they love about it is the total flexibility; that they can pack everything they like in the boot, everything is right there for them when they arrive, and because they have all their luggage with them there’s no chance of it not arriving and having to spend hours filling in forms at the airport. In fact, if you offered them the choice of flying first class or taking the ferry, I know they’d say ferry is best for family travel to France every time. Plus it’s a brilliantly affordable way of taking a holiday abroad, particularly if you have more than one child and want to be able to treat them to some fabulous experiences while you’re away.

kids playing on Brittany ferryIt’s interesting, I think, how much ferry travel has changed over the years; when I first went on a ferry with my family – probably at about the age of 11 on a holiday to Ireland – I can remember there being absolutely NOTHING to do on board and having to sit there for hours (remember, this was a long time before video games). I-Spy and reading the same book over and over again soon lost its appeal.

How times have changed. Now, there are a whole range of amazing things on offer to keep the kids entertained while you sail and they also have a fantastic range of dining options on board, too, plus important things like changing rooms, very useful if you’re travelling with a baby (and much easier than trying to change them in the loo of a plane). You can also get some sea air, which is always welcome.

And of course you can always sleep your way to France in a proper bedroom. My friends and their families have done this a few times now and they say it’s the best way to travel because you arrive completely refreshed and ready to start your journey. The kids love it too because it’s like their holiday has already started – it’s an adventure; family travel to France becomes something to look forward to rather than endure. It’s basically a mini-cruise, and as someone who can’t get enough of being at sea, I’m very much in favour of everyone experiencing life on the open waves, whether it’s on a ship or a ferry.

Anyway, I wanted to share this fab infographic with you from Brittany Ferries, which shows all the reasons you may want to consider taking the ferry rather than flying there on your next family holiday to France. I think it’s pretty cool. And if you already travel to France by ferry then I’d love to know what you enjoy about it.


Ferry to France vs Plane

Image source: Brittany Ferries – Ferry VS Plane to France

 

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Gorgeous spring buys

Spring crocusYesterday was such a perfect spring day in London – sun shining, birds singing, crocus on display, you get the idea. This is my absolutely favourite time of year because not only does it seem as though anything is possible (if you didn’t quite manage it in the New Year, spring is, surely, the time for a fresh start); but it also means that there are all sorts of gorgeous fashion and beauty spring buys around. So, here’s what I’m loving this month:

1. My new handbag from Peony & Moore.

Phoebe Hobo handbag (1024x855)I’m off to the Naming Ceremony of P&O’s new cruise ship Britannia next week, and The Queen is doing the honours. So a girl needs a posh handbag for such a glamorous occasion, right? Peony & Moore are, appropriately, a British brand with an exquisite range of luxury leather handbags, all beautifully designed, chic and effortlessly elegant. My new handbag is the Phoebe Hobo in vanilla cream (£149). Isn’t it beautiful?

Phoebe Hobo strap (1024x765)

 

 

 

 

What I particularly love is the tassel and gold detailing…

Peony & Moore handbag lining

 

 

 

 

 

 

…plus the signature striped lining is so smart, isn’t it? I big fluffy heart my new bag, and it’s definitely fit for The Queen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Clinique’s Aromatics in White All About Shadow 6-Pan Palette

Clinique's All About Shadow paletteSpring is of course the perfect time to give your look a little update, and Clinique’s All About Shadow eyeshadow palette, inspired by its new fragrance Aromatics in White, is just stunning, with fabulously flattering shades of gold, coffee, chocolate and bronze. RRP £30, available from Travel Retail locations worldwide and Clinique.

Michael Kors White fragrance3. White by Michael Kors.

Continuing the white theme… my signature scent is Michael Kors by Michael Kors. I didn’t think it was possible to love another fragrance quite so much, but this new limited edition number is absolutely divine, sweet, heady and sexy, with notes of tuberose, freesia and musk; basically the scent of spring. Love that the packaging is so simple, too. Adore (RRP £51, available from World Duty Free.)

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Britain’s Best Beach

It doesn’t matter how much I travel, I still think that we have one of the best coastlines in the world – so it’s no surprise to me that Woolacombe Beach in North Devon, with its long stretches of sand and craggy landscape has been voted Britain’s Best Beach. In fact, it’s also been named as the fourth best beach in Europe, beating off the likes of Turkey, Spain and Greece by Trip Advisor.

woolacombe Bay North DevonPart of Woolacombe’s charm is that it’s a traditional British seaside resort, and it’s incredibly beautiful – it’s on the North Devon Coast of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The beach is three miles long, gently sloping and faces the Atlantic Ocean. Plus you have all that rock-pooling, so it’s ideal for exploring with smaller kids, plus it’s safe for swimming and surfing – in fact a lot of people holiday there because of the surfing (if you’re looking for somewhere to stay it’s worth checking out the affordable accommodation at Woolacombe Bay.) In winter Woolacombe is fairly quiet but in summer it really comes to life, and one of the biggest attractions in the centre of the village is a pirate themed crazy golf course. I don’t know about you but as a family we never miss an opportunity for a round of crazy golf.

One of the reasons surfers love Woolacombe is because of the Atlantic waves, which mean the swell is large and clean, plus you have those dramatic cliffs and landscape which adds to the thrill of it all. Move over California.

Woolacombe BeachThere are also sloping sand dunes which you can climb on, and a lot of the surrounding countryside is owned and cared for by the National Trust; across from the beach there are stunning panoramic views of Lundy Island.

And if you want to really impress the kids, you can tell them that during the Second World War, the US Army Assault Training Centre was based at Woolacombe. In fact, because the beach and the climate was considered to closely resemble the Omaha Beach landing area, this was where thousands of small boat crews and infantry practised amphibious landing assaults on the beach in preparation for the Invasion of Normandy, part of Operation Overlord. There is actually a moving memorial to the soldiers on the grassy headland at the northern end of the beach.

And Woolacombe is the perfect base for exploring North Devon, which offers a range of fabulous eating out options – everything from cosy pubs to fine dining restaurants – and cultural experiences (with of course the wild beauty of Exmoor right on your doorstep). There are family attractions ranging from an aquarium to a Dinosaur Park, theme parks with rides and slides and of coruse farm attractions. There’s even an aquarium.
Exmoor itself is perfect for walking or mountain biking, and it’s also where you’ll find Dulverton, which was the setting for part of that classic novel Lorna Doone. In fact North Devon has inspired lots of literature – including Tarka the Otter. Barnstaple, North Devon’s oldest and largest town sits at the centre of the Tarka Trail, a 180 mile path with 32 miles of off road cycleway.

In fact whatever your interests, Woolacombe is definitely a great destination for a family holiday, and you don’t even have to get on a plane to reach it.

 

 

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