Friday, 30 August 2019

Making the Most of the Weather

When the sun shines over the August bank holiday weekend in the UK, you just have to give in to it and enjoy it. John had to work all three days unfortunately, but each evening we made the most of it, drinking cold beers in the sun, lighting the barbecue and sitting outside until it got dark. One night we had chicken and turkey sausages (from Lidl - very nice) with a warm roasted vegetable and bulgar wheat salad, another time veggie burgers with curly fries and corn on the cob. Dessert was ice cream or marshmallows toasted and squashed between two chocolate digestives. 

During the day the kids and I stayed home a lot. Apart from swimming lessons, the odd trip to the shop and seeing family, we hung around the garden pretty much the whole time, deliberately avoiding the beach and the inevitable traffic queues. I always love the way the garden becomes another room when the weather is warm for an extended period of time. The kitchen door always open, the paddling pool filled, the parasol up, the table covered in books, towels, drinks.

It was hot and dog walks needed to be done early, then Ziggy spent the rest of the day moving from grass to bed to an old duvet that Bella put outside for him. 

John was home on Tuesday so we made that our bank holiday. We went down to the beach late afternoon and spent a lazy few hours there. The sea was warm and clear and there was virtually no wind, it was absolutely lovely (and no traffic!).

I was conscious that this might be our last chance to swim in the sea this year and I really didn't want to miss out. Once we go back to work and school it's so much harder to find the time, the weather is cooler, and before you know it, it's autumn. 

 We finished the evening with the obligatory fish and chips, bought from the fun fair and eaten on the beach. I file these little moments away in my head, to be pulled out and remembered when I'm back at work and it's cold and raining.

At home, work on my blanket progresses slowly during the evenings, when it's too dark to embroider. It's too big for the basket now.

My parents returned from their holiday in France with the most wonderful bag of gifts for us. As well as a crepe pan (a frying pan just for pancakes - I am very excited!) and a tea towel embroidered with a jaunty seagull, there was a fabulous array of edible goodies. Sardines, caramel sauce, local sea salt, dark chocolate and raspberry jaffa cakes....and my absolute favourite, fish soup. Honestly, it was like Christmas! I absolutely love looking around food shops and supermarkets abroad. What people like to cook and eat interests me much more than what they wear, and I have spent many a happy hour or two in Super U on holiday in France.

Harissa paste. My mum said "I thought you'd appreciate the tin" - she was right.

One last thing: I have been nominated for an Amara Interior Blog Award in the Best Creative Skill category. Whoever that was, THANK YOU. It really, really means a lot. Shortlisting is determined by a combination of votes and judge selection, and so if you would like to vote for me you can do so here. Thank you. 

Monday, 26 August 2019


The first thing I wanted to do when we got back from our holiday was eat lots of vegetables. I loved the food we ate in New York, there was nothing that wasn't delicious, but after a while I just wanted some broccoli, or a baked potato. Or an apple. Once I'd gotten over the unpacking, washing and jet lag I really enjoyed simply getting back into a bit of routine: planning meals, doing a food shop, filling the large bowl on the kitchen table with fruit and the vase on the hall table with gladioli. (I love it when they are in the shops - they look so expensive and structural, when these were only £1.70 a bunch.)

I did enjoy unpacking one thing though - souvenirs. I tried not to spend too much on holiday, buying more gifts and things for the children than for me, but there was the odd thing that tempted me, particularly tea towels. I didn't realise I'd bought so many until John pointed out that I had actually bought four (although one was a gift, so...)

Now, every time we do the drying up, a little bit of New York is in our kitchen, prompting memories. But one of our tea towels was not for drying up, oh no. This linen beauty was too lovely to ever see a greasy roasting pan:

I bought it in the High Line gift shop and the art work is painted onto the side of a building along the path. The artist is Dorothy Iannone and the text comes from the poem The New Colossus by Emma Lazurus, which is inscribed on the plaque at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. I very much like the message of hope and freedom in the poem, and love the bold and colourful representation of that famous statue. I bought a set of Poster Hangers and now this hangs in the hall.

I already know that this project bag from Purl Soho will be worth it's weight in gold, and I did also treat myself to this bracelet-making kit.

There is no practical reason for having a child's yellow taxi on a shelf but it makes me happy.

John was off work for another week once we got back and I was itching to get a few jobs finished around the house. We still hadn't properly sorted out the new spare room (which used to be Angus's bedroom before he moved into Bella's old room and she moved into the old spare room...keep up) so we spent a day or two in there, unpacking boxes and bags, sorting through the filing cabinet, that sort of thing. Time consuming and dull, but very satisfying when it's done. John made a desk and shelf, the sofa bed was delivered, and it's all looking very smart in there - I will take some photos and show you.

We also tackled the garage. My sister said to me - aren't you always tackling your garage? And she's right. At least once a year we have a huge garage sort out to end all garage sort outs, and swear we'll never let it get that bad again. The trouble is our garage is large and internal, and it's all too tempting to think, hmm, I don't know what to do with this box/old toy/random object...I know, I'll just stick it in the garage. And then a bag of clothes to go to the charity shop gets put next to it, and some tools that we were too rushed to put away properly, and before you know it you've got a mountain of things blocking your path to the washing machine - and then, well, it's such a mess, what's the point in even trying to keep it tidy? 

As well as taking three car boot fulls of stuff to the tip and charity shop, we accepted that we are not campers and said goodbye to nearly all our camping equipment (given to us by friends who moved to Australia) and gave it away to friends or donated it, freeing up lots more space. We put up shelves with offcuts of wood and hung hooks on the wall. Storage is always the answer! Why on earth didn't we do this four years ago? John wants to build a bench for woodworking and we need some kind of rack for the bikes, but otherwise it's looking very tidy and I'm doing a super job of maintaining the current level of tidiness. 

The weather was pretty dreadful during that second week (although it's GLORIOUS right now) with days of torrential rain and thunderstorms. That combined with the fact that it's dark by 8pm all added up to a realisation that we're definitely in late summer now.

While not quite changing, the leaves are losing their colour and we're definitely in blackberry season. Look at these sloes (I think they are sloes anyway) I found in our local dog walking field. I'd pick them but I haven't the first idea what to do with them apart from making sloe gin, and aren't you supposed to pick them after the first frost or something?

It's crazy to think we've been back almost two weeks already. I have, however, started work on something to remind me of our holiday, here's a clue: 

Thursday, 22 August 2019

NYC Part Two

Oh, hello there! Sorry for the long delay - I was going to publish this post days ago, but the last week at home was packed fuller than I thought it would be and the days kept slipping by. Thank you for your lovely comments on my last post, it is nice to know you enjoy being dragged along on these holiday posts with me.

So, where were we? Friday, day three of our week in that glorious, hustly-bustly city, began spectacularly well with a fancy breakfast out at Pershing Square. Freshly squeezed orange juice came in wine glasses, the freshly brewed coffee was topped up as if by magic, and the food...worth every dollar, and it added up to quite a few of them. Getting wise to the bonkers portion sizes, I ordered myself a fruit bowl while Bella chose chocolate chip pancakes, Angus French toast, and John waffles. I doled out a portion of fruit to each member of the family and relieved them each of one pancake, one piece of French toast and some waffle. I think I had the best breakfast, to be honest. Hands down the best waffle I have ever eaten - light inside, crispy on the outside, and I love how they bring a jug of maple syrup to the table so that you can decide yourself how much you want. 

But yes, the best breakfast out ever. We then made our way downtown to the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side, a place we'd been recommended countless times and were keen to experience. It's less a museum than a collection of tenement buildings (a bit like a big old Victorian terrace as far as I could tell) owned by the museum, and you book onto a tour and are shown around by a guide in small groups. The buildings were abandoned in the thirties or forties and then discovered recently, when the museum acquired and restored them, creating examples of how immigrants would have lived in New York at various points during history. Photography is not allowed but it was excellent and well worth a visit. 

Lunch was pizza, sold by the slice and we shared two between four of us. Still a bit full after that breakfast, you understand.

We pottered around pleasantly for a few hours, popping into the odd shop, wandering up and down streets, and making sure we stopped at Flour Shop at Bella's request. Have a look at their website to see how bonkers their cakes are and why Bella so badly wanted to visit. We bought cake pops, it was all we could afford. They were very nice though. 

Then it was my turn to drag everyone to an ice cream shop - Milk & Cream Bar, where the ice cream is blended with the cereal of your choice and then topped with all manner of delicious things. You know how the milk tasted when you were little after you'd finished your bowl of cereal, and you'd drink it with the spoon so that you didn't waste any? It's like that but in ice cream form.

Further downtown we went, full of ice cream and pizza, and aiming for the Financial District.

We were heading for the 9/11 Memorial, somewhere Angus had asked to see and a place John and I wanted to visit, as when we last visited New York in 2005, the twin towers were a large patch of ground with fencing around them.

The memorial fountain is beautifully done; quiet and peaceful, despite the number of visitors, and it forces you to look down, away from the sky and tall buildings, and lose yourself in some quiet contemplation as you read the names of the victims inscribed into the edge of the waterfall.

After popping back to the hotel for showers (me buying a cup of tea on my way, as I did at that time every day) we got the tube out to Citi Field in Queens to see the New York Mets play.

One thing John had wanted to do so much, for years and years, was go to a baseball game, and he'd booked tickets before we went. (You can get tickets for $16!) I just went along for the ride - I had dragged him to a Broadway show, after all - but it surpassed all my expectations and was one of the best things we did that week. The atmosphere was incredible, friendly and relaxed, and it was much more family-friendly than any football game I've ever been to here. We bought beer and hotdogs and just enjoyed ourselves. The subway ride back to the hotel, in a carriage mostly full of people who'd been at the game, was the icing on the cake, with everyone chatting and laughing. Talking to strangers, on public transport? 

We weren't feeling quite so energetic on Saturday morning, and it was about 11 am by the time we got up, had breakfast and made our way back downtown again, to the prettiest subway station, to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.

It was busy. We should have got there earlier in the day.

But the sun shone, the breeze blew and we walked the mile or so slowly, stopping to admire the architecture and view on the way.

We spent the next few hours exploring the Dumbo area of Brooklyn, just under the bridge, once I'd bought an iced coffee and the kids had bought shakes from Shake Shack.

We browsed shops and bought souvenirs, while the kids spent some of their pocket money.

 Then to Prospect Park, where we bought burgers from a nearby Wendy's and ate them in the park.

I absolutely loved Prospect Park. It feels wilder and more rambling than the parks in Manhattan, and has a faded grandeur feel to it.

It was a park I could have spent a lot longer in.

I think it was all starting to catch up with them by this point.

For some reason that I will never understand we went back to Times Square on Saturday night, along with the rest of the world, but we bought takeaway pizza by the slice (again) for dinner and it was cheap and delicious and everyone was happy.

Sunday, our last day, and so much we still hadn't done. We decided to go uptown to visit The Guggenheim. It's worth going for the stunning architecture alone, and I wish I could go back again now and look at it all again because there was so much to see and I didn't have the energy to really drink it all in.

I felt a little under the weather Sunday afternoon so I went back to the hotel and had a lovely long nap while John and the kids went back out. As far as I can tell, they continued their quest to visit every sportswear outlet in the city, along with Barnes and Noble too.

We found a great place to eat while we were there called Urbanspace, which is like a food hall of great, independent food stands. A few times we called in there and on our last night, Angus ordered fried chicken with mac and cheese, John ordered a Baja bowl, and Bella ordered Ramen. I had some of everyone else's. Like I said, the portion sizes.... After that is was packing and an early night, then on Monday morning the alarm went off much too early.

We were driving over the Queensboro bridge at 6.15 am and in the airport by 7.00 am.

And then the journey home. I think it took us longer to get off the plane, out of the airport and to our car at the Heathrow long stay car park than it did to actually drive home, but at midnight we were putting our key in the door and it was good to be home.

There is so much we didn't have time to do. We didn't get to take the kids to the Statue of Liberty or the Ellis Island museum (although John and I have both been there before), we didn't make it to Coney Island, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Roosevelt Island, The Color Factory, Magnolia Bakery, and so many other places, but it doesn't matter because we crammed in as much as we possibly could, made some of the best memories, and I don't regret a thing.


While we were away, quite a few people via Instagram asked for tips on our trip. Now while we're not exactly seasoned travellers, these are some of the things that we discovered or that worked for us:

  • Buy a weekly (or three day) subway ticket. It is incredibly good value and as easy to use as the London Underground.
  • Accept that eating out is expensive, get over it and enjoy your holiday. Portions are huge so share when you can, embrace the wonderful thing that is the NYC 99¢ pizza slice, and balance breakfasts at Starbucks with breakfasts in diners.
  • Accept that small people (even ten and twelve year olds) need regular refuelling and use it as an opportunity to try as many ice creams/shakes/doughnuts as possible.
  • If you plan to go up the Empire State building, then get there at 8.00 am when it opens. No queues!
  • Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge early or late in the day. It gets very, very busy.
  • Book tours in advance if you plan to visit the Tenement Museum. We didn't know this and were very lucky to get four places on a tour that morning. 
  • Book tickets for things like sports games and shows in advance before your holiday. However, if you do want to get cheap Broadway tickets while you're there, go to the TKTS booth in Times Square on the day of the show for heavily discounted tickets.