New York – with kids in tow!

A few years ago the husband and I had a childfree break to New York – and it was fantastic! This time we took some of the kids with us – which had to lend itself to a ‘how a trip to New York differs when you take the kids’ blog post!

  1. Never trust a bargain airport aparthotel!!
    When the husband and I have had an early flight we’ve always stayed on airport.  But travelling with the kids meant it would have to be 2 hotel rooms – or try an apartment.  Yeah – I failed with that one.  The on site parking was good (although an additional overnight charge which I must have missed in the booking) but the slashed sofas / smashed window / ripped sheets / non functioning in room phone were all not the best – and cost almost £300.  But hey ho, you live and learn, and we definitely won’t stay there ever ever again!!
  2.  They will find the free wifi EVERYWHERE – so can be relied upon to provide this information quickly – be it the free airport wifi before the lounge, the lounge, the airport waiting for the baggage, the hotel whilst waiting to check in, random shops etc etc.  Lack of availability of free wifi and the possibility that their social media streaks may fail is seemingly a fate worse than death.
  3. Travelling in the back of a New York taxi in a heatwave is unbearably hot!  Now I don’t know this personally – because I always had the front seat (a ‘benefit’ of horrible travel sickness!)  but the drivers and I were always lovely and airconned.  However, the plastic screen between the front and the back means the cold air does not circulate – and so the back is ROASTING! We did find one driver who had improvised his aircon – which was very welcome!


    I can also say that it would appear New York cabbies don’t like taking 4 customers!  The huffing involved with removing things from the front seat seemed a regular occurrence.  We are also spoilt with taxi drivers in the UK – and especially London – knowing their way about – it would appear that anyone can drive a cab in New York, even with minimal grasp of English let alone any ‘knowledge’ at all!
  4. Siblings will always fight over who has the best bedroom!!  We stayed at The London last time – and after some research, found that their 2 bedroom suites were cheaper than 2 separate rooms in other hotels – so went for that!  Actually the living room was big enough to house a roll out bed – so once child could be in there and one in the separate bedroom to avoid fighting!   The only downside was that the 2 bedroom suites don’t have the view of Central Park that our one bedroom had last time – but that wasn’t a major issue.  Sadly we didn’t celeb spot anyone in the lift this time! (Telling Billy Idol about working in WHSmiths in Acocks Green still ranks as one of the most surreal and random moments ever!!)
  5. Sights that can be Snapchatted / Instagrammed are key to the children!  (I should have guessed this after a dog Snapchat filter was applied to the Mona Lisa in February!) They could tell what shops were nearby by the available Snapchat filters (who knew?  Well, who over 40 knew?!)

  6. You can take kids to lovely restaurants (The Loeb Boathouse in Central Park, the King Cole Bar in the St Regis Hotel) – but they’d be just as happy at McDonalds or Burger King. #heathens

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    Helping his Dad with the world famous crab cakes!
  7. For us and people of our age you can remember exactly where you were when 9/11 happened (the husband was having lunch in The Sports Bar on Broad Street, Birmingham – I was at the office of the aerospace company I’d started working for 10 days before) but for the kids it’s history.  We went to the memorial and the museum – which are both really well done – but the emotions for the kids were very different than for us.

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  8. Things end up REALLY expensive when you have to double up – so, for example, taking a bike ride round Central Park.  We were right royally screwed by the 5$ per minute and 25 minute ride (which included the fighting amongst the drivers about whose fare we were, the stopping so we could walk through Strawberry Fields and then stopping at traffic lights IN THE PARK!)  Anyway – 250$ later, and me moaning about thieving robdogs to 2 large Eritrean gentlemen and the lesson has been learned!  Oh well – at least we got to pose in front of the fountain from Friends……..

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  9. You can’t wing it with Broadway tickets!  When the husband and I went to New York previously we watched The Book Of Mormon – which was BRILLIANT – but possibly the least child friendly musical ever!  So we planned ahead and booked tickets for School of Rock – which is equally awesome (but with a lot less swearing and rude stuff!!)

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  10. You might have the kids with you – but your husband will always be the biggest kid of them all!

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    Fountains at Battery Park
  11. You can persuade them to walk further when it’s something interesting – in this case, walking the Highline!  The 12 year old was insistent we did complete end to end too (he is slightly obsessive about such things – but it increased my steps for the day!!)

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  12. Even when your kids are 14 and 12 it’s still really annoying when the flight home is delayed – but at least they managed to sleep on the floor!!

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In summary New York was still so good they named it twice – just different going with the kids in tow – but so lovely to make memories. Also, when you’re used to 4 kids, going away with 2 was surprisingly easy – and we’ve already told the little 2 we’ll take them in a few years time.  I wonder what will have changed in New York by then (this is said with the context that when I went in 1999 I didn’t go to the top of the World Trade Centre as I wanted to go to the shopping mall underneath – and said I’d do ‘Windows on the World’ next time I went………………)

 

 

 

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Book Review (and confessional): Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

Mad Girl

I had seen ‘Mad Girl’ reviewed a number of times – and knew of Bryony Gordon from her newspaper and magazine writing – so wanted to shoe horn this in to my Reading Challenge!

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“Bryony Gordon has OCD.
It’s the snake in her brain that has told her ever since she was a teenager that her world is about to come crashing down: that her family might die if she doesn’t repeat a phrase 5 times, or that she might have murdered someone and forgotten about it. It’s caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. And Bryony is sick of it. Keeping silent about her illness has given it a cachet it simply does not deserve, so here she shares her story with trademark wit and dazzling honesty.
A hugely successful columnist for the Telegraph, a bestselling author, and a happily married mother of an adorable daughter, Bryony has managed to laugh and live well while simultaneously grappling with her illness. Now it’s time for her to speak out. Writing with her characteristic warmth and dark humour, Bryony explores her relationship with her OCD and depression as only she can.
Mad Girl is a shocking, funny, unpredictable, heart-wrenching, raw and jaw-droppingly truthful celebration of life with mental illness.”

People often comment about my husband’s OCD – and whilst mostly this is in jest (as he’s a neat freak) I do wonder if it’s quite so innocent, as I know when he’s stressed by external factors (work, family, health) he will bleach toilets and hoover excessively. Bryony’s OCD isn’t neat freak – it’s about imagining she’s done things and forgotten about it, or rituals or phrases she has to repeat to ensure bad things don’t happen.  Now this is something I totally empathise with (although would never have considered it OCD) – doesn’t everyone have to make sure the light switches are facing the right way before they go to bed?  Or check the children at bedtime in ascending or descending age order?  Obviously if the light switches are out of sync or the kids are checked in a random order, something bad will happen over night?  But I’d already been made aware of other people’s experiences with PROPER OCD – counting things being the major one (tiles in a classroom ceiling then turning into number of times they’d swallowed in a day etc)  and knew this could be really debilitating – and Bryony’s OCD definitely falls in to the latter category.

The book charts her experiences and how the OCD has effected life from a child, through teenage years, early 20s and working life.  It is interesting throughout – and really feels like you know what Bryony went through – but it’s done in an amusing and self deprecating way,  It felt like I was in the pub with Bryony having a chat as I read it (although with less booze and illegal drugs than Bryony had when she was in the pub at some points in her life, so at least I could remember it afterwards).

Half way through reading the book,  I was reading my monthly Red Magazine – and came across a letter written by Bryony to ‘lovely Red reader’ – which clearly was written just for me!!  I ended up sobbing reading it on a plane (which slightly freaked out my 5 year old daughter who also commandeered the magazine to read – but preferred the pictures of pretty clothes!)

Red Mag On Plane

Partly it was the spookiness of it (I had weighed myself that morning – and weighed EXACTLY the weight that Bryony had got to when she’d been eating away her pain (although in my case this wasn’t the peak, the peak had been a stone further up a few weeks before)).  I Tweeted Bryony about this and she replied ‘I may be heavy but I am also strong’.  This was JUST what I needed to hear.  I should be proud of my body – it’s borne me 4 beautiful children (admittedly so have Victoria Beckham’s and Heidi Klum’s!) – and heavier people are harder to kidnap and all that?!

Bryony also talked both in the magazine article and in the epilogue of her book about how running has helped her mental health – which was something I was already very familiar with as a friend who is bipolar credits running with keeping himself sane – literally (http://www.runningformylife.uk/).  For me, it’s boxing.  An hour of boxing drills and sparring leaves me energised – and aching – but feeling strong and powerful too.

I think it was clearly meant to be that I read the magazine article whilst reading the book – as motivation to me to stop feeding my issues (literally) and do something about them.  I’m lucky that I don’t have OCD, it hasn’t caused me additional issues, like it did for Bryony – but I need to take care of myself and my own health – not just that of my family, friends, staff etc.

I think the perfect end to this blog post is to quote Bryony directly:

“All I want to do is let you know that if I can do it, anyone can. 
This is how you become more powerful than you could ever imagine,  You become unapologetically you on full beam, turned up to 11, you with the mega wattage,  Like a summer house boarded up for the winter, the sockets turned off, you have always had the power,  Not you just need to go and switch it on.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Party by Elizabeth Day

The Party

I’ve been meaning to read an Elizabeth Day book for some time – as I really like her when I see her on TV – and also because as a 5 year old I aspired to be Elisabeth Day, as the boy I loved at school had that surname!!  (We coincidentally ended up working for the same accountancy firm after graduation, and he and his lovely family live in the next village to us now – but my marital aspirations towards him are no more!)

I have read rave reviews in Red Magazine and on social media about ‘The Party’ – and as it seemed that it would fit into my 2017 Reading Challenge in the category ‘A book set in two different time periods’ – I pre ordered it for my summer travelling reading.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“‘As the train pressed on, I realised that my life was in the process of taking a different direction, plotted according to a new constellation. Because, although I didn’t know it yet, I was about to meet Ben and nothing would ever be the same again.’
Martin Gilmour is an outsider. When he wins a scholarship to Burtonbury School, he doesn’t wear the right clothes or speak with the right kind of accent. But then he meets the dazzling, popular and wealthy Ben Fitzmaurice, and gains admission to an exclusive world. Soon Martin is enjoying tennis parties and Easter egg hunts at the Fitzmaurice family’s estate, as Ben becomes the brother he never had.
But Martin has a secret. He knows something about Ben, something he will never tell. It is a secret that will bind the two of them together for the best part of 25 years.
At Ben’s 40th birthday party, the great and the good of British society are gathering to celebrate in a haze of champagne, drugs and glamour. Amid the hundreds of guests – the politicians, the celebrities, the old-money and newly rich – Martin once again feels that disturbing pang of not-quite belonging. His wife, Lucy, has her reservations too. There is disquiet in the air. But Ben wouldn’t do anything to damage their friendship.
Would he?”

I started reading this on a transatlantic flight – and devoured it all in one sitting – foregoing all of British Airways’s film offerings – which I think says a lot about how much I enjoyed it!

The book cycles between Martin’s life growing up, Ben’s 40th party and the aftermath of it – told in turn by Martin and his wife Lucy.  It’s very intricate (which made me think how good the editor must have been as well as the author – I am such a geek!) and the pace builds up brilliantly.

It is very clever – and similarities with real life people I am sure are totally deliberate!  Boys from posh schools, going on to Oxbridge and then becoming MPs and Prime Minister and including their mates in their political inner circle – remind you of anyone?!

The university period is exactly when I was at uni – albeit not Cambridge (my Head of Sixth Form never did forgive me for not going to my Newnham interview!) – so I enjoyed the reminiscing!

Despite the clear personality defects of all of the main characters at different times, I was always rooting for Martin and Lucy – in different ways.  Lucy was initially cast as the dowdy wife – but her quick thinking smart comebacks to some of the other characters were just perfect.

I don’t want to give too much away – I hate reviews that ruin the story for others – but would definitely recommend you read this book!  And I will definitely be reading more by Ms Day – clever, sharp, well written and very enjoyable.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

Iron Duke

My 2017 Reading Challenge was all about reading books out of my comfort zone – and ‘A Steampunk novel’ was a particular challenge as I hadn’t got a clue what it meant!

A bit of Googling, and good old Wikipedia revealed this:

“Steampunk is a subgenre of fantasy and speculative fiction that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world wherein steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often set in Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date. Other examples of steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of “the path not taken” of such technology as dirigibles or analog computers; these frequently are presented in an idealized light, or with a presumption of functionality.”

Given I don’t like science fiction or historical novels this was always going to be a challenge!  I had a search on Amazon for something with good reviews – but also the beginning of a series in case I loved it…

I went for The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook.  Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“After the Iron Duke freed England from Horde control, he instantly became a national hero. Now Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire on the power – and fear – of his name. And when a dead body is dropped from an airship onto his doorstep, bringing Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth into his dangerous world, he intends to make her his next possession.
Mina can’t afford his interest, however. Horde blood runs through her veins, and becoming Rhys’s lover would destroy both her career and her family, yet the investigation prevents her from avoiding him.
But when Mina uncovers the victim’s identity, she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone in England. To save them, Mina and Rhys must race across zombie-infested wastelands and treacherous oceans – and Mina discovers the danger is not only to her countrymen as she finds herself tempted to give up everything to the Iron Duke.”

Well…………………..

It was all really complicated setting the scene – and I wasn’t sure how much I was struggling because I’ve never read this genre before – and how much because the author explains everything in minute and complicated detail.  And how much because I just didn’t care about any of it!

I tried – I considered giving up at 10% and 20% – but by the time I got to 30% I just could not be bothered to carry on any more.

I thought this would be a genre I would dislike – and I was not wrong!

Life is too short to finish books you’re not enjoying #apartfromTheGoldfinch…..

 

 

 

 

Book Review: One Endless Summer by Laurie Ellingham

One Endless Summer

A friend said she’s really enjoyed this book and on her recommendation, and the fact it slotted into a category in my 2017 Reading Challenge (A book with one of the four seasons in the title), I downloaded it immediately without reading the blurb – but here it is for you.

“Three best friends.
Three continents.
Three months to live.
How long can you keep a secret?
Three best friends are embarking on an all-expenses paid trip of their dreams. The only catch? Every moment will be documented on film.
Lizzie’s battle with cancer is coming to an end, and now she’s ready to embrace adventure for the very first time. There are only three months, but it is Lizzie’s time to finally start living!
Jaddi is known for her stunning looks, flirtatious attitude and many conquests. But Jaddi has a secret and on this last trip together she needs to decide whether her best friends will ever know the real her.
Samantha has always been the ‘grown up’ of the group, the one with a five year plan. What Lizzie and Jaddi don’t know is that Sam is trapped, and her perfect life isn’t quite what it seems…
As they trek across the globe Lizzie, Jaddi and Samantha must come to terms with loss, love and trusting one another. But will it all be too late…”

When I started the first chapter it was evident that not only was this a book about cancer, but about brain tumours in particular.  Now far too many people close to me have been affected by this horrific disease over recent years, and I wasn’t sure I could face reading a book with this as a key theme.  But, I’d already paid to download it – so I decided to start reading and then stop if I found it too distressing.  (Giving myself permission to stop reading a book is rare – hey, I persevered through The Goldfinch – but these were extenuating circumstances.)

Well, I can tell you now – I didn’t have to give up.  Whilst Lizzie’s brain tumour was fundamental to the storyline – and some of the things she talked about were all too familiar – it was always there in the back ground rather than being totally in your face throughout the whole book.  And a bit like the current Macmillan adverts – it showed that just because you have cancer / a brain tumour doesn’t mean you’re not still a friend / daughter / sister / lover too.

The 3 best friends are all very different – and whilst initially you think Lizzie is the one fighting a personal battle with the brain tumour – actually, all 3 of the friends have different battles in their own lives.  Each chapter is told from a different friend’s point of view – and I don’t think there’s a rigid pattern to the chapters – but they link together really well.

The descriptions of the different places the girls visit were great – helped by the fact that I’ve been lucky enough to visit many of them!

The story twists and turns dramatically – some of it more guessable than others (I sussed Jaddi’s secret fairly early on) – but all makes for a very enjoyable summer read.

I don’t want to give too much away though – read it for yourself and see what you think! I will definitely be looking out for more books by Laurie Ellingham.

 

** It would be remiss of me at this point not to mention the fact that brain tumours are a massively underfunded area for research – and if the book has moved you to want to donate to further research  – then we are heavily involved in fundraising for Brain Tumour Research in memory of our family friend Finlay Church who died in 2015 aged just 11.  You can donate in his memory here.  Thank you. xx **

 

 

Cankle-tastic!

“cankle
ˈkaŋk(ə)l
noun

informal
plural noun: cankle
 
a woman’s fat or swollen ankle whose flesh merges unattractively with that of the calf.”

 

I am not renowned for my delicate ankles.  It’s a family thing – my two sisters are similarly cursed.  Although only my youngest sister and I were described as ‘kraftig’ at a spa.  This was in Germany and the therapist was German – she didn’t just decide to call us ‘sturdy’ in German as it sounded more onomatopoeic!

Anyway – I digress.

I now have one normal sturdy ankle, and one cankle thanks to a horsefly bite standing in the playground on Wednesday afternoon!  (This is clearly why I normally pay our wonderful nanny to do the school runs, as it’s a dangerous place.) My ankle looks ridiculous and is really sore.

A friend who had a similar injury last week (I didn’t ask if hers was from a playground dwelling horse fly) has suggested I draw round the swollen bit so I can see if it spreads – especially with my recent foray into the world of cellulitis elsewhere on my anatomy – so I will get an eye liner out later (Younique of course, they go on so smoothly) and do just that.

I guess the benefit is that once the swelling has gone down, I will feel quite shapely of ankle…….

 

 

 

Book Review: The Postcard by Fern Britton

The Postcard

 

I was lucky enough to be given a copy of this by Netgalley to review – and then asked to be part of Fern’s blog tour – which was very very exciting!!

I hadn’t read the blurb before I read the book (based on the fact I’ve enjoyed all of Fern’s previous books) – but here is it is for you:

“The new witty and warm novel from the Sunday Times best-selling author and TV presenter, Fern Britton.

Secrets. Sisters. The summer that changed everything . . .

Life in the Cornish village of Pendruggan isn’t always picture perfect. Penny Leighton has never told anyone why she’s estranged from her mother and sister. For years she’s kept her family secrets locked away in her heart, but they’ve been quietly eating away at her. When an unwelcome visitor blows in, Penny is brought face to face with the past. And a postcard, tucked away in a long-hidden case, holds the truth that could change everything.

Young Ella has come back to the place where she spent a happy childhood with her grandmother. Now she’s here to search for everything missing in her life. Taken under Penny’s broken wing for the summer, the safe haven of Pendruggan feels like the place for a fresh start. Soon, however, Ella starts to wonder if perhaps her real legacy doesn’t lie in the past at all.”

I was DELIGHTED when I started reading to find out it was set in Pendruggan again – and revisiting characters we’d met before.  It felt like meeting up with old friends.  The previous books set in this village of Cornwall have always left me wanting to know more – and I was about to find out more – hoorah!

This time it centres, initially, on Penny. She’s a new Mum, vicar’s wife and TV exec – not necessarily always in that order.  The story follows her current and historic relationships with her family and the impact each has on the other. It also looks at quite serious issues of postnatal depression and the fact that women are expected to want to ‘have it all’ – and just how tough that can be for families.

Ella is then introduced – firstly in London and then moving down to Cornwall.  Her story interweaves with Penny’s – and it is interesting to see their relationship develop, along with Ella’s relationships with other villagers.

I really enjoyed this easy, escapist read and the gentles  twists and turns of the story.  It really evokes the feeling of being in Cornwall – and the village fete was very reminiscent of our own – albeit ours is in Worcestershire!

I don’t want to give too much of the story away (I hate it when I read a review that gives away something fundamental) but you really are rooting for Penny and Ella in different ways.

My only very slight criticism is that the ending seems a bit rushed. After a perfectly paced majority of the book, the loose ends for Penny are all tied up super quickly in the final chapter.   However, that’s not the case for Ella – and there is practically an Eastenders – duff, duff, duff at the end of the epilogue for her!  I can only hope that means we’ll be revisiting Pendruggan with its characters again soon!

I need to slot this into my 2017 Reading Challenge – and I’m going for the category ‘A book you bought on a trip’ as I downloaded it whilst we were at Centerparcs.  I realise that is slightly tenuous – but I can’t possibly read something and not tick a category off!!  We’re almost half way through the year and I’ve only managed 14 of the 40 categories – good job the summer holidays are coming up.  #readingheaven

 

 

 

 

There are two kinds of people…..

Fuel gauge 2

I saw this on Facebook yesterday, LOL-led and gave it the obligatory like, because it is exactly me and my husband (I’m the sensible, prudent accountant on the left, he’s the ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ entrepreneur on the right!)

This morning family logistics necessitated a car swap – which I was quite impressed he’d remembered when he left the house at 5.30am this morning in the correct car! However, I didn’t LOL quite so much when I got into his car and the fuel gauge was not only in the red, but in the fancy pants display said it was 0% full with the ability to drive 8 miles!!

Thankfully, and despite my sweaty palms from nerves not just the weather, I got the boy to the train station and the car to the petrol station before it used up the remaining diesel fumes!!  It can now drive 433 miles before the next refuel.  Or probably more like 233 if it’s me driving it…………

 

 

 

 

 

New York, New York – twice!

A couple of years ago the husband and I had a wonderful childfree few days in New York!

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Tourists on board a river cruise

And in a fortnight we’re heading back – but this time with a 12 and almost 14 year old in tow!!

We’re currently paying for the big 2 to go to school – which means their holidays are loads longer than the state schools (although you can practically fund the school fees in the reduced holiday costs #economics!) – so the little 2 are staying at home (with the nanny!) and we’re taking the big 2 on a city break.

Excitement levels are high (mostly due to Snapchat and Instagram ops!) and we’re hoping the children manage not to kill each other sharing a hotel room.

We’ve booked to see ‘School of Rock’ on Broadway – and to eat at The Boathouse in Central Park – but otherwise, we’re going with the toursit-y flow!

We’re staying in the same hotel as last time – and after our Billy Idol encounter last time, are hoping for a more relevant celeb spot in a lift this time!

I will, of course, report back how a city break with teens / tweens differs to an adult city break!!

Bring it on New York!!!

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