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Summer in London: Wahaca on the Southbank

Tweet   There are those moments when I’m reminded how much I love living in cities and how much I love living in London. Tonight was a glorious summer evening on the Southbank, the Summer of Love festival is going on, people were drinking and relaxing on the terrace and I met Selena from Oh, the Places We Will Go at the Wahaca Southbank Experience. Wahaca really is one of the best places to get — we can’t call it Tex-Mex but at least some kind of Mex — in the UK. It’s fresh, delicious, colourful. (As every Tex-Mex lover will know, true Tex-Mex tends to be all brown, served in a soupy mess and is absolutely gorgeously delectable.) This location looks out over the South Bank urban beach and is constructed out of shipping containers, a concept that’s caught on as a hallmark of with-it architecture even if it’s not necessarily as green as it first appears. (You can watch the video of how they built the pop-up.) But when you’re holding a watermelon margarita, eating creamy guacamole and people watching on a sunny London day, it feels like there’s no better place to be.     Tell me, what’s your favourite British summer activity or something you’ve done lately with the kids or on your own that makes you love this time of year? Post a link or share a comment below!   The details The Wahaca Southbank Experience Queen Elizabeth Hall Southbank Centre Belvedere Road London SE1 8XX +44 (0) 207 928 1876 Twitter: @Wahaca Want to find out about other cool London activities? Here’s some inspiration: Urban Explorer: A resource for family activities in London 10 things not to do in London     Subscribe to Jenography to get occasional updates Email Address...

Help support Sport Relief – sponsor me!

Tweet   The parent blogging community has come together for a major group fundraising effort, spearheaded by Mammasaurus, Mummy Barrow and The A Residence. It’s called #teamhonk (think: Comic Relief noses — honk honk) and more than 200 bloggers, tweeters, Instagramers and their friends and families are joining in, travelling from Land’s End to John O’Groats and pledging money. (Team Honk is a charity blogging campaign set up to support Comic Relief last year. Team Honk won BritMums’ 2013 Commentary BiB award for their excellent work.) Our goal: to raise £20,000 for Sports Relief during the 12-week relay. It started Sunday 12 January and goes until 23 March, and on Wednesday 5 February I’m taking part in the London leg. (As you might have guessed, the route is a bit circuitous, so everyone who wanted to be involved can be. Read more about the London leg in organiser HPMcQ’s explanatory post.) Our theme is walking the Monopoly board, so this section is called #Honkopoly. We’re dressing up to fit the Monopoly theme (race car, Park Lane, etc) and hitting major London landmarks from the gameboard, although sadly I won’t be purchasing Mayfair when I land on it this time. I’ve acquired my top hat and monocle and will be walking, travelling by scooter or going via public transport from Victoria to Marble Arch, then waving off the rest of the team as they continue to Kings Cross station and onward on the journey. The Honkopoly bloggers I’ll be with in London include Mums Do Travel, Domestic Goddesque, HPMcQ, Franglaise Mummy, Grenglish,  Not Another Mummy Blog, Chocolate Is Not the Only Fruit, The Holiday Tots, Babes About Town, I Carried a Watermelon, A Baby on Board, Manaias Mama, Clarina’s Contemplations, Hatty Daze, Pigeon Pair and Me, and SE Magazines, and possibly a few others. You can read about the trip all along the way on this page, where bloggers are sharing their part of the journey. And by journey I don’t mean that in the Americanised, spiritual quest, kind of way. Although maybe that too. But these are bloggers pounding the pavement for a great cause.   Sponsor me and the team by donating today! The first ever Sainsbury’s Sport Relief Games take place from Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd March 2014. The public can join in by running, swimming or cycling their way to raising cash at over a thousand venues around the country, including the landmark events at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Sport Relief is a huge fundraising event which brings the entire nation together to get...

The best museum in Istanbul

TweetWith all the drinking, eating and people-watching to do while travelling, sometimes — sometimes — I find the museum-going with travel to be a bit…obligatory. Some museums are life-changing for me, like the Reina Sofia in Madrid. Others are full of important and beautiful works that leave me feeling like I really *should* read more art history. If only I could pause journeying this forkful of local delicacy to my lips. On my short visit to Istanbul last year I only had time to visit one museum but it is one absolutely no one spending time in that city should miss: The Museum of Innocence. This is no ordinary museum. It’s a monument to the relationship between Kemal and Fusun, the two main characters in the Orhan Pamuk’s novel Museum of Innocence. Turkey’s Nobel Prize-winning author and perhaps most famous writer conceived of creating an actual bricks-and-mortar museum that’s a manifestation of one created by Kemal in the book. Which is a very cool idea. But it goes even beyond that. Pamuk created the museum and acquired the objects for it at the same time he wrote the book, allowing the objects to inform the story. The historical building, built in 1897, is a small vertical structure on Çukurcuma Street, its exterior giving little hint at the wondrous world inside. Visitors first see an installation of the 4,213 cigarettes that Fusan smoked during the time Kemal knew her. As you walk through the building, you view 83 installations corresponding to the book’s chapters, each providing insight not just to the lovers’ lives and the story but to Turkey and its struggle in the 1970s for identity between traditional and European values. Audio recordings bring to life the sound of a woman’s stilettos as she walks, people eating. You could linger for ages in front of each vitrine, exquisitely curated with ephemera. I often think of one in particular that was striking and a bit frightening: black and white pictures of women, black bars across their eyes. The text with the image reads: In those days, even in Istanbul’s most affluent Westernized circles, a young girl who ‘gave herself’ to a man before marriage could still expect to be judged harshly and face serious consequences: If a man tried to avoid marrying the girl, and the girl in question was under eighteen years of age, an angry father might take the philanderer to court to force him to marry her. It was the custom for newspapers to run photographs with...

11 British gifts to give Americans

TweetA couple of years ago I wrote a post about the 8 British gifts to get Americans (that I would never give to a Brit). Whoa! People went crazy for this post. It was the Strictly Come Dancing, the hit record of posts. Styles and tastes move on, so this year I’ve updated my (modestly) blockbuster post. These days so many gifts are the same no matter where you are. Living in London, that means I’m exposed to a whole different range of gifts that really feel novel and different to my American giftees. Only the most patriotic of Brits would want these under the tree, but Americans love them. 1. Revels – These are on my brother’s Christmas list every year. I once forgot them and he pouted for half a day. British chocolate is different from the American kind. I think it’s something to do with the sweeteners and pasteurised milk. In the UK, it says, “I got three packets of these for £2.” But in America, a gift of Revels says, “Have a Merry Christmas with this treat you only get once a year.”   2. Beach hut artwork – These sweet/twee/pastel images on this side of the pond sometimes bring up uncomfortable observations about the people who buy eye-poppingly expensive ones and commute to them via their vintage style VW vans. Yet for the vast majority of Americans, they are incredibly exotic. In the U.S. you have mere beaches, but in the UK you have the seaside, which is full of charm, 99 Flakes and these little beach huts. Also for Americans, the idea of a tiny hut on the beach, sitting check by jowl with a bunch of nearly nude people is utterly incomprehensible. Especially if it sits on a beach where cold weather and rain is a given for most of the year. Only the British would do this kind of thing, and do it with aplomb. Images available in posters, trays, tea towels, bird houses and other things they’ll find absolutely essential.   3. British-style toiletries – There’s nothing quite so lovely on a dressing table or in a well-appointed bathroom than an elegant bottle or container with olde worlde style writing that harkens back to the heyday of the British Empire. For real hardcore lovers of the English image, I’d love to give Penhaligon’s Maduro Leaf Candle, which fills the home with “a scent reminiscent of a smoking room in an elegant gentlemen’s club… wood panelled walls, soft leather armchairs, a fire...

The scarves that can save lives

Tweet At this time last year, I was visiting Ethiopia with ONE, the campaigning organisation, and a group of terrific mum bloggers from the U.S. as well as the lovely and inspiring Mummy from the Heart. We saw the lives of ordinary Ethiopians being transformed by the aid provided by the UK and U.S. governments. Along the way, we also visited FashionABLE — an organisation in Addis Ababa that helps women escape prostitution by teaching them weaving, dying and scarf-making skills, and selling the products of their efforts. You can read about the inspiring and beautiful women we met there in my post from last year. The exciting news is that FashionABLE — run by Barrett and Rachel, a couple committed to helping these women help themselves by earning a living — has grown from 3 to 30 women and is celebrating its 3rd birthday! This kind of homegrown business empowers every level of the supply chain, from farmer to the thread spinner to the scarf maker to the business manager. It’s simple: as you purchase a product, you create jobs. 3rd birthday, 30% discount for 3 days! The great part for those of us wondering how we can help make a difference is that for the next 3 days, FashionABLE is having a 30% off sale for its 30th birthday. It’s not just the cause that is exciting — these are beautiful pieces that are stocked in fancy-pants shops across the U.S. like L.A.’s legendary Fred Segal boutique and Biba store. Don’t take my word for it: see for yourself. And yes, they ship to the UK. Each scarf comes with a tag that includes a note from the woman who made it. And now the organisation is branching out to include gorgeous leather goods. Barrett & co. very kindly sent me a beautiful Seble scarf and leather envelope clutch. If you’ve seen me lately, you’ll have seen me wearing my Genet black-and-white scarf, which is my autumn favourite. It’s the perfect time to buy yourself a cool-weather scarf or order a gift for Christmas at a discount. Please consider it. You’re not just helping yourself look stylish — you’re actually changing lives. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. As Mummy from the Heart puts it in her post: If we were all to place just one order think of the knock-on effect that could have in terms of more women being offered the chance of a bright and dignified future. This video, which is less than...

They don’t eat horses, do they?

TweetThe news of beef burgers in several big supermarkets around the UK and in Ireland being contaminated with horse meat is all over the headlines today. It reminded me of this picture that I took in Brenham, Texas, last summer. At the time, I was surprised to see it — I’d never heard of horsemeat being an issue in Texas. I knew from living in France and visiting other countries that people do eat horse but always thought of it as an issue of personal taste and social custom. When I researched the issue after returning to London, I found out that slaughtering horses had become a heated debate. Slaughterhouses in Texas exported the meat to Asia and Europe and many Texans were against it, based either on the belief that the animals suffered unduly or that these creatures — because of our attachment to them as pets and companions — aren’t the kind of animal you should eat. It’s strongly tied to identity, as my picture shows: We aren’t the kind of people to eat horse. In 2007, Texas slaughterhouses were shut down, and some activitists kept fighting the sale and transport of Texas horses to slaughterhouses in Mexico. But there are also some America politicians promoting horsemeat, as detailed in this Houston Post blog. Of course, the issue for the beef burgers here is slightly different: something was in the burgers that shouldn’t have been and that wasn’t divulged to consumers. That has to be rectified. But the stories highlight our discomfort both in the US and the UK about eating horses. We think of them as beautiful animals to ride, race and own. We still have the problem of a few unscrupulous owners who mistreat their animals. But whatever you do, the consensus seems, don’t put them on our plate....

The problem with thank you cards

TweetThe gifts are unwrapped, the leftovers are in the fridge covered in foil, and Christmas songs have lost their lustre. That means only one thing in our house: the race to complete thank you cards is on. On my husband’s side of the family, we draw names and everyone buys one “big” present for someone else. This is good, since there are 5 siblings along with their partners and children. That also in theory reduces the number of thank you cards to be written. In practice, granny can’t resist giving the grandchildren something, Auntie R. and the kids always like to exchange a little something. And on my side of the family it’s a gift-giving free for all, which means cards galore. Writing thank you cards is a good practice for children, helping focus their little minds on the giver as much as the gift. While my family aren’t big thank you card-writers, occasions like anniversaries, weddings, new babies and the like merit them. In my husband’s family, it’s considered a basic tenet of good breeding and not to be overlooked at any time. There’s so much emphasis on them, I always feel the clock ticking. The card mustn’t arrive too late – almost as bad as not arriving at all. But then a part of me thinks, if the card is just a pro forma gesture, is it really sharing a heartfelt thank you at all? If you haven’t had time to wear, use or appreciate the gift before sitting down with pen and card, are you simply ticking a self-serving box that merely reflects on the writer’s demonstrating good manners? Then again, what’s wrong with demonstrating good manners, the way we do everyday when we say ‘please’ and ‘how are you’? All this back-and-forth inner dialogue has meant thank you notes in our house tend to either be written and sent before the wrapping paper hits the floor, or they languish without stamp or address for weeks on end. My copy of The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette (yes, I do have one) has advice for parents. Start children writing notes from age 6, with the parent drafting a simple message the child can copy. Weirdly, it gives this example: “Dear Aunt Nancy, Thank you for the magic set. It’s the best present ever. Love, Oliver”, which seems to me an over-the-top description of a magic set from dear old Aunt Nancy who probably doesn’t know that Oliver has totally grown out of that whole magic...

Bloggers: what are we good for?

TweetI love this question. Coming from the print world, I often talk to 3 kinds of fellow ink-stained wretches. 1. The ones who are plugged in or getting plugged in to social media and love the freedom and power it brings 2. The ones who want to get all social media’ed up and are a bit scared (despite controlling budgets of large departments or writing award-winning copy) 3. The ones who are sure that bloggers and the like don’t really know anything and that the whole social media thing will eventually blow over or just not apply to them. I always feel a bit sorry for the last group, who are the flat-earthers and Republican global-warming deniers of the print world. Today Liz Jones writes in the Mail about bloggers and it seems she’s firmly in the second camp, and thinks of all us women bloggers should just don our burkas and get on with the self-oppression. Read my latest post about it, over on the BritMums blog: It’s time to wake up and smell the bloggers  ...

5 ideas for carving Halloween pumpkins

TweetI love doing Halloween with my daughter here in the UK, especially since it’s still in its infancy. There’s a bit of trick or treating, there are a few parties but the celebrations aren’t over the top, like what can be a consumer-fest in the U.S.  I also find the whole super-gruesome costume thing that adult revelers have embraced creepy in the extreme. But one thing I am glad that has caught on here is creative pumpkin carving. I’ve never been particularly skilled in this regard. You have to get one of those little pumpking carving kits – knives can be unwieldy for fine work. In our neighbourhood I’ve been seeing some impressive versions. Here, my Halloween pumpkin gallery and 5 tips:   Tip 1: Use the natural contours of the pumpkin to create your design. Don’t worry about getting a perfectly shaped gourd. Unusual features can make it more interesting.   Tip 2: Two jack-o-lantern heads can be better than one for a front garden display   Tip 3: Carving a big face that covers a large part of the pumpkin lets out a lot of light for a dramatic display   Tip 4: You don’t need to restrict yourself to traditional faces. Ghost scenes, cats, witch’s hats — all look great carved into your favourite Halloween gourd.   Tip 5: The important thing is to have fun. A simple jack-o-lantern (triangular eyes, blocky mouth) is the easiest to carve with kids. You can always add a scar or a tooth or two.  ...

Top time-saving apps and sites

TweetOn BritMums we’re running a #BGSaveTime Linky, with bloggers sharing their favourite time-saving apps and sites. The Linky is sponsored by British Gas, which has a new online account management system and smartphone app that — among other things — lets you track the engineer coming for a home visit (at last!). I’ve been meaning to blog about my favourite time-savers for ages. Ironically, trying to find the time to do it was the difficulty. To speed things along, I asked my friend Jen Leo, a top-notch travel writer and blogger what she likes, and I’ve been trying out her suggestions (below). Along with that, here are my favourite time-saving online resources. What’sApp Sometimes text messages just aren’t fast enough. To help communicate with the BritMums team, we needed a way to group message that wasn’t quite so clunky. Someone suggested What’sApp – cross-platform mobile messaging that lets you exchange messages…without having to pay for SMS (bonus). DropBox This isn’t a travel app but it’s invaluable for sharing hi-res pictures and documents with my fellow BritMums team as well as with my family. You can use the webapp or access it via an icon on your computer so you can drag and drop. No more emailing smaller versions to yourself to resave, then email again to the recipient, repeating ad nauseum. Easy. Cozi Family Organizer “I love Cozi,” Jen Leo says. “It is our family calendar. My husbands updates from his computer, I update from my Android phone – it’s all in one spot.  And it’s totally free! iOS, Android, Web – great for all. Especially since I never got the hang of Google calendars – which is weird because I use them for everything else. But Cozi interface is so easy to use.” 12 more kids’ travel apps, recommended by Jen Leo Here are 12 more kids’ travel apps recommended by Jen that are a combination of time-saving and, er, time-spending for bored kids stuck in a car or on a plane. Download now, thank yourself forever. What are your time-saving apps and sites? Check out the #BGSaveTime Linky Challenge – there’s still time to share your favourite apps, add your link and possibly win prizes!    ...

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