My Sunday Photo

Last Thursday we came home to find the cats chasing this around the kitchen windowsill. There was some squealing from DD1 at the size of it and I admit I didn’t believe her at first. I thought she was probably making a fuss over a damsel or crane fly.

I rescued  the poor thing and took it outside. It’s wings were a bit battered, and I was worried that it might not be able to fly away. It sat on my hand for a bit, whirred its wings noisily for a few seconds, then took off into the blue autumn sky while the dog and I looked on.


dragonfly and dog

Mr Nobody

With six people, two dogs and two cats living in our house, you wouldn’t think it would be possible for someone else to live here and not be seen, would you?

But apparently that’s what’s happening. What else can explain what happens in our house on a regular basis, other than that we share our home with a ‘Mr Nobody’.

According to our children ‘someone else’ leaves the dirty socks in the hallway. ‘Someone else’ stuffs food wrappers behind the sofa. And ‘someone else’ is responsible for throwing the sofa cushions onto the lounge floor and constantly misplacing the remote control.

And if I calmly point out that these objects are not where they are supposed to be and make enquiries as to whether any of my cherubs knows anything at all about the missing object or mess every one of my offspring widens their innocent eyes and wrinkles their smooth brows in what can only be genuine confusion.

‘It wasn’t me’, they inform me quickly, often before I’m able to explain to them exactly what I’m asking them about. They are obviously concerned about my rising blood pressure. They are such lovely, caring children.

If I ask, it seems Mr Nobody is responsible for leaving empty packets in the cupboards and fridge, knocking all the wet towels off the drying rack, spilling ribena across the kitchen and trying to shove that one last piece of rubbish into an already full rubbish bin.

Because no other bugger owns up to it and what other explanation can there be?



The City Of Light With Kids

For our summer holiday this year we took the train to Spain, after stopping over one night in Paris. We stayed in a little 3 star hotel near the Bonne Nouvelle Metro Station, just 0.6 miles from Gare du Nord. We did take a taxi from the Eurostar terminal to the hotel, in fact we had to take two. When we first arrived we were besieged by drivers offering us vehicles so we didn’t have to join the official taxi rank. The queue was very long, so this did seem an attractive option but the cost was going to be 90 Euros! This did seem a bit steep, and they eventually went down to 70 Euros. In the end we decided to stand in line for an official taxi after all, but there wasn’t a car big enough for us and our luggage. So we took two, each of which cost us 12 Euros.   And so we avoided making a rather expensive mistake on our first evening.

Our hotel was fine for one night, but we wouldn’t have wanted to stay longer. The single beds were very narrow, but it was clean and tidy and had WiFi.  The kids were happy because we had McDonald’s for dinner.

Then, after we had spent a couple of weeks exploring Spain (Barcelona, Sitges and San Sebastian), we caught the train back to Paris for a couple of nights.

Paris sunset

The two oldest girls have actually been to Paris a couple of times before, but they were too young to remember anything. And we have taken the girls to Disneyland Paris about 8 years ago, when they were 1, 3 and 5 . Again, their memories of this are non-existant/fuzzy. I’m glad we took them when they were little, even if they have little or no recollection of the trip, because I have photos that PROVE we all had a fantastic  time.  Travelling with older children, especially tweens and teens, can be tricky. We found it much harder to balance our desire to stop and look at things with their desire to only do what they thought was going to be fun. When they were little, they had been happy to run around in circles and explore where ever we happened to take them. Now there has to be a whole lot of compromise going on.

For the last three nights of our summer holiday we stayed at an Air Bnb apartment near the Pantheon; there was more than enough room for all of us and it had a piano for DD2 to practice her exam pieces on. The location was fantastic and the lure of all those famous French places just outside our door made it relatively easy for the kids to put down the internet and explore.

Paris is full of great buildings and things to see and do, but we only had two full days there so had to be careful not to overload our schedules. The only thing worse than dragging a reluctant toddler from tourist attraction to tourist attraction, is trying to do the same thing with teens and tweens!

kids outside Notre Dame

We walked down to Notre Dame and joined the ridiculously long queue that folded around on itself many times so we could take a look inside. Some of the kids were more tolerant of the queuing than others, but it moved pretty quickly and we were inside within 20 minutes. DH and I would have liked to look around a bit longer but the kids were impatient, and wanted to go and feed the pigeons instead.

feeding pigeons Notre Dame

These birds weren’t the filthy, disheveled London-variety pigeon. They were fat and glossy and still had all their toes. There was a man hanging around doling out hand fulls of birdseed if you gave him a few coins. The kids loved the birds using them as a dinner table and no one got pooed on.

By this time people started getting hungry so we wandered across some seriously lock-heavy bridges in search of lunch.

Locks on Parisian bridges

Lunch was very French, which meant only half the family ate anything, and then we got cabs to the Eiffel Tower where we had a tour booked. This enabled us to skip the line for tickets at the bottom of the Tower and we  went up to the 2nd and 3rd floors as a small group.

Blue skies and the Eiffel tower

We all wore headphones which made it possible to hear what our guide was saying at all times no matter how far away from him we were, so we all learnt a lot about the history of the tower. Even the kids paid attention, although DS spent most of the tour pretending he was a spy.

A spy on the Eiffel Tower

I’ve seen, and been up, the Eiffel Tower a handful of times now, but I always love it. And the look of the kid’s faces when they first saw it, was worth every tantrum and argument. DD1 really wasn’t keen on using the elevators to go up, but she coped and managed to recover enough to pose for cheesy group photo at the top. I know, but it’s got to be done!

kids up the eiffel tower

We spent about 3 hours at the Tower until everyone started complaining of tiredness/hunger/boredom, then we grabbed taxis and headed home for dinner.

During our second day in Paris, we visited le Jardin du Luxembourg and paid out some money so the little kids could sail boats on the boating pond.  There was no technology involved, just sails, wind and sticks. Looking back we should have probably hired them a boat each. Either that or made them share a stick.

Sailing boats in Jardin du Luxembourg

Once our time was up and we’d retrieved the boat, we headed off to the Musée d’Orsay for some Art.

Musée d'Orsay from the back balcony
I love Musée d’Orsay. I think it might be my favourite gallery in the world. It’s fairly compact but it has space for kids to explore, and a lot of the art exhibited is really interesting. It’s also got a cafe and plenty of loos and places to sit. We spent a good three hours meandering from room to room and recognising works of art here and there. Even DD2, who had made the most fuss about having to put the internet down and leave the apartment, was impressed when she saw this hanging on one of the Gallery walls.

Vincent Van Gogh 'Dr Who' Painting

Being a Dr Who fan, she wanted to inspect it closely for a concealed Krafayis; luckily she managed to do so without setting any alarms off.

I could have spent another couple of hours in this Gallery, but again the kids were getting hungry and tired so we decided to quite while we were ahead.

That was pretty much all we did in our two days in Paris. Kids slow you down quite a bit, but the good thing about Paris is that it’s only a couple of hours from London by train, so we almost definitely will be back to visit some bits we didn’t get to see this time.


When Is It Time To Drop An Activity?

If you’ve got children, you have probably enrolled them in some sort of after school activity at some point.

Swimming, football, dance, drama, music, brownies or beavers, gymnastics…the list of opportunities is endless.

Sometimes these classes are truly child driven. Your child loves to dance or sing or kick a ball, so you find a class that allows him or her to do what they enjoy, with the bonus of an audience.

But other times, the child has not asked for lessons or classes in this particular skill. You, their parent, choose the class because you think they would like it or it would be good for them. You might have chosen it because you’d have loved to have done it as a kid, or you may think the class is essential.  Lots of little girls end up doing ballet because their mothers were never allowed lessons and many people consider swimming classes essential, for example.

Ballet lesson

It doesn’t matter why your child(ren) started the class, unless they really, really adore them, the chances are high that at some point they are going to come to you and say they don’t want to take lessons any more.

What do you do? Do you let them give up straight away? Or do you insist that they finish the term? Do you listen to why they want to stop? Or do you just say sorry you don’t like it, but you have to keep going?

I tend to do everything I can to encourage my kids to continue with an activity that I think suits them, but I’m fine for them to stop after the term has finished if they haven’t clicked with it. I’ve let them give up gymnastics, trampolining and various after school clubs after it became evident that the child and the activity were not a good fit. I don’t feel at all bad about these decisions.

I have also stopped lessons that the kids have enjoyed because they were too expensive, or didn’t fit into our timetable. Stage school ( Ballet/singing/ acting/ tap and modern dance), gymnastics for DD1 and karate for DD2. I did feel a little bad about making my children stop these, but our schedules were just too full.

Karate Kid
But there are a couple of things that I’ve insisted my kids continue with. Brownies and Beavers, because they are social and cheap; swimming until Y6, because it’s a life skill and music lessons, because they are all quite musical and being able to play the piano ( and one other instrument), are great skills to have.

And just recently DD1 and DD2 have come to me and told me they no longer want to play with a local Youth Orchestra. They have been with this group for 3 and 2 years, and it’s taken up 3 hours of their term time Saturday mornings, as well as many evenings for concerts during those years. It’s hard work but the standard of music is high and up until now I think it’s been a good use of their time. Recently though, DD1 and 2’s enthusiasm has waned, and this term they have decided they don’t want to go back. They are still learning two instruments each and are playing in their school bands/orchestras so they are not giving up completely; they just want a break from playing in youth orchestra.

Initially I tried to persuade them to continue but in the end I’ve let them give up. I have spent years ‘encouraging’ ( IE making them practice) them to develop their musical ability and they have done really well.  They are in years 8 and 9 now, they are busy with school work and they are getting too big to ‘force’ to do anything they really don’t want to do. And I don’t want to put them off music completely, who knows, if I back off now, they might go  back to it of their own accord.

If you have a child that loves an activity, for goodness sake let them carry on with it if you can afford it or you can fit it into your lives, but if your child hates something he is doing, or has no affinity with what they are learning, then what’s the point? Life is too short, surely?

San Sebastian: From Tapas to Pintxos

After a lovely relaxing break in Sitges, we once again packed our bags, trundled up to the train station and caught a train cross country to San Sebastian.  This was another six hour train ride zigzagging across the plains and mountains of the country. The scenery was ever changing and we even got to stop at Pamplona. We didn’t see any bulls, though.

Finally we arrived at San Sebastian, where we waited and waited for a taxi to take us to our Air BNB apartment. In the end we gave up and walked. It only took us 20 minutes, even dragging our bags and it was nice to stretch our legs.

Our apartment was a huge, top floor apartment with a tiny lift and an amazing view of the Urumea river and Zurriola beach. I spent hours reading beside the window, while listening to the waves roll up the river.

Urumea river and Zurriola beach
As you can see, the beach was a popular one. We had obviously been spoilt during our time in Sitges as I found it impossible to keep an eye on four kids while they were swimming at this beach.

Zurriola has some good surf and the waves were quite large with the ‘right’ wind.  There are separate areas for surfers and swimmers so it’s probably safe enough, but I didn’t find it very enjoyable. The kids loved it though and went out with buckets trying to catch fish and crabs. They did come back with one small amputee crab that I then freaked them out with by showing them how to pick it up. Who knew that such a skill would one day be used to terrify my offspring?

There are calmer beaches in Concha bay, to the south, but these were also very busy. They did have some rock pools at the end near the Aquarium, where there were crabs and small fish waiting to be caught.

And further along the beach we found a lovely playground, Alderdi Eder, complete with shady seats and a gorgeous carousel. The older two were a bit meh about this, but it was a ‘must do’ for DD3 and DS. They spent ages deciding what they were going to ride on. DS chose an airplane and DD went for a cat.

Carousel in San Sebastian

We spent quite a lot of time wandering around San Sebastian, exploring and looking for places to eat. Again DH had visions of us roaming from bar to bar, eating a pintxos from this bar and that as we moved happily between establishments. Sadly for him, this was not to be.

Our children are varied in their fussiness, so catering for all of them with pintxos proved to be impossible. We ate at a place like the one pictured below just once. It involved hysteria from DD3 ( she didn’t like the hams hung behind the counter and won’t eat chicken), disgust from the other two DDs ( they won’t eat seafood or tomatoes), flat out refusal from DS ( if it’s not a burger or a pizza he won’t eat it), but we had lunch there anyhow.

Pintxos bar San Sebastian

It was all very tasty but it was hard to enjoy the food with the kids looking so disgruntled next to us. From then on we stuck to Italian restaurants. We may have to wait until the kids leave home before we can experiment gastronomically on holiday.

The weather was pretty good when we were in San Sebastian, but we had one wet day and used it to visit the aquarium. It was very busy but the line moved quickly and we were soon inside. We’ve seen a lot of aquariums as a family but this one was quite interesting as half of it is in the form of a museum of local fishing and naval history.

The aquarium itself was compact but informative and the kids especially liked the touch pool and the shark tunnel. ( NB These are NOT linked)

touch pool San Sebastian aquarium

All in all, we had a fairly relaxed time in San Sebastian. There is plenty to do with kids, and we had no trouble finding food for them. We loved the accommodation and would like to have stayed longer. But by now we were on the homeward stretch and were heading back to France, to stay in Paris for three nights.

My Sunday Photo

Over the last couple of weeks, my two youngest ( 7 and 9 years) have been messing around with boats at the local sailing club.

They have had an absolute ball as they learnt to paddle, then to steer an oppie ( a small boat built like a bath tub) and finally they got to tear around the lake in one of the outboard-powered inflatables. There was also a session where they took out some larger boats with an instructor to supervise and squirted everyone else with water pistols as they breezed past.

The 9 year old is now ready to follow her older sister’s footsteps and take a week-long course that will teach her how to rig, then sail a small sailboat with another person. Sailing is a great sport that gives kids confidence and independence. If your child likes the water and is a confident swimmer, why don’t you see what your local sailing club can offer?

We live within Greater London, so all our sailing is done on small lakes. You don’t have to be lucky enough to live beside the seaside.

Paddling lessons


My Sunday Photo