Hauser & Wirth Somerset

A few weeks ago, Laurence’s parents treated the family to lunch at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, in Bruton, to celebrate a birthday. It’s a modern art gallery and restaurant with a truly exciting garden. I’d love to visit again for the garden alone. I don’t feel like I fully took it in and so much thought has gone into what to plant where.

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Laurence and his brothers went to school in Bruton and it amuses the family no end that what they’ve known as a somewhat sleepy little Somerset town is becoming a hotspot for art and culture, and really quite fashionable.

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We started off with the Roth Bar & Grill. The food was all beautifully presented and so tasty. It seemed a shame to choose a burger and chips when so much else was on offer but it’s what I fancied and I didn’t get a touch of food envy, for once. We smiled to see Charles Dowding’s salad leaves on the menu as Laurence recently did an organic gardening class with him.

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After lunch, we took a look around the art gallery. It struck me that the installations were just the type to capture a three-year-old’s imagination. They were big, dramatic and open-ended. Talitha especially loved a room full of big, colourful pom poms. She and her grandmum spent a long time there and she’s been talking about it ever since.

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We also walked around the garden for quite some time. It was in that transitional bit when the seasons had not quite yet changed. I thought I’d mention the dress that I’m wearing as it is the biggest bargain I’ve found when it comes to maternity/nursing clothes.

It’s the Money Penny breastfeeding dress from Mama Feels Good which comes in purple and black. I love the fit (it kind of drapes), the material is comfy, access to nurse your baby is easy and it can be dressed up or down. And get this, I got it for £9.99 though it’s currently selling for a few quid more.

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Also, a few people have asked about the ring sling. It’s a size 2 Girasol wrap I got converted to a ring sling by Geeky Sweetheart. Definitely one of my favourite slings. I love ring slings made from wrap material. They just have a longer life to them.


Night photography tips for the darker months

With Halloween, Bonfire Night and (dare I mention it?) Christmas on their way, this is the time of year to get our DSLR cameras off their automatic settings and work on our night photography. So, the invitation to attend a photography workshop put on by Transun, a tour operator that takes groups up to see the Northern Lights and organises family trips to Lapland, was well-timed.

Here’s the quick and dirty for taking better photos at night:

1. Use a tripod

You absolutely want to keep your camera still. Even the slightest shaking can ruin your photo. If you don’t have a tripod, look around and get creative with leaning your camera on a wall perhaps or a stack of books.

2. Slow your shutter speed
This allows more light into your camera. It also lets you to capture light in movement, like fireworks or, you know, the Northern Lights. You’re looking at between 0.5 and 30″ here.

3. Think about your depth of field
Lower figures (I shot with wide appertures here but should probably have played around more) allow more light in, while leaving less in focus. I’ve read that a narrower depth of field gives lights a sparkle effect.

The class covered quite a bit more but this is what I’m focused on having a play with at the moment. I’ve usually left my camera on the auto settings on CA or AV. I think I’ve slightly felt that because Laurence takes much better photos than I do, there’s not a huge point in me trying much. But I do think my photos are, bit by bit, improving and this workshop has whet my appetite to experiment a bit.

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So, I went into the garden and had a bit of a play with a pumpkin I carved for Halloween. I don’t know what’s “right” or “wrong”. At this stage, I’m just trying things out and seeing how different things look. In the first and second photos, I’ve used ISO 125, F/1.8, 10 sec. For the second one, the pumpkin was moved a couple of times, horizontally. The one below was shot the same but at 30 sec and the pumpkin was moved around various positions with a few-second count in each location.

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As the nights draw in, I’m really looking forward to trying a bit more of this, especially on Bonfire Night next week.

You can read more about what we got up to on the Transun blog.


Autumn Camping in Cirencester

OK, so it’s not quite the depths of Autumn yet but we are a week in. The weather is taking a distinct turn and we thought we better sneak a family camping trip in before it gets really cold.

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We’d chatted with a friend about our families camping together in the summer but the holidays being what they are (too busy, as usual), it didn’t happen. I’m so glad we decided to go this past weekend instead of ditching the plan altogether.

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Laurence found this sweet camping spot, the organic Abbey Home Farm in Cirencester (I’m pretty sure I’m not pronoucing that properly…even in my head) about an hour from Bristol for our one-night stay. We almost had the place to ourselves!

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The land is not ours, it belongs to the future and we should leave it in good heart.

The kids loved being surrounded by sheep and cows. The adults admired the flowers. We all loved a look around The Organic Farm Shop onsite. I may have been unable to resist buying something pretty for our dining table. I’m sure it’ll feature in a post at some point.

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Laurence had this idea that he and the kids were going to make bread on a stick (we did eventually show our friend’s four-year-old where to hold it so it would actually cook, promise). The kids loved it but Laurence got really stressed getting dough all over his hands – ha! Then Talitha was the only one who actually liked eating it, ah well.

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It was amazing to see the children make their own fun. We didn’t take much to entertain them. They just loved romping in each others tents, exploring the woods, collecting pine cones and climbing trees.

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I enjoyed waking up to this sky.

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And this baby.

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I must admit I’m relieved she’s not crawling yet, though. As it was, I had to keep fishing grass and leaves out of her mouth. My mother tells me I ate a lot of sand as a baby. She’s probably smiling at this.

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It really wasn’t that cold and I don’t think the kids would have much minded even if it were. Even when the adults were all bundled up, they were throwing off their layers. It’s our second camping trip all as a family and our first with friends. I’m looking forward to doing this more.


Sanctuary Villas Resort, Tobago

I love having a nose around hotels. I suppose there’s a sort of escapism in that, maybe a little daydreaming too. I’m actually not very well traveled so haven’t stayed in that many (though maybe more than some). We had a great time staying at Sanctuary Villas Resort in Tobago recently, though, so in case you’re a bit like me, I thought I’d show you around.

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The resort is a short distance from Mount Irvine beach, great for surfing, which is all Tobago means to Laurence.

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We stayed in the Hummingbird Villa, which sleeps eight in four bedrooms. We were actually seven adults, a child and a baby but our little family chose to share a – rather large – bed. Each villa has its own swimming pool and, with lots trees around, it all felt very private.

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It is self-catered and pretty much has everything you could need – even a laundry room. I really appreciate the attention that’s gone into the decor. From the colonial-style shutters to the paintings to the Caribbean floor tiles, the villa’s style is certainly considered.

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The bedrooms are basic but comfortable (apart from ridiculously huge pillows – ouch!).

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I want to show you this room but I’m also showing you that I don’t stand like a lady.

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It was so cool of my parents to take us here. They’d stayed at the same villa the year before with a lot of our extended family for my grandfather’s birthday (evidently no one else has cared to sign the guest book since!). I wouldn’t mind making this a yearly thing – would you?


The Community Farm, Chew Valley

OK, so not really farming, but Talitha and I had great fun a few weeks ago going along to an early years cookery class at The Community Farm in the Chew Valley between Bristol and Bath.

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The fact that we’d chosen possibly the wettest day of the year to go didn’t wreck our time at all. Rather, it reminded me of how important it is that we continue to get outdoors in all sorts of weather.

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We went along with Jess and Cherry from Along Came Cherry – a treat in itself. I love that learning to drive has given us the freedom to go to places like this and to see friends who live a fair distance away.

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The kids walked around, learning about the plants, spotting slugs who were loving the rain and picking some bits for the stir fry and snacks they were going to make later.

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The cookery bit happened undercover in a gorgeous yurt dedicated to educational purposes. They munched on a few bits before the cooking began. The experience encouraged Talitha to try cucumber for the first time and admit that she likes it!

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The kids all got to be as hands-on with the cooking as they wanted, with the help of surprisingly effective plastic knives.

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This didn’t mean my child would eat the stir fry, mind, but she tried it and I think it’s a definite step in the right direction getting her outdoors and letting her get involved in a meal from start to finish.

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This is what I’ve been doing with our vegetable garden too but I’m sure the atmosphere of being on a big, beautiful farm like this one and hanging out with other kids is a tad more effective. It solidified to me not just that she needs to be outdoors but that she needs to connect with growing things.

Joining in with Coombe Mill’s Country Kids


A Trip “Home” to Trinidad and Tobago

I don’t know what to say we’re doing when we book a trip to Trinidad and Tobago. I was born and raised there, so for most of the nine years I’ve been living in England, I’ve called it “home”. We’ve just got back from two weeks there and it felt strange to tell friends beforehand that we were “going home”.

My children hardly know the place and I’ve no idea whether they’ll ever live there. Laurence is from the West Country. T&T is certainly not his home. I moved here when I was nineteen. Virtually my whole adult life has been spent here. If we were to move there, I’d probably have as much to learn as any of us would.

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So, I wasn’t prepared to fight back tears as we stepped off the plane in Piarco International Airport, walking through to security. “It’s like I forget this place exists when I’m over there,” I told Laurence, my accent already beginning to slip back, as he predicted it would. It happens every time.

But this wasn’t like the other times. I didn’t feel the rush of relief when the plane landed, like I was suddenly in a safe place, a country I understood. It was more sentimentality than homecoming. Realising that made me a little sad. I suppose it’s inevitable. The longer we stay here, the more roots we put down here and the further back Trinidad and Tobago gets filed in my personal history.

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Before Laurence, my goals for going back were simple. I was in a frenzy to see everyone, family and friends. It was always university holidays so I’d try to pick up the odd bit of work here and there. Now, it’s mainly boiled down to spending time with my parents and drinking in the country I took for granted, growing up.

Here’s a bit of what we got up to this time while out there.

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We ate our body weight in mangoes. Well, Talitha could not be convinced to try them or anything else local. I tried (hard) not to take it personally.

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She was, however, fascinated with the tiny creatures who welcome themselves into Caribbean homes.

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The highlight of our trip was a stay at Sanctuary Villas Resort in Tobago. I loved it so much, in fact, that I’ll be blogging about it soon.

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Visiting Tobago allowed us to try out Castara Bay. The water is so calm and makes for gorgeous swimming. It’s a postcard beach. We’ll certainly be back.

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We also tried out a beach forty minutes from San Fernando in Trinidad since that’s where my parents live. I’m still not clear on whether it’s called Guapo or Clifton Hill. There seems to be a disagreement on this. I was desperate for a last dip in the sea and Talitha had a good play on the sand. It was nice enough but not particularly a beach I’d go out of my way for.

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I think my mother (pictured here) may have found it amusing that we wanted to go to a Sunday market. There was so much colour and such a great buzz running through the stalls but it took living “away” for me to see how fascinating these places are.

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Our trip happened to coincide with Independence Day – great fun as we got to see some pretty impressive fireworks. The media was filled with talk of the nation’s identity, which was particularly stirring to read at a time when I was mulling over my own.

I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time when Trinidad and Tobago is non-essential to how I understand the world and myself. There’s never truly going to be a time where it’s not, on some level, home.


Travel activites for preschoolers

We’re going to Trinidad this year. It’s a nine-hour flight. I always resent people responding with “Only nine hours?” when I say that, as if nine hours stuck on a plane is a breeze for any small child and their grown up.

Anyway, I’ve survived it twice on my own and this time Laurence is coming too. We’ll also have Ophelia but it still feels less daunting with another reasonably rational person along with us. You choose which of them I mean. I jest. Maybe.

I’m really looking forward to planning to trips to elsewhere in the world too. As important as it is to go home, it’s all too easy to end up always holidaying there. It would be fun to plan something family friendly through a site like Tots Too at some point.

Anyway, here’s what I have planned for the three-year-old. The five-month-old will be all boob and sling.

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1. Child-sized headphones. I know the airline provides headphones but I never find them a great fit myself and I didn’t want to risk Talitha not being able to tune out with some screen time on the flight. These seem a bit quiet too which makes me happy about protecting her hearing.
2. Usborne’s 100 things for little children to do on a journey. Between drawing, finding and playing, this pack of cards has LOADS to keep her busy, with the help of an adult.
3. Sketchbook, coloured pencils and felt-tip pens. Stuck on you sent us these with Talitha’s name printed on them. She’s had such a kick out of recognising her name on them and they’re nice quality too. It’s been amazing seeing her drawings develop over time.
4. Peg dolls. I loved these clothes peg dolls so much, I just had to make some of our own. Talitha chose the colours and even took one of them to bed with her one night. I’ll bet Laurence will love playing dollies on the plane.
5. Library books. We’ll be making a special trip to the library to choose some new books that can take some re-reading.
6. Apps. Of course our iPad is coming with us. If you have any suggestions of apps, I’d love to hear them. Talitha’s current favourite is Eggy Alphabet from Reading Eggs.
7. Foam letters. This is another idea I stumbled across via another blog. I made some numbers and am trying to keep them away from her so she doesn’t get bored of them by the time we fly.
8. Gruffalo Snap. Her godmother gave her this pack of cards for Christmas and she has quite the attention span for it. It’s hilarious playing with her, though, because she doesn’t always understand that we’re not taking turns saying, “Snap!” then tells us off for being unfair.
9. Snacks. For preschoolers, this IS an activity! And we even have this cute little lunchbag with Talitha’s name on it, also from Stuck on you, for her to keep all her snacks and drinks in.
10. Magnetic drawing board. I actually had to google what that was called because I’m so used to calling it an etch-a-sketch!

This is a collaborative post. See my disclosure for more details.