24 hours in NYC - Holiday Moments • Featuring British Airways

This post was sponsored by British Airways

We have been fully in countdown mode at this house this week, counting last sleeps for Sammy as a 7-year-old, and texting every night back and forth with my brother who is going to be the best surprise present of all.

A few months ago Sammy became completely overwhelmed with emotion – one of those wobbly lip moments that descended into a full-blown stream of tears running down his cheeks, and fighting for breath as struggled to get out his words. 

And it was all over his love for his Uncle Pat and his family in America. How much he misses them both and his baby cousin and how, in typical dramatic fashion, he’s “only seen them twice in his whole life!”, which I had to remind him wasn’t quite true.

But I know how it must feel, that the handful of times he has had with them doesn't seem enough. The thing we forget when we are all grown up is that a few months feels like forever to their young minds. Those weeks and months waiting for your birthday and Christmas to arrive are just endless!

Well, the wait is almost over my darling and when you run out of school on Friday, swinging your book bag in one arm and your school jumper in another, you’ll be running into the arms of your uncle! Even just typing about it makes my fingers tingle and I can feel a lump building from my tummy right up into my throat. There will be tears and probably this time they will all be from me!

It’s quite an incredible thing really, when your holiday allowance from work is so precious, to give up so much of it to fly home. We give my brother a hero’s welcome, just like we did when we waved him goodbye, knowing he’d truly lost his heart to a girl in New Jersey. Just like before there’s balloons and bunting flapping above the front door, I will stock up our fridge with all his favourites – things he misses from US supermarkets like traditional pork sausages and bakery sausage rolls! You’d think we would want to pack as much in as possible when we have such a limited time together, but in fact the way we make those 36, or 48 or, if we are really lucky, 72 hours last the longest is by keeping him at home. Games in the garden, pottering around the house. I love it, he loves. But so often I think he’s really got the bad end of the deal.

He has a home-from-home back here at our house and, likewise, we are so lucky to be able to go and visit him and my sister-in-law in New Jersey, have a US postal address for internet purchases and a base for us to bounce off from too. Rich and I have been over almost more times than I can count on two hands which is good going in 7 years. We’ve stayed in all their apartments and houses as they’ve climbed the housing ladder, ending up in a beautiful house with a white picket fence and neighbours with basketball hoops on the drive. And we get to visit New York, even if just for a flying visit.

Before my niece was born we were so lucky to scoot across the pond and have a magical summer night in the city as part of our visit around the time of our ten year wedding anniversary. I was sorting through a whole heap of albums on the computer the other night and I realised I have never shared the photos! 

I adore having the boys and going on holiday with the boys, but there’s something so wonderful about a trip away just the two of us. We took the train and crossed the state border into Manhattan and in just 50 minutes we had swapped the Garden State for skyscrapers but this time there was no steam rising from the sidewalks. It was roasting. I’ve never really understood the concept of summering out of a city. My early working life never really allowed me to decamp to escape the heat of a sticky office, but it’s absolutely true in New York. The streets feel different. There’s a calmness amongst the chaos and the traffic and after dropping our bags at the hotel, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the incredible view from our floor to ceiling window, we headed off to find a bike station and we cycled off towards Greenwich Village. 

Now I’m not a hugely confident cyclist, I tootle through the village after the boys with a picnic in my bicycle basket and ding my bell, but I felt so safe. Rich is all about making the most of an experience, seeing as much as you can and I followed his tracks, across junctions, through heaving traffic and smiled up at the drivers of what felt like the most enormous trucks I have ever seen, as we stopped at a red light. There were several points at which one of us or at times both of us let out a “wooooooo hoooo” like we were 7 years old and blasting down a hill. The sun came out from behind each tower block like lighting bolts as we made our way up the grid of roads and we decided to eat our way around Chelsea down to Soho and across to the East Village. 

We stopped for a coffee, (and a cup of tea for me. You can take the girl out of Somerset but you still can’t get her off a nice cup of builders) browsed in a few little boutiques, picking up some souvenirs (doesn’t everyone bring home a set of intriguing bitters you have no idea how to use for their mini bar?!) and dived into a few picture-perfect bars, with rows of metal bistro chairs squeezed onto the pavement around a table just big enough for your cocktail in a mason jar. 

It was bliss.

And looking through these photos made me smile. Tomorrow is tortoise party day for Sammy!

The funny thing is we had always imagined we would celebrate our 10-year anniversary in Italy, in a lakeside hotel full of history, and disappear for a few days to do nothing. I’m so glad that didn't come about because that can wait for year 13, 14 or 15. Something to plan for, something to look forward to, to research, to countdown to.

That and the big plans of a mass family meet up somewhere in America for my fortieth … which may be a few years away yet, but in our family it’s never too early to start day dreaming!

British Airways Holidays has teamed up with HuffPost Travel to celebrate those amazing little moments that make your holiday unforgettable. Share your favourite holiday moment and you’ll be entered into a draw to win a city break in Rome. 


Moana Birthday Party - A Fourth Birthday

Make way, make way! Yasmin lu it's time you knew, how we love you, we love you so much we do!

After months of playing the Moana soundtrack, trips to the cinema and watching the trailer over and over on YouTube there was no doubt the party theme for my little niece's 4th Birthday this year. 

It's fair to say our family really get on board with a party theme. Even with just 5 children and 2 babies the village of Motunui came to town! For Yasmin, Sammy and Ollie the build up and the preparations to their birthday parties are as much fun as the party itself. The weeks of FaceTime calls showing each other their costume ideas, exchanging parcel openings of bits and bobs for party bags and group performances of "Your Welcome!" - my sister and I squeeze every bit of enjoyment out of the celebrations.

A very well timed trip over to see Uncle Pat in America meant that I could scoot into the Disney store in New Jersey and pick up a few extras, including a Maui hook for Rich which gets played with everyday since, Moana truly came to Maidenhead on a bonus sunny weekend in April! We borrowed/took over my sister's in laws' garden and in a couple of hours had set up a sweet table, a makeshift coconut shy under the swing and dragged a cardboard boat that my brother in law had made into position! 

We were blessed with blue skies (which was lucky for those who braved just a grass skirt!) and we played simple party games, musical statues, races with balloons and a blow up limbo stick wedged in between the garden chairs. Spot the difference between my two...!

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The thing with having a party from 2pm-4pm is that it's not really lunch or party tea time and that means you can serve your guests all the naughty treats and not worry about carrot sticks! We set out a dessert table, complete with a Hawaiian-last-minute-table-skirt with Yasmin's cake as the centrepiece. 

Now I am all for the wow factor but with the minimal effort. I can't bake, one day I am going to crack it but for now I will settle for mediocre icing skills and a polystyrene tower. At a lot of the boys' parties the cake goes untouched. It's a big moment when we sing but if I forgot to slice it up for the party bags it ends up wrapped in foil and squashed into the plastic storage box to get left unloved on the kitchen worktop. I wanted all the beautiful cookies and cupcakes I had ordered from Sugar Plum Bakes to be a eaten instead so our false cake was absolutely perfect. 

I don't know how Vaani does it. The painting in icing - it's spectacular. Not to mention delicious. Just look at the detail on the boat!

I used a glue gun to stick the polystyrene false cakes together then simply used ready made tubs of icing mixed with a drop or two of food colouring and a palette knife to make wave like patterns around the cake. We raided Yazzy's Moana figures collection and I pushed a bouquet of faux flowers from a pound shop into a backwards S shape. That and I threw a handful of turquoise sprinkles at it. I think it possibly looked better in the photos than up close in the flesh!

She loved it and that's all that mattered! 

We had popping Volcano candy and sticks of sugar "Lava" rock for Taka, Hibiscus and pineapple lollipops, palm leaf boats filled with sweeties and multi coloured fortune cookies. My sister's mother in law makes the world's best chicken chow mein and we all dived into bowlfuls with a few hand rolled spring rolls on the side!

Games Ideas

We found a handful of games kept them all entertained for a couple of hours and it was much more fun when the adults joined in too.

  • "Consider the Co-co-nut" Shy! My brother in law made the stakes himself and we used a heavy cricket ball to knock the coconuts off their perches. The Dad's contest was the best. Let's just say there was more than a slight competitive edge between them all!
  • "How Far I'll...drink!" The Long Straw games is so simple but they loved it. Stick a paper cup to a piece of card wide enough for the children to stand on. Then use extra long straws to see who can drink the cup of water (we only filled them a little bit not a full cup!) the quickest.
  • Limbo is always a hit. We made it last about ten rounds by making it lower, higher, who could jump over and who could commando crawl under.
  • "We know the Way Round Granny" Take it in turns between the adults, men and women and children to make a conga line holding a balloon in between you. You have to shimmy together round an obstacle (Granny!) without the balloons falling down. A test of teamwork!

It was a hoot. 3 generations all chasing each other around the garden with balloons between their chests! Poor Yazzy was on day 4 of chicken pox but she soldiered on, the party really lifted her and while we cleared up after her two best friends left, we settled the cousins onto the sofa with their party bags. 

I LOVED how much everyone got into the spirit of the theme, (My mum looked insanely good as the Grandma) all for the love of a four year old sweet girl who lights up our lives. 

We've saved so many of the party decorations Talking Tables kindly sent us so we need an excuse to have another luau party soon! Logan couldn't quite work out how to twist his lei off from around his tummy!

Yasmin couldn't have been more grateful, before, during and after the party.

"You're Welcome" my darling girl. 

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We are still as much in love with Moana as we were last month and hats off to Rich for donning a skin suit. That's uncle love!

I didn't think we could adore another as much as her Pony Party last year complete with a miniature hairy guest but yes, life with this girl just gets better and better. 

Next up in the family calendar is another green get together! Sammy's turns eight this week and I have 19 boys heading back to our garden after school for a... wait for it... tortoise themed party. If ever I was hoping the weather was on our side this week is it. 

Ok Sammy, I'll do my best! 

Thank you so much to Talking Tables for all the beautiful table ware & decorations.

Me and Mine - A Family Portrait Project April

Now this is what you call a holiday. Days that blend into one, bonus sunny spells and a month of birthdays. 

We managed to eek out Easter for 4 weeks, more pottering than we expected, a few extra days in pyjamas than we planned. One chipped ankle putting paid to lots of play dates and plans. We all got a little fed up on more the one occasion with the wretched big boot. But I look back at these photos and think wow. Boot and all it was a brilliant school holidays. 

I want to quote a line from our favourite musical (you'll see more of that at the end of this month... Hamilton party here we come...) but "Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now."

I'm not sure when it happened that this all became normal life, weekends with friends, visiting family in beautiful parts of the country and even the days at home playing Greedy Gorilla feel precious. We are so lucky. Of course it's not perfect but that doesn't make us not lucky. 

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"Hey Google. How many boys does it take to show the Google PR team how to summon Dan TDM on YouTube?!" We had a surreal experience over the Easter holidays. Our one exciting overnight trip which involved washing a very mouldy buggy seat dug out from the depths of the garage and using it as a set of wheels for a very big baby! 

There was no way we could go up and negotiate London with Sammy in his boot so we took our old Quinny and whooshed him around, up and down the steps in the tube stations and into the Google Offices to try out the new Google Home device. 

The boys couldn't quite believe it when they handed them a gift bag with Google ribbon on it to take home and the next day when two emails pinged into my inbox about how delightful the boys had been I felt so proud and so privileged. 

Basically it's amazing. We can control our heating, lighting, shopping list, music and basically our lives on it. And we made it to the Google wall of fame. Life goal - done!

We went back to our apartment - which was an absolute find by Battersea Bridge, we are booking again for when we take the boys for their Christmas present to see Hamilton in the West End, and haven't stopped playing with it since. The funny thing is I keep thinking what a perfect gift it would be for an older person. Someone to talk to, someone to read the news to you, play a game with you, tell you a joke. It's almost like having a friend.

All the guilt I felt about cutting days short, cancelling friends to play has disappeared writing this post.

What a month. Another month of memories, of best friends coming for sleepovers, of nothing but a couple of phone snaps to remember it all by. But that's ok. They print ok, they don't have to be studio sharp, because what they mean is so much more powerful. 

One of the best things to happen because of blogging is photos, but more importantly photos of us as a family. It's not as often now that we all become models for an hour or a day and create some blog content, with the boys at school and three days a week being in after school clubs til gone 5 (and sunset!). I'm conscious that they need to want to be in these photos, they are too old to be bribed with chocolate buttons and now they have their own minds I want them to be part of this extraordinary existence on line, with full awareness.

So one Sunday afternoon, a few weeks into the boot, (Which could be removed for a short while without harm!) we created some content for the very lovely people at Joules for their blog and I laughed when an old work colleague from 10 years ago spotted us on their Facebook page this week and tagged me in her comment! 

We are a real family, the boys are a complete mix of us both, although the photos would lead you to believe Sammy is a mini me and Ollie is the spitting image of Rich, no wait Rich's mum Jackie. And I truly believe that seeing real bodies showcasing a product or clothing or whatever it may be, is so much more emotive than catalogue models, drafted in for the day to play happy families.

I'm not a model, my hips don't sashay down a catwalk in a size 8/10 dress but I am a loyal customer and an absolute brand advocate. And we have a gorgeous set of photos we never would've had if it wasn't for a blog post.

Just like the Me and Mine series. 

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Everywhere I read "This year is flying", racing away for almost everyone and for once I am happy to rush through May. Birthday month for our biggest boy and a surprise trip back for my brother. Sammy won't believe his eyes when he sees him ready to watch his school concert on the last day of half term. Eeeeeek! Actually we are going to hang back by the door as they come in because Sammy will want to give him a bear hug! 

This last photo has a few extras in it... but it's what is coming next. Oh April we actually couldn't have loved you more!

I know I am useless at these Me and Mine posts, posting days late but there are lots that aren't and you should go over and read what their families have been up to in April. 

Have read of Lucy, Katie, Alex, Jenny, Charlotte and Fritha's blogs. 

And then come and join in. It's never too late!