run out of womb

... learning how to be a mum from scratch


Friday 28 April 2023

Disney World Florida hacks, tips and money-saving for young families

We’re just back from a trip to all the epic theme parks in Orlando and every night I cracked down to do more research than I did for my degree. Which Disney parks are best for young kids? Do you really need a Genie+ pass? (The FastPass is no more). What are the must-haves to pack? Where should we stay - on-park or off? What are the best rope-drop hacks? How can I pack all the rides into one day? Are there ANY ways to save money in super-expensive Orlando?

I’m far from a guru - I’ve just been on the one Disney trip as a grown-up! - but we packed in EIGHT theme parks in as many days, with a two-year-old, five-year-old and seven-year-old rollercoaster addict - and learnt a lot. This post is just focused on the Disney parks - here’s what I’d tell my best friend taking her family to Orlando, Florida (apart from ‘expect to have the most amazing time - it’s absolutely incredible.’)


Tuesday 7 June 2022

Fresh reads: a review of Books2Door


Books books books: early on when my first baby (who's now somehow seven?!) was born, I made a promise to myself that whenever he asked me to read a story, or held a book up to me pleadingly, I'd always stop whatever I was doing and sit down and read with him.

And now I'm a mum of three with endless work deadlines and homework demands and meals to cook and Whatsapps to answer and and and... I still try to follow this pledge but sometimes life intervenes! 


Wednesday 30 March 2022

Review: The Grove, one of London's most family-friendly hotels

For the Capital's parents, one of the great things about a getaway to The Grove is the journey: it might feel like it's in the depths of the English countryside - all rolling hills and Spring daffodils when we visited - but this resort-style hotel was only half an hour from our part of NW London. It means you arrive fresh and ready to explore the 300 verdant acres, and there's so much to do for everyone in the family. 

Our kids - six, four, and one - loved an early morning explore of the vast woodlands, where there's a giant musical trail, a cycling route and free bikes for under 12s, plus a free, app-based treasure hunt involving taking photos and looking for hidden signs. There are various bike routes (and adult bikes to be hired too) along the canal or inland, but you won't want to stray for too long because there's so much to do at The Grove. 


Tuesday 27 July 2021

Best parks for kids and families in NW London, Barnet and beyond

Summer holidays are here - and this post is just a great big mental dump of all the parks and open spaces that we've enjoyed over the past few years that you might too. 

If you're looking for some outdoors ideas that don't cost money (beyond the inevitable ice cream invoice you'll be hit with by the toddler) - save this post, share it with friends, and breathe in all that fresh (ish, it's still London) air...


Monday 5 July 2021

A family-friendly week in Shropshire cottage Drover's Rest

Back in the old, pre-Covid days, I was a devoted hotel lover. I had a mental league table of the best-ever hotel breakfast buffets. I loved the social factor of meeting others and chatting about the best things to do, and the kids making friends. Someone else tidied the room..

I know lots of people with kids find self-catering easier, and it definitely can be more affordable, but a week doing the same cooking, eating the same Weetabix breakfasts, tidying up all the time and doing so without the home comforts that made it easier didn't hold the same appeal.

But Covid shook everything up and we haven't yet felt comfortable enough to go back to a hotel. We wanted to explore a part of England we hadn't been to as a family and started cottage-hunting. We found Drover's Rest, a newly-built farmhouse-style property (all wood, glass and stunning views across the Long Mynd and Shropshire Hills. 

It was fantastic. I'm a City girl, London born-and-bred, but even I started day-dreaming about moving to the countryside as our kids ran freely in the beautiful fields on our doorstep. Our baby started saying 'baa' every time she saw one of the many, many newborn lambs just a few steps from the cottage, and the water and air tasted and smelt so pure and fresh!


Saturday 5 June 2021

Tula Explore: the best baby (and toddler) sling for petite mamas

With my first baby, I carried him in a sling most days as we were out exploring in London, jumping on the Tube and around galleries and museums and everything was easier without a buggy. With my second, I used a sling the whole time because it made it so much easier to run around after his big (toddler) brother at the same time. And with my third, a sling is the only way to have two spare hands to hold onto my sons whilst looking after my baby daughter too. So I've been sling-sporting (or baby-wearing as the gurus put it) for about six years, mostly using a BabyBjorn. 

It was fine when the babes were tiny and in the classic model. But then as they grew I needed more back and shoulder support so moved on to the Air model. And that's when it went wrong. I'm small - still wear kids' trainers, have been known to buy clothes in age 12 in Zara, am around 5"1 - and so many slings I tried just didn't get tight enough on their shoulder or back straps.


Friday 9 April 2021

Family days outside: Berkhampstead

When we want a rural day out but don't want to go too far from NW London, the affectionately-named Berko is a popular option. The drive is short enough to be bearable with a baby who HATES the car, there are lots of animals to spot on route, and it's lovely place to walk around - canal, Rosie and Jim re-enactments, castle ruins, lots of playgrounds, and lots of cafes and non-chain restaurants. Here's our pick of what to do:


Family days outside in London: Canary Wharf

As lockdown loosened we were excited to get out of NW London and explore other parts of our city. On a freezing cold Easter holidays day out, we drove to Canary Wharf to explore its new roof garden, Crossorelle, a new Camilla Walala tunnel bridge, a kids' art trail and just watch the river glide at its own sweet will and, of course, eat some food not cooked by me.


Tuesday 6 April 2021

NW London family days outdoors: Woodberry Wetlands

With three kids aged five and under, it feels like I’ve already visited most of NW London’s kid-friendly spots ... a lot. If I had a pound for the number of times someone’s asked me if I’ve ever taken the kids to the RAF museum, I’d be able to buy one of its Spitfires. I’ve spent more days in Golders Hill Park than the donkeys who actually live there. 

Now, the kids will happily revisit anywhere with a playground / log to jump on / ice cream. But I get bored. So when I stumble upon a new spot, it's exciting. 


Wednesday 31 March 2021

20 outdoor days out in NW London post-lockdown (almost all with excellent food)

I once wrote that "soft play is the worst place to be a parent. They're stuffy, stinky, germy holes with no daylight, crappy food and worse coffee..." hahaha how we'd all love a calm morning in one of those places with the sound of kids' happiness now. But! We don't have to stay at home all the time anymore, and there are so many great outdoors days out around NW London that I wanted to write some down for you here.

We have 20-ish places to visit in or near NW (ish) London that aren't just about the babes - you AND your kids will enjoy them all. 

1. Capel Manor. One for the sunny days - Capel Manor is basically a university for gardeners, 30 acres to explore where they've created loads of different, individual gardens (think the children's garden, Japanese garden, water garden, etc) for you to all saunter round. There's a small farm, reptiles, a maze, a fairy garden plus regular activities for kids, like egg hunts at Easter. Take a picnic and you'll have a great day out.

2. Finchley Nurseries - this is a garden centre that's actually a great morning or afternoon out too. There are the usual plenty of plants, which my kids love looking at and playing guess the fruit/herb/vegetable plant etc, but lots more too: a small playground to clamber over, a fish / aquarium area, a cute cafe with really EXCELLENT takeaway cheese toasties and cakes at the mo, pick-your-own flowers in summer, and an area selling who-would-want-these china gnomes where my two could stay all day... Easy parking and lots of walks nearby too.

3. Kentish Town City farm: it's small but in combo with local strolls, makes a lovely afternoon out: oink at the pigs, see the chickens, horses and more then walk down to Boma Garden Centre for cute babycinnos and seriously, seriously good brownies. Must pre-book, opens for the public from 19 April.

Image result for kentish town city farm

4. Broomfield Park has one of London's biggest adventure playgrounds (and a smaller one that's more tot-friendly), a conservatory with bananas growing, crazy golf (albeit it's not such a crazy course), a lake and model boating pond - and the amazing nearby Baskervilles Tea shop, with delicious cakes, babycinnos, etc for takeaway. (Is it obvious that I'm obsessed with the cafes?)

5.  Kenwood - there are ducks in the pond and huge grassy expanses to explore outside, walk down the hill from the main house and put 'Hollow Tree' in Google Maps to find a really excellent hollow tree to clamber all over and explore.

6. Ally Pally: swan boats and pedaloes (bonus: great work out) on the boating lake are reopening soon - and there's a great playground with sandpit (the addition of sand adds an extra hour to the average playground session, I find, and about 1.5 billion grains of sand to my car). Few nice cafes, including one inside the garden centre.

7. St Albans. A drive from NW London, but worth it. There's a fantastic playground in the huge Verulanium Park, plus mini golf and a splash park if those ever re-open safely, there's the Waffle House which does a brilliant safe take-away service at the moment, and lakes to walk around too.

8. The Grove, Watford. Also a drive away and also yes, it's a five star hotel but in lockdown they've opened up their grounds to non-residents and still now you can go to walk in their grounds. We went, parked near the Anoushka Kids' Club, explored their brill musical trail in the woods (huge metal/wood structures to play with), then walked along the canal and near the golf course (the kids really wanted a go in all its 'sand pits' but had to desist..).
9. Sunnyfield Park, Hendon. To be honest, this is a fairly average park with an adequate playground and we go mainly because I love the Israel cafe. Really great takeaway shakshuka, wraps, sabich.. And a giant hill to tire the kids out with too.

10. Avenue House / Stephen's House. Being NW London born and bred, I haven't updated the lingo and this beautiful, volunteer-run space in Finchley Central is forever known as Avenue House. They've updated though, and there's a great playground (with extra sand delivered to the playground sandpit just today!), a more wild climbing area (check out the carved owl), wooden gym/exercise areas dotted around, a lovely pond, cafe with outdoor seating and good events too. I'm partial to walking the 10m to Falafal Feast for their yummy lunch and picnicking in the greens. Don't miss the chance to explore the gardens of the Bothy if you hit jackpot and visit on a day when they're open - and there's open-air theatre there again this summer too. Say hi to Spike Milligan from me.

11. Clarenden Playground at Hornsea Park 

Full disclosure: this ridiculously good-looking brand new playground was shut the day we visited, but it looks so good that it's on our list to return ASAP and you should too. Even has sun loungers for parents to relax on (HAHAHA, yes I have a toddler and baby and 5yo.)

12. Stationers' Park, Crouch End

Big playground, tunnel slides, and you can walk to the bajillion excellent eateries of Crouch End, what's not to like?

13. Golders Hill Park
There's the animals, the strange cuboid sculpture that I remember, as a five year old, running up the sides of (but realise now that this didn't happen), the delicious gelato from the cafe, and the tennis courts, duck pond, always-closed butterfly house, climbable trees and rolling hills of the main park, but take a sharp left as you enter from North End Road and keep wandering and you'll find a beautiful pergola, lake and rambling ruins to explore. Along with a whole lot of pouting Instagrammers.

14. Lewis Ice Cream Farm
A speedy drive to Barnet and you'll find yourself in a well-managed, socially-distanced queue for one of a gazillion flavours of perfect ice cream. There's a playground and haystacks to clamber over in normal times, hopefully they'll reopen them soon, and lots of fields to explore. But walk, shmalk, we mainly go for the sundaes...

15. Highgate Wood and Queens Wood

The woods really saved our lockdown. Dens, sticks, the Gruffalo, and bam, the kids have happily played together for an hour. The benefits of these adjoining woods are the excellent large playground of Highgate Woods, with separate section for younger kids and two sandpits, the even better Pavilion cafe (best park food in NW London? I think so.) and the vast wild areas to explore in Queens Wood, which by the way also has a small but perfectly formed cafe. 

16. Lyttelton Playing Fields, Fletchers Park, Northway Gardens and Bigwood

An undulating triple park bonanza here; park on one of the roads around Norice Lea and enter Lyttleton Playing Fields; you'll find a capacious playground, lots of room to run around, a stream, good bridge for Pooh Sticks, and small (Kosher, if that's your bag) cafe. When you want to explore further, cross Kingsley Way to enter the small, recently-jazzed up Fletchers Park with nice planting, and walk through to cross Northway road and enter Northway Gardens. You'll pass Toulous Cafe (which used to be public loos, geddit?) where you'll find nice sarnies and sweet potato chips (currently closed), see beautiful, volunteer-planted rose gardens, a gushing stream, tennis courts and another playground at the tip,  which is perfect for toddlers. If you've still got energy to burn, exit the park near the playground, cross Oakwood Road and enter Bigwood, some not-so-big woods with lots of nooks to explore.

Not a park but it's outdoors - crazy golf with pretty terrifying animatronic dinosaurs all over the place, what's not to love?

OK, NW London is a stretch but it's actually in Maida Vale and this is hands-down the best playground in London WITH AN EXCELLENT PIZZA RESTAURANT next to the playground gates. I mean, look at this playground! There are lots of Paddington Bears dotted around too.

19. Teddy Bears Walk, Mill Hill

You'll find it if you put 'teddy bear walk nw7' into Google Maps - a magical path next to a field, filled with cuddly toys in the trees and branches. Tag it on with a trip to Mill Hill Park's epic playground and really excellent cafe and you've had a great morning, even if the rain dumps four years' worth of wet on you in one go, as it did to us...

20. Forty Hall, Myddleton House combo

Between these two institutions (a drive away in Enfield) you'll find animals, lakes, gardens and cafes. You have to book Myddleton House in advance at the moment, but it's free.

Other ideas for days out (some slightly further afield):
Berkhampstead, Cassiobury Park, Friary Park, Oakwood Park, Trent Park, Firs Farm Wetlands, Grovelands, Aldenham, Ashridge Estate (bluebells aplenty), Beckonskot model village, Ivinghoe Beacon, Gruffalo trail in Ealing, Broxbourne sculpture trail.

Thursday 11 March 2021

The Best Presents for a Sibling from a New Baby

Giving birth is hard enough, but I'm extremely glad I didn't have to also push out the present my baby 'bought' for his new big brother.. It was a toddler version of the etch-a-sketch drawing board. A really, really big version... Good job the new baby Amazon Prime'd his gift rather than buying it in-utero. But it did turn out to be a really good present: his toddler bro loved it, and it was especially helpful in those early weeks when I was feeding the newborn and didn't have free hands all the time - something the new big brother could get along with solo.

Obviously you'll know your own kid's likes and obsessions the best and that will feed into the present - but in my experience of a close gap (mine were born exactly two years, one month and one day apart), you want a toy that your eldest can play with solo, for a long time, and/or which helps them feel involved.

So here are some great ideas for new big brother / sister presents if you've got a toddler (or older kid) who's about to lose his or her I'm The Boss Around Here title...


Tuesday 12 January 2021

Piccolo baby food subscription box

There have been (many!) stressful things about giving birth in lockdown - but when my baby turned six months and another lockdown loomed, I started to worry again! In her first months, where I worried about sourcing my next slot from Ocado/Tesco/random farm someone's said has spare capacity on Facebook, at least I knew my babe wouldn't go hungry as all her food came from my boobs. 

Not so when weaning beckoned and a food delivery slot once again became as rare as a parent happy that schools were shut. So when Cat, the founder of Piccolo, a baby food brand I've written about a few times at work, and told me about her new subscription service.. I was excited!


Wednesday 4 November 2020

Amazing Autumn family photoshoot in London

Giving birth to my third babe two days before the first lockdown, we didn't have a whole lot of family snaps! There was the iPhone one a kind neighbour took from the end of our driveway, a whole bunch of awful phone/timer attempts and some blurry selfie jobs, but..that was it.

Now, I love summer's rays whilst playing in them, but photo-wise, reckon its Autumn's crunchy hues that give the best backdrops. So when I saw Photos By Ruby's amazing leaf-speckled family photoshoots on her Instagram feed, I knew I wanted to book in for our own session.


Monday 2 November 2020

The Only Guide to Weaning You'll Need To Produce A Perfect Eater

After canvassing much advice and as mama of two, here's the definitive guide to raising a baby to be a non-picky, adventurous eater..

One who hits the scales at weight 'perfect' and turns pale at the thought of refined sugar. You've bought the best weaning gadgets... so follow these steps, and you will have an adventurous eater on your hands in a mere 12 days.

1. At the start of the weaning process, remember that your baby will only be used to drinking sweet milk, so ensure their first foods are soft, liquidised sweet fruit puree such as apple mush.

2. This is true except if you want your child to be a sociable eater when older - one who enjoys eating out in restaurants and gobbles everything put on their plate. In this case, never offer a baby pureed foods - doing so is pandying to their inexperience, and lack of teeth. 


Monday 19 October 2020

Jumping in Muddy Puddles: the Scamp Suit

There are a handful of baby/kid inventions that they really need to extend to adult usage. Gro-bags; naps; teethers (hey, my wisdom teeth really hurt..). 

Now, after tiny man tested out a new outdoor outfit, Muddle Puddles' Scamp Suit this weekend, I've immediately added it to my list.

I mean, I think I might look a bit like an oversized Teletubby if there was an adult one, rather than the cosy bundle of energy that tiny man looks like in his Scamp Suit. But it'd be worth it. This outfit is ideal for outdoors-loving toddlers (all of them, right?). 

Sunday 27 September 2020

Parents Selling Stuff Online BINGO

It must be something to do with all those broken nights' sleep. But when people turn into parents, some go bonkers. Nowhere is that clearer than in buying and selling groups on Facebook. . . where someone's actually selling a dummy ("lightly used") for 50p. And someone else has something advertised as "could do with a clean.." (so clean it before flogging it?). And someone actually bought a "baby wipe warmer".. and thinks someone else might want to buy this pointless ("Invaluable!") gadget off them.

Most of the time, these groups are a really useful way to get hold of stuff you need, or nab a bargain, without adding to that enormous child-rearing plastic landfill. But sometimes people are a bit, er, strange in their sales ads. So next time you're browsing a group, why not play PARENTS SELLING STUFF ONLINE BINGO?


Sunday 16 August 2020

Family travel: Woodend Villa, Torquay

The three things we missed most in lockdown were family (especially as our little lady was born on the day that schools shut and we all had to stay home..), then restaurants (remember how we used to just pop out for a quick dinner without even thinking twice about touching a pepperpot/door/working out if we could avoid the rain if we ordered and ate really fast?!) and... swimming. 

I got really into swimming whilst pregnant and Mr 5 had JUST learnt to swim when pools shut. I was pretty sad thinking that we wouldn't be able to have a dip for who-knows-how-long whilst Covid lingers. 


Wednesday 8 July 2020

Tonies: the screen-time-bashing hifi that your kids will love

 During lockdown, screen addiction got real. I gave birth to my third child on the day that schools were closed.. So some days, turning off Paw Patrol or trying to de-grapple an iPad from a toddler's paws involved the kinds of screams more usually heard in an abattoir. Or a banshee meet-up. Or foxes making sleep-shattering midnight, er, love. Screen time addiction is real.

But then we trialled a kids' gadget that gives them the time they need to chill out (often solo!), but still use their imagination. Step forward the Toniebox - like a foolproof hifi for kids, so they can listen to music or stories (including ones you can buy and others that you/grandparents/friends record, and read out). Here's what we think about it:

Monday 2 March 2020

Lunii My Fabulous Storyteller review: the screen-time killer your kids will love

Turning off Paw Patrol or trying to de-grapple an iPad from a toddler's paws usually involves the kinds of screams more usually heard in an abattoir. Or a banshee meet-up. Or foxes making sleep-shattering midnight, er, love. In short, screen time addiction is real.
And yet, that black box of pixels is sometimes so fricking useful. When you're knackered. Or need to do some work. Or just want to make dinner without also simultaneously acting as a referee between squabbling siblings who just so happen to want the same toy. 

Monday 27 January 2020

Winter Things to Do in London with Toddlers and Kids

Summers in London are great - endless places to go, city beaches and parks to play in, fruits to pick, playgrounds to explore. 

But Winter? It's trickier but there's still a lot of fun to have - I really hate soft play so always try to think of other places to fall back on. Here's a list of a load of great, often indoor London places to go when the weather's not all that warm...
They're all within an hour's travel from NW London, cos that's ROOW HQ and I'm not *that* adventurous. So, enough chat... Bookmark it, share it, but most of all visit them - and let me know what I've missed...

Thursday 26 December 2019

Review: Dinotropolis, Bluewater

The prospect of soft play normally gives me sweaty palms. Especially on the weekend. Hot, sweaty, packed, scream-filled. No thanks. But we've just visited the brand-new Dinotropolis centre in Bluewater - it's soft play, but with a twist. It's actually really good.

What is it? A massive dinosaur-themed adventure playground, with a decent-sized area for tots (ball pond, two slides, squashy things to hurl around) and a huge expanse of twisty slides, climbing areas, soft ball-shooting machines to control, massive spacehopper-style balls to jump around - all surrounded by huge, animatronic T-rexes and more, who moved their heads, twisted around, and generally delighted kids, and, er scared my toddler!


Sunday 17 November 2019

Family-friendly brunch in Kensington, London

Remember what brunch was like in the pre-kids days? Leisurely, long; there'd be newspapers, steaming-hot coffee, endless courses... Relaxing... And a not-to-be-repeated for 18 years memory?!

Because even the best-behaved kids won’t sit for *that* long - and you can't even leisurely stroll around the buffet table when you've got people hanging onto your legs, begging to have yet another chocolate croissant...

Or that's what we thought, until we hit up a new family-friendly brunch at the NH Hotel in Kensington this weekend.

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