Category Archives: Family

London townhouses

I Got The Mansion Tax Blues

The people over at Property Division have put together an infographic on how the proposed mansion tax will affect London (see below).  For those of you reading from outside of Britain, the mansion tax is a proposal by the Labour Party to have an annual tax on real properties worth over £2 million.  The actual plan is a little fuzzy.  Originally it would have been an annual levy of 1% of the amount over £2 million but there’s been some step-back on that proposal.

London is disproportionately hit by the mansion tax.  According to reports, 11,462 London homes will face the mansion tax.  Calling the tax a mansion tax is a misnomer as well.  From my own experience, I have found that in Hampstead/St. John’s Wood, the price per square foot is upwards of £1200/s.f..  As such, a 1500 s.f. place could put you over the £2 million threshold.  In Manhattan, 1500 s.f., will get you a good-sized 3 bedroom apartment and in London 3-4 bedrooms, depending on how poky that fourth bedroom is.  Hardly a mansion, either way.

London townhouses

image credit: Rightmove

According to the Labour Party, the approximately £1.2 million raised will go towards the NHS.  That is ,of course, assuming that Labour actually raise the $1.2 billion because they will also let people roll-over the mansion tax if they are under a certain income threshold until the owners sell or die.  My street in Belsize Park actually had a retired couple whose grandfather had bought their house from the Victorian developer of the street.  Although hardly an ancestral pile in the usual sense, their home has been passed down through the family and is now worth well over the £2 million threshold.  They had planned on leaving the house to their daughter and family but this super-charged death tax will probably make that impossible.  They are relatively young and healthy (in their 60’s) and a possible 20-30 years of mansion tax rollover with accrued interest will be a massive amount.  Maybe this particular couple can hold out until a future government repeals the tax.  Death and taxes may be a certainty in life, but so are changes in governments.

An alternative plan would be to increase the council tax bands instead of levying the mansion tax.  I know the council tax rates we paid in St. Johns Wood were laughable.  They had so much money coming in from Westminster businesses, the residents pay the lowest council rates in England.  Our council services in Westminster were excellent by the way and much better than services we experienced in Islington or Camden councils.  The big problem with the Lib Dem plan though is that council tax goes directly to the council and not to the Treasury.  As such, the revenue is out of the potential Labour government’s reach. Money raised from the mansion tax going into the Treasury doesn’t automatically mean NHS funding either but it is a good public relations move.

NW8 road sign

In my opinion, mansion tax is all about wealth redistribution. The top 1% of taxpayers in Britain contribute almost 30% of the revenue for the Treasury.  The mansion tax is just another tax on income that’s already been taxed.  Nice double-dipping if you can get it.

double-dipping

***

11,462 London Homes Face Mansion Tax - Inforgraphic

Brought to you by Property Division, The Property Investment News Hub.

 

 

what's your story?

Help! My Blog is Schizophrenic!

Why do I blog?

The money, the power, the prestige.  Ha ha.

I’m sure people wonder why I blog.  With my second blogging anniversary just having passed I have been asking myself the same question.  Technically though my blogging anniversary is a fluid concept sort of like some celebrity birthdays (and marriages).   I got off to a really slow start publishing one post a month from the last quarter of 2012  until the first quarter of 2013 when I doubled my output (2 posts a month!).

I was on a roll! There’s no stopping me now.  Why do I do it?

  • I like to write.  I don’t have the interest or discipline to write a book.  Law firm writing suited me perfectly – precise, non-fiction and factual.  I’ve enjoyed, however, writing about matters that are less dry than the topics I used to cover as a lawyer (e.g., the relative competitiveness of major players in the cement industry or the risk factors associated with the use of barely-seaworthy cargo ships).  I kid you not.  I really did waste hours of my youth researching for, and writing about, such topics.
what's your story?

Everyone has a story.

  • Believe it or not, being a stay at home mother is not all coffee mornings and time at the gym. It is long days of chaos and confusion interspersed with mind-numbing tedium.  If you don’t keep yourself interesting, then God knows, your children won’t.
Yes, this is  my day. Every day.

Yes, this is my day. Every day.

  • My blog is a record-keeper of our family’s times and interests.  By the time my children get around to asking about their childhood, I may not be around or, just as likely, have lost my marbles.  I wonder if my children will read about poured cement floors with the same distaste that I accord shag carpeting these days.
fabric swatches from 2013

Colours and patterns from 2013

  • My blog has turned into a journal of our family travels.  Having a blog has forced me to pay attention to the details and to capture moments in my head before I put words to paper.  It’s so very easy to forget the details.  In some ways, I am sorry I did not start blogging earlier.  With the passing of time, I have forgotten details of trips we have taken or activities we did.  For example, Mr. N and I found this fantastic little Italian restaurant in Rapallo in Liguria tucked away on some backstreet.  We ate dinner 3 out of the 5 nights at this restaurant but now can’t remember what it was called.
travel

We want to travel everywhere!

  • I have always loved photography and now I have another reason to snap away.  My children are thankful they are no longer the sole subject of my camera lenses.  In fact, instead of complaining about having to take photos, now they are always photobombing my pictures.  It’s a variation of that old adage – treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen.

For a record-keeping exercise, this blog is neither very introspective nor very personal for the simple reason that  I despise navel-gazing.  I am perfectly happy accepting that I am not a special little snowflake.

This introduction brings me to The Big Announcement.  I’ve given my blog its annual check-up and in my best non-medical expertise have diagnosed a severe case of schizophrenia. So far my blog’s multiple personalities revolve around home, family and travel.  I hate to use the word lifestyle because I don’t actually have much of a lifestyle. (I consider Netflix one of the best things that ever happened to my life, right after getting married and having children.)

I can empathise.

I can empathise.

Although I will continue to post here about homes and family, I’ve decided to send my travel posts away to their own little home.  From now onwards, my travel posts will only appear exclusively at Just Go places blog, the blog for the family travel inspiration website I am associated with, Just Go Places.  I’d love it if you joined me there.

So, thanks to all my readers for following along with my random musings. Now you can find me at two places. I still find it amazing that anyone reads these posts but Google Analytics assures me that lots of you do.  And, if I don’t trust Google, who can I possibly trust?!

ghosts in trees

Ready for Halloween

Are you ready for Halloween?  We have been ready since last year’s Halloween.  We live in a part of North London that takes Halloween seriously.

front doro

Enter if you dare!

Decorating the house is always fun.  Living in a rental flat, glue tack is my new best friend. It seems I have a massive spider infestation!

spider web decor

spider infestation

This year we are lucky enough to have a giant tree in front of our house that we can hang ghosts from.

ghosts in trees

Ghosts to welcome you!

I am only doing a limited bit of trick or treating with the children and we are having a small party at our flat.  We have had a lot of fun making the decorations and hanging them up.  There was a lot of creative use of gauze cloth, paper chains, and plastic table clothes.  We’ve carved our pumpkin, blown up balloons and filled a piñata.  This afternoon will be spent making zombie faced cupcakes and skeleton cookies.  (After all, the sugar from the candy isn’t going to be enough!).

I’m also going to do a Haunted House treasure search in our flat.  With the lights turned off and dusk so early nowadays, the flat is pretty dark.  Each twin will lead their team to find four mason jars hidden throughout the house.  I’ve got a couple of parents signed up to be the obligatory scary monsters jumping out of closets. I’m also giving each team a flashlight and one iTouch so that they can video the whole thing.  Our own version of The Blair Witch Project – I wonder how it’ll turn out!  In my experience, just the darkness and random screams of others is enough to spook children.  I’ll let you know how it goes – assuming we don’t have any child that truly goes into hysterics and we need to call the whole thing off.

Hope you have a fun Halloween!

samosas

An Evening of Indian Cuisine at Poggenpohl

The other week I was invited to Poggenpohl’s North London branch for a champagne reception with a celebrity chef.  I love Poggenpohl kitchens and plan on having one in my new house.  In fact, I have already bought the kitchen but that is a story for another time.  The celebrity chef was Cyrus Todiwalla, owner of Cafe Spice Namaste and co-presenter of BBC television show, The Incredible Spice Men.

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Chef Todiwala was fantastic! Seriously, I’m a fan girl now.  He’s really witty, charming and an amazing cook.  I usually lose interest in cooking demonstrations (eating is my thing!) but Chef Todiwala was really informative.  He peppers his demonstration with random trivia which holds your attention.

I learned more than I thought possible about onions and about rice, both of which are very important in Indian cuisine.  Chef Todiwala says his four restaurants use about 11 tons of rice a year and so the man clearly knows a thing or two about rice.  He suggests that after you start the rice on the stovetop you transfer the rice for the rest of the cooking time to the oven in a closed oven-proof pot.  I’ve cooked Risotto in the oven but never basmati.  I may have to try this technique because risotto is so much easier in the oven.  In addition, he rejects the idea that you can not store leftover cooked rice.  He says you can keep rice by cooling it first uncovered in the refrigerator.  As soon as you cover it when it is warm, the moisture builds up and bacteria can grow on the bottom of the rice.  By the way, did you know rice can go stale?  I didn’t, but then again, we never keep rice around long enough in our household to go stale.  Apparently, you can’t smell the staleness of rice unlike lots of other ingredients.  However, if you hold rice near the light and it glows, then the rice is past its best-by date.

IMG_2466

As for onions, Chef Todiwala suggests you buy small onions.  Large onions just have more water and less concentrated flavour.  In addition, larger onions are harder to chop because the sections split up.  When you chop an onion, cut off the bottom but retain the top so that you can use it as a stem to hold the onion as you chop.  The small cheap onions sold by the bag in supermarkets are the best onions.  Finally, you should store onions in the wine fridge because that is the best temperature for them.

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I thought it was charming that Chef Todiwala brought along his pre-measured/sliced etc. ingredients in little Tupperware containers even though he could probably afford some high-end variation of containers.  It’s very Indian to have a whole collection of these little plastic containers.  Most Indian households (including mine which isn’t very Indian really) have a cupboard full of plastic containers.

IMG_2465

The appetisers at the reception were delicious.  They were traditional dishes but with a modern twist which is Chef Todiwala’s signature approach.  My favourite, though, was the lentil fritters which were even better than my mother’s ones.

Chef Todiwala’s demonstration involved some favourite dishes from his Parsi background using the Poggenpohl kitchen and Gaggenau appliances.  (Parsis are ethnic Persians who relocated many generations ago into India.)  Before our eyes, he whipped up a handful of dishes, including rice, a vegetable curry, a baked chicken and a pan-cooked egg and potato dish.

Poggenpohl had large-screen televisions set up to show the cooking demonstration throughout the showroom.

vegetable curry

Chef Todiwala has several books to his name – Cafe Spice Namaste and Indian Summer both from 1998, Mr. Todiwala’s Bombay: Recipes and Memories from India (2013) and The Incredible Spice Men (2013).   He says all of the dishes he cooked are in his books.  For someone who is a fan of spices and has a television show about spices, he says you can get away with having only a handful of spices (coriander, chili, cumin, turmeric, cloves, cardamom and peppercorns) and still create amazing dishes.  If you would like to try out some of his dishes, they are available on the BBC Food website.

Chef Todiwala is a natural teacher which is readily apparent.  Probably a good thing because Chef Todiwala and Poggenpohl are teaming up to offer cooking classes at his Cafe Spice Namaste restaurant near Tower Bridge.  You know I’ll be there!

savoury dishes

Afternoon Tea at the Conrad St. James

Anyone ready for Christmas?  Of course not – I would be worried if you were.  I am, however, always ready for a good afternoon tea. Decadence, after all, knows no season.  I was delighted, therefore, to be invited to the London Bloggers Tea  organised by Selena at Oh, The Places We Shall Go at the newly opened Conrad St. James Hotel for a preview of their Christmas Afternoon Tea.

decor

Afternoon Tea at the Conrad St. James is served at Emmeline’s Lounge named after Emmeline Pankhurst, a leading 19th century women’s right activist who was instrumental in getting women the right to vote.  Ironically, Emmeline Pankhurst like many of the suffragettes of the time would endure hunger strikes in order to get the political establishment to listen to their cause.  I expect if Emmeline Pankhurst had been offered an Emmeline’s Christmas Tea she would have been sorely tempted.

Emmeline’s has a modern, sophisticated vibe which is neither achingly hip nor stuffy traditional.  The contemporary pieces played on a harp provide a friendly ambience.

For true decadence, the afternoon tea is served in 2 courses – savoury and sweet – together with your choice of tea as well as champagne.  The savoury morsels included a brussel sprout and goat’s cheese mousse, venison pastry, turkey balloting and cranberry sauce.  Of the sandwiches, my absolute favourite was beetroot and spinach which I found surprising because usually I despise beetroot.  To top it off, there was also Christmas spiced orange and cranberry scones – yum!!

savoury dishes

I was pretty full after the savoury bites but the sweet dishes were just so tempting.  The sweets were arranged in a charming Christmas scene which came with a triangular cloche covering dusted with edible snow.  They included a winter berry Christmas tree (with a brownie tree trunk!), snowflake macaroons, a white forest yule log and, of course, more edible snow.

Christmas Scene

I loved the mini meringue snowmen who just looked silly and happy.  How could you not get into the Christmas spirit with these charming faces?!

happy snowman

Let it snow!

The Conrad St. James Christmas Tea will be served from November 24th until Christmas itself. Conveniently located right across from the St. James’ tube stop, the Conrad St. James is right near many of London’s iconic tourist destinations (Buckingham Palace, The Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey etc.).  If you are visiting London in December, this Christmas Afternoon Tea would be the perfect refresher after a spot of sightseeing.  Christmas Afternoon Tea is £37 (£45 with free-flowing Laurent-Perrier champagne).

girl with luggage

You Can’t Go Home Again

Today is moving day.  The movers are at the house packing up our daily life into boxes.

girl with luggage

Why the move?  I was heavily influenced by fellow blogger Doris Lee who writes at Diary of An Interior Novice.  In a post back in April (right before Easter holidays), she mentioned some great advice she had been given on marriage by a former colleague.  She was told to create a joint bucket list with her husband for what you as a couple want to accomplish whether in one year, 5 years or 10 years down the road.  I discussed this idea with Mr. N and he could not contain his enthusiasm for a “lets-talk-about-our-future-talk”.

Mr. N couldn’t avoid the topic though when he got stuck in a car with me on our 7 hour road trip from Pennsylvania down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina over Easter. He and I realised we didn’t even know what we wanted out of life in the next year never mind further down the road.  We’d just gotten into this habit of drifting happily towards whatever waited us next.

welcome to north carolina

We did agree that our family time together was most important and that we simply did not get enough of it.   The solution to this problem was relatively simple.  Sell our house in Belsize Park and downsize which is part of the 1 year plan.  We would then be in a position to figure out our next move without the pressure of a mortgage.  I would love to do a round-the-world-trip with the children but, somehow, I think that is part of the 10 year plan.  Baby steps.

Enough introspection, so let’s focus on the positives of our soon-to-be-empty home.  Our garden is looking glorious with all the sunshine London has been having.

The wisteria is growing long and I love the little jungle attitude it’s got, like it thinks it’s a bad-ass jungle vine.

overgrown wisteria

Back in March I took part in the Urban Revival challenge set up by online garden shop Plant Me Now and the results are now showing.  The front planters are sprouting flowers everywhere!  I love the pink colour against the dark grey. It’s definitely Urban Revival – The Fast-Track Version.  Unfortunately, the flowers are already beginning to fade in this summer’s heat even with regular watering.  I should be thinking ahead to winter colour  and to putting in spring bulbs and winter bedding plants. That would make our garden pretty even in the dark grey days of winter when the sky matches our trellis paint.

I hope the new owners keep up the summer planting and think ahead to putting in spring bulbs and winter bedding.  Good-bye flowers!  Good-bye house!  Thank you for the memories.

Easter Message

Happy Easter!

Easter Message

I hope you are having a wonderful holiday weekend!  I’ll be back with a new post on Wednesday!

eggs hanging from tree

Hunting for Chocolate

In the U.S., easter egg hunts are everywhere in the run-up to Easter.  The tradition starts at the top with the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn.  This year’s Easter Egg Roll is the 136th year of the event and will take place on April 21st.  Involving more than 30,000 people, tickets are highly prized.

We usually participate in at least 2 egg hunts which is great for my chocolate-obsessed children (sadly not the White House one!) .

eggs hanging from tree

eggs hanging from tree

One of the farms near my family’s home in Pennsylvania always has an Easter event with egg hunts, photos with the Easter Bunny etc.

In case candy and chocolate in plastic eggs isn’t enough of a sugar high, we get funnel cakes.  They are deep fried batter with powdered sugar on top and you get them at fairs and carnivals.

funnel cake

funnel cake

 

Nothing says American like calorie-laden, deep-fried, sugared dough! It’s so rich even the children can only take a couple of bites before they have had enough.

We always do a family egg hunt on our lawn too.  Each person is assigned a specific colour egg and then another person hides a pre-determined amount of eggs.  It’s always amusing to come up with creative ways to hide eggs!

Invariably someone can not find all their eggs and whoever hid it can’t remember where they put it.  Usually it gets found sometime in the summer when it gets caught in the lawn mower.

counting eggs

counting eggs

Egg hunts are our Easter family tradition.  They are not particularly healthy, intellectual or sophisticated.  We do have fun and that’s all that matters!  What Easter traditions do you have?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Leprechaun

Irish For A Day

We had glorious weather here in London yesterday for the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square.  London’s Trafalgar Square celebrations are in its 13th year.  They were instituted by former Mayor Ken Livingstone in 2002.  Previously, there was only a parade.  The first such parade was in 1958 and coincided with a Mass held at Westminster Cathedral.  This year’s parade took a 1.5 mile route through Central London and passing by Trafalgar Square itself.

St. Patrick's Day Stage

The theme this year was World of Dance.  The central stage had some adorable children Irish Dancing and there was a side stage with more Irish Dancing performers.  The Riverdance troupe also performed on the main stage.

Irish Dancing

Every year over 100,000 people show up for the celebrations.  Here are photos of some of the revellers.  Surprisingly I didn’t see any green beer.  (Is that a New York St. Patricks’ Day thing?)

Also, unlike the New York celebrations I remember, there are a lot more families with children at this event.  Granted, it was still early afternoon when we went to the London celebrations but the New York Fifth Avenue Parade is a lot more crowded.

child

The stands surrounding Trafalgar Square had lots of Irish and Ireland-related products such as Irish food (black pudding, cheeses, Guinness!), sports teams and tourist information.

I wonder what the blue rooster thought of the day.  He had a perfect view of the proceedings.

rooster

St. Patrick’s Day is actually today – March 17th.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

nail polish cake

A Pyjama Party The Easy Way

There are lots of nice things about having twins (especially now that they are older!) but, birthday weekend, is not one of them.  We either have to have their parties together or back-to-back to avoid hurt feelings and accusations of favouritism.  I’m usually exhausted by the end of the weekend!

pennant decor

home made pennants

We decided that we could not have a joint party this year after last year’s fiasco when the boys and girls decided to start a food fight.  This year my son had a bowling party at a nearby bowling alley and my daughter had a pyjama party at home.

flower decor

decoration

My daughter really wanted a slumber party but we had to reach a compromise.  Mr. N was not enthusiastic about babysitting a bunch of over-excited and sugar-ridden little girls overnight.  So, we made it an afternoon pyjama party so that we didn’t have to have 9 girls around all night for an actual sleepover!

party decor

party decor

We made the pennants and a lot of the decorations were from the Christmas clearance at Graham and Green, a home store in Primrose Hill which also has a great outlet section on their website.

butterfly mask

butterfly mask

We arranged for the party guests to have manicures, temporary tattoos and hair braiding.  All very civilised – right after they played some party games and beat each other up with a pillow fight.

My daughter really wanted a smash cake after having seen them at family and friends’ parties.  Lauren, my friend who owns Smashing Cakes, made a nail polish shaped cake which was a big hit! Believe it or not, this cake is made entirely of delicious chocolate and not a piece was left over after the party!

I found these Nail Polish Party Treats while browsing Pinterest and adapted the recipe.  I used food colouring spray on giant marshmallows as instructed.  We, however, don’t have tootsie rolls readily available in London and I was also wary about sticking a toothpick in candy with overexcited little girls popping them in their mouth.  So, I just cut up some black liquorice sticks and poked a hole in the marshmallows and stuck them in.  The liquorice bottle tops probably would have stood straighter with the toothpicks.  After seeing the girls devour them, though, I’m glad I went with the safer option.

Here’s a video I made with one of the new toys that I’ve discovered in the App Store.  This app, Qwiki, makes a short video out of your still/video photos.

party bags

party bags

Overall, this party was actually pretty cheap.  My friend’s teenager and her school friends helped out with the hair and nail polish.  The decoration was pretty DIY – pennants, balloons and lots of girly stuff we had around the house.  We spent money on a beautiful smash cake but, birthday cake (and good chocolate) are dear to my heart.

If any of you have any ideas for next year’s birthday parties, I’d love to hear them!  After all, next year’s birthday always rolls around faster than you expect.