Posts filed under holiday

An American's Survival Guide to Autumn in London

There are a few things that I deeply understand as an American living in England. First, we give smiles and need to receive smiles from people in a way they don’t here. (Especially in London!) Second, their relationship with sweetcorn and inclination to add it to an endless amount of food dishes still shocks me. I’m looking at you, pizza with corn on top. Finally, an American’s love for fall festivities will never be matched here with the same enthusiasm as in the States. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it is the sad truth.

However, I have to say that there are a few things I’ve navigated to make the season a bit more, well, American, if I’m honest. If I want my kids to experience the joys of picking out pumpkins from patch, trick or treating & pumpkin pie, it took a bit of a learning curve. Here are the major pointers I’d give to anyone about what they do here in London (or don’t do), and how we make the experience feel a bit more like home.

IMG_0646.JPG


HALLOWEEN | When we first arrive to the UK, this holiday was nearly non-existent except for a depressing section of disgusting face paint and sexy costumes in the back of Clinton Cards. It seemed only to be celebrated by university students who wanted to get super drunk and be obnoxious that evening in public places. However, its slowly grown and, with the encouragement of American expats and the internet, become a bit more normal. However, not all neighbourhoods are created equal in trick or treating. Just like you knew the good neighbourhoods as a kid where they gave the best candy, it’s helpful to know where the concentrated areas are in London. We like Notting Hill and Holland Park. Both seem to have the best concentration of decorated houses with good traffic and fun costumes. Be warned: the kids costumes are a bit darker here, but that too is getting better each year. We have been a painter, a teddy bear, Paw Patrol and the like and the reactions been met with great response. It seems that more people are ditching the creepy mutilated faces and letting the kids choose fun costumes- which feels more like the US to me.

Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 7.09.30 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 7.00.48 PM.png

If you don’t have kids, help out and decorate a bit for Halloween so people know you’re giving out candy to kids! It’s a fun and easy way to grow this fun night of the year, and give it a less creepy reputation. 

PUMPKIN PATCHES | While groceries stores like Waitrose and Tesco will set out a small box of pumpkins, it’s hard to find a good one to really carve in the local stores. If you’ve got a car, I’d really recommend heading out of London to a pumpkin patch. We love the one we go to: Crockford Bridge Farm. It’s about 45 minutes from West London.

IMG_0872.JPG
IMG_0871.JPG
IMG_0873.JPG
IMG_0867.JPG

It’s got all the essentials: loads of pumpkins to choose from, a great play area for the kids complete with a fort, tree swing and rope swing/zipline. You can visit the tea shack serving up snacks, a field you can wander (on select weekends) to choose your own pumpkin, a farm shop next door with great produce and a Lidgate butcher shop. It’s such a great day out!

IMG_0869.JPG
IMG_0868.JPG
IMG_0866.JPG

We always follow it up with dinner at The Cricketers pub nearby. It’s a few minutes drive, it’s not fancy, but it has a little playground for kids to play on while you sit at picnic benches beside it. 

THANKSGIVING | You’ll need to prepare yourself for this one a bit and realise that to the UK, this beloved holiday, is literally just another Thursday smooshed in the middle of a work week in the dark and dreary months. Plan in advance for a Thanksgiving dinner on the evening, or opt for a weekend lunch celebration in the days before/after. (You’re basically forcing it to happen out of nowhere, so you might as well pick a time that works best for you.) Luckily, the UK holiday season will have already been pushed off and you’ll have the benefit of shopping for ingredients from the available Christmas dinner shopping supplies. Turkeys, stuffing, cranberries, gravy, potatoes are all in his stock at this time. However, for the more American items (canned pumpkin, green beans, French’s fried onions, etc.), you’ll need to get a bit creative. Online shops though Ocado and Tesco can yield good results. I always make a run to Whole Foods for filling out the items I still lack or have little motivation to track down. There you can either order an entire pre-made dinner (that’s really good, but a bit pricy), or individual containers of items like turkey gravy, cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce, roasted veggies, and ready made pies. 

If you opt for the ordered dinner, make sure to submit your order with a good lead time so you don’t miss out. They’re a popular option amongst expats!

You can get turkeys from any major store at that time. I prefer Waitrose for a full bird and Marks and Spencer for their boneless turkey crowns- less pretty on a table but such an easier cut to cook and eat! Also, a word of warning if you go with The Ginger Pig (also popular) for one of their organic turkeys: expect loads of quills to still be in the skin (gag) and most of the legs to still be attached. My dad had the horrible job of amputating our £75(!!!) turkey from them a few years ago and the screams from me and my mom as we opened the box still make my stomach lurch. Gross.

GUY FAWKES | Now this isn’t an American holiday (obviously), but for newcomers, it’s on a big celebration on the 5th of November where Guy Fawkes’ famous plot to blow up parliament with barrels of gunpowder was foiled. Look up options in TimeOut to see what local fireworks displays are on. Hopefully, it won’t be a soggy night out, but if not, expect a little bit of a State Fair atmosphere (food trucks, some rides, etc) at the bigger fireworks shows. Many will have two timings- one for families that is a bit earlier and a later one, too. It’s a fun celebration, so book in advance (required at most of the good shows, as they sell out!) and get into the holidays here, too. After all, we are Americans and never need a good excuse to enjoy a celebration.

*    *.   *

I guess the good news for all of us- no matter if we live in the US or the UK- is that there are still Snickers bars, toffee apples & hot chocolate in both countries. Phew.



Find out more about of what’s different about our expat life in the UK here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on October 24, 2018 and filed under holiday, life as an expat.

Mother’s Day | Bottling a Family Legacy

While the US may not start thinking through Mother’s Day for several more months, it comes early here in the U.K. (This week, in fact!)

While so many people are hard to buy for, my mom isn’t one of those people. Not because she has an ongoing list that she makes known, but because she is so unassuming and grateful. Anything that is given with meaning and heart is something that she treasures.

She often is thinking of how to spoil others with grand gestures and gifts that she doesn’t think about getting spoiled herself, so when I can actually spoil her- well, it’s really fun.

And for Mother’s Day this year, I had had that pleasure by taking her to Floris to create a custom scent with her and their master perfumer.

IMG-5295.JPG
IMG-5289.JPG
IMG-5288.JPG

Creating a custom fragrance could double as a therapy session- it’s so intimate and personal. You work your way through the smells and the reaction you have is very instinctive. 

IMG-5297.JPG
IMG-5298.JPG

“Mmm lavender reminds me of the sachets that we’re in my grandma’s dresser.”

“I love the smell of almond- it smells like my mom's cherry pie.”

“Vanilla smells too waxy to me. It makes me feel like I’m back in fourth grade where my mean teacher would burn a vanilla Yankee candle on her desk.” 

And so on and so on...

You talk with Nicola about what smells you love and why. You smell scents that have great meaning to you... or none at all. 

IMG-5292.JPG

And after a while, Nicola guides you to a few scents that really hit a personal note to you. (It sounds crazy, but it ends up feeling a bit emotional to go through those smells... it’s like looking at forgotten family albums.) From there, the smells and fine tuned and at the end- well, all I can tell you is that you have a personalised scent that smells perfect for you.

Like, honestly. It’s as if Nicola has articulated your personality into a fragrance. 

IMG-5296.JPG
IMG-5293.JPG

And since it’s so personal, it’s yours to name... and yours alone to have mixed. It goes into their archives and only you can reorder it. Or anyone you will it on to. (Fancy, right?) 

IMG-5290.JPG

After it was all said and done, the perfume was poured into her bottle and an empty label was laid before her. My mom named her after our family home- which is perfect for someone who had said she wanted to smell “pretty and comforting” when we first sat down at those comfy chairs with Nicola. 

IMG-5299.JPG
IMG-5294.JPG

If you’ve heard me talk about Floris before, you probably think that I gush a bit too much about them. Well, maybe- but after bringing my mom and showing her a bit of their magic, I’m sure she would feel the same way.

So what does that all have to do with Mothers Day? Well, it means skip the spa certificates and take your mom to do something that not only provides for better quality time than any massage can give.... sit with her for two hours in a gorgeous room as she sniffs her way through her memories. 

Listen to her talk about the musky back room of her parents house, the smells that remind her of being a young mom to you and the thoughts she has about how she hopes to be perceived by others and then let her take home the prettiest perfume bottle she’s ever seen with her little initials engraved on it.

Connect with the team at Floris here to book an appointment and surprise your mom on Sunday with one of the most special gifts you may ever give her.

IMG-5302.JPG
IMG-5291.JPG


*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

A Nutcracker and a Ballbuster

I’ve been trying *hard* to be chill lately around the kids. In the midst of seemingly endless “not right now”s and discipline, I feel like my interactions are less warm with my kids than I’d have ever imagined.

If you would have asked me what kind of mom I’d like to be, before having kids, I would have definitely used “fun” as one of the descriptors.

And I AM fun. I’m a fun friend, a fun colleague, a fun director, a fun teacher.... but I realised that I’m just not really fun at home anymore. I’m doing dishes. I’m getting people dressed. I’m looking for my keys. I am... well, I’m whatever. What I realised was: despite all the other stuff, I was mainly just missing the good parts.

So I’ve been doing my best to ease up a bit. To slow down and stop the stroller when Harrison babbles at me as I walk. To chill about our room being a hot mess. To give more hugs than directions. 

And this week, this endeavour manifested into to having more parties.

It started rather innocently when I asked Viola if she’d like to have some friends over and the conversation evolved into a tea party. “A Christmas tea party... but with hot chocolate instead of tea.”

I loved the idea and she whipped up some homemade invitations to bring to her friends for the occasion.

I went to the store and bought a bunch of generic biscuits, two boxes of grocery store mince pies, fruit & a £2 Cadbury Yule log.

IMG-4410.JPG
IMG-4413.JPG

The occasion seemed to call for my nice china, and decorated it with various random bits like crackers, napkins & plastic forks from HEMA & TIGER. (My two fave party good stores- now both on Tottenham Court Road just by my work!)

IMG-4414.JPG
IMG-4415.JPG

Biscuiteers had sent over some pretty Nutcracker Biscuits & chocolates from their Christmas range. My newest party trick is to stack up any simple, store-bought biscuits and place some of those beauties among them because it looked so fantastic and was so easy!

IMG-4418.JPG
IMG-4417.JPG
IMG-4411.JPG
IMG-4412.JPG

The evening was so sweet. The kids walked in from the cold after school and started squealing. They ripped open the crackers, dumped sprinkles over the marshmallows on their hot chocolate and giggled and sang the songs from their Nativity play.

It was easy to do, cheap to put together- but man, so worth it for that little shy girl’s face to light up like that.

IMG-4408.JPG


*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on December 18, 2017 and filed under kids in london, eat, holiday, kids.

In Defense of the (Holiday) I Love

Valentines Day is the least popular holiday to publicly like. Sure, celebrate in private if you must- but for the sake of everyone around you, opt for a cynical and eye-rolling attitude of February 14.

The thing is... I LOVE this day. And this isn't coming from a girl who has spent her life showered with chocolates and serenades by suitors every Valentines. It's from a dorky girl who never had a boyfriend and now is thankful for a quiet pub dinner out with her husband to celebrate.

But the reason I love Valentine's Day is that is pushes me to say how much I love people around me. My husband, my kids, my friends.... and no matter how that is displayed (from cards to cupcakes), it feels good to indulge in the sweetness of caring- and being cared for- by others around you. 

My parents always included us in their Valetines Day celebrations... from my mom's heart shaped meatloaf to my dad buying all of his daughters flowers. We were included and felt so loved. I love sharing that inclusion with our kids now, too.

So I say... bring on the red velvet cake and chocolates. I'm happy to spend the day with a shower of glitter and cheesiness enjoying the people I love.

And you know... a few flowers around the house don't hurt either. Even if you *cough* might have bought them for yourself. 

Happy Valentine's Day! I love this blogging community and the friends I've made through being here. I hope you all feel valued and appreciated today!



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on February 14, 2017 and filed under holiday, kids, family, marriage.

Virtuous (and Easy) Leftover Turkey & Barley Soup

There's a common consensus that turkey leftovers are one of the greatest gifts of the holiday season. To be honest, I'm very happy to have one big plate of Christmas dinner and wait until the next year. (Leftover pies, however, are different.)

I like to use our leftovers to make something that feels a bit different... but doesn't require another trip to the grocery store.

After Thanksgiving, my mom & I put together this light soup that only required what we had on hand. The overall effort was minimal and the end result was really tasty. Plus, the barley seems to add a new texture and taste that shifts the dish from feeling like a recycled Christmas dinner... even if that is exactly what it is.

This recipe teams up with Denby's Invention Test to win some Denby cookware and product (!!!), so consider this one-pot recipe my official "Inventions Test" challenge recipe using my Christmas left-overs.


TURKEY & BARLEY SOUP

Serves 6

- 2 cups leftover turkey (or chicken), chopped or shredded
- 1 diced onion
- 5 large carrots, roughly chopped
- 3 parsnips, roughly chopped
- 5 celery stalks, chopped
- 1/2 cup leftover gravy, chicken stock
- 1/2 cup pearl barley
- marjoram
- thyme
- basil (dried)
- salt & pepper
-1 T gravy granules, *optional

In a large pot, cook onion in some butter or oil. 

When the onions are translucent, add carrots, parsnips, & celery

Cover with lid and let cook for 5-6 minutes until softened.

Add turkey and stir.

Add leftover gravy, if you have it to the pan. Add 1L of water. (If you don't have gravy, add stock or cube here and top up with water.)

Add pearl barley and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Before serving when I didn't have leftover gravy, I sprinkled some gravy granules in the soup to up the flavour a bit and it was really nice. You won't need too much though, just one tablespoon should do the trick!

Serve with crusty bread and butter.


We don't have a microwave, so I really rely on these cast-iron pots to move things to/from the oven to table- as they heat up really quickly and keep the food really hot once it's on the table. I used a piece from Denby's cast-iron range that I use for easy weeknight meals or fancier, slow-cooked recipes. I find it easy to work with and difficult to let me make mistakes. ;) 

If you're up for a chance to win some Denby product (and some friendly competition!), head to @DenbyPottery on Instagram or Facebook and take part in the "Invention Test" by sharing your one-pot recipe ideas using #DenbyCastIron and #DenbyOvenware. 


Looking for more ideas for dinner? Check out some of my most popular recipes: 

Honey Pecan Salmon | Champagne Risotto | Garlicky Mushroom Bruschetta



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy
*this post is sponsored by Denby, but recipe and opinions are original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on December 24, 2016 and filed under eat, holiday, recipe.

"Nollaig Shona" from Galway, Ireland

No matter where you're from, Christmas just feels especially right there. I have grand visions of Dallas at Christmastime in a way that makes no logical sense-as we didn't have snow, cultured outings to make annual traditions of like the Rockettes, or any distinguishing factor besides it being home. (And as they say, there's no place like it at the holidays.) 

But sometimes you stumble upon a place that feels perfect- like you've walked into a real Christmas card. And while it may not be your home, it's easy to imagine why someone would be proud to call it theirs.  

That's how I felt when we arrived in the cheerful coastal Irish town of Galway a few weeks ago. The brightly coloured houses all sparked with Christmas cheer as shop owners mingled outside chatting to each other and hung decorations and painted Christmas scenes on the glass panes of their windows.

Sparkly lights twinkled "Nollaig Shona" across the street- wishing those who walked below a Merry Christmas in Gaelic.

So while I'm not sending out Christmas cards this year- I hope you can enjoy this Christmas card-esque view of this special town.

Find more of my posts on Ireland here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on December 22, 2016 and filed under travel, ireland, holiday, get out of town.

Anthropologie Gift Guide 2016

For me, there's an undeniable nostalgia and excitement that comes from walking into a mall at Christmas time with a list of presents to buy. I remember as a kid, we would all head to the mall and split up in groups to take care of finding everything on our list. I'd always have to be talked down from buying my mom a bejewelled brooch from the ladies section of Dillard's- thanks, dad- and would spend a while wandering around until I found a less obnoxious alternative. After a successful find, our little group would run bags out to the car and throw blankets over them to keep them hidden.

Running around together with Christmas carols playing, sales clerks in Santa Hats and the endless lines for Santa and Starbucks wrapping down the halls- it all added up to a moment that really only came at Christmas and signalled that we were just a few days away from Christmas!

While I love dashing around the high street in England for shopping these days, I loved going up to Brent Cross and wandering around inside the cosy mall in its Christmas hustle. It just felt like how Christmas should be.

I went up to see the new Anthropologie that opened this month. Needless to say, the combo of Anthropologie styling and holiday decor made it feel like I'd walked on to a movie set. (How do they always do that?)

They asked me to pick my ten favourite items for holidays gifts… which was no hard task! The only hard part was trying to find gifts for people other than myself. :)

ONE  | TWO | THREE | FOUR | FIVE | SIX | SEVEN | EIGHT | NINE | TEN

But really, this was the tip of the iceberg of what they have in store. While online might save time, you really need to make a day out of it and head to Brent Cross for a real Christmas shopping day.


Do you have fun memories of Christmas shopping? Or better yet- have you ever been a crazy Black Friday shopper? (I haven't ever been in person- just online!)



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on December 5, 2016 and filed under shopping, holiday, home style.

A Field Guide to British Christmas Dining

If you're new to England this Christmas, have found yourself visiting family in the U.K. or are simply looking to decode some terms from your favourite British Christmas movies, use this handy guide to help you navigate your way around the Christmas dinner table like a local.

1. CHRISTMAS PUDDING | The Christmas Pudding is the queen of all Christmas desserts- though, confusing to Americans- it's not a "pudding" like you may think of in all it's Bill Cosby-piano-playing glory. Pudding refers to dessert here, so this is a cake that has dried fruits and is soaked for months in booze. It is covered in some sort of cream and then, for dramatic effect, lit on fire when served. 

2. MINCE PIE | A Mince Pie. Not a "Mince Meat Pie," because meat in this pie is disgusting. Even if my Southern grandfather may have loved it- something about the idea of meat in a pie always made me gag. Now that I eat (too regularly) the real mince pies, the idea of meat in it really makes me shudder. A classic mince pie is nearly bite-size and full of dried fruits and spices. They're best served warm, in quantity of 2-3, and alongside a big mug of tea. These appear in every store in late October, are eaten by the millions in the lead up to and on Christmas, and then magically disappear from existence by the start of the New Year. 

3. BRANDY BUTTER
 | This is the aforementioned cream that is poured on top of Christmas puddings- but, as the name may imply, has brandy worked into it. Typically, the final product is served alongside a glass of brandy. 

4. TRIFLE | There isn't one specific recipe for a trifle, but assume it will come from a general pool of ingredients including: fruit, whipped cream, jell-o (or "jelly" as it's called here) sponge fingers and sherry. Imagine it layered up in bright layers and served in a big glass bowl to show off each layer.

5. GOOSE-FAT POTATOES | While much of the British Christmas dinner seems similar to a US Thanksgiving- they skip mashed potatoes and roast theirs in chunks in a pool of goose-fat. The result is a crunchy, golden potato that resembles a hoof more than a vegetable. It's the perfect consistency for absorbing gravy.

6. PIGS IN A BLANKET | These aren't the same crescent roll stuffed hot dogs you might be thinking of... but they are slightly similar. Small sausages ("chipolatas") are wrapped in bacon ("streaky"- just like us Americans like it) and roasted. These are served alongside the turkey to add saltiness to, what some consider, a bland meat. These are often also served as nibbles in the holiday season.

7. WASSAIL | This warm holiday beverage can either be alcoholic or non-alcoholic. The non-alcoholic will typically be a version similar to our cider. (Though ordering a "cider" will get you a cold, alcoholic beverage- so beware!) It can also be mulled wine which is wine that is cooked over the stove and, often, has fruits, cinnamon sticks and other spices added to it. It's for sale in most pubs and passed at most holiday events.

8. CHRISTMAS CRACKER | This isn't a pretty tin of saltines that is passed around- a Christmas cracker will sit on the the place setting of each guest. At some point in the meal (often debated as when the official time is- though I prefer sometime around the arrival of the main course!), these will be cracked with a loud bang, and everyone will then rifle through the insides of their cracker and share their findings with the table. The standard lineup of contents include: a paper crown (mandatory to wear), a silly joke that everyone loves to groan at, and a cheap toy or gift.

9. BREAD SAUCE | This is a sauce not for bread- but made of bread. It's really thick and clumpy, but it actually goes really well with roast chicken or turkey. Combined with cranberry sauce- it's definitely worth trying.


After you've made it through the meal, pat yourself on the back and get ready to cozy in for the Queen's Christmas address which broadcast every year on Christmas Day. The Queen will discuss the year gone by and it, somehow, makes the day feel perfect. (Even if you do quietly chat through the whole thing with your sister.)


Spending the holidays in England? Find my travel guide to London here and my guide to London with kids at Christmas here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on December 1, 2016 and filed under eat, drink, holiday, london, life as an expat.

Little London | Christmas (with Kids!) in London

In travel consults, I'm often asked if coming to Europe at Christmas is a bad idea. My answer is- most always- not at all! Christmas in Europe feels so magical. You simply can't beat the charm of a German Christmas market, sipping chocolat chair from a tiny cafe after shopping in Paris, or being absorbed into the grandeur of a carol service held in a candle-lit Westminster Abbey.

While so many destinations in Europe are steeped in various traditions, I'm biased to the way that London celebrates Christmas. It's a style that would make Dickens proud and Hugh Grant smile. In a big way, the city embraces the "festive season" and splashes out weeks of fun, holiday events full of the quirky items you've heard of in movies and books: mince pies served with mulled wine, nativity plays, potatoes roasted in goose fat, Santa's Grotto, and of course- the Christmas pudding.


You'll find no other time of the year to have so many great options for kids, either. Days out for families are all just waiting to be enjoyed during the run up to Christmas. I've put together a list of my favourites- the ones we share with our own kids and make into a yearly tradition.

CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTING CEREMONIES | Each year, the major areas of town will have tree lighting ceremonies in early November to kick off the season. The bigger areas will often have celebrity performances and tons of festive fun. The largest ones are typically around Oxford Circus and Regent Street.


HYDE PARK WINTER WONDERLAND | This is our family's favourite Christmas tradition- Tyler & I have gone every year since we moved to England! Set up in Hyde Park (on the East side- between Hyde Park Corner & Marble Arch), is Winter Wonderland. Think of a State Fair and a German Christmas market having a baby. A really big baby. Entrance is free, but rides aren't. (You pay with tokens purchased in endless kiosks in the park.) Food is paid for in cash and most stalls now accept credit cards.

Come early in the day with kids to avoid the really long lines... and come hungry! There are so many great stalls and things to do- you're going to be glad you have room to eat.


FESTIVE AFTERNOON TEAS | At Christmas, tea rooms around London will swap out their regular afternoon tea menus for a Festive Tea. These teas are afternoon teas with a Christmas twist. Expect to get all the standard items like tea, scones and sandwiches:.. just with some seasonal items tucked in to the menu: turkey and cranberry sandwiches, mince pies and miniature Christmas puddings... and most will have a sweet children's version, too.

This is one of my favourite things to do in London with a little girl at Christmas, as it typically involves dressing up and strolling through picturesque streets for window shopping when you've finished.

CAROL SERVICE AT WESTMINSTER ABBEY | In the Advent Season, most of the churches will have carol services. We like to take guests to Westminster Abbey for their big one on Christmas Eve when we can get tickets. The service on the 24th is ticketed so you'll need to get tickets in advance. Tickets are free, but allocated in advance.

However, they have a few other services which do not require tickets. The full schedule can be found here on the Abbey's website.

ICE SKATING AT THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM | This is a great example of how doing something ordinary can become cooler when it's in a pretty place. Book tickets for ice skating in the courtyard of the Natural History Museum and you'll not only have fun- but some gorgeous photos to look back on.

You don't need to be a good skater to skate- most people there won't be! For the little ones, there are helpful little penguin/standers to push along!

SANTA'S GROTTO AT HARRODS | Again, this needs to be booked- but you can book a special trip to see Santa. When you enter, Santa will be waiting for your child(ren) and will speak to him by name. As they wait to see Santa, the children get to play games and explore his "workshop." It's really sweet and feels very fancy! See our visit here from last year. 

CHRISTMAS CAROLS AT TRAFALGAR SQUARE | This is a great free option for families on a nice day. Throughout the month, various groups and charities will sing carols in Trafalgar Square throughout the day. Take a seat on the steps in front of the National Gallery and enjoy the sounds of Christmas and Big Ben in the backdrop. It's best to bring a warm drink and some mince pies with you, too!


Looking for more ideas of what to do in London? Find my travel guide here or book a travel consult.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy
 

Have a Heart | Carve a Heart

The last few weeks, I've had fun talking about Halloween costume ideas with Viola. We have thought up fun ideas, looked up costume ideas for them and finally, settled on one that would work for her and Harrison. I clicked "Buy Now" on my Amazon app and they arrived the next day. It couldn't have been easier.

In fact, most things about our lives are pretty easy. The basics are exceptionally easy for most of us living in the first world...heck, I have all the food my family needs delivered to my door the next day for £0.99.

But I think if we are honest, many of us have quiet moments when we wonder... what if. What if all the basics were suddenly gone. How would we cope if we found our families without access to the most fundamental things for survival.

The past few months, my heart has ached for Syria so much. I read articles about what is happening in Aleppo. I read articles about families drowning in the treacherous attempt to get away from their home- the one place in the world that should feel the most safe, but no longer does. I read about what the masses of children alone in refugee camps- shivering in the cold weather, without parents, without money, without food and without hope.

I know I'm not alone in feeling helpless for these people. When I learned of World Vision's #CarveAHeart contest to carve a heart into a pumpkin- I jumped at the chance to do something.

The campaign is asking people to carve a heart in a pumpkin and share it during the days surrounding Halloween. And they are also asking people in the U.K. to text HEART to 70060 to donate £3* and help support the work.

So today, we picked out pumpkins and carved them in hopes that somewhere a child sleeps more comfortably, or a mother has food to keep her energy up so that she carry her child further, or a father can watch his family be taken care of in simple ways that he hasn't been able to provide for them in too long.

And I'll be honest- getting to give that small gift couldn't have been easier, too.

This post isn't sponsored... but please know that it is me trying really hard to "sell you something..." I hope you'll grab your phone and text World Vision now to help someone in (serious!) need.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on October 29, 2016 and filed under kids, holiday.

Mother's Day (The Anthropologie Way)

Back in England, Mother's Day is right around the corner. Sunday morning, Mother's all over the United Kingdom will be fluffing flowers in vases, putting on pretty crisp blouses to wear to brunch and getting a tiny sliver of the applause the deserve for their year-round effort.

Before we left for Paris, I hosted a little Mother's Day brunch. Except it wasn't really for other Mothers, but for some women that have made my life as a mom so much better by helping with our kids in various ways- helping out when I have something for work spring up, watching them in the creche on Sundays, or maybe just being a constant source that I can talk to about everything from sleep struggles to silly stories from the day.

It wasn't a huge deal- just an average weekday get together with some killer plates to set the scene- but those women deserve at least a spread of food for the help they share. This baby-raising gig isn't easy, and good friends who shoulder that are a rare gift. 

Pop over the (obviously gorgeous) Anthropologie Blog to see the whole morning we had together- complete with my own mom's recipe for some quick and easy Texas biscuits with some honey butter to slather on top.

Also, I've done a bit of a candid interview with them discussing Motherhood. I always feel a bit shy at the thought of getting so personal to the online world, but something came over me and I let a bit loose.


In the spirit of sharing the love with those who stand out to you- both as helping mother your children or as a fill-in mom to you, I'd love for you to tell us about them below. (And then go buy them flowers!)

 



 

*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

 

Posted on February 29, 2016 and filed under holiday, home style.

Christmas Movie Double Feature: I (Cake) You.

Tyler and I love Christmas movies. Love. Love. Love them. In our early years of marriage, I would watch Love Actually all year long. Hugh Grant was, more or less, the third person in our marriage. We still drop lines in from the movie in so many of our everyday conversations to each other. For example: "Oh, you packed two pairs of running shoes?" "Well, you know... just in cases." The fun never stops.

But while my holiday lineup is set (1. Love Actually 2. The Holiday 3. Muppet Christmas Carol), Tyler's is equally unwavering (1. Elf 2. Family Vacation 3. Home Alone). We try to make it through all of these every December.

The only problem is our dang kids.

Joking, of course, but getting through six movies in a few weeks isn't the easy thing it used to be. Once we finally get both of the kids asleep and have a couple of hours to ourselves- we kinda like to party. 

For our annual viewing of Love Actually, I traditionally make a Banoffee Pie which, despite Keira Knightley's opinion does not mean that I have "terrible taste in pie." It means I have awesome taste because any pie made of bananas, caramel, espresso whipped cream with chocolate shavings encased in digestive crust is amazing. But at this moment in life, I have neither the time or energy to make something so labor intensive- so instead, a boxed red velvet cake from Betty Crocker!

For our movie night, I actually squeezed out two types of red velvet cake. As the various layers were baking for a layer cake, I veered from the original 3-layer cake plan and used the final layer to make small trifles in little glass cups. Or "cup-cakes," as my sous chef, Viola, called them. It was so easy- we just stamped out little rings in the cake with the cups and layered them with cream cheese icing. 

I also plucked a few flowers from the bouquet Tyler gave me for finishing my masters and dressed up the layer cake, too. I mean, its the little things people. Boxed cake mix, cream cheese icing, flowers... it doesn't take much to make an ordinary night feel like something special.

We may have only got through one movie, but we enjoyed two versions of cake- thus the double feature.

I'm not going to lie... Christmas movies, a picked up house, Tyler, a fire in the fireplace, and endless supply of cake (not pictured: buried under vanilla ice cream) was an awesome time.

 

So the big question is... what are your top three Christmas movies? I love hearing people's favorites!

 



 

*special thanks for the founder of the feast, Betty Crocker, for sending us cake + icing to participate in their fun, #iCAKEyou campaign. I accept with open arms any/all of these types of sponsored posts.

*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

 

 

 

 

Posted on December 22, 2015 and filed under eat, holiday, marriage.

Oh Christmas Tree, Tree, Tree, Tree & Tree.

In the spirit of Christmas-overachieving, I teamed up with GEORGE to decorate five different Christmas tree looks. Find all the fun we had on the GEORGE blog. (Honest- it gave me an entire week's worth of fun at home with the kids!)  



 

Check out the George range at ASDA (our version of WalMart!). You'll be won over by their awesome design, endless options and ridiculously affordable prices. (It's also a favorite of mine for baby clothes- they have some awesome pieces for prices that are so low.) Thanks, George, for asking me to participate in this fun project. It has been a fun little advent for our family and my friends are thankful for the extra ornaments for their trees, too. ;)

 

*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

 

Posted on December 14, 2015 and filed under holiday, shopping.

A Merry Little (Notting Hill) Christmas

During the breaks in between semesters, I quickly pop on the hat of stay-at-home mom and spend my days in the middle of the mundane glory that accompanies being at home with kids. Maybe I should be used to it by now, but every day when Tyler leaves for work- I feel a slight panic at the thought of being all alone for the next ten hours. 

After lunch, we are (typically) dressed, feeling crazy from being indoors and ready to get out the of the house. So I load up the kids, get them strapped in the stroller and rush back into the house to brush my teeth, pull my shoes on, toss some mascara on and triple-check that I have my keys in my pocket. Then I maneuver the beast of a stroller down the steps out the flat and we are on our way. 

Feeding the ducks at Kensington Garden. Playing in the courtyard at the V&A. Seeing the animals at the Natural History Museum. Hittin up the weekly Kids Club movie for £1.50 at Notting Hill Gate Cinema. Heading back to our old stomping grounds on Westbourne Grove for cruising the racks of the killer FARA children's charity shop and getting ice cream from Melt. While the inevitable push to get outdoors that comes with living in a tiny flat can be tiring, we are lucky that we have a great lists of options awaiting us.

Yesterday though, we ventured down Portobello Road for the sole mission to head to Poundland- our version of the dollar store. I am, embarrassingly enough, never able to stop singing it's praises. You can get ANYTHING in there. Everything from jars of Nutella to 24 packs of batteries to pregnancy tests. So off to Portobello we went. Just as we left, Harrison fell asleep for a killer afternoon nap. The afternoon was off to a nice start.

We got off the bus and promptly wandered by the florist who had just sat out some over-bloomed roses by the trash. We picked our favorites and she carried them around with us so sweetly.

Viola and I got to share some impromptu time sitting outside at Biscuiteers adorable icing cafe. They made her a festive babyccino topped with marshmallows ("marsh pillows" as she calls them) and she dunked her little snowflake biscuit into it for the complete experience.

And of course, I picked up some biscuits for stocking stuffers while were there, too. I can't resist their cute decorations and adorable packaging.

Then I got down to business in Poundland getting Christmas crackers, rolls of giftwrap and much needed restockage of Dove Shampoo + Conditioner. By the time we got to the checkout, Viola was asleep clutching two rolls of gift wrap and I was left to wander the street alone for a bit. 

It was so nice watching people carry Christmas trees home and seeing piles of mince pies sitting in trays at the bakers stand.  The street was lit and everything felt so Christmasy. Plus, the skies were clear and had that pleasant winter chill to them that feels so nice - assuming that you're dressed for it.

We are in limbo on our living situation at the moment. After Paris this spring, we aren't planning to come back to this flat. It's just too small for the four of us.- I'm constantly weaving around highchairs and tripping over umbrella strollers. Plus, the kids need some extra room to just be kids without us constantly telling them "No!"

We have a feeling we may want to move to a different neighborhood for a bit more space, and I have to say... the thought of leaving Notting Hill and giving up these quiet moments in these special cafes and parks within the neighborhood made me feel a bit melancholy even with all the Christmas cheer. While nothing is decided yet, I looked around the market today and felt a little knot in my stomach form thinking about not being in this little village inside of London that we have learned to call home over the past few years. Sigh. Oh well... on to bigger and (hopefully!) better things.


A few of my favorite Portobello stops for gifts...

PEDLARS: This cute shop/cafe combo has great prints that Im just in love with. Can someone please send one to me stat.

BISCUITEERS: The perfect place to stop for a coffee with a friend. (Just order at the till- they'll bring your order up from downstairs.) Pair your drink with one of their namesake and get some adorable biscuits for someone special. They also host cute icing classes in their icing cafes that are great for kids or hanging out with a friend.

THE NOTTING HILL BOOK SHOP: This is always a fun place to buy a book. I mean, books are books... but getting it from the shop where William Thacker met Anna Scott makes it just a bit more special.

DAYLESFORD ORGANIC FARMSHOP: While the upstairs is a luxe cafe and grocer, the downstairs has great gifts that would impress even the most Gwyneth Paltrow-y of friends. Think gorgeous glass and wood canisters, rustic aprons, shiny peelers in any shape or size and dinnerware that is oh-so-simple yet gives the impression of being very expensive.

FARA KIDS & BABY CHARITY SHOP: Along Westbourne Grove, you'll find gorgeous designer shops where the fabulous clothe themselves and their children... and then there is the FARA shops where they donate all the childrens goods once they have outgrown them. It can be hit or miss, but I go so often that a big percentage of my children's wardrobe has been found on the racks of that little shop.

MARIE CHANTAL (OUTLET): Just beside Melt Chocolates, you'll find a gorgeous shop with the most amazing baby clothes from the posh line, Marie Chantal. Luckily, this location is their permanent outlet. Things are typically 40% off retail, but have seasonal dips to 60% off.

MELT CHOCOLATES: Like I mentioned above, I love stopping here for ice cream. While the shop is mainly focused on their (killer) chocolates, in the summer they have ice cream that amazing. The chocolate tastes like you're eating a chocolate truffle. The salted caramel (my favorite) is so soft and smooth and full of flavor. Worth every single calorie. They have a tiny outdoor area out back that I like to take my brood, as it's walled in and typically empty. It's a great place to burn some energy and get some sun on my legs. (I've blogged about Melt before here in this post.)

 

For more of my Notting Hill favorites, check out my series MY NOTTING HILL or my Notting Hill Travel Guide.

 




*images original to Aspiring Kennedy


The Holiday Season (It's Here!)

Over the weekend, it really felt like the holidays arrived. With my semester coming to a quick close and the arrival of Thanksgiving, it all hit quick. No complaints here. We had a great weekend- bundled up, scooting around town with fun adventures afoot.

Saturday morning, I took the kids to see Matilda at Notting Hill Gate Cinema. On Saturday mornings at 10:30, they do a Kids Club for £1.50. They play the best movies and it's such a great treat for Viola.... and me. The theatre is really old and has gorgeous carvings all over the ceiling. I come with a coffee from Pret a Manger and relax as she climbs around and toddles through the aisles during the show. (There are hardly many people who come, so the kids roam and have a great time.)

After that, we met Tyler at the Farmers Market for a quick stroll. The winter vegetables! So bright and vibrant! I think I thought it officially felt like Christmas when I saw a farmer unload an armful of giant brussel sprout stalks out onto his stall. 

There's a stand at the market that always sells bacon breakfast sandwiches that smell amazing. Toasted bun, hot bacon from the grill, a giant fried egg and then, if you like, brown sauce all over the top. I am always sad that I have already eaten by the time I get there. People look like they have won the lottery as they walk away holding them. 

Saturday afternoon, I exchanged my yoga pants for black jeans (one skin tight black trouser for the next) and we all headed to Harrods for our time slot at the Christmas Grotto. Viola is still a little uneducated about Jesus/Santa/Christmas... so everything is very, very new. She did great with Santa. A coy little conversation, but she (okay, we) had a great time. Harrison just squirmed and laughed... despite what all the photos of him staring off in the distance might otherwise imply.

I conned Tyler into letting us end the occasion with a trip to the Ice Cream Parlour on the 2nd floor before we left. I was in heaven. As much as I love pastries, my heart actually beats for ice cream. Unfortunately, it's just not the same here. No $0.84 cones from the Braums drive thru in London, but I did tell Tyler that the hot fudge on our sundae was the closest to Braums I had ever had in London. (Write that down, people. Important survival note for London.)

On the way home, we stopped by Whole Foods on High Street Kensington for one last grocery run before our Thanksgiving dinner the next day. I love/hate that place. So good, such a flashback to Texas life... but I'm never not in shock at the register. So expensive. 

Today, we headed out for church. The sermon was on The Prodigal Son. That story is one we have all head so many times, yes? Today I heard it in a new way that left me so exposed to who I really am... and yet so thankful for a God that is so loving!

Then we came home and I somehow cranked out a Thanksgiving dinner in an hour. I think we just blacked out and got in the zone, but somehow- we sat down for a dinner a little bit later with friends and spent the rest of the day eating, eating, eating... I kept thinking of the verse in the song "There's a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy, when you pass around the coffee and pumpkin pie" as we laughed and made our way back for more coffee and pie throughout the afternoon.

And now... well, I'm sitting by the Christmas tree with the fireplace going too stuffed to eat dinner. The kids went to bed easily after such a big weekend, and I'm with Tyler as we our Netflix game goes strong watching the new (really good!) Amazon series, The Man in the High Castle.

What a wonderful weekend- putting two of the best holidays right up on each other. Christmas and Thanksgiving collide. (I'm pleading the fifth regarding my Black Friday online activity. Yikes. Some of items that may or may not have snagged me below, if you're so inclined.)

 

How did you spend the weekend? In recovery mode from Thanksgiing hooplah or continued excitement for the weeks ahead? And raise your hand if you have your Christmas tree up, too!

 




*images original to aspiring kennedy


Posted on November 29, 2015 and filed under holiday, family, everyday living, kids.

EXPAT LIFE | A Very Merry UnThanksgiving

It's weird to write about Thanksgiving as someone who has been away from the States for five years during the holiday. I'm starting to look at it as a memory, rather than a holiday. How weird and unAmerican, I know... but I think the lines are currently a bit blurred on where I belong. But with that fuzzy perspective, let's take a quick trip back to Dallas in the 1990s.

I love Thanksgiving. I won't pretend that I am an overly enthusiastic participant in the holiday... more of passive one who has spent much of her life enjoying the day playing with family around our house, while my mom continuously pulls pies out of the oven like a clown car. After everyone starts feeling a bit bored with the parade and tromping around in the backyard, it would be magically time to eat Thanksgiving dinner.

My mom would have pulled out all the stops- homemade everything. A giant turkey. A honey baked ham. A small mountain range of mashed potatoes. Cornbread stuffing made that morning. And our butler's pantry counter lined with the favorite homemade pie of each person there only balanced by the whipped cream mass that could be confused for low sitting clouds.

Inevitably, we'd all go around the table and share something that we were thankful for each year. As a child, I always scrambled for something that sounded deeper than how I felt. What I was thankful for when I was 11? Being sat by my cousin and having an extra cherry pie on the counter. My thankfulness was short-sited, to say the least. 

It's grown over the years to an endless list of things... well more than just things. People, events, thoughtful gestures that have altered situations.. and really, God's kind hand in all the happenings of our lives. 

We won't be celebrating Thanksgiving until Sunday when we have some fellow Texans over for lunch, but I don't want to cheapen the day by some twee hashtag to accompany my gratitude. Life is good. The food we get to enjoy is a great gift of lives that we live in plenty. But most importantly, my heart feels full because God is so kind. 


Enjoy the day, friends. Drink an extra cup of coffee and eat that extra piece of pie. Enjoy the day with those you love for those of us can't be around the table with you today. 


PS. Random photos of us frolicking in front of my childhood home. Pysch. It's Blenheim Palace and an absolute must if you visit Oxford.




*images original to Aspiring Kennedy



Posted on November 26, 2015 and filed under holiday, family, expat, life as an expat.

The Coziest Christmas Jammies (Giveway!)

Okay, here is a secret. If you're a blogger- you get offered a lot of free stuff. Is that okay to admit? There are so many unspoken rules for blogging etiquette that I don't really know. But, it is my theory, that the good news about unspoken rules is that since they weren't ever announced, you can't get in trouble if you break them.

How the free stuff things works is, at first, so exciting. I used to spend hours taking pictures and writing blog posts for, seriously, $7 bracelet. Most of things that I am offered are cheap and silly stuff that, after a while, is easy to turn down. 

Other stuff is something you need or want, and it gets you to a point of creating a post about some random product that doesn't really fit into your blogging content at all... but you needed new (insert random practical item here) so you sold your blogging soul for a new set of stoneware baking dishes.

But a lot of the times, you're just a sucker for a good story. And so just at the time in blogging when I was saying NO MORE RANDOM STUFF, I got an email from a friend doing a little PR for a new company on children's clothing, Panda & The Sparrow

Now there may be needs that the Knights have, but thanks to Hannah Anderson pjs being sold at Costco, pajamas are not one. So I said thanks, but no thanks.

Then my friend told me a bit more about this company. Two smart women with killer jobs as directors at the hip British brand, Whistles. They're both new moms now making organic clothing for children and starting their own company. Ugh. Heartstrings tugged.

I think replies something along the lines of "Okay. Fine. I'm in. Send me a pair and I'll see what I think when we go to Iceland. No promises though."

Then we went to Iceland... 

And three months later these pajamas are all my kids are wearing. 

I love Panda and The Sparrow because...

 

1. I love them in matching jammies. It makes bedtime and waking up so cute.

 

2. They are so soft. After being washed a ton, they are still so comfy for them.

 

3. I love that they are unisex. I love that Harrison will be able to wear Viola's as he gets bigger. 

 

4. They are perfect for keeping them cozy and warm... without getting them too hot. Harrison is always so sweaty in pajamas. These sets keep him the perfect temperature all night.


So yeah. I'm addicted to this little line of children's clothing that I didn't know existed a few months ago. Now I love Panda and the Sparrow and have been able to mooch a few extra pieces for the kids. I'm shameless, I know. But here's the cool thing about getting free product: when I really love it, I ask the companies to give some to a reader, too. Lucky for you- the cool ladies at Panda and the Sparrow said yes!

One of you gets the chance to win £120 to spend on this gorgeous line- which is plenty to get a several pairs to match your little ones up... or just kit out one of them in a ton of their stuff. It's awesome. Unsolicited recommendation: I loooove the striped pajamas. They are so good, and at only £20, you can get everyone matching with pieces that can be worn for years!

Entry is simple. Just enter your email and you're entered. A few other bonus entries are available, too, for anyone feeling ambitious.



 

*Images original to Aspiring Kennedy. Images 1, 2 & 3  by Ashel Parsons

 

Posted on November 22, 2015 and filed under kids, shopping, holiday.

Bonfire Night | I (Cake) You.

For all of you non-Brits, Bonfire Night is a holiday that celebrates Guy Fawkes foiled attempt to blow up parliament that is observed every year on the 5th of November.  The typical celebration involves fireworks and a bonfire- earning it the nickname "Bonfire Night." 

Since the actual holiday fell in the middle of the week, we saved any and all acknowledgment of it until the weekend. Many of the big fireworks shows in the city were moved to the weekend, too, so we didn't feel too bad to wait out the fun.

When Saturday arrived, I cracked into my vault of Texas goods and started a pot of chili and some cornbread. While the celebration may be entirely British, my Texan-self knows no other way to entertain in the fall without it. 

But if you're going to pull out the good stuff for your guests, you can't stop there. I needed something good to make for dessert... but something easy since Harrison's nap was guaranteed to last about 10 more minutes.

I preheated the oven and got the assistance of a capable sous chef (Viola) to help me make the coffee cake that Betty Crocker sent me to try as a part of their #icakeyou campaign. Something about the combination of cake + coffee sounded perfect for a cozy Autumn night in.

So we followed the (simple!) instructions on the box and five minutes later, it was in the oven.

By the time the oven buzzer rang, it was smelling SO good in our house that I was regretting not making cupcakes so that I could have snuck one for a pre-lunch appetizer. Oh well. 

Then the fun started- putting it together.



I added some chocolate sprinkles to give it a bit of a mocha taste like this one, but next time- I'm going all in and adding chocolate chips to the batter. No need to skimp when you're #cookingwithbetty. :)

Can I just be honest with you. I love boxed cake mixes. I can make something really tasty and really simple. Traditional cake recipes make me sweat with all the creaming and folding and beating... and I always seem to end up with a mediocre end to my effort. I have no qualms about boxed cake mixes... and neither do my guests. It's a major upgrade from the brick-like alternative I've probably served them in the past.

My friend, Amber, came over with her daughter to join us for the night. Her husband had been away on business for a few days. She definitely deserved a giant slice for the week she had put in. It was so nice to have the girls play together while we spent the evening chatting and chowing down... and playing referee to their attempts to grab chunks of the cake. 

We perched on the back of our couch and watched the nearby fireworks that evening. After the kids fell asleep, we dug out some vanilla ice cream to go on top of our second round of cake while watching Friday Night Lights. We lit the fireplace and pretended that was our Bonfire.

 

Our Guy Fawkes Night was just perfect- celebrating with friends and enjoying the coziness of indoors. Maybe next year, we'll feel brave enough to wade out to Battersea for fireworks... but I doubt it. :)

 

*  *  *

 

How do you celebrate Guy Fawkes? Inform the ignorant American, is there a traditional food to eat on Bonfire Night? (If not, can I recommend homemade chili and giant hunks of coffee cake. I'd like to make that a tradition.)

 



 

*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

*this post was sponsored by Betty Crocker. Professions of cake fondness are my own.

 

Posted on November 7, 2015 and filed under eat, holiday, friends.