Posts filed under life as an expat

Brook Green | A Local's Neighbourhood Guide

Brook Green is a neighbour to my own little hood, Shepherds Bush. Throughout the week, I find myself stumbling into Brook Green for various things and it’s amazing to me how it has such a distinct and different feel. Enjoy my friend Julie’s take on life in Brook Green. She’s the owner of the very cute and popular Instagram account, LondonIsPink, and you’ll see she has a gift of taking really pretty pictures. Julie is nice, has great taste, works and is a mom. Her vantage point as a resident of Brook Green will give some great insight to most anyone in their life stage!


1. TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD.

Brook Green is a small family-friendly little village enclave, dotted with small locally-owned shops - an oasis sandwiched between two very busy urban areas, . The neighborhood is centered around a small Green space - which serves as sort of the social central for Brook Green-dwellers with a small cafe, playground, tennis courts, and open fields. It's one of those neighbourhoods where you can't walk down the street without seeing someone you know, and I love that sense of community that can be hard to find in a big city.  

We had previously lived in a north London village - Highgate - but I felt it was too quiet and after moving to the U.K. from a very urban part of Washington DC: we missed the international community. We were thrilled to find this little paradise so close to central London, and with a very big expat community. The French primary school, Jacques Prevert, has made Brook Green a little South Kensington with lots of French families. Brook Green has gorgeous houses with blossoming gardens, quaint cafes, and even our very own Fishmonger (I feel like this is a big deal, but maybe because I'm an American and it's a novelty!) It also holds the distinction of having the only Michelin starred pub, The Harwood Arms. We like to pop in for a loaf of fresh bread to takeaway, it's a nice little neighborhood secret! 

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Holland Park and High Street Kensington are both just around the corner, which provide us with pretty much anything we need, and more patisserie than should be legal. 

2. ON A SCALE FROM 1-10, HOW CONNECTED WOULD YOU SAY WHERE YOU LIVE IS? WHAT ARE THE MAJOR LINES THAT RUN TO/FROM YOU?

Brook Green is a commuters dream! I'd say we're a solid 9. We're within a 10 minute walk from the Central, District, Piccadilly, and Hammersmith and City lines. We're also extremely well located for airport access, which is great as we travel frequently. We moved here to be closer to Heathrow, which is about a 30 minute journey on the tube, but we're also a quick train ride from Gatwick, via the overground. 

We're also next to the Overground - the hidden secret of London transport! About 2/3 of the stations have a lift, which comes in handy when traveling with a buggy. In 20 minutes I can be right at the foot of Hampstead Heath, ready for a romp through the fields or in 10 minutes I can be exploring the lovely Northcote road market in South London. Also worth mentioning - whenever there's been a public transportation strike, the overground has almost always stayed open, and can skirt you around the perimeters of London rather stealthily. It's also air conditioned, which can be a lifesaver in the summer.

I do a lot of walking (get in those 10,000 steps!), and if you like to get around by foot, Kensington, Notting Hill, and Chiswick are all within walking distance. 

3. IN A DREAM WORLD, WHAT WOULD BE THE PERFECT STREET OR AREA TO LIVE IN WITHIN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD? WHY?

Brook Green has no shortage of gorgeous colorful houses, but I'm obsessed with one particular tiny street with small cottages: Hofland road. It's very quiet, and simply stunning. In the Spring, all the houses are covered in wisteria, roses, jasmine, and other English garden beauties. Most houses are 2 or 3 bedroom, and don't have the soaring ceilings like many of the neighboring houses on surrounding streets, but I have to say I wouldn't mind foregoing some space for the cuteness factor! There is a very low turnover in housing stock, however, as we looked for about 6 months before settling on our current flat. I looked for ages on Hofland road, but sadly nothing came up for rent, and we can't afford to buy on that road. Cottages run a cool £1-1.5 mil.

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4. ON A SCALE FROM 1-10, HOW WOULD YOU SAY THE VALUE FOR SQUARE FOOTAGE IS? DO YOU PAY A PREMIUM FOR WHERE YOU LIVE OR WOULD YOU SAY IT IS A BETTER VALUE THAN OTHER AREAS IN LONDON?

We are zone 2, close to the zone 1 border. We definitely pay a premium for location and transportation access. For the price we pay, we could probably get a 3 bedroom if we went about a 1/2 mile west or south, but we're willing to pay the premium to be that much closer to proximity to the Central line (for my husbands commute), and the parks, shops, and restaurants we like. I also love a good walk around Holland Park, Notting Hill, and Kensington, and I love being within walking distance of all of these neighborhoods.

5. WHAT IS THE GENERAL VIBE OF THE NEIGHBOURHOOD? GIVE US THREE TYPES OF PEOPLE WE MEET SEE ON YOUR HIGH STREET?

Brook Green is a charming laid-back village with a loyal group of committed localists. It's known for being a haven for families and you'll see lots of prams around the green or in the cafes. On sunny days the pubs and outdoor spaces fill up with City professionals that live in some of the areas lovely mansion flats. There's also a good arts community that have brought annual events to our neighborhood, like book fairs and music festivals. It's very Stars Hallow. I can't walk down the street without seeing a power mum scootering or walking her kids to school before jetting off to their impressive job, nannies pushing buggies and wrangling scooter-riding children, and so many dog-owners. I think we have two pet stores in our small neighborhood! People love their dogs around here. 

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6. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO GET COFFEE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD?

As a freelancer, I work in cafes to stay productive, and Brook Green has a few great options. I absolutely love The Blue Corner, a relaxed family-owned cafe with great food and drinks and a strong wi-fi connection. It's owned by a mother-daughter duo from Portugal, and the ambience is so warm and lovely. Also sometimes they sell Pastel de Nata's - quite the treat! 

I also love the newest addition to our high street, The Corner House. It's a multi-use space, with a restaurant/cafe on the ground floor and the downstairs hosts a really darling play space for toddlers with an attached cafe for parents to relax with a cuppa and a croissant. They also have great studios with exercise classes for children and adults. It's a very relaxed and beautiful space and the food is excellent.

7. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO GET DINNER IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD?

We love The Bird in Hand, a really cozy little locals gastropub that has nice small plates and pizzas, and usually a little pup or two soaking up the atmosphere. In the last couple of months, TWO new pizza places have opened! Zia Lucia on Blythe road makes pizzas using 48-hour fermented dough. Farina & More is a family-owned Italian restaurant with friendly staff and delicious pizzas and pastas. Another spot we love is Kerbisher and Malt, a chippy on the high street known to be frequented by local celebrities like Simon Cowell. If it's a nice day, we'll get a fish and chips takeaway and bring it to the Green for a picnic. A favorite summer pastime! 

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8. HOW WOULD YOU SPEND A SATURDAY IN BROOK GREEN- AS A LOCAL?

My son has drama club in the neighborhood, so we usually drop him off, then hibernate at home if it's cold, or catch a "mini-morning" movie with my daughter at the nearby cinema. If the weather is nice, we head to the Brook Green Market. Everyone really comes together here on Saturdays and now that we have kids in school, we always run into someone we know. The kids play on the playground onsite, and the mums and dads have a bite and chat. It's a perfect way to while away a Saturday! We love to pick up fresh bread and some sweet treats, along with things for dinner. I especially love when the buskers show up, makes me feel like I'm in actual episode of Gilmore Girls. 

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Sometimes we head to the nearby Brook Green playground and let the kids have a run around. If we're lucky, we'll walk home via Blythe Road and stop for a little cake at the darling vintage-inspired Betty Blythe's tea room and have a peek next door at the newest arrivals at the mega stylish kids clothing and toy shop, Scandi Mini.

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If the weather is especially nice, we love to spend the day on the Hammersmith riverfront to admire one of London's prettiest bridges. We stop for a bite at one of the pubs - our faves are The Rutland Arms and The Dove - and walk across the bridge to explore the shore of the Thames. I love being so close to the river. Even though it's only a 20 minute walk from Brook Green, it feels like a different world on the riverfront!

9. HOW MUCH WOULD AN UBER TO OXFORD CIRCUS COST YOU? (APPROXIMATELY)

£8-13

10. WHAT’S THE BEST PLACE TO BE OUTDOORS IN BROOK GREEN?

Brook Green isn't big enough to have much outdoor space, but we have a few favorites. Obviously, the Green! We love to play and picnic on this gorgeous little space. Thanks to the annual community bulb planting, there are snowdrops, daffodils, and crocus in the spring, and big crunchy autumn leaves in the Autumn. We also have tennis courts and fields big enough for kids to play football. Also, the pubs on Masbro Road - The Bird in Hand and Havelock Tavern - both have outdoor tables where we love to have a lazy lunch on the street and visit with friends and neighbors and pet a few puppies. 

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11. WHAT ARE THE BEST LOCAL SCHOOLS IN BROOK GREEN? ARE THESE PAID OR PRIVATE?

In Brook Green, you really are spoiled for choice when it comes to good schools. There are great options from top-rated community schools, a free school - the newly opened brach of the much-loved West London Free School, Kensington Primary Academy, and two religious-based schools, including Larminier & Sacred Heart which in recent years had nearly 200 applicants for 60 spots. Fee-paying schools include the well-regarded Bute House Preparatory School for Girls, the French primary school: Jacques Prevert, and St. James Primary and Secondary Schools, a vegetarian school where kids learn Sanskrit as part of the curriculum. 

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12. WHAT ARE SOME GOOD AREA THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS?

My kids obviously love the playground, which is absolutely jam packed with kids and mums and nannies after school! We love to spend rainy days at The Corner House play area, or the Hammersmith library. The Masbro Centre has lots of classes on offer for kids, and play-times and meet-ups for mums with new babies. If we venture out of our neighborhood, you'll find us at nearby Holland Park, Daunt Books on Holland Park's high street, and our new favorite - the newly opened Design Museum. We visit weekly! The museum hosts maker activities for kids 5-11 (sometimes younger, but typically these are geared towards school-aged children). They have building activities that my kids love to work on, and a new Explorers Trail to help younger kids explore the museum. My 6 year old son is obsessed with an activity to design the future underground train (future engineer!), and my 3 year old daughter loves to listen to the interactive exhibits. In the summer, the kids love to cool off in the water fountains outside on the plaza. It's a big hit with our family, and I don't think many families know about it (we don't see a lot of kids there) so I'm spreading the word! Go!

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Looking for the perfect London neighbourhood for you? Check out my other neighbourhood guides:

DULWICH HAMPSTEAD | SHEPHERDS BUSH | CHELSEA | NOTTING HILL | ISLINGTON | BRIXTON | PutnEY



*images courtesy of Julie Taylor

Brixton | A Local's Neighbourhood Guide

For today’s addition to our neighbourhood guide series, we are moving South of the river to Brixton. To be honest, the closest I’ve ever been to Brixton was today on the train back in from Canterbury. We were moving at a glacial pace through the Southern part of London and I was getting the best view of Dulwich, Herne Hill and then- Brixton! I was peeking at all the cute little cafes with gardens, lively shops and it seemed like such a vibrant and fun part of town. 

I’m happy to have Bethan introduce her part of London to you. She’s one of the people I met through blogging in the early days when I’d sit on my tiny blue suede love seat (seriously!) in Oxford and type away all day while Tyler was busy. We somehow got tagged in a book swap and sent each other books in the mail to read. I loved those sweet days of blogging- where people were just connecting and doing kind things like that, and I love that so many people from those days I’m still connected to in 2018. Anyway, that’s a long-winded way of saying: Thanks, Bethan, for coming to Aspiring Kennedy and introducing us to your lovely part of London.


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1. TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD.

I live in Brixton, a vibrant and colourful neighbourhood in South West London full of cool shops, restaurants, bars and local life. It's an amazing place to live and I feel really privileged that I can call it my home. Yep it's a little gritty, but that's one of the things I love about city living, and when things get too much it's easy to escape to the wide open spaces of Brockwell Park!

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We live in Poets Corner, a quiet residential area between Herne Hill and Brixton, and right on the corner of Brockwell Park. It's about a 10 minute walk to Brixton Tube along Atlantic Road, which is crammed with little shops and cafes - it's hard to walk down there without stopping for a coffee - as well as local butchers, fish mongers and veg shops, it's really eclectic! Off Atlantic Road is Brixton Market, an amazing treasure trove of shops and a really magnet for foodies - this is where both Honest Burger (best chips in London) and Franca Manca (best pizza in London) were born.

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Brixton Road is where you go for all the big chain stores (including the best H&M in town - seeing a theme here?!) as well as Morleys, the local department store and Ritzy, our local cinema, complete with bar! Branch up on to Acre Lane where you can treat yourself to an amazing brunch at the Blues Kitchen, or dig for bargains at the British Heart Foundation furniture shop or the TRAID clothing shop.

2. ON A SCALE FROM 1-10, HOW CONNECTED WOULD YOU SAY WHERE YOU LIVE IS? WHAT ARE THE MAJOR LINES THAT RUN TO/FROM YOU?

Brixton is a solid 9 - it's in zone 2 and on the Victoria Line, which speeds you quickly into the centre of town. Things do get slightly annoying if you need to go east, but who needs Shoreditch when you're in somewhere that's so cool and quirky in it's own right?! There are also loads of buses that connect Brixton with the rest of South London, as well as into the centre of town. Oh, and it's about a three mile walk to Victoria, which is pretty pleasant on a good day.

3. IN A DREAM WORLD, WHAT WOULD BE THE PERFECT STREET OR AREA TO LIVE IN WITHIN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD? WHY?

I would love to live in Trinity Gardens, a lovely square of quaint terraced houses tucked back from the chaos, yet just a few minutes from the Tube. Although saying that I do really love the knot of streets around Poets Corner where we live at the moment because it's got a really similar vibe and is packed with cute colourful houses and quirky street art. 

4. ON A SCALE FROM 1-10, HOW WOULD YOU SAY THE VALUE FOR SQUARE FOOTAGE IS? DO YOU PAY A PREMIUM FOR WHERE YOU LIVE OR WOULD YOU SAY IT IS A BETTER VALUE THAN OTHER AREAS IN LONDON?

London is always going to be expensive, but I’d say living in Brixton is pretty good value, so around a 7. You do pay a premium in comparison to other areas of South West London, but when you consider the transport links and local amenities it’s worth it. 

5. WHAT IS THE GENERAL VIBE OF THE NEIGHBOURHOOD? GIVE US THREE TYPES OF PEOPLE WE MEET SEE ON YOUR HIGH STREET?

Brixton is eclectic!! Walking down Atlantic Road you’ll run in to everyone from sassy teenagers to elderly ladies having a chat, hipsters comparing notes on coffee shops to families pushing buggies loaded with shopping and tourists paying their respects to Bowie. Every type of person is here and that’s why I love it!

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6. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO GET COFFEE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD?

I love Parissi, a really gorgeous little cafe which makes the most delicious food (especially their homemade croissants, which are amazing!) and serves up AllPress coffee!

7. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO GET DINNER IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD?

There are so many well-priced yet amazing places to eat in Brixton, and food is a real focal point of the area. I love to head to Pop Brixton to induldge my indecisive side and gorge on a smorgasboard of street food from dumplings to pinxos. I also really love Fish, Wings and Tings for a taste of the Caribbean culture which has been hugely influential in the area, and I love both Joint and Brixton Grill for their ribs! 

8. HOW WOULD YOU SPEND A SATURDAY IN BRIXTON AS A LOCAL?

Most Saturdays I start my day with a workout at Brixton Rec Centre. I love this place! It's a cheap and cheerful municipal gym that attracts people from all walks of life, everyone is friendly and the only person taking selfies is me! After my sweat session I'll usually head out to run errands, picking up flowers from the stall outside the station, maybe some veggies from one of the shops along Electric Avenue or candles from Article, before grabbing a coffee and cake at Parissi, it's important to refuel properly!

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Once I'm home, and my boyfriend Mike is up, we might head out for some lunch in the market, somewhere like The Joint in Brixton Market - I am on a one woman mission to find the best ribs ever, and these come pretty close - before heading to Brockwell Park to walk everything off, possibly with a stop at Brockwell Blend on Tulse Hill for another caffeine hit. Brixton has tonnes of independent cafes, which is great for coffee lovers like me! Just a little further up the hill from Brockwell Blend is The Sympathetic Ear, a fab little bar that specialises in local (and not so local) beer, so if the mood takes up we might nip in there to check out what they've got on tap!

Brixton never stops, and things are just as vibrant in the evening as they are during the day! On a Saturday night we tend to head to bars like 384 or Shrub and Shutter where the bar staff mix up inventive cocktails, or if we're feeling less fancy we might head to Effra Social, a former social club that's been converted (in the loosest sense of the word) in to a bar cum club with some serious cheesy disco vibes. For a more low key evening we might meet friends KaoSarn for Thai (it's BYO, so a really economical night out), or head to a house party (London's expensive, sometimes you need to economise!).

9. HOW MUCH WOULD AN UBER TO OXFORD CIRCUS COST YOU? (APPROXIMATELY)

I am a firm fan of the night bus, it’s an experience in itself, but when I do get an uber it will usually be £15-20.

10. WHAT’S THE BEST PLACE TO BE OUTDOORS IN BRIXTON?

Brockwell Park is absolutely amazing! Haul yourself up to the brow of the hill and there are some seriously impressive views across the city, the mini train keeps kids (big and small) amused for hours and the Lido Cafe is an awesome place to grab a coffee and some lunch. My only word of warning is the park is hilly, so keep that in mind if you fancy a run! 

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Looking for the perfect London neighbourhood for you? Check out my other neighbourhood guides:

DULWICH HAMPSTEAD | SHEPHERDS BUSH | CHELSEA | NOTTING HILL | ISLINGTON


FOLLOW ASPIRING KENNEDY ON BLOGLOVIN


*professional shots by Anna Rachel Photography
*other photos by Bethan Taylor

Islington | A Local's Neighbourhood Guide

Today, we get to continue on with my guide to various neighbourhoods… but not written from my perspective! These area guides are written by people who live and love these little pockets of London. Today, we are headed Northeast to the hip area of Islington. You’ll get a good perspective of what makes this place unique from a former New Yorker-turned-Londoner. Erin Moore shares a bit of her life in London’s beloved neighbourhood of Islington.

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1. TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD.

Our neighbourhood is a good mix of the practical and the frivolous. It’s very friendly and a little gritty, in a way that a former New Yorker can appreciate.

We live on Pentonville Road near Angel. On our side of Pentonville Road is Amwell Street, a lively and charming street of small shops where we run into our neighbors. Across Pentonville Road, we have Chapel Market, which is an old-fashioned street market with everything from produce and home goods 6 days/week to an organic farmers’ market on Sunday mornings. You can buy a school uniform, a wedding dress, the Sunday paper or a 10-foot ladder, no problem.

Around the corner, Upper Street has every chain store and restaurant you could wish for, including a huge Waterstone’s, along with some really wonderful independent businesses. For example, behind Angel lies Camden Passage, a tiny street lined with antique shops and an outdoor antique market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. There are some enticing little cafes (Austrian coffee house Kipferl and the Coffee Works Project); Paul A. Young, a first-rate chocolate shop; and the Camden Head (check out their beer garden).

 Photo courtesy of  Kipferl

Photo courtesy of Kipferl

 Photo courtesy of  Pan Pan

Photo courtesy of Pan Pan

 Photo courtesy of  Angela Coomey

Photo courtesy of Angela Coomey

2. ON A SCALE FROM 1-10, HOW CONNECTED WOULD YOU SAY WHERE YOU LIVE IS? WHAT ARE THE MAJOR LINES THAT RUN TO/FROM YOU?

I’d say Islington is a 9. At one end of Upper Street, Angel Station is on the Bank branch of the Northern Line. 19 bus lines connect through that one busy corner.

At the other end of Upper Street, Highbury & Islington Station has the Overground as well as the Victoria Line. Seven minutes to Oxford Circus from the furthest end of this neighbourhood is not bad!

But the real reason I give Islington such a high score is its proximity to King’s Cross/St. Pancras. Just half a mile or a couple of bus stops away, you have access to the Circle, Hammersmith and City, Northern and Metropolitan Underground lines, not to mention the Eurostar, Thameslink, East Midlands Trains and Southeastern.

If you don’t mind walking, you’ll find Islington surprisingly central. In about half an hour on foot, you can be at the South Bank, or the West End, or Shoreditch.

3. IN A DREAM WORLD, WHAT WOULD BE THE PERFECT STREET OR AREA TO LIVE IN WITHIN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD? WHY?

I enjoy living on the Pentonville Road because there’s never a dull moment. The downside, of course, is noise and pollution. There are a couple of streets, out of the fray and yet still close to Angel, that are appealing. Colebrooke Row has some of the loveliest Georgian houses around. Duncan Terrace has a ribbon of garden running through it. Noel Road is just as pretty and its gardens back onto the Regent’s Canal.

4. ON A SCALE FROM 1-10, HOW WOULD YOU SAY THE VALUE FOR SQUARE FOOTAGE IS? DO YOU PAY A PREMIUM FOR WHERE YOU LIVE OR WOULD YOU SAY IT IS A BETTER VALUE THAN OTHER AREAS IN LONDON?

Anyone living in London is paying a premium, but Islington is definitely in the mid-range of crazy. It is about 1,000 pounds per square foot, which makes it better value than West London (Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Camden and Hammersmith and Fulham are all more expensive), but worse value than East London (Hackney, Tower Hamlets) and most places south of the Thames (Wandsworth, Southwark, Richmond). Islington is more expensive than it was a few years ago, but with Google and other tech companies moving to King’s Cross and Old Street, and London’s centre of gravity shifting east over the past decade, it still seems like a good location/investment. 

5. WHAT IS THE GENERAL VIBE OF THE NEIGHBOURHOOD? GIVE US THREE TYPES OF PEOPLE WE MIGHT SEE ON YOUR HIGH STREET.

On Upper Street you’ll see mums with prams, young City types on their way to work, and many chuggers and buskers: all ages, all races, all income levels. Many people living here are the second or third generation (or more) of their families to live in the neighbourhood, so there’s a community feeling.

Although Islington is a magnet for nightlife with clubs (like O2 Academy), pubs (the Castle and the Albion are two favorites for outdoor drinking), the Almeida Theatre and Sadler’s Wells, it is also casual enough to enjoy this place as a local and be spontaneous. You don’t have need reservations to get into most of the restaurants. 

6. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO GET COFFEE IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD?

There are countless great coffee shops—so many that it’s hard to keep up with the rate they open. I really like Saint Espresso. They happen to have the best brownies: sea salt caramel (gluten free but you would not guess if they didn’t tell you). Another favorite is Ground Control on Amwell Street. Further afield, Sunday is a beloved coffee/brunch spot. It’s been discovered, though--don’t say I didn’t warn you…

 Photo courtesy of  Saint Espresso

Photo courtesy of Saint Espresso

 Photo courtesy of  Saint Espresso

Photo courtesy of Saint Espresso

7. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO GET DINNER IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD?

At the moment, I’m most into The Little Viet Kitchen, where the Vietnamese food is spicy, light, fresh and intense; Bellanger, an Alsatian/French brasserie owned by the same group at the Wolseley, the Delaunay and Fischer’s, but easier to walk into on a weekend; the Quality Chop House in Exmouth Market (try the mince on dripping toast); Moro and Berber and Q Shawarma Bar, other great places in Exmouth Market; and last but not least, for a romantic date, Trullo.

 Photo courtesy of  Clerkenwell Boy

Photo courtesy of Clerkenwell Boy

 Photo courtesy of  Bellanger

Photo courtesy of Bellanger

 Photo courtesy of  Bellanger

Photo courtesy of Bellanger

8. HOW WOULD YOU SPEND A SATURDAY IN ISLINGTON- AS A LOCAL?

Many Saturdays, my son and I start in Myddelton Square having a chat with our dog-walking neighbours . He plays at the playground. Then we spend the rest of the morning shopping, for family lunch or a dinner party or (usually) both. Here are some of the places we go…

We buy meat and bread from the Quality Chop House Shop and, if they have them, their addictive confit potatoes, and chicken liver pate. 

On the way back toward Angel, it is fun to stop at Made in Little France, where they have 300 different French wines, including some on tap. 

We love the charcuterie (and, weirdly, we discovered the most delicious pasta) at Coq Epicier. They also have a small selection of bread and pastries—the best at this end of Islington. The have regional French food and drink and they couldn’t be friendlier.

Fish comes from Moxon’s, just across Camden Passage, or Steve Hatt (Nigel Slater’s favourite fishmonger for a reason, but the queues can be hard for a 2-year-old to withstand). 

We buy most of our fruit and vegetables from Chapel Green Fruit and Veg on Chapel Market. It is probably the place in the neighbourhood my kids are most excited to go because of how welcome they are. Often they are offered a banana or some friendly banter here. We all love it.

We might pick up lunch from Ottolenghi. I cannot walk past their window display without stopping, at least to look.

Or we stop at Udderlicious for ice cream. They let locals vote online for the flavours they want to try at the shop in the coming month, and even nominate new flavours. My favorite is the dark chocolate sea salt sorbet—you’d never know it is dairy-free.

A real treasure in the area is Belle Epoque Patisserie — one of the best pastry shops in London, for sure, and my pick for a celebration cake or leisurely tea with a friend. It is nearer the Highbury end of Upper Street. They have éclairs to swoon for, my son’s beloved mini chocolate madeleines, and really great bread.

Islington is an amazing place to be if you like to eat. We also have two great movie theaters, useful shopping (high end, low end and everything in between) and all the entertaining people watching you could ever want. We have good locally-owned hardware and cookware shops, drycleaners, and pharmacies as well as a giant Boots, and plenty of big gyms to choose from. Parking is easy. It is by far the most practical neighbourhood we have lived in since moving to London ten years ago. 

9. HOW MUCH WOULD AN UBER TO OXFORD CIRCUS COST YOU? (APPROXIMATELY)

An Uber to Oxford Circus would cost 8-11 pounds from Angel.

10. WHAT’S THE BEST PLACE TO BE OUTDOORS IN ISLINGTON?

You can find patches of green in the form of pretty garden squares, most of them open to the public. Part of Islington skirts the edge of the Regents Canal. Its main park is Highbury Fields, about a mile (straight up Upper Street) from Angel Station. There are plenty of small playgrounds around Angel: in Myddleton Square, Barnard Park and Culpeper Park (with its sweet community garden and tadpole pond). If you head down to Granary Square, the newly developed area behind Kings Cross along the canal, there are jumping fountains, a playground, a terrific ice cream place called Ruby Violet,  and Word on the Water (a bookshop on a barge). 


Looking for the perfect London neighbourhood for you? Check out my other neighbourhood guides:

DULWICH HAMPSTEAD | SHEPHERDS BUSH | CHELSEA | Notting Hill



Having an Au Pair - A Vlog!

Well, here we go. Life and work have officially merged with the start of a new semester. I make a weekly grocery order that coordinates with a color-coordinated google doc of our weekly schedule with everyone person in a different colour, where they will be doing what at what hour, and then all the meals we will eat for the day prescribed days in advance. 

I wake up, read the sheet like a script and go!

Tyler and I are juggling a busy schedule and trying to keep things as normal and steady as we can at home for the kids. 

It’s not easy, but we’re doing it.

As I mentioned earlier, we have an au pair who helps keep us functioning in those moments when our schedules totally clash or there’s not a way for either of us to be at home. We do our best to take and pickup Viola from school and have one of us at home with Harrison as much as we can during the day, but… we both work and that’s not always something that we can pull off.

Luckily, we have a sweet au pair that is kind and so helpful! Since so many of my friends were so new to the idea of an au pair (and hey, I was, too, before we hired one!), I thought it would be helpful to do a vlog where I could answer questions people may have about the whole process. People submitted some great questions and I’ve got the final video now up. Be warned: It’s not one of my shorter videos… but then again, there were a lot of questions people asked! The questions ranged from standard “Do you have to cook for them?” all the way to “Can I walk around naked if they live with us?” Ha! And I get vomited on in the video, so, you know… it just took some time to get all the essential moments in the final cut,

Anyway, you can check it out below. (Or here, if you’re on a device that won’t show the video directly.)

AUPAIRWORLD.COM | This is the website we found our au pair through. It takes time, but you can avoid agency fees by interviewing and contacting candidates yourself. (Image e-harmony… but for au pairs and families. You shop their profiles, they shop yours.)

AUPAIRAMERICA.COM | If you live in the US, this is a reputable company that can help connect you to potential au pairs and offer additional services to make the process easier.


Did you like the baby vomit? No homemade video is complete without some. (That’s what I’m telling myself, at least.) Still feeling curious? Please leave any other comments or questions below and I’ll do my best to follow up in the comments!


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*images and video original to Aspiring Kennedy

Dulwich | A Local's Neighbourhood Guide

I met Bethie a few years ago through a Babyccino event that she was hosting. We had a few mutual friends, but now those have all moved away/drifted apart… and Bethie is one of the friends I’ve stayed in touch with. Bethie is fun, always laughing (even at my bad jokes!), empathetic, and a mover/shaker. She’s got ideas and ambitions constantly coming to her brain… and you’ll never think of her as a boring friend, I promise. She lives in Dulwich with her fantastically smart family and her love for their life there oozes out in every little post/conversation. Just read on, you’ll see what I mean. Thanks, Bethie, for contributing to this neighbourhood series and sharing a look into your sweet little life in Dulwich.


Dulwich Village, SE21

1. Tell us about your neighbourhood.

When were first moving to London from Washington, DC, we had our hearts set on living in Hampstead Heath, but we weren’t thrilled with what we could afford there. We ended up in South London where we eventually discovered Dulwich. The moment we stepped foot here, we knew we had found our future home. It is no coincidence that Dulwich is sometimes referred to as, “the Hampstead of the south”! With the quaint, villagey feel, amazing houses, yummy restaurants, and the gorgeous Dulwich Park, it certainly lives up to its reputation. 

2. On a 1-10, how connected would you say where you live is? What are the major lines that run to/from you?

There are advantages and disadvantages of being well connected in London. When we lived in Clapham (which I would give a 10 in terms of connectivity), we would cram ourselves onto hot, busy tube trains, only to emerge onto busy streets, teeming with people. It was fun at first, but it has really helped us to appreciate being a bit less connected here in Dulwich. It is much quieter here, with very few tourists which really helps add to the great community feel we love about living here. 

There are loads of bus lines to take you to better connected areas, and train lines to get you to London Bridge and Victoria (via North Dulwich, East Dulwich, and West Dulwich stations), and nearby Denmark Hill station to gets you to East London. Many people here have cars, but we love to bike everywhere and I can’t imagine a lovelier way to commute. My six-year-old rides her bike to and from school through past the gardens and lake in beautiful Dulwich Park and our au pair and I ride with my three-year-old on the back of our bikes. My husband works near Tower Bridge and it takes him 25 minutes to ride his bike to work each day. It takes 5-10 minutes to bike to a train station to take me into town, and a variety of beautiful local parks are also only a short ride away. However, when it comes down to it, there are definitely better neighbourhoods to consider if you plan to spend a lot of time in central London. I would rate Dulwich a 5 in terms of connectivity. 

3. In a dream world, what would be the perfect street or area to live in within your neighbourhood? Why?

Dulwich Village isn’t very big. Most everything there is to see here (shops, restaurants, The Dulwich Picture Gallery, and Dulwich Park) are all located on the main street. Also lining this main street are some absolutely incredible houses. They have grand entrances with unbelievable gardens out back. I can tell you about these gardens because every summer a few of them open them up for villagers to come explore! They have live music, sell tea and cakes, and usually raise some decent money for a local charity. The gardens are absolutely bonkers and are filled with beautifully manicured lawns, incredible flowers, ponds, fountains, trellises, paths, and staircases. Villagers bring picnics and camp out for hours on end. Given the amazing gardens, I can imagine the inside of these houses would be equally impressive. I would have to say that living in one of these houses right in the middle of the village would be pretty dreamy!

4. On a 1-10, how would you say the value for square footage is? Do a pay a premium for where you live or would you say it’s a better value than other areas in London?

People don’t move to Dulwich because it is affordable; people move here for the incredible schools, the park, and the lovely village. That being said, South London is, in general, much cheaper than Central or North London. Purchasing a four-bedroom house next to Hampstead Heath would run you many millions of pounds, but here in “the Hampstead of the south” you can find houses closer to 1 million pounds. It is still a lot of money, but it is a bit more accessible. 

I would rate affordability in Dulwich about a 4. There are definitely cheaper areas, and you do pay a bit of a premium here, but in comparison to other highly desirable neighbourhoods, it is definitely more affordable. 

5. What’s the general vibe of the neighbourhood? Give us three people we might see on your high street?

As a Seattle girl, I really appreciate the more laid back vibe of South London. While many people here are very stylish, it is rare to see anyone with a Gucci bag or Jimmy Choo shoes. You are more likely to notice people wearing a lovely jumper from a local shop, or a fun dress from Zara. If you show up on the school run in trainers and a dirty t-shirt or heels and a suit, you won’t get much of a look either way. 

There is a very friendly vibe here as everyone presumes that everyone else lives in the village. You are bound to have children at the same school, or will run into each other again at The Dog (our local pub that has just undergone a gorgeous renovation!) so you might as well be friendly! You also see a lot of familiar faces around here. It is rare to run errands and not run into someone you know. Even shopkeepers and local wait staff will stop and stay hello if they see us. We even know some of them by name (a special shoutout to Lucy at our favourite Italian restaurant who always gives snuggles to the kids!). 

Three people you might see on our high street would be a mum and baby on their way to meet a friend for coffee, a dog walker on their way to the park with a handful of leashes, and a kid on a scooter. (There are loads of (amazing) schools in Dulwich and so you see kids everywhere!!)

6. What’s your favourite place to get coffee in your neighbourhood?

Often after the school run, there is a group of parents that will go and get a coffee together before starting their days. The group usually includes a stay-at-home dad, a graphic designer, a very famous artist (!), and me! We often have a few others join in as well. While there are quite a few places to stop and get a good coffee around here, we often find ourselves at Christopher’s Bakery (where I often grab some fresh bread for dinner). Gail’s Bakery is also a favourite, but it is usually so crowded in the mornings that I usually only go there in the afternoons. A short bike ride from the village over to East Dulwich and you have even more options such as the hipster mecca of Brickhouse Bread, and the newly opened Greek cafe, Kanella, who make the best matcha latte!

7. What’s your favourite place to eat dinner in your neighbourhood?

While there are loads of restaurants to choose from in East Dulwich (like Japanese food and cocktails from Yama Momo, or the best ever burger from Meat Liquor) our favourite local restaurant is definitely Rocca in Dulwich Village. Not only is the food delicious (try the carbonara!!) and the staff super kid friendly, it is also surprisingly affordable! 

8. Best pub?

There is only one pub in the village and it has only just reopened after a nearly three year renovation. You will always see people sitting out front having a pint, and the garden is perfect for families to let their kids run in. However, as it has been closed for ages, we have spent a lot of time in East Dulwich pubs. I recently discovered The Cherry Tree which is located right across from the East Dulwich station and it is my new favourite local pub. It is a bit off the main high street so tends to be less crowded, yet it still has great food, a beautiful interior, and a lovely garden out back. (Added bonus is that my band, Wilford Social, plays there once a month! Come say hi!)

9. Best way to spend a Saturday in Dulwich Village as a local?

Hands down, the best way to spend a Saturday in Dulwich is in the park. Everyone is there with their families and there is plenty of space to spread out with a picnic, or enjoy food from the cafe. The kids love the play area, and you are bound to run into people you know there which is always fun. I also like to participate in the Park Run on Saturday mornings in Dulwich Park where you join a hundred or so other runners for a free timed 5K.

10. How much would an Uber to Oxford Circus cost you (approximately)?

£20

11. What are three great schools in your neighbourhood? Are they State or Fee Paying?

Dulwich is known for its schools. There is Dulwich College (founded in 1619) which is a boarding and day school for boys, James Allen’s Girls’ School which is ranked in the top ten of UK secondary schools, and Alleyn’s which is one of the country’s leading co-ed day schools. All of the aforementioned schools are fee paying, but we also have very highly ranked state schools as well. We are really lucky here and definitely spoiled for choice in terms of schools!


Looking for the perfect London neighbourhood for you? Check out my previous guides to Shepherds Bush and Chelsea


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(Little Kids + Working Moms) x Being an Expat = Complicated

As a mom, I’ve learned that the issue of childcare is a tricky one. So many factors are involved in finding someone to replace your role as mom- even if it’s just for a short time while you get errands run. This list of factors mainly includes (but is not limited to): income (because we all have different budgets and can’t all spend the same on childcare), distance (do you live near people you trust, or are you in a place away from trusted resources?), time (are you looking for something consistent or do you need random hours here and there?), trust (how do you know that the person watching your child(ren) isn’t crazy… and are they actually enriching your children’s lives/minds or merely keeping them alive until you return).

Living away from family, we have really battled with finding people to care for our children. Whether it’s just for a night for us to get a night away together or for something more steady during work hours- we’ve tried a bit of everything possible. Our work is a bit too sporadic to plan for a full-time help at scheduled hours… but when we need someone for work, we need someone who can pretty much dedicate their full attention to us…. But only for a few months. 

While the idea of family is sooooo appealing, we live an ocean away from anyone that we are related to. (With the exception of my aunt/uncle this summer… they have been SO wonderful to have in town with us to help in mundane moments and bigger ones like having a baby early!)

When I first heard about an au pair, I chalked it up to unrealistic for us. Full-time nannies are trop cher, and we don’t make enough to, essentially, pay their salary. I filed it away, and then when an ex-student approached me about coming to work with us in Paris after she had returned from a year in Australia (as an au pair for a family there), I started to ask her a bit about the basic format. When she told me how it all worked, my mind was blown. It actually was something we could do/afford… and seemed like the perfect fit for us.

After a year and a half of having an au pair, I have to say: it totally suits our family. Having someone live with us, be like family to us, and help watch our kids in random hours/spurts is just what we were needing… without really knowing was possible. 

Now, I'll be honest: we have been SPOILED with the absolute best au pairs. We have had people that have become family members to us, so having them share in daily life with us was never awkward or weird. The toughest part of them living was us was only when they had to leave. (PS. If you're reading this Cami, come back!!)

So I thought that maybe I’d do a vlog where I talk about what having an au pair is like… because maybe, just maybe, it could open up some options for your family, too. And maybe, just maybe, you’re currently as clueless about au pairs as I once was. Yes? Well then, ask away! I’ve got my own experience of two au pairs- with a new one arriving soon! Plus, I’ve asked a few friends to weigh in when there’s a question that I can’t answer. 

Ask away- from the basic (where do you even find someone to be an au pair?) to the more tense (what if your au pair has gross living habits- like leaving hair in the shower drain or has the smell of rot perfuming their room?) I kind of can’t wait to read these, by the way!


Hopefully this helps you if you’re at the point of breaking in trying to juggle it all.. and gives you an option that works great for your family.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

 

PACK YOUR BAGS | An NHS Maternity Ward!

A few weeks ago, I started this post, planning to share it long before our new little lady made her entrance... but life had other plans! Here's a peak into my pre-Edie state of mind- and a few tips about what to bring to an NHS maternity ward.


Well, the time has come… I’ve officially hit the state of pregnancy where I feel compelled to bring my notes everywhere I go (a weird NHS thing I’m going to explain in an upcoming vlog!), plan a childcare schedule with friends in those “just in case she comes early” scenarios, actually put together the baby crib by our bed… and pack my bag for the hospital. At 36 weeks, my stomach feels more like I swallowed a squirrel with peg legs than the sweet bumps and flutters that once tapped around inside me. You can easily identify body parts: foot! bottom! back! The time is coming near, and I gotta get my act together.

So first things first… when you are headed to your third trip to the hospital, I’ve learned to focus more on what I’ll enjoy having post-hospital trip rather than those few days in there. You see, the first time around- I was shelling out cash on items that would be useful for those few days in the hospital without much care to beyond those walls. A cute hospital gown, fancy coming-home outfits that I paid way too much for, nice slippers to waddle around the hospital in, etc. This time, I’m putting that money into items that I can enjoy long after I get out of the hospital. So here we go… what’s going in my hospital bag to have a baby through the NHS in London.

I’m working alongside WAREMAKERS for this piece, as their very cool artisan-led company inspired me into putting this kind of post together. After all, there are tons of places I could go with gorgeous handmade-items… but something felt especially right about walking into the unknown of the birth of a baby as a big adventure. So while it’s just a London hospital, I always feel like I’m going into uncharted territory. 

If you’re looking to support a great company with a great mission, and hey- actually fantastic looking items!- WAREMAKERS is going to be right up your picturesque European alley. It took me one glance at their site to get their mission, love their cool aesthetic and become a big fan of the artists and brands they bring together. I have a feeling you’ll love what they are doing, too. (Especially, if you’re like me and have a weak spot for those If-George-Clooney-were-a-bag leather bags that just get better with age that you know will be with you on holidays for years to come.)


ONE | TWO | THREE | FOUR | FIVE | SIX | SEVEN | EIGHT | NINE | Ten | eleven

HOSPITAL BAG | I think for my first delivery, I literally rolled into the hospital with my things in plastic shopping bags. Ha! But as you know, third times a charm or however the saying goes. I actually didn’t have a good overnight bag (all of ours seem to be enormous roller suitcases), so this time I got an actual bag to take with me. The bag is from La Portegna  which is an incredible brand handmade in Spain- but also with a store here in Marylebone! I’m excited to remember this as “my hospital bag,” but really excited to take it with me on other adventures outside of London, too. (Also, check out their company history for the wildest inspiration you’ve ever heard of. Spoiler: It involves an exotic gift from Hemingway.)

ROBE | I like having a robe to wear in the hospital, it kind of allows for covering up all the lumps and craziness happening underneath it… especially when you have friends come by to meet your baby. It somehow adds a bit more dignity to the moment… but I always buy a cheap robe that I won’t fall in love with for ever. This is for two reasons. First, they’re going to get trashed with so many… fluids. Sorry if that’s gross, but it’s true. Secondly, I always buy up a size or two, since I’ll be wearing it in weird-post-baby-still-have-a-bump time. I bought a cute, soft-touch robe here for £10… plus, it has a cute pattern to help create a diversion from my post-delivery stupor.

SLIPPERS | Speaking of slippers, I’m still buying some. Just some really cheap ones I can throw away the second I walk out of that hospital. You see, having an NHS baby means you share recovery rooms… and bathrooms. And I have to say, the bathroom I had after Harrison was born kind of traumatised me. Not because they weren’t clean and kept up… but maybe, the potpourri of 8-10 post-delivery women and all their output was too much. So slippers are needed to go around in the hospital, but I want nothing to do with taking anything that has touched those floors back into my home. Again, I buy cheap and simple ones like these.

SOCKS | While I do want to throw away the hospital slippers as soon as possible, I do think it’s nice to have splurge on some pretty socks to keep your feet covered while sitting around with a new baby/random hospital staff/etc, so this time I’ve got a hand-knit pair of wool socks from the English designer, Jules Hogan. (I actually think for what they are, they’re worth every penny. I can’t wait to take them to Iceland, too.) So yes, skimp on slippers, but spend on some socks that you’ll love to wear during your stay.

PAJAMAS | Now, I have to have a caesarean because of previous deliveries, so I’ll actually be given a gown to wear from the hospital, but if you are having a straight-forward delivery… you deliver in your own clothes! My friends have given birth in their husbands XXL t-shirts or bras… Obviously, these are clothes that they plan to get destroyed, so if you want to buy anything new- go cheap. (I typically do a Primark run before the hospital to get all of my hospital loungewear.) Again, don’t forget to buy up a size or two from your pre-baby size. You’ll be in weird territory between maternity and regular clothes for a few days, so some cheap items that you can easily loose after are nice.

BABY (HEAD) GEAR | I’m not sure why, but this surprised me the most: a hat for my baby. I suppose that because all US- born babies get the traditional striped-hat, I was expected the same when I gave birth here. But, no. You bring your own baby hat into the delivery room.  So yes, finding a cute hat is on my mind… and harder than you think. So many are enormous and I really want a small stretchy, jersey-like one. In the meantime, I've settled for these  but am still on the search via Etsy for something handmade. (Recommendations/hand-me-downs welcome.) We used a really sweet one of Tyler’s when he was a baby for when Harrison was born, but I’d like something a bit less boyish for this little girl. First-world problems, I know.

Do you need anything else for right after they are born? They do wrap them up in a little plain white blanket/towel after delivery- but you’ll need your own swaddles and clothes for them as soon as… well, you want them dressed. 

*Since I’ve had some crazy deliveries, can anyone else weigh in on what a “regular” delivery would call for? Do you give them their first diaper/nappie? The hospital has always put that on them for us after weighing/checking them… and they even put clothes on the girls in the NICU, which was sweet, but I know not standard. Any of your experiences would be so great to hear below in the comments!

Also, is now a good time to tell you- they don’t bathe your babies after delivery. They wipe them off (mostly) and then hand them over. They say all the gunk is really good for them, and that their skin will absorb it. (Which, I have to say- has been true of my babies… and neither really had cradle cap badly. Maybe God does know what he is doing afterall! Hey!) Did I read somewhere recently where this is becoming more common in the US, too?

NURSING BRAS & TANKS | First of all, I need to say: Welcome to the next year of your life. Go ahead and splurge on these, friends. They’re going to be on your body forever and ever from this point on. Want a tattoo? Maybe do a test run and see how you like wearing the same thing everyday (like a nursing bra!) for a year to see how you like the idea of permanency on your body. Also, the longer the nursing tank the better. These are pretty good and long!

ENTERTAINMENT | Maybe you get cable in American hospitals, but after you deliver in the NHS- you’re in a shared room with curtains separating you from other new moms. It’s a free system, so I can’t complain… but you can get real bored real quick. It’s good to bring your own forms of entertainment. Some people may brings books and small hobbies like knitting, but I’m planning on vegging out completely. I’ve already started downloading movies on my Netflix app and can’t wait to pop in my headphones and zone out. (These are things moms dream of when they have impending hospital stays, amiright?.) This amazing earbud case from the Danish company, Ham/Lerche, is so cool. This simple leather pouch keeps the tangled web of earphone tragedy from happening in my bag. Plus, it’s really nice leather that just looks cooler and cooler the longer it is around. 

On this note, don’t forget chargers of any sort that you may need…. And maybe bring a portable/battery one, if you have it? That way, if you get stuck in some random room waiting for a while, you aren’t stuck without an outlet? (Not sure this has ever happened to me before, but I’ll probably toss mine in this time just in case.)

WATER BOTTLE | I have to admit, I’m a bit jealous of the hospital swag that my friends/sisters get when they have a US-born baby… especially in the form of those giant water bottles., In the early days of nursing, when you have that obscene thirst dry up your entire body as you nurse, I always think of how nice it would be to have 835 oz of ice water next to me. But we don’t get them in the UK, and we don’t even have ice… so, you know, whatever. I have purchased a water bottle or two with each kid, and leave them upstairs and downstairs so that wherever I find myself perched- I have water nearby. Bring one to the hospital, because they’ll just bring by small jugs of water and styrofoam cups for you at random.

DISPOSABLES | If you thought the above text was glamorous, just wait until we dive in here. At a NHS hospital, you bring your own party favours… as in, your own breast pads, pads/diapers, underwear (in my case, the higher the better to avoid contact with the incision), and any other type of disposable item you may also end up needing to use at home- you bring of your own to the hospital, too. 

Oh, and of course- that doesn’t just stop for you. Don’t forget your baby! They’ll need newborn diapers and cotton balls/wipes. Just make it easy and do one giant shop for it all and have it delivered to your house around 34 weeks. I also buy all the baby shampoo, nappie cream, etc at this point, too.

REGULAR PACKING ITEMS | Now that you have all the other stuff you’ll have to have, don’t forget to pack the regular items that you’d spend the night away from home with: clothes (to come home in), toiletries, makeup, etc. I had my entire bag packed and then realised I hadn’t actually packed any clothes to come home in or my toothbrush. And on that note, don’t let your husband forget to pack those kind of items, too. They don’t offer beds to them, but they can sleep in the chairs, if they want… and most new dads do want to stick around and see the baby, I’ve learned. Better to have a few items to make their life better, too, with fresh contact solution, a toothbrush and a fresh shirt or two!

I am packing all of my essential makeup items (waterproof mascara, French face cream, toothbrush, deodorant, lipgloss that never goes away) in this pretty French linen pouch from Catherine Dang. I’ve been looking for a simple pouch to put in my backpack/travel bag for ages, and this is honestly such a great find: no obnoxious glitter words on top, great design with French linen and the perfect size for stashing in a slightly larger bag, and- to be candid- a much better price than the comparable “designer” ones I found with a similarly pretty aesthetic. 


There we go. I feel like that is a pretty honest breakdown of all the “essentials.” Having a baby is cute and amazing… but it’s not always glamourous. (Though, Tyler did used to work for a Dallas-based hospital system that served champagne & lobster to new mothers in their maternity unit, so maybe it actually IS in the US suburbs or in private healthcare!) I’m sure a few more items will make their way into my bag before we leave, but I’m not sure Nutrigrain bars and outdated bags of Cadbury eggs from Easter should make the official list.

I’m really grateful though for the opportunity have such amazing (and kind!) doctors take care of us. What we have learned is: if you have a straightforward pregnancy, you’ll find no frills care without a lot of handholding… because they know that this is a really natural process and the general checkpoints along the way will get you to having a healthy baby. But for people that need help and hand-holding (Hi!I I’m Lauren, and I’m traumatised by delivery!), you’ll get the help and care you need. Being a “bells & whistles” case is never the situation you want to find yourself in, but I can tell you- when you’re there, we’ve found that the staff will be some of the most attentive and gracious people. 

For more information, you can find a list that the NHS has provided on what to pack for you hospital bag here on their official site



*Images original to Aspiring Kennedy.

*This post was made in part by sponsorship from Waremakers.

Shepherds Bush | A Local's Neighbourhood Guide

When you’re moving to London (or around London), it’s hard to know where you should go. If you’re not from the area, you really don’t know what you’re getting yourself into when you jump into a lease to a new neighbourhood. As many Americans do, we started looking in the familiar sounding South Kensington and Notting Hill when we arrived… but have now moved on to more obscure-sounding pastures after finding ourselves with a bit more lay of the proverbial land here in London.

I often get asked by future residents about what areas work best and for what reasons- and while I know from my own experience, I thought it might be helpful for people to hear from locals in those areas. There’s no better way to hear about what life is like in a particular areas.

So here we go, I’m kicking it off with a little guide to our home here in West London, Shepherds Bush. Follow along with the series to hear from some very cool (and very normal) friends of mine as we share our little views of London living with you.


SHEPHERDS BUSH | W12

1. TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD.

I live in Shepherds Bush, which is in West London. While sits next to Notting Hill and Holland Park, it’s a bit grittier and less glossy than the others. It was the home of the BBC for decades and the impact on the neighbourhood is that the production team that lived nearby gave it a cool, smart artistic feel… yet it is blended well with endless other ethnicities beyond British. (It actually has more people fro more places than another other neighbourhood in London!) There are fantastic State schools (free!), there are great local churches, and there is the largest shopping mall in Europe here, too. I will say, it’s not a great kept secret. The fact that there are great state schools and affordable housing are making it boom quickly. 

2. ON A SCALE FROM 1-10, HOW CONNECTED WOULD YOU SAY WHERE YOU LIVE IS? WHAT ARE THE MAJOR LINES THAT RUN TO/FROM YOU?

I’d give where we live an 8, because we are close to both the Central Line and the Hammersmith & City line. However, further west in the neighbourhood is a bit more remote from the tube stations. If you live deeper in the neighbourhood, you’ll likely hop a bus a few stops to get into the tube stations.

3. IN A DREAM WORLD, WHAT WOULD BE THE PERFECT STREET OR AREA TO LIVE IN WITHIN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD? WHY?

I think I’d opt for the pretty Easter egg coloured houses along Wingate Street in Brackenbury Village (because you’d also get into Brackenbury Primary) or somewhere just off the playground from St. Stephens to get into the catchment from there and be really close to the underground connections.

4. ON A SCALE FROM 1-10, HOW WOULD YOU SAY THE VALUE FOR SQUARE FOOTAGE IS? DO YOU PAY A PREMIUM FOR WHERE YOU LIVE OR WOULD YOU SAY IT IS A BETTER VALUE THAN OTHER AREAS IN LONDON?

Compared to Notting Hill (where we were before), I’d give is a 7/8. It’s going up quickly, even from when we moved here a year ago…. But still- we have a house for about 20% more than we paid for a TINY two bedroom in Notting Hill. And it’s a 7-8 minute uber ride away from that house.

5. WHAT IS THE GENERAL VIBE OF THE NEIGHBOURHOOD? GIVE US THREE TYPES OF PEOPLE WE MEET SEE ON YOUR HIGH STREET?

Oh man, if you come to the W12- get ready to rub elbows with all walks of life. Three people that I saw today: 1. A fit Austrian mum headed to the pool with her kids in their Jaguar station wagon. 2. The manager of the local Syrian bakery we go to for pizzas. 3. Our older neighbours who have lived on this street for about 20 years who stopped by to meet our new baby on their way out to get groceries.

6. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO GET COFFEE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD?

This used to be a dismal answer… but it’s getting a bit better. Swallow Coffee just opened on the Goldhawk Road. Proud Mary’s is a local favourite…. And to be honest, that’s about it. We need better coffee shops in the area. I typically head to somewhere generic like Starbucks or Costa if I need to get some work done in a coffee shop around here.

7. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO GET DINNER IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD?

We love Thai food at the Crown & Sceptre pub, curry from Nepalese Tandoori or, our staple, is Damascene food from Ayam Zaman. We go there at least once a week and the staff treat us like family.

8. HOW WOULD YOU SPEND A SATURDAY IN SHEPHERDS BUSH AS A LOCAL?

Ravenscourt Park is a gem of the area. We go there a ton as a family, get ice cream at Bears, or head to Westfield for some shopping. Tyler may catch a match at the QPR stadium or we may go to friends homes for lunch/dinner. (Remember- we have more square footage here in W12! We can actually have friends over and enjoy it!)

9. HOW MUCH WOULD AN UBER TO OXFORD CIRCUS COST YOU? (APPROXIMATELY)

£10-13


Looking for the perfect London neighbourhood for you? Keep an eye out for other neighbourhood guides... coming soon! 



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Forcing American Baby Showers on British Friends

Well, I started to blog about how I was forcing baby showers on my British friends. This is, for the most part, true. Over the past few years, they have awkwardly shuffled away from the idea of any hoopla before a baby arrives… they claim it’s just not done, and, when I’ve dug a bit deeper, they claim it’s bad luck! Well, amigos… all I can say is, thank goodness I don’t believe in superstition because otherwise, I would be a bit freaked out. As an American, the idea of celebrating an-almost-there-mom is one of the sweetest things- just a pause before the baby arrives to enjoy the anticipation and hope of that sweet little life that will soon be here. Plus, when you’re pregnant- you can eat tons of cake at a party like that and not feel guilty for the baby weight you’re still wearing. (See what I mean- It’s definitely more fun on this side of the due date.)

I have four friends in my group of friends that are pregnant at the same time as me- in the same social circle! That may feel normal for you guys in the States, but here in London that seems massive to me. People have less kids, they have them later and they hardly seem to overlap… but here we all are… all waddling around with baby girls!

Since this is almost as rare of an occurrence as Viola & Prince George having playdates (which you know, is pretty rare), I thought it was reason to celebrate. And by celebrate I mean, sit in the garden on a sunny day, eat pretty food, and talk without kids around. It was lovely.

The lunch was simple and light- since it has been so roasting hot this week in London. We had Greek chicken with roasted potatoes & green beans smothered with tzaziki sauce, mediterranean orzo (inspired by Bridget’s recipe), watermelon dotted with mint, and huge bowls stacked high with Eton Mess.  

It was definitely a day that called for my prettiest dishes- my Burleigh Blue Regal Peacock place settings. If you’ve been over to my house, you probably have heard me wax on about how special this company is, how they hand-make every single piece, and how they are last-standing pottery company in Britain to employ this painstaking method of artisan quality. But honestly, they make me happy every single day when I use them.

I mean really, Eton Mess in any other bowl would just look… uninspired. Put it in a gorgeous dish like that, and, voila! You’ve got yourself a gorgeous day with the ladies in the garden. (For those that are infinitely cooler than me, check out their new Black Regal Peacock. It’s edgy and cool and all my hip friends make it look so much cooler than I can. It’s amazing.)

When the shade finally arrived, we had fresh mint tea (my favourite!) and chocolates… because, chocolates with tea/coffee are kind of essential.

The afternoon was lovely, and we all ate until our stomachs filled our throats- which, at this stage, of pregnancy isn’t too hard to do.

And just as soon as I thought I had pushed my American-self on them, they surprised me with a gorgeous evening celebrating our new baby girl just a few days later. I’m not going to lie- sitting there in that room, surrounded by so many Brits who were going out of their comfort zone to love me and our baby- well, it made me emotional. These friends have been through all my baby deliveries with me, and they graciously walk beside me as I fumble through motherhood, and I’m just so so grateful. So yeah, I may have pushed baby showers on my British friends, but they gave me back great friendship, unending prayer, and a blind eye to my obnoxious Americanisms. I’m so grateful!

(As a tiny post script for my own memory- one of my friends from the party is actually at the hospital now delivering her baby! Exciting times… especially, as that means the baby dominos are starting to fall… and I’m the next one in line!)



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

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.

Free Tutorial | The Perfect English Scones

This week, all of my students came over to our house for a special guest lecturer: Geraldine. Now, you may not know Geraldine- but for those of us that are lucky enough to know her, you'll know she is an amazing organiser... and a willing partaker in sweets.

Many of my favourite memories with her involve wandering the streets of Italy in search of a(nother) cup of gelato or eating her pavlova in the garden after Sunday lunch, but... my favourite memory has to be one rainy day when Viola was tiny. Geraldine had invited me over and we both arrived to her house a bit drippy from the rain. As I peeled off wet layers off us and sat Viola on the carpet to play, Geraldine walked in from the kitchen with a small mountain of hot scones, mugs of tea and small bowls of clotted cream and jam. It was a simple moment that was so lovely and warm.

And now, I force her to recreate it for my students. That'll teach her to be less charming. Ha! :)

The day was perfect- her in her Cath Kidston apron and matching oven mitt, her cute authoritative statements on scones as someone from Cornwall ("scone" as in gone, and not "scone" as in stone), and watching her wander from group to group helping them roll out the dough to the perfect height before cutting.

And whaddaya know? The scones came out perfect- just like they do every time.

And Geraldine had Viola and Harrison following her every move... just like they do every time, too.

If you're looking for a classic -and simple!- scone recipe, here's Geraldine's recipe. What my students pay for in credit hours, you get for free. (Just pay me back in an invite when you make them, please?)


Scones

Ingredients: 

  • 225 g/8 oz of self-raising flour

  • pinch of salt

  • 55 g/2 oz butter

  • 25 g/1 oz caster sugar (or standard white sugar in U.S.)

  • 150 ml/5fl oz milk

  • milk to glaze

Method: 

  • Heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

  • Mix together the flour and salt and rub in the butter.

  • Stir in the Sugar and then the milk to get a soft dough.

  • Turn on to a floured work surface and knead very lightly. Pat out to a round 2cm/0.75in thick. Use a 5cm/2in cutter to stamp out rounds and place on a baking sheet. Lightly knead together the rest of the dough and stamp out more scones to use it all up. 

  • Brush the tops of the scones with milk.

  • Bake for 12-15 minutes until well risen and golden.

  • Cool on a wire rack and serve with butter and good Jam and maybe some clotted cream. 




*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Visa Turtle.

If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times: visas are tough to get. The UK (and most of Europe for that matter) are making it tough for Americans to live here. Each year that we have applied for visas, it's been with added hurdles. The process is slow moving, always changing, increasingly expensive and never guaranteed.

Our hope is to continue staying here in London. We love our lives here and we find a lot of purpose in where we work and live, but the only issue is... the UKBA (UK Border Agency) doesn't care that much about our hopes and dreams. So we have been spending the good part of the last year working with attorneys and my (amazing) boss to help us get visas to stay here.

The process has been long but I'm so glad to say that after months of sweating about it and a full day trekking out to Birmingham for our appointment, we've been issued visas that should help us stay long enough to get Indefinite Leave to Remain. (You know, assuming they don't change legislation in between here and then.) 

If you're looking for advice on how to move overseas, all I can tell you is that there is no shortcut to get here. The only routes that I know of (after talking to SO MANY EXPATS) is through attending a UK school or by being transferred by a company to live here. Otherwise, they have made it really impossible for Americans to move here in order to accommodate for the EU rights allowing citizens of the EU to freely move between countries. By not allowing Americans (and of course, other nationals that aren't EU) in for jobs, they can save these positions for those with first legal right to work here.

We would love to stay long enough to get citizenship and pass that privilege along to our children. It would be so nice for them to be avoid so much of the stress we have faced, but on that note- we also feel so fortunate that they are American citizens! No bad answer there.

Anyway, I get asked about moving here a lot, what our plans are and if we are going to stay. I've been a bit quiet about our plans simply because.... well, I didn't know! We have always wanted to stay, but it was a bit of holding our breaths until it was all settled. But now that I've received my resident permanent card in the mail- I can officially let the world know: Here we will be until further notice. :)

 

If you have questions on immigration, Im opening up the comments below for people to ask and other people (not me!) answer them. My brain is tired of thinking about it, and beyond that- I'll probably tell you something wrong. It's too complicated. ha!




*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on January 22, 2016 and filed under life as an expat.

Coffee Talk.

I have a coffee thing. Well, let me back up. I have a sweet thing and coffee is the perfect balance to it. If I'm eating something sweet, I love the taste of coffee to equalize the flavor.

So if -and when- I'm eating something like cake or a tart, I really want to have a coffee along side it. (FYI: Milk, no sugar.)

In the US, dessert is served with coffee, but here (and around Europe)- dessert comes first and coffee/tea comes as the final item served to the table. For Americans, it's always a bit confusing when they are dining out here. They'll order dessert and a hot drink, and when only the dessert arrives- they sit looking around in confusion wondering how their drink order was forgotten. In actuality, your drink hasn't been forgotten. It's just in the queue for when desserts are finished. (If you'd like them to come out together, just simply ask your server if you have your drink at the same time the dessert arrives. They'll do it, if you ask!)

I'm actually coming around to having the two split up- but it's taken me nearly five years. Maybe I'm just enjoying dragging out the dining experience more and more, but either way- coffee or some hot green tea really make a meal feel complete. 

Anyone else feel the twitch to flick on a kettle for some tea or brew some coffee before you can walk away from the table? If you don't do it now, just go ahead and try it one night. It makes any regular dinner feel a little bit more civilized and stretch the conversation just a bit further.

 



 

*images by Ashel Parsons for Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on January 18, 2016 and filed under drink, life as an expat, london.

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 Anti-Lonely Guide for Moving to London

Since we have moved here, I can't even guess how many emails I have received from people looking for guidance on how to make friends in London. Whether they have a move on the horizon or have been here for a few years without making meaningful relationships, the situation is not uncommon. (So if you are in the same friend-bare situation- you're not alone!) I thought it was good topic to discuss here- I'll share what I know, but I know many of you out there can add valuable thoughts to this, too. Please do!

Personally, I was lucky in that I moved over and started working right away in a job that captivated me. I wasn't sitting around the house feeling alone. We were also plugged into a program full of other people in a similar situation who had uprooted their life to move to Oxford. They were just as friendless as we were, so it made for an easy social pool. Finally, I was blogging. Between getting to meet bloggers I had been "friends" with online before leaving and the social connection of being online with them- it kept me busy. 

But with even those options, somedays you just crave a relationship with someone that isn't forced. You just want to have a friend to hang out with that you actually have a lot in common with... rather than just another lonely person to hang out with. So here are a few ways that I can suggest to help you find those people when you move to a new place. (Complete with some throwback photos from early awkward days with friends that I have grown to love like family!)

 

MAKING FRIENDS IN LONDON

 

1. ONLINE DATING | Fine, not really dating, but get online! I have a bunch of my best friends from blogging. It gave us each a feel for what the other person was like, where we enjoyed hanging out, and a way to communicate before actually meeting in person. Some of my best friends came as a result of comments that turned to emails that turned to coffee that turned to double dates... that today are the best friendships I have here. 

 

Look for bloggers or Instagrammers at a similar stage to you in the expat process, they'll probably be looking for the same types of relationships!

2. GO TO CHURCH | While many of my American friends may have other friends, they often aren't British. Every person has a different theory as to why Americans have a hard time breaking into British social circles, but I can tell you a cheaters way in- get plugged into a local church. (We have a great one that I'm happy to share more details on, if you're looking Just email me!)

3. HAVE A BABY | Again, joking, but kinda not. While some people may think it would be the loneliest thing in the world to have a baby away from your family back home, I think it is a great way to connect with people. Lady alone on the bus? No one looks at you. Lady with a bump or baby? No one will not talk to you.       

 

NCT classes are prime friend hunting ground. So many of my friends spend a lot of their weekdays with people from their NCT classes (a pregnancy/couples course that is really popular here). 

 

After the baby is born, you'll find endless options of playgroups for little ones. Moms there are always friendly and eager to have new people around. Holy Trinity Brompton has a great MOLO playgroup each week that I used to go to, and it's awesome for meeting other moms.

4. JOIN THE CLUB | There are several clubs that cater to American expats- American Womens Club is one and Junior League. American Womens Club is a bit fancy and fun- think afternoon teas and visits to the Wallace Collection. Now, I'm not in Junior League so I can't speak officially, BUT from my friends that have been in it, it requires a bit of effort to join and participate in. (All for a good cause!) But it is a great way to connect with other American women, if that's your goal. (If you're in either and I've misrepresented either- please chime in. I'm repeating what I've been told, so i could be wrong.)

5. GO LOCAL | You've moved to Europe and now you want to travel everywhere every weekend to see it all. Great. Just expect to never feel 100% settled until you commit to spending a good amount of your weekends and down time here. This is a conversation every expat has a year or two into their life overseas, but it's true... until you are willing to sit still for a bit,

 

you'll never feel settled. You can't just expect to swan in to a social setting once a quarter and make meaningful relationships.  If you want to make roots in your new home, you've got to give yourself enough time sitting there to grow them. 


Maybe all of this advice is obvious. I'm not sure it was to me when we first arrived. A couple of years after we got here, an older/wiser expat said something that changed the way I was looking at life... He told me to fully live here, I had to give up the 3 C's: Comparing ("Well, back in Texas..."), Converting (Stop thinking in dollars. It's a loosing game and I'm living in the land of GBP now. Embrace it.) Complaining (Stop complaining. Deal with the hassles or go home.)

So wherever you are (or are about to be!), I hope this is helpful. I still have so much to learn about life overseas, but hopefully- this saves you some of the learning curve that we had. 

What is something that helped you adjust to life overseas? How did you connect with people around you and develop meaningful relationships?

 



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

 

A Field Guide to British Biscuits

 

Tea. I mean, it is simple enough- hot water combines with tea and a beverage is created. Yet this, seemingly, straight forward cup of tea comes a lot of additional detail.

What type of tea do you drink? How do you take it? Loose leaf or tea bags?

Everyone has their preferences on how they drink their tea... but one of the more important details to discuss with tea is biscuits. (Because tea really shouldn't be drank without biscuits. And biscuits should definitely always be eaten with a hot cuppa.)

I'll say that while we, as Americans, lump biscuits into the general cookie category, but after a few years here- I can't do it anymore. There are cookies (softer, larger and more of a homemade nature) and then there are biscuits. Biscuits are crunchy, mass-produced and are sized small enough to fit perfectly when dunked into a mug of tea. 

And they are so, so cheap. Obviously, you can buy fancy biscuits at the famous department stores for several pounds per package... but if you head into any grocer, they'll have a huge section dedicated to the brand-name and generic versions of each of these biscuits. All costing anywhere from £0.40 per pack upwards to around £1.50. Basically, biscuits aren't a treat that is exclusive to the elite... no, no. Everyone has the right to enjoy a good biscuit with their tea.

So after years of taste testing, I present to you- the fruits of my labor. Yes, I give you a field guide to the best British biscuits. 


1. custard cream: a petite sandwich of two flat biscuits married by a custard filling. (most similar to: vienna fingers)

2. digestive: perhaps the godfather of all biscuits. a standard cookie that absorbs tea to an astounding degree when dunked. (most similar to: graham crackers)

3. bourbon creams: an oblong sandwich made from two long chocolate biscuits with a chocolate filling. also known as a "bourbon biscuit." pronounced as "bore-bun," rather than "bur-bin." (most similar to: e.l. fudge sandwich cookies)

4. shortbread finger: a butter cookie made, traditionally, of flour, sugar and butter. while shortbread can be made into several shapes, the finger makes for an excellent companion to tea. typically associated with scotland, as mary queen of scots is said to have brought the biscuit into popularity.

5. jammie dodger: a sandwich comprised of two flat biscuits with a jam filling (typically raspberry). some variations have sugar crystals on the biscuit or jam-filling.

6. jaffa cake: though in the biscuit family, the jaffa cake is actually comprised of a layer of sponge cake, covered in orange jam coated in chocolate. 

7.  nice biscuit: a small, crunchy biscuit that looks generic upon first glance, but stands out for it's coconut flavor and trademark "nice" stamp across the front. 

8. tunnock's caramel wafer: thin layers of wafers and caramel combine within a chocolate coating. while it may taste along the lines of a candy bar, it is definitely considered a tea-time staple. (most similar to: hard to say- but maybe something like the love child of a kit kat and a twix?)

9. chocolate covered digestive: though technically still a digestive, the chocolate variation on the classic is worthy of distinction. 

 


 

I know, I know. I skipped a few classics like ginger biscuits, wafers, rich tea biscuits and tea cakes. These are worthy candidates, but alas- they'll have to make someone else's line up of the best biscuits.

Now, study this with great diligence and make sure you do plenty of lab time with the subject. You won't be able to ace this topic unless you test all the subjects... many, many, many times.

 

What's your favorite tea & biscuits combo? ( I hold true to a cup of english breakfast (with milk) and custard creams.) 

 



 

 

*image original to aspiring kennedy

 

Dental Care | Great Britain vs. America

British Teeth! I get asked about this more than you would expect. So if you want to know what I've learned about it in the past five years... here you go. (It's a bit long. A mouthful, one could say?)

I have to say, if you have insurance in the states... pretty teeth are pretty hard to escape. In fact, Americans look at teeth pretty critically. Teeth- their hygiene, color and straightness- are some of the first things that people seem to notice in the US.

Then there's England. To be honest, the jokes about bad teeth are slightly unfair. Terrible teeth really aren't as common as I might have expected... but with that said, teeth here aren't as routinely cosmetically pristine as they are in the States. 

Brits have commented that they knew I had to be American before speaking to me from seeing my teeth across the room. I've heard them referred to as "picked fences." I've had a friend tell me she feels insecure about her teeth around Americans because hers aren't as straight. (Hers are totally fine, by the way.) One of my friends once said that she saw the cosmetic perfection of American smiles similar to having a boob job. "They look unnatural and a bit over the top." Ha! Needless to say, yes, there's definitely a difference in our shiny, straight pearly whites and the more natural dental arrangement going on here.

This, I believe, comes from the main factor that the dental care comes through the NHS. Services are non-frill, literally- a quick check that takes about 10 minutes. As in, they only check the health of your teeth. No dental hygienist to clean you up and give you those glorious spaces between your bottom teeth. The focus is more to prevent sick teeth... rather than producing perfect smiles.

Of course, you can opt to pay to have private dental healthcare. If that is the case, you can expect a bit more "American" experience. To pay for a cleaning, it is around £85 out of pocket.

Anyway, all that to say- I had my first real cleaning today since moving here. FIVE YEARS. I was so embarrassed to admit it to the hygienist, but oh well... they're clean now and I have no cavities. They're still straight from my years of wearing my retained to bed through college (popular!), but as for the whiteness? I'm afraid they're fading after a few years of tea. Luckily, I'm in good company here. 

Kind of a random topic, right? (Okay, really random.) But, I thought it was worth addressing... and opening up for discussion. Both sides of the pond- weigh in!

 



PS The above photo came from the stunning house tour I did with Babyccino's Courtney Adamo for Houzz. Check out the full tour here.

 

*image by Noah Darnell

Posted on July 14, 2015 and filed under life as an expat, everyday living.

How To Drink Tea Like a Brit.

When Americans visit England, most of them are eager to jump into to the tea scene. Whether it is drinking tea instead of their normal coffee or going for afternoon tea. I love the excitement and eagerness to get into the culture.

There's just one problem.

Americans have no clue how to drink tea.

If it's not iced, Earl Grey or herbal- it gets awkward. 

We know Brits drink milk in their tea, but it kind of sounds gross when we imagine it being in the tea we drink. How do you drink loose leaf? Do you wait to let it steep or go straight in? And what do I say when they ask me what type of tea I want? Green? Earl Grey? ... Iced?

I'll make it really easy for you. Unless you really know tea and what you like, don't order Earl Grey. It's NOT the most common tea here, and, despite America's assumption that it is the most British choice, it isn't. (I used to think this, too!)  Also, if you do get Earl Grey- try lemon in it. Adding milk to it is a bit gross, as it is so floral. Don't get me wrong, loads of people still drink it... but, if you're an amateur to tea, follow my lead here.

So what do you do?

When your waiter or server asks you what type of tea you'd like, ask for either English Breakfast or an Afternoon Tea. (These are the most standard black teas.) Or, if you're at a place that isn't overly posh, you can say "Builder's Tea"... or if you get stuck, just simply say, "regular black tea." They'll know what you mean. 

These are the teas that you put a splash of milk into (not too much where it starts looking grey). A cup like this will go great with cakes and sweets. When you taste this, you'll "get" how it all works- the flavors are perfect together. And don't forget to toss in a sugar cube to get the full experience.

Now I know some Brits may chime in here and say that they only drink Earl Grey or that they would prefer herbal teas, etc. I know, I know! I often do, too. But, for the average American trying to get the quintessential tea time experience- you can't deny that the standard cup of tea that is served is a breakfast blend or afternoon tea... or just "normal" builders tea. So just nod your head and don't confuse anyone. As Americans, we are already confused enough about what to do. :)

But actually- if you are a bonafied Brit, please feel free to weigh in with any other thoughts. While I love tea and talking about it, it still is a bit of a "second language" to me. I've learned all I know late in life. 

 

PS. These photos were taken at Candella- a really sweet tea room off Kensington Church Street, near the Palace and Kensington High Street Tube Station. A great place to spend the afternoon. Walk in on a slow day, or book ahead to guarantee your table to make sure you have one. (There are only 5!)

 


If you're looking for great places for tea in London, read about some of my favorite teas in London here.



 

*images by Sara Kerens