My London | Cowshed Spa at Clarendon Cross

In both of my pregnancies, my hips hurt really badly in the last months. I was constantly on the lookout for a great pregnancy massage in London to relieve some of the stress. I would google "Best Pregnancy Massages in London" endlessly as if I would find newly released information... but sadly, I could really ever only ever find spas own sites. 

I thought it might be helpful if I shared my spa experiences here, so that when you find yourself in that desperate moment- you'll have some real comparisons available to help you find the best London spa for pregnancy treatments.


COWSHED SPA, CLARENDON CROSS

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Tyler got me a gift voucher ages ago for Cowshed Spa. I got too busy in the fall with work to use it and then, to my dismay, had to wait past the first trimester to book any pregnancy treatments. Sigh. Oh well... life in the First World did continue, don't be alarmed.

When I finally got booked in, I was 18 weeks and still hardly showing. As in, I looked more like I had that post-pizza-buffet-glow than expectant-mother-glow. None the less, I was ready for my formal introduction to this classic London spa and couldn't wait for my appointment. 


SETTING & VIBE | Nestled in the quiet heart of Holland Park, Cowshed is definitely aware of its clientele. With an airy entrance that is casually posh, Cowshed makes coming to the spa feel as social and casual as meeting a friend for coffee.

STAFF & SERVICE | Every employee- from the booking line, reception staff, Cafe waitstaff and therapist- was exceptionally kind and made me feel so welcome. Can't say anything but praise for how I was treated from start to finish.

TREATMENT RECEIVED |  Udderly Gorgeous Pregnancy Massage (60 min, £80) & Cowshed Facial (60 min, £80),

TYPE OF PREGNANCY MASSAGE TABLE | If your heart is set on a massage table with a giant hole for your belly, this isn't for you. However, despite my initial disappointment- how they worked around this actually felt great and I'd recommend it to a friend. It involves a comfortable leaning setup for the back massage portion that can only sound odd,  but in the moment felt really relaxing. The rest of the massage was performed on a cozy and huge massage table.

SPA FACILITIES | When I first walked in, I felt like I had arrived at yummy mummy Mecca. I checked in, was directed to the communal table by the cafe and eagerly waited to be shown to the locker room where I could take a quick shower before the massage started. I browsed the newspapers sitting out and peeked at the food options from the cafe.

By sadly, I realised that there were no locker rooms. When my therapist arrived and took me downstairs to the room, my hopes of unwinding in a plush relaxation room with tea and a long shower with Cowshed products wasn't going to happen.

The treatment room was in the basement and fairly non-descript, but the massage bed was big and extremely comfortable. 

THINGS I LOVED | The massage table was fantastic. The products used left my skin feeling amazing. The facial was exceptionally helpful and something I wish I could do every few weeks to keep my face in good condition. (Alas, I'm not that lucky!) I'd love to go back and have breakfast or lunch with a friend before getting our nails done. The staff was also incredibly kind and warm.

THINGS I WISHED WERE DIFFERENT | I did feel a bit cheated that the experience started and ended in the treatment room. I would have loved to spend a bit more time relaxing in a robe somewhere, but that's probably splitting hairs. Still, for the sake of comparing spas in London, it's worth noting so that expectations are met.

COWSHED SPA, Clarendon Cross | 119 Portland Road, London, W11 4LN 




*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

My Notting Hill | Granger & Co.

While this place may be listed in *both* my London and Notting Hill guides, I figured I should respect the old adage that "A picture is worth a thousand words" and give a full, photographed post on Notting Hill's hippest and most delicious breakfast spot, Granger & Co.


Granger & Co. 

When we were viewing flats for our first move to Notting Hill, the estate agent was bragging that the flat we were interested was just around the corner from... well, I didn't know the name he was talking about, but it seemed like a brunch place that was really popular.

Fast-forward a few years and I've got a new baby and family in town visiting us. We want to eat breakfast and head out to... well, who cares. Maybe that place out the front door that is supposed to be so popular? We went, we got a table and we totally flipped out when we ate our food because it was so good. I felt a bit foolish that I had waited so long to try this place (that we realised was called "Granger & Co.") that had a constant queue out the front door.

Now days, it's one of those places Tyler & I go for sweet memories and great food. We meet friends traveling to London there, we took Harrison there during his first week of life, and now we have weekly morning dates there. 

So while it serves up on sentiment for us, it also makes for a killer meal. (And let's be honest, that's what you really want to care about.)

Without further ado, I present everything you need to know before eating at Granger & Co. 


A Local's Guide to Granger & Co. 

1. The ricotta hot cakes with bananas are the most popular dish. (And rightly so, they are insane.) They're as puffy as clouds, covered in a generous pat of honeycomb butter and served with banana & warm syrup.

2. You're also gonna want to get the sweetcorn fritters. With a side of avocado salsa- think chunky guacamole. Don't skip on this. It's important.

3. Get half orders of each of the above! It's not listed on the menu, but it's a local secret. This way, you can also share a raspberry muffin, an acai bowl or a side of their world-famous scrambled eggs. You'll never taste anything fluffier. 

4. Granger & Co. is Bill Granger's restaurant. Bill is from Australia and Australia makes good flat whites. What does all of this mean? Get a flat white and get a great cup of coffee.

 

 

5. If you have little ones, order one of their adorable babyccinos (foamed milk with cocoa powder on top) and a few chocolate chips on the side.

6. Go before 9am... or be prepared to wait. Again, this is not a "just in case," this is an absolute fact. The lines on the weekend are weep-worthy. Plan ahead if you have plans to go the Saturday market on Portobello Road.

7. If you're not up for the wait, you can go up to the bar and order a coffee and grab a pastry for the road. Service is fast & friendly... and you'll have one of the best cups of coffee in the neighbourhood. (Their flat white is only £2.80!) 

8. There are now three locations- Notting Hill (on the famous Westbourne Grove), Kings Cross and Clerkenwell. All three are exceptionally tasty, and the latter two are often less of a scene than the overly popular Notting Hill location.  (Though you'll only catch me taking baby bump pics outside our old flat if you come to the Notting Hill location.) 

Granger & Co. | 175 Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill, London W11 2SB. Open 7AM-12AM.


Find all of my favourite places to eat and shop in Notting Hill in my Travel Guide to the neighbourhood.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

My Florence: Ditta Artigianale

Most people dream of foamy cappuccinos and strong cups of espresso served by brisk waiters in sharp suits when they imagine lingering in a cafe in Italy. Most of the stereotypical daydreams also come accompanied by a Puccini soundtrack... or, at least, they do for me.

While I spend a lot of my time in coffee shops, I had always enjoyed that Italy seemed immune to the hipster coffee scene. (In the same way that I really enjoy not being able to use my phone on a flight.) In Italy, coffee should be served standing at the bar or seated with great people watching in a cafe... and not in a modern setting with cool light fixture and bearded patrons with Apple products.

So when my friend, Grant, recommended that we go try Ditta Artigianale in Florence.... well, I wasn't so sure. Somehow the thought of a hip coffee shop in Italy seemed wrong. But Tyler loves "good coffee," and I wanted to see the Pitti Palace so we compromised and crossed the Ponte Vecchio.


DITTA ARTIGIANALE OLTRARNO

This coffee shop on Via Dello Sprone is of the three Ditta Artigianale locations in the city. This local chain has various locations around the city, but if you're looking for a place to stay for a while- this is the one you want to go to.

The coffee is great. The classic latte is perfectly made- thanks to incredible high quality milk. (Good dairy makes everything better, doesn't it?) They shop also has fresh cold-press juices that are served in kitschy mason jar glasses, but taste fantastic. 

If you're feeling hungry- you have a range of food to choose from. Whether it's something small like a pastry or cookie or something a bit more substantial like a homemade croque monsieur or salad- they've got good options that not only sound cool, but they taste great, too.

With cosy nooks for work or chatting, an upstairs for hiding out, and a patio out back for some sunshine while your kids march around like tiny clowns- this is a perfect place to waste an afternoon.... or just for grabbing a great coffee to go on your way to the Boboli Gardens. 

DITTA ARTIGIANALE | Via dei Neri, 32/R, 50122 Firenze, Italy | Open 8AM-10PM


Looking for more great places in Florence? Check out my guide here and my Italy posts here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on April 6, 2017 and filed under eat, drink, italy, life, travel.

To A Tea | Afternoon Tea at Ham Yard Hotel

 

 had the chance to spoil a new mom to a pretty afternoon tea this week, and every bit of the experience was so lovely that I couldn't wait to share it. If anyone is looking for a fantastic afternoon tea in Central London (and why shouldn't you be?), look no further. I've found a place that will be just your cup of tea.

It may be bold to say,  but I think this ranks the best afternoon tea in London. Everything about it is fantastic: the food, the setting, the service & the amazingly modest price. I'm planning to make this a new favourite meeting place, and it's only right to share it here with you.

So come on and join us for our gorgeously bright afternoon sitting in the conservatory at Ham Yard. (Make sure you grab a bite of the Battenburg before it's all gone!)


HAM YARD HOTEL AFTERNOON TEA

When I was flipping through my mental Rolodex of great places for tea, I was trying to find something in between the grand tea rooms and small kitschy bakeries. Somewhere in the back of my mind, an old conversation about Ham Yard popped up and I decided to look into it.

The menu looked fantastic and the pictures online of the space looked gorgeous. But the price? It didn't seem right... £22?! All the reviews looked great though, so I called in and snagged a table.

When I arrived, the setting was evening cooler than I thought. If you go, expect a well-groomed clientele of young yuppies with great style to be surrounding you. 

The food was fantastic, featuring classic items with slight twists to make them interesting, yet not offensively changing what works. The scones were the perfect size, and served warm in a little cave of a crisp napkin.

 

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And the cakes? Ooooh goodness. Gorgeously presented and even tastier. 

So yes, I have a new favourite place for afternoon tea in London... and I have no doubt you will, too.


Ham Yard Hotel | 1 Ham Yard, Soho, London W1D 7DT | +44 20 3642 2000

Looking for more options on the best places for afternoon tea in London? Check out my To A Tea series for more of my favourites.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

One Chance. Two Weeks. Four Seasons London.

I always feel like I need to explain things that I get to try and do as a blogger. First because I think it's fair and ethical to state what was given from a professional standpoint. When I say I recommend something, I want people to be able to trust that.

The second reason is because I think it's fair for everyone's sanity sake to know that some things are gifts or freebies or whatever. Otherwise, it's easy to think that everyone has buckets of cash sitting around their house to spend all day on fun things... and you might not. (Or is that just me?)

Anyway, all of that to say.... I was invited to get a facial at the Four Seasons London by my friend, Georgie. She is their PR head and a total Queen of coming up with fun, seasonal pop-up concepts in the hotel. If you ever see one that they are doing, it's a must for anyone living in London. They are so different and fun... and just really perfectly done. She's very talented!

Knowing her talents for making these special events, I knew it'd be good, but I didn't expect it to be THIS good. (And the price, too!)


FOUR SEASONS MOTHERS DAY URBAN POP-UP SPA

I'm going to make this post quick. Since this pop-up only runs through April 2, you really can't waste time doing silly things like reading blogs. You've got to get moving to book a space for yourself.

Here's what to expect:

When you get to the hotel, go straight up the elevator to the 10th Floor. Sign in, have a quick drink as you fill out your paperwork overlooking London below, and then head back to change your life... erm, I mean clothes.

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You'll get a robe and locker in the luxe locker room. From there, you head straight into the pool area for a leisure lounge on their in-water beds or hit the sauna & steam room. Or you be like me and take the worlds longest shower and shave every inch of your legs because you have the time (and a good Italian shave kit) to do so.

Work your way to the relaxation room for a drink and a magazine read for a while before your treatment. It's so relaxing and when else can you perch up somewhere so glam?

When it's time for your facial, you'll be escorted into the special suite. While the view is stunning, the garden-esque feel that the Chelsea Physic Garden has put together will take it to the next level. Fresh flowers and classical music with Hyde Park hundreds of feet below you make approaching that big fluffy warm feel somewhat like a dream.

Now, I have to say... in that environment and for the amazing price, it would be easy to expect a basic facial with mediocre products. I'd probably still be happy with the overall experience, but... the facial was incredible.

The pop-up is hosted between Four Seasons and the Hungarian skincare line, Omorovizca. All of the products used in the 30-minute treatment were from the line and smelled so botanical and fresh. And they weren't just cute.... with items like a rose-scented gold mask,  neck cream with white truffle, you know it's a lush experience.

About half-way through, Nancy (the therapist) brought these two glass ornament looking things out of a bowl of ice water and massaged the cream into my face. It was a crazy feeling.... but I am desperate to have it done again. Incredibly relaxing and refreshing!

At the end of my treatment- about the time you get a list of all the products you need- Nancy told me my skin was nice. ("I love your big cheeks." Hah!) Then she went on to tell me that it wasn't just dry... it was really dehydrated. I agreed- it's miserably dry. She said I was doing too much. I need to let it breathe. I need to stop putting moisturiser on it day and night. It needed to just do its thing for a while.

No products pushed. No treatments recommended. Just honest truth from someone who actually got my skin after thirty minutes. It was incredible.

The experience and the facial will be, undoubtably, a great experience... and for a special price of £50(!!!), you'd really be silly not to grab a space before they are gone!



Looking for other great spas in London? You may be interested in my visits to The Rosewood Hotel and The Baglioni Hotel.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

*visit gifted. Opinions are my own.

Posted on March 28, 2017 and filed under london, my london favourites.

Another Day. Another Knight.

These days, we don't really buy souvenirs. We spend most of our money when traveling on food.... but don't be fooled. Even after the amazing food we at in Florence this week, this belly isn't all gelato and pasta.

To echo a long ago announcement on Aspiring Kennedy, "BIMBO A BORDO!" 

We are thrilled to be having another baby this summer. What a gift... and phew, it takes all my courage to be pregnant. We are thankful for a healthy baby, and excited that we only have a few months left to go.

Thanks for joining us (again!) on this life-changing journey... and feel free to cast your vote below on what you think the sex will be. We just found out today, and I can't wait to tell you that it's another.....



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on March 27, 2017 and filed under kids, babies kennedy, family.

Tuesdays with Tyler | A Day in the Cotswolds

This season of life isn't one that leans itself to exotic getaways for long periods of time. Okay, I say that with full acknowledgement of our trip to Hawaii in January-  but let's be honest, those trips that used to be logistical breezes are now achingly painful to execute. You can only do them for big occasions, like, you know, celebrating ten years of marriage.

However, old habits die hard. When we have the chance, Tyler & I love to sneak away for a little of grown up time. Whether it's as simple as going to buy sour cream at Tesco or big like a day out in another town, we connect best when we are on an adventure. 

This week we had the chance to train 1.5 hours out of London to the Cotswolds for a meeting. We would only be there for 3ish hours, but we went for it.

The train ride was quiet. We got coffee from our old favourite in Paddington Station before we left. I slept like an old lady on his shoulder. We sat in the Quiet Carriage as respected fellow passengers, rather than obnoxious child-carrying rejects. 

When we got to Moreton-in-Marsh, it was (to our delight) Market Day. It was a sleepy little market day- full of produce and grey hair. We got paninis at a little tea room called Martha's and took them outside to eat on the WWII monument in the middle of the square.

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No plans were made for the day. We just planned to relax and enjoy what we stumbled upon. After lunch, we headed to the office where we had our meeting, and when it was finished headed to the pub for some fries, drinks & a view of the fire before our train back.

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On the way home, we ate snacks, talked about plans we hope that could come to fruition, got annoyed at each other when we had differing views and then cosied up to each other to listen to music for the remainder of the ride home. I loved it and I hope we always can squeeze in impromptu days with Tyler to reconnect... no matter how crazy life may be. 


Just so it is actually said and doesn't just rest in my head where I assume everyone agrees.... Life in pretty places can often seem perfect. The pictures bring gorgeous moments together in a way that seem less mundane than elsewhere. Well, let me remind you... life isn't perfect even in pretty places.

No matter where you go, life is still just life. It's still made up of normal people doing normal things. Don't chase the illusion of getting somewhere for life to begin being good... it starts here. Wherever you're at. Take it from me, I've been to so many of those jaw-dropping sites. Until you can love and appreciate people around you in the mundane,  you won't enjoy them in a prettier place. And if you love them there, you'll have an adventure with them wherever life brings you.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy 

Posted on March 17, 2017 and filed under tyler, get out of town, marriage.

What I Can Tell You If You're Going to Have a Boy

When I was pregnant with Harrison, we found out fairly early that we were having a boy. Our first response was a bit.... meh. Now don't get me wrong, we were so thankful for a healthy baby- we weren't going to be picky.

But I think somewhere the idea of another girl felt easy and, if I'm honest, like the completion to the broken idea of having two girls. Boys felt loud and foreign and grubby and crazy. We were a calm little family, and a boy wasn't really our scene.

Yet there he was. Sprawled out in my sonogram in all his boyish splendour. There was absolutely no mistake that we had a boy headed our way, and all we could do was embrace it!

Well, I'm rounding two years of life with this little guy and I must say: thank goodness I didn't have a say in choosing our children. God has given us the exact children we needed when we needed them.... both in Viola's easy nature and Harrison's larger than life personality.

So for all of you moms of little girls who watch in disbelief/horror as you attend play dates with friends who have boys- I have to tell you something. Boys are a different world. They ARE loud and foreign and grubby and crazy... but they're also sweet and intense and loving in a way that is so delightfully unique.

Yes, I feel like having a little boy is harder than having a little girl. Maybe it's just my two- but Harrison wears me out in a non-stop way that Viola never did... or does.

It's hard to imagine having a boy if you're currently residing in girl land... but I can promise you, don't sweat it. You're going to fall hard for that little squish before too long and their presence in your family will add depth and a new perspective you will grow to love.

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Will I say that boys love their mamas more than their daughters do? Never. The love between my daughter and me is one of the best gifts of my life. But oh man, the love is different from a boy. And it's good. 

So get ready for messy hair, stains on your clothes, less makeup on your face and more annoyed looks from strangers in public when your boy is loud and wriggly... but be ready for a whole lot of good, too. 



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on March 16, 2017 and filed under kids, family.

My London | The Wallace Collection

I spend a lot of time in museums. A lot. If you've followed this blog for any amount of time, this won't be much of a surprise. My work puts me in museums regularly, my masters degree focused on the digitisation of cultural heritage, and I am the first to hide out with my kids in the Natural History Museum or V&A with my kids in the dreary cold months of winter.

But, as we do with all things, I get in ruts. So much so that I had never been to the famed Wallace Collection in Central London until last week. Thankfully, an odd gap of time opened up on my way to coffee with a friend and I landed right at the doorstep of the museum with time to kill... without a child on me. I could browse and linger at my leisure!


THE WALLACE COLLECTION 

Many Americans that I first met upon moving to London insisted that I join the AWC- American Women's Club. Since I had friends from Oxford now living in London and a handful of friends I had met through blogging, I never joined, but I still think for many American women are new to London- especially those who have moved here to support the career of their husband- it can be a great way to feel less lonely in those early days.

They do a variety of things each month, but I do feel like I often hear of visits to the Wallace Collection. Which make sense, because it's a bit of a posh museum... and they are a pretty posh collection of ladies.

As I walked through the doors (for free! London museums are the best!), I felt relaxed with the quiet entrance and quiet halls. The mansion is delicately filled with gorgeous treasures- from armour to Dutch paintings and fine French furniture. If I had to compare the Museum to another in London, it would be difficult because it's just so different. However, I did feel a bit like I was back in Le Musée Carnavalet in Paris. 

The halls, on a Thursday afternoon in March- were fairly empty except for a scattering of retirees and well-heeled tourists. 

After a quick spin through the ground floor, I followed the signs upstairs promising Dutch paintings. (An area that I'm not well-versed in, but repeatedly drawn to when in an art gallery.) I'm glad I went upwards... because the first floor is where the visit gets really exceptional, as each room is covered in gorgeously bright silk wall coverings and indulgently scattered paintings.

After you get satisfied from your fill of art and artifacts, head to the airy atrium restaurant in the middle of the property. Whether you're there for coffee or a multi-course lunch- you'll find yourself in good company with fresh salads, hot menu items and yummy cakes arranged temptingly along the bar. 

I definitely hope to come back with more time to spend there. Who knows, maybe next time I'll bring the kids, too. Or you know... maybe not. I may keep this place to myself for a while.

The Wallace Collection | Hertford House, Manchester Square, W1U 3BN. Open every day, 10am - 5pm.


Looking for more on London? Find my previous posts to London here or check out my Travel Guide.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on March 7, 2017 and filed under london, my london favourites, my london.

Books Your Toddler Will Love... And You'll Love to Read

When I was pregnant with our girls, I bought so many of M. Slaseks' books. Their nursery was filled with his gorgeous books, This is London, This is Paris, This is Venice and so on. I dreamt of reading them to our kids and them falling in love with the mundane facts of cities and the quirky illustrations on each page.

Fast forward four years and our collections of books looks much different than it did when it started. First of all, our books aren't held on shelves and in pretty nooks like delicate treasures. Instead they look more like buried treasure recently uncovered by pirates. We have a giant trunk overflowing with books and the kids cycle through each on with amazing consistency.

Not all books are great. In fact, I definitely play favorites when it comes time to snuggle in with books. I thought I'd save any of you new mothers some money and point you to the best books for babies and toddlers... and books that won't make you want to gauge your eyes out either. Books that are written by people I'm pretty sure I'd enjoy hanging out with in real life.... or maybe I wouldn't. Either way, these are great books that you should add to your child's nursery.


THE GRUFFALO | A British classic that is slowly getting its way into the States. It's so good and the follow up, The Gruffalo's Child, is a good addition to the story.

MONKEY PUZZLE | While we are on the note of The Gruffalo, let's just add in any book by Julia Donaldson. There are quite a few, but this one never seems to get old and kids love to laugh throughout it at all the animals. (Note: while the title on our side of the pond is "Monkey Puzzle," in the States, it's called "Where's My Mom?" Why the change? Who knows.)

ELMER | Oh Elmer, the sweet patchwork elephant. This book is a sweet story about an elephant who is born different than the rest of his herd and we love it so much we even have a plush animal of Elmer, too.

THIS IS NOT MY HAT | We loooove this book- equally for its quirky plot line and cool illustrations. This is a dad favourite at bedtime, for sure. In fact, anything by Jon Klassen seems to be one of his favourites.

PEEPO | This peek-a-boo style book is gorgeous. It features a baby's day in 1940's England. The drawings are nostalgic and detailed and the rhyming is fun to read aloud. We love this book and both kids still love to shout "PEEPO!" as we turn the pages to see what the baby has seen at each part of his day. A very sweet read and would make a great gift.

THE TIGER WHO CAME TO TEA | If you want a fun book with a very English feel, this book is what you need... from tea time sweets, a very English flat shown for the home, to an ending of a dinner of sausages & ice cream. And of course, a friendly tiger who stops by unannounced. 

BARNYARD DANCE | I think this was he very first baby book we ever received- and it came from a friend with a toddler, so she knew what she was doing. Anything by Sandra Boynton is gonna be great. Fun rhymes with silly animals-it's a good time.

BUSY BEAR | Good old Busy Bear. These books are perfect for toddlers, as each page has something they can spin, lift, push or slide. The books are cheap and one of my favourite gifts to get for a baby on their first birthday.

WENDY & THE WALLPAPER CAT | The V&A publishes their own children's books and this is one of my favourites. It has a cute story of a little girl facing bedtime trouble with a backdrop of gorgeous wallpapers. The wallpapers in the book are all patterns from the archives at the V&A and gorgeous.

I AM A BUNNY | This is currently Harrison's favourite book. He brings it around the house with him, tosses it on my lap and yells "Bunny!" I equally love this book- it's beautifully illustrated and gives a good overview of the changes between seasons. Definitely a classic you should have in your child's library.

THE MARVELLOUS SQUISHY ITTY BITTY | This is a book that Viola loved when she was about to turn three. It's got a quirky story about a little girl running around her (French) town looking for a gift for her mom. The drawings are cool and you'll like reading it, too. (Another title change for our American friends -- "The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy." I don't like that quite as much, but what can you do?)

IS YOUR MAMA A LLAMA | This silly book about baby animals is catchy and you'll find yourself quoting it back to yourself long after your child has stopped reading it. It's a classic and you'll enjoy reading it with your kids... especially, if/when they go through an animal obsession as it teaches them some less common animals than most books featuring the same lineup of barnyard animals.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on February 27, 2017 and filed under kids, shopping, everyday living, family.

Four.

Four? Really?! Four! 

It feels like yesterday Tyler & I were living life just the two of us... and then, I look at us and we look older. Tired. With unexpected wrinkles. And kids! Not just babies... but real full-blown kids.

And so, today marks the day our journey into parenthood began. Not the most glamorous of arrivals into this new chapter of life... in fact, more of a crash landing, if I'm being honest. But we survived... and, sweet Viola, you did, too.

You've been nothing short of a joy to watch grow from a tiny (and I mean tiny!) baby into a little girl. You're soft spoken and gentle, and most people never get more than a cheeky glance from you... but the backstage crew to your little show gets to see the silly and sweet little girl that you are.

You're delicate and almost nymph-like in the way you quietly slide in and out of settings. You're definitely the best hider of anyone I've ever met. Anyone in our family will agree that this may be your best talent.

You came out a cuddler and you still love to tiptoe to our bed at night and snuggle in beside me. Just this morning, you asked me to come hold your hand and cuddle "for just a little bit more" as I got dressed for the day. And so, I skipped putting on my makeup and climbed into bed to snuggle with you instead. 

I love you and am so proud to say I'm your mother. I'll never forget the first time I saw you and, literally, gasped and sobbed at how cute you were. In the midst of something so sad and so hard, there you were. I couldn't even understand how God had brought himself to share something so precious with us.

And I still feel the same way about you, sweet Viola. Happy Birthday, Baby A.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on February 23, 2017 and filed under kids, family.

In Defense of the (Holiday) I Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

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

My Dallas | Del's Charcoal Burgers

The list of places we "must" eat at when we visit the States has, over the years, dwindled. The few places that remain are the places that ooze Americana and , to us, can't be replicated wherever else we may travel around the world. This list includes great Tex-Mex, old-fashioned cake donuts, and greasy drive-ins with chili dogs, tater tots and homemade root beer.

And when I'm in Dallas, my favorite spot to get classic burgers and frosty mugs of root beer is definitely Del's. 

Del's is about ten minutes away from my parents and near to the church I grew up going to. With its ancient Texas decor and setting in downtown Richardson, it feels so much like my childhood. Going to eat there is more than just a guilty pleasure- it's a trip down memory lane.

Plus, the prices are a little out-dated- so you'll feel like you really might be eating in the early 90's.

Don't try and make this experience more than it needs to be- stick to the classics like chili dogs, grilled cheese, onion rings and the like.

And I can never resist any place that makes their own root beer... especially when you can make it a root beer float with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream for $2.45.

Hop on over to Del's and you'll get a taste of one of my favourite Dallas bites!

Del's Charcoal Burgers | 110 S McKinney St, Richardson, TX 75081



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on January 27, 2017 and filed under eat, dallas, travel.

Pack Your Bags | Denver, Colorado

If you ever want to quickly educate your urban-raised, public transport-riding children on what life in America with a car is really like, strap them in car seats and keep them in the car for 15 hours as you drive from Dallas to Denver.

You'll most likely experience some screaming, chants of "Get me outta here!" and slow- rising mountains of trash from snack wrappers that you would have never dreamed possible... 

But there are perks to such extreme trips- like stopping along the way in cute towns, having Chick-fil-A more often than appropriate to admit and saving the $$$$ that it would have cost you to fly.

We spent a bit over a week in Denver with Tyler's sister and family for New Years. While, as you know, much of the time you have with family is predestined and arranged long before your arrival- we did manage to sneak a few extras into the week and get a really good feel for the city. 

A big thanks to everyone who kindly suggested places to go/see/try while we were in town. And thanks for the kind welcome to Denver- it's a great place and we love it more every time we are there.


DENVER BISCUIT COMPANY  | This spot was recommended by SO many people that we couldn't ignore it. Thank goodness we went, because it lived up to everything we had heard. Try the Franklin for our favourite: fried chicken, bacon and gravy on an enormous biscuit. If you order one of their cinnamon rolls to start (because you really should), you can easily share the sandwich between two of you. But I won't judge you if you each want your own.

VOODOO DOUGHNUTS | This "eclectic" donut shop hails from Portland, but their location in Denver seems to share the same magic. Open 24/7- Voodoo succeeds at making really great classic donuts (the chocolate glazed is outstanding) and some quirky new options. This shop should be rated PG-13, so just know that with young kids you'll either get some questions or you can leave them in the car with dad when you run in.... which may work best as parking is non-existent around the shop.

CART DRIVER | Head to this cool spot for really good pizza. Thin crust, a healthy mix of normal toppings with hip toppings like kale and it's friends. Booths are tiny, so best for date night or lunch with one (maybe two) smaller kid(s). Dress hip here. Even though it's relaxed, the crowd is cool.
 

TABLES | We went to an adults-only dinner here one evening and it was really great. This place marries all the qualities you want in a night out: cosy interiors, a menu that uses approachable ingredients to do yummy new things and a kind wait staff. The food was delicious (goat cheese, apple & fennel salad) and don't miss the skillet cinnamon roll with ice cream for dessert. Oof!
 

ACE | Ping pong tables. Great Asian food. Cool decor. Family friendly, but best for suited for tinier tots at lunch or early dinner. The name sums it up- all around Ace.
 

STEUBENS | This is the sister restaurant to Ace and while the menu and decor are different- you'll find a familiar coolness that runs between both places. The menu at Steubens is all around solid: fresh sandwiches, smart salads, soups,  fish and daily specials that will pique your interest. The bar is pretty, too. We went for lunch and the Philly cheesesteak was enormous and everything I wanted. Also, you'll find no finer a kids meal in all the land than at both Ace or Steubens.

LINGER | The first thing you should know (and that people will tell you) is that Linger is on the site of an old mortuary. The next thing you need to know is that it's really good. We went here as a group and each ordered a couple of items to share with the table, as the menu lends itself to smaller tapas-sized plates from a variety of categories and flavours. The food is delicious, the experience is unique and the view of Denver from the rooftop is perfect. A fun date spot or place to go with a small group. Reservations recommended.
 

SNOOZE | While the lines can be seriously awful for a table, the menu is really fanstastic for breakfast. With great eggs and creative pancakes (pineapple upside down, please) and mugs of coffee- you'll be happy you stuck out with the wait once you have a seat!

BROWN PALACE AFTERNOON TEA | When we are back in the States, somehow afternoon tea often ends up being on the itinerary. Fine by me! But to be candid, most of them are... well, rubbish. I wasn't expecting much from this afternoon out- besides good company- but was really pleased with the tea. The hotel is a historic gem in Downtown Denver and the afternoon tea is actually like one you might have in England. The tea blends are strong, the scones are the right crumble and, if you ask, you can even get a second plate of sandwiches when you finish the first.

LITTLE MAN ICE CREAM | While the line can be daunting, trust that it exists for a good reason. The portions are small, so a single will be surprisingly huge. Solid standby flavours like salted Oreo aren't too be missed,   But don't shy away from the seasonal gems like the summery Peach Cobbler.


Reader Recommendations 

While we didn't get to try all the great places you'd told us about, here are a few that sounded especially tasty. 

@lhwellsy: "...eat at Cho 77! My fav!"

@dirtymartinidiaries: "As a born and raised Boulder girl, one of my favourite foods on the planet is the breakfast burrito from any of the Santiago's mexi restaurants. Their chain started in my town and they are heaven on earth."

@rs_wing: "Breckinridge Brewery is a really neat atmosphere and friendly with children. The one in Littleton is farm style with a huge fire pit, bocce ball, horseshoes...  I always get the fried chicken salad and the apple pie skillet for dessert."

@katiekloberdanz: "I have tons! ... Snooze for pancakes, Voodoo Donuts, Benny's for green chile rellanos, Lola for tableside guac..."



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on January 11, 2017 and filed under denver, travel, drink, eat, pack your bags.

Virtuous (and Easy) Leftover Turkey & Barley Soup

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

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

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

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


TURKEY & BARLEY SOUP

Serves 6

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

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

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

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

Add turkey and stir.

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

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

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

Serve with crusty bread and butter.


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

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


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

Honey Pecan Salmon | Champagne Risotto | Garlicky Mushroom Bruschetta



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

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

"Nollaig Shona" from Galway, Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

Find more of my posts on Ireland here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

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

Peggy Porschen | A Piece of Cake

I toyed with the idea of hosting a Christmas party for our friends, but it started getting complicated and ended up feeling like showing up would be more a gift my friends gave me rather than a night to take care of them. So I scratched it, and instead ended up with a few solo dates with friends to celebrate Christmas with them before the big day.

Instead of gifts, they've ended up being dates with friends (or couples we love), and I have to say- I think this may become a new tradition. Because who wouldn't rather have a sweet afternoon with a friend instead of another candle? 

For my date with Amber, we wanted to do something pretty that we normally can't do with little ones in tow. So we headed for Chelsea in an uber- which normally takes way too long to reach via public transport with strollers- and went straight to the pink mecca of sweets, Peggy Porschen.

We ordered a round of cupcakes (salted caramel which has a caramel filling that's rich like Christmas toffee), an unrealistically perfect wedge of Victoria Sponge, jasmine tea & the cutest cappuccino this side of Buckingham Palace.

The place is sweet and tiny- definitely not one you can always count on getting a table at. (It's constantly flowing with well-heeled Instagrammers and their obliging boyfriends.) If the weather is nice, you can also grab a cosy table outside offering a view of one of the prettiest corners in London.

After we went to Peggy Porschen, we walked to Sloane Square- about ten minutes away- and then down the Kings Road. We listened to the Salvation Army band playing outside Peter Jones, tried on shoes on sale at half-price in LK Bennett, peeked at the glam crowd in The Ivy, and eventually ended up in a nail salon getting pedicures.

Soon after, the clock struck midnight (or 6:00pm) and we had to dash home back to life as we knew it.

We hugged each other goodbye, wished each other Merry Christmas and thanked each other for being a great friend to the other in the past year- which really is the most precious gift someone can give.

It really must mean I'm getting older and more boring when I can't think of anything I "want" for Christmas... but on nights like that, I realise I have more than I need.

Peggy Porschen | 116 Ebury St, Belgravia, London SWIW 9QQ


It's hard not to be in a place like Peggy Porschen and not get sweeped up in the Candyland cuteness! Here are a few items inspired by our day out.
 

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



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Anthropologie Gift Guide 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

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