Every year, my family and I visit RHS Wisley to see their annual butterfly exhibit. There is something so extraordinary about living in the UK but being able to see loads of exotic butterflies. It's not an everyday occurrence, which is probably why it feels so special.
It's one thing seeing a couple of butterflies out in the open. But at The Glasshouse at Wisley, you will find so many more. They have over 50 species of exotic butterflies. Some are flying around, some are resting leaves and trees, and some are munching on old fruit. You probably won't spot more than 20 species, but it's fun trying. You can get a butterfly spotting guide for £1, which is a big hit with the kids.
Before I moved to the area, I knew that Kingston-upon-Thames was known for its shopping. And in the last few years, it has gotten even better. And it's not just shopping. There are restaurants, cafes, as well as pubs, bars and a delightful theatre. There is so much that you could easily, and happily, do to spend a day in Kingston.
A few weeks ago, I took Moozles and Dubz to enjoy some of what Kingston has to offer. We started off in the Bentall Centre. It is an indoor mall housed in a gorgeous building. And it houses some of my favourite homeware shops (Zara, H&M and West Elm). We are currently renovating our house, and I have been spending a lot of time exploring the internet for gorgeous items for my home. But sometimes you just need to get to a shop and see things in real life.
It's been a bit tough feeling festive this year. Our home renovations still haven't finished, and we don't even have a Christmas tree. But on Friday, we took the time out for some family fun in Kingston. The kids and I went shopping at Bentalls and had afternoon tea at the Hilton Doubletree. Husband then met us at the Rose Theatre to watch Alice in Winterland.
Fans of Lewis Carroll will be familiar with both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Alice in Winterland is a combination of both books. Alice's world is falling apart and all she wants to do is stop time. Her journey to Wonderland helps to show her how important it is to move forward and to accept change. The show had some really touching moments, but there were plenty of exciting moments and fun songs.
It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Normally I hold off on Christmas conviviality until after Thanksgiving (this Thursday), but last week I kicked things off a little early. I took Moozles and Dubz into Kingston to check out the Christmas Lights Switch On. We had never been to a switch on ceremony before so we were keen to go.
There is actually more than just lights in Kingston, though the lights and big tree are very pretty. There is a lovely Christmas market full of things to eat and to buy as gifts (for others and for yourself). The Alpine Village has a bar as well as some delicious food. We ate burgers and bratwurst, as well as waffles and mini Dutch pancakes. There are some tables, but getting a seat depends on how busy the market is. I would expect weekend evenings to be heaving.
A couple of weeks ago, we were surprised with a sunny, warm weekend day. We were determined to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine. We remembered that a few months ago we had gotten a family membership to the Historic Royal Palaces. We had only used it once so decided to visit Hampton Court Palace again.
If you're not familiar with Hampton Court Palace, it is the former residence of Henry VIII. It is incredibly beautiful and grand. But if you have young children, you may want to skip the palace itself and just enjoy the stunning grounds. We did go inside the palace, but only for about 20 minutes. The sunshine was calling us.
Dining in London is equally difficult and easy. On one hand, you have a huge array of restaurants to choose from. On the other hand, there are a huge array of restaurants to choose from. The choice can be overwhelming. There are a few websites and apps out there that help find restaurants in London, but I've recently come across a new app with a twist. I recently booked a meal, and paid with it using Cake.
Let me be clear. I didn't bake a cake and use it to pay for my meal. Obviously that would be amazing. What I did was to download the Cake app onto my smartphone and use it when I was meeting up with a girlfriend a few weeks ago. Now booking a restaurant isn't tough, but Cake offers more than that.
We don't go to many shows as a family. I either go with my 9-year old daughter or my husband. My son is quite fidgety and cannot sit for more than an hour. I can't tell you how many shows we've endured with me silently screaming at him to stop kicking the seat in front. So when we were invited to view The Wind in the Willows at Kew Gardens, I was excited to see a show with no proper seats.
Once you arrive at Kew Gardens (Victoria Gate), there is a 10-minute walk to the beginning of the show. We spread out our picnic blanket, and waited for the first part of the show. Husband is not a fan of sitting on the ground, so he sat at the back on a camping chair we had brought. I let the kids eat half of their sandwiches, because it is obviously very tough not to start eating lunch at 10.30am.
If you're on Instagram, you've probably seen hundreds of posts from lavender farms all across the country. June, July and early August are the best times to visit. Take some family photos or capture your outfits in a beautiful environment. And if you live in south London, Mayfield is the nearest lavender farm.
We first visited Mayfield Lavender Farm four years ago, after Moozles finished her first year of school. I was looking back at the photos from this first visit because we had our third visit today. And how my little ones have changed. They really aren't so little anymore. My two were running around, trying to stay away from bees. At one point, they were both adamant they had been stung by the bees. They hadn't. But it can be quite daunting for children to see so many bees in one place. There are loads of bees, but they mostly keep to the lavender.
One of the things I miss most about living in the UK is that I miss the wonderful 4th of July celebrations in the USA. You get a day off to spend with your friends and/or family, eat BBQ and other delicious food and then finish the day with fireworks. I have only been to one expat BBQ in 15 years, and it is really tough to celebrate the day when it isn't often on a weekend. But this year, Jackson + Rye invited me and some friends to celebrate the 4th of July.
I grabbed my two favourite American expat friends (strangely, I know quite a few expats in my neighbourhood), and off to lunch we went. We would have loved to have our 4th of July meal on the actual fourth of July, but it was Sports Day, so we had our celebration on the fifth of July. Besides the joy of a mid-week meal, it was lovely going out for cocktails and great food with wonderful girlfriends.
Oh, I do like to be beside the riverside. And if I can be sitting by the river, enjoying some delicious food, then even better. My new favourite riverside restaurant in Kingston-upon-Thames is Jackson & Rye. And I don't just like the location. The food is pretty damn tasty too.
As an American expat, I am always keen to try a restaurant that claims to serve American fare. But normally I'm left with overpriced burgers or non-fluffy pancakes. You can't imagine how a disappointing pancake can ruin my day. That is obviously a personality flaw. But rather than seek counselling, I've decided to just focus on finding better restaurants. Jackson & Rye definitely fits the bill.