moving house in a pandemic, part 1

I never thought I would be worried about ending up in the hospital from moving boxes, yet here I find myself thinking this very thought. I sit in my London flat, surrounded by boxes (most yet to be filled with all the things we’ve acquired in 7 years of living in London), and wondering to myself, Should I wipe every box down with our dwindling supply of antibacterial wipes, or just be really keen about washing my hands?

It’s been three months since we were served notice that our landlord would be selling the flat. We received the letter in April, about 3 weeks into the Covid-19 lockdown, and when case numbers were starting to soar, and at the time, we just had to sit with the fact for a couple of weeks before we were able to have any kind of conversation about it. We didn’t want to move. We wanted to stay safely tucked away in our little garden flat that felt like a luxury when we literally didn’t leave home for weeks. Not to mention, estate agents were not even open! The idea of finding a house felt ridiculous, and to be honest I was angry the landlord would choose this time to make a decision like this.

I considered all sorts of wild options. Move to the countryside? We don’t have a car, so that was another obstacle. Pack everything into storage and move back to the States to stay with family? With the kids in school, that seemed like a risk, and not knowing when/if access to flights would be restricted.

We took some time to just sit with the fact that we needed to move, and eventually started peeling back the layers of what it was that we wanted in our next house.

I learned when we moved here that I’m a location, location, location person. I would much prefer to live in the neighborhood I love over having the perfect, spacious house. Our first flat in North London was lovely, but for me it was too far from the world I wanted to be around, so a year later we turned around and moved our life down to West London, where we currently live.

But living through a lockdown has made us reprioritise the way we live, and what’s most important to us. And guess what? Turns out, it’s space! Growing children are only going to keep growing and with the city shut down, our normal life outside of our home was confined into a 900sq ft flat and if I was ever going to be convinced to move further afield where your pound stretches a bit further, it would be now.

On the other hand, I never wanted to be plonked down in a big house far away from any kind of community that I knew, and especially for my business, London is where I want and need to be. There had to be some middle ground.

When finally it was getting close to moving time and nothing was coming on in our neighborhood, I went into attack mode. I would like to tell you that I took a sophisticated approach to considering other neighborhoods, but, I’ll let you be the judge, haha. I looked within basically a 3 mile radius of our current neighborhood, and knowing the areas that have a great village feel and community, cross referenced with good schools for the children, and THEN cross referenced with great bakeries (I know, I know), we narrowed our options down.

In May, finally the estate agents were able to reopen and by that time we were very ready to start viewing properties. A few listings had video viewings to go with the properties, which was so effective in helping us see more places that we would’ve been able to. And for the videos that looked promising, we set up viewing appointments. Masks and gloves in hand, we set off to see some properties over about a two week period. The homes only allowed one person in at a time, so I did most of the viewings on my own, which was just easier not having to tow the children along, and have to assuage their inevitable disappointment not being able to go inside with lots of ice cream.

Onto where we looked. We went across the river in Barnes, Clapham, and Putney, but came back from a couple viewings with a pit of anxiety in our stomachs, clearly not ready to make the move South. As lovely as those neighborhoods are, maybe if we had started out there, it would be different, but our world is West London right now, and we weren’t ready for the big change in the middle of a pandemic.

We looked in Northwest London, too. Queens Park, St Johns Wood and Little Venice are all lovely, with great high streets and independent shops, but nothing ever felt like home anywhere we looked.

Next we looked West – Chiswick, Brackenbury Village, Fulham, Ealing always seemed like good options for families. Brackenbury is an adorable little village with terraced houses and a few cute tea shops and pubs sprinkled around, with good transportation links. Chiswick is its own little village unto itself with a buzzing high street, filled with independent shops, retailers, and close to the River Thames, a bit further west than where are currently. Fulham is like a little Chelsea, with great local shops, and not far from where we live now, so definitely put that option on the table, too.

After viewing 6 houses, we put an offer in on a terraced Victorian in a cute little West London village, and to my surprise it was accepted!

The funny thing is about this house? I don’t really remember it in detail, and there were parts of it I only glanced into the room but didn’t have a proper walk around or nosy through the cabinets. I had to view every house with gloves and a mask, and we were in and out very quickly as most of the time as people were still in the house and, again it was very much in the midst of pandemic. Nobody wanted to be looking, and none of the current tenants wanted visitors. Not ideal, but this is house hunting in Covid-19 times.

The other funny thing? I’m the only person in my family who has seen it! We had videos, photos, and floor plans to pour over, but really it was about the square footage, the great layout, and the location close to good shops and cafes that won me over. Everything else can be adjusted if needed.

So. We get the keys tomorrow. I’m letting the boxes sit for a day before we start packing to let any potential virus die off. And this time next week, we’ll be up to our ears in boxes and stress, and probably lots of dinners delivered by our friendly Deliveroo driver. It’s funny that it took a pandemic for us to realise that you don’t have to live in the middle of London to enjoy the city, but that’s where we are. We hired a man and van service to pack our things and will be masked and gloved on moving day.

Next, I plan to write a bit more about the process of renting in London, as this is our fourth time in less than 7 years making the move, and how it was different during Covid-19. Spoiler alert, it was VERY different!

london life: My top 5 casual summer shoes

One of the questions I’m often asked is what shoes should I pack for a London trip. And for good reason. You’ll do a ton of walking around this lovely city and you need something that keeps you looking cute and comfortable. Also, the weather. British summers are known to be unpredictable. Just today, I got caught in two downpours, enjoyed sunny/hot weather, walked 2 miles and biked for 3 miles – and I never worried about soggy feet. I’ve finally mastered the proper footwear for walking around this huge city with unpredictable weather.

Note, if you buy something through an affiliate link (marked with *) I will earn a small commission at no cost to you. Keep in mind I would only ever recommend products for their quality. Thank you so much.

My top pick for short walks around town are Arizona Two-Strap Birkenstocks.*

They are the perfect pink (rose pink), but they come in other summer friendly colors, as well. Aside from being ridiculously comfortable – I feel like I’m walking on pink clouds – they also have a great grip, so no slipping on wet London pavement.

If you’re out for a longer stroll, and need something with a little more security, i.e. straps, then you want Saltwater Sandals.* I’ve worn my red pair for two summers now, and they are so comfortable from day one.

Have you seen the Arizona Love tevas trend? How cute are these Trekking Sandals* made by Nanou Beachwear? Love that Liberty print.

For the days where sandals aren’t in the cards, I have three recommendations for trainers that I love for year round, but great for long summer days.

Veja V-12 Trainers*. A cult French brand that you’ve likely seen on the likes of Meghan Markle and Emma Watson, and they’re a big favorite in the UK! Veja works with small producers in Brazil to produce ecological and fair-trade shoes, made from recycled water bottles and wild rubber. I love a simple and chic trainer, and this one fits the bill.

(PHOTO CREDIT: REBECCACORBINMURRAY INSTAGRAM)

Novesta Star Master Trainer. I love the chunky rubber sole of these shoes, and the contrast with the beige shoe. Made in Slovakia, with natural rubber and 100% cotton canvas.

(PHOTOS: @SOPHIA_ROSEMARY, Novesta)

Last recommendation are another cult favorite of French women (I have a thing for French cult brands, what can I say?), and I’ve been wearing these for years: Bensimon Elly Trainers*

(Photo credit: Pinterest/unknown)

A weekend break in: Rye, England

You may have heard of Rye, England. If you haven’t, chances are you’ve seen the instafamous sloped cobblestone street, home to the Mermaid Inn. Only 70 minutes from London by train, we decided this storybook medieval village was the perfect weekend break and set off to explore.

Setting off from St Pancras station, we watched the city turn into fields and within 45 minutes we were properly in the countryside.

We made a little stop on the way at Ashford International, which is where you would normally transfer to a local train to get to Rye, but instead we made a special stop for our steam train enthusiasts. We hired a taxi to take us to Tenterden (about 20 minutes away) for a ride on a vintage steam train.

The Kent & East Sussex railway is a Victorian era train, and as soon as we stepped inside, we were transported back to a bygone era. We sat in our own gorgeously upholstered cabin with the windows down, heads out, for better or for worse.

The 10 mile ride took us on meandering ride across farm fields, passing cows and sheep, and ending at the Bodiam Castle.

Your train ticket allows you to disembark the train to explore and visit the castle, but we were short on time, so we took the train back to Tenterden, and continued on our journey to Rye.

Rye is a small town in East Sussex, known for its medieval half-timbered houses and an abundance of English village charm. You could probably walk the length of the town in 15 minutes, but within the town centre, there is plenty to explore in one weekend.

We walked 5 minutes from the train station to our hotel, the Rye Lodge Hotel, and lucky us we reserved the penthouse family apartment complete with a kitchen and living room, a perfect landing pad for our family.

The sun had started to set, so tucked in for the night, but not before taking a swim in the hotel’s pretty swimming pool.

Waking up in the morning, we had views of the sea from our hotel room, and decided it would be a great day to walk to the seaside.With our bearings now set, we ventured out for our first day in Rye.

We started off strong, discovering the hot chocolate shop (hailed by some as the best hot chocolate in the world), Knoops.

At Knoops, it’s a hot chocolate lovers paradise. Choose your type of chocolate – ranging from milky 34% to super dark 99%, and choose from a variety of spices and herbs including cardamom, cinnamon, or lavender. Of course they have a variety of milks, too. The options are endless, which only kept us coming back for more.

(Also, THIS JUST IN – a quick peek at the Knoops website informed me that they are opening a new store this month in Clapham (South London). You know where to find me now.)

With hot chocolates in hand, we walked across town to quickly pick up some snacks from Rye Delicatessen, and admiring the pretty sights along the way.

Then we set off for the 3 mile walk to Camber Sands Beach.

It was a slow walk with the children, but many cows, horses, and wooden gates later, we arrived at the rolling sand dunes of Camber Sands. I’ve grown to appreciate the pebbly beaches that are typical of English beaches, but I was so happy to see the wide sandy beaches here.

The children took turns chasing each other around the sand dunes, and plenty of people were out taking walks on the beach, even on the chilly winter day.

The next morning we woke up early, ready to get a start on the day before we had to return to London. Downstairs to the dining room, the hotel served a lovely cooked breakfast and the the most lush yogurt/fruit/patisserie offerings. I couldn’t stop admiring the interiors of the hotel, too, and only wished we’d had more time for an afternoon tea so I could sit in this gorgeous room.

But, with our limited time remaining, we went for a walk around the town. A quick stop by Knoops for another hot chocolate, we were ready to explore. We walked the winding streets to the 12th century town church, St. Mary’s. Visitors can climb the staircase to the top of the church for views over the town. Don’t miss this pretty pink house right next to the church.

So many cute streets and shopfronts to explore in Rye.

Soon it was time for lunch. We booked ourselves in at The Mermaid Inn for their Sunday lunch. Imagine eating a meal in this gorgeous 700 year old building! Wonky everything, but the food was spot on.

The food was incredible, the yorkshire puddings perfectly puffed, potatoes roasted as they should be, and lashings of gravy to top it off. We were too busy eating to take photos, but I did manage a photo of the prettiest dessert.

With our bellies full and many memories locked away, it was time to return to London. Thankfully, this won’t be the last time – I can think of many reasons to return. Wisteria season. Summer beaches. Knoops hot chocolate. The list goes on!

A few recommendations:

Hotel:

The Rye Lodge Hotel is a small independent hotel with lovely service, dining options, and a small swimming pool and sauna. We loved our stay in the penthouse suite with the best views in Rye.

Eat:

Sunday lunch at the Mermaid Inn is a must. The cozy dining room is the perfect setting to tuck into the seasonal, local menu.

The Fig is a cool little cafe with a menu focused on fresh local ingredients. Peruvian corn cakes with avocado, smoothie bowls, french toast, to name a few. Loved the modern touches in this cafe.

Stop by the Rye Delicatessen for your foodie needs – from local cheeses and jams and salads to speciality hard-to-find items. Great place to fill the hamper for a picnic.

Afternoon tea at The Cobbles Tea Room is a must. Eat some scones and don’t forget to gram it.

Hot chocolate at Knoops. Don’t dare skip it, such a treat!

Do:

Visit Camber Sands to walk the sand dunes, explore nature trails, kite surfing, or enjoy a day at the beach.

Explore the 12th century church, St. Mary’s and The Tiny Bookstore in Church Square.

Walk around the cobblestone streets, don’t miss Mermaid Hill for that insta-shot.

Expat Files: DEciding to stay in London

I’ve been wanting to write this one for so long. We are in our seventh year of London life – I actually can’t believe it, we never thought we’d be here longer than two years, yet here we are.

I wrote our story of how we came to England, and how it all worked with visas and everything here. Today, I thought I would write about the reasons that we’ve stayed, through all the doubts and fears and hard times.

The ability to come to the UK from the US is something I still consider a huge privilege. Even through all the paperwork headaches, the constant visa/ID cards/passport woes, I know we are fortunate in that we have two places to call home, each with opportunity and a healthy economy – that is definitely not lost on me!

When we came to London, it took us a full year of living here, then moving to a new neighborhood, to find our footing. Even still, I would say we haven’t fully settled in. I love West London, but we’re not in our forever neighborhood or forever house by any means. I think constantly about moving elsewhere in London (or even outside!) but can’t ever seem to make the decision. We love where we live, and love the life we’ve carved out for ourselves here. The kids are happily settled in school and life is generally good.

Even with all the pros, it isn’t easy to live here. The older our kids get, the smaller our house feels. The more I want to give them the kind of normal suburban American childhood I had with more space to run around, fresh air, ease of transportation with a car instead of walking everywhere, often in the rain and wind.

Yet. We’re still here. And I can’t imagine any other life.

Since I was a kid, I always craved change. I was that child always rearranging my bedroom and furniture in the house to reset perspective. London gives me that every day: there are still so many parts that I haven’t explored, new neighborhoods, new cafes, new parks, new people. This city is constantly evolving and changing, and I find endless inspiration in that change.

What are the things that make us fall in love again and again?

It’s the parks and museums. We have our favorites (V&A for me, Science Museum for the kids, Tate for the mister) and visit often.

It’s the community that we love and have embraced us back.

It’s the food (this is a huge part of it, I won’t lie, haha).

It’s that you can hop on a train and 30 minutes later pop up in the middle of an English village. Add another 30 minutes on the train, you’re in the middle one of the best food market in the world.

It’s the schools that encourage our children to be their best selves and offer world-class educational opportunities.

It’s the lazy summer evenings in the parks with friends. It’s the ability to book a super cheap economy flight to Europe and be on a Spanish beach the next week. It’s the kindness of strangers on the train and in cafes.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

It’s the beautiful houses with character, and the urban gardeners that make London streets as beautiful as they can be.

London gives us so much. It takes a lot, too, don’t get me wrong! But there’s a reason so many people cram into the small flats and don’t mind sharing a seat on the train, or sitting next to a stranger at the park. Never a dull day living in London. If we ever move, I know I’ll come back to this post and cry because this city has made me who I am today and I’ll be forever grateful for how it’s shaped me.

My top 6 brands for rainwear

As I write this, it’s absolutely chucking down outside. We have plans to go shopping this morning for the kids, and rather than scratching plans due to bad weather, we’ll throw on our rain gear and head outside!

After all, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing. So get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little“. -Billy Connolly.

In the six years I’ve lived here, we’ve learned a bit about dressing for the unpredictable weather.

So, I’m excited to share some of my favorite brands that we’ve used and loved, that have helped to keep us dry in this rainy country and has held up for us throughout the years

Hunter. I’ve been wearing the iconic Hunter boots for years, and putting my kids in them, too. The boots, made of natural rubber, range from tall to ankle boots, and they always have a great color selection. The heritage British brand, founded in 1856, holds two Royal Warrants of Appointment to HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.

Petit Bateau iconic rain jackets. My kids and my husbands wear these brilliant jersey-lined jackets. They’re definitely an investment, so I tend to buy them big for my kids so they can get a few years use out of them. My husband says its his favorite jacket that I’ve ever purchased for him (granted I don’t buy many clothes for him, he tends to do his own shopping!). They are really well made, and keep you dry as toast in the London weather. Also, they are very cozy as they’re lined with cotton.

Aigle. We love this French brand, my kids have both worn their fabulous boots with the iconic double stripe. The French brand has been around since 1853, and as master rubber craftsmen, they continue to make their boots in France. We love the design and color selection, as well as the durability.

Ilse Jacobson. You may have seen the pretty lace-up rainboots before – these are the lovely rainboots from Danish brand, Ilse Jacobson. The boots are PVC-free, contain no animal by-products, and are made from natural rubber from sustainable harvests. I just love the style of the lace-up boots, and yes there is a pink boot, too!

Stutterheim. If raincoats can be cool, this Swedish brand has a corner on the market. Their rubberized raincoats are handmade, unlined, and come in a variety of colors and shapes. I’m in love with this pale pink raincoat and the pink and yellow colorblocked raincoat.

Joules rain boots and jackets. This one is for pattern lovers! Another British brand we love, the boots and jackets provide functional, built-to-last durability married with colorful and fun styles. I love the pretty patterns on their jackets and rainboots, and we’ve used their rainboots a few times to great success.

Our Cotswolds Glamping Holiday

I’m so excited to share a bit more about our Cotswolds summer holiday. We stole a few days in July, set aside the summer camps and work for a few days, and nipped out to the Cotswolds for a little glamping getaway in the tiny village of Evenlode.

Evenlode is a small village in north Cotswolds, just 5 minutes from the ancient market town, Bourton-on-the-Water and 10 minutes from the storybook villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter. Two minutes drive from the village center is Evenlode Grounds, our home for three days, part of Evenlode Farm, a 400 acre secluded farm in the heart of the Cotswolds.

My little animal lovers were in heaven on the Evenlode Farm. Upon our arrivel, our gracious hostess Amanda gave us a short tour of the grounds and introduced us to a few of the cows and horses, who were to be our neighbors during our stay.

Six cabins are perched in a little green valley, overlooking the grazing fields. We spent hours sitting by the fence talking to the animals, watching the cute little calves, and even spotting the occasional fox and hare running through the field.

The small wooden cabin pods are beautifully made, handcrafted and very high quality. Inside, the cabins have all the modern conveniences you need to ensure you are not camping, no, you are glamping, my dear. Soft mattresses, luxury bedding, heated floors, and a fully kitted kitchen and bathroom with hot water for showers. A small TV, and a DVD library ensured we truly were at our leisure to enjoy our holiday. Mom and Dad could catch up on reading while the children ran around the grounds with a football or watched one of the many DVDs on hand.

The little thoughtful touches are what made the stay memorable for us. A small shed onsite contained holiday wonders – from games and DVD’s to borrow, to fresh cakes, treats, and cold drinks on offer every day. The children loved putting pound coins into the small “honesty box” for our marshmallows and kindling wood.

Apart from the gorgeous setting, our favorite part of our stay at Evenlode Grounds: the wood-fired hot tub of my dreams. Next to our cabin, hidden from view of other glampers, sat a beautiful wooden hot tub. We threw firewood in the oven, stirred with the wooden paddle, and let it heat to our desired temperature. It stayed warm for the duration of our stay, with just an extra log or two thrown in every time we got back in.

Our hostess, Amanda, suggested we visit the small village of Snowshill – a very small village that was a filming location in Bridget Jones Diary. The children found a playground, and I wandered around the small village, camera at the ready, capturing the chocolate box cottages and roses dripping from every corner.

Back in the car, a quick five-minute drive took us to the vibrant purple fields of Cotswolds Lavender, a place I’ll remember as realizing the world is quite small. We walked by a few groups of people in the midst of a photoshoot, and one photographer recognized me! It was an out of body experience that I’m still processing, I was actually recognized in the middle of a lavender field in the English countryside. Did I reach peak instagram?

The heat making us wilt like little English roses, and my camera stocked with Instagram-ready lavender field photos, we took refuge in our air-conditioned car and made a 30-minute drive to the falconry center. I would say it was a visit for the children, but if I’m being honest it was just as much for my husband and me. We’ve been to a few bird refuges in the UK, and there is something about them that just brings me joy.

Attending the afternoon birds in flight demonstration was a big hit. We took it in turn holding the cutest little owl. And capturing this moment – my little babe meeting his favorite animal – the fastest animal on planet earth – the peregrine falcon.

Having worked up an appetite, we stopped at a nearby pub for dinner. Spoilt for choice in the area, the Fox Inn at Broadwell or Oddington, or The Kings Head at Bledington all make for a lovely meal.

The heatwave relented in the evenings, and as the sun set, we stoked the fire and took another turn in the hot tub.

I cannot impress upon you how badly I need a hot tub like this in my life 24-7. The children took it upon themselves to ensure the hot tub always at least one swimmer, appreciating its warmth in the cooler evenings.

Never one to let an opportunity pass me by, we picked up a s’mores kit from the honesty shop on-site. Gooey marshmallows, with a kind assist from a fudge brownie, safe to say we were all happy glampers.

A full day behind us and another one ahead of us, we nodded off, sleeping the kind of sleep you only get away from the city.

In the wee early hours, the children awoke begging to get in the hot tub. Who am I to deny them on their holiday? They each took every free moment as an opportunity to “go for a swim” in the gorgeous wood-fired hot tub. Goggles at the ready. In summer, with the sun rising at 6am, it’d be rude not to have a dip in the hot tub before breakfast.

Finally, I was able to peel them away from their hot tub swim, after promises of ice cream to those who would join me, and our family hopped in the car for a little Cotswolds village trip.

With temperatures on the rise from the heat wave, we explored nearby Bourton-on-the-Water and Upper and Lower Slaughter, wading in the streams to cool down, eating ice creams along the way, making sure to visit the mini-Cotswolds park. But feeling like we were walking on the surface of the sun, it was time to head back to the cabin grounds for some rest and to enjoy our final glamping evening.

A quick shop run to pick up provisions for dinner, it was time to test our survival skills. Eager small ones pitched in to gather kindling and logs (provided by the grounds) and in a matter of minutes, we had ourselves a roaring fire, ready to cook dinner. We took advantage of the fully-kitted cabin kitchens to prepare a glampers feast of hamburgers, kebabs, peppered with fresh salads and the juiciest British strawberries from the nearby Cotswolds chic Daylesford Farmshop.

That night, we settled in for another DVD movie with the kids, and let them stay up late, until the summer sun had fully set. We wanted to show them what a real night sky away from the city could look like. Our city kids were in awe. To be honest – so were mum and dad. It seemed like a fairy had sprinkled a bit of magic dust across the night sky. We stargazed, looked for planets and shooting stars, before finally settling into bed.

We managed one final hot tub dip in the morning alongside some croissants and yogurt, before packing up the car to head back to London. Our time at Evenlode Grounds had come to an end, but hopefully we’ll return again soon.

Thank you to Evenlode Grounds for hosting us, and for the lovely memories. This post is in partnership with Evenlode Grounds. All opinions and thoughts are my own.