Hannah Drake

The Year of Alphabet Dates: A

MarriageHannah DrakeComment

Inspired by our good friends Emily and Oli, we decided to shake things up in 2019 when it comes to date night. In 2018, we’ve devoted (almost) every Wednesday night to our marriage with a standing weekly date night. With both of us having unlimited cinema cards, we often went to see a movie and sneaked in popcorn we made at home. Sometimes we would have a movie night at our house, play games, or just simply unplug from all of our technology for a while. Occasionally we would step out of our routine and do something different. But this year, we’re determined to embrace some good old fashioned scheduled spontaneity!

The idea is so simple: Plan a date night that corresponds with each letter. It can be interpreted however you want and I think we’ll mix things up throughout the alphabet. What I mean is, you can choose an activity, a food, a city or other travel destination, a type of food, etc. that starts with that letter. Or you can even do all three! Our hope is to get through all 26 letters in order this year, but we’ll see how it goes. We'll do our best!

Each post, I’ll recap our date a bit and share other ideas for that letter just in case you’re not in to the same activities as us. I’ll include foods to eat and places in the UK and Colorado you can visit. (I thought about doing the whole of the US, but that’s just too big and I know Colorado a lot better.)

That brings us to date number one: A!


My first choice for this date was axe throwing, which is exactly copying our friends who did it for their first date as well, but Luke didn’t think it would be good for his hip, so we chose something else together.

Instead, we went to the arcade. Though Luke did suggest that we go to an arcade in Aberdeen and eat asparagus. We originally weren’t going to include any food on our date this month, but the arcade was right next to an American diner so what choice did we have?!

We went to a “leisure centre” in Birmingham that has a bunch of restaurants, a cinema, and some other activities like adventure golf, a kid’s party place, bowling, and probably more. There was an arcade in the bowling alley, but it didn’t offer tickets and Luke was disappointed that it wasn’t what he remembered. But before we started playing any games, I spotted one upstairs and when we went to check it out, it was exactly what he was thinking.

We each loaded a card with 80 tokens to use and we used them all within an hour. It was so much fun! I honestly think we both could have played another hour at least. They also had bumper cars in the back, which didn’t give tickets, but was a lot of fun. We were the only two driving at the time and it was intense. There were a couple of times when we just went to opposite sides and drove straight at each other for a head-on collision. By the end of it, I wasn’t even sitting on the correct (right) side of the car! Ha!

In the end, we won 902 tickets between the two of us. (We didn’t keep them separate to see who got more, which is surprising considering how competitive we are, but I would guess Luke.) We browsed the available prizes—and there were some good ones—but nothing for our winnings that we wanted. We’d definitely be back though! (We were able to load them all onto one card to use again.)

We weren’t originally going to eat as part of our date, but there was an American diner, Tinsletown, right next to the arcade so it seemed like kismet. Since it was lunchtime, we decided to indulge. We’ve been doing a bit of a cleanse—basically cutting alcohol, sweets, breads, and pasta—but we decided these dates don’t count. So a burger, shake, and fries for lunch it is!

Our friends keep track of their dates in a cute little notebook she found from Paperchase that has the alphabet on the cover in white letters. They fill in the letters as they go and then review each date inside. We might just need to steal all their ideas before our B date…

ACTIVITIES FOR THE A DATE NIGHT

  • go to an arcade - It’s even more fun if it’s one where you collect tickets!

  • try axe throwing

  • visit an art gallery or an art museum

  • take an art class

  • have afternoon tea - It can be expensive, but you can also make your own at home. You need scones (with clotted cream and jam), finger sandwiches, and little desserts.

  • stay at an Airbnb

  • go to an Arsenal game - Luke is a huge fan so I had to include it.

  • go apple picking - It’s definitely seasonal. September is the best time to go.

  • try archery

  • adopt a pet or visit/volunteer at an animal shelter - Usually you can’t do a one off volunteer, but it would be cool to start, right? If you’re not able to adopt at the time, you can at least visit.

  • visit an aquarium

  • play adventure golf - I would call it mini golf, but I’ve seen it called adventure golf plenty, so I’m including it.

FOODS FOR THE A DATE NIGHT

  • American food - I’m only including this because we did it. If you do it, you have to go for classic American food and not try to make pizza American. Think burgers or BBQ. Or save that for the next date.

  • Asian food - I was against this one because it seems to broad! You’ll see that I’ve included more specific break downs (like Chinese food, Thai food, etc.) later on.

  • A restaurants/bars - Does your favourite restaurant or bar start with an A? Or what about a spot you’ve been dying to try, but just haven’t found the time yet?

DESTINATIONS FOR THE A DATE NIGHT

  • Aberdeen, Scotland

  • Aspen, Colorado

Christmas 2018 Highlights

LifeHannah DrakeComment

I’m baaaaaack! I intended to take some time off from the blog over the holiday season, but it was a bit longer than I intended due to some technical issues while we were in the States. I’ve been having problems with my laptop battery and charger since we were in Italy in September (which is also why I have yet to post about our trip) and my charger just completely died when we got to Colorado. I attempted to borrow one, but my laptop is older than my sister’s and of course Apple has changed the plug since I got my computer. Then it took a while for the right one to come in. By then, I was supposed to be on my self-proclaimed break and honestly I didn’t even open my blog until a couple of weeks ago, but I just didn’t have the stamina to keep it up after a couple of posts. Anyway, I’m hoping to be back on a roll.

So now that I’m back, let’s start with a recap the Christmas season, including how I did on my 2018 Christmas Bucket List:

SEE THE DECORATIONS IN LONDON

It seems like going down to London to see the decor has become a first weekend in December kind of tradition. This year, Luke and I took the coach down to London and had a serious plan. We ended up seeing a lot more than we did last year and London did not disappoint. (Does it ever?) I think we ended up doing over 20k steps by the afternoon when we took a break to watch a football match at a pub. We even managed to squeeze in a trip to Chipotle between stops!

Christmas Bucket List - Visit the Christmas Market, Blenheim Palace

VISIT THE CHRISTMAS MARKET

While we didn’t spend much time at the local Christmas market in Birmingham, we did visit the Christmas market outside of Blenheim Palace and in Nottingham. Because we only had about two weeks in Birmingham during December, we just didn’t have time to go to ours other than when we went for drinks after Luke’s birthday dinner with some friends. It was kind of a bummer after splitting making foot long sausages last year, but we did get our fix at Blenheim. Both markets we did visit were a lot better than Birmingham’s market anyway. In Birmingham, the stalls all seem to repeat rather than being unique and local vendors. And at Blenheim Palace, many of the vendors were food and alcohol with plenty of samples!

GO TO THE NUTCRACKER

We continued our annual tradition in Colorado this year, dressing to the nines and going downtown for the ballet. Because my brother flew in to Denver that evening, it worked out for my mom to be our chauffeur since we didn’t want to spend money on a hotel downtown. This year, we went to Torchy’s Tacos for a quick dinner beforehand—and we were definitely the best dressed people in the restaurant. We also sat in a box for the first time, which was an interesting vantage point. It was weird being able to see everyone in the audience and we had to lean to see the side of the stage we were on. After the show, we went to Corridor 44, a champagne bar in Larimer Square in Denver. We split oysters, truffle fries, and a bottle of champagne, just like we did in 2016. It was an absolute blast!

This year, like in 2016, I rented a gown from Rent the Runway. If you haven’t ever used the site, I highly recommend it for any occasion. I rented a gown for The Nutcracker in 2016 and 2018, as well as renting two dresses for my brother’s wedding last summer. Click here to get $30 off your first order!

MAKE CREAM CHEESE BREADS (WITH MY MOM)

Well, this didn’t exactly go as planned. I did help my mom make the dough on Christmas Eve, but I didn’t help on Christmas morning when she was assembling them, which was the part I really wanted to help with! She did teach me a trick for the filling though. And I got my vengeance on my sister when I noticed the recipe is titled braids, not breads. (That was a whole thing last year.) My mom was also kind enough to make another batch so we could take home two loaves for our own Christmas. Sadly, half of one got burnt to a crisp in the oven while I was making hot chocolate, but thank goodness there was another!

(I didn’t get a photo of them this year, so I’m using a photo from last year. Maybe next Christmas I’ll actually share the recipe!)

GO CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING & ICE SKATING

We went cross-country skiing with my family on Christmas Eve Eve at our usual spot. I always look forward to going to Devil’s Thumb Ranch during the Colorado winter and it was a lot of fun to incorporate it into our family Christmas. Unfortunately, the group got split up for most of the morning since my siblings wanted to go down (well, first up) a steep hill that I don’t enjoy. My sister-in-law and I spent the morning with my dad and my stepmom, which was really lovely. But I had this nagging feeling that something bad had happened to Luke the whole time we were out. We never ended up finding them on the trail, so we eventually just went in for lunch. When my sister came in a little while later, she said someone fell and got hurt, but I didn’t catch the name she said. I asked who and sure enough, it was Luke. He went to A&E (the ER) when we got back to England and it turns out he likely has a hairline fracture in his hip. Because it had already been about a week, he’s just been prescribed an anti-inflammatory and encouraged to rest it.

We went ice skating with my sisters and brother-in-law on Boxing Day. Despite Luke’s injury (and not yet knowing what it was), he did a few laps with us on the ice. It was pretty fun, even though the rink was packed, but it was a bummer to not be able to ice skate in the mountains. I was picturing a pond at DTR with ice skating, but it turns out their rink was a tiny thing near the start of the cross-country trails and it seriously looked like we wouldn’t all fit. We tried to skate at the nearby Fraser Winter Sports Complex on both the 23rd and the 24th, but the open skate times didn’t quite fit our timeline. Still, we got to go and it was fun!

MAKE HOLIDAY TREATS FOR THE NEIGHBOURS

I had off the week before we went to Colorado because I still had some holiday I needed to use before the end of the year. I had promised my co-workers that I would send Luke in with some holiday treats by Wednesday, so I spent most of Tuesday baking. I made molasses cookies, cardamom sugar cookies, chai sugar cookies with white chocolate buttercream, gingerbread cookies, caramel stuff chocolate pecan cookies, cinnamon roll cookies, and iced sugar cookies. It was a little different than what I had intended earlier this month, but they all turned out delicious and I’m glad I tried new recipes. My favourite were the caramel stuffed chocolate pecan cookies, a family recipe my friend Rachel sent me. They are amazing!

While it was kind of stressful to cram all that baking into one day, I did have a lot of fun and watched a ton of Hallmark Christmas movies. Luke delivered two trays of cookies to both my office and his, we took some to our neighbours, and had quite a bit left over to take to some friends. In Colorado, my stepmom made the chai sugar cookies and Luke and I went over to help her frost them. She had much better luck with the frosting than I did, but it made a bit more than was needed so Luke went overboard on one cookie and made a 3D Santa. He could barely take a second bite because it was so rich!

When we got back to England and had our own Christmas, I opened Luke’s gift to me, which was a Kitchen Aid Mixer. It definitely would have come in handy that week and he did offer to let me open it early (since I knew what it was, just not what colour), but I’m glad I waited. Too bad we’re on a cleanse diet right now so I can’t make any other fun treats, including croissants!

SET UP A HOT COCOA STATION

This year, I upgraded from a boring green tray to a three-tiered stand with all the bells and whistles. I set up the station when we decorated for Christmas, toward the end of November, and we made good use of it throughout the season. I’ve done this for years, but only ever included some mini mallows and candy canes with two shakers of cinnamon and nutmeg, but this year I added a lot more. I had caramels, chocolate chunks, mini and jumbo mallows, two different types/sizes of candy canes, Bailey’s, Amaretto, peppermint sticks, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. You could do pretty much anything your heart desired. We also had whipped cream in the fridge and in Colorado, I made a gingerbread simple syrup that we had in hot cocoa (and Kentucky mules) that was delicious!

BUY NEW CHRISTMAS PJs

Instead of opting for our usual pajama bottoms and Christmas socks, we both got something we wanted to add to our nighttime wardrobe. Luke got a pair of slippers in addition to his Christmas socks, and I got a fleece robe that is seriously the coziest, comfiest thing I’ve ever owned in addition to my socks.

MAKE HOMEMADE EGGNOG

This was the only one that I didn’t complete, despite both my mom and my sister offering to teach me while we were in Colorado. We thought we had a ton of free time, but our trip got a lot busier than we had planned. So, I’ll try again next year!

HOST A CRAFT NIGHT

Early in the month, I had a few friends over to do some crafts. I continued our wreath-making trend, making our fourth wreath of the season out of some leftover baubles that didn’t fit onto the tree. It was super simple, but made for a good craft to still talk to my friends and watch John Legend’s Christmas special, A Legendary Christmas. It was a lot of fun!


OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

On the 1st, we drove down to Oxfordshire to visit Blenheim Palace and see all of their decorations both inside the palace and on the grounds. It was so much fun. I wrote a whole blog post about it, here.

To celebrate my younger sister’s 21st birthday (in October), we went to a Christmas pop up bar. It was a long wait, but it was a lot of fun. The cocktail that I had inspired me to make a gingerbread mule later during some other holiday celebrations.

This year, both sides of my family decided not to do gifts and instead focus on making memories and having awesome experiences together. My dad and stepmom booked a cabin near our cross-country skiing spot for the night before Christmas Eve. We all drove up in the morning to go skiing, then headed to the cabin that afternoon to more festivities. We decided to do an ugly sweater party, which my brother turned into a competition, complete with a catwalk fashion show. It was so much fun. We all voted on best sweater and best performance. My brother-in-law Travis handily won best performance, but there was a three way tie for best sweater, which came down to number of votes for best performance as a a tie breaker. Luke ended up winning! Pretty good for buying his sweater at the store the night before we flew to Colorado. My stepmom made her famous chicken pot pie (actually, three for the nine of us!), which is a usual Christmastime activity on another night, complete with some kind of outrageous game, like Cards Against Humanity, What Do You Meme, or—this year—Relative Insanity. She also had a game that Luke called Pass the Parcel. She had wrapped a box three or four times with packaging tape and the goal was to try to unwrap the box and get it open while wearing oven mitts before the person next to you rolled doubles on the dice. It got so crazy, but Sam ended up winning when she got the Amazon gift card out of the box after I had torn it open. Then, I had set up a gingerbread house competition. My stepmom bought two mini gingerbread village kits from Target and I stocked up on some extra candies. We decided that each person would have 15 minutes to decorate their house once it was properly assembled. We had split into two groups since there wasn’t much room around the table at the cabin and Luke and Travis seemed hellbent on using the icing bag from the first kit that was almost empty, so Luke’s house ended up completely collapsing just as he applied the finishing touches. Pretty hysterical for the only engineer in the place! Since there were only 8 houses, my dad and stepmom teamed up, which promised a winner in voting. Everyone got one vote, except Travis who won with two for his upside-down house. It was such a fun time and I’ll definitely remember all that fun longer than I’ll remember what I got for Christmas any other year!

For our family fun on my mom’s side, we had a murder mystery over Christmas dinner. Luke and I helped her set up the game the week before, including assigning characters and figuring out logistics. We had thought about doing it as a separate thing on Boxing Day, but the game seemed to work best over a long meal, so we combined it with the big meal she was already planning for Christmas. It was different than the murder mysteries Luke and I have done in the past, but it was still fun. (And it’ll be easier to play again because there isn’t a set murderer.) My sister Sam ended up being the killer and only two people voted for her. (I thought for sure it was Luke and I wasn’t going to not guess him again when he turned out to be the killer at our 2017 New Year’s Eve party where no one guessed him!) Even my grandma and grandpa who were a bit hesitant said they liked it. However, the real star was the Christmas feast. I just love Christmas dinner so much! My mom always makes a delicious roast dinner and this year I made the White Christmas Sparkle Cake from How Sweet Eats for dessert.

Luke and I celebrated our Christmas the morning of the 30th, after we got back from the States. We didn’t take any of our gifts to the States simply because it didn’t make sense. Also, they were big. I got Luke his whole list of tools he wants for woodworking. Luke got me a Kitchen Aid Mixer! Neither of us were surprised this year—although I didn’t know the colour of the mixer because I gave him about five options—but we both got exactly what we wanted.

I’m going to include New Year’s Eve in this post too because once again, I didn’t take any photos. Luke and I hosted another murder mystery party this year. (Last year we hosted a 1920’s themed murder mystery.) This year, the theme was Murder in Sin City, so we turned our house into a little casino. Luke played the casino owner and I played…the murderer! Only two people guessed it was me; I couldn’t believe it! It was a lot of fun, but I gotta say, if we host another party next year, I hope our house is a bit better for entertaining because it felt small with all our friends in it!


BINGO UPDATE

After having so much fun playing bingo throughout the autumn with all the basic things us gals do for the Insta, I teamed up with my friend Blythe to bring you a holiday themed bingo. You know, with all the basic things us gals do for the Insta! We both shared the boards on our Instagram Stories and loving seeing everyone else play along. It was even more popular than the fall version!

The Expat Diaries, Vol. 14

LifeHannah Drake4 Comments

It feels like it’s been about six months since my last Expat Diaries, not the usual two months. We’ve been busy in those two months, but so has everyone, right? It’s the busiest time of year for most people and having a trip back to the States didn’t necessarily slow anything down.

A lot of what we’ve been up to over the last two months, I’ve already covered on my blog (or have plans to cover soon), so today might be shorter than usual. You’ll have to forgive me.

Mainly, jet lag has been kicking my butt for the first time ever. I don’t think I’ve ever been this exhausted from travelling, no matter which way I was going. We thought it was great that we were able to sleep in later than 4:00AM when we first got to Colorado. We were just getting up between 6:00 and 7:00 for the day, rather than waking up in the middle of the night for a couple of hours. Eventually we adjusted and were able to sleep in to a usual holiday time.

Then, just as we were happily adjusted, we flew back to England at 11:59PM MST on the 28th. We were both able to get some sleep on the first flight to DC, which landed before 6:00AM EST. At the airport, I was able to sleep for a couple more hours, and a bit more comfortably, thanks to my Bedtime Bliss Sleep Mask. I didn’t intend to sleep on the second flight from DC to London, but I think we both ended up sleeping for most of it. When we landed in London just after 9:30PM, my body was definitely confused. We stopped for a late dinner on the way home and went to bed almost as soon as we got home.

Since then, I haven’t been able to comfortably get on a usual sleep schedule. Since waking up on the morning of the 30th at home, the only days I’ve been able to stay awake for a full day have been the days I’ve been at work. And even then it’s a struggle. The morning before I went back to work for a half day on the 2nd, I woke up at 1:00AM and dozed for a few hours until my alarm went off at 6:00. The next day, I was awake for probably about 6 hours in total. On Monday evening, I fell asleep in Mary Poppins Returns at the cinema! The struggle has been so, so real that I can hardly think about anything, let alone actually do anything.

So needless to say, 2019 has gotten off to a slow start. I’ve been nothing but a lurker on social media in recent weeks and I’ve been seeing everyone’s posts about how excited they are for the new year, how they’re setting their intentions for the year, resolving to be better than the last, purging their home of stuff they don’t want to take into the new year, etc. It’s been a little discouraging because I’ve spent 95% of the new year on my couch or in my bed.

But guess what. That’s fine. I got sick around Thanksgiving and ended up having a cold for over 2 weeks because I just didn’t have the time to rest. Our December was absolutely non-stop between trying to squeeze in everything we wanted to do in England before the 15th and squeeze in everything we wanted to do in Colorado during the two weeks we were there. A lot of things fell through the cracks. We didn’t get to see a lot of the people we wanted to. We barely had any nights at home to just sit by the tree and watch a Christmas movie. It was a truly great holiday season and I’m so grateful we got to be in Colorado, but it was also exhausting. It feels like now that everything has slowed down, my mind and my body are like woah, I wanna hang out here in this stillness for a while, please.

I’ll eventually get back on my feet. I’ll eventually watch Tidying Up with Marie Kondo like everyone else and purge our house of all the junk we don’t want or need.

Eventually.

Can I just say, if your new year has been off to a slow start, don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s perfectly fine to not have spent a great deal of time reflecting on 2018 or to not share your intentions or your word of the year with everyone you know on social media. It really is okay. Give yourself a break if that’s what you need. Prioritise what’s important to you as we move into 2019 and try to get those things done at your own pace. And if you just need to leave 2018 behind and not look back, do that too!