Hannah Drake

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The Expat Diaries, Vol. 14

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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!

2018 in Review

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JANUARY

We had New Year's Day off, but it was back to the grind on the 2nd, which was a harsh reality after over a week off. We set some new goals for ourselves to try to get into better habits, like everybody does this time of year. January meant our wedding was about 4 months away and we needed to really get the ball rolling with some of the planning we had put off. We attended an open house at our venue the first weekend of the month, which helped us find some of the vendors we had been missing. We basically spent the majority of every weekend in January doing wedding stuff, meeting with vendors, setting up our registry, crafting, planning, etc. Work continued to be much of the same for me--boring, monotonous, and unenjoyable--which managed to make me unusually excited when the days started getting longer and we had some daylight after we got home from work. I also started looking for other jobs toward the end of the month. We managed to conquer another escape room with friends, once again making it out with time to spare! At the end of the month, we started a new group through church that we helped our friends lead, centred around board games, one of our favourite activities to do together and with friends. On the 31st, I had my first meeting of a book club with some women who live near me, accomplishing my life-long dream of being in a book club!

My Favourite Post of the Month: How to Shift from Self-Hate to Self-Love
The Most Popular Post of the Month: How to Shift from Self-Hate to Self-Love

FEBRUARY

It's always great when a month starts off on a high note, isn't it? I feel like I got hit with a new wave of inspiration and motivation for so many things in my life: my blog, my career, our wedding. And the cherry on top of an already good start was sneaking off to Paris for a long weekend with our friends Tom and Luke to go to Disneyland Paris after Tom scored some tickets. We had a full day at Magic Kingdom and then spent the next morning at Walt Disney Studios. It was fun to be back on Disney property and experience what it was like in another country, language, and even culture. We marked our second Valentine's Day together with a super low-key evening at home with some left over soup and me ducking out early for book club. A few days later, we marked a year of engagement, reminiscing about our trip to Denmark and Sweden when Luke proposed. We celebrated with friends' on their birthdays and spent a weekend away to visit Luke's family. We started a 30 day yoga challenge that we had been talking about for quite some time and made it a part of our everyday life. At the end of the month, I got a job offer for what I thought would be an amazing opportunity, but sadly, it was later rescinded as they had jumped the gun a bit on expanding their team.

My Favourite Post of the Month: 5 Changes to Make If You're Unhappy Where You're At
The Most Popular Post of the Month: 25 Things to Do in London

MARCH

Because I was staying at my job that wasn't my favourite, I spoke to my boss early in March and decided to go part-time since the job just wasn't keeping me busy. I found that I enjoyed it a bit more after that since it didn't feel like such a waste of my time and our conversation also prompted him to train me on some other things that I was responsible for in order to keep me a bit busier. I took the entire month of March off from my blog in order to hone in on my focus and create some content for the coming months in the hopes that I would have a head start on things and not put out lame posts just because I felt obligated to blog. At times, I really missed sharing my posts with the world because there was so much I was excited about, but it was nice to be able to do some behind the scenes work that would hopefully pay off. We really got a lot done in terms of wedding crafting in March. We had some final appointments (some of which were moved because of a massive blizzard we got during the first weekend of the month) and we finished making our paper flowers at last! It felt like things were really under way and we were making lots of progress with just two months to go until the wedding. We also played tourist in our own city one day, which was so much fun. We completed our 30 day yoga challenge on the 20th, having woken up every weekday morning at 6:00 and doing yoga first thing every day but 3 of those days. It felt amazing to have accomplished that and created a routine we could continue without the challenge. We had lots of fun with friends during our board games small group through church, dinner parties, and brunching! Luke went to Colorado for a men's retreat with my old church one weekend, which made me really jealous, to be honest. He made it up to me by bringing back some goodies from the States that I can't get here.

APRIL

We kicked off April like everyone else with Easter, but in the UK, that means a four-day weekend! We had a quiet Easter, going to church in the morning (which has been the key to our new church rhythm), having a potluck lunch at the ministry where our friends work, and hanging out with friends. Also in April, we visited the Black Country Living Museum, which was a fantastic local day trip. Most of the month was spent finishing wedding plans--and paying all the balances, yikes!--and trying to find some time to ourselves outside of wedding planning. We went to London to visit Luke's grandma for her birthday and had a lovely time with family and exploring the city and enjoying the perfect weather! We did a pre-wedding cleanse that didn't go exactly as planned, but was fairly successful and helped me rethink how I approach my relationship with my weight. Believe me when I say that it was a quiet month, albeit an important one for us as we prepared for our wedding and tried not to let it take over our lives.

My Favourite Post of the Month: 10 Things to Do in Birmingham
The Most Popular Post of the Month: Home Tour, Part I

MAY

Wedding month! I started the month working the last two days I was scheduled before taking about 2 and a half weeks off for the wedding, mostly thanks to working part time. On the 2nd, I got a notification that I had won the Hamilton lottery for the next day, so Luke immediately cancelled his plans to watch the Arsenal game and requested to leave work a few hours early the next day so we could drive down to London for the show. We both loved it--it was even better than we expected--and would love to see it again, from another vantage point. I spent the next few days trying to finish up everything before the wedding. Our goal was to finish everything by Thursday, the 11th before Luke headed off to his stag weekend and I headed down to London to surprise my family. We were up late that night, but we did it! I should also mention that we decided to upcycle an old chest of drawers from Freecycle into a bar cabinet that same week, which was actually the reason we were up late that night. In London, I was able to surprise my dad and younger sister with the help of my step mom, before spending the day sightseeing with them. The next day, I went over to my mom's hotel to surprise my older sister, before spending the day sightseeing with them. It was so much fun to get to do touristy things with them, especially since none of them except my mom had been to the UK. When I got back to Birmingham, it was the kick off of wedding week. I had my hen do the Monday before the wedding so my family and friends from Colorado could be there. We did an afternoon tea, followed by a sushi dinner and drinks out at a trendy bar. It was a lot of fun. On Tuesday, we set up the venue, hung out with family, napped, and had a welcome dinner before saying goodnight. The next day was the wedding and it was absolutely perfect! We got the rest of the week to chill out, but ended up going to Oxford with some of my family and friends and celebrated birthdays with our friends. It was a long, exhausting, and absolutely wonderful week. After a half week back at work, I planned an impromptu trip down to London to see Chelsea in Bloom and all the floral displays around the city. It was such a lovely day! We booked our honeymoon to Italy, swooned over our own wedding photos, and ended the month with our first joint illness. That was fun.

My Favourite Post of the Month: 9 Affirmations to Tell Yourself Right Now
The Most Popular Post of the Month: Introducing Shop Joy42

JUNE

We started the month still feeling ill, albeit better than how we ended May. That weekend, we drove up to see Luke's parents and got to spend time with Luke's aunt and uncle as well. We stopped by Hardwick Hall on the way home and I visited my first English manor house. I was impressed by the grounds and gardens, but underwhelmed by the interior of the house. (Except the original portrait of Queen Elizabeth I!) I marked one year living abroad on 8 June and we went out for tapas and drinks to celebrate! After two public figures committed suicide the week before, I opened up about my struggles with mental health here on the blog and was greeted with so much love. A number of people reached out to me thanking me for sharing part of my story and even shared a bit of theirs with me. It was a powerful experience for me and exactly what I had hoped for in sharing my story. To me, if sharing my story will help even just one person, save just one life, it's more than worth it. Towards the end of the month, my younger sister arrived to spend an extended weekend with us! We spent time in Birmingham, and took her to Oxfords and the Cotswolds. It was a lot of fun, to say the least. On the last day of the month, we finally received the gifts from our wedding registry, which made for a great day.

My Favourite Post of the Month: My Struggle with Mental Health
The Most Popular Post of the Month: DIY Bar Cabinet

 JULY

We kicked off July by hosting a First of the July BBQ for some of our friends. I tried my hardest to make it a classic American BBQ, but those Brits just don't believe me that baked beans are meant to be eaten with burgers! Still, it was a lot of fun and we were blessed with a beautiful day. A few days later, we jetted off to Colorado for a week and a half stay. While we were there, we were super busy catching up with people, eating at all our favourite spots, and even doing a bit of travelling. We spent one day in Colorado Springs with our friends Jason and Tia and later drove to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for a very brief holiday-in-a-holiday. But the main reason we were there was to celebrate my younger brother's wedding! It was a great party and really nice to see some friends and family that we hadn't seen at our wedding two months prior. Our time in Colorado was short, but full. We were sort of excited to get back to our boring lives in England, to get back in our routine and certainly to get back in our kitchen. We spent most of July in a heatwave in England. It barely rained and our plants didn't fair too well while we were gone. And while England was in a drought, I was longing for autumn. By the time we got back from Colorado, I was kind of over our summer evenings in the back garden enjoying the long light and warm sun. I won the Harry Potter Friday Forty, so we went down to London one day toward the end of the month to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It was just as magical as I had imagined.

My Favourite Post of the Month: How We Made Our Wedding Incredibly Personal
The Most Popular Post of the Month: You Can't Go Home Again

AUGUST

The first weekend in August, we drove up to Scotland for a bit of a Drake Family Reunion. Luke's aunt had rented a beautiful country house for the week, but we were only able to make it for the weekend. It was a lovely time with family and exploring everything nearby. Not to mention the house was incredible! When we got back, we celebrated my 28th birthday by going out to dinner at a sushi place in town and then eating chocolate cake in bed with Parks & Rec. I took a quick trip to London to meet up with my former boss and meet a new friend from Instagram. Even though it was short and rainy, and also the first time I've ever missed a train in Europe, it was a nice morning in the Big Smoke. We went to our friends' wedding near Liverpool, which was the first British wedding I've been to. The whole thing was beautiful and it was so fun to be there to celebrate with Mark and Chantal. (And to wear a hat!) The last Monday of the month was a bank holiday, so we--along with thousands of other people--decided to visit Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. It was a nice day trip, we explored a lot more than we did the first time, and our annual passes are good through next June so we immediately started planning our next visit. In between our busy weekends, we made good use of our unlimited cinema pass, had some really awesome at-home date nights, started walking in the evenings sometimes, and even had a few BBQs with friends.

My Favourite Post of the Month: Jackson Hole & The Grand Tetons
The Most Popular Post of the Month: 20 Questions to Ask Your Spouse on Date Night

SEPTEMBER

After living in England for about twenty months and having experienced two British Septembers, I think I can say September is my favourite month in England. Unless you’re brand new around here, you probably know I love autumn and my mind shift from summer to autumn as the calendar moves from August to September. England is one of those places that actively participates in that shift (weather wise) and I’m all about it. We started the month by driving to Manchester with some friends to do The Crystal Maze, which is a British game show that everyone in the group loves. I’ve only ever seen one episode, but it was such a cool experience, even if I didn’t have the added 90’s nostalgia as well. We also dog sat for our friends, which made us even more determined to get a dog sooner rather than later! I dove right in to doing all the autumn things, like going apple picking in Worcester one weekend with Luke and bringing home p o u n d s of apples, forcing me to make a huge batch of apple cider and a couple of apple crisps. (What a problem to have, right?!) I helped a friend photograph another friend’s wedding, which was fun and stressful and exciting and eye-opening. We made a decent team and managed to do a decent job even though it was a first for both of us. Nothing much happened over the next week except that we prepared to head to Italy for our belated honeymoon and first anniversary trip. The day before we left it was our actual anniversary, so we went out for breakfast (a rare occasion for us) and later drove to London to stay near the airport since our flight was so early the next morning. We had an unbelievable time in Italy, visiting Naples, Capri, the Amalfi Coast, and Rome. We ate more pizza and pasta than in our whole lives, I’m pretty sure. We learned how to make our own fresh pasta. We explored the little villages and experienced the history of the country. It was absolutely marvellous, even though it was like a second summer down there! When we got back, we did laundry for the next four days (the joys of not having a dryer) and eased back into life over a long weekend. We played games with friends, starting a new continuous game called Near & Far with a couple with whom we played Pandemic Legacy in 2017. Before we knew it, was time to go back to work and time to welcome October.

My Favourite Post of the Month: Marriage: Year One
The Most Popular Post of the Month: 2018 Autumn Bucket List

OCTOBER

October was a bit of a rough month for me. It was probably the most difficult month since moving to be away from the States and that became a huge stressor for me leading up to the midterm elections. It probably seemed like I went WAY over the top with fall, but it was silly things like pumpkins and Hallmark movies that helped me keep my sanity. So I was more than happy to indulge. The month started out slow for us, but soon we found our social calendars filled with birthday celebrations, game nights, and more. We did our inaugural Great British Drake Off, which will surely become a quarterly feature in our lives. We spent a weekend with Luke’s parents while his brother and family were visiting from Ireland. We taught our friends how to make fresh pasta like we learned in Italy. And I even started a small ladies’ group every other week while Luke was at his own small group. I decided to head down to London one day toward the end of the month to see London in all its fall glory. We soaked up the remaining days of October with all the fall staples: hot soup and warm pumpkin treats, Hocus Pocus and other autumnal movie nights, carving pumpkins, and just cozying up at home.

Favourite Post of the Month: The Great British Drake Off: Treacle Week
Most Popular Post of the Month: 25 Fall Cocktails to Try This Season

NOVEMBER

November 1st brought on my first Bonfire Night celebration in the UK. (We missed it last year.) While Luke was hanging out with a friend, I met up with some people for a BBQ around the fire pit before walking to the university for the fireworks display. It was a lot of fun, but it’s definitely different from the Fourth of July! We mostly had a low key month in the middle weeks. We did our usual weekly routine of date nights, small groups, cinema trips, but also made some Christmas wreaths and I had a number of tests done by my cardiologist. (I’m fine, it’s just usual check ups.) We marked Thanksgiving by helping out at Canvas’s annual dinner that was bigger than ever. (Well, Luke helped serve but I was under the weather so I stayed away from the food. I did bake cookies though. And washed my hands plenty, don’t worry.) It was so busy that we weren’t sure we were going to get dinner, so we dipped out early to get some pizza. We found out later that they had somewhat of a bread & loaves miracle and ended up feeding about 40 more people than they had planned for! The next day, we had a home check with a charity that fosters kittens. We got approved to start fostering in early 2019! The Saturday after Thanksgiving, we hosted our second Thanksgiving together, this time with even more food! We had some friends over for left overs the following Monday since they couldn’t make it over the weekend, but set up for Christmas the Sunday after the holiday. We got so much extra Christmas this year!

Favourite Post of the Month: Best of Autumn 2018
Most Popular Post of the Month: What’s On Our 2018 Thanksgiving Menu

DECEMBER

We didn’t waste any time with the Christmas activities. The first weekend in December, we visited Blenheim Palace for their Christmas events and the next day we did 21,000 steps seeing all of the decorations in London. It was so much fun. I hosted a craft night and made yet another wreath, we hosted some friends for game night, we celebrated Luke’s birthday early, once with friends and once with his twin sister in Nottingham. Due to some unused holiday, I got to start my “Christmas break” on December 5th, which was awesome. I did so much holiday baking you wouldn’t even believe it. We tried to make the most of our nights at home, watching Christmas movies and sipping hot cocoa before we flew back to Colorado for two weeks. We toured the Harry Potter studios in London for my birthday gift and went to a few Christmas parties. On Luke’s birthday, we flew to Colorado for a whirlwind two weeks. It was jam-packed with family time, festivities, and even managed to see a few friends while we were there. We celebrated Luke’s birthday properly, I went to a Christmas pop up bar with my little sister who is 21 (what?!), I got to take a new class at Pure Barre (but didn’t get to take the other new class after I severely injured my toe when I dropped a stocking holder on it.) We got dressed up for The Nutcracker, as tradition dictates, we decorated cookies, we went to my old church for Christmas services, we cross-country skied (and Luke fractured his hip), we celebrated Christmas many times and usually without gifts, we helped my mom host a murder mystery over Christmas dinner, we got to go to cinema a couple of times in the States which means we got delicious American movie theatre popcorn, we ice skated, played games, did a brewery tour in my home town, and so much more. It was such a great trip home, but it just always feels like there’s never enough time! The morning after we got back, we had our own little Christmas morning (five days late) and opened our gifts to each other. I got Luke a ton of tools he had asked for and he got me a Kitchen Aid Mixer! On the 31st, we hosted our second New Year’s Eve party, another murder mystery (Murder in Sin City), and we carried on the tradition of having a Drake be the killer. This time it was me! It was a fantastic end to a pretty great year if I do say so myself.

Favourite Post of the Month: 6 Things to Do in London at Christmastime
Most Popular Post of the Month: 2018 Christmas Bucket List

The Best Things About Living Abroad

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As an expat, people on both sides of the Atlantic ask me what I love most about living abroad. How ironic that I’m finally getting around to posting this when I’m back in the States, right?

THE EASE OF TRAVEL WITHIN EUROPE

This is by far the best. Before I moved, people were always saying they were jealous that I would probably be on a plane every weekend to another beautiful European city. That’s not exactly true, but earlier this year, we did drive to Paris for a somewhat last minute weekend trip with some friends. That was pretty cool. Our flights to Italy for our honeymoon were cheaper for both of us than it would be for one ticket from Denver to New York! We’ve gotten cheap flights to Dublin and Berlin. (Before he met me, Luke even got £1 tickets to Ireland once! Plus a few fees after the fact, but still!) Next year, after having four major holidays this year, we’re probably going to be doing smaller trips throughout the country and the continent over long weekends. It just blows my mind that that’s even a possibility! The only downside is the carry on luggage requirements are a bit more restrictive. But it’s worth it!

THE FREE HEALTH CARE AT THE POINT OF DELIVERY

Wait, maybe this is the best. In the grand scheme of things, anyway. I’ve been to my doctor a couple of times since moving here, I took Luke to A&E (accidents and emergency), and had some cardiology appointments at the hospital as well. In all of that, we’ve paid exactly £0! No co-pays, no deductibles, no nothing. I did have to pay an NHS surcharge (£600) when I got my visa last year. And we both have money taken out of our pay checks for the NHS, but that’s money we don’t ever see or really think about. It’s worth it when you need an ECG and a CT scan at A&E or when you need a bunch of heart tests spread out over multiple appointments. Both of us are fine, by the way, I’m just getting my usual heart check ups. It definitely makes me wonder why healthcare is such a fight in the States and why it’s not universally accepted as a right.

THE PROXIMITY TO RICH HISTORY

I love this one, but it’s also a bit annoying. At least when we see a building and Luke points at it and says, “This building is older than your country.” He does this all the time! No matter where you go in Europe, you’re surrounded by incredibly rich history. AP European History was my absolute favourite class in high school, so it’s amazing to be able to see those places and stand where those people stood. I’ve seen so much already, but still not enough! We’ve seen Hadrian’s Wall in England, the lasagna that is the history of Rome, historical landmarks in cities like Berlin, London, Dublin, and Glasgow. We’ve been in beautiful estates across the country, wandered through museums, and explored castles. It’s unreal! Don’t get me wrong, the States has so much history of it’s own, but when you’re looking at a wall that was built in 122, it’s hard to get excited about some colonial houses in New England.

THE STANDARDS OF THE FOOD INDUSTRY

I remember when I first moved a friend told me that you can eat better in the UK than in the States almost without trying. There are products here (like Betty Crocker’s cake mixes) that are completely different here because in the States there are so many additives that are illegal here. Our grocery store used to carry Kraft macaroni & cheese in the “American section” and the front of the box would always have a big blue sticker on it. One day we decided to pull it off to see what it was covering, and it turns out there’s “nutritional information” on the front of the box saying that there’s something like 50 calories per serving, with a tiny little asterisk that it’s for uncooked pasta. That’s so ridiculous that it’s okay to mislead consumers like that! Sure, our produce and our milk doesn’t last quite as long, but it’s worth it knowing they aren’t pumped full of preservatives and other crap.

THE EXPERIENCE OF OTHER CULTURES

There’s culture everywhere, of course, but living in the second biggest city in the UK has broadened my horizons unlike any other place. Coming from a place where people mostly look like me and often have similar backgrounds as me, it’s so eye opening to see or meet or hear or talk to people from different countries, who speak different languages, who have different religious beliefs, who cook different foods at home. I’ve always believed that travelling is the best way to see that we’re all humans first and living somewhere so different from where I grew up gives me that experience all the time. I eat (and cook!) foods I never would have thought to try back in my small town in Colorado. (Anyone from my hometown is probably laughing at me calling it a small town, but it’s certainly no 1.5 million in population!) I get to hear people speak other languages—and even the same language in all kinds of accents. I’ve been able to do acts of kindness for women who look differently, dress differently, and worship differently than me. It’s been humbling and wonderful and educational. I’m so grateful for all the experiences I’ve been able to have living in Birmingham and travelling throughout the UK and Europe.