Hannah Drake

Christmas

Christmas 2018 Highlights

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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!

6 Things to Do in London at Christmastime

TravelHannah Drake4 Comments

There’s just something so magical about London at Christmastime. All year, there are so many shops and restaurants that have gorgeous seasonal displays. But Christmas is another level in London. There are twinkling lights, oversized baubles, pastel gingerbread houses, and beautiful window displays. Of course London is one of the most diverse and culturally rich cities in the world. There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to eat no matter when you visit, but it truly outdoes itself in the weeks leading up to Christmas. You’re bound to find something beautiful and magical on every corner. It’s absolutely my favourite time of year to visit the city!

GO ICE SKATING

Two of the biggest—and most picturesque—ice skating rinks are at the Natural History Museum and Somerset House. You’ll see photos of skaters circling the Christmas tree in front of the beautiful buildings on any Londoner’s Instagram, but if you plan ahead, you can be one of those skaters!

The rink at the Natural History Museum is open for three months, from the end of October to the end of January, though it’s closed on Christmas Day. Times vary, but the website lists its operating hours as 10:00 to 21:00. Tickets are available from £12.65 for adults, from £8.80 for children, and from £39.60 for families. Museum members save 10% when tickets are booked onsite. You have to book 50-minute tickets in advance and certain days or times might be more expensive. The rink also offers upgrades, special packages, and fun events throughout the skating season.

The nearest tube station to the Natural History Museum is South Kensington on the District, Piccadilly and Circle lines.

The rink at Somerset House is sponsored by Fortnum & Mason and is open from mid-November to mid-January. The rink is also closed Christmas Day. Times vary, but it’s usually open from 11:15 to 22:15 and the full schedule is listed on their website. Tickets are available from £11.00 for adults and £8.50 for children, but a one-time booking fee of £2.95 applies online. Fortnum & Mason has set up a rink-side lounge with seasonal treats like champagne and fondue or mulled wine and mince pies.

The nearest tube station to Somerset House is Temple on the Circle and District lines, Covent Garden on the Piccadilly line, or Charing Cross on the Bakerloo and Northern lines.

No matter which rink you choose, you can definitely have yourself a merry time skating and enjoying everything the rinks have to offer.

SHOP ON (AND OFF) REGENT STREET

Regent Street is one of the most famous streets in London and lined with little shops and cafes. No matter the season, you’ll find it bustling with shoppers, but it’s something entirely different at Christmastime. The streets are lit up with twinkling Christmas lights, the windows are adorned with giant wreaths, and the shops have gorgeous window displays.

Just off the busy road is the quieter Old Bond Street, which is always worth strolling down, even if it’s just to gaze in the windows and see the decorations. Both years we’ve visited London at Christmastime, there have been peacock feathers above the street and gorgeous displays on the facades of some of the most luxurious shops in town. Last year, Cartier was covered in a giant red bow and it made all my big city dreams come true!

Down the cross street from Tiffany & Co. is Burlington Arcade, which is absolutely worth walking down. There are so many little shops and they all seem to be in competition with each other for who has the best Christmas decorations. The arcade itself is lit up by twinkling trees and the light bounces off the giant red baubles hanging from the ceiling. It’s certainly a wonderful walk and it goes on forever! There are other lovely arcades off Regent Street as well, but in my opinion, none as lovely as Burlington.

The nearest tube station to Regent Street is Green Park on the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines, Piccadilly Circus on the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines, or Oxford Circus on the Central, Bakerloo and Victoria lines.

SEE THE HOLIDAY INSTALLATIONS AT COVENT GARDEN

Seriously, nowhere does holiday installations like Covent Garden! They’re always oversized and over-the-top and I love them! On one end, you’ll find a towering Christmas tree with sparkling red and white lights. On the other end, you’ll find a gigantic prancing reindeer in a gigantic sleigh full of gigantic presents. This year, they also had a cool old car piled high with presents. And of course the three arcades in the centre are not to be missed. I love the giant mistletoe that lights up and the huge silver baubles. It’s definitely crowded, but there seems to be a photographers’ understanding that you keep a bit of a distance from everything to people can get photos without you in them. They’re usually quite good about taking turns and not taking an insane amount of time.

Covent Garden is like an outdoor shopping area, so there are also plenty of places to shop, which means there are plenty of beautiful shopfronts around the square and surrounding streets. Some of the best at Christmastime are Balthazar and Clos Maggiore.

The nearest tube station to Covent Garden is Covent Garden on the Piccadilly line.

WARM UP WITH TEA AND CAKE

When in London, you must stop for tea somewhere. There are a lot of fantastic places to have tea in London, including Sketch (an Instagrammer’s heaven) and Biscuiteer’s (home of the most beautiful biscuits), but in December, Peggy Porschen Cakes and Claridige’s are sights to behold.

Peggy Porschen Cakes is located in Belgravia, one of my favourite neighbourhoods. It might just be the most photographed facade in London, but there’s a reason. They never skimp on the seasonal decor and you can always count on them for stunning photo ops and the perfect flatlay on their little pink tables. But in all seriousness, come for the decor and stay for the lattes and cakes. They have beautifully decorated cakes and cookies available inside their tiny little corner shop and the baristas are talented with the on point seasonal latte art. Make sure to plan plenty of time for your stop here because the later it gets in the day, the longer the wait for a table is and they don’t accept reservations. (This is why I wholeheartedly recommend cake for breakfast!) The majority of their tables are outside too, so bundle up!

The nearest tube station to Peggy Porchen Cakes is Sloane Square on the Circle and District lines or Victoria on the Victoria, Circle, or District lines.

Claridge’s is one of the most luxurious hotels in the city and offers lots of holiday cheer in December and boasts a magnificent afternoon tea. In the hotel lobby, you’ll find a carefully designed Christmas tree that changes every year depending on the designer behind the tree. In recent years, they’ve had an upside down tree, a mirrored tree, and even a full on forest one year. It’s truly something! Their Festive Afternoon Tea is on the pricier end (and even more so on the weekends), but they certainly make it worth it.

The nearest tube station to Claridge’s is Bond Street on the Central and Jubilee lines or Oxford Circus on the Central, Bakerloo and Victoria lines.

STOCK UP ON HOLIDAY GOODIES

Petersham Nurseries is just off Covent Garden and always worth a wander, no matter the calendar, but especially at Christmas. Pop in to pick up some holiday decorations, Christmas baubles, or even just general home goods. Wander to the back for the plant nursery and even next door to the deli!

The nearest tube station to Petersham Nurseries is Covent Garden on the Piccadilly line.

Fortnum & Mason is an experience. It’s located on Regent Street and is famous for its tea and hampers. Here, you can stock up on luxury grocery items, peruse their home goods floors, and even do some personal shopping in their men’s and women’s departments. Everything is located around a stunning spiral staircase between the first two floors, but the opening goes all the way to the top and they make sure you know it!

The nearest tube station to Fortnum & Mason is Piccadilly Circus on the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines, Leicester Square on the Northern and Piccadilly lines, or Green Park on the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines.

Lavender Green Flowers is located in Chelsea and a great place to stop around Christmastime, especially if you’re looking for some DIY materials for a wreath or other home decor. You can stock up on everything you might need: cinnamon sticks, dried citrus, pine cones, greenery, and more. Just imagine how good it smells!

The nearest tube station to Lavender Green Flowers is South Kensington on the District, Piccadilly and Circle lines.

WANDER THE MOST FESTIVE NEIGHBOURHOODS

Normally, I’m all about Notting Hill when I’m in London. There’s just something about those soft pastel houses lined up behind the street market. But I’ve actually never been at Christmastime. I’m sure they do it up good, but I’m always drawn to other neighbourhoods this time of year.

Belgravia is where you’ll find the picturesque Peggy Porschen Cakes, but make sure to plan some time to wander around the streets as well. The shops and offices and cafes and even houses have great kerbside appeal all year, but especially at Christmas.

Chelsea is great to see some really fantastic displays outside shops and restaurants. Whether it’s springtime an there are lush floral displays or Christmastime and larger than life Christmas decor, Chelsea never disappoints.

Soho is the neighbourhood I’ve spent the least amount of time in, of these, but they have some great Christmas decor as well. Just don’t make the same mistake we did and not go into Liberty!

Mayfair is one of my favourite neighbourhoods all year, but it’s even better at Christmas. It’s also home to Annabel’s and nobody does installations like Annabel’s.

Check out my London in Bloom post to see London all decked out for spring.

PIN FOR LATER!

Christmas at Blenheim Palace

TravelHannah DrakeComment

Over the summer, Luke and I visited Blenheim Palace twice. First with my sister Sam, then again in August. The first time we visited, we converted our day tickets into annual passes, which was good because we barely got to see anything the first time we were there. Because we’re on the annual pass list, I got an email for their Christmas events and I immediately knew I wanted to go back for it. We still had to buy tickets for the events, but they were cheaper with our annual pass.

So last Saturday, on the 1st of the month, Luke and I got in the car and headed down to Oxfordshire, blasting Christmas songs on the way and trying to prefect our White Christmas duet. I also learned I really need to work on the lyrics for Wonderful Christmastime. It was hilariously fun and neither of us even minded it put us a bit behind on our podcasts. We bought tickets for both Cinderella - A Fairytale Experience inside the palace and the Illuminated Lights Trail on the palace grounds.

THE PALACE

The sun was already setting when we got there ahead of our 15:40 entrance time for the palace and we didn’t have much time to spare, so we bee-lined for the palace entrance. There was a long line on the steps as the staff was scanning tickets and making sure people were in the right order for their entrance times.

At 15:40, we were let into a small room they built just off the door before we were let into the entryway of the palace. The man just inside the door, was dressed like one of the staff members from Cinderella and told us to pay attention to the mice throughout the palace. Immediately, we were taken straight into a fairytale.

THE CHRISTMAS MARKET

In the courtyard outside of the palace, they had an extensive Christmas market set up with local vendors in each booth. I’ve only been to three Christmas Markets so far (in Birmingham, at Blenheim Palace, and in Nottingham), but this one was by far the best one. Okay, maybe it was because every other booth seemed to be a local distillery with dozens of samples. We walked around sampling gin, sausages, cheeses, chutneys, and more. They had local artists and people were selling their woodworking pieces, knitting, ornaments, beauty products, and just about everything else you can think of.

Back toward the entrance, they had some rides and food and drink stands. We got our first German sausage of the season and later went back for luxury hot chocolates and fresh donuts.

THE GROUNDS

On the grounds, they had set up the Illuminated Lights Trail that was absolutely magical. Each section was set to different music, everything from classic Christmas songs to The Nutcracker to the Harry Potter score. The lights twinkled and danced and lit up the night. Everything was so gorgeous and mesmerising. Halfway through the trail, they had more food trucks and some fire pits. Toward the end, we passed through the North Pole where Santa was putting on a show for some kids. The big finale was the light displays against the palace set to everybody’s favourite Christmas tunes.