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The Best Things About Living Abroad

LifeHannah Drake1 Comment

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.

What I'm Baking This Holiday Season

LifeHannah DrakeComment

It’s no secret I love baking, but that love knows no limits during the holiday season. I really enjoy sharing my baking with friends, family, and neighbours. Here’s what I’m including in my gift tins for our neighbours again this year:

What I'm Baking This Holiday Season - Gingerbread

Gingerbread

I never know what to call this because it’s more cakey than it is bready.

My favourite way to enjoy gingerbread is warm with a side of peppermint ice cream. Peppermint ice cream isn't available here in the UK, which is a shame because it's a Larson family staple at Christmastime!

What I'm Baking This Holiday Season - Candy Coated Pretzels

Candy Coated Pretzels

If you can boil water, you can make these. I melted a whole bag of Wilton's candy melts in a double boiler, dipped the pretzels, tapped off the excess, and let them dry on parchment paper. I enlisted Luke's help to smash up some candy canes so I could top them off with red sprinkles and bits of peppermint. They turned out delicious! A whole bag of candy melts covered about 80 pretzels.

What I'm Baking This Holiday Season - Sugar Cookies

Sugar Cookies

I've been searching for years for a good sugar cookie recipe that will not only taste good, but keep the shape after being baked. Sally's Baking Addiction, my favourite online source for baking recipes, to the rescue! She'll walk you through the recipe and the technique, explaining why each step is important to producing the perfect cut out sugar cookies. I also used the royal icing recipe she included, piping it from a bottle, not a bag. I'm really happy with how they turned out. They kept their shape, I was able to line and then flood the cookies while icing, and the icing hardened so they were stackable and not sticky.

What I'm Baking This Holiday Season - Molasses Cookies

Molasses Cookies

I’ve seen—and tried—a number of ginger or molasses cookies, but I liked the way these spread and flatten better than another tasty recipe I’ve tried. After over baking the first 8 cookies by about 1-2 minutes, the rest turned out perfect. They're soft and chewy, but still have a nice "crust" on the outside.

What I'm Baking This Holiday Season - Cardamom Sugar Cookies

Cardamom Sugar Cookies

My sister made these a few years ago, I think for a Christmas cookie exchange party, and I've wanted to make them ever since. I couldn't find any ground cardamom at the shop, so I ended up getting pods and once again enlisted Luke for his smashing skills. He broke open the pods, separated out the seeds, and then ground them. It took about 15 pods per 1 teaspoon and it wasn't ground as finely as store-bought probably would have been, but apparently grinding your own makes for a better flavor. I adjusted the glaze recipe a bit, using about 1 cup of powdered sugar with the same amount of water to make it stiffer and I just drizzled it on top instead of icing them properly.

I'm always looking to branch out, so if you have any holiday favourites, post a link to the recipe in the comments below!

25 Days of Christmas Films

LifeHannah Drake6 Comments

The last few years, I’ve created my own “25 Days of Christmas” (ABC Family, anyone?) with my favourite Christmas films. I love cozying up at home with some eggnog or hot cocoa and watching movies while the lights twinkle on the tree and a balsam fir candle burns on the mantle.

I’ve updated my list a bit since last year. I had made it my goal to watch 5 new Christmas movies, but ended up watching 9 new (to me) movies and I wanted some of them on this list! My friend also pointed out that I had all three of the Santa Clause movies on the list, but only the first Home Alone. This year, I only have the first movie of each, but I’ll probably watch the sequels too. Two of the movies I included come out this year—The Grinch, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. I included them because I want to see them in theatres, but I made my list not knowing if I would even like them or not.

This year, instead of including my opinions, I’ve simply given the IMDb summary as well as some facts about each movie.

Arthur Christmas
Santa's clumsy son Arthur sets out on a mission with St. Nick's father to give out a present they misplaced to a young girl in less than 2 hours.
Released in 2011
Starring: James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton
92% on Rotten Tomatoes

A Bad Moms Christmas
As their own mothers drop in unexpectedly, our three under-appreciated and over-burdened moms rebel against the challenges and expectations of the Super Bowl for mothers: Christmas.
Released in 2017
Starring: Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Mila Kunis
29% on Rotten Tomatoes

A Christmas Story
In the 1940s, a young boy named Ralphie attempts to convince his parents, his teacher and Santa that a Red Ryder BB gun really is the perfect Christmas gift.
Released in 1983
Starring: Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillo, Darren McGavin
89% on Rotten Tomatoes

Christmas Vacation
The Griswold family's plans for a big family Christmas predictably turn into a big disaster.
Released in 1989
Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Johnny Galecki, Juliette Lewis
64% on Rotten Tomatoes

Christmas with the Kranks
With their daughter away, the Kranks decide to skip Christmas altogether until she decides to come home, causing an uproar when they have to celebrate the holiday at the last minute.
Released in 2004
Starring: Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis
5% on Rotten Tomatoes

Elf
After inadvertently wreaking havoc on the elf community due to his ungainly size, a man raised as an elf at the North Pole is sent to the U.S. in search of his true identity.
Released in 2003
Starring: James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Will Ferrell, Bob Newhart, Mary Steenburgen
84% on Rotten Tomatoes

The Family Stone
An uptight, conservative businesswoman accompanies her boyfriend to his eccentric and outgoing family's annual Christmas celebration and finds that she's a fish out of water in their free-spirited way of life.
Released in 2005
Starring: Claire Danes, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson
52% on Rotten Tomatoes

The Grinch
A grumpy Grinch plots to ruin Christmas for the village of Whoville.
Released in 2018
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Angela Lansbury, Kenan Thompson
57% on Rotten Tomatoes

The Holiday
Two women troubled with guy-problems swap homes in each other's countries, where they each meet a local guy and fall in love.
Released in 2006
Starring: Jack Black, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Kate Winslet
47% on Rotten Tomatoes

Home Alone
An eight-year-old troublemaker must protect his house from a pair of burglars when he is accidentally left home alone by his family during Christmas vacation.
Released in 1990
Starring: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci
62% on Rotten Tomatoes

How the Grinch Stole Christmas
On the outskirts of Whoville, there lives a green, revenge-seeking Grinch who plans on ruining the Christmas holiday for all of the citizens of the town.
Released in 2000
Starring: Christine Baranski, Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Molly Shannon, Jeffrey Tambor
53% on Rotten Tomatoes

I'll Be Home for Christmas
A college student faces an impossible journey when he is left stranded in the desert, thousands of miles from home, with no money and only a few days left until Christmas.
Released in 1998
Starring: Jessica Biel, Jonathan Taylor Thomas
23% on Rotten Tomatoes

It's A Wonderful Life
An angel is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed.
Released in 1946
Starring: James Stewart
94% on Rotten Tomatoes

Jack Frost
A father who can't keep his promises, dies in a car accident. One year later, he returns as a snowman, who has the final chance to put things right with his son, before he is gone forever.
Released in 1998
Starring: Michael Keaton, Kelly Preston
20% on Rotten Tomatoes

Jingle All the Way
A father vows to get his son a Turbo Man action figure for Christmas. However, every store is sold out of them, and he must travel all over town and compete with everybody else in order to find one.
Released in 1996
Starring: Phil Hartman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad
16% on Rotten Tomatoes

Last Holiday
Upon learning of a terminal illness, a shy woman decides to sell off all her possessions and live it up at a posh European hotel.
Released in 2006
Starring: LL Cool J, Queen Latifah
55% on Rotten Tomatoes

Love Actually
Follows the lives of eight very different couples in dealing with their love lives in various loosely interrelated tales all set during a frantic month before Christmas in London, England.
Released in 2003
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Colin Firth, Martin Freeman, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Andrew Lincoln, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson
63% on Rotten Tomatoes

Love the Coopers
The intertwined stories of four generations of Coopers unfold right before the annual family reunion on Christmas Eve.
Released in 2015
Starring: Alan Arkin, Timothée Chalamet,
John Goodman, Ed Helms, Diane Keaton, Steve Martin, Amanda Seyfried, Marisa Tomei, Oliva Wilde
19% on Rotten Tomatoes

Miracle on 34th Street
A lawyer and a little girl must prove that a man claiming to be Santa Claus is the real thing.
Released in 1994
Starring: Richard Attenborough, Dylan, McDermott, Elizabeth Perkins, Mara Wilson
59% on Rotten Tomatoes

The Muppet’s Christmas Carol
The Muppet characters tell their version of the classic tale of an old and bitter miser's redemption on Christmas Eve.
Released in 1992
Starring: Michael Caine, The Muppets
73% on Rotten Tomatoes

The Night Before
On Christmas eve, three lifelong friends spend the night in New York City looking for the Holy Grail of Christmas parties.
Released in 2015
Starring: Lizzy Caplan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mindy Kaling, Anthony Mackie, Seth Rogen
66% on Rotten Tomatoes

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
A young girl is transported into a magical world of gingerbread soldiers and an army of mice.
Released in 2018
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren
32% on Rotten Tomatoes

Office Christmas Party
When his uptight CEO sister threatens to shut down his branch, the branch manager throws an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day, but the party gets way out of hand.
Released in 2016
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, TJ Miller, Kate McKinnon, Olivia Munn,
42% on Rotten Tomatoes

The Santa Clause
When a man inadvertantly kills Santa on Christmas Eve, he finds himself magically recruited to take his place.
Released in 1994
Starring: Tim Allen
74% on Rotten Tomatoes

White Christmas
A successful song-and-dance team become romantically involved with a sister act and team up to save the failing Vermont inn of their former commanding general.
Released in 1954
Starring: Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, Vera-Ellen, Danny Kaye
75% on Rotten Tomatoes

You can save upload the image below on your Instagram Stories to share how many of the 25 Christmas movies you seen:

Let me know which Christmas movies I’ve left off the list!

And just in case cheesy Hallmark movies are more your style (they might be mine too, no shame in that game), check out their schedule below for the rest of the holiday season.

I have no shame admitting that I’ve been watching Hallmark movies from 2016, 2017, and 2018 since…Election Day. Also some Lifetime movies and Netflix is really getting in there too. Needless to say, I can’t resist a feelgood cheesy holiday film, especially if they’re set in a town that really knows how to do Christmas. I just need to figure out how to set up a Cookie Crawl in the city of Birmingham now that I’ve seen Christmas Joy.