Living Under Lockdown

This is week five of lockdown in the UK and I’m still adjusting. The first three weeks were spent quarantining with my boyfriend, Conor, in my London flat. Since then, we have moved to Conor’s mom’s home in a small village in Oxfordshire where there is more room, a back garden, and a dog.

Golden hour, Snapchat filters, and painted nails.

The last four weeks have been full of Zoom calls, work calls, late nights, late mornings, fewer workouts, more drinks, vivid dreams, sad days, long walks. I’m sure my experience of lockdown isn’t anything special compared to those on the frontlines of the NHS, those classed as ‘vulnerable’, or those who have lost a family member. While not particularly special in that sense, all of our experiences are still valid.

I miss my family the most. They were all quarantined together at our home in California before one of my sisters returned to her university housing for the remainder of the school year. But, still the rest of the family is together in our childhood home with our puppy, trying not to kill each other while learning Tik Toks. My oldest sibling is the first to spend her birthday in quarantine, as San Francisco has been on lockdown just as long as London. But, my brother, mom, and youngest sister are all going to be celebrating their birthdays in lockdown. A small, seemingly insignificant thing, but a day when usually the extended family comes around along with friends and neighbours to celebrate. It will be different. Many things will be different, already are.

I’m living for the Snapchats of my puppy, Bailey. Pictured here enjoying the California sun with not one, but two of her favourite balls (look closer).

During this time, I am lucky to still have my job. I work for a small events company and my boss has made it clear to all of us that we will be fine and our salaries will be protected. I am one of the lucky ones. But, I’m also learning new skills as we venture into the world of digital events. There are way more things that can go wrong than I thought and we are learning most of them the hard way. I’ve spent countless hours on Webinar Jam with my boss testing all the different settings and trying to figure out everything that can go wrong and sometimes discovering cool features that are surprisingly helpful. So my weekdays are actually quite full with full-time work, frustrating phone calls and many a ‘can you hear me?’.

My wonderful boss thanked the team for our hard work at setting up the digital events with a cute Fortnum & Mason basket! I’ve always wanted one!

Additionally, I have been finding time for other hobbies. While there really is no need to being doing this, I have always been a planner/organizer/reader anyway. With my friends from Ohio State, I have started a book club to accompany our weekly Skype calls – first up is The Alice Network (if my copy is delivered in time, stay tuned). Conor’s family does weekly Zoom chats as well and each week we are tasked with some creative project so I’ve been painting more as well. And obviously, I am writing this blog. I took a bit of time off from writing when all this stuff first started happening – it was too overwhelming to be doing anything other than living a bare minimum daily life. Now that I’ve found more structure and time in my days, I find myself returning to my hobbies, picking up new ones, and wanting to be more mindful of how I spend my free time.

Just a couple of paintings I did while at my flat in London – playing around with ideas for multiple canvases to decorate my sad walls.
The task for week 2: Put yourself into a famous masterpiece.
Conor and I have been experimenting with our meals because we have the time to put towards cooking more delicious and complex recipes.

Life under lockdown has been very easy in some ways and very difficult in others. I recently produced a livestream with Elizabeth Gilbert who had this advice for us during these trying and uncertain times –

“If there’s anything I could want for you all, it is to give yourself mercy.”

Find something that brings you the kind of joy that produces a Liz Gilbert Smile.

Three things I am grateful for this week:

  1. My morning cup of tea.
  2. A sunny afternoon in the garden.
  3. Conor’s cooking abilities.
I ordered cupcakes on one of my really low days because they are my comfort food and they were delivered like this – all I could do was laugh at this and grab a spoon.

4 Best Afternoon Tea Spots in London

I am a massive fan of afternoon tea – probably because it’s not something I grew up with in the states and who doesn’t love sitting around eating delicious food and drinking delicious tea! Since moving to the UK, I have had my fair share of afternoon teas, most of them good, some not so good and some that really hit it out of the park. Now that I’m more seasoned, I am pickier – usually basing my decision on a tea’s theme, a restaurant’s views, or some other unique aspect to make the most of the experience and the money spent. I can’t wait for the day I own enough tea cups to host my own afternoon tea, but until then, I here to share my top picks of London afternoon teas with you. Enjoy!

London Landmarks Afternoon Tea at The Kensington Hotel

I visited the Kensington Hotel with my parents for afternoon tea while they were in town for my graduation. I had read good reviews and I like a fun-themed tea, so this seemed perfect. The restaurant was relatively quiet – only three other tables full. It has beautiful decor with colorful velvet couches and chairs – it screams trendy millennial but classy. The entire experience was top notch – the menu had a map detailing different London landmarks and each dish corresponded to one of these landmarks. The waitress described each dish as it came out and what it represented. It was a fun way of getting to know London better as well. The food was delicious, the scones were warm and each dessert was mouth-watering. Truly this is one of the best afternoon teas I have ever experienced (which is why it sits at number one!). Located in South Kensington, it is also close to a couple big museums – the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, making it an accessible afternoon activity.

Best For: Theme

Price: £42


Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea at the Sanderson

The Mad Hatter’s Tea is a close second to the best afternoon tea in London. Located at the Sanderson Hotel in Soho, it is as funky as you think it will be, but with a trendy feel. The tea is held on the outdoor terrace in a wonderfully calming garden. When I heard my best friend from university would be visiting London for the first time, I wanted to take her to a fun and memorable afternoon tea – this one did not disappoint. Every aspect of the tea is themed – from the plates to the food to the tea itself. The staff were attentive and brought as many pots of tea and however many types of tea we wanted. We were there for three hours! The food was just a delicious as it looks too. This tea is very popular so definitely book ahead – every table was filled with parties of two to ten.

Best For: Theme

Price: £48


OXO Tower Restaurant

As you probably know by now, I love a good afternoon tea, but Conor hasn’t been to any in London before (shocking I know!). I decided it was time and went on a search for an afternoon tea that was highly rated, had good views, wasn’t too expensive, and would be good for someone who was new to the idea of drinking tea for two hours and eating small portions of food items. I landed on OXO Tower on the south bank near Waterloo, overlooking the river with great views of St. Paul’s. I am a big fan of afternoon teas with a few extra savoury options like a mini Yorkshire pudding and a Scotch quail’s egg to give it something special. The desserts were delicious and the scones were warm. What made this tea stand out for me was the view overlooking the river, especially as the sun set over the London skyline.

Best For: Views

Price: £35


Thames River Cruise – City Cruises

This was the first afternoon tea I did in London with my parents in 2018 – and it’s still one of my favourite experiences. We cruised the length of the Thames, starting near the Tower of London. The boat is encased in glass, allowing you to see all of the sights while also not having to worry about the weather. If you book early enough in advance, you will be able to secure a window seat (it’s not worth it unless you do). It is a simpler afternoon tea, but the food was great quality nonetheless. I enjoyed the array of little desserts, enough variety that there is something for everyone. We had wine with our tea as well, but it’s not necessary. One thing to note – if you get seasick, this is not for you. While I didn’t notice the movement of the boat, it wouldn’t be enjoyable for anyone who is sensitive to the sea (or river in this case). As you can tell from the picture, it was a bit packed as its a popular option for afternoon tea, so if you’re looking for something quiet or intimate, move along. But overall, I really enjoyed experiencing London sightseeing from the water.

Best For: Views

Price: £32


Dana’s Do’s:

  1. Book in advance!
  2. Look for something unique to make the most of the experience.
  3. A great afternoon tea doesn’t have to be expensive, shop around.

20 Things That Are the Same Between England and America (from a U.S. Ex-pat)

I read an article the other day about 50 things that are different in the UK compared to the US, and honestly, most of it was stupid things, like people in the UK don’t use umbrellas. Spoiler alert, they do. Some of the list was legit, but most of it seemed to be a way to make the UK exotic and mysterious. As an American ex-pat, it annoyed me because one of the best things about moving to the UK was the lack of culture shock. Sure they drive on the left and they call it ‘maths’ instead of math, but things really aren’t that different from the states. So, I am making a list of all the things (at least the ones I can think of right now) that are similar or the same between the UK and the US to celebrate shared parts of our cultures.

1. Chain restaurants and coffee shops – Pret is to the UK what Starbucks is to the US.

2. Everyone still passes on the left on escalators and sidewalks. God forbid you should be standing on the left, you might as well have kicked a puppy.

3. The money is just as intuitive, or not, depending on how you view US currency. There are bills with numbers to tell you exactly how much the bill is worth and the coins come in different sizes, just like the US.

4. Kids keep coming up with slang words I have to learn and I blame social media. As soon as I have learned what “rock up” means suddenly Twitter has invented “bomboclaat”. Am I getting old?

5. Everyone loves Nike, Adidas, and Lululemon – big brands are still all the rage in UK fashion. Yes, VSCO girls exist here too.

6. People are divided over the leader of their government (Boris is a second hand Trump).

7. There are massive protests for climate change because people care about that no matter where they are from.

8. Hamilton. The Brits love Hamilton. Color me shocked, but apparently there’s no bad vibes from Brits about the Revolutionary War and they love making fun of the monarchy as much as the next country.

9. Similar to above but the general shopping is the same – H&M, Topshop, Gap, etc. You can shop in British brand stores as well, but if you’re homesick H&M is always here for you.

10. Domino’s is still the best delivery pizza. And they do the same deals as the States. College kids need not fear.

11. Speaking of takeout – Uber eats is a thing here along with Deliveroo (Postmates equivalent). And there’s a filter for “American” cuisine.

12. Like New York or DC or really any city with public transport, don’t talk to anyone on said public transport. This is a no socializing zone.

13. Some of the houses in London are painted all sorts of colors, reminding me of big cities like San Francisco where the residents often do the same.

14. You have to pay for plastic shopping bags in grocery stores, just like in America. (P.S. please have reusable bags on hand, the environment appreciates your effort)

15. Different parts of the country have different accents.

16. There are multiple grocery stores, but as in the US, there is Aldi and Whole Foods.

17. Chipotle has made its way to London.

18. Flights get delayed or canceled just as often in London as they do at any major airport in the US (thanks British Airways, American Airlines, United, etc.).

19. Everyone talks about the weather when they have nothing else to say to you.

20. Brits are as obsessed with their sports as Americans. Rugby/Soccer is to Brits what Football/Basketball is to Americans.

I’m sure the list could go on, and feel free to send me your favorite things that are the same between the UK and the US. I also know there are quite a lot of differences – ‘jumper’ means sweater and ‘trainers’ are sneakers, two things that would have made a couple parts of Harry Potter make more sense to me. But, I like focusing on the aspects that are similar because it keeps away the homesickness and reminds me that while I may be an immigrant, I can fit in pretty well in my new home.

Grad School Abroad- What I Didn’t Expect

I moved to England 38 days ago. It feels like years ago. I have nestled in to my one bedroom apartment above the famous Fitzbillies across the street from Pembroke College, my new home. Pictures hanging from string lights adorn my walls and the softest velour throw pillow lays haphazardly on my bed. My planner is filled with notes from each day, quickly scribbled as not to forget the memories as time flies by here.

There were so many images that filled my head when I thought about grad life before moving here. I pictured lonely nights in my room because friends would be hard to make in the graduate program. I pictured endless hours in the library with no reprieve because graduate school is incredibly difficult. I pictured a previously very involved student becoming solely focused on her program because there would be no time for anything besides books. I had built up these expectations of grad school being scary and hard and nothing like my undergrad because that’s all I had been told by mentors and friends.

Well, they were wrong. All of it was wrong…sort of.

I am at home here. In my month of being here, I have forged some of the strongest friendships I have ever known. I joined the university women’s football team and my college’s May Ball committee. I don’t spend countless hours in the library. Not because my program isn’t hard and doesn’t require work, but because I only have one class a day and a lot of time to prioritize. I’ve had many sleepless nights, due mostly to friends and club nights, rather than studying and stress-induced insomnia. In fact, I’ve only cried twice since being here, and one of those times was listening to the cast of Wicked sing “For Good”. Don’t get me wrong, I do get homesick quite often. The amount of times I have looked at my phone screen and quietly whispered to myself “I miss my dog” is too many to count. But I also have created this incredible support system here, fostered through shared experiences and the art of listening. And this is just the beginning.

As a graduate fresher I am constantly asked how I like it here so far. Sometimes it feels a little arrogant to say that I absolutely love it here and there isn’t anything I don’t like because I know that is not the case for everyone. Maybe I am still in the honeymoon phase and the homesickness hasn’t fully hit me. But I would like to think that these feelings are real and they are here to stay.

I truly love grad school, and that was not a sentence I ever thought I would utter.