I spent a few hours last night going through photos on my iPad, clearing out 4,356 photos that didn’t need to be in my cloud from the year 2020. I do this after every year finishes and I’m a bit late to the game this time around. I’m pretty sure I was just avoiding looking back. It’s been a rather strange year hasn’t it? In the years prior to 2020, I had travelled annually to roughly 40-60 different locations around the globe, writing about resorts, new launches or fashion shows. 2020 was the first year that I had my feet on the ground, in England, for 9/10s of it. For all of us, this has been a year like nothing we have ever experienced before.
In my mind, when I was thinking back on 2020, I felt immediately “dulled.” I thought to myself, “this won’t be fun going back through this year, it will be miserable. This is a year when nothing happened.” Only, I couldn’t have been more wrong. And so I wanted to share this, because I do believe for some, this will be a year that is hard to think about, but perhaps our camera rolls hold a different story.
As I scrolled back through thousands of photos, there were some heart-in-stomach reminders of what was a year of incredible uncertainty and great change. There’s no getting around that. But then, for me personally, there were so many moments that made me laugh. There were also moments that made me think, “this is how we dealt with that and it’s ok, because we did what we had to and we got through it.” We ate, we drank, we did ridiculously stupid DIYs. We hiked, we walked, we met buffalo and befriended ducks. We did so much we would have never done, and maybe never would have, had it not been for the change in the world.
Am I saying I’m glad 2020 and the pandemic happened? Most definitely not. What I’m saying is, it did happen. We all went through it together and are still going through it. Some of us have lost people we love, some have been incredibly ill and still are. There has been great sadness in the 12 months that were 2020, for many reasons, not just the pandemic. But, there have been incredible triumphs too. Incredible triumphs. In this year, the world was presented with an obstacle that brought the globe to a virtual standstill. In that same year, a solution was found that is now being rolled out in the hopes that normality can return. And it will, the world will go back to normal and we will all spend a year or two being grateful for everything, from going to the movies to stepping onto an airplane. And maybe that gratefulness will start to diminish and we’ll just think 2020 was a blip on the radar of our lives and carry on as usual. Who knows what the future holds?
Here’s what I do know, after looking back on 2020 through my pictures. This was a year that was also filled with incredible connection, with people all over the world. It was a year where people asked “are you ok” and didn’t accept the answer “I’m fine.” I have the proof. I screengrabbed endless messages from people I’ve never met, sending kind words when I shared I was homesick or funny memes when I tried my hand at baking certain things for the first time and failed miserably. My photos included screengrabs of every time I facetimed with my family or dogs at home. And yes, there was a lot of screen time with Boomer and Brody. I have photos of all the crap food Steve and I shoved into our mouths to comfort ourselves while watching the news everyday. I have photos of trousers not fitting because of that very same food. Ha! I even have family zoom call pictures from Thanksgiving and Christmas. Both holidays were our first apart, and both were so incredible, regardless, because of technology allowing us to connect and be together.
Perhaps more importantly than anything else, I have a record of a year where absolutely nothing was certain, not even our lives. And somehow we made the best of it all. We laughed a lot. I cried a lot more. But my camera roll tells a tale of how we survived. We lived the “bloom where you planted” mentality to a new level, and as I looked back I ended up smiling at the memories for 2020. From wearing a ridiculous duvet dress (man, what were we all thinking?) to celebrating the new year by going to bed at 11pm for fear of cursing the year ahead… it was all in there to look back on and think, “what a year, like none other I hope I ever have to experience, but what a year indeed.”
So, where am I going with this? Well, I’m encouraging you to do the same. We were all so quick to dismiss 2020. We wanted it over and done with. And now that we all know January 1, 2021 didn’t magically resolve all of our problems, maybe it’s time to take a step back and let your camera roll show you what a year it was, warts and all. Yes, there will be tough moments, tougher for some than others, for 1,001 different reasons. But, it is also a year where magical things happened, where we saw great change in our world for the better because of so many events, both hard and inspirational. Maybe let’s stop saying ” man, I’m glad 2020 is over,” and instead say, “I’m glad I survived 2020 and here’s the proof that the year was one I will never forget.”
Alright, you’ve come this far in this tremendous essay, so I thought I’d share a brief snapshot of my year, the photos that made me uncomfortable alongside the photos that made me smile, but each making up the tapestry of a year. Enjoy. And please note, I’m starting from the day our lives started to see a change because of the pandemic… These are pictures I haven’t shared before, just a raw look at how things unfolded and moments I’m grateful for. There’s nothing romantic or finessed, just mainly good old iPhone captures that never make it out anywhere…
I went to the supermarket to buy some milk and eggs and passed by the toilet paper section to see a lady grabbing the last packet of loo roll. And this is the memory of toilet paper being more valuable than gold in London town.
Things were just starting to get strange. The tube was completely empty at 10:00am on a Monday morning… unheard of. I was going to meet Steve. This would be the day that changed everything for us. You can read the full story, if you need a reminder of what happened next, here.
My 40th Birthday. Know what I did to celebrate when I couldn’t see anyone or go anywhere? I ordered a pizza, grabbed an ice cold coke and rented “Little Women” on Apple TV. I had also spent the last 12 hours packing up my entire London life, all 20 years of it, to move out to the country.
Moving Day and a picture of everything I was moving out to the country. There are still books on the shelves and ornamental things left behind as the flat was going on the market and needed to be staged. I also passed a sign on a deserted London street that made me chuckle in the middle of what already seemed like madness.
Our first week living in the country, March 21st-28th:
For those of you living in the UK, you will remember that this was the start of some of the most glorious weather I’ve ever seen in the UK, after 20 years of living here. We were so thankful for the sun and went out everyday to walk and absorb as much vitamin D as we could manage.
We made friends with ducks, we ate like we were teenagers, we took time to watch the sunset at night, we waved at dogs in windows and I fell in love with a village and, at times, refused to ever wear shoes! Yes, it was that warm!
By the end of March, I’d give in, just like everyone else, and started baking… banana bread… remember those days?
Our first trip to the big supermarket and the first where we had to queue to get in. Twenty minutes later we had the most calm shopping experience ever. Only about 20 people in the whole supermarket and the people that worked there were angels! Truly, anyone that claims the people working in the shops weren’t frontline workers, well, they’ve got a screw loose!
One of many to come…. webcams with Boomer…
Really pushing out the boat with the baking… discovering that cookies and Rose are a wonderful mid afternoon snack combo for happiness.
Also also that French Toast makes a wonderful meal any time of the day…
The day I decided to jump on the Duvet Dress trend. You’ve seen this before but I just had to include because it is a ridiculous moment and one I always want to remember. These are the ridiculous things we did in the early days.
I saw my first full bloom bluebell woods. And I embarrassed the heck out of myself by telling everyone we came across. People couldn’t believe I’d never seen bluebells in the wild before. They popped up everywhere around the village. I felt so grateful and also somewhat ashamed for feeling happy in these moments.
I tried curling my hair by wrapping it with a bathrobe tie and sleeping in it overnight. Wasn’t for me, but I at least managed to capture a swanky before. The after wasn’t worth photographing. This was definitely the year of trying the ridiculous.
One of our neighbours starts leaving daily quotes at the end of her drive for those out getting their daily exercise. This is only the beginning of the beautiful things we witnessed from the community in this village.
I walk through my first field of sheep and the whole time I’m convinced one will charge me at any moment. Glad to report I made it through safely and learned sheep are more afraid of us than we are of them!
I meet me first baby buffalo. Oh wait, I forgot to tell you we live on the edge of a buffalo farm. Found that out on day one…something Steve had never told me about his hometown.
Starbucks reopens after having been closed for what seems forever in lockdown. So while out grocery shopping in town, we went through a drivethru and grabbed a Starbucks. It had been two months since our last iced latte. This day was considered a win. Hey, I know it isn’t much… but it felt like a lot.
That very same day I was craving a Mcdonald’s Big Mac, but the golden arches were still closed, so I learned how to make a dupe at home…
In fact, just a few days later, on a junk food binge, I also found an online recipe for Sesame Chicken. As we couldn’t get any takeaway out here at the time, I was on a roll. I would also like to state, for the record, that I had never cooked for Steve before and only knew how to cook two recipes before 2020. Just look at me now.
I bought and planted my first hydrangea and was actually getting compliments on how beautiful they were from the neighbours. Guys, it turns out I’m a domestic goddess with a green thumb. Who knew? Well, the answer is nobody because it’s not true, but I liked pretending as a distraction.
I also found where I would spend many many days in the summer coming… with my feet wading in this beautiful crystal clear water…
We also had our first rose fully bloom on this day. It smelt heavenly and I firmly believe it was a gift, in some way, from Steve’s mom. It was the only full bloom, by a long shot, on the giant bush and when it bloomed it faced directly into the kitchen. I felt like it was meant for Steve. It felt like a sign.
Fast forward a few weeks and the world has reopened, to some extent. I was going back into London occasionally. A mask mandate hadn’t come into existence yet, but we were all socially distancing and washing our hands like mad.
My family is all together in South Carolina. A hard day. But Steve made a feast of American foods so that we could celebrate the day. This is what the rather unhealthy and hilarious combination looked like. That’s a hot dog, onion rings, mac & cheese bites, onion rings and a coke. I’m pretty sure no one else in America was eating this combination on this day. But, looking back it makes me laugh and appreciate how lucky I was to be with someone I love on this day.
Steve and I actually contemplate buying a popup hot tub. What were we thinking? We did not do it! But I swear everywhere we looked, people were snapping these up. It was headline news! One of only a handful of trends we didn’t jump on!
I’m back in London for a day of work and this is the first time I see that even seating is all marked clearly around town… things have definitely changed everywhere. Somehow seeing this makes it all a bit more real and harder. Also, everywhere you looked, shops were thanking frontline workers. Again, a real upside to this year seeing the communities come together to honour those working to keep us safe.
While many shops were empty, there was a still a line outside Hermes…
I was still in London and had a very special meeting before going back out to the country. I was meeting Claude, the beautiful golden retriever, and his family, for the first time in Hampstead Heath. Pubs were open. At this point we were allowed to sit in gardens outdoors and sip pints together. Feels like ages ago now. But, this was a day that I am forever thankful for.
Back in London for more meetings, a quick stop at the Orange Buffalo Food Truck for one of them and a slow walk back into central London from Brick Lane.
Heatwave central and I have hundreds of pictures of poor Bonjour wishing we had air conditioning.
The rest of August was a blur. Basically a lot of trips to and from London for work, which you will have already seen me talk about. Then, when I was at home, I was pretty much exhausted and didn’t take many photos at all. Then September came… and I had to make a tough decision of whether to risk going home to the USA or not. This wasn’t an easy choice to make. I had to go but felt uncomfortable putting myself and my family at any risk. We managed the trip with intense scrutiny with safety in mind, paired with quarantining on both ends.
A completely empty plane. There were 12 people on my whole flight home. The airport itself felt like a ghost town, but the flight was just bazaar. I had upgraded myself with miles as I wanted to make sure I had plenty of room to socially distance. I was the only person in the cabin! It was all just too strange for words.
But the end result was this…just pure happiness and a promise to never ever take time with my family for granted again.
It was time to go home. There was somebody that was pretty unhappy about that and wasn’t hiding it. When I left I lifted his ear and whispered, “I don’t know when, but I promise I’ll be back.” I gotta tell you I was still one of those thinking this would all be over by the end of the year, by some miracle.
Fast forward a few weeks… after getting back to the UK and quarantining for two weeks in the country, not leaving the house once for fear of bringing absolutely any harm to this village (and because it was the law).
I finally break free on…
October 16th 2020
And the first place I want to go is a pumpkin patch! I feel the need to be festive and I’m determined.
Also, it appears Bonjour is glad that I’m back and she has something to do…. crash photoshoots!
I then decide I need to kick Halloween up a notch and I continue my baking streak by making my first pumpkin cake. I felt like it was a success…
I’m not the only one obsessed with all things festive. Seems everyone kicked it up a notch this year. Marks & Spencer had a whole section of Halloween food! Let’s be honest… this was the year we needed that to happen!
I have my first chelsea bun from our local bakery and I feel like the whole world has changed colour. This is… well, there are no words for how good this is. Autumn is also in full swing and it’s gorgeous outside. Turns out the world had actually turned colour, it wasn’t just the bun 🙂 We are walking every single day, enjoying the crisp air around us as the season changed with every passing day.
I find my favourite tree that sits on a hill overlooking the village.
November 10th, 11th, 12th
Bonjour curls up with me on the couch for the very first time. We have progress…
And it happens again the next night…
Yup, this becomes a thing.
I think think I’m Dr. Doolittle and have a special bond with animals and try my hand at befriending sheep…. it doesn’t go as well.
November 26th, 2020, Thanksgiving
This is a day all about being together with family and friends and we were in a tier where that wasn’t allowed. So instead, we decided to cook ourselves dinner and also cook dinner for friends, which would be delivered, to share Thanksgiving. It all looked a little something like this… the takeaway we made and delivered (plus some stuff for a veggie in the family… first for me on Thanksgiving but I hear we did alright) and a moment of Thanksgiving traditions… American football!
The tree went up. I wanted to do it right after Thanksgiving, Steve wanted to wait until the middle of December. In the end, we both gave in to the idea that Christmas needed to last as long as possible this year. We needed all the Christmas cheer.
I now own more masks than I do shoes….
I see the village Santa parade for the first time, with modifications for Covid. The joy this brought is way beyond expectation.
Christmas Eve 2020
I share a picture of myself as a baby with Steve to see if he really loves me…. he laughs and says I look like a Will Ferrell character from SNL. I guess that’s love?
Christmas Day 2020
Steve proves he belongs on Masterchef…
I cook my “crazy American Christmas dishes”….
And we eat until we can’t move and then zoom with family.
New Year’s Eve 2020
We go for a long walk, come home and go to bed…. way before midnight, both promising to not make any promises at all. On NYE 2019, I said “this is going to be the best year of our lives.” Never again… never saying those words again 🙂
So, there you go. A year in the life of silly photos not shared anywhere else. I hope it made you smile and maybe gave a bit of insight into how life looked in and out of lockdown in the countryside of England.
Wherever you are reading this from, I do hope you are healthy and safe. I hope you too have something to look back on in 2020 that will make you smile.
Here’s hoping we can find all of ourselves in a better situation sometime in 2021.