Life · travel

Wizarding World of Harry Potter weekend!

I did it. I finally got my letter to Hogwarts. And by “got my letter” I mean I paid a bunch of money for tickets to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. I’ve been a fan of the series for 20 years now and have been dying to visit the theme park ever since it opened. Let me just tell you, after years and years of waiting, it was everything I hoped it would be.

For my first day I got park-to-park passes, which allowed me to ride the Hogwarts express between the two theme parks. Walking thorough the brick wall and stumbling onto Diagon Alley was exactly like I always imagined it was in the books. It felt just like Harry’s first visit where he was simply in awe of everything and didn’t know where to look next. Standing there, looking at all the shops around me, with the sounds of the workers inside the Daily Prophet spilling out of the door next to me, children wearing their house robes and waving their wands, and seeing the dragon perched atop Gringotts in the distance, my eyes honestly got a little teary. The only thing missing was Hagrid.

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I spent my morning walking around Diagon Alley, checking out all the shops and amazing window displays. I heard the bird chirping from inside the vanishing cabinet at Borgin & Burkes, where I went to look at dark and dangerous artifacts. I chuckled at the U-No-Poo and Puking Pastilles display at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and watched a toy version of Delores Umbridge wheel overhead on a unicycle, shouting “I will have order.” I watched the wand ceremony at Ollivanders, spotted a Crumble-Horned Snorkack in the Magical Menagerie, and had an enchanted mirror tell me how lovely I was in Madame Malkin’s. I had my very first butterbeer (and butterbeer mustache) and ate lunch at The Leaky Cauldron. I also rode the Escape from Gringotts ride inside the bank, which was super cool! Every detail in the park was so spot on and true to the books that I was simply blown away.

Outside Diagon Alley were some other familiar sights. I caught a glimpse of Kreacher in the window at number 12 Grimmauld Place and took a look inside the Knight Bus before making my way over to Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station. The short train ride was a fun, mini ride (although the voice they used for Hermione sounded nothing like her), which brought us right into Hogsmeade station.

To be honest, I was slightly less impressed with Hogsmeade overall. It was cool to check out, but there was less to do there and less stuff to look at. I did pay a visit to Honeydukes while I was there though to buy some fun sweet treats to bring back to my hotel room. (I tried the exploding bon bons and peppermint toads.) Of course, the piece de resistance was a visit to Hogwarts castle. *squeeee* The ride inside Hogwarts was awesome (despite the fact that I got slightly motion sick, lol). I wish I could have gotten a video or some photos of the Quidditch pitch, the whomping willow, or the dementors for you guys. Just trust me that it was a fantastic ride. You’ll need to ride it yourselves some day if you can stomach it.

I went back to Diagon Alley my second day and revisited some of my favorite spots. I also decided to give butterbeer softserve a try…at 9 in the morning…because I can do whatever I want on vacation. 🙂 Honestly, I liked the butterbeer ice cream even more than the liquid version, which was a little too sweet for me.

I checked out a little bit of the rest of the Universal parks while I was there, but none of it was as special to me as the Wizarding World parts of the parks. I was exhausted and a little tired of people and lines by the time I went home Monday morning, but I loved every minute of my visit and can’t wait to go back someday.

Books · food · Life · travel · Writing

Step into the Multiverse

I’m back from a trip to the multiverse! This past weekend I went to Atlanta to attend Multiverse Con. What is Multiverse Con, you ask? It’s a newer convention for lovers and creators of fantasy and sci-fi. There were some amazing panels that I attended on Saturday, mostly about writing and story telling. My favorite was probably the “In Conversation with Seanan McGuire” panel, which was basically just a bunch of us sitting around firing questions at Seanan (who is a freaking delight!). I met some incredibly talented and inspiring people – both authors and fans alike – over the weekend. You know I also came home with several books in tow. 🙂

The rest of my time in Atlanta was spent exploring some of the cool neighborhoods, going to the aquarium, and eating a lot of delicious food. (Because half the fun of visiting new places is trying new food.) Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures at the con, so you’ll have to settle for these instead:

Life · travel

September At Last

In my last post I expressed all my disdain for cranberries, chronic pain, and depression. Let’s talk about some positive things this time, shall we?

It’s finally September! You know what that means! I’m sure a few of you are yelling “Back to school” and while you’re technically right, it’s way more exciting than that. (Although, I’m not a parent. Maybe back to school time is a huge relief for you. I’m not judging.) September is the beginning of Halloween season!!! Those who have been following my blog for a few years now know that I am obsessed with Halloween. Why, you ask? BECAUSE IT’S THE GREATEST TIME OF THE YEAR. Over the next 2 months I’ll be posting lots of Fall/Halloween reading recommendations, as well as other related topics.

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…Consider yourselves warned.

In other exciting news, Boyfriend and I are going on a much needed vacation next week. It’s been an incredibly stressful couple of months with all that’s going on at work and my mental health dragging me down. I am more than ready to get away for a while. We were originally trying it plan a trip to Paris, but, alas, the stars (and prices) were not aligning, so we will be going to Portland and Seattle instead. I loved my first visit to Portland and can’t wait to get to explore more if it this time. I promise, there will be lots of pictures from the stacks at Powell’s, mountain views, and delicious food when we get back.

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Lastly, I have a very important announcement that I need to share with you all: My cat, Merlin, is adorable.

You’re welcome.

Books · food · Life · travel

New York/BookCon 2019 Weekend (part 2)

Earlier in the week I told you all about the amazing time I had at BookCon this year, but I didn’t get to tell you about the rest of my fabulous weekend in New York. I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. I love New York City – the sights, the sounds, the people, the endless amount of things to see and do, and (most of all) THE FOOD. I could have easily spent the rest of my week there and still wouldn’t have been ready to come home.

I arrived Friday morning and made a beeline for Chelsea Market, which, in my humble opinion, is one of the best food/shopping halls in the country. While I was there I downed a huge bowl of delicious, thick hand-pulled noodles with cumin-lamb sauce, immediately followed by a black-and-white cookie (a childhood favorite of mine). Definitely not a bad start to my trip.

After checking onto my AirBnb I spent several hours wandering the streets of the city, hitting up old favorites and new places that I wanted to check out. One of my favorites was a bookstore called Kinokuniya. The bottom floor was filled with nothing but books in Japanese and a huge selection of stationary and Asian-themed gifts. The second floor was packed with English books of every genre, including tons of Japan-focused books (the cookbook section was amazing!). The top floor was packed with nothing but English and Japanese language manga, graphic novels, and anime. If there weren’t a dozen other places I wanted to visit, I would have easily spent half of my day in that store.

That night I ate Japanese curry and paid a visit to one of my favorite bakeries, Bibble & Sip, where I got a white chocolate-matcha cream puff, plus Totoro and Lucky Alpaca macarons.

BookCon took up most of my days on Saturday and Sunday. When I wasn’t hanging out with all the other book nerds, I was eating more delicious food and simply enjoying my surroundings. By the time Monday morning rolled around I was tired from all the walking and adventures, but it was worth every minute (and calorie). 🙂

Books · travel

Wanderlusting: Bookstores Around the World (Part 2)

It’s time for another round of overdue bookish wanderlust. 🙂

Libreria Acqua Alta (Venice, Italy) – The name literally translates to “bookstore of high water.” Due to the high rising waters in Venice, the shop owner decided to pile all of the shop’s merchandise into bathtubs, canoes, and various other types of waterproof containers so that the his precious books would not be destroyed. I imagine it’s quite difficult to actually find things this way, but I’d still love to check it out someday!

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El Ateneo Grand Splendid (Buenos Aires) – A bookstore in an old theater! Tell me this doesn’t look like a dreamy place to get lost for an afternoon.

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Parnassus Books (Nashville, Tennessee) – Definitely not the most visually stunning on my list of bookstores, but I’ve heard so many wonderful things about author Ann Patchett’s shop. They do lots of events showcasing well-known and local authors, carry a large selection of fiction and non-fiction titles, and even have a bookmobile that delivers books to the community. (I wish we had a mobile bookstore like that!)

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Need some more bookish wanderlusting? Check out Part 1!

Books · food · Life · travel

How YOU doin’?

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It’s been a little while since I’ve posted, so I thought it would be good to check in. I’ve been super busy lately with work, as this is our busiest time of the year. Between the extra hours worked and the stress of it all, I often come home and act like a giant slug in the evenings. Fortunately, we only have about two more weeks of this nonsense and then things should be returning to normal.

Despite the craziness at work, I’ve actually been feeling a lot better lately. I’ve been incorporating some alternate forms of medicine into my routine, plus more daylight hours means I have more capability to get outside and exercise. Winter is a rough time for people with depression, but fortunately I think I’m pulling myself back out of it again.

Boyfriend and I took an overnight trip to Raleigh this weekend for some exploring and shenanigans. The majority of the trip was spent consuming ridiculously delicious food (Morgan Street Food Hall is amazing!) and going to the Museum of Natural Science. Of course, we also paid a visit to one of my favorite independent bookstores, Quail Ridge Books.

 

What I’m currently reading:

Books · Life · travel

Wanderlusting: Bookstores Around the World (Part 1)

It’s been a little while since I’ve done a wanderlust post. Don’t worry, it’s not because I’m losing my sense of adventure or desire to travel. I’ve actually been planning and researching for the upcoming trips I’ll be going on this year.

There are two things I look for first when considering a place to visit: the culinary scene and how many bookstores they have. As a proclaimed foodie and bibliophile, these are the things that speak most to me. They call me late in the evening and whisper in my ear whilst I’m asleep. “Come to me!” they say. And I listen.

Perhaps I will do a future series of posts about all the foodie destinations I plan to visit someday, but for now, since this is primarily a book blog, I’ll focus on the bookstores.

Eliot Bay Books (Seattle, Washington) – There isn’t much history to this one, but I’ve heard it’s the best bookstore in Seattle.

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Shakespeare and Company (Paris, France) – This one has been around since 1919. The apartment upstairs housed several famous authors over the years, like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Boyfriend and I will definitely be visiting this one when we visit Paris in the Fall.

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Livraia Lello (Porto, Portugal) – One of the most stunning bookstores in the world, the neo-Gothic building was said to have been the source of inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s depiction of Hogwarts.

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The Last Bookstore (Los Angeles, California) – Lots of quirky character packed into this store, in addition to a quarter-million new and used titles. I can’t even imagine how many people go here every year just to take pictures under the tunnel of books.

Books · food · Life · travel

New Orleans: Where you Beignet All My Life? (Part 2)

My second day in New Orleans was an early one. I woke with the eager anticipation of a child on Christmas morning, only it wasn’t presents I was looking forward to. It was something better: Beignets! Cafe du Monde had been on my list of places to try for about 15 years now. Yes, it sounds touristy of me to say that one of my favorite things about NOLA was Cafe du Monde, but I don’t care. If there’s something wrong with eating hot, crispy French doughnuts covered in powdered sugar than I sure as hell don’t want to be right.

Strolling around the French Quarter in the morning is quite a different experience than it is during the afternoon/evening. There are less people about, making things a little more laid-back and quiet, which is always preferable. I loved strolling along the canal early in the morning, watching the ferries in the distance while the smell of beignets fresh out of the fryer filled the air. I could certainly use more mornings like that.

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Mid-morning I hopped on a streetcar and rode out to the Garden District. The Garden District has quite a different feel than the Quarter. It’s more of quiet, residential area, with picturesque homes, tree-lined streets, and old cemeteries. The first (and probably my favorite) cemetery I visited was Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. I’ve mentioned before how I’m a little obsessed with cemeteries, especially ones with lots of character. Lafayette was by far one of the coolest cemeteries I’ve ever visited. I took so many pictures that it’s hard to pick out just a few to share!

I even made a friend while I was there. 🙂

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After the cemetery, I paid a visit to another local bookshop, Garden District Books. It was a great shop with a nice variety of genres to choose from. Small as it was, I still probably could have spent a few hours wandering around there. I ventured a few  blocks over to Magazine St., to check out the shops, art galleries, and (of course) the food scene. On my way there I paid a visit to author Anne Rice’s house. (I now realize that I should have gone in the evening to see if I could catch glimpse of any vampires.)

That evening, I took part in a Haunted History tour that took us all around the Quarter, pointing out various locations that were rumored to be haunted by ghosts. I don’t really believe in ghosts, but it was still fun, nonetheless. I enjoyed learning more about the history of the city and hearing about some of the creepy/disturbing things that have happened along the way. (For all you American Horror Story fans: Part of the tour was the infamous Lalaurie mansion, which just so happened to be a couple of blocks from my hotel.) I definitely thought about sleeping with the lights on that night. Hehe.

My last day was filled with more wandering, both in and outside the French Quarter. I was truly amazed that even on day 3, I still came across places I’d yet to discover. There were street performers, musicians, and all manners of folks out and about, simply enjoying the weekend. After spending a few days eating and sight-seeing my way across the city, I was quite sad to leave. I realize now that my original perception about New Orleans was not entirely accurate. New Orleans isn’t just a city where people go to get drunk. It’s a place to celebrate beauty, culture, and the art of being alive.

food · Life · travel

New Orleans: Where You Beignet All My Life? (Part 1)

Greetings, friends! After three exciting, fun, and exhausting days in New Orleans, I am back home.

I’ll be honest with you, I was a tad nervous my first day there, as I always am when arriving in a new city by myself. I wasn’t about to let fear ruin my trip though! After a quick check in at my hotel, I took a stroll around the French Quarter to combat any doubts that had been lingering. Within minutes I was in awe of the beautiful sights the city had to offer and immediately felt more at ease. Everywhere you look in the French Quarter you’ll find stunning architecture and art. Every building, whether a small business or large mansion, is resplendent with balconies and galleries framed in cast iron railings, colorful facades, and arched windows. There are hidden courtyards with tables and chairs, elaborate fountains, and classical statues. Every nook and cranny has as much art and beauty as you’d find in any museum. It’s like stepping back into a piece of history every time you walk down the street.

 

I spent most of my first day just exploring and people-watching. I took a ten minute stroll down Bourbon St. (the famous street in New Orleans where everyone goes to get drunk and party) and quickly decided that it was not my scene. Even while avoiding Bourbon St., I found plenty of things to keep me busy. There’s so much to do in New Orleans, that it’s impossible to even make a dent during just one visit.

 

I paid a visit to Faulkner House Books, the former home of William Faulkner, where he wrote his first novel. It was a tiny little shop, but it was packed floor to ceiling with classics and rare editions. They didn’t have much in the way of the genres I like, but it was still cool to check out anyway. I discovered lots of other fun and quirky shops, the French Market (an airy, outdoor market that was half specialty stalls and half flea market), Jackson Square, the wharf, and, of course, restaurant after restaurant.

For me, no trip is ever complete without me sampling as much of the local cuisine as I can. One of the biggest reasons I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans is because I’ve heard how amazing the cuisine is. “Amazing” doesn’t even cover it. The food I had there was probably some of the best I’ve ever had. It’s not all about the fancy restaurants either, even a po’boy from the corner deli is carefully crafted and packed with more flavor than you can imagine. I ate SO much during my trip and it was worth every freaking calorie. 🙂

Part 2 to follow!

Books · food · Life · mental health · travel

Reasons to Stay Alive (2018)

I wasn’t going to do a reflection post on 2018 this year. With all the “Top 9s” on social media, the New Years resolutions, and the look backs, I figured that everyone would be growing kind of sick of hearing about it at this point. This morning, however, I had a change of heart. You see, today was the first day back at work after a four day weekend. (Even longer for those of my co-workers who have been off since Christmas.) Like any day back after a mini vacation, I expected work to suck today. Surprisingly, everyone was in a cheerful mood – wishing each other a happy new year, talking about how they spent their holidays, and just generally pleased to see each other. What surprised me even more was that I was one of those people.

LIVE

This time last year I was really struggling. I’d been in therapy for a few months, but hadn’t clicked well with my therapist. Rather than make any sort of progress, I felt myself slipping further and further into the abyss. While everyone else was wishing each other a happy new year, I was walking around feeling angry with everyone and hating myself. Shortly after the start of the year I started to have all sorts of health issues. I injured my shoulder and had an almost non-stop kidney pains/infections, which would last for almost six months. My eating disorder still had a strong presence in my life, despite all the weak attempts I made to kick it back. I was eating, but not always enough. I was so focused on my weight, what I was eating, and being “good enough,” that every time I ate a meal I practically burst into tears.

By Spring I was reading books and articles expounding on all the reasons that I should not kill myself.

I was certainly not the “New Year, New Me” poster child. Slowly, I kept dragging myself along anyway until one day I began pulling myself out of the hole I’d dug. One inch at a time. With the help of my therapist, medication, and a lot of hard work, I began to understand what I needed to do to really help myself. In June, I took a huge leap outside of my comfort zone and took a trip to New York all by myself. The trip itself wasn’t wholly responsible for the transformation I made, but it definitely set the wheels in motion. During that trip I rekindled my passion for life and food, and discovered my newfound love for travel. (You can read more about that trip here.)

Since then I’ve done so many things that I’m proud of. I’ve put a ton of effort into writing my first novel (Something I’ve dreamed of doing ever since I was a child). I’ve faced my fear of doing things alone and learned to enjoy my own company. I traveled to Portland, OR and began planning future solo trips. I’ve taken charge of my health, despite my eventual diagnosis of chronic bladder/kidney problems. I’ve read the books I wanted, made more time for the things I enjoy, and spent more time with friends. I jumped back into the kitchen with abandon, trying everything I can. I’ve made things (like my holiday Buche de Noel) that sent me through the roof with joy. I started living my life again.

Of course, life will never be perfect. I’ve still had my moments of frustration, doubt, fear, and anxiety. I’ve had setbacks and bad days. About one month ago, I had to say goodbye to my dog, and best friend, of fourteen years. It was hard and I still miss him every single day. But, I know that loss is a part of life and that Beaker will always be with me, even if it’s only in my heart. Despite the setbacks, the bad days, and my grief, I am still ten times better than I was this time last year (even on my best day).

I’ve come quite a long way since the start of 2018. I not only endured and pulled myself through, but I found at least a dozen reasons to stay alive. I can’t wait to find a dozen more this year. Here’s to 2019.

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