April 10, 2018

Coffee Date: April( (in Hawaii!) Edition

Aloha from Hawaii!

Remember me? I started off the year with a bold determination to get back into blogging...and then I let two months go without even trying to write a blog post. It makes me sad because I really do love this space and it's been hard to make it a priority for a long time now.

I wish I could say that this time, I've been away for a good reason - that I have so much to catch up on from all of the wonderful trips I've taken and fabulous things I've done over the last few months, but the truth is, I've been working a lot and I haven't really wanted to leave my house much because this winter has just been brutal.

But I'm exhausted. Until now, I hadn't taken a vacation in 5 months and this endless winter has just really worn me down. So a few weeks ago, I called up my good friend, Carolann, and asked her if I could come visit her in Hawaii, and I came as soon as I could.

Carolann asked me what I wanted to do when I got here and I told her, "absolutely nothing." We've done more than that but there has been a lot of down time and sitting on the beach, which is exactly what I needed. I feel immensely better. I was supposed to get home yesterday but one downside to the perk of being able to travel whenever and wherever is the risk of not getting a seat as a standby passenger. Getting out of Hawaii right now is proving a little bit difficult, so I'm working some immensely early mornings from here until I can get back home. 

Since it's been so long, let's catch up (over a steaming mug of Hawaiian blend with condensed milk, if you want to match my Aloha spirit!).

I turned 31 in February...and said good riddance to 30, the hardest and worst year of my life. The Pilot and I celebrated both of our birthdays, which are 1 week apart, with a road trip to Charlottesville, VA.

I haven't run a single mile in 2018... and its (mostly) been by choice, though the endless winter we're having hasn't made me miss running and I had a few doctors suggest that cutting back on running might be good for me. This isn't by any means a permanent thing and I think I'm going to start running again this month, easing back into it if (and only if) the weather cooperates. I'm over this 40-degree nonsense and I won't run in it in April.

I haven't been reading much lately... unless you count all of the reading I've been doing for work on education systems in West Africa and our current government's practical guarantee of another financial crisis. I haven't just skipped mine and Carolann's monthly link up because I haven't been blogging, I haven't been reading either. It took me almost the entire month to read the last book I read and I've been suffering through a horrendous nonfiction audiobook for 2 months that I can't seem to quit. I didn't even bring any books to Hawaii but luckily, Carolann has plenty for me to borrow! 

The Pilot and I are planning our next trip to Paris. We've gone to Paris every other year since 2012, merely by coincidence but on our third trip there in 2016, we decided to make it a routine. We want to add on to the trip either with some time om the south of France, or going back to Portugal, or seeing somewhere totally new. I have my heart set on Budapest but we'll see. 

I really miss living in DC. The Pilot and I both do. I fully expected this. Neither one of us ever really wanted to leave DC but the city's housing market is pretty inaccessible. I'm glad I still commute to the city a few days a week but I miss living there. I like Baltimore enough but DC is home. I have zero regrets about buying our home or moving to Baltimore and I hope I come to love Baltimore in its own way but I think I'll always miss DC. It's the first city I've lived in after London that I ever truly loved living in.

I wish I had more to say about what I've been up to these last few months but to be honest, I really don't. The Pilot has been flying a lot and I've been working a lot. I really hate cold weather so outside of going to work and walking Peyton, I've spent most of my time hibernating and getting settled into our house, but Hawaii has been so good for me and I'm excited to get home to (hopefully) warmer weather and head into spring with a new perspective!

What have I missed in the blog world lately?
Have you taken any vacations lately? Planning any exciting trips?

February 8, 2018

12 Projects We're Tackling in Our New House

When we started house hunting, I was really drawn to the idea of a fixer-upper. I'm not afraid of getting my hands dirty and I have a lot of experience with random things like putting up drywall, using various saws, and laying tile.

Our house was listed as "move-in ready," which from a real estate perspective is true. That's not to say though that there isn't a long list of projects that need to be done. Some are bigger than others and some are unexpected projects that have come up since we moved in but here's a full list of everything we're hoping to tackle in the house! A few weeks in, I have to say, I'm so happy we didn't get a fixer-upper! There's enough to tackle in our house that I'm happy to not have to install new doors throughout the entire house!

1. A full kitchen renovation - I really hope we can make this happen this year but I know what kitchens cost. I've hated every kitchen I've ever had so it's super important for me to have a kitchen that I love. Right now, I definitely don't love our kitchen. I'm not a fan of butcher block countertops and honestly, I could take or leave the farmhouse sink. Even aside from that, the cabinets were repainted with flat paint as opposed to semi-gloss paint, so while they photograph well they don't look very good in person. Luckily, the appliances are all new and the layout is perfect so we aren't looking at a total kitchen overhaul. Inspiration

2. A new pantry - Our pantry has an organizing system but it's rotting and needs at least one other row of shelves. Plus, the walls inside are really scuffed up and need a lot of spackle so I want to take down the whole system and put in one that's a little more functional. Inspiration

3. Remodeling the bathrooms - All three bathrooms are in rough shape. They have horrible linoleum floors, bad lighting, vanities that are falling apart, and one of them is missing a vanity mirror. I also want to pull these fixtures down ASAP! Inspiration.

4. Built-in Bookshelves - This is literally my dream. The first time I saw the house, I said that this back wall in the living room needed serious help. I can't wait to tackle built-ins and be one step closer to my dream of having a Beauty & the Beast style library in my home. Inspiration.

5. Installing a fireplace mantle and giving the fireplace a facelift I think adding the mirror helps but this little wall has so much potential! The DIY Playbook recently featured a story on Instagram in which they gave their fireplace (which looks a lot like mine!) a makeover. It definitely gave me the confidence I need to do the same to ours without worrying about melting anything! Inspiration

6. Exposed brick in the office. - Most Baltimore (and DC) row houses have exposed brick and I'm a little disappointed that ours doesn't. Luckily, I can easily change that! How great would this space look with the back wall done in brick?! Inspiration.

7. Remodeling the laundry room - For better or for worse, we've already started this project. When we moved in, our washing machine was full of black mold and nothing would get it clean. We tried having the gasket replaced but the machine was too old, so less than a week after moving in, we had to replace the machine. Luckily, we were able to get a good deal since it was the end of the year! The laundry room had the same linoleum as the bathrooms so, once we got the machines out, we tore that up and laid new flooring (it was NOT as easy as that sounds). While I love the new flooring, I realized that the paint color doesn't look right with it so we're going to repaint the laundry room and install a chandelier that drops down to replace the fluorescent lighting and remedy the horrible lighting in the room! When I come home from work, this is usually the room I come in through so I really want this room to feel homey! Inspiration.

8. Fixing the doors - The weatherstripping on our front and back doors was completely painted over, ruining it. Unfortunately, new weatherstripping hasn't helped keep the temperature on the first floor at a reasonable level. Not only is this horrible for our heating bill but we can't even stand to be there. I have to wear my winter coat just to do laundry! I think we need to start with storm doors to hopefully keep some of the cold air out!

9. Painting and staining the stair rails - I am not a fan of oak. I don't know if I want to stain the banister and paint the rails or if I want to stain the whole thing. I'm leaning toward the former. What do you think? Inspiration.

11. Replacing all light switches and faceplates - This is a super annoying project. When we moved, almost all of the outlets and faceplates had been painted over. The ones that hadn't, are just really grimy. This was one of the first things I wanted to take on but I haven't managed to do it yet.

12. Seal the hole above the television - There's a giant hole behind this faceplate that was supposed to be sealed before we moved in, but we ended up with this faceplate instead. I bought some wire mesh that I'm going to patch it up with and then spackle and paint it. Then, I'm going to hang some frames around the TV to give the wall some color!

I consider us really lucky that aside from the washing machine and the doors, these are all cosmetic projects that will just help make the house feel more like our home! It's a long list but I think we can manage all of these this year! As we're making progress, I'll share before and afters and projects on my blog! I think the first things we're going to tackle from this list are the outlet covers, the fireplace, and the office! 

If you own a home, what were some of the first projects you did in your house?

February 7, 2018

No Makeup House Tour

Every year since I started blogging, I've had the idea to post a tour of my apartment. I've never actually gotten around to it because I never managed to "stage" my place to get it photo-ready.

Recently, I came across the idea of a "no makeup" house tour - a photo shoot of the house as is, not staged, not styled, just lived in. Now, 98% if those posts I've seen have absolutely been staged in some way. Come on, I know that you don't have a tray of fresh flowers just sitting on your bed with two magazines placed just so on any given Tuesday.

Today, I'm giving you the real deal no makeup house tour...with unpacked boxes, messy corners, and laundry that hasn't been put away. While I like to think our house will usually look a little bit better than this, I'm excited about our new home and wanted to share it, so here's the tour!

The First Floor - This is the least exciting floor of the house. It really only has the laundry room and office, and not much else. Since we've moved in, we've managed to raise the temperature of the 1st floor from 42 degrees to 53 degrees, so we haven't done much there because it's way too cold to do anything!

We did have to replace the washer/dryer right after we moved in (there was black mold inside the washing machine!) which resulted in us having to replace the floor. As you can see, I've managed to do some spackling on the walls but haven't gotten around to touching them up with paint. I have big plans for this room!

My Office: I can't wait to finish this space! Working from home 3-4 days every week means I really need a comfortable working space. I have so many fun ideas for my office and we're getting started on it this weekend! For now, though, it's just a mess.

The Second Floor - The second floor is the main living area. This is where the kitchen and dining room, half bathroom, and living room are. I love that this space is separated from the bedrooms upstairs, and from the office downstairs! It definitely creates a nice flow through the house for when we entertain or when I'm working and The Pilot is home!

The Kitchen: This is one of the first areas of the house that I want to renovate. It will likely have to wait until fall but I do love how open it is and how much counter/cabinet space we have! I love to cook so I really want to love my kitchen!

The Half-Bathroom: I can't wait to redo our bathrooms. We're going to start with this one next month. When we moved in, it didn't even have a mirror! We pulled one from one of the upstairs bathrooms to put in this bathroom but we're still one mirror short!

The Living Room: So far, the living room is the most finished room in the house but it still needs some work! I really love how it's coming along though!

The Deck: Is it spring yet? I have grand visions of spending hours on the deck laying on a chaise, reading books, soaking up the sun, and tending to my not-yet-existent herb garden (and painting that unpainted plank).

The Third Floor - This is where all of our bedrooms are. I love that the bedrooms are separated from the rest of the house, it makes going to sleep so much more relaxing! There are three bedrooms upstairs. I'm using the future guest room as my own little yoga studio for now!

The second upstairs bedroom is The Pilot's "Moffice" (Man Cave + Office).

The Guest Bath: This is where we took the mirror in the downstairs bathroom from, so this bathroom needs a mirror. I also want to get rid of the medicine cabinet.

The Master Bedroom: Our bedroom is a good size but it's long and narrow, which makes it a little bit challenging to decorate. So far, this is what we've done but I don't love it yet. I've been brainstorming ways to maximize the space and really make it feel nice and relaxing!

The Master Bath: In a terrible design flaw, the Master Bathroom is the smallest bathroom in the house. I don't think there's anything we can do about that but I do want to make the room look nicer and more relaxing (starting with that towel rack coming down!).

As you can see, we definitely still have some work to do (namely, putting things on the walls!) but I really wanted to share what our place looks like! Later this week, I'll be sharing a list of projects that we want to tackle this year and some design challenges I'm struggling with, that I would love to crowdsource ideas for! 

February 5, 2018

This Weekend in Baltimore {1}

This weekend, amidst finishing unpacking (I'm so close!), I finally got out to explore a bit of Baltimore!

Saturday afternoon, my friend Alicia and I met up at the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower for a tour of the clock tower. Formerly the tallest building in Baltimore, the tower was a factory that produced Maryland's famous cobalt glass and Bromo Seltzer. Today, the tower is a 15-story art gallery with rotating exhibits.

We went because I wanted to check out one of the new art exhibits that had just opened but the tour was fascinating. The "tour" is really just a presentation about the history of Captain Emerson, who created Bromo Seltzer, a visit to the museum where you can see all of the old marketing materials, and a visit to the clock tower. Honestly, this was the best part. I found the information fascinating and loved visiting the clock tower!

The Tower is free to visit but the tour and access to the clock tower are $8. After the tour, we made our way down the tower, stopping in at all of the exhibits and then stopped for lunch at Pratt Street Ale House to meet up with my friend Chris who was in town. (The crab cakes are phenomenal.)

After lunch, we wandered down Pratt Street, doing a little bit of shopping and then went to Barnes & Noble because I am addicted to books.

Sunday, one of my friends was in town for the Super Bowl and invited me to come out to lunch at L.P. Steamers, a Baltimore institution in Locust Point, where I had my first whole crabs.

There were 5 of us and we ordered a "Boh't Load of Food," which included about half a dozen steamed crabs, clams, mussels, oysters, scallops, shrimp, and a Lobster tail with a pitcher of Natty Boh for less than $60. Oh and all of that seafood came with about an entire container of Old Bay dumped on top.

It was amazing. I would have taken more pictures but the crabs came first and my hands were soaked in crab meat and Old Bay. (I didn't hate it.) If you like seafood and you're in Baltimore, this place definitely shouldn't be missed. I wouldn't skimp on the Old Bay fries or the hush puppies either!

It was a really fun weekend with lots of crabs, old friends, new friends, and finally getting out to explore the city a bit! I'm almost done unpacking (just need to hang stuff on the walls!), so our house is starting to feel like home, and, after this weekend, Baltimore is starting to feel like home!

I can't wait to get out and explore more!

February 2, 2018

10 Things to Do in February

February isn't really a great month. It's usually the coldest month of the year. January always seems endless and March offers the promise of a little bit warmer weather, so February just kind of makes people miserable. Since February is my birthday month though, I always try to make the month a little bit brighter! So, here's a list of fun things to do in February to make the month a little sweeter!

  1. Go to a new museum. Or see a new exhibit at an old favorite! It's freezing outside and the temptation to stay inside is high. Brave the cold and go see something interesting!
  2. Clean out your medicine cabinet. When we moved in December, we got rid of a lot of stuff. One thing I did, was to clean out the medicine cabinet. You guys, seriously, do this. I had prescriptions in there from 2011. Please don't keep those muscle relaxers around in case you need them one day. I don't think taking expired meds is a good idea.
  3. Give aValentine's gift for someone special to you. I'm not talking about your significant other. Treat that coworker who is the only thing you like about your job, or the friend who has gotten you through everything, or even your Mom. Add some conversation hearts (actually, don't. Those are gross.) or chocolate to make it festive. 
  4. Buy yourself some flowers. They make your house look nice and are a nice contrast to the dark, dreary winter days outside.
  5. Have an unplugged morning. Wake up, lay in bed, read a book. Make yourself some pancakes. Make it a rule not to turn on your phone for at least 4 hours after you wake up. I dare you.
  6. Send someone a birthday card. 
  7. Make something entirely homemade. Pizza from scratch, homemade cinnamon rolls or pretzels, anything. This might be the month I finally try macarons again.
  8. Read a book by a black author. It's African American History month! I have yet to read anything by Ta-Nehisi Coates, so I'll either read something from him or Zora Neale Thurston. Or maybe both, why not? Need some recommendations? I highly recommend Alice Walker or Toni Morrison. "Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi is hands down one of the best books I have ever read in my life (if not the best). I highly recommend it on Audio. These lists have some great recommendations. Also, Megan is posting one book a day that she's read and loved by a black author. 
  9. Get your hair blown out. Or get a massage. Get your nails done. Try all three. #treatyoself
  10. Try to have a perfectly hygge night.
What are you looking forward to in February?

January 31, 2018

January 2018 Recap

It seems that January has been a long month for everyone. I had the week between Christmas and New Year's off and ended up spending the entire week retiling our laundry room and painting the parts of the wall that the previous owners never painted. To say I'm ready for a vacation would be an understatement.

We still haven't finished unpacking, something that I've definitely neglected, and I really want to finish this weekend. Originally, I wanted to finish unpacking by the end of the month but now I'm just hoping for the weekend! I've been planning to post a house tour but until yesterday, I couldn't find my DSLR!

Looking back on this month, it's been really good. I love that our home is ours! I can't wait to start hanging things on the wall and finish unpacking and really start to make it feel like home. Annoying DIY projects and all, I love being a homeowner.

The first weekend of the month, The Pilot and I flew down to Texas to visit my family. My sister has a new baby and we hadn't been able to get down to see her between all of our fall travel, closing on the house, and the holidays. She's the sweetest baby and I loved spending time with my family! I hadn't been to Texas for almost a year and definitely won't let that much time pass before my next trip!

I also did my fourth annual 30-Day Yoga Challenge with Yoga with Adriene. This year's challenge was amazing and I felt like it was tailormade for me. I almost made it the entire 30 days and then, last Friday, on Day 25, I completely forgot to get on my mat! I wasn't even particularly busy but when my head hit the pillow that night, I realized I had missed out. I feel like I normally would have been really bent out of shape about this but if I've learned anything from this challenge (and I've learned a lot), it's to let go. I really loved this practice series and am looking forward to continuing yoga at home next month, but I also want to try to make it to the studio 2-3 times each week both for longer practices and to get out into Baltimore and meet people!

I shared the books I've read this month, most of which I enjoyed. Right now, I'm reading two books (which I never do unless they're different genres, which these are) - "The Japanese Lover" and "Fantasyland."

Yesterday, I wrote about my blog plans this year. This month, I've written more posts than I have since January of last year! I've already planned out my posts for next month and I'm excited to share some exciting stuff!

In February, The Pilot and I will both celebrate our birthdays (one week apart!). We're taking a mini vacation (no idea where yet!) and I'll hopefully have finished unpacking and decorating! We're waiting until the weather gets nicer to have a housewarming but I'd like to get most of the work done to get that ready next month! One thing I'm hoping will help is Apartment Therapy's The January Cure. I've done this before and I feel like it'll be a great way to help us finish settling in!

How did your January shape up?
What are your plans and goals for February?

January 30, 2018

2018 State of the Blog

This March will be my 8th year of blogging at Planes, Trains, and Running Shoes (formerly 25 Before 25). In that time, I've lived in Boston, New York, DC, and now, Baltimore.

I've blogged about running, traveling, life, big changes, hopes, dreams, fears, and everything in between. While I've been really inconsistent with posting over the last two years, I'm really trying to change that. I love this space for everything it is - from the wildly embarrassing posts I wrote as a 22-year-old that I'm so tempted to delete to the training plans I've logged, the recipes I've shared, and all of the excitement some of you have shared through my biggest life moments. 

I've met some of my very best friends through this blog, friends who I truly couldn't imagine my life without. 

As I've been trying to write more posts and be more consistent, I've trying to figure out what I really want to be writing about. I'm not a 20-something blogger anymore and as hard as it is for me to say, running isn't everything for me right now the way that it was when I first started this blog. I still have dreams of running a sub-4 marathon and I know that one day, I will but this blog is so much more than just running. 

When I started this blog, I did it out of boredom and, some of my earlier posts definitely reflect that, but as I've continued blogging, I've done it for two primary reasons: 1) this amazing community and 2) because I genuinely love sharing my travel stories, my race recaps, and a lot of the details about my life!

But there is so much from this blog that's missing! I lived in DC for five years and never wrote any kind of post about my favorite things to do there, places to go, or things to see. It's one of the top tourist destinations in America and I never really shared anything about my slice of home, except for a few "This is what I did this weekend" posts! Even though I'm living in Baltimore now, I'm still working in DC a few days each week so I plan to change that, while also sharing all about Baltimore as I'm discovering it! I want my travel posts - whether they're about DC, Baltimore, or my latest international adventure - to be useful! I absolutely love when I get emails or comments asking me about a place I've been or telling me that my post inspired someone to book a trip somewhere!

This is why I've continued blogging. And in that time, I've started reading really different types of blogs. I adore home design blogs and cooking blogs, I love reading career and finance advice, all of the things that are relevant to my life right now!

So, as I'm looking ahead to celebrating 8 years of blogging, I'm planning to take my blog into my 30th year and start writing more about the things that are actually relevant to my life. It's been 6 weeks since we moved into our Baltimore home and we've barely started exploring but I love it! I want to share Baltimore with you. and DC! I want to share what I actually do for a living and why, even though I fell into it by accident, I love it. I want to share our home and what it looks like as we're starting to make it feel more like home every day. I want to share advice about the worst job interview I ever had (and how to avoid making that mistake) and how we were actually able to afford a home, and what we did to do so! I want to share all of the recipes I have brewing in my head. I want to share the struggles I've had this last year in the hopes that anyone going through what I have knows that they aren't alone.

I still plan to be a "lifestyle blogger" but I want to be more intentional about what I'm sharing and why I'm sharing it. Too often, I've written blog posts for the sole purpose of posting. I still have every intention of Planes, Trains, and Running Shoes being an outlet for me to share about my life, but I also want it to be a resource for those who are looking for a new travel destination, a new book to read or want to start running. And I want a lot of that to be driven by the very people who have continued reading this blog whether I've posted every day or haven't posted in a month.

So I'm asking all of you - what would you like to see more of? What brings you back to the blogs you read each day?

Over the next few weeks, I'll be working on new, more intentional content, planning some fun trips, and thinking about what I want to share about DC and Baltimore! I'll also be working on a new blog design! I can't wait for it to unfold and I hope you'll follow along!

January 26, 2018

Beyond Words: January Books

Last year, I set a goal to read 52 books and was 10 books shy of that. I had a difficult year last year but I also read a lot of books that I really didn't like that put me in more than a few reading ruts. I'm hoping this year is different and so far, I think I'm off to an OK start! 

I've scaled back my goal this year to 48 books, still ambitious, but I also think reasonable. Since I still haven't unpacked my books (I don't want to talk about it), I decided to start the year by reading books on my Kindle that I've never gotten around to. I definitely prefer reading books to reading on my Kindle but there are always such great deals for e-reads, that I ended up buying a bunch of books and then never reading them.

So, with the exception of this month's book club, here's everything I've read this month:

"The Miniaturist" by Jessie Burton - The subtitle of this book should have been "And they all lived unhappily ever after." I learned while working on this post, that it may or may not be historical fiction. The book takes place in Amsterdam during the 18th century.The main character, a young bride by the name of Petronella Brandt, was, in fact, a real person who was given a dollhouse by her husband, the much older Johannes Brandt. In the novel, Petronella hires an unknown "miniaturist" to commission pieces for the house but the pieces tell a story that's too close for comfort and Petronella becomes fearful that she and her new family are being watched. I enjoyed reading this book but I found the end to be very disturbing and it kind of colored my opinion on the novel. BBC recently adapted it into a miniseries but I think I'll skip it. Three stars.

"Broken Harbor" by Tana French - What it is it about Tana Frenchs's books that get me? I can't put them down. They're quick reads and I keep finding myself turning to them realizing that I've now read almost all of the books in her Dublin Murder Squad series. Each of the books is about the detectives trying to solve the murder. This book though got to me. I couldn't stop thinking about it for days afterward and when I was home alone in this house, I jumped 25 feet at every sound. A family of four - two parents and their young children was found in their suburban Dublin home. The mother was found just barely alive but her husband and two children were all killed. What doesn't make sense though is that when the detectives arrive, there are holes all over the house with baby monitors pointing into the holes, and it doesn't look like these were created overnight. On the one hand, this book has everything a good murder mystery should have. While I often find her stories somewhat predictable, I still enjoy reading them to the end. I will say though that each of her books has a subplot - something tying the detectives to the murder, in this case, it was the neighborhood where the murder took place, and the subplot unravels slowly but by the end, never actually has anything to do with the murder and seems extraneous. Three stars.

"You Learn by Living" by Eleanor Roosevelt - I don't really want to review this book. I tend to be drawn to longer books (avg. 400 pages) and I picked this up, thinking I would fly through it because it was only about 200. It took me almost a week to finish this because I just didn't want to keep reading it. For a public figure who was so well loved and had so many brilliant ideas, her book was painful to read. I understand this book was written in 1960 and that times have changed drastically since then. Believe me, I understand how much things have changed but even for 1960, this book oozed privilege and was so patronizing. Her life motto seemed to be to never let anything bother you and that if you do, you're exhibiting some sort of weakness. I really didn't like this book. Three stars.

This was the Beyond Words Book Club book and I loved it! I read it in two days! Reading this book felt like a really good book club. "Dear Fahrenheit 451" is a librarian's love letters and breakup letters to the books in her life. Some of the books are being redistributed from the library shelves and she writes letters to them. The second half of the book is a series of lists of book recommendations for every occasion, like: "Excuses to Tell Your Friends So You Can Stay Home with Your Books," "Books about Librarians," "Books that Lead to More Books," and books that are worth reading despite their terrible covers. 

This book was full of one-liners and laugh out loud moments. And I was so happy to finally find someone else who didn't like Lord of the Rings! Favorite quotes? "When I read lighter fiction, I like it to take place in England, because it's much more enjoyable when you read it to yourself in a British accent" or this one about a book she didn't like, "We should have parted ways...but I had a weird thing about staying loyal to you until the end. And like all relationships that last longer than they should, I let my anger boil over. I still couldn't connect with your main character, and on top of that, I was pissed about the other books I could have been reading...So this is it. I'm putting you in a Little Free Library."

I hadn't read a lot of the books that Annie wrote about, but I got so many great recommendations from this book! If you're looking for a quick, easy read with a lot of book recommendations, I highly recommend this. 

What have you read this month? Any new favorites?
If you haven't joined our Book Club this month, you can still join for February!
Our next book will be "Code Name Verity" by Elizabeth Wein. 
We'll be linking up on Friday, February 23.
Happy Reading!

January 22, 2018

The Harry Potter Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter

I have to admit that I didn't really know anything about the Harry Potter Studio Tour before we went to London. It was on my list of things to do but only if we got around to it. I didn't really know what to expect at the tour...props, costumes, what else could there be?

I couldn't have been more wrong.

The Harry Potter Studio Tour is one of my favorite things I've ever done. It might be better than the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

The Studio is in Watford (Radio Watford! 10 points if you know that reference!) which is a short train ride from central London if you take the right train! From Euston Station, the train only takes 20 minutes but if you do what we did and accidentally get on the overground instead of the train, it takes an hour.

When you arrive, it's a relatively inconspicuous building. A few of the chess pieces from The Sorcerer's Stone are outside but aside from that, it doesn't look like much.

Once you go inside, it looks like a movie theater. There's the gift shop and a cafe. The tickets are for timed entry and we got there around 4pm. When it was our turn, we headed into a standing room only theater to watch a short film about the Harry Potter phenomenon before heading into another, larger studio to watch another film about the Studio. 

I hadn't realized before that point that almost all eight films were filmed in the very studio that we were standing in! I thought most of it was filmed on location with a few exceptions, and I certainly never knew that they preserved the set well past the filming of the eighth movie! 

When the second film ends, the screen rises and suddenly, the entrance to the Great Hall appears before your eyes.

And when the doors open, you're at Hogwarts.

It was magic.

You can visit all of the House Tables and even see the professors' costumes at the head of the Great Hall!

Once you leave the Great Hall, you walk into the studio where entire scenes from the films unfold! There are costumes and props everywhere and it's impossible to focus because you just want to see all of it immediately! The Pilot and I were in opposite directions, constantly shouting, "Look at this!" to each other.

You can visit your favorite classrooms and offices...

Sherbet Lemon!

There's the Forbidden Forest (follow the spiders!)...

And so many props and accessories from the films!

Once you leave Kings Cross, you get to a cafe area where you can fill your heart's desire with butterbeer! I had a regular butterbeer and The Pilot had the butterbeer ice cream (highly recommend!). Then, you go outside into the studio backlot.

Once you get back into the studio, there are even more props and costumes but more importantly, there is the full-size Hogwarts where all of the exterior shots were filmed!

I think I've shared more than enough pictures...and I haven't even posted half of the ones I took! You get the idea - this place is magic. You literally dive right into the set of the Harry Potter films and it is perfection! They did such a nice job with the studio and I'm so happy that they've made this available! I would absolutely go back, after all, they redecorate the Great Hall to reflect the seasons!

One tip before you go, tickets sell out months in advance. I waited until we got to London and found out almost all of the tickets for the rest of 2017 had sold out. I refreshed the page several times before finally snagging tickets just a few days away but I wouldn't rely on that option! To play it safe: Buy your tickets when you book your flights!

Is the Harry Potter Studio Tour on your London list?

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