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Sunday, July 31, 2022

Happy Birthday, Harry!

It's that time again! The time you get a bunch of Harry Potter party pictures, because we are all celebrating The Boy Who Lived over here. We have formally detached ourselves from She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and taken the fandom for ourselves, because, first and foremost, we are the fandom, and we own it. Anyway, let's start with some pictures from our local tea house:

It's that time again! The time you get a bunch of Harry Potter party pictures, because we are all celebrating The Boy Who Lived over here.

We've only missed this annual tea in 2020, because the tea house was closed, but we've also drawn friends into this tradition with us, because everything's better with friends. We also made three new friends while we were there!

My annual party is coming up and the theme is Hogwarts Goes Hawaiian, so while I was looking for inspiration for others, I came across a vintage kaftan with these amazing sleeves and decided it would be perfect for tea (I already have a different costume for my party) and giving summer witch vibes. I customized a plain witch hat with some summer florals, added an exotic bird wristlet and my look was complete.

Now, if you've been following me for a few years, you know that this tea is really involved. This year - as well as last - they have hired a Muggle magician to really bring the magic while waiting in between courses. In the past they've done tea leaf reading, which was also very fun. Every trick includes at least one volunteer, so you can feel magical, too.

There is a list of themed teas to choose from, because not all tea is created equal, and you can also order fancy adult Potter-themed drinks as well. Your tea selections are as follows:

  • Pumpkin Spice
  • Dementor Tea
  • Honeydukes Secret Stash
  • Bertie Botts Every Flavor Tea (it's a surprise!)
  • Knightbus Fog
  • Luna's Lost Pear
  • Professor Slughorn's Potion (a color-changing tea)

Every year some things are a bit different on the tea tray and this year we got a baby Mandrake! 

Old and new friends - and Eric doing a good impression of Peeves back there.

The butterscotch panna cotta with Snitch wings is delicious, as is everything that is served. We usually bring a container to bring home leftovers, because it's a lot of carbs and a bit much to eat in one sitting, but they are happy to give you a box and also a to-go cup with lid for any tea you still have in your pot. 

After tea, I went straight to Wizarding Weekend where I was working with the Portland chapter of Fandom Forward (formerly Harry Potter Alliance), PDXpelliarmus, where I'm a Head of House. I worked the booth, selling our items, collecting books, checking people's Horcrux Hunt clues, and assisting with games. 

All our events are fundraisers for charity and this year we were collecting books - and money - to fill out book lists for teachers who are trying to include inclusive and diverse reading material for their classes. We also were raising money, via are own products, to help pay for a venue for our annual Yule Ball, which in turn will be an even bigger fundraiser for a local charity/organization that promotes equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and/or literacy. 

We take over a local hotel, that used to be a school, for the entire weekend. We have magical vendors in both Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley, we do a scavenger hunt, we have raffles, we have a Great Hall where we do costume contests, games, and people can hang out and eat themed food/drink offerings. 

The Kennedy School donates half of their proceeds for the weekend to an organization that helps transgender folx with basic needs, like housing, food, health care, and employment. They raised over $5,000 selling Butterbeer, and other magical beverages, a special food menu, and playing all 8 movies in their theater. 

Butterbeer is delicious. Cheers!

You'll be getting more pictures of my celebration of Harry Potter over the next few months, as I've got our annual party to post about and we'll be going to another Potter-themed fundraiser in October. You can also follow me on Instagram to see more photos. Remember: we are Book 8. 

Do you celebrate Harry Potter, either for his birthday or any other time(s) during the year?

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Staying Safe While Traveling

Traveling during a pandemic and traveling by yourself can be tricky to navigate, especially when rules are always changing or you don't speak the language. Generally, when I travel alone, I don't really go out after dark unless I take a rideshare or I'm in a place I know well. Here are some great tips for prepping for your next trip:

Traveling during a pandemic and traveling by yourself can be tricky to navigate. Here are some great tips for prepping for your next trip:
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Now's a great time to make sure you think about getting travel insurance. 

How do you stay safe during your trips?

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Summer At The Bellagio Conservatory

By now you know that I love Las Vegas and so many of the free things it offers. It's a great way to spend less on activities, so you can spend more on food (or, more likely, on airfare). One of the things I always get to on any trip to Vegas is the Bellagio Conservatory.

One of the things I always get to on any trip to Vegas is the Bellagio Conservatory. It's free and always changes.

Each season, the magical horticulturalists of the Bellagio create an awe-inspiring tribute to flowers and plants with a different theme. The Bellagio Conservatory is large and bright and totally free. It's open 24-hours a day and any time is a good time to see what has been created from different plants. Often there are fish in the pond and sometimes birds in an aviary, but it's always spectacular.

This trip provided us with a visit to a jungle paradise packed with amazing animals. The vast room was packed full of tropical birds and flowers, lions, zebras, monkeys, giraffes, and so much more. I absolutely loved it.

The name of this gorgeous little boat is Monkey Business

Since it is open 24-hours a day, you can spend as much or as little time there as you want. It's fantastic for kids, it's air conditioned, and there are always the best photo ops to be had there. If you're lucky, you'll get to see a gardener or two watering and/or replacing plants to keep the scenes vibrant and fresh.

Make sure to walk all the way around the space. Sometimes, behind the main focal point is something wonderful. In this case, it was a big lion butt and tail, but even other angles can give you some fantastic views or interesting shots. Sometimes I like to see what everyone else is taking a picture of and try to do something entirely different. And sometimes those popular shots are the best for showing you how amazing the Conservatory is. 

There's also a large picture frame that's awesome for selfies. It always has a themed backdrop. Last time they also added wings so I could pretend to be a fairy.

Want to see something else cool? Go around the corner and see the world's largest chocolate fountain or head into the lobby to see a massive Chihuly on the ceiling. There's also the famous dancing fountains in front, but these are better for beating the heat and you don't have to struggle to see them.

Do you have a favorite attraction in Las Vegas?

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The Future of Transportation and Travel

There has been a lot of talk about new travel, like space hotels and flying cars and hyperloop trains, and it looks like many people believe in futuristic travel coming soon. I love seeing this, but I also remember we thought we'd have flying cars by 2022. Let's look at some of the things travelers are expecting:

There has been a lot of talk about new travel, like space hotels and flying cars and hyperloop trains, so let's look at travel expectations.
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Considering airfare is skyrocketing and I can't even fly across the country for less than $900 right now, what I hope we'll get sooner rather than later is high speed trains. I would rather be able to travel in comfort for cheaper and in less time than having to spend a bunch of money in order to get a decent long-range electric car. I also think it will save a lot more for travelers and the environment. (I'm not saying that electric cars aren't important. We do have one in our household, but it's not our main car, because of the limited range.)

I know a lot of people are interested in space travel, too. I'm not in that group. Personally, I like going outside and doing things and I think space travel seems very monotonous, while also highly unaffordable for most people. 

What kind of future travel and transportation are you looking forward to seeing?

Saturday, July 16, 2022

A Bookstore, a coffeeshop, and...Artificial Bird Sanctuary?

We have come back from our (mostly) annual trip from Las Vegas and we found some really cool stuff on this visit. One such place is The Writer's Block, a gorgeous bookstore that also has a coffee shop, because books and coffee just go together. What sets this shop apart from all other bookstores is the decor. It's like stepping into the outside, but better.

The Writer's Block is a gorgeous bookstore that also has a coffee shop. What sets this shop apart from all other bookstores is the decor.

I already knew that I wanted to support this unique bookstore before ever setting foot in it. Here's the book I decided was going to be interesting and also small enough to fit in my bag going home. This whole shelf was full of A Short Introduction books of all subjects. 

The outside of the shop is standard and really gives you no indication of what's in store for you inside.

Walking in, you are immediately greeted by this huge birdcage full of literature. One side is the coffee shop, and the other is where you check out with all your fantastical goodies.

Everyone raves about bookstores like The Last Bookstore in LA, but then there are hidden gems like this. I wish more people knew about them, but also don't want them to get too popular and crowded. 

This is one of those places that you can visit over and over and still not see everything. Every inch of the space is packed with amazing stuff. It is touted as an "artificial bird sanctuary" and this was probably the best part to me, because each section has a signature group of birds overhead and smaller versions of those birds that you can "rescue". Those blue tags you see are attached to birds available for rescue for just $8.

Each section is small, but full of gifts, decor, artificial foliage,  books, games, and educational items.

Not sure what to read? That's okay. There are tables full of bestsellers, new books, and staff picks.

My absolute favorite part of Writer's Block are the tiny library-like offices that are so full of wonderful things. This is where employees sit and can offer you help and suggestions. They look like little holiday spots and must be lovely to work in, because you're out of the way, and have your own teeny oasis that you get paid to hang out in.

I took a few videos walking around the store, but I guarantee that you still won't get a sense of just how awesome this shop is. 2 steps in, I already knew I'd be back. It's also on a nice quiet street in Downtown Las Vegas, with free parking in the back, or affordable street parking all around. 

And of course I had to "rescue" a little bird as a take-home souvenir. Their stories are hilarious and you can read Jazmin's autobirdography here. She's pretty full of herself. I can't wait to go back and rescue more. 

At the end of your visit, above the register, you can read the pledge you should take before leaving with your new rescue(s). Eric was very disappointed that they didn't make me recite it when I paid.

What are some of your favorite bookstores, either where you live or from your travels?

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Disney + Other Theme Parks On A Budget

Being on a budget can sometimes make theme park vacations challenging, since everything seems to cost an arm and a leg. As fun as theme parks are, it’s not all that fun when you know you are quickly draining your bank account and spending way more time in line than you need to be. With some strategic planning you can get a better value for your dollars and still have a great time at the parks. Here are my top tips for doing Disney and other theme parks on a budget:

As fun as theme parks are, it’s not all that fun when you know you are spending more time and money than necessary. Here are my budget tips:

Get to the parks early

My number one rule of visiting any theme park is to get there before they open. The worst line you stand in is the one before you get into the park. Try to arrive 20-30 minutes before the gates open and you could avoid large crowds of excited guests.

Avoid EMH

Disney parks that have Extra Magic Hour each day tend to be the busiest ones. Find out which are participating on which day and avoid them. The other parks will be less crowded in the morning and that means shorter lines.

Bring snacks

Even if you don’t have children in tow, it is always a good idea to bring a bag stocked with healthy snacks and bottled water (or a reusable bottle that you can refill for free around the park). Those churros, pretzels and popcorn throughout the day can really add up and they aren’t very nutritious either. The other upside to bringing your own food is that you don’t have to wait in line forever to get a drink or an overpriced ice cream. You have your own snack bar in your bag!

Make dining reservations

Dining reservations are a must when visiting Disney. There are so many restaurants to choose from, but even at the least busy times you may have to wait up to an hour to be seated. Look at menus and prices online, then book a table right there (or call Disney Dining). Aim for times outside the normal meal times – 11-11:30 A.M. or 2-2:30 P.M. for lunch and 5-5:30 P.M. or 7:30 P.M. or later for dinner – to take advantage of a ready table and to beat the crowds. Ride lines are considerably shorter during lunch and dinner. You can book reservations at a few restaurants inside Universal as well.

Buy souvenirs off-site

There are many cool things to buy inside the parks, but you’ve probably noticed their high price tags, too. Children have a habit of wanting things wherever they are. Surprise them by purchasing clothing and toys at one of the nearby souvenir shops or discount stores like Target. You will keep them happy and also save a bundle.

By doing a bit of preparation, you can pack more into each day and really get your money’s worth. Waiting in line sucks, and your kids (or your significant other) will be glad you took the time to learn some tricks to help eliminate needless standing around for things, and you can do the happy dance when you wallet isn’t empty at the end of each day.

Theme parks don't have to be crazy expensive. We do a lot of them and we know where to cut corners and how to make the most of our time as well. 

How do you make your visits to theme parks more affordable?

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Let's Go On a Road Trip!

A huge percentage of people take vacations in the summer, including myself. If you'll be doing this as well, here are some cool facts about road trip planning. 

A huge percentage of people take vacations in the summer, including myself. If you'll be doing this, here are some cool facts about road tripping.
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I know gas is expensive, and literally, everything costs more right now with inflation, but that doesn't mean that you can't take a great road trip. Save by bringing your own food, or check out these other money-saving tips, and don't forget to get your car checked out before you leave home. 
Plan a lot of stops along the way, so you can get out and stretch your legs and maybe see something cool. Roadside attractions can be pretty cool, if you give them a chance. I like to stop at places that are free, like we saw on our last road trip through Nevada

Google is your friend. I search for tips on where to stop, but I also take time to go to Google Maps, pin my route, and then go alone that route to see what attractions are open nearby. This can take a few hours, but it has allowed me to find some real hidden gems.

What are some of your favorite road trip tips, or your favorite places to road trip to/through?

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Tips On Packing Light for Summer

Summer travel is here, but with it comes a lot of frustration: long lines, delays and cancellations, lost baggage, and high prices on airfare. Your trips are going to require a lot of patience. Hundreds of checked bags are not getting to their final destination. If you've ever been on a trip where your bag doesn't arrive, you'll know the stress that comes with that. Let's talk about how to pack light for summer.

I've packed for two weeks in a single carry-on for two of us, and a personal item for our electronics, snacks, and toiletries. Here's how to do it.

Unless I'm on my way home and have purchased more items than I have room for, I don't check a bag. When I do, it's only on my way home and I never pack things I bought in my checked bag, or things I can't live without, in case it goes missing.

I've packed for two weeks in a single carry-on for two of us, and a personal item for our electronics, snacks, and toiletries. I'll be doing the same for our upcoming trip to Paris, because we'll be flying on budget airlines, but for now, let's look at how I suggest packing for Las Vegas (and any other summer destination you'll be visiting).


I generally go with 3 bottoms in a solid color. For warm destinations, I take two pair of shorts and a pair of capris. I then take a versatile dress that can be dressed up or down. Men can bring a pair of lightweight slacks. These can be worn on the plane to avoid having more pants that you don't need. 

The bottoms I bring are usually all in one neutral color family (tans or black/gray), so they can go with every top I bring. I've shown brighter colors here, because maybe you'd rather do neutral tops and fun bottoms, but also because it's easier to see than a bunch of black pics. 


You want to make sure every top goes with every bottom, this way you can maximize your travel wardrobe and not bring a ton of pieces. 4 tops will give you a bunch of options (12 distinct outfits). I choose items that are moisture-wicking and lightweight, so I don't look as sweaty as I might feel. This also means that when you do laundry - and you should do laundry - it all dries fairly quickly. 

Look for summer-friendly fabrics. I purchase a lot of my travel clothing from Columbia, PrAna, Toad & Co, United by Blue, and Mountain Hardwear. They can be expensive, but they make high quality clothing that will last a long time. Most of the time I wait for sales or purchase secondhand on sites like Poshmark. 


Tops and bottoms are all well and good, but you'll also want to bring a swimsuit. A wrap is a smart addition to your summer wardrobe, because it can be used indoors in the air conditioning, a cover-up for your swimsuit, a beach blanket, a picnic blanket, a towel, and even an emergency top.

Shoes! You need them, but you don't need 12 pair. I walk a lot on my trips, so I make sure my shoes are comfortable for walking all day. I choose one pair of casual shoes, like deck shoes or sneakers, and a good pair of sandals. Again, make sure both of these match with your tops and bottoms. I love a sandal that can be worn with shorts and then with my multipurpose dress, just like I love a slip-on that can go with my dress and with my plane outfit.


If you're beholden to the 3-1-1 liquids bag, then you'll need to pare down your toiletries as much as if you are trying to pack small. I look for multipurpose items, lightweight makeup, and only bring colors that will go with my looks. At home, I probably use 5-6 items, so I try not to bring too many more thing than that. Things I love: tinted moisturizer, waterproof mascara (for pool days and surviving sweaty times), a small eyeshadow palette, a tinted lip balm that moisturizes, a cream cheek/lip tint, and a stick highlighter. 

I am also a fan of spray-on sunscreen, because you can put it on over your makeup, spritz your hair and scalp, and do any touch-ups you need easily throughout the day. There are some great makeup setting sprays that double as sunscreen for your face. 

Other things you might want to look for: solid shampoo bars, travel-size hair appliances, deodorant wipes, makeup wipes, lotion bars, and ways to downsize your full-size products, like decanting into smaller containers or taking trial/sample sizes instead. 

I'll be showing you more of my packing tips on my trip, but I hope this is a good start for you if you'll be traveling soon. What are some of your favorite packing tips?

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