From Harry Potter to Harry Powell

So, last I left you, I had just finished detailing my massively amazing Harry Potter World vacation (with Disney and a cruise and Sean’s birthday and other stuff thrown in there, too). Of course, since it’s been a couple of weeks since returning from said vacation, there are other things to catch you up on as well!

So, let’s talk the last day of vacation and the days that came directly after, shall we? Having just finished an epic, practically tailor-made-for-Gretchen vacation, you’d think that I would be flying high on good feelings and vacation happiness for quiiiiite a long time. My internal happiness meter was damn near bursting on that last day in Florida! So what happened next?

Murphy’s Law. That’s what.

See, on our last day in sunny Orlando, as I lounged around in my new Hufflepuff robes in our hotel room, I received a text from my parents. My dog Harry wasn’t feeling too well, they said. Turns out that he got his little paws on a cooked pork bone (cooked bones of any kind are big no-nos for your dogs, FYI, because of their compromised hardness and potential to splinter) and completely obliterated it.

Now, I’ve been a dog owner for a fairly significant portion of my life, so I’m no stranger to my dogs eating stuff they ain’t supposed to. There was Daxter’s Fizzing Whizbee betrayal of 2012 (which somewhat ironically also happened right after I had returned from Harry Potter World, hmmm…) and the sugar-free gum incident of 2013 (xylitol, a main ingredient in sugar-free gum, is extremely toxic to animals), not to mention all the half-eaten sandwiches and leftover chicken wings that Harry has pilfered from coffee tables in days past. You know, just to name a few.

All of these previous incidents ended up having relatively little impact, thankfully. We got the dogs’ stomachs pumped after the sugar-free gum thing just to be safe, but otherwise all other bad-dog situations luckily passed without incident. So when my parents explained what had happened and that he had thrown up a couple of times, I honestly didn’t think too much of it… until I Facetimed with them later that morning and saw what was going on for myself.

Most vets will tell you that the #1 way to tell if something is wrong with your pet is if there are any sudden changes in personality or energy level. Harry, despite his years, is quite a spry little guy. He’s always excited to see you, he’s always a little TOO excited to see other dogs, he loves to go outside and play and snuggle and, well, you get the picture.

Happy Harry, pre-incident.

So when Harry, whom I had been separated from for a week, didn’t even seem to register the sound of my voice, I started to get worried. He was thoroughly down and listless, I could observe that much through the Facetime screen alone. He was completely uninterested in food and water, and he didn’t even flinch when my dad tempted him with the question, “Outside?” which is usually a foolproof way to trick him into coming to you getting him to move his tookus. That’s really when the panic set in.

I told my family to go ahead and take him to the vet, and they immediately went to work on the most imminent issues. Namely, the fact that he was majorly dehydrated from vomiting without taking in any additional water. The vet did a stomach x-ray to see the cause of the problem, and identified one large piece of bone that was stuck in his stomach (it actually ended up being two pieces.) If it didn’t pass on its own, Harry would need a procedure — either via endoscopy or surgery — to remove it. And that’s pretty much when the tears began.

Over the next several hours I would reach a level of hysteria that caused me to cry all the way through the movie John Wick, which Sean and I had tickets to go see before we left town. (In retrospect, John Wick is a TERRIBLE MOVIE to watch while your dog is in the hospital, since the basic premise involves mobsters killing an ex-hitman’s dog at the beginning of the movie.) Now, I know that to some of you, incessant, unstoppable tears seems like a bit of an overreaction to your dog getting sick, but let’s look at the facts, shall we?

1. I am a crazy dog lady whose pups are her children. Let’s just get that out of the way.

2. At 10 1/2, Harry is no longer what I think anyone could consider a spring chicken. Plus, he was really, really sick. He was so sick that my vet couldn’t even give me reassurances that he would make it at first. Worst. Feeling. Ever.

3. I was out of town, out of state, and getting a lot of my information secondhand from multiple sources. Not being able to be there in person made things 1,000x more stressful!

4. And let’s face it. Even without life-threatening illnesses, my natural state at any given point in time hovers somewhere between a 6 and a 9 on the emotional spectrum. I just have a lot of feelings, ok?

Harry was still very dehydrated at the vet, with regular bouts of, well, let’s just say stuff was coming out both ends, and he was in a lot of pain. Since any kind of invasive procedure would have been risky given his state, they wanted to wait and see if there was a chance Harry could pass the larger bone pieces out on his own. Thus, Harry definitely needed to stay overnight, and I was given the option of leaving him at my regular vet’s office or having him transferred to a 24-hour emergency pet hospital.

Because my vet doesn’t have overnight staff, this was a no-brainer for me. But it also meant that essentially from the time we got out of the movie until we boarded our plane, I was on my phone making arrangements for Harry’s transfer, including getting all my payment information and pet insurance forms to the hospital.

Harry ended up needing to be hospitalized for four days, and during that time we did ultimately decide to move forward with the endoscopic procedure to try and remove the bone once his condition stabilized.

Thankfully, it worked! He was discharged 24 hours after the procedure was complete, and when I picked him up from the hospital I could already see a marked difference. That said, he had definitely gone through a lot, so his recovery was of the slow-and-steady sort, with lots and lots of various meds to give him. He also was still very iffy about eating and drinking, so we had some good bonding as I handfed him all of his meals.

I can officially report that he seems to be 100% back to his jolly old self, and the only real reminders of this horrible experience are his single shaved poodle leg (where the put his IV) and my credit card bill.

Speaking of which… I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again now, and I’ll keep saying it from now until eternity: If you are a pet owner, you NEED to have pet insurance. Thanks to my policy with Embrace Pet Insurance, I should be getting about 80% back of all Harry’s expenses. Without pet insurance, this “little” incident would have set me back almost $4,000. And between both of my accident- and illness-prone dogs, we’re talking tens of thousands of overall savings in their lifetimes. Just think on that.

So yes, unfortunately my magical vacation did have a bit of a sour note to it towards the end, but the most important thing is that the Harry Powell train is back in business! Also, I learned a lot about what 12-straight hours of crying does to my body, so I guess that’s good to know? I’m not really sure what’s going to happen when I have human kids one day…

“Welcome, Harry, to Diagon Alley.”

In February 2012, I took a trip to Orlando, FL with the express purpose of visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure. It was, without overstating it, the best trip ever.

That is, until this one.

Because this time, I not only got to go back to Hogsmeade, but I also got to visit Diagon Alley, the newest part of Universal Studios Theme Park and without a doubt the most magical place on Earth (take that, Disneyworld!). Now, most of you know that, if we’re putting it mildly, I $@#%-ing love Harry Potter, so consider this your warning that things are about to get real nerdy real fast.

It. Was. Glorious.

I feel it is important to note that Diagon Alley is not visible from the streets of Universal Studios Theme Park. Rather, when you enter what is clearly marked as “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley” on the park map, you find yourself standing in a London street.

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It’s all an homage to HP, of course, but it really does have that London feel. They even have a stand selling England-y things set up right outside — union jack t-shirts, “Keep Calm and Carry On” mugs, etc. Looking around, you’ll see the entrance to the Leister Square Tube stop, King’s Cross Station, and, of course, Number 12 Grimmauld Place.

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The Knight Bus is also set up right outside, complete with conductor extraordinaire Stan Shunpike and his little shrunken head sidekick who yells things at people walking by. It’s pretty great.

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Then, you walk through an inconspicuous-looking opening, around a corner, and suddenly find yourself gazing upon that magical brick entryway…

And there it is.

First off, it absolutely feels like you’re stepping into a different world, because you’re basically BEHIND the main street of the park. You can’t really see any of the other park areas once you’re inside Diagon Alley, which is awesome in and of itself.

And it’s just perfect. You walk down the lane and it’s ALL there. On the right, Quality Quidditch Supplies, where Harry first laid eyes on the Nimbus 2000 broomstick in the window display.

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On the left is the back-entrance of The Leaky Cauldron, where you can grab a bite to eat… and where we did just that. Obviously. The food was actually really good! Expensive as all get out ($70 for lunch for 4 people, oyyyy), but still pretty impressive both quality- and variety-wise.

Walk a few steps further, and there’s Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, complete with a giant Fred or George raising his top hat to everyone passing through the Alley.

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Further down the way lies Madame Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, where Harry bought all his school robes (and where a very generous Sean bought some for me, heehee!) Hufflepuff reppin’, yo!

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And that’s not all, by far! I haven’t even mentioned the Magical Menagerie, where Hagrid bought Harry his very first birthday present ever — Hedwig. Or Flourish & Blott’s, complete with moving poster advertising Gilderoy Lockhart’s latest book (of lies).

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There’s Florean Fortesque’s Ice Cream Parlour, where Harry, Ron, and Hermione spent many a final day of summer enjoying ice cream after a long day of school supply shopping. They offer both hard-packed and soft-serve ice cream in flavors like Earl Grey & Lavender, Clotted Cream, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Apple Crumble, and, of course, Butterbeer. Plus normal ones like chocolate and vanilla for boring people. ;)

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Of course, there’s another Ollivander’s here (the REAL Ollivander’s), and the park peeps clearly learned a lesson from the Hogsmeade side of the park, because instead of having to wait in the sun while 20 or so people went in group-by-group, they built several wand rooms into the Diagon Alley attraction, so there was literally no wait time at all for us.

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Best of all, OLLIVANDER CHOSE ME THIS TIME! I mainly credit the hair for getting her attention (it was a lady Ollivander, heh), but then again, it might have been my huge dumbfounded grin. So I got to try out several different wands to find The Wand, and then OF COURSE I had to buy it since it was, you know, the wand that chose me! Duh!

Luckily, I was planning on buying one anyway, since one new feature that they added since I last visited the park are that they now sell interactive wands, which allow you to “cast spells” at various locations throughout both Harry Potter parks. So you can walk around and cast Wingardium Leviosa on a sign, or  Aguamenti on a water fountain, or Tarantella on a window display to make a puppet dance, etc.

I tell ya, these park people really know how to get suckers like me to part with their hard-earned Galleons. ;)

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And speaking of money, right at the end of Diagon Alley is Gringotts. Yes, Gringotts Bank in all its glory, complete with fire-breathing dragon perched on top. The dragon breathes fire about once every fifteen minutes and it’s hot and it’s loud and it’s fun and you seriously never get tired of it. It’s awesome.

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This is also where the new ride, Harry Potter & the Escape from Grigotts is located. The ride actually broke down right when we first got in line but don’t worry guys, I only hyperventilated a little. And thankfully it was back in working order with even shorter lines just an hour later! Also, the ride is really great, in case you were wondering. It’s pretty much what you’d expect if you’ve watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 2 and saw what happens when they try to break into Gringotts and secretly wished it was a ride. Well, now it is!

Some people might be surprised to learn that Harry Potter & the Escape from Gringotts is the only actual “ride” in this entire part of the park (if you count the Hogwarts Express as more of a transportation attraction than actual ride.) Yep, just the one. But honestly, there’s so much to see and do you’ll barely even notice. I’m just as happy sippin’ on my Butterbeer and watching Celestina Warbeck & the Banshees perform, or one of the park’s puppet reenactments of the Tales of Beedle the Bard, as going on thrill rides. Just sayin’.

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It really is just astounding how MUCH there is. They even have Knockturn Alley ready and waiting for all you dark wizards and/or people who can’t correctly pronounce “Diagon Alley” when traveling by floo powder. I swear, they must pump in cold, clammy air as you make your way down to Borgin & Burkes, because it event felt creepy.

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And of course, who can forget about the Hogwarts Express? You need a Park-to-Park ticket to ride it, since Diagon Alley is located in Universal Studios park and Hogsmeade is located in Islands of Adventure, but it’s so, so worth it. The Hogwarts Express functions as both an actual train ride from one park to the other, and as a little interactive movie-type thing, where you get to see various things out of the window and happening in the hallway as you travel to and from London/Hogsmeade.

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Honestly, I could probably write an entire post JUST on the Hogwarts Express/King’s Cross Station. There are so many awesome little details that they put into what is basically a shuttle! As you enter King’s Cross, there are fake muggle billboards advertising things like “Magic, the Perfume”, piles of luggage strewn about (including one trunk I spied with the initials H.G. on it), and a little snack shop that carries ALL BRITISH FOOD AND DRINK ITEMS. Stuff like Prawn Cocktail chips — sorry, I mean, crisps — and REAL Mars Bars that you can actually buy while you wait in line.

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There also is a really special way that they did the entrance to Platform 9 3/4. I SO wish I’d gotten a picture of it, but basically they have a pane of glass up that works like a hologram and makes it really look like the folks in front of you are disappearing through the wall between platforms 9 and 10! Ungh, it’s sooooo gooooooddddd.

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So yeah, for those of you who might end up debating about whether to get a Park-to-Park ticket, if you’re any kind of Harry Potter fan you’re definitely going to want to do it, even JUST for the experience of going through the Hogwarts Express stuff. Plus, c’mon, are you honestly telling me that you’re gonna go all the way to Universal Studios as a true Potterhead and NOT get the park-to-park ticket?

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I mean, at the very least Hogsmeade still has Hogwarts, amiright? And I’d been to the Hogsmeade side before and it was still just as great the second time! They also made a couple of changes that helped space-wise, like moving all the merchandise that used to be at Zonko’s Joke Shop over to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, which left a much more open, easier to navigate space inside Honeydukes. And that really worked out well for me when I decided to peruse the shelves at Honeydukes because, well, I just hadn’t spent enough money yet.

You’re looking at $40 worth of candy that will probably never be eaten, FYI.

And so, my friends, that about does it. There are more than a few things that I left out because I A) definitely didn’t take enough pictures (too busy stifling my tears of joy) and B) there is just SO MUCH it would literally be impossible to describe within the confines of a single blog post.

But, hey, I tried. And anybody who is planning a trip down to Universal Orlando in the future, I’m more than happy to answer any questions you might have! I know it basically seems like I spent every minute of my time at Universal immersed in Harry Potter World, and while I may have wanted that to be the case, we did manage to fit in some other stuff too:

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So, yeah, best trip ever still seems to sum it up.

Slytherin Hair, Hufflepuff Spirit

Those of you who have been longtime readers of this blog know that at one point in time, I was a daily blogger. Yes, every single weekday, and even some weekends if there was anything particularly exciting to report, I would open up a fresh post page in WordPress and type, type, type my heart out. I would detail everything from my latest weigh-in what I made for dinner the night before, to what I had been up to that weekend, to just all of the random thoughts that ran through my noggin.

Of course, part of the reason for that daily blogging was the accountability I so desperately needed to keep myself on track with weight loss, but another (rather sizeable) contributing factor was the fact that my job, well, let’s just say it didn’t exactly keep me busy 100% of the time. And during the rare times when I was busy, I was doing things I wasn’t exactly jazzed about having to do. So what better way to keep myself from going cuckoo behind a cubicle than to take to the magic of the world wide interwebs, right?

Well, as it turns out, me running to this very blog on an almost-daily basis was the very thing that honed my writing and social media skills to the point where I was able to land a full-time job that took advantage of those very things. A job that honestly felt tailor-made for me. My dream job. (I know how obnoxious it is that I still say stuff like that, but, hey, honest is as honest does!)

But, of course, suddenly having a job that not only required more of my time, but that I also wanted to devote time to, meant that I found myself starkly lacking in that ho-hum, what-to-do-what-to-do downtime where I was able to do a lot of my blogging. And so, those daily posts suddenly dropped to a few times a week. Then maybe once a week. And now… well, I think we all know I’m not the greatest at updating frequently.

And the funny thing about blogging, for me, at least, is that the longer you stay away, the harder it is to jump back. Logically, you’d think it’d be the opposite scenario. I mean, I have so much to report on, so many things to tell you about, so many photos to embed, I should be cranking out post after post, right? But it’s actually more like, there’s so much to say, I don’t really know where to start.

Funny, right? When I was writing at least 5 times a week, I rarely struggled to come up with content, and yet here I am with a multi-part dream vacation, a very stressful and frightening hospital stay for my dog Harry (don’t worry, he’s okay now, thank goodness), a friend’s wedding, and tons of events, cooking expeditions, and restaurant recaps stirring around in my brain, and I hardly even know where to start.

Well, I guess I should follow Fraulein Maria’s advice and start at the very beginning, eh?

A couple of weeks ago, Sean and I headed down to sunny Florida for a vacation that basically consisted of all the best possible things in life: my niece Mia, Harry Potter, Disney, a cruise, Sean’s birthday, the Kennedy Space Center, and, of course, more Harry Potter. (Duh.)

It was a pretty long trip and as you can see, we did quite a few different things, so I’ll try to tackle this chronologically. The trip can essentially be broken up into thirds. Part I consisted of being together with my sister, brother-in-law, and Mia, who drove over from Georgia to visit Universal Studios and Disney’s Magic Kingdom with us!

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Mia’s first trip to Disney, though she will not in any way, shape, or form remember it, was so much fun! I’m sure I would have still had fun even if it was just us “grown ups” touring Magic Kingdom, but I have to admit that it’s all the more special with a little princess in tow.

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And even though I’m sure parts of it were really overwhelming, I think Mia really had a great time! We basically had to pry her off of the teacups, and she was so excited to meet Belle, well, see for yourself. She was literally head over heels for her. ;)

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I will, of course, do a much, much (much much much much) more detailed post on Diagon Alley, the newest part of the Universal Studios Theme Park and literally the most magical place on Earth, but for now, suffice it to say that it was absolutely amazing and perfect and wonderful and I almost cried but didn’t quite so be proud of me.

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Just a couple of gals hanging out on Sirius Black’s flying motorbike, nbd.
Sean absolutely gets full marks for being so wonderful through all my insane fangirling, of course. For someone who has only read the first three Harry Potter books, has only seen like movies 1, 2, and 8 (or something equally as ridiculous), and doesn’t exactly have the Disney-obsessed gene that tends to run in my bloodline, he was an incredibly good sport.

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I did not actually end up buying him the “Best Boyfriend” award pictured above, but those of you fearing for Sean’s sanity after what he went through on this trip, don’t worry. Part 2 of our trip was a lot more fun for him, I promise. :)

After we said goodbye to Jenny, Dan, and Mia, it was time for Part II of our trip! Sean and I took the world’s most expensive Uber ride about an hour east from Orlando to Port Canaveral — we were going on a cruise! See, my old man’s 30th birthday just happened to coincide with this trip, so I figured that a nice, relaxing 3-day Bahamian cruise was just the ticket to make sure he got a chance to really enjoy this vacation too.

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PS: Traveling as a couple and trying to get pictures together = having to choose between taking yet another selfie OR awkwardly asking other couples if they’ll take a picture of you, since only they truly know your plight.
We were on Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas, and the cruise was very nice — lots of downtime, relaxing, and, of course, eating! Oh boy, so much food… it’s really a good thing the cruise was only three days, I tell you what. We left from Port Canaveral and stopped in Nassau, Bahamas, and then we were also set to stop at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s “private island,” but unfortunately some really bad winds meant we had to skip it, as the water was too choppy to risk taking tender boats to the shore.

Oh well, being on the boat is where most of the fun in cruising is at, anyway, right? I mean, I managed to win $20 in the casino off of a $5 initial investment, so I’m thinking things went preeeeetty well for us. ;)

We actually ended up returning to Florida ON Sean’s birthday, so we headed just a few miles out from Port Canaveral to the Kennedy Space Center’s Vistor Complex and spent most of the day nerding out about space. (Sidenote: we also just saw Interstellar over this past weekend and I tell ya, it was a good combination to have just visited the Space Center, heh.)

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Sean’s a big space nut, so he had a great time checking out the old rockets, the space shuttle Atlantis, and all other sorts of nifty space-race history stuff while we were there. And as for me? Well, I may be as much of a space enthusiast as Sean, but I definitely learned a lot…

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Finally, we ended the day with Sean’s birthday dinner at Luma on Park, a fantastic restaurant that came recommended by my coworker and the Orlando Community Manager for Yelp (she does what I do here, only there.)

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And that successfully wraps up both Parts I and II of our trip! Whew! For those of you still reading, I’m pretty impressed that you made it. And fear not, I shall save Part III for another day, since it pretty much just consists of going back to Harry Potter World, shamelessly geeking out, and totally, utterly, completely loving my life.

Slytherin hair, Hufflepuff spirit.

Hopefully at least getting a significant chunk of my big trip down on paper (so to speak) will help me funnel my blogging mojo back into some semblance of normalcy. I definitely have more to report on, so stay tuned! Especially those of you who are looking for more of an in-depth look at the new Diagon Alley part of Universal Studios, hehe. Oh man, there are so many more ridiculous pictures to come…

‘Til next time!

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Last night I celebrated an early Halloween with my 2nd Halloween-themed Yelp event since I’ve been in this (totally rad, rocking, still-can’t-believe-it’s-real) job. Soooo many folks on my Elite Squad brought some serious costume game to the table — Shrek & Fiona! Flo from Progressive! Cleopatra and gypsies and pirates, oh my! — and it was a rockin’ good time.

Personally, I decided to design my costume around my latest hair color, and graced the event as none other than Elphaba, aka the wholly misunderstood Wicked Witch of the West! (Elphaba is her name in Wicked — the book and the musical — for those who don’t know. Fun fact: the name is a play off of the intials of L. Frank Baum, the original author of the Wizard of Oz!)

I think the costume was a big hit (be proud of me, guys, I only burst into song once throughout the whoooole party!), but I gotta admit, I really share Elphaba’s pain in wishing desperately for de-greenification. Even after my shower last night, I’m still finding residual green… everywhere. However, given that Halloween is right around the corner, and all things considered, this was a pretty easy costume to pull off, I did document the greenifying process in case anyone wants to try and replicate it for themselves!

I did a little research and found out that the actual makeup they use in the Broadway production of Wicked is from MAC! The product is MAC Chromacake in Landscape Green. Just a little bit of online shopping and — just like magic — I found it!

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The chromacake is the main component of this makeup/costume look, of course, but I did need a few other things as well. Luckily, I already owned everything else I needed to complete this look — primer, green eyeshadow, purple eyeshadow (for contouring), and red lipstick!

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Primer is the first step, which just happens to also be green. My primer is formulated to counteract redness (I have suuuuper red cheeks!), but doesn’t actually go on green, just to be clear, haha. Anyway, knowing that I was in for a full night of running around at the event, I wanted to make sure the green makeup was able to stay put as much as possible. Then it was just a matter of getting green!

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In order to apply the chromacake, you just add a tiny bit of water and paint it on. It’s like watercolor! The more water you use, the less concentrated the color and consistency. I used a little too much water at first, so as you can see, it took several layers. Make sure to let the makeup dry in between each application!

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Once the final layer of green is dry on your face, you can apply additional makeup. I used a green eyeliner stick to line the inside rim of my lower eyelid, and a shimmery dark green shadow on top. I also did an exaggerated winged eye using black liquid eyeliner and add false eyelashes later (not pictured in these photos though.)

I also used purple eyeshadow to contour my cheeks — adding some to the hollows of my cheeks, and around my forehead and chin line to make my face shape a little more enhanced. When you paint your whole face green, is loses a lot of its natural dimension, so I highly recommend this step.

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Finally, I did a bright red lip to finish off the look. In the musical, Elphaba’s makeup is actually done with a dark green lipstick on the lips, but I didn’t want to A) buy another product I’d only use once and B) you KNOW I love a good red lip. ;)

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Once the face is done, it’s time to paint up the rest of you! Neck, ears, chest, hands, and arms. I didn’t do as many layers on my hands and arms since, well, it takes a loooong time to paint your whole body with a foundation brush. I’m just saying.

Once you’re all painted up (and down and all around), just toss on the rest of your ensemble! Again, this was using clothing items I already owned (except the hat). I wore a black dress, black tights, black booties (from Seychelles), and, of course, my witch’s hat! My one tip is to PUT YOUR TIGHTS BEFORE YOU PAINT YOUR HANDS GREEN. Just take my word on that one, k?

So there you go! Green Gretchen, for all the world to see. I think the general idea behind this makeup would also work for a Hulk or She-Hulk costume, Shrek or Fiona (as two of my Elites did last night!), Poison Ivy, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, the Green Giant, or, of course, other green thing you can think of. Just be prepared to take multiple showers to get it all off.

Even though Elphaba may be gone for now, though, the witchiness of this week is not over quite yet! Tomorrow Sean and I head down to Orlando, FL for the trip of a lifetime! We’re meeting my sister, bro-in-law, and niece to visit Universal Studios and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Disney World, and then the two of us head out on a 3-day cruise out of Port Canaveral over the weekend to celebrate Sean’s big 3-0!

Stay tuned to my Instagram if you want to keep up with our Floridian adventures, otherwise I’ll be seeing you after a week of Butterbeers, Bernie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, Minnie Mouse ears, endless eats, sunshine, and happiness. :)

A Taste of Taiwan

Hello there!

So, alas, I’m not doing too well on my whole trying to post more than once a week thing, am I? I always feel weird apologizing for something like failing to blog, since in the grand scheme of, y’know, the world, it’s really quite inconsequential and I don’t want to imply that I think my blog posts bring such high value to your lives that I need to apologize when I don’t get them up but… basically, this is still my ridiculously long-winded way of saying sorry. Heh.

I’ve been super busy with work, as always seems to be the case now, but — as is also the case — I’m not exactly complaining. After all, I really can’t complain when my job involves getting to do things like…

Craft lollipop spiders and ghosts at the Tysons Harvest Festival, or…

Get my inner Ghost on and take a spin on the pottery wheel at one my of Elite Events, or…

Noshing at deliciousness at my events — this was at my Elite Event at Zoe’s Kitchen on Wednesday, mmmm!

But, of course, an overflowing event schedule, coupled with prepping for my trip to Paradise (also known as Harry Potter World) next week, coupled with trying to keep up with the outrageous number of TV shows I choose to follow (HAVEN’T WATCHED LAST NIGHT’S VAMPIRE DIARIES YET NO SPOILERS!!!!!), it does keep me unfortunately tied up.

But! I’m here now! At least for a few minutes. And I have an amazing new discovery to share with you, to boot.

Longtime readers of this blog might remember that I am actually a global child. Not in the pretentious, “citizen of the world” kind of way, but in the “my dad is in the State Dept and we moved ever 3 – 4 years” kind of way. So while, yes, I do consider Northern Virginia home, I did most of my growing up in places like Poland, Taiwan, and Canada.

Taiwan in particular housed a lot of my formative years. I did grades 9 – 11 there, and since it’s also what I consider to be the most culturally different from my life here, I often find myself missing it most. I haven’t been back since 2004! Oh lord. That was 10 years ago. TIME, MAN.

A-hem, anyway. One of the things I miss most about Taiwan is the food. I mean, dude. THE FOOD. I didn’t even fully appreciate it while I was living there (we never do, do we?) because I was probably too preoccupied with school and friends and boys — all extremely unimportant things in comparison to THE FOOD. On the streets of Taipei is where I took my first sip of zhen zhu nai cha (bubble milk tea), where I slurped up my first xiao long bao (soup dumpling), and where I greedily downed my first bowl of niu rou mien (beef noodle soup).

Last, but most definitely not least, it’s also where I first encountered the incredible street food known as Taiwanese popcorn chicken.

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Bits of battered chicken, deep-fried with basil and doused in a salt-pepper blend so that it’s just the right amount of flavorful and spicy, and then often eaten out of a bag with a long toothpick. One taste — no, one smell! — and I’m 15 again, standing in the Shi Lin Night Market, gazing into a stall full to the rafters with bedazzled, bejeweled Asian hair clips.

This food, this delicious delicacy, I was sure it was all but lost on me. After all, Northern Virginia has more than it’s fare share of awesome Vietnamese and Korean restaurants, but there are really only a handful of Chinese places to boast about. And most of them are Hong Kong-style.

But behold.

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Turns out all I needed to was cross the state line by just a few meager miles, and I’d be home again.

Jumbo Jumbo Cafe has two locations in Rockville, MD, just a relative stone’s throw from where I live in VA, and. Is. Awesome. I don’t know why it took me so long to visit this place, since I’d heard about it quite a while ago. It’s the kind of thing I’m kicking myself over having put off for so long.

This is the real deal, folks. It’s so legit that the sign on the outside of the building doesn’t even say “Jumbo Jumbo”. It says “Asia Taste” or “Bubble Tea Express” depending on which location you visit. I know. Weird. But, hey, what’s a hidden gem if it’s not actually hidden? And now that I have visited both locations (and verified that the deliciousness is oh-so-real), I’ve decided to share this valuable secret with you.

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It is the most authentic Taiwanese food that I’ve had the pleasure of eating in a long, long time. Definitely the best in the DMV area that I’ve found so far. Not only do they have Taiwanese popcorn chicken, but they also have the aforementioned niu rou mien…

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They have beef with tomato (seriously delicious stuff, guys)…

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And, perhaps most importantly, THEY HAVE THE BEST BUBBLE MILK TEA IN THIS WHOLE AREA.

No lie.

They don’t serve xiao long bao, alas, but Bob’s Shanghai is only like a mile away, so no worries, hehe.

So while I may not be around to blog as much as I’d like in these parts, rest assured that I’ll always come back to tell you tales of my latest food discoveries. This week it’s Taiwanese popcorn chicken, and next week it’ll be chocolate frogs and Butterbeer again (wheeeeee!), and who knows what it’ll be the week after that! ;)