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!

2013 Close Out

Ahoy-hoy, friends!

I hope everyone had a baller Christmas and holiday season! Mine was unsurprisingly awesome, thanks in large part to this little Santa Baby being around this year:

I know I swore that I wouldn’t become one of those aunties that is obsessed with a child that I didn’t even pop out, but, I mean, c’mon! She’s pretty cute, right? And you know what’s even cuter? Stuff like this:

It’s like looking straight into the future if Sean and I ever decide to cook up a (double) Whasian baby of our own, hahahahahahaha.

Yep, Mia’s first Christmas was a rousing success, even if I did go a liiiiittle bit overboard with presents this year (even more so than in years past). But hey, it IS the giving season, after all, isn’t it? Everyone ’round the Powell Family Christmas tree was very generous this year — I got a PS Vita from my brother, amazingly adorable cocktail plates from my sister-in-law Taylor, a bread machine from my sister (IT. IS. AWESOME.) and Sean got me an iPad MINI! Funny story, actually…

So, being the Christmas nutter that I am, I may or may not have been bugging Sean on an almost daily basis as to what he was getting me for Christmas. And, true to his nature, his response each and every time was “Snowman poop.”

For reference, this is what he meant:

Thinking he had, of course, been joking the entire time, I opened my gift from him, eager to see what it was. And it was… snowman poop.

Yep, an entire professionally shrinkwrapped bag full of marshmallows. I was… thrilled. But, of course, since Sean is a trickster of the trickiest kind, he had actually hidden the iPad mini inside the marshmallows. And of course Ben got the whole thing on camera, hahaha. So sneaky…

Anywho! So yes, Christmas was wonderful! My December was also filled with plenty of Yelpy holiday goodness, so, for those who are wondering, the job is absolutely just as awesome as ever.

And tonight, the holiday festivities continue with a classy New Year’s double date with my good friends Lara & her husband Dan! Then tomorrow it’s… 2014! Hot damn, I know how cliche it is to say, but this year REALLY flew. Guess that’s what happens when you have a job you love, eh? Not to mention the constant looming pressure of trying to get a sequel out while people still remember the first book, ahahaha. Either way, 2013 has definitely been good to me (though, granted, not good to this blog… ehehe… sorry).

I hope that you all have an incredible New Year — no matter how you choose to celebrate it — and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings! I have some DEFINITE plans to get back on the health bandwagon (I’ve let loose a bit much over the past few months and I am really feeling it) so hopefully that will help me get back on the blog train, too.

Onward & downward, eh?

Birthday Dinner

Hi dee ho, chickadees (and, uh, chicka…dudes?)! Happy Friday! It’s an especially happy Friday for me, given that I had an absolutely wonderful birthday yesterday — thanks in large part to all the wonderful messages I received from you all! You guys really know how to make a girl feel special. 🙂

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So, as you might have guessed, Sean did not in fact end up taking me Taco Bell for my birthday. No, he surprised me by taking me to 2941–a truly awesome (and swanky!) restaurant that I actually visited for the first time last year for my Mom’s birthday.

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2941 is in the Fairview Park area in greater Falls Church. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but in a really beautiful location because of it. It’s on the edge of a lake, and has waterfalls and stone paths and koi ponds (oh my!). It was February the last time I came, so it was already super dark when we arrived. This time, I got to appreciate the scenery for a bit before the sun went down!

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To start, I ordered a glass of Oregon pinot noir (the best!) before we tucked in.

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The restaurant focuses on french/italian-style haute cuisine. It was a real FEAST! Everything I tried was sol, so delicious–just see for yourself!

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The bread basket included three kinds of bread: a classic french bread, a soft wheat, and an olive loaf. The olive was my favorite! I totally ended up picking out the extra kalamata olives from the leftover pieces of uneaten bread, hehe.

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We also ordered an appetizer of calimari. I know it seems a little random, but honestly this may have been the best calimari I have ever, EVER had. The breading wasn’t heavy, but was super crisp (I’m thinking it must have been panko) and the sauces were just delightful–a tomato coulis and a light honey mustard that I think were supposed to be a play on ketchup & mustard. I demolished these little squiddos.

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2941 also orders both 2nd course-sizes and full-entree sizes of their pasta dishes. This Hawaiian prawn risotto just sounds too incredible NOT to try, so Sean and I ordered a small size to share. Oh. My. Lanta. The risotto was perfect–creamy and lemony and tangy and delicious–and the prawns were absolutely to die for. I almost–almost!–wish I had just ordered a full-sized version for myself. Luckily, what I did end up choosing as my entree was without a doubt the right choice.

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I got the roasted duck breast, served with zucchini and asparagus, and it was PHENOMENAL. Perfectly cooked, tender, flavorful… I was getting pretty full by this point (for obvious reasons, haha) so I ended up taking half home. Which means I GET TO EAT IT AGAIN FOR LUNCH AND I’M SO FRAKKING EXCITED OMG.

Aaaand recomposing myself… yes, I obviously loved this dish. I think it’s a tie between the duck and the risotto for best dish of the night.

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In true Gretchen form, I also insisted we order a side of Brussels sprouts, because evidently I am incapable of seeing them on a menu without ordering them. They were quite good, but I still think I make ’em better. 😉

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Of course, since it was my birthday and all, we couldn’t NOT sample a dessert! We got the crema fritta, which was a rich cream inside little crisp triangles, with root beer caramel (!!) and a cocoa nib ice cream. Really rich and tasty, and the perfect size to share.

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I had forgotten from my last visit here that you get complimentary beignets at the end of your meal, so Sean and I each had one little lemony donut hole to polish things off.

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And I capped off the night with a delicious cup of Earl Grey tea. Whew.

So, as you can see, the night’s meal was pretty incredible, though I’m sure I’m MORE than paying for it today. Hahahaha, between last night’s dinner, tonight’s Melting Pot excursion with Ai Rei and Aileen, and my birthday party tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I’m never going to want to weigh myself again. Lololol.

Oh! And I can’t forget to tell you the BEST PART OF THE ENTIRE DAY! Yes, better than dinner last night, better than the free birthday scoop of pistachio almond ice cream I got from Baskin Robbins… check out the present my boyfriend gave me:

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Yep.

He got me a Vitamix.

*cue my complete and total freakout*

I am so flipping spoiled. I love it I love it I love it I love him I love him I love him. AHHHH!! And yes, I totally cried when I opened the box and saw what it was. Straight up burst into tears, just like I did when my brother got me my KitchenAid mixer for Christmas a few years back. What can I say? Evidently extravagant kitchen appliances are the true way to my heart.

There may be some of you who are shaking your heads or scratching your chins in confusion. What’s so special about a blender? you’re thinking. Well, to start, this is no mere blender. Sure, it blends. But it does so much more. You can COOK SOUP in this blender. You can make ICE CREAM with this blender. This blender can CHURN BUTTER. IT CHURNS BUTTER PEOPLE.

So, yeah. All in all, I’d say that 25 is shaping up to be one of my best years yet. Thanks again for all the birthday love, friendos! See you on the (post-Quarter Quell) flipside!