29 Things I Am Thankful for at 29

At the beginning of 2016, I wrote that “…adventure only truly begins when you learn to embrace it”. I wrote about the things I learned in 2015, and how those lessons would arm me for the year ahead. Now I am not one for New Year (and in my case, Birthday) resolutions, because I’ve never been able to keep a diet longer than two days. But I’ve always been about learning. Learning through mistakes, experiences, and time. And through a pretty rough 2015, I did indeed learn. I learned how to embrace change and adventure, and I took some pretty amazing leaps too. Thus making 2016 one of the most exciting and fulfilling years of my life.

So I’ll be honest here. I couldn’t get on the “Can’t wait for 2016 to end” bandwagon. Sure, we lost a lot of beautiful, magical people. *All hail The Half Blood Prince and General Organa! Wands up and Sabers off!* And that depressed and pained me as much as the next Wizard, Witch and Jedi. But 2016 was special to me. (So special in fact, that I didn’t have a single free day to write.) My year was wonderfully full. 2016 changed my life for good, and showered me with enough happy thoughts and pixie dust to fly through the years to come.

These are the happy thoughts that stop me from complaining about how old I am and about the fact that I literally add another year to my existence at the start of every year. (That’s what happens when your birthday comes so close after the New Year.)  So as I turn 29, I’ve decided to list the 29 things that 2016 gave me. I’ve decided to count my blessings instead of sheep, if you will, and to share with you the adventures I’ve so wholeheartedly embraced.

Well past 16 going on 17

Well past 16 going on 17

 

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The Potter Pilgrimage: Part I

Harry Potter Studios | Leavesden 2015

Tickets to my Happiest Place on Earth

Tickets to my Happiest Place on Earth

I have absolutely no shame in saying that the Harry Potter parts of our UK trip last year made my 2015. We made several stops in different areas of significance in the Harry Potter series – some were planned, some were not. The first stop was indeed planned. And planned carefully. (Details and tips at the end of this post. Stay tuned for part 2!)

Two months or so before the trip, we had already purchased tickets to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden. I knew I wanted to spend the entire day there, so instead of taking a tour package (with transportation, but with a limited number of hours in the studios), I decided we could just go there ourselves, that way we could spend as much time as we wanted inside. It took us about 30 minutes from our hotel in London to Watford Junction, where a shuttle picked us up to bring us to the studios:

Now you can imagine my excitement at being on that bus. I was quite emotional pulling up to the lot in Leavesden because I was in complete awe at seeing the place where the cast and crew of Harry Potter filmed for 10 years. The sight of the unassuming, yet massive building alone made me feel like I was riding on the back of a Hippogriff, and I hadn’t even seen anything yet.

 

Fighting to keep calm as I entered the gate to heaven

Fighting to keep calm as I entered the gates to my happiness

People always ask me which I liked better – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Orlando or The Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. While I will say that being in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter made me feel like a real witch living in a real Wizarding town, there was something truly magical about getting to walk where the cast and crew worked for a decade. The wonderful thing about the theme park, is that you get to go in and out of the shops, you get to visit Hogwarts as if you really are a student there, and you get to experience what being a witch or wizard is like. But the Studio Tour is different. You don’t get to do those things, but stepping into that lot will make you feel truly special – because you will get a glimpse into the love and care and hard work that went into making the films. I personally could not stop touching whatever wall I was allowed to, hoping to get some sort of spiritual souvenir from the cast and crew. And seeing the original sets and props? Wow. I could hardly stop myself from crying.

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Troll in the Dungeon

“FRIENDSHIP AND BRAVERY”

“There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Goodbye, Professor

You all know the scene. Harry and Ron running to save Hermione from the troll, Hermione saving their butts from Professor McGonagall, and well – just them saving each other. I’ve always loved that scene, tame it might be compared to the adventures the Golden Trio shared when they got older. But I always loved it because it set the precedent to their entire friendship. They were so wildly different from one another – each of them had their own priorities, their own insecurities, their own fears, but no matter how dark the path ahead was, no matter the odds, they chose to stay together. At the end of the day, they always chose each other. And it was that constant choice that protected, and ultimately saved the entire Wizarding World.

But for me, Harry Potter was never about the saving the world part. It wasn’t about the Boy Who Lived part either. It was always about the in-betweens. The love, the courage, the friendship, the sacrifices, and the choices – always the choices. I grew up admiring Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and wondering if I’d ever have the courage to stand up for myself and for my loved ones like they so often did. And as much as I admired how brave they were when confronting dark wizards, I admired their determination to make simple brave choices in their everyday lives more. How they stood up for each other with Malfoy, or Umbridge, or even with Snape. How they stood by each other when most people turned their backs on them. Their unconditional love for one another was the kind of love I wanted with my friends. And like everything worth having, the journey was quite tough.

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A Very Potter Party

How Portkey Events Began – The Harry Potter Journey

One of my favourites. A Harry Potter Moving Christmas card, because Christmas cards that don’t move are for Muggles.

I’ve always loved entertaining. Even when I was younger, I loved the idea of sleepovers and movie marathons and themed parties. I love transforming my home into different places. That’s why every year on my birthday, I have to have a theme. One year I had a luau with everyone wearing flowers behind their ears and around their necks. One year I had a circus with clowns and magicians, cotton candy and hotdog stands. One year I had everyone dress in their 90’s best, with beer pong and flip cup and The Backstreet Boys playing in the background. I’ve always looked forward to these parties, and I’ve always managed to make them work even with limited prep time – something I’m quite proud of. Allowing people the opportunity to dress up in things they would never wear in public – it tore down a lot of walls, made people lose their inhibitions (with or without alcohol), and it made for some AWESOME fun.

But I only got to do it once a year.

And although I always had a great time, I never actually got to do the themes that I really really wanted to do, because I didn’t think anyone else would find it fun.

Until I met them. People like me. Potterheads. Adults, who like me, locked Hogwarts away in a secret part of their hearts, and somehow lost the key in the process of growing up. Adults, who like me, were secretly waiting and looking for the key to free their home from its cage. When we met, we discovered the key in each other. We were finally home. And we found that what we left trapped and hidden for so long was more beautiful and more majestic than we remembered. Because this time, we understood more. We knew more. We loved more. And we had each other, to remind one another that even adults need magic too.

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