I don’t know about you…

…but I’m feeling 22.

Yup, I turned 22 this week, and being that a few of my friends aren’t even 21 yet, it’s safe to say I am kind of a grandmother. Instead of going downtown and dancing the night away, I stay in at night to watch TV or read a book (or 12).

Of course, there is usually wine involved, but that’s beside the point.

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We all know (or rather, you know if you’ve been around the blog long enough) that I really care about birthdays, especially mine. Every year that I’ve made it past middle school and high school is a year to celebrate. Even though I’ve come such a long way in my recovery, I’m still shocked that every time August 14th rolls around, I’m here to experience it. Kinda crazy, huh?

So much has happened to me in the last year, and I’m incredibly grateful for all of it. I studied abroad and had the time of my life–as if you didn’t know that already. I had a rough transition back to normal life, but I got through it. I started dating a pretty fantastic guy. I quit my job and got another that allowed me more time to read and write. I finished Book 2 and have started research and notes on Book 3. It’s been both the shortest and quickest year of my life.

And now I’m 22 and I feel like I’m supposed to be an adult. I didn’t go out the night of my birthday, other than a few drinks at dinner; I stayed home and watched a chick flick (Miss Congeniality, a classic). I woke up and remembered about all the responsibilities I have, like school. I completely forgot that school starts in a month. I have prep for recruitment and my classes and whatnot. Senior year is about to begin, and that will be followed by graduation. And then the real real world.

I have learned a lot in my 22 years on this planet, and I know I’ll continue learning and growing. Obviously that’s cliche, but that’s what this life is for me: growing up and figuring it all out. And for once I feel like I might not be failing at that latter part. Still totally freaking out about the future, but I’m confident that I’ll be happy.

I am excited for the year ahead. And all the wine I’m going to drink. I got a lot of it for my birthday–and not the less-than-fancy Barefoot I always pick up at Campus Bottle.

I know soon my birthdays are going to be something to dread. You know how adults get when kids ask them how old they are–wait, I am and adult now, too–but that’s not me yet. Maybe in three years when I can no longer say I’m in my early twenties. I still feel like a kid sometimes. A little naive. When I was younger I used to think I’d have my life more together by now. I mean, I have a nice job (though, it’s no career), I’m in a pretty serious relationship, and I’m happy. I hoped I would have those things, but they’ve only just recently kind of fallen into place. I guess that’s kind of lucky.

Cal Poly and SLO and college in general has kind of been like a dream, compared to the hell high school was for me, at least. I feel like I can do anything. Maybe I actually believe that now, too.

So catch my twenty-second year being filled with books, writing, wine, and indie movies. Oh, and school.

Thanks for riding this rollercoaster with me.

Ash

Something Special

I’ve been coming to Bass Lake my entire life (save for a few summers in high school and college), and I have a million memories. The last two years on morning walks, my mom has pointed out just about every house we’ve stayed in throughout the years–even the ones from when she and my dad first got married.

I remember a lot of them by little memories from when we stayed there. Like one house right on the main road, I remember being there a long, long time ago because that was the year our parents decided to let us get a sugary cereal at the store–Lucky Charms, to be exact–and my brother ate all the marshmallows out of it, so we were stuck with just the cereal bits. I know, how rude!

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One year, there was a big thunderstorm that ruined part of our fun-filled week. Mitchell, Chelsea, and I were sleeping in this little room with two sets of bunk beds. It was early in the morning–since none of us knew how to sleep in back then–and we were listening to the rain and thunder. It was the first time I’d ever experienced a storm like this, and I was afraid. Somehow, to take away from the fear, we pretended that a thunderstorm only meant that there was a big bowling party going on in heaven. We would listen for the thunder, which meant that the bowling ball had knocked down the pins, and then wait for the lightning. One flash meant that it was a spare and two mean it was a strike (because a spare is represented by one slash and a strike by an X, for those of you who don’t bowl). It was backwards, since the lightning comes first and the thunder second, but we didn’t know that as kids. It made us less afraid, and that’s what mattered.

Even now, I think about that memory whenever there’s a thunderstorm.

But I remember things like wearing my sleeping bag as a dress and sliding down the falls and seeing a shooting star for the first time. Bug bites and sunburns and lake water. If it’s not a bathing suit, I’m not wearing it. If it’s not junk food, I’m not eating it (except now in my life when I’m craving vegetables all the time–seriously, who am I?). And it’s not a real week at the lake without watching Shark Week–or being constantly caked in sunscreen, lake water, and dirt.

Here, I’m carefree.

The real world doesn’t matter at the lake. It’s like I’m in my own little bubble–a blissful bubble. The memories I have mean nothing without the feelings that come with them. I’m home when I’m here. I’m loved and happy and complete.

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I come home with a bag of cute clothes, unworn. Untouched, actually. I live in my swimsuit while I’m here, and nothing else. My face gets a break from any kind of make up. And as uncomfortable as I can be with my body, I’m perfectly content walking around in my bikini and a t-shirt. Not even my body image issues can touch me at the lake. It’s a very special place.

I didn’t think I was going to be able to go this year, with all the traveling I’ve been doing this summer. I thought I would have to work, and my job is not always something I can ask for time off from (which isn’t a problem, since it’s all during the week). But lo and behold, fate worked it’s magic, and I got to spend four and a half days in my favorite place. Once I got a whiff of pine and lake water, all the not-so-good things on my mind faded away and the only thing I had to stress about was remembering not to fall asleep in the sun without reapplying sunscreen.

Like I said, the outside world doesn’t exist.

On top of this freedom, I get to see Edie! It has been over a year since I last saw my built-in best friend, and I have (tragically) not been able to make it out to visit her in Arizona like the rest of my siblings have. I remember when two weeks without each other was an eternity. A year is far too long. And now we’re both 21 and can finally hit a happy hour together–although, as a wise t-shirt at the surf shop says, it’s always 5 o’clock at the lake. And honestly, there’s no hour I’m not happy, so it works both ways. I’m extra happy to hang out with Edie.

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I know I’ll have to face the real world as soon as the pine trees disappear from view, but I don’t mind it too much. I know I’ll be back. I always dreamed about living at Bass Lake forever, and sometimes that dream still creeps up on me, no matter how much I grow up. Across the street from the house we’ve been renting lives a couple named Kenny and Ginger. They used to rent out their house (to us sometimes), but when they remodeled it a few years back, they live in it mostly full-time. I hope I end up like them–in a big beautiful house on the lake, watching the sun set over the hills and playing Cards Against Humanity with the vacationers.

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No place has felt more like home to me than Bass Lake except maybe London. It gives me hope and faith and safety. It’s like stepping into a perfect world.

Until next time…

Ash

[Queen] of the Weekend

I expected to have a pretty laid back and boring summer this year. I had a nice, easy job, my friends were around, and I started, like, three Netflix shows as soon as finals were over. We’re closing in on the end of July now, and I can definitely say I was wrong.

I’ve spent almost every weekend this summer in a different place: Burbank, San Diego, San Francisco…and when I’ve been in SLO, I’ve been a busy bee.

Matthew (remember that boyfriend I mentioned before? yeah, that’s him) came to visit me for a whole week over the Fourth of July. The next weekend I was in Burbank–mostly to get my haircut. I love my hairdresser and always get a great chat when I see her. That was followed by a weekend in San Diego for Country Fest (which honestly is whole other story in itself *insert eye rolls here*), with a stop in Santa Barbara on Sunday to see my cousins from Massachusetts and to steal some brownies I knew my mom would bring. Last weekend I took my first real trip to San Francisco (well, Santa Clara really) to visit Matthew, and then this weekend I’m off to Bass Lake. Exciting and exhausting stuff, here.

I want to talk about that first real trip to SF for a bit though. Because, yes, it was my first. Wait, you mean I’ve lived smack dab in the middle of LA and SF for three years and I’ve still only been to one of them? Yeah, that’s right.

Well, I went once when I was three because my aunt and uncle were living there at the time. Do I remember anything? Not at all. Then when Natalie lived in the bay, I flew up to surprise her for her birthday, and we took BART into Union Square for the afternoon. And we took a boat ride under the Golden Gate Bridge. But that’s it. So when I got the chance to visit Matthew for the weekend before he started his new adult job and he suggested we spend a whole day in the city, I couldn’t say no.

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#tbt am I right????

So Thursday afternoon I drove my little car up to Santa Clara and got to Matthew’s before dinner time. He lives in a tiny little studio right next to the university, and it was easy enough to find. It was small and quaint and perfect for my low-maintance boyfriend. And that’s kind of how the night went: low-maintenance. Matthew cooked dinner and we watched some TV. We had to have an early start the next morning so it was an early night for us.

The next morning Matthew and I took the CalTrain into the city for a full day of exploring. We started at Matthew’s all-time favorite sandwich place–and I have to say it was pretty darn good. And much needed for the day ahead. We did typical touristy things like seeing the seals on Pier 39 and playing games at the antique arcade. The arcade was like stepping back in time, and it reminded me of The Princess Diaries movie because of the arm wrestling machine. Then we went to Ghirardelli Square and got a root beer float, which was delicious. Up next was the famous Lombard Street, which is the zigzag road. It was up a hill and my hip was unhappy with all the walking so we just looked on from the distance. It was enough.

The day was mostly spent walking, but the few breaks were worth it. Matthew took me to a really cool book store and Chinatown, and then we sat in Union Square for a while. He wanted a cliche picture in front of the heart statue. I gave him some crap for it, but I wanted one too. Natalie and I took a picture there all those years ago, so why wouldn’t I want another?

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Got to be honest, it was pretty cute. Maybe not as cute as Natalie and me, but ya know.

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After seeing Union Square, it was time to meet Matthew’s brother, Reed, for drinks before the Giants game (uh, yeah, trust me, that wasn’t my decision). But it was fun to hear emabrrassing things about Matthew. Plus, Reed took some good pictures of us that were Insta-worthy. I didn’t even mind third-wheeling the two of them. And while the Giants were doing very well in the first half of the game, the Padres ended up winning.

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Peep the Angels hat 😉

My hip had started to hurt around Chinatown, and by the time we were climbing to our seats at AT&T Park, it was pretty bad. I mean, I could walk, but it was fairly painful. An hour and a half train ride back to Santa Clara sounded like the perfect solution–only I sat sideways so I could talk to Matthew and that hurt it even more. I had a limp!! Finding a good sleeping position was incredibly rough, but I would be fine by the morning. I wanted to tour the Winchester House the next day, after all.

When I woke up it still hurt a lot, but I didn’t want to give up my plans. So I stretched a little in the morning, Matthew made pancakes, and we watched a little more TV until we were ready to actually get going. Until I could fake it enough with my hip pain. And really, it wasn’t that bad.

Touring the house was really cool. I’ve been wanting to go for years, and Matthew living less than ten minutes away was the perfect excuse. Everything was so old and confusing and maze-like. There were regular stairs and shallow risers and tight spaces and secret doors. It was hot, for sure, and there were some slightly obnoxious poeple on our tour, but I thought it was pretty great, all the history and everything. We all know how much I like history.

I’m going to do some research about it and then hopefully go another time with Chelsea. Maybe with less people. I joked that I was going to save up and reserve all the spots in one tour so I can’t be bothered. And because I hate people. (Kidding, mostly).

But after the tour, we ate dinner at Pluto’s and saw a movie. War for the Planet of Apes was not the movie I was expecting. I saw the first one in this trilogy at Steph’s a long time ago, and missed the second one coming out altogether. But Matthew wanted to see this one, so I was game. I actually really enjoyed it. Some stress and a little anxiety (not the bad kind), but I was very entertained. And now I feel like I need to watch the second movie. Maybe the first one again too because of James Franco.

I was supposed to leave later on Sunday, but I didn’t want to drive home in the dark, which would have been the whole second half of the trip. Self-sabotage, I’d say, so I could have one more day with Matthew. He started his job on Monday and I worked at 1:30, so I had to leave relatively early. Worth the slight time-crunch to not have to worry about driving at night.

All in all it was a great weekend, and I’m glad I got to get away–even though I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. I’m happy I got to finally see San Francisco, and that I got to see it with one of my favorite people. Even with the hip pain.

Now my blog is three years old, I’m on my way to Bass Lake for a lazy weekend, and I’m pretty blissful–yeah, I said it. Things are pretty good right now.

1,095 days and counting…

xx Ash

Magic

Magic is real. I know that sounds crazy, but it is true. Magic is real.

I wish I could say that yes, casting spells and charms and turning into animals is what I am referring to. Though the jury may still be out on that one, I mean that the feeling you get when you see someone or something–you know the one I mean: pure joy and happiness, like nothing else matters or could beat this moment–is magic. And in this case, the magic is doubly exciting.

Because I am talking about the world of one Mr. Harry Potter.

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This what I came to London for. What I came to this country for. Is that lame? Who cares! I have never been happier getting on a train at Euston Station towards Watford Junction and taking a quick bus ride to Warner Brothers Studios to spend a whole evening exploring the Wizarding World. I took way too many photos. People told me they didn’t even need to go, that they saw it all through my Snapchat. Oh boy, are they wrong.

We started with a quick intro: a video where producers and whatnot talked about how they wanted to make Harry Potter and the Philosoper’s Stone into a film. How they thought it could be successful, but they never believed it would turn into the phenomenon it is today. Yes, I shed a tear or two. Or seven. Then we moved into a little theater, where Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint (onscreen, not in person, unfortunately) gave another glimpse into the world they called home for ten years. I cried a little again, if we are being honest.

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Then the screen went up, and we were looking at the doors to the Great Hall. The real doors! We not only got to walk through then into the Great Hall itself, but we were allowed to touch them on the way in. I know that doesn’t sound cool to a lot of people, but it made me believe it was real. That it exists, and that it is not all in my head.

The Great Hall itself was, well, great. The floor tiles and the tables and the props. It was all so perfect. And there were displays of the costumes used in various films, like the real robes Daniel wore in the first film and Alan Rickman’s famous black get up. No words. I was just in awe at everything. How weird is it to be in this place I have been dreaming about? Weird. Wild. Wonderful.

And then we moved into a maze of props and sets and all-around greatness. There were bios and videos of the producers, directors, and screenwriters, followed by models of the Great Hall’s ceiling (the only one they ever made) and the ice sculpture and costumes from the Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire.

You round the corner and the warehouse opens up to the world of Hogwarts. There was the Gryffindor Common Room, complete with all the decorations and mannequins of the costumes from Philosopher’s Stone and Prisoner of Azkaban. Next to it was the Boys’ Dormitory, beds, decor, luggage, and all. Harry and Ron could have just walked in and gone to bed, no problem.

There was Dumbledore’s office, with the Sorting Hat up on a shelf, the Sword of Gryffindor, and all the sleeping portraits of past Hogwarts headmasters. More portraits from other parts of the castle were put up on the walls outside the office, along with a display of everyone’s wands and the Mirror of Erised. What did I see? A very happy me, surrounded by my fabulous friends. The Potions classroom was set up, with models of Snape, Slughorn, and every potion you could imagine. Hagrid’s hut was next to photos of all the Crookshanks and Fang and Hedwig animal actors. The Burrow’s kitchen and the Malfoy Manor sets were there, as well.

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What made it such a maze were all the props sprinkled around the room. The Goblet of Fire, the Firebolt, the contents of the Room of Requirement, the Vanishing Cabinet, trophies, armor, the door to Bank Vault 217, all the Horcruxes, and so on. Anything and everything you could think of, it was there. Maybe having all of that in front of me should have ruined the magic for me, but it didn’t. Quite the opposite. It made me believe in everything. That this world happened, even if it was only onscreen. It brought me the same happiness and excitement to see it all in person. It was real.

After rounding another corner, there was the Hogwarts Express! Various train cars set up as if they were about to start filming each movie. The candy from the trolley in the first movie. Lupin’s bags from the third. Lavender’s “R + L” drawn in a heart on the window pane from the sixth…it was all there. And then, if you wanted to, you could sit in a train car with a green screen and pretend that you were seeing the English countryside or getting scared by Dementors. None of us could get our shit together for long enough or at the same time to take a decent picture, but it was the experience that matters, right? Right.

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And then we made it to the cafe–only halfway through the tour. We all sat down with our Butterbeer in souvenir tankards and took a GoPro video and snapchats to commemorate the moment. I must say, even not as a slushie, it was still better than the ones from both Universal Parks in America.

Outside of the cafe stood the Knight Bus–Jaci’s favorite! She always takes the night bus here, so she felt especially linked to that big purple bus. “Take it away, Ernie!!” There was also 4 Privet Drive, with Hogwarts letters flying around the living room, and the Ford Anglia and Hagrid’s motorcycle. We wanted to spend a bit more time out here enjoying it all, but it was pretty cold by that time–and it was dark, so the lighting was pretty bad–so we moved back inside to where all the special effects and monster costumes were displayed. Gracie and Dan would have loved this part.

Hagrid’s head (for his giant double), Grawp, the mermaids, “dead” characters, and any sort of costuming prop for the magical creatures you could imagine. Aragog was hanging from the ceiling over Buckbeak, and while I love Buckbeak, I raced out of there. I definitely side with Ron when it comes to spiders. Eeek! But once you got past all the large creatures, we came upon a makshift Diagon Alley: Gringotts, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, Olivander’s Wand Shop, and so on.

It was outside of the Gringotts facade where my heart just about burst. One of the workers stopped us for a little demonstration. He showed us the different kinds of wands they used for filming. Neville’s for the action shots, Harry’s for using lumos, which, fun fact, there is no special effects for, really. It’s literally a ball of light attached to the wand. But then he showed us what they call a “hero wand,” which is what they use for close up shots.

“Now, who can tell me whose wand this–”

“Draco Malfoy.”

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Yup, I spit that out so fast. Love me some Draco. It helped that I was wearing my Slytherin sweatshirt (and standing right in front of him). He knew I was serious about this. So when he asked for a volunteer and my hand shot up? He was quick to call on me. He carefully handed me Draco’s actual wand–yup, the real one that Tom Felton used in the movies, that he touched–and let me cast a spell with it. Oh wow, I have never been happier. Near tears. I was too excited to cry. But alas, that was the end of the demostration and we had to move on. I will always cherish that moment (even if thousands of other people got to do it, too).

We wandered through one more room full of little models of the sets before entering a room with one full model of Hogwarts. In the movies, you don’t always get a full picture of it and you are left imagining what some parts of it look like. Well, here we got a 360 degree view of every little bit of it. The towers to the Great Hall to the greenhouses to the boat house where (cue the tears) Snape died. I got all the chills while we slowly made our way around the room, seeing the castle at different levels. So much emotion for such a wonderful series. A set of books and movies that changed my life.

I finished off the trip with a copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a postcard of the Golden Trio from the first movie, and a Slytherin water bottle. I wanted to buy the whole store, really. Anything to hold onto this day forever.

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I would just like to thank JK Rowling for creating this world I love so much and for inspiring me to keep writing. I will always cherish the Wizarding World and everything she created. My children and my children’s children (and so on) will know the stories. I will hold onto these memories and these characters and everything I have learned from them for the rest of my life. And I know this is mushy, but it’s all true.

So 1500 words summed up to four: I love Harry Potter.

Your Shrewd Slytherin Writer Friend, Ashley

Over the Hills and Far Away – Week 3 and Thriving

Now it is October. It has rained. I have wandered. Friendships have been formed. Gin has been consumed. And I am in love…

…with this city, that is.

No, really. I have never been more content than strolling through various parks and seeing the sights and laughing until I cry with my new friends (no new British friends yet, but hopefully soon). Who knew that throwing an invite to a place called  the “Cereal Killer Cafe” would be the beginning of something this great. Granted, it’s only been a week, but you can learn quite a bit about people with a slightly intensive game of 20 Questions.

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This is definitely what they call “The Honeymoon Phase” of studying abroad, and I am not complaining. I have gone on adventures, seen museums and galleries, eaten good food (which is a huge victory in itself), and dominated karaoke night. Don’t even get me started on the parks. I love them so much I could cry.

This whole week has been full of victories. Getting lost is no longer much of an issue (unless it’s trying to find my classes–another story) because I am getting a feel for the streets and the city and all its twists and turns. The fact that I walked down Bloomsbury Place and passed Bloomsbury Square, only to turn onto Bloomsbury Street, was zero percent a bad thing. I may have an absolutely terrible sense of direction, but that hasn’t stopped me. I mean, having Google Maps helps a lot, of course, but I am for sure getting used to the geography of this place.

Other wins come in the form of (surprise, surprise) food. Let me tell you, when I got here I was on a steady diet of Frosted Flakes and toast, and that was so not okay with me. But it was all I really recognized. I didn’t want to venture very far from home and have to carry all my groceries back by myself. I was nervous about staying too long in a small store and looking utterly lost and confused. But then I hung out with Amy. And then Becca moved in. And then I made friends. And now I am living on peanut butter toast and then whatever we go out and eat–pizza, burgers, Chinese, and so on. Plus, the nutrition facts labels here are weird, so I don’t even bother with them. I can’t even bother with them. There really is no use when I have better things to do–like go to an art gallery. It makes me feel like my eating disorder days are so far behind me, and I have absolutely no desire to look back on them. Full speed ahead on the Recovery Train.

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Classes have finally started, and I am thankful to finally be able to fall into a routine. I mean, if you call getting wildly lost trying to find a certain classroom a routine…I woke up with a bit of dread that I was going to actually have to go to class. To actually have work to do. That part I am not necessarily excited to jump into, but as long as I can end the night with my squad at the Rocket, I should be sailing smoothly. Thank God I have wonderful people to share this experience with.

Remember how blissful I was when I started at Cal Poly two years ago? That is more or less how I feel about this place so far. I am just so happy. Watching dogs run around the park and seeing the leaves swirl around in the wind brings me the utmost peace. It is quite the opposite of sitting in this bustling corner of campus with a cafe, but it is not difficult to escape the conversations around me and find my happy place.

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Yes, I miss California. I miss In-n-Out. I dearly miss my friends. You can find me wishing for the beach and the mountains of San Luis Obispo. I have serious FOMO seeing my friends’ snapchats and pictures. But I would not trade this experience for anything. I love the energy of the city and the relaxation of the outer zones. I love the little pubs and restaurants I have discovered. I love the fact that the museums are free.

Apparently, I am going to experience some culture shock and major homesickness, but for now, I am happy and soaking in every little bit of this city.

-Ash