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

A Walk in the Sky

You know how sometimes I go on tangents about how much I have learned to love life and about how beautiful the world is? Well, I had another of those revelations the other night (and my butt is kind of mad at me for it).

In the lovely town of San Luis Obispo, there are plenty of fun things to do, one of which is hiking. The P, Bishop’s Peak, Madonna Mountain, Avila Ridge, Montaña de Oro…I could go on. I have, as of Wednesday evening, completed the first three on that list. Lo, Tori, Melissa, and I hiked Madonna Mountain for the sunset. Let me tell you, it was not easy. I had just gone to the gym, but thought the hike would be a good little extra workout–one with a fabulous view.

It was very difficult to make it up there, and my knees were not up to the challenge I was putting them through. Oh well! I did it anyway. It was getting dark, and clouds were moving in quickly. It was beginning to get spooky (perfect for my friends and me, as we call ourselves “spooky witches”). I honestly did not think I was going to make it to the top, and tried to ask to stop. We could not even see the peak through the fog, so was it really going to be worth it in the end?

The answer was hell to the freaking yes.

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Once we got to the home stretch–the real one, not the four before. It was a long hike okay?–the sun began peaking out of the mist in all its pink and yellow and orange warmth. I limped up the final few rocks and turned around to face the setting sun. It was absolutely breathtaking.

The clouds were like dry ice floating all around us and swirling in the wind. The sun was bright and glowing and melting all sorts of colors into the rest of the sky. The phrase “On top of the world,” as cliche and overused as it is, is probably the most accurate way to describe it. I felt free, like nothing could touch me. If I had jumped off that rock, I could have flown away, landed on the clouds and floated away with the wind.

I wanted to bask up there forever. I mean, it was getting cold and it was dark before we got to the bottom of the mountain, but while the clouds pushed their way around the peak and the sun dipped below the horizon, time could have been standing still down on Earth.

It didn’t matter that I pretty aggressively twisted my ankle on the way down, and almost brought Lo down with me more than once, that I couldn’t feel my hand for a good forty-five mintues after getting home, that I defintely should have brought a jacket, or that my nose was running like mad almost the entire time. The view–and the wonderful feeling that came with it–was completely worth it.

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It reminded me that there is more to the world than the pit of stress that is finals week. My life does not revolve around folding panties and selling Angel cards, even though it seems that way sometimes. The world is not out to get me, despite me thinking as much for most of my life. There is a beauty in the world I had not seen before–that I never thought I would ever see.

I come up on my twenty-first birthday, I am once again counting my blessings. I list the reasons that I am grateful for life and for my friends and for my family. I am happy to be alive and to get to see the absolutely magical sunsets that SLO gives me every night. Heart-eye emojis for days.

My summer has been filled with early mornings and late nights given to my lovely workplace, but it is also full of smiles and laughs and good memories. Great memories.

And tonight I made slutty brownies, which were to. Die. For. A different kind of recovery win! Betty Crocker, you may not be Ghirardelli triple chocolate, but you sure are mouth-watering.

Stay tuned for updates on fun things, good times, and London preparations!

xx Ash

Keep Moving Forward

So I had a little epiphany recently. I wanted to blog about it–I started typing up a post and everything–but time got in the way, and I did not get to finish it. Since I have been AWOL for so long, you guys have been saved from hearing me ramble on about eating disorders, depression, and recovery. But I am back, folks, so get ready.

Recovery has been pretty good to me, as you have seen. Obviously, it hits me fairly hard sometimes, but for the most part, I am doing well. As far as recovery for my eating disoder goes, I still count calories (unfortunately), and that has played a big role. I try to keep it to loose estimates and not add them all up throughout the day, just kind of think in the moment. But the numbers still scare me more than I wish they would.

Recently, however, I came to the realization that “healthy” numbers in my mind had changed. They were higher, and when my brain added them up for me before I could stop it, the totals were not so scary. They even seemed a little low. I was okay with, almost encouraging myself to, eat more, to give my body what it needs, as well as what it wants, rather than going at the minimum and being picky about it. Donuts on a Saturday night? Heck yes. Mindlessly snacking on Cheez-Its while watching Jurassic Park? Sounds bomb. Eating a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s (not froyo) while binging chick flicks with K and her high school friends? Sign me up! Along with that, I would love to recommend the “Boom Chocolatta” flavor of B&Js because it is delicious.

The fun thing is this: I don’t really feel any guilt. There’s still a sliver of it, some days more than others, but it is so easy to ignore and let it go. It does not affect me like it used to, and it is one of the most exciting things I have felt in a long time. It is very freeing to not live my life in terms of caloric content and restricting my intake of my old favorite indulgences. Life is too short to worry about those kinds of things, and it took me a long time to figure that out. But at least I figured it out, right?

So many exciting things are happening in my life right now: my job, summer, London. Yup, I have just purchased my plane ticket to London, England, and I am jumping for joy. I somehow convinced my parents, and this is really happening. I cannot believe it! Why have I spent so much time and energy worrying about the numbers at the top of a food’s nutrition facts when I should have been planning out all the adventures I am going to go on, even little excursions to various beaches near SLO this summer.

Maybe it is not the right time to be so enthusiastic about life when so much terror has been inflicted on our world, but I have lived too long wallowing in grief. Of course, I am upset about all this–it is truly awful–and I am praying for the victims, their families, and those personally and emotionally affected by these things. But if I slip too far into a state of mourning, bouncing back will take just as much (and more) energy out of me. We grieve, we move forward. Note: we do not move on, but forward. There is a difference. I have chosen to keep moving forward in life and to always imprive myself, while tyring to influence others around me to embrace all the wonderful things in life.

I just wanted to share my little recovery win with y’all now that I have returned to my little corner of the internet. I have rewarded myself with the purchase of “slutty brownie” mix, which I will be enjoying this weekend. Can’t wait to bake! I have been longing to bake something good for a while now, thanks to Pintrest. This is a pre-made mix, but it will still be delicious. Baby steps.

And now I am curled up on my couch watching Jurassic Park with my laptop and notebook. A little watching, a little writing. And later? A little reading. Summer is good!

Can’t wait to take on the next few months with you guys, see where the summer take me. I get to hang out with my friends and go to the beach and go hiking…one of my co-workers and I are going to head up to the top of Bishop’s one of these days. Finding Dory comes out this Friday. I get to adventure with my friends and adventure solo. It will get me ready for taking on London in September.

Don’t mind me, just squealing internally (and externally) over here!

xx Ash

G. N. O.

Sometimes you are in bed, fulfilling the definitions of comfort with your laptop open to Netflix, and you are wonderfully warm in your sweats and your robe. Then someone texts you, wanting to go out. But you really just want to stay at home and watch the latest episode of Parks & Rec.

But sometimes you get a text that offers an adventure. “Let’s go watch seals.” “Let’s blast nothing but throwback music.” “Let’s do obnoxious friend things.” And all you can think is, Oh, hell yes. I am in. So you get out of your sweats and put on your favorite black skinny jeans and your brand new sweater that is softer than a golden retriever puppy, and you go on that adventure.

Mads is driving, you’re in the passenger seat, Tori and Kristin are in the back seat. Kristin takes control of the aux cord–true to suggestion, she plays the best throwbacks. You are laughing about nothing and winding through the dark road to Avila Beach.

It’s dark, but you still get to see the seals swimming around and jumping in and out of the water. You guys are taking snapchats of each other making weird noises and faces. You are also trying your best to take selfies on Kristin’s GoPro. Is it working? Well, sort of.

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Shout out to Tori’s floating head, am I right?

Then you pretend to be little kids on the swings. Flying through the air and looking at the millions, billions, trillions of stars in the sky. You don’t get to see those at home. It is freeing, that moment of weightlessness before gravity pulls you back to earth. The wind on your cheeks stings a little, but it makes you feel alive.

Suddenly, all of you are craving ice cream, despite the cold weather. A McFlurry? you suggest. Yes. An Oreo McFlurry with hot fudge will do the trick. And jumping into the warmth of the car, you are off! Yelling the lyrics to “Fergalicious,” a middle school classic, and “GNO” by Miley Cyrus, because this is the definition of a “girls’ night out.”

You can’t help but giggle at the price coming out to $4.20–because even though you are second-year college students, you still find joy in the little things. And you find a huge booth in the back of the McDonalds and keep laughing. About how you would react the same way seeing a ghost as seeing a penis. (Too much??). How your squad can fit perfectly in an Uber. How strange that guy you used to work with’s Instagram is. I mean, take my word for it: it’s weird.

And every minute you remember that these are the reasons you keep moving forward. These moments are the ones you will remember when you are out in the drizzle bawling your eyes out at a cold and wet picnic table. These moments and these memories are what you live for.

I know I have been writing a lot of posts in the second person lately. I’m not sorry for it. But this night was about me. It was about my friends. It was about my life.

If you had told me a year or so ago that I would go on a late night adventure with three of my best friends to watch sea lions swim in the dark and then scream the words to songs I will always remember the lyrics to, then I would have called you a liar. But I also would have dreamed about that experience, wondering if it would come true. If I could really be that happy. And if you told me a year ago, people would look at my squad in envy, I would have laughed in your face. But people love us. People love me. And they are people I love back. People I thank God every day for.

I never want to miss a moment that can be spent laughing until I cry with my best friends and making jokes we will remind each other about in Cabo when we are fifty.

Sometimes you have to get out of your robe and put on a cute outfit to remember just got good life is. (Of course, I fully support wearing sweatpants out in public–I do it all the time with zero shame). Never miss a minute. Never regret an adventure. Never miss a chance to belt Fergie’s rap, whether you know all the words or not.

Because life is so worth it.

-Ash ❤