A Photographer Abroad Day 7: More London!

Day seven began with what has become a morning tradition, Emma joining me while I prepare for the day. As she chattered away, I noticed her voice has taken on the local tint–she has an accent! It’s so cute. We sang Frozen songs while she pulled her Elsa dress on over her pajamas.

It was my second day touring with Jeremy. When he found out I thought we wouldn’t have enough time to stop by the Tower of London, he insisted we make it our first stop. He was right! The Tower was amazing.

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The line to get in was long, but we there was a lot to catch my eye while we waited, from wire lions to the hidden archer on the roof. Once inside, we were met by a beefeater who led us on the yeoman warder tour. The tour was short, but the commentary was as informative as it was entertaining.

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The crown jewels were beautiful, but it was the White Tower that caught my attention. Erected for William the Conqueror, the castle has been used as a palace, a prison, and an armory.

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Jeremy decided he wanted this dragon more than the blue rooster from the day before.  I’ll admit I wanted one, too.

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The bridge beside the Tower is no longer London Bridge, but rather Tower Bridge, built in 1886 to accommodate increased commercial development. It had to be stronger than London Bridge and further downstream. The blue suspension detail stands out magnificently against the stone, it really was gorgeous to walk across.

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Jeremy and I walked a lot, but it was all worth it. We headed over to Borough Market, a place Jeremy described as “Foodie Heaven”. Being a fan of delicious flavor, I was happy to follow.

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The scents of a dozen different kinds of cuisine filled the space; I found it hard to decide which food to eat! My favorite was the Heidi Pie by pieminister, filled with goat cheese, sweet potato, spinach, and red onion. The market itself held aisle and aisles of shops. One sold reindeer and kangaroo meat. Rudolph burgers, anyone?

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The sun was setting when we left the market, casting golden light on the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. In a last minute change of plans, Jeremy and I walked across Millenium Bridge to look around the cathedral before the light disappeared.

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We even passed the Globe Theater! Sure, the original burned down in 1613, but the reconstructed “Shakespeare’s Globe” was still cool to see!

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The bells were chiming in preparation for the Christmas carol service, so Jer and I rushed to get in line. Sadly, the chapel was full before we were let in, but we were able to watch the service from a screen near the theater. Even from outside in the wind, it felt so special to be there celebrating Christmas in the shadow of such a beautiful building.

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Jeremy and I returned, cold but cheered, and ready to celebrate Christmas.

We just finished Muppet’s Christmas Carol here and ate Christmas dinner fresh and early, with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, brussel sprouts, and more I can’t remember right now because I’m stuffed. Julie did an amazing job making an American Christmas meal without many of the ingredients we take for granted. She made substitute french fried onions from scratch. Be impressed. I know I was.

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A Photographer Abroad Days 6: Trafalgar Square and Fortnum & Mason

Wow. It is so hard to believe I’ve been here a week. My day job feels like a distant memory. Can’t I just stick around here exploring every day instead of going back to the daily grind? Please? Jeremy is on liberty right now, so I had an exploring companion for two whole days! Trafalgar Square and Fortnum and Mason came first, both places Jeremy hadn’t been as well.

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My brother’s company provided a more entertaining atmosphere (see above impersonation of his three-year-old’s go-to photo pose), someone to talk to and provide me with tidbits of information. There are so many monuments to soldiers and battles commemorated around the city, each of them a chance for art and history to meet in an interactive way. Kids (and adults) climbed up and around the stately lions, mermaid sculptures spit water into flowing fountains…and a large blue rooster stood proudly in the corner.

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“This,” Jeremy remarked, gesturing proudly at the bird, “Is my absolute favorite monument. I want one.”

It seemed so out of place in a square commemorating the Napoleonic war’s battle. Each corner of the square holds an imposing soldier on horseback…except for this one. I couldn’t stop laughing!

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The walk to Fortnum and Mason had its own little interesting spots, from the horse sculpture to the Paddington Bear designed by Ripley’s Believe it or Not! The streets were crowded with last-minute Christmas shoppers, our destination even more so! Jeremy and I tried to get a spot at the booked up Diamond Jubilee Tea Room but were not surprised when we were turned away. Instead, we went to the Parlor, a less elaborate dining area, but a way to check the box nonetheless. Tea at F&M. Done.

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I will never get over the deliciousness of clotted cream and scones.

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All four levels of the store were decorated festively and ornately. Jeremy and I made a game of guessing how much each item could cost, from the £899 dressing gown to the £5000 handcrafted “game cube”, a square of leather game boards including chess, backgammon, and more. I would have checked, but I tend to break things and don’t exactly have that much money. Suddenly, the £45 socks seemed cheap. I was on a quest for my favorite teas, and found them while Jeremy got some very expensive espresso to taste.

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Back at the house, dinner dishes and cookie baking turned into an impromptu dance session to Spoon and Taylor Swift. Nevin and Emma love doing the robot to music and even little Elsa clapped along! Such a fun way to end a day.

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A Photographer Abroad Day 5: Bath

“I am…for Bath.”

These words were uttered by the wonderful Captain Wentworth in Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Austen herself spent a lot of time in Bath, despite her dislike for the city. I, myself, enjoyed it despite my missteps on the London railway system.

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The day started with a slightly later departure from the house than anticipated, allowing me to make it onto the train, but just barely. The helpful conductor pointed me back to my seat and I settled in for the journey. It wasn’t until an hour into the ride that I found a signal for my phone to check the train map that I noticed my current trajectory had me headed in the wrong direction. The conductor came down the rows a couple minutes after this discovery, asking for my ticket. He glanced at it, moving on, before his eyes bugged out.

“You’re heading to Bath Spa?!?”

“Yes,” I replied, hoping my tone was somewhere between please-tell-me-what-to-to and I-swear-I’m-not-stupid.

“Your transfer was five stations back, love!”

I resisted the urge to facepalm in front of the helpful gentleman and asked him for a way forward. The solution was simple enough, stop at the next station, go to the other side of the platform, and wait for the return train to take me to the proper transfer point. 45 minutes off course already, I had to wait another hour for my train, get to the correct station, and then wait another hour for the train to take me to Bath. Thank goodness Julie didn’t let me leave the house without a water bottle and a few snacks in my bag or the trip might really have been grueling. As it was, it seemed a mere inconvenience. The light was already waning when I finally arrived at my destination, so I made sure to knock out as many spots as possible.

On my way to the Roman Baths, I came across a man covered in pigeons. As I took his picture, he waved his hand and a few of the pigeons alighted on my shoulders. He asked to take my photo for me, training half a dozen birds to rest on my head, shoulders, hands, and arms!

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The Roman Baths were right around the corner, and as impressive as Jeremy and Julie had promised!

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The stone hallways were worn down from the countless others who had come before me. The spring water steamed in the cold air as the torches flickered on the pillars. It was amazing to think of all the history that had come before me in this place.

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Despite my awe, I made it through the baths relatively quickly to stop over at the pump room and “take the waters”. I was no stranger to drinking sulfur water as I had grown up visiting White Sulphur Springs and drinking it cold. The pump room itself was impressive, especially when I imagined regency society milling about, listening to live music and sipping the water from glasses in their gloved hands. I don’t know why I was surprised the water was hot, but it was definitely hard to get down. I wanted to drop half a dozen ice cubes in it and finish the glass but that was hardly the proper thing to do.

From there, I meandered about the city, stopping to look in shop windows, in the general direction of the Avon River and the Pulteney Bridge.

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As I crossed the bridge looking for a better vantage point, I happened across a somewhat hidden staircase leading down to the river walk. It felt like I’d found a gem far away from the bustle of the shoppers. The sun, already shrouded by clouds, went down quickly, but I dawdled as long as I could taking photos and taking in the scenery.

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I found Beazer Maze, a flat and simple design, but its center held an elaborate Gorgon’s head mosaic. I had to walk nearly the entire maze to find the center, not because I couldn’t solve it, but because the solution laid in walking nearly all of the eight sections.

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After that, I had only to wait until my return train’s departure. The shops close down around dark, which in this area is about 4:00. I found a coffee shop open slightly later than the others and indulged in a delicious cup of hot dark chocolate. The return was much less eventful and I was glad to plop down for a good night’s sleep.

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A Photographer Abroad Day 4: Oxford

Day 4 marked the first day everyone shared vacation. Jeremy is finally on leave  and Emma is on school break! We took the opportunity to drive the hour to Oxford. I was so happy to have company, I’m much more of a social explorer. Adventures are so much more fun shared.

We started off on a more somber note, visiting C.S. Lewis’s grave at Holy Trinity Church. The sunlight graced us with its presence once more, washing the mossy tombs in warm light. A couple friendly cats purred as they slunk between the gravestones. Emma and Nevin were fascinated by the old names. It took a little bit of time to find the stone because it was flat on the ground and not standing up like many others. Lewis was buried with his brother, Warren Hamilton, under a stone engraved with a cross and the phrase “men must endure their going hence.”

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Inside the church, we found a window dedicated to him depicting scenes from the Chronicles of Narnia. I had been expecting stained glass, but was surprised to discover it was etched. Thanks to the sunlight, we were able to see it in glowing detail. Nevin and Emma had fun picking out parts they remembered from the stories on the glass.

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From there, we headed into the center of town for the Christmas market, a bustling spot in the middle of town with shops and foods alike. The kids got warm cider while the adults got mulled wine…yum! There were too many good treats to count, from warm chestnuts to caramelize nuts, handmade jewelry and scarves, to candles and so much more!

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My favorite booth by far was the wooden instrument booth, run by two guys who looked like they were Oaken’s brothers from Frozen. Each  animal made a different noise, either by running a stick across its back or blowing into the whistle. Emma and Nevin both picked the dolphins.

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After the market, everyone was hungry, so we went to one of the places I’ve been dying to see ever since I heard about it: the Eagle and Child. Referred to as the Bird and Baby by patrons C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, their frequent attendance at the pub with other authors earned them the name the “Inklings.” It was amazing to sit and eat where such amazing authors and personal heroes once sat!

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Christ Church was next, a beautiful college campus. While I could never dream of studying in such a historic place (I wouldn’t know how to focus!), exams were going on, so the beautiful Hall was closed. Thankfully, we were still able to peek in on the rest of the rooms and courtyards. There was so much to capture on camera!

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The day was exhausting for the kids. Nevin ended up on Jeremy’s shoulders as we walked from Christ Church to Blackwell’s books. While Jeremy perused for poetry, the kids, Julie, and I settled in the children’s section to rest before heading home for dinner. They were such troopers to follow the adults around all day!

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Today was another lone adventure, this time to Bath. Those photos should be up tomorrow on the blog!

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A Photographer Abroad: Day 3

Three days in London and I’m starting to feel like I have my bearings within the small radius I have visited. Jeremy’s house is a fantastically comfortable place to stay, safe and homey with people I know where I can rest and eat the delicious food Julie prepares with three energetic kids who keep me on my toes with attack hugs. It’s only my third day here, but I can already hear my voice’s unconsciously accented tint when I say words like “excuse me” or “sorry”, words I find myself repeating endlessly. Maybe that’s why everyone I speak to thinks I’m Canadian…that is, until I smile. The tour guide at Westminster Abbey informed me my smile is very American.

I went a more traditionally touristy route on my third day, visiting Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, Westminster Abbey, and the London Eye! My feet are still aching, but a nice hot shower and a good night’s sleep should fix that. Google Maps has been my savior…I have zero sense of direction but I’ve managed to find everything I was looking for!

It was hard to put my camera down during this trip to make sure I didn’t miss anything, so bear with me as I try to boil down hours of sightseeing into a single blog post!

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In a city renowned for its clouds and rain, I’ve been providential enough to avoid both. Today was colder than the two before, but the sun shone bright enough to make up for any temperature difference. Buckingham Palace was busy, tourists of all nations and languages pressed up against the bars to catch a glimpse of the goings-on. The most exciting thing that happened while I was where was the Royal Mail car went through the gate.

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St. James Park looked like something out of a fairy tale, or at least Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The ducks, geese, swans, and pelicans all hobbled about, squawking at the visitors and each other and enthralling the kids walking by.

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I loved Duck Island Cottage, and the four pelicans grooming themselves as if they were above the whole people thing was hilarious.

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Don’t ever question whether or not to do the London Eye when you visit. Just do it, the view is so worth it! The pod benches came as a welcome respite for my tired feet and the 360 perspective on London was breathtaking.

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Also, going up there showed me where I needed to go next: Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Big Ben has prescheduled tours only, so I couldn’t go in, so I peppered the landmark with photos and headed past to the Abbey. The Abbey was lovely, but letting a photographer into a place that historic and beautiful then telling her she can’t take photos is some sort of torture. Intricate vaulted ceilings and shimmering stained glass windows encased tombs of monarchs and artists alike. Jeremy described it eloquently as a unique collection of art, science, culture, and religion. As I walked by the tombs of Charles Darwin, Oliver Cromwell, Handel, Shakespeare, Dickens, and countless other icons from my history books, I couldn’t agree more.

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I’ve just returned from Oxford with Jeremy, Julie, and the kids as I post this, so look for that post either tomorrow or Monday!

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A Photographer Abroad: London, Days 1 and 2

Wow.

I’m in London. I didn’t believe it when I got on the Dulles National plane on Tuesday night and I still didn’t believe it when I woke up at Heathrow on Wednesday morning. My departure felt both organized and frenzied, with too many items on my to do list and too little time to accomplish them. Packing involved stuffing a bunch of sweaters into a suitcase and making sure I had all my camera gear. I sympathize with Bilbo Baggins.

When my brother’s family was stationed in London last June, I didn’t think I’d be able to make it out until 2016, but fate (and generous family members) intervened, allowing me to take a two week vacation with them!! My brother picked me up bright and early, allowing me to drop off my bags, settle in, and head back out to knock off a few items on my list.

It’s sunk in a bit more now that I’m on day 3 in London, but there was a definite thrill the moment I stepped off the tube at Baker Street and breathed the London City air. I am a huge Sherlock fan (Arthur Conan Doyle and screen adaptations), and Baker Street was the easiest trip to become acquainted with the tube system. Granted, after nine months of navigating the ekis in Japan, the system was much easier to sort out. The Sherlock Museum came first, at 221B Baker Street, of course!

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When Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock, the numbers on Baker Street didn’t go as high as 221, so, when they expanded Baker Street in 1932, 221B Baker Street (and the Sherlock Holmes museum) were assigned to 239 Baker Street. That was where I went!

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The apartment felt every bit as old and as mysterious as Holmes himself, the walls decorated with memorabilia from his cases and every surface cluttered with scientific equipment, reference books, and other mollifiers. The floor creaked underfoot as I climbed the stairs. Two chairs sit at the fireplace, and it is clear to see whose chair belongs to who. With a violin and microscope beside, deerstalker cap and pipe on the table, Sherlock obviously would sit in the window’s light, his trusty Watson opposite him.

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The set from the BBC Sherlock is a few blocks away on North Gower Street, but I didn’t get there until Day 2 as I ran out of sunlight after Madam Tussaud’s. It was pretty cluttered from a shipment to the diner beside it, but I managed to get one shot:

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Anyone who watches the show knows why the knocker is crooked. It means that Mycroft (who compulsively corrects it each time he is by) has not been by. I love little details like that, though I’m not sure how the guy who lives there feels…The Speedy’s seems to enjoy a lively clientele due to the number of people who come by to see the door.

After the Sherlock Holmes Museum (Day 1 again!) I went over to Madam Tussaud’s. I’ll admit (to no one’s surprise) that the reason I wanted to go was because they had recently put up a Benedict Cumberbatch wax figure, but I was also pleasantly surprised by the other “tenants” of the museum. After all, this is the closest I would get to ever photographing them.

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From there, I went to Oxford street to check out the shopping. I’d left in such a disorganized hurry that my suitcase held only two pairs of pants. For a woman staying for two weeks, this would not cut it. The fashion was fun, but my jaw dropped when I saw how beautifully decorated the street was at night!

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Oh, I almost forgot! Day 2 was mostly sleeping in, but along with visiting North Gower Street, I hit up Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross! Hufflepuff and proud, I chose to show off my true colors!

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From there, I raided the Harry Potter store and was appalled at the lack of Hufflepuff memorabilia. I FIND that rather alarming.

I’m sure this Hufflepuff will manage to FIND other interesting things along the way, so keep checking the blog to see more of my adventures!

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I’m Dreaming of a White Thanksgiving

Hello, everyone!

I’ve lived in the MD and VA area for the past 17 years, so when the weather forecast called for snow on the day before Thanksgiving, I was understandably skeptical. It seems like every year, the first “big” snowstorm of the season is predicted only to come to nothing, so I didn’t get my hopes up. But, sure enough, big, fluffy flakes started falling, coating everything in sight midday on Wednesday. It is common knowledge that everyone in the area forgets how to drive, so I headed home to prepare Thanksgiving dinner.

But this isn’t the first snow-coated Thanksgiving I’ve had. A long, long time ago, my family lived in Dresden, Maine. It was an idyllic life. The small house sat on two and a half acres of land that, when covered in snow, became the greatest playground a child could imagine. My brother Jeremy raised chickens and turkeys yearly, selling the chicken’s eggs and all but two turkeys (their names were Thanksgiving and Christmas). The property itself backed up to a cove where we could go fishing, canoeing and swimming, all with the company of our trusty golden retriever, Bria.

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The Maine Thanksgiving that sticks in my mind happened in 1996, a year before we moved away to Maryland. We woke up to find a three-foot thick blanket of snow coating the world. Unlike the DC area, the world does not shut down for snow. The plows had run through the night and the roads were clear! Jeremy had somehow raised a 35 lb turkey, a bird so big, Mom had to go to our school’s kitchen to find a pan and oven large enough to cook it. I remember we invited a LOT of people; the house was full. Stuffing abounded, alongside cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, pie, and my Mom’s amazing chocolate cake. There was something cozy about the snow outside, the friends inside, and the fire in the wood stove heating the house. I was seven at the time, and don’t remember many details of the dinner itself. What happened afterward was much more memorable.

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While everyone stayed inside chatting and snacking after the big meal, Jeremy, Chris, Bethany, and I headed outside to cut some sled tracks in the snow. We had a huge hill in the backyard, the kind that gives a gratifyingly long slide followed by a tiring climb to the top, but we had to be careful to stop before it tipped over into a steep incline we called The Cliff. Cutting a new track, especially in three feet of snow, took time, but once set, the sled would whip down the hill in a way I’ve never experienced since. The process was tried-and-true, with me packing down the tracks with the pink disc.

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As is common with most siblings, the good sleds belonged to my older brothers. Despite both sleds being the same make and model, for an inexplicable reason, Jeremy’s orange sled was the fastest. Bethany was five at the time, and not quite experienced enough to stop at the bottom of the hill, so while she got ready at the top of the hill, Jeremy stood at the bottom of the track to catch her. Chris held her steady until she was ready, then released. Her feather weight let the sled skate down the already hardened track. I remembered seeing a streak of blonde and orange flying past Jeremy and toward me…and then over the edge. I rushed for The Cliff. spotting her and the sled rammed against one of the many trees that grew up the side of The Cliff.

“Bethany!” Jeremy called, coming to my shoulder, “Bethany! How’s my sled?!?”

True sibling love.

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Bethany was fine, and the sled was crushed a little in the front. But snow and Thanksgiving, for me, always brings up that memory. The turkey is currently in the oven, making the house smell like a Simon and Garfunkel song (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme), and every other dish is ready to go in the oven the moment it is cleared up. Bethany, Mom, Dad, and I, are watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, cat at my elbow, dog at my feet. Chris and Megan are on their way, getting us one sibling family short of being all together (miss you Jeremy, Julie, and kids!). I managed to go through my Dad’s old photos to find these old slide and photo scans for visual aids!

I have SO much to be thankful for this year, thank you all so much for making it a wonderful year! I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving!

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Crafty Afternoons – DIY Harry Potter Wands

When my friend Joy invited me to a Potterween party, I immediately asked if she needed any help with favors or decorating. As a creative person addicted to Pinterest, I’d seen multiple DIYs and jumped on the idea of providing wands. I used this tutorial to make 21 fantastic wands in only about 30 minutes work (not counting drying time).

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I headed over to Michaels for the supplies:

36″ dowels cut into the desired wand length (I cut them to 12″)

Spray paint

Metallic acrylic paint for embellishments

Paintbrush (I used sponge brushes)

Glue stick

Paper (1 sheet per wand)

Hot glue sticks

Hot glue gun

Mod Podge (optional)

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Run the glue stick over the paper and roll the paper around the dowel, leaving one end’s opening wider than the other. Glue down the edges and trim the ends straight. Use hot glue to fill in any empty spaces on either end. Once those have cooled, use the hot glue to draw any desired details along the handle.

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Take the wands outside and spray paint them! Because I was making a batch, I made some black, some light brown, and some deep brown. Spray them in thin layers, working up to the desired coverage. This will prevent drips. The colors turned out fantastic! Let the wands dry according to the instructions, for these it was two hours.

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Once dry, I used gold and silver metallic paint to embellish the handles and bring out the details I’d drawn on in hot glue. If you want, I recommend coating in mod podge to prevent any peeling or fading.

And there you have it! The wands were a HUGE hit, and super easy, too! I’ll have no problem making these again.

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Lazy Day Adventures – Renaissance Festival

An avid reader and obsessed Lord of the Rings fan, I jump at any excuse to dress up and relive periods of yore. So when the Renaissance Festival rolls around every year, not only am I there, I’m there in a handmade costume. My lovely friend Erika helped with the photos!

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I made this outfit last year, for my first ever RennFest. I had just enough spending money to get me through the door and one dollar in my pocket. I bought frozen lemonade and had a blast. But THIS year, I had money in my pocket to actually take part in some of the knife throwing, get my hair braided, maybe eat a turkey leg…

Speaking of sewing projects, I managed to put together a Renaissance Elsa costume for my sister…I’m sort of obsessed with it. So obsessed, I made an Anna costume for Halloween…but that is for another blog post!

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And so, a handful of friends and I embarked upon a trip into the past…

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The HUZZAH guy was my favorite! I mean, look at that enthusiasm!

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The jousting was fun, but the falconry exhibit was amazing. They did a great job of explaining what the gear and history behind falcon training and hunting; it was really spellbinding.

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There was quite the menagerie, from horses to falcons, camels to elephants (I got to ride one!). There were also beautiful leather masks and crowns. Sarah got the below giraffe mask!

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And I can’t wait for next year.

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The Best Family – Montpelier Mansion, MD

I have a confession to make: family portraits are why I got into this business. There’s something fantastic about getting a whole family together to photograph a slice of time out of a family’s life. Kids grow so fast, it’s important to grab those moments as they happen! This is my second year photographing the Bests (though I did catch the bouquet at their wedding as a guest!) and the first year Justin was able to make it!

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Fall is my absolute FAVORITE time to take photos, during that sweet spot when the leaves are changing and the weather hasn’t quite become chilly. We managed to find that perfect time.

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Joshua and Caleb only responded to the names Superman, Batman, or Super Caleb, and that worked perfectly in getting their attention and helping them pose. All I had to do was ask them to pose like a superhero and they were all for it!

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I remember playing around with that Radio Flyer wagon when I was Joshua and Caleb’s age! It was so great to see them take to it so well. It’s one of my favorite props…and I enjoyed pulling them around on it between shots. What kid doesn’t want a wagon ride?

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Monica told me later that these images were the first real photos of all four of them together since Caleb was born! Thank you so much for helping me remedy that fact! I had so much fun working with you!

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