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Happy Halloween!

Whenever I think of Halloween, I think of one of the only songs I remember from elementary school:

H – A – Double “L” – O – W – Double “E” – N spells Halloween!

Singing that song to myself not only helps me make sure I’ve spelled “Halloween” correctly, but also takes me back to celebrating as a kid. I go back some of my different costumed identities: a cowgirl with a cap gun and stick horse, a pioneer girl with a straw hat, Cat Woman in a plastic mask, and way back in the day one darn cute pumpkin. I go back to Halloween parties and parades at school, and carving pumpkins and hanging fall decorations at home. I go back to trick-or-treating – rural living style – having my mom drive us around to the far-flung neighbors because there were long driveways, no sidewalks and miles in between. And I go back to hearing about how my dad, left home while we were trick-or-treating, scared the bejesus out of a poor neighbor kid who came to the door for candy.

Now that I’m all grown up and too old for trick-or-treating, I’m treating myself to the other joys of one of my favorite season’s main holidays.

Last year, my boyfriend and I went to a u-pick pumpkin farm owned by a friend and spent the evening carving pumpkins.

Pumpkin Picking

We found our pumpkins! For the record, I picked the big one and he was the gentleman for carrying that behemoth.

Carving station

Carving station

All done!

All done!

This year, the weekend he was in town and we had planned to go pumpkin picking, the weather refused to cooperate and rained the entire time. So, I’m making do with one of the ceramic pumpkins that decorated the house when I was growing up.

Pumpkin

With the move earlier this year, I’m also getting hit with Halloween spirit as I walk around my new neighborhood. There are lots of families in the area, so I’m treated to house after house covered in spider webs and other spooky wares as Weasley and I go for our daily walks.

Ghoulish Graveyard

Ghoulish Graveyard

Spider's Web

Spider’s Web

Halloween Hotspot

Halloween Hotspot

Probably the best thing about my neighborhood’s Halloween spirit is the parade that shut down the main street on Sunday afternoon. Everyone was invited to dress up and walk in the parade and there were costume categories for pets, kids, strollers and the like. Even the costume judges marched in the parade and got into the spirit!

The Distinguished Judges

The Distinguished Judges

Weasley and I didn’t get dressed up, but we did make our way down to help line the parade route for everyone else. And was the parade route packed! Between paraders and parade goers, it was tough to see to the next block.

Parade

And I must say, I was impressed by the creativity of the costumes I saw. We didn’t stick around to see which costumes won, but here were some of my favorites:

UPS

The little boy inside was even dressed head to toe in brown.

NSA

The NSA kept watch as the tank made its way down the street

Pirate

In my opinion, the best 3-legged dog costume…and yes there was more than one 3-legged dog at the parade.

Ghost

I loved the old school sheet ghost costume. When everyone tries to be witty and original, I can’t help but love the classic.

I think the hardest part of growing up and not going trick-or-treating is deciding whether or not you’re going to dress up at all. Last year, I forwent the costume and met up with some friends downtown for drinks and window seats to DC’s Halloween spectacle, complete with napkin score cards to rate the passers by. This year I’m dressing up [sort of] to partake in my office’s Halloween Spooktacular party and to hand out candy. It’s yet to be determined if any trick-or-treaters will make their way to my apartment building, but I’ll be ready with some candy for them [I made sure to pace myself and not eat it all before the big day] just in case they do.

Trick-or-Treat!

Trick-or-Treat!

Then, like a good Catholic, I’ll make my way to Mass tomorrow for All Saints Day [or All Hallows Day if you’re old school…hence the reason we’re celebrating “All Hallows Eve” tonight] to say a prayer in honor of all those who have died and attained sainthood.

I guess grown-up Halloween isn’t all that bad!

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Summer Reading

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I passed this sign every day on my way to and from work over the summer. About the time this message appeared, I started reading just for me again. Coincidence or subliminal messaging?

It’s not like a didn’t read before I saw this sign. I actually love to read; have ever since I was a kid. One of the first books I remember knowing how to “read” is Just Go to Bed, although that memory also includes being told I wasn’t actually reading it, just reciting a story I’d heard so many times that I’d committed it to memory. Needless to say, I did eventually learn to read that book and anything else I picked up. Growing up, I also spent a lot of time at our local library, picking out books and reading while my mom ran other errands. I still carry my childhood library card in my wallet [well one of them because I tended to lose or leave them places].

Somewhere along the way, reading just for me became more intermittent. Required reading in high school and college cut into time I would have spent reading for pleasure. Fast forward a few years, and even though it’s not in book form, I now do a decent amount of reading at work, proofreading and updating letters, resource material, etc. No matter how much I enjoy reading, my brain can only handle so much in one day.

Many people save their “just because” reading for travel and, for the past few years, I have been no exception.

With a 30-minute commute on the train each way each day, I’ve had more time to devote to travel reading than your average non-city dweller. But books add extra weight to a purse already bursting with shoes for the office, an umbrella in case it rains and just about everything else you could possibly need in a day [the joys of taking public transportation to work], so they often gave way to the disposable daily paper so I could keep up on current events while still fulfilling some of the desire to read. Then I moved and my commute was cut in half – great for adding time back into my day, terrible for my reading on the train regimen.

In addition to my daily commute, I started traveling more for work and to visit my boyfriend. These plane trips created great opportunities for long, uninterrupted reading. Then work hit the slow travel season and my boyfriend moved within driving distance – great for my free time and last minute trips to visit him, terrible for my reading on the plane regimen.

On top of all the travel, there’s actually working, post-work activities, errands, cooking and my often out-of-control DVR. There are only so many hours in a day and mine were quickly claimed by things other than reading.

Then, with shrinking door-to-door travel time, the reclamation of my nights and weekends from constant travel, spring changing into summer, and season finales leading to the taming of my out-of-control DVR, the sign appeared on my daily walk.

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I started turning off the TV in the evenings and on weekend afternoons [especially after my technology-free vacation] and picking up the stack of books I’d purchased but never read [and let’s be honest, I bought more books]. I started reading a chapter or two before bed or in bed with my Sunday morning tea as Weasley snoozed. I read classics like A Farewell to Arms [my boyfriend claims that I’m the only person who’s ever ready Hemingway for fun] and best sellers like The Paris Wife and J.K. Rowling’s very un-Harry Potter-ish novel, The Casual Vacancy. Instead of books on my commute, I carried magazines. I kept up to date on the happenings around town by subscribing to Washingtonian, and on the latest fashion and thought-provoking essays with Vogue [at this point I should probably subscribe to it too]. And since I started spending more time driving in the car to visit my boyfriend, I added audiobooks to my reading repertoire.

And the great thing is that I started this trend back at the beginning of summer, and it’s still going strong now that fall is in full swing. It may not be the days of my youth where I’d spend whole days doing nothing but reading and finishing books in a single afternoon, but it’s something. No matter the medium, it’s a nice to be reading again.

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Summertime Nostalgia

My summers have certainly changed since I was a kid playing outside all day, running through the creek or the sprinkler to cool off and then camping outside with my cousins almost every night. The middle school me spent many of my summer days outside, working on my tan, helping on the farm or at my brother’s baseball games. By high school, several of my summer weekdays [and weekends] were taken over by part time jobs, band or cross country practice, and a lovely trip to Europe, but even they left plenty of time for hanging out with friends and going to the movies every week. Even though I started internships during college that had me working 9-5 every day, summers then still seemed carefree and evenings and weekends spent with friends took on a special new quality, as we basked in what seemed to be the last truly carefree summer days of our lives.

Then came the real world. I didn’t even allow myself that one last youthful summer after college: I graduated on Sunday, moved to DC on Monday and started my internship on Tuesday. Sure it was just an internship so I didn’t have to work late or on weekends, but I was still on my own and, for the first time, fully responsible for all my expenses. I did have a great time exploring the city and playing softball on the Mall and the very DC post-work activity of rooftop happy hours. Still, I could tell summers had changed.

In the midst of my fourth real world summer, I’m feeling nostalgic. Sitting in an office building all day, staring through another office to get a glimpse of the day outside, I think about the days when I could pick and choose what I wanted to do and meeting up with friends any day, any time was a possibility. Coming home to an apartment building in the city, I think about summer cookouts with the grill fired up and dinners on the patio. Walking Weasley in the evenings as the summer heat begins to yield and seeing lightning bugs dot the lawns of the homes in my neighborhood takes me even further back to plastic jars with holes in the lids and bugs of all kinds living on leaves and twigs inside.

Summer Reading

Enjoying the sunshine and getting to work on my stack of books

Thankfully, I’m finding ways to indulge in my own grown-up version of a carefree summer. A flexible summer work schedule gives me every other Friday to pick and choose what I want to do, even if that is getting caught up on housework and errands so I can have my weekend completely free. Babysitting gives me a chance to relive my youth as we draw with sidewalk chalk, eat popsicles and get sprayed with the hose to cool down and clean up. Jazz in the Garden on Friday night means I can enjoy dinner outdoors as well as impromptu time with friends, since you never know who might show up. I even learned while walking Weasley one night that a neon yellow shirt is like a honing beacon for lightning bugs, after 4 or 5 flew right up and landed on my arm. One of the best carefree things I’ve done this summer is completely unplug during vacation, actually turning the email and Facebook alerts off on my phone…I had a difficult time convincing myself to turn them back on when the week ended. Thanks to that little experiment, I’m don’t feel tied to my computer, phone or DVR quite as much as I used to and have been indulging my bookworm side, something my summers haven’t included in awhile.

The thing about nostalgia is that it filters out the parts we don’t necessarily want to remember, in this case the endless complaints of “Mom, I’m bored!” Although, as nice as it sounds, I know if I did have all summer completely to myself, soon enough I’d be saying the same thing [except probably to Weasley…and hoping he wouldn’t actually respond].

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The [Un]Official Start of Summer

How do you know summer has officially arrived? The possible indicators are endless: the long Memorial Day weekend, the first cookout of the year, the first Summer Friday day off, the first day of summer break, the first time you break out the swimsuit for the year, or perhaps the old school Summer Solstice [i.e. the official calendar date for the First Day of Summer]…it happens to be June 21 this year [at least summer has the decency to start on a Friday]. For me, summer hasn’t arrived until I’m sitting in the ballpark.

Growing up, my brother played travel baseball, so my summers were spent at the ballpark, slathering on sunscreen, burning the backs of my legs on metal bleachers, and eating more than my fill of hot dogs, cow tales and laffy taffy. I improved my math skills working in the shade of the concession stand, had the important task of operating the scoreboard, and even kept stats for the team [I bet you don’t know what DP 5-3-2 means]. And one fine summer day at the ballpark, I read, for the first time, what happened to Harry Potter during the Battle of Hogwarts. So, when summer rolls around, it isn’t really summer until I’ve spent some time in the ballpark.

You wouldn’t think it would be all that hard for me to get the summer started since the Nation’s Capitol has made enjoying America’s Pastime really easy. For starters, the ballpark is right downtown. You can hop on the Metro and be there in a matter of minutes. Metro not your thing? You can literally walk the 1.5 miles from Capitol Hill to the ballpark. Not to mention, it’s quite the social event. It’s not uncommon to go to a weeknight game and see folks just getting off work, still in their dress pants and dress shirt with their sleeves rolled up to their elbows [having likely lost the tie by now] co-mingling with the red, white and blue clad Nationals [AKA the Nats] fans in their “Curly W” paraphernalia. Since no one in DC is actually from DC, it’s also not uncommon to see just as many jerseys and hats supporting the opposing team as those supporting the Nats. And since you can score tickets for just $10 or $15, visiting the ballpark is not cost prohibitive.

Good news folks: Summer 2013 has finally arrived! Sunday afternoon [is there a better time for baseball?] I was in the the ballpark for a Washington Nationals vs. Minnesota Twins game with a group of friends.

The day started out exceptionally cloudy, but the baseball gods really came through by the end of the game.

Nats Game

We had great seats down the third base line

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I’m adding “Pups in the Park” with Weasley to my DC bucket list

It was a slow start, but when the Nationals started scoring our NATITUDE came out

Presidents Race

Time for the Presidents Race! Former President William Howard “Bill” Taft joined Mount Rushmore presidents George, Tom, Teddy and Abe this year. It looked like Teddy would pull out the “W” until…cicada.

The sun came out and so did the Nats bats

Here’s to hoping I get to celebrate summer with the Nationals a lot more in the next few months!

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LivingSocial and the Budding Artists

Every day, my inbox in inundated with “deal” emails – the Groupons, LivingSocials and Fabs of the cyberworld. Most days, the 20 or so emails get dumped in the trash without me even reading them so I don’t feel the slightest inclination to spend money on things I don’t even remotely need. Some days, however, I scroll through the deals, click through the links, and every once in awhile, I even buy something.

Last week, four friends and I took advantage of one such deal. Living Social has an office in DC where they host events and experiences, like sushi rolling, mixology and dance classes. Our deal of choice: a two-hour class dubbed “Sipping and Painting” that included all the supplies needed to bring out our inner artist and a half bottle of wine to get the creative juices flowing, all for $29.

918 F Street NW. Photograph by Benjamin R. Freed, courtesy of suitandartist.com

918 F Street NW. Photograph by Benjamin R. Freed, Courtesy of suitandartist.com

“918 F Street” as LivingSocial calls it, is a cool, multistory brick building with big windows in downtown DC. It has that exposed brick, industrial-chic loft vibe that seems to be popular with the twenty-something crowd. After checking in, I was sent upstairs to the lounge to wait for my friends to arrive and for us to then be fetched for our class. I plopped down in a comfy leather sofa and my friends joined a few minutes later. We did a brief life catch-up and then started speculating what the class would be like. 6:00 came and then 6:15 and we still hadn’t been fetched, although the class was supposed to start at 6:00. We could see a room across the loft with drop-cloths and easels set up that we assumed had to be for us, so we (along with a whole crowd of other people waiting to be fetched…we’re such trendsetters!) ventured over to see what was up. The girl collecting our token seemed oblivious to the fact that she had forgotten to collect everyone, or perhaps she didn’t realize the folks checking us in had told us we’d be collected. Either way, we set aside our annoyance and flooded into the room, picked up our individual half bottles of wine and plastic cups and claimed a group of five easels.

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Our inspiration: Windmill at Zaandam by Claude Monet

Taped above each easel and canvas was our inspiration for the night: a drab Monet of a windmill, shed and boat, all in various shades of brown, not to mention it looked difficult to paint. To say I wasn’t super-psyched about our inspiration is an understatement. I knew my first attempt at art may not turn out that great, but in case it did, I wanted something colorful and cute like a Van Gogh (who happens to be my favorite artist) that could be displayed in my apartment.

As I stared at my “inspiration,” I brooded and was quite glad to have my bottle of wine. The instructor, “Gavin,” started to “teach” us how to recreate this masterpiece, and my brooding grew to outright frustration and huffs and maybe even a foot stomp or two (of which I am not particularly proud) when he raced through the steps and refused to slow down when asked by various people in the class. When he did walk around with his cup of wine to “help,” he stayed close to a particularly flirty and cute bunch of girls, more or less ignoring the rest of us. Gavin was so terrible that one girl in the class filed a written complaint because she’d been to another of their classes with a great instructor but said this time she’d overpaid for wine and had to teach herself. The only useful advice he gave the whole night was to start with the farthest back point of your painting and layer other colors over that [i.e. start with the sky and then add the ground, and then the mountains and then the waves on the sea and the grass and then the people, etc.], and if you screw up you can always wipe your canvas down and start again. I used both pieces of advice when I got fed up with his lack of instruction and attempted to teach myself how to paint a colorful painting that had caught my eye when I walked in.

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My new inspiration…I think it’s a version of another Monet, Houses of Parliament, Effects of Sunlight in the Fog I (if it has anything to do with England, no wonder I was drawn to it!)

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The artist at work

Even though it was difficult to start over and attempt to teach myself color mixing and technique while rushing to finish a painting – and my wine – in half the time allotted for the class and, most importantly, trying to remember to dip my dirty paint brush in the water and not my wine cup, I finally loosened up and really started to enjoy myself. One of my friends followed my lead, as did a couple other people in the class [to be fair, at the outset of the class, Gavin did say we could pick anything we wanted to paint, but I think at that point we were all naive to the fact he wasn’t actually going to teach] and agreed that once they stopped trying to follow Gavin and did their own thing, they had a lot more fun. The girl who complained actually made a really awesome splatter painting…something that is now on my Pinterest craft list.

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Sipping & Painting

All in all, it was a fun night. I enjoyed some good laughs with good friends and even discovered some potential artistic ability that just needs a little nurturing. From talking to others who have taken similar classes, we just had the unlucky draw of a crappy instructor, so I’d definitely give it another try, or maybe try a different deal vendor [I saw another deal site today had a similar class that takes place in one of the actual bars in DC].

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So glad we got to do this!

If you’re looking for something other than your typical date night or after work happy hour with friends, I’d definitely recommend checking out some of these experience deals. My first experience may have been a little rocky, but it was definitely fun to mix it up! And if you hit up the 918 F Street location, may I suggest Ping Pong Dim Sum just up the street after your class? We had a big table with lots of bench space for everyone to admire our drying artwork 🙂

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A Tale of Two Cities

Chicago has grown on me. I’ve now visited the Windy City seven or eight times, and each time I’ve come to like it a little more. Living in DC, I consider myself to be living in a big city, but every time I’m in Chicago, I’m struck by what a city really is.

Here in DC, there are thousands of people, rushing to and from work and touristy activities every day. There is a [fairly] reliable and well-traveled public transportation system. We also have a beautiful landscape, with buildings no taller than 555 feet 5 1/8 inches and plenty of trees, parks, and monuments. And thanks to a mostly underground Metro system, it’s quiet.

In Chicago, there are also thousands of people, rushing to and from work and touristy activities every day. There is [as far as I’ve seen] a reliable and well-traveled public transportation system. On the other hand, the buildings are skyscrapers, and for a time, the city was home to the tallest building in the world. There are a few grassy spots here and there, but for the most part, Weasley had to learn how to “do his business” on the sidewalks and grates around the tree roots. And unlike the Metro, the “L” is aboveground and almost deafening. As my boyfriend put it, even in the dead of night, the city is at a dull roar. Even still, I get caught up in the beauty of the juxtaposition of the buildings against the skyline, especially as dusk settles in.

I could get used to a view like this.

I could get used to a view like this.

While DC is home to all the national monuments, the “New York City of the Midwest” also a lot of history, as I’ve experienced during my various visits. On my first trip to the city many years ago, my mom and I visited the first ever American Girl Place store. I’ve since visited other American Girl stores but none compare to the experience of the original. On subsequent visits, I’ve checked out the Shedd Aquarium (because of said visit my boyfriend now has a membership), Navy Pier, the Art Institute of Chicago, numerous Top Chef restaurants, hidden gems only Chicagoans seem to know and, most recently, the White City.

Last fall, my boyfriend recommended I read Devil in the White City, a nonfiction book that reads like a novel about the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and the serial killer that targeted its visitors. This is a great read and I’d totally recommend it (his other books are on my “To Read” list too). So, when the weather warmed up this spring, we made the decision to head out to Jackson Park, the site of the fair, to see all the sites we’d read about. It was surprising to me how overgrown the meticulously designed “Wooded Island” had become and that there was only one building remaining after all these years. Thankfully a small portion of the island, a version of the original Japanese garden, had been restored to it’s late 19th Century glory. It provided a nice photo op, and a glimpse into the beauty of the White City as fairgoers would have experienced it more than 100 years ago.

Enjoying the one sunny day of the weekend.

Enjoying the one sunny day of the weekend.

I think the unkemptness of the site of such an historic period in American and even world history – because of this fair we have Cracker Jack, Shredded Weat, Juicy Fruit, Columbus Day, the Ferris Wheel and the Pledge of Allegiance – seemed especially stark compared to my life in DC. In DC history is celebrated. Museums showcasing everything from the first airplane flight to Dorothy’s red slippers are free to the public. Often, I catch myself thinking about all the historic figures who trod the streets of the District before me and it’s overwhelming. Walking around the Wooded Island and what’s left of the White City, I realized that people just as influential as those in DC had walked the ground I was walking – people like Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Buffalo Bill, Hellen Keller, L. Frank Baum and even Walt Disney. A place like this deserved to be remembered and preserved like all the museums and artifacts in the Smithsonians, but alas, this great chapter of American history seems to have fallen by the wayside. It’s a shame that we push for new when what we have already is so valuable.

Sunset in Flight

Sunset in Flight

Last night, back in DC, I walked past numerous free galleries and museums and saw the monuments from the Metro as I crossed the river into Virginia. It was one of those moments where I realized that not everyone gets to see these sites every day and that I don’t take enough advantage of these opportunities. Ever since coming to the city three years ago, I’ve been saying how I want to see this or do that before I leave. Helping my boyfriend and another good friend check items off their respective bucket lists before they move this summer has encouraged me to actually compile my own DC bucket list. It’s still a work in progress; I’m slowly remembering and writing down all the “want to’s” I’ve had floating around in my head. I don’t know when my time in this city will end, but I think it’s time to start putting rubber to the road and actually doing some of these things before it’s too late.

As always, I’ll keep you updated.

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Now That’s a Holiday I Can Get Behind

I was hoping to make it a little further into blog life before sharing my love (some may call it an obsession) of Harry Potter. I attribute this intense affection to the fact that I literally grew up with Harry Potter. When new movies and books were released, I always seemed to be the same age as Harry, so it made it that much easier to relate and get sucked into the story. Through J.K. Rowling’s beautifully crafted world and character development, I still find myself transported to the wizarding world each time I open the pages.

While most twenty-somethings have read the books and seen the movies, I’ve taken it a bit further. Of course I own all seven books and all eight movies, not to mention the Harry Potter school books and the all-important Tales of Beadle the Bard. Thanks to a few good friends I even have a Spanish version of my favorite book in the series (Prisoner of Azkaban), a Harry Potter themed t-shirt (Keep Calm and Carry a Wand), and an official Sirius Black wand. Every time a new book or movie was released, I would reread the. entire. series. And when a little Cavalier King Charles Spaniel came into my life two years ago, he was christened “Weasley” because of his red hair and freckles, just like the rest of the Weasley family.

Weasley on the day I brought him home

Weasley the day I brought him home 

Like I said, I’d hoped to keep this a secret love for awhile. Alas, I woke up yesterday to find that the world was celebrating International Harry Potter Day, and there was no way I was going to let them celebrate alone! It turns out International Harry Potter Day commemorates the Battle of Hogwarts and the defeat of Voldemort. So what better way to join in the festivities than cuddling on the couch with my own Weasley and watching that historic battle in movie form (while possibly wearing the aforementioned t-shirt)?

I know this may all seem a little juvenile for someone who’s reached the quarter-of-a-century mark, but it’s just that childlike lightheartedness that keeps me coming back. Even though things turn dark (I mean, an epic battle between good and evil to decide the entire future of the wizarding world is pretty dark), it’s magic and children’s fables that lead the way. Not to mention the overwhelming theme of love and how it (and even the lack of it) makes all the difference in the world. Life lessons litter the pages of this series, but there’s one from the end of The Goblet of Fire that has really stuck with me. As the world faces the fact that Voldemort has returned, Dumbledore tells the students that they will have a decision to make: either accept that Voldemort has returned and immediately start resisting the evil he brings, or simply ignore what is happening in the world around you and go on living blindly. He says that there will come a time when we need to make the choice between what is right and what is easy.

I make these kinds of decisions numerous times each day. I consider myself to be a good person, but too often I make the easy choice – avoiding eye contact with the beggar on the street when I could look him in the eye and offer a friendly smile; constantly judging others when they don’t meet my expectations, even if it’s something as simple as the way they’re dressed; taking part in office gossip when I could keep my mouth shut or, heaven forbid, stop it all together. These aren’t life or death decisions, but they can make a difference. The more I make the right choice, the better I feel about myself and the happier I am in general. And that happiness is contagious. If we’re all making the conscious decision to do what’s right, we really can make the world a more pleasant place for everyone.

Harry Potter Then and Now

Whatever lessons you’ve learned from your own love affair with Harry Potter, I hope you put them into practice. Happy [Belated] International Harry Potter Day!