Islands of Adventure Pt. 1 – Hogsmeade Village

We decided to take a last minute trip to Universal Studios in Orlando right before Thanksgiving. We haven’t traveled anywhere since Covid-19 started, and I was feeling an itch to go. Tickets were discounted, so we just decided to go. It was a controversial decision, but I think we did the best we could to stay safe and had a lot of fun in the process.

This post will share some of our pictures from Islands of Adventure. We spent two days in this park. The first day of our trip was the least crowded. Our second IOA day was a few days later on the weekend, so crowds had picked up a bit. On that day, we went to the park at opening, left around lunchtime, and came back at night to avoid the most crowded part of the day.

The part of Universal Studios that I was most excited to visit were the two Harry Potter themed lands. I have not been to Universal since these were built several years ago. In Islands of Adventure, you get to visit both Hogsmeade and Hogwarts!

Hogsmeade was a wintry wonderland covered in snow and Christmas decor.

My family represents three different Hogwarts houses, so we wore masks to represent. My husband is a Slytherin, my daughter is a Gryffindor, and I am a proud Hufflepuff. We just need a Ravenclaw to round out our group.

We visited stores all themed down to the details according to the book’s descriptions.

My daughter got an interactive Hermione Granger wand that allowed her to do spells around both of the parks. Completing the spells was a bit trickier than I expected and did require some practice to get right.

We had a lunch of fish and chips at The Three Broomsticks, which were quite tasty. I also sampled some Butterbeer.

The Hogwarts castle was a sight to behold and even more fun to see lit up at night.

The castle is home to the Forbidden Journey ride, which I quite enjoyed, but my daughter was a bit frightened of. It is an adventure as you fly around Hogwarts with Harry.

My daughter’s favorite ride was Flight of the Hippogriff which is a family friendly roller coaster. She could have ridden that one all day if we let her. Kiddie roller coasters are as far as I go in the roller coaster world, so we didn’t even attempt the popular Hagrid’s Magical Creatures ride.

We saw two shows during our time in Hogsmeade. The first was the Triwizard Spirit Rally, which showcased perfomances by students from the other two magical schools, Durmstrang and Beauxbatons.

We also saw the Hogwarts Frog Choir which performed some great Christmas tunes.

We did not get a chance to ride the Hogwarts Express, as we did not buy park to park tickets. Maybe one day!

A Pitcher of Water

I have been listening to old episodes of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. In an episode with Shawn Achor, who is a happiness researcher, he said one thing that I really liked.

People talk about whether the glass is half full or half empty. But the important thing to remember, is that if you scan your environment, you will see a pitcher of water nearby. It doesn’t matter if it’s half full or half empty, because we always have the power to fill it up.

Now, I admit that I am a naturally optimistic person. Hey, the name of this blog is “looking on the bright side.” But I am definitely a human with my good days and my bad days. When I have my bad days, I try to look for that pitcher of water nearby.

Sometimes we have to work for our happiness. It doesn’t always come naturally. But we can make active decisions to do things that will increase our happiness. Reach out to a friend you haven’t talked to in awhile. Put on that happy music. Plan an outing to somewhere fun. Sit outside and look at the clouds. Watch a movie that you love.

When you’re feeling depressed, these things can take a real effort and don’t come easily. But keep looking for the pitcher. It’s always there somewhere.

JAMNOLA

The lack of travel posts on my blog over the past several months makes me sad. Thanks Covid-19! But today, I did go to an awesome place in my hometown of New Orleans. It is called JAMNOLA. The JAM stands for Joy, Art, and Music and it is an artistic celebration of New Orleans culture.

It is a guided tour through themed rooms which are each full of unique, colorful, and truly NOLA art. I highly recommend checking it out. It is fun and they encourage photography and fun selfies. It is a great place to spend an hour.

Much of the art is made with reclaimed materials, such as the lanterns in the feather room (made out of Gatorade bottles).

There were paintings, fun wallpaper, or other art installations on every wall and floor.

There was a room made up completely of recycled Mardi Gras beads and the reflective mirrors from parking garages.

The bling bayou was super sparkly of course.

This whole room was hand painted.

The crawfish themed room had lots of fun photo opportunities and the coolest wallpaper.

The costume room had lots of cool stuff inspired by Carnival.

The garden of legends had huge statues of famous NOLA musicians, from Irma Thomas to Louis Armstrong to Lil Wayne and more.

JAMNOLA is a uniquely New Orleans experience full of color, joy, and music.

A Jason Mraz Playlist to Brighten Your Day

It’s been awhile since I wrote a post sharing some “Looking on the Bright Side” music with you. Songs that motivate and make you feel good. Well, one of my all time favorite artists is the king of those songs – Jason Mraz. I’ve put together a little playlist of songs to make you feel good with tracks from each of his seven studio albums.

  1.  Curbside Prophet Okay, so this one doesn’t exactly fit the theme of the playlist, but I needed to pick a song from his awesome first album, and I just love this one.  An introduction to Jason Mraz’s style if you are not familiar.  His lyrics are full of wordplay.
  1. Life is Wonderful A slower-paced song about how everything is connected in this life.
  1. I’m Yours One of his more recognizable hits about being open to love.
  1. The Freedom Song This song is from his fourth album, Love is a Four Letter Word.  The theme of the whole album, so I have several songs from this one for you.  This one is about the beauty and joy that causes us to sing.
  1. Living in the Moment A topic that I’ve written about before on this blog – the importance of being present in the current moment.  Let go of the past.
  1. Everything is Sound Another one about the power of music.
  1. The World as I See It We’re all connected, which makes it easier to love each other.
  1. 93 million miles No matter how far you go, you can always come home.
  1. Love Someone A song about the power of love.
  1.  Hello, You Beautiful Thing Wake up and know it’s going to be a good day.
  1.  3 things The three things we should do when going through a hard time to help us recover.  1) Feel the emotion and let it out.  2)  Have gratitude for all the good things in life.  3)  Let that chapter end and try again.
  1.  Have it All Giving blessings to others.
  1.  Love is  still the answer Love is the answer to everything.
  1.  Look for the Good Jason Mraz’s 7th studio album, Look for the Good came out in 2020.  We have certainly needed this reminder to find the positive in everything during this crazy year.
  1.  Make Love A reminder that peace starts with us as individuals. 
  1.  My Kind Love brings us together.  We are all connected as humankind.
  1.  You Do You A duet with comedian Tiffany Haddish.  We’re each unique individuals and special, but together we can do awesome things.

Wooden Crate Shelves – DIY

I have been slowly turning the dining room in our new house into a library for myself. There is one awkward nook in the corner that I wanted to use for more shelving/storage space.

I looked at several different narrow bookshelves, but was also trying to stick to a budget. Searching Pinterest, I came across the idea to use wooden crates to make my own shelves. In addition to low cost, another benefit of this plan was that I could stagger the shelves to maximize the use of the space. So I went to Lowe’s and bought 7 wooden crates.

First, we sanded them down to get rid of some of the roughness.

Then I used paint that we already had from our old house to paint the crates. I painted most of the crates a white color and the bottom of the crate a purplish-gray. Since I knew certain parts of the crates weren’t going to show, I did not have to paint the entire crate.

Once the paint was dry, we set them up in this staggered pattern. I didn’t even attach them to each other. I’m just using the support of the walls to keep them tight in place.

Now, I’ve got extra storage for books and pens and such. My printer even fits perfectly in the bottom crate. It isn’t perfectly styled, but it is functional and cute and I’m proud that I made something!

Making Time for Silence

Tonight, I went to a Taizé prayer service at my church. It is a simple, meditative, and ecumenical form of worship focusing on mantra songs, short readings, and silence. The only time we got up was to put our petitions into a bowl of water and let them dissolve. The lights were dim and the choir and musicians sat on the altar. People were socially distant in the pews, allowing some true alone and quiet time away from distractions. Several times during the service I closed my eyes to more fully focus on the silence and my prayers.

My church also has family adoration nights which combine dim lights, praise and worship music, and adoration of the blessed sacrament. I seek out these services because they allow me to devote some intentional time to silence.

I often crave silence in a world that can be too loud for my mind and soul. Sometimes at home, I ask my family to just leave me alone so that I can go sit in a bath by myself and be quiet. From my talkative child to my loud, barking dogs to the always blaring TV, it can be a challenge to find peace and quiet within the home.

Sometimes, I like to go outside and lay in my hammock and just listen to the sounds of the birds. I need to create more time to intentionally sit in silence, however. It has been awhile since I took time to meditate (and I often fall asleep while doing so). Silent prayer is powerful and let’s you hear more of what God has to say to you, if you can just make time for it.

Many people are uncomfortable with silence and feel the need to always fill it. In my training as a counselor, we were taught to be comfortable with the silence. Giving people time to quietly think can create some really good insights.

I’m going to set a goal to spend at least five minutes in silent prayer every day. I know that it will be a challenge, but also a powerful and purposeful endeavor.

Learning about Social Justice

Back at the end of May, when our nation’s focus was on George Floyd and racial injustice, I decided to start a study of social justice issues with my 6 year old through the use of picture books. There are many, many picture books out there about every topic that you could think of.

Sometimes books bring up uncomfortable topics, but they are useful for sparking conversations. Together we have learned about different people in history who have worked for change.

It can be hard to explain to her how or why certain things happened, since she doesn’t have the historical and social knowledge to put it in context. But I hope the main thing she takes away from our book studies is to always treat others with respect and to work and advocate for change in our world.

This is certainly not a comprehensive list of the books available on these topics, but I wanted to share the list of books we read. Perhaps they will inspire you to check some of them out and learn some new things.

Emmanuel’s Dream:  The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson

Disability advocate in Africa.

Drum Dream Girl:  How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle

A Cuban musician who broke down gender barriers

Free as a Bird: The Story of Malala by Lina Maslo

Advocate for the right to education of girls

 I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes her Mark by Debbie Levy

Fighting for change as a supreme court justice

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai

Malala’s story in her own words about standing up for what you believe

 Pride:  The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders

Advocate for gay rights

Harlem’s Little Blackbird:  The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson

A singer during the Harlem Renaissance who used her voice to help others

We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio

Kindness towards everyone

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

Seeing gratitude everywhere in the world

We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures Put out by Amnesty International with different contributing artists

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood

A refugee moving to a new country and having to adapt to a new world

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter

One woman who made a difference by planting trees

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel

Advocate for worker’s rights

Martin and Mahalia: His Words, Her Song by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney

Shows how both MLK Jr. and Mahalia Jackson used their voices for change

We March by Shane W. Evans

A short book about marching for rights

Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story by Arun Manilal Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus

Extreme nonviolence, including passive violence as taught to him by his grandfather

La Frontera: My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva

The story of crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S.

Same, Same, but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

Pen pals from across the world compare their lives

A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson

Story of children going to a protest march

Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom by Tim Tingle

A story of Choctaws rescuing slaves

The Youngest Marcher:  The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthina Levinson

A story of the youngest girl to march against segregation and be arrested

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus

Arun, Gandhi’s grandson, learning a lesson about using your anger in a positive way

The Case for Loving:  The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko

The family that made it to the supreme court to allow interracial marriage

One Plastic Bag:  Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul

A woman who learned to recycle the plastic bags in her community

Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago

A simple story about a girl and what she sees on the journey as a refugee

My Heart Will Not Sit Down by Mara Rockliff

A story of sharing with those who need it even when they themselves have little

Dreams of Freedom: In Words and Pictures by Amnesty International

A collection of quotes about freedom paired with art

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers

A story about the Statue of Liberty and how she is walking to welcome all to our country

Stepping Stones:  A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs

Told in English and Arabic and illustrated with stones arranged artfully

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson

Tells the story of Mandela and his fight for justice in South Africa

Preaching to the Chickens:  The Story of young John Lewis by Jabari Asim

John Lewis preached to the chickens as a young boy

Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson

Inspired by the true story of a freed slave who started a school for black children in Missouri

As Good As Anybody:  Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Herschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom by Richard Michelson

Shows the parallels between the stories of MLK’s life and Herschel’s life as a Jew in WWII Europe and how they come together to walk in Selma, Alabama.

Counting on Katherine:  How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker

About Katherine Johnson, an extraordinary mathematician

Not Quite Snow White by Ashley Franklin

A young girl who wants to play Snow White in the school play even though she is “too tall, too chubby, and too brown”

Stolen Words by Melanie Florence

A granddaughter learns from her grandfather how his native language was taken away from him

My Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth by Ann Turner

A slave turned influential speaker

Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter and Shane Evans

An old woman reflects back on the history of voting rights as she prepares to vote

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

A story of two girls who become friends despite being from opposite sides of the fence

Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers by Sarah Warren

A teacher who works tirelessly to help migrant workers go on strike for fair working conditions

The Girl with a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca

A woman of color who became a successful engineer designing ships for the navy, despite the roadblocks

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

A young girl realizes that she can be anything she wants to (including Peter Pan in the school play)

Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper by Ann Malaspina

A young black girl becomes an olympic gold medalist

Sister Anne’s Hands by Marybeth Lorbiecki

A story of what a girl learns from having a teacher of color

Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe by Vivian Kirkfield

How two women lifted each other up.

One Green Apple by Eve Bunting

An immigrant girl adjusts to life at her new school.

Playing to Win: The Story of Althea Gibson by Karen Deans

The rise of a successful African-American tennis player.

The World is Not a Rectangle: A portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter

An Iraqi woman and her unique designs

The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren

A story of a Danish town who helped to hide Jews and smuggle them to Sweden during the Holocaust.

Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas by Dean Robbins

The friendship between two advocates for change

The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window by Jeff Gottesfeld

The story of the tree and how she lives on.

Nobody Owns the Sky: The Story of Brave Bessie Coleman by Reeve Lindbergh

A woman of color who became a pilot despite people telling her she couldn’t.

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating

A scientist who was told she couldn’t succeed because she was female and went on to swim with and train sharks.

Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability by Shane Burcaw

A man with SMA answers some of the most common questions he gets about life with a disability

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed

A young African-American girl’s dreams to become an astronaut come true.

Parrots, Pugs, and Pixie Dust: A Book about Fashion Designer Judith Leiber by Deborah Blumenthal

A Jewish woman from Hungary who went on to design fun and sparkly handbags

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca

How a young girl with autism became a great inventor and speaker.

Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes

A story of a girl and her service dog

The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game by Nancy Churnin

A baseball player who advocated for the use of sign language during the game to accommodate him

A Rainbow of Cookbooks

In my new home, I’m trying to put a lot of thought into the decor and styling. Much of it is going to have to wait, as I can’t spend too much money until we sell our other house. But I’m still trying to have fun with little touches and things I already have.

I bought some new shelves for my collection of cookbooks and decided to organize them by color. I had fun putting my shelves together, so thought I would share.

I love things that are bright and colorful. I had fun finding the right pictures, artwork, knick-knacks, etc. to place on each shelf.

I also attempted to make a kind of paper mobile to hang between the two shelves. It was a bit of a disaster with the circles and strings getting all tangled together, so I cut off the bottom. There were previously more greens and some blue circles too.

The rest of the room is still a mess, but I know the brightness of my cookbook shelves will bring me joy for years to come.

Learning to Love my Face

So I decided this week that I am going to attempt to give up makeup, specifically foundation and concealer. I hate my skin. Growing up, I had a lot of acne. After two rounds of Accutane in my early 20’s, I don’t have nearly as big of a problem with acne anymore.

No matter what I do, however, I cannot get my skin to be all the same color. I’ve tried for years to get rid of the darkness under my eyes and the splotchy redness on my sensitive cheeks.

I’m not a huge makeup person. Like I’m not someone who puts on a full face to go out, but I do try to even out my skin tone because I’m so self-conscious about it.

When the quarantine started back in March, I thought, “Maybe this is it. Maybe not wearing makeup for an extended period of time will allow my face to heal.” Well, it didn’t work. It still gets red and irritated. I went weeks without wearing makeup, but would still feel pressured to put on some concealer before taking a picture that I would post to social media or just running one errand.

I have decided to stop trying so hard to fix my face. I am going to try to learn to love my face. I’m going to go out without makeup, and I will be okay. Okay, maybe just some mascara and lip gloss.

It doesn’t even look as bad in pictures as it does when I look in the mirror. Oh well.

The Little Book of Hygge

I recently read The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking.  I have been listening to the podcast, By the Book, where each episode is about a different self-help book.  When I listened to the hygge episode, I knew that I had to read the book.  Before that, I didn’t know anything about hygge.  But it definitely is how I prefer to live.

Hygge is a Danish word that can’t be exactly translated into English.  It is pronounced something like “hooga.” 

Wiking works at the Happiness Research Institute, which studies what makes people happy and how to improve the quality of life of people around the world.  It is based in Denmark, which often ranks as the happiest nation in the world.  The cultural concept of hygge is one aspect of why that may be so.

Reading the book reminded me of my book nook that I created several months ago.  I was focusing on hygge and didn’t even know it!  It is my very own hyggekrog!

There is even a song from the Broadway musical version of Frozen all about hygge!

In the book, Wiking lists a hygge manifesto, which boils down to the following ten concepts:

The book addresses various aspects of hygge.  The first chapter is on light.  The Danes love candles and burn them all the time everywhere.  Scented candles are not a big deal.  It is more about the light.  They are also really into hyggelig lighting, which is at a lower temperature (definitely not fluorescent).  They prefer a certain style of lamps, which “spread the light without subjecting people to a direct glare.”  To create a hygge mood, there should be a lot of candles and small lamps to create “small caves of light” around the room.  Denmark is dark and rainy, especially in the long winter.  Lighting design can help increase those feelings of coziness and intimacy.

I feel like I have always been the opposite.  When I walk into a hotel room, I always want to know why they have several lamps rather than one big overhead light.  I’ve been trying to light candles more, but usually for the scent, not the lighting aspect.  I feel weird in dimly lit restaurants.  But do I just want those bright lights just because that is what I’m used to?  I’m going to experiment with turning out the lights more and lighting the candles.  We are in the process of buying a new house.  When we move in a few weeks and I start decorating my new house, I am going to think about putting more lamps around, so that I at least have the option of hyggelig lighting when I want it.  Maybe even some fairy lights!

Most of the candles that I have owned in my life have been gifts or come in a subscription box, such as Causebox.  If I am going to be increasing my candle consumption and purchasing more candles myself, I will make sure to buy eco-friendly, all-natural candles.  The book even mentions the air pollution and negative effects of burning too many candles, but it doesn’t address that there are options out there that are better than others.  If you didn’t know that there was a difference in candles, just google non-toxic candles to find out what to look for when purchasing a candle.

Another chapter in the book is on togetherness.  Hygge mostly happens in small groups of close friends or family.  It is perfect for introverts like me who would prefer a relaxing, cozy night with a few friends to a big, loud gathering at a bar.  I could still work on having more hygge togetherness moments, as I am not as always as social as I feel that I should be.  Wiking says that the art of hygge involves “the art of expanding your comfort zone to include other people.”  We are social creatures and as most happiness research shows – “the best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships.”  It is important to have work-life balance in order to have those hygge moments with your family and friends.

Playing games together as a family.

What about hyggelig food and drink?  The book states “hygge is about being kind to yourself-giving yourself a treat, and giving yourself and each other, a break from the demands of healthy living.”  Danes eat a lot of sweets.  Sweets are hyggelig.  Comforting, slow-cooked foods are also hyggelig.  The smells that permeate your house when baking bread or cooking a hearty stew definitely increase the coziness factor.  Hot drinks are also very soothing.  I’m not a coffee drinker, but tea and hot chocolate are nice when snuggling up under a blanket with a good book.  The process of creating good food alone or with others is very hyggelig.

hot chocolate

I’m not sure that I can convert to the Danish hygge definition of clothing.  I am all for the casual and comfortable, but my style is not minimalistic, black, and full of scarves.  I rarely wear scarves, and I love color.  I like my clothes to be fun and put a smile on my face.  That is hygge clothing to me.  I will wear the comfy sweater and leggings, but they just might be bright pink instead of gray!

Danes are really into design since so much of hygge takes place at home.  Since I am about to move into a new house, I am thinking about how I can make it as hyggelig as possible.  The items in my home should be comforting.  Items should be more than just the physical object, but hopefully have a story or emotional value to go with them.  Wiking says that decorating with wooden items and simple, natural materials makes us feel closer to nature.  Maybe that is why farmhouse decor is so popular in the U.S. right now.

He also says that we should add a variety of textures to our home.  Not just cozy blankets and cushions, but how do the other items feel to the touch?  Smooth ceramics, a wooden table, etc.  Also a good hygge home should have books.  And take the time to hand write letters.  Very hygge.

I also want to make my office more hygge.  I am a school counselor, so obviously the more comfortable and inviting my office is, the better.  I’ve also had many students over the years ask to turn out the overhead lights and just sit in the natural light in my office.

Hygge is supposed to be in all aspects of our lives.  We shouldn’t hygge just at home, but also at the office, at restaurants, out in nature, etc.

Hygge is also about experiencing and savoring the present moment.  I’ve written about my struggle to be more present before.  It’s an ongoing piece of work.

The Christmas season is the epitome of hygge.  It has all of the required elements – family and friends, traditions, food, decorations.  The book talks about some common Danish traditions.  I would love to form even more traditions in my family surrounding the holidays.

One of our Christmas traditions – Celebration in the Oaks

What about you?  Do you try to “hygge-fy” your life?  And yes, I did just make up that word.