A Few of My Favorite Things {in November}

Disclosure: I was not paid to endorse any of these products or services. However, this post does contain some affiliate links. This means that if you purchase some of these items through my links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale. I’ll never share a product or link to a product that I don’t have personal experience with, though.

I might have skipped a month, but hey! This will be the third Favorite Things post! I hereby declare it an official series. You’ve been warned.

On a rare date night last month, Mike and I had some time to kill before our movie. We wandered around Nordstrom for a bit and I found what I thought was a steal: this Drape Neck Zip Cardigan by Caslon. It was one of those pieces I wasn’t sure about, but if I’ve learned one thing when it comes to dressing myself, it’s to never judge an outfit on the hanger. The cutest things on the rack will look terrible on me, while that one thing I couldn’t possibly wear will look absolutely fabulous. This jacket fell under the fabulous category, and I thought it was $40. SOLD. It turns out I’d looked at a tag for a different color. Sadly, the black was $68. I loved it though, so I gritted my teeth and bought it anyway.

caslon drape neck zip cardigan

Such a good decision. I wear it a couple of times a week, and it looks cute dressed up to go out or dressed down with jeans and tennies. Bonus: it feels like you’re wearing the most comfortable sweatshirt ever.

It’s the season of all things pumpkin, and while I don’t go crazy with the pumpkin spice (I’m even over Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Lattes, which would’ve made 2009 Angie unfriend 2014 Angie), I do like pumpkin things in moderation. Except this Pumking brew from Southern Tier. I could drink a lot of it, all the way through spring. Try to find some before it’s gone.

Pumking pumpkin beer

I’m a magazine junkie, but I’ve tried to cut down and simplify my subscriptions over the years. I just don’t have the time or the money to subscribe to all the magazines I love. I got a free 60-day trial to Next Issue from Klout, and I have to say, I think I’m going to keep it going. For $9.99 a month, you get unlimited digital access to over 140 magazines. All of my favorites are there, as well as titles that the kids enjoy as well. And as loyal as I am to actual books over e-readers, I kind of love not dealing with a physical magazine. I always felt so wasteful when I’d finished one in 30 minutes and had no use for it anymore. You can get a free trial for 30 days, so if you have a guilty magazine habit like I do, check it out!

What are some of your favorite things right now?

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The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour: Warner Bros. London

The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour

In June of 2014 my family spent a month traveling through Spain and London. Each week I’m highlighting our individual destinations, giving you tips on traveling with kids and sharing some of the best things we discovered. You can find previously published travel posts on my Travel Page. You can find all the photos from our trip on my flickr page. 

If you have two kids that are both smitten with all things Harry Potter, you can’t very well take them to London and not pay a visit to the place where all the movie magic began. And so one of the very first things we did after booking our flights to London was to buy tickets to The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour at the Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden (about 20 miles northwest of London). Needless to say, the kids were more excited about this aspect of the trip than any other, and will tell you that it was the best part of the entire vacation.

All eight of the Harry Potter movies were made at the Studios, which gives you an amazing and unique opportunity to not only walk where the actors walked, but to see the movie sets first hand. Beyond that, you are treated to an astounding collection of film props, costumes, artifacts, art and graphics, as well as intimate looks at special and creature effects. Like the movies and the books, the studio tour is done to perfection.

The Great Hall Harry Potter

You begin the tour by watching a short movie about the making of the films. Once that is done, the movie screen disappears and you find yourself walking into the Great Hall. You get a short speech here, and then you’re set free to explore the rest of the Studios at your leisure. There is so much to see and do, with lots of interactive stations to keep younger fans happy.

Hagrid costume Warner Bros Studio London

Gryffindor Common Room

Golden Snitch

About halfway through the tour you can explore some of the bigger props and sets outdoors, including an exact replica of 4 Privet Drive, the Knight Bus, and the Weasley’s infamous flying car! You can also grab some butterbeer if you’re thirsty.

The Knight Bus Harry Potter

Weasley's flying car

We all audibly gasped when we walked into this room, featuring the 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts that was used for filming many of the exterior shots in the movies.

Hogwarts model

The end of the tour has you walking through the gift shop, of course, but it’s home to some of the coolest Harry Potter merchandise you’ll ever find. Elena found a Ravenclaw shirt that was making its first appearance in the shop that day. She loved the idea of having a Harry Potter shirt no one in the States had yet! Eli took home his very own wand. Elena got hers at Universal and he’d been envious of it ever since. (Funny story – Mike was in charge of bringing it back to the States, and it was the only thing he got pulled aside for at customs! They were very suspicious of it and thought it was a weapon. A weapon of the dark arts, perhaps! Thankfully they let him bring it home.)

Weasley's Wizard Wheezes

Part of me wished I had let Mike and the kids enjoy this together while I stayed in London and visited a site or two they weren’t particularly interested in (Hello, Westminster Abbey! I’m coming back for you!). I’m one of the few people on the planet who hasn’t read the books yet. You see, all these years Harry Potter has been something very special between Mike and the kids. He’s read the entire series aloud to Elena, and is working through them again with Eli. It’s kind of their thing, and I want to let them have it all to themselves for as long as possible. I have seen the movies, though, and so from that aspect the tour was very interesting. As much as I would’ve liked some extra time on my own in London, I can’t help but be grateful for being able to tag along on this Harry Potter adventure. Seeing the joy in their eyes, watching them take it all in together, and having the opportunity to capture those special moments as the fourth wheel was certainly a blessing. It truly is a special place for any Harry Potter fan, and if you can fit it in your itinerary you won’t regret it.

Ollivanders Wand Shop

Tips for Your Visit

Tickets: You must purchase your tickets ahead of time. You cannot buy tickets at the Studios. If you’re staying in London, you are looking at a bit of a commute to get to the Studios (about an hour and 10 minutes from central London), so keep that in mind as you purchase your tickets and choose a time of day to visit.

Getting There: Many, many thanks to Mackenzie for giving us the lowdown on how best to get to the Studios if using public transportation instead of driving there yourself. I’m simply repeating what she told us, which worked perfectly:

Make your way to Euston Station. There are lots of ticket kiosks inside, but pass those by and go to one of the ticketing agents instead. Ask for the fastest train to Watford Junction. You’ll end up purchasing a roundtrip ticket, and it was very reasonable, around £30 for the four of us. The train is comfortable and fast, about 20 minutes to Watford. Once you get to Watford Junction, you’ll leave the station and turn left. You’ll see some covered awnings, which is where the Harry Potter tour bus picks up and drops off. If you’re not sure, just ask. It seemed like 90% of our train was headed to there as well! You’ll buy another round trip ticket directly from the bus driver (£2 per person). The bus arrives about every 20 minutes and the ride takes about 15 minutes. You also have the option to book transportation through Golden Tours, which picks you up in London, but it will cost you at least double.
At the Studios: As soon as you arrive at the Studios, you’ll need to walk up the the ticketing windows outdoors and exchange your online reservation for actual tickets. There’s a nice little cafeteria inside, so I went to get the tickets and Mike and the kids went to have lunch. If you need to have a meal or a snack before or after your tour, this is actually a decent place to eat. There’s also a Starbucks, if you feel like paying the equivalent of $8 for a cup of coffee. You have a set time for your tour. You need to be there at least 20 minutes before, but I’d give yourself at least an hour. Busses and trains can run late, and all. You can also visit the gift shop while you wait, so there’s plenty to keep you occupied if you get there early. Plan on spending about 3 hours at the Studios before returning home the same way you came!
The day after our Harry Potter tour we bid goodbye to London and headed back to sunny (and – thankfully – much warmer) Spain. Next up: Barcelona!
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Best Doggone Tradition Comes Back

Netflix Stream Team Mini Milestones

When Elena was around 4, we started a family tradition of Fridays being family movie night. It was a wonderful way to reconnect as a family after a week of work, school and errands, and a fun way to kick off the weekend. We always ate pizza on the family room floor and had a special treat as well. Sometimes we let Elena pick the movie (is there a special award for suffering through those Barbie movies?), other times we picked out classics we’d loved as kids, and some Fridays we’d finally get around to seeing a new release. I really cherish those memories.

Then Eli came along, and in the chaos of having a new baby, movie night fell by the wayside. Elena probably watched a lot of movies on her own, or with me glued to the divot I’d made on the couch from endless hours of nursing, but we got away from movie watching as a family.

I’ve tried to revive it from time to time, but having kids with a 5-year age span in between them made it difficult. Choosing titles that appeal to a preschool boy and an older elementary girl is hard! But I really, really missed those Friday evenings when we all sat in one place, enjoying the same movie and bumping hands in the big popcorn bowl.

Last month I was asked to be a member of the Netflix Stream Team, and it was like they read my mind and knew I needed that last little nudge to bring movie night back to our family. Each month for the next year I’ll be writing about a family-related theme and sharing ideas for ways you can connect in your own families. I’m very excited about it, and hope you’ll enjoy the series as well.

The theme for October is Mini Milestones. Some families are so good about celebrating milestones, whether it’s as big as a first birthday or as small as a first goal in soccer. I’d say we fall somewhere in the middle. I know Mike rolls his eyes sometimes when I make a big deal about our quirky milestones. But in my mind, why pass up an opportunity to celebrate, especially if it means an excuse to go out for ice cream!

Old Yeller Movie Night

Our special milestone isn’t so mini, though, at least not like he was when we first got him in August! I thought it would be fun to celebrate getting our first dog. Gus might have been mini at one time, but he’s growing like crazy! I don’t know exactly how much he weighs compared to when we got him, but I do know he used to fit in his beanbag like a baby bird in a nest. And now? He hangs off the edges!

Gus

I wanted to make our first movie night extra special, so I chose a dog-themed movie that neither of the kids had ever seen before: Old Yeller! It might be nearly 60 years old, but it stands the test of time. I guess the story of boys and their dogs never gets old.

Halloween Puppy Chow with Nutella

You can’t have movie night without a proper snack. And if you’re going to be watching a movie about a dog, how can you night snack on puppy chow? My friend Rachel, of A Southern Fairytale, has the perfect twist on puppy chow for the fall: Halloween Puppy Chow with Nutella! Once you try it, you’ll be celebrating many more milestones with a batch of it.

What milestones are you marking off this month? And how do you celebrate them, big or small?

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