Monday, February 24, 2014

The Weekend That Was: Parliament and THON

Hey all!

This past week has been half term or what it's known as at my uni, 'guided independent study week'; so I only had one module all week plus a 7 page paper due. It was nice to be able to take a break, recharge, and do all of the things I didn't have time for like a full out room clean and a massive load of laundry. I probably could have done something more exciting but I still enjoyed it nonetheless.

On Saturday, a large group of us went to tour the Houses of Parliament. It was a rare gorgeous day out with only a few clouds in the sky. Unfortunately, you cannot take pictures inside, which is a shame because it is so beautiful. The architecture is simply stunning and the detailing is so ornate, I could have spent days just admiring it all.

Our tour guide was this elderly gentleman who kept making jokes about the states. Before we even began he asked if we were all from 'the colonies'. It was interesting learning how different their government is set up but also learning about some of the similarities that I didn't necessarily expect as I am admittedly not all that familiar with the British government.

But the real highlight of the weekend came on Sunday around 9pm local time and 4pm back on the East Coast. You see, this past weekend was the most important weekend of the year: THON weekend. I, of course, spent the majority of the weekend glued to my computer screen watching the live webcast from THON wishing I was there in the stands dancing with 15,000 of my closest friends. After having been at THON last year for all but about 6 of the 46 hours (not counting the 9 waiting in line beforehand), it felt so strange to not be in the BJC with my FOTO family and instead watching from a computer in my flat.

However, not being there didn't stop the overwhelming feeling of pride and excitement watching the stream as the hours ticked down and it got closer to the reveal. And the butterflies in my stomach and tears of absolute joy still came as the final total was revealed. There truly is no event like THON and I am honored to be apart of it. Just knowing that I had a part in helping to make a difference in the lives of others is truly a wonderful feeling. I already cannot wait until THON 2015!

(Picture courtesy of Onward State)

Me (and FOTO Bear) at THON 2013 - Inspire Tomorrow's Miracles

Until next time,

Monday, February 17, 2014

Meaningful Music Monday #4 - THON Edition ❖


If there is one thing that makes me sad about being in London, it is missing THON 2014. But nonetheless, I am still super excited and will be watching all weekend from the live stream!

For those who don't know, THON is a year-long fundraising effort at Penn State that cumulates in a 46-hour no sitting, no sleeping dance marathon benefitting the Four Diamonds Fund in the fight against pediatric cancer. It is also the largest student-run philanthropy in the world and last year we raised over $12.3 million dollars, 96% of which goes straight to the Four Diamonds Fund. More information can be found here:

THON weekend is truly the most incredible experience and being involved has changed my life for the better. Special shout out to my FOTO family for being the best org ever.

In honor of the best weekend of the year, I am leaving you with a few songs that are always heard THON weekend and will forever be linked with THON in my mind.

 'Angels Among Us' - Alabama
"They wear so many faces, show up in the strangest places
To grace us with their mercy, in our time of need."

'My Love Is Your Love' - Whitney Houston
"Cause your love is my love
And my love is your love
It would take an eternity to break us
And the chains of Amistad couldn't hold us."

'Diamonds In The Air' Brittany Hicks & Chris Carmody
This is an original song for THON written by Brittany and Chris. It's available on iTunes and all proceeds benefit THON!


❖ For the Kids. For the Cure ❖

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A New Most Magical Place on Earth

All of my life, I have been told that Disney is the most magical place on Earth. Now, I love Disney, but there is a new most magical place on Earth: Leavesden Studios.

For those of you muggles who are unaware, Leavesden Studios is where the Harry Potter films were made and now houses the Harry Potter Studio Tour with a good majority of sets and props in tact.

This was, without question, the best thing I have experienced since arriving in London; it truly was incredible. I was in such awe of the entire experience that I felt like a little kid again experiencing Harry Potter for the first time. For 5 pounds you could get a narrated walking tour which may sound like a little steep, but it was narrated by Tom Felton AND had some cool videos to go along with it, well worth spending the fiver. 

I cannot say enough how incredible the whole experience was. I gained a much stronger appreciation for the films after my tour, and I didn't even know that was possible. Seeing all of the detail put into even the smallest of things was a big eye-opener. The crew actually consulted an expert on feathers (seriously) for how to lay the feathers on Buckbeak so they could make as realistic of a hippogriff as possible. And boy, did it look real. I could ramble on and on about these things but it just wouldn't do them justice.

Oh, and it was also pretty cool to learn about some of the secrets of the films. The books on the shelves of Dumbledore's office? Actually phone books that are just decorated and covered in leather.

Without question, the best part of the whole tour was seeing the full Hogwarts model. I could have spent over an hour looking at that alone. It was used for exterior shots in the first 6 movies, exterior shots that always looked so real. Obviously they couldn't use it for the last one since Hogwarts is all but destroyed in that one. The detail in the model is phenomenal. There really are no words strong enough to portray the beauty of the model. It's a 1:24 scale and truly magnificent. It's the school I always wished I could attend, and still kind of do wish I could go there.

The only downside to the whole trip was leaving; I wish we could have had more time. The guide at the beginning mentioned that the longest tour ever took 12 hours, I think I could challenge that if given the opportunity. I would say a negative was the over-priced gift shop, but I kind of expected it. It's not like it stopped me from at least buying something. When my dad comes in April, I think we may have to make another trip to Leavesden though. It's one of those magical experiences I could do over and over again without ever getting sick of it.

Until next time.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Yea yea yea, cheesy pun, I know. But fun puns make the world go round.

I spent this past weekend up in Edinburgh with people from my study abroad program. The train ride was only 4 hours but when you wake up early on a Friday morning to make the trek, it seemed a bit longer. Arriving at around 2 we dropped our bags at our hostel and immediately went in search of some food. A few of us ended up at a Thai restaurant before heading back to the hostel to figure out plans for the rest of the night.

One of my favorite, unexpected finds from the trip came that night and it was a second hand book store. We spotted it on a walk back to the hostel from a Sainsbury's and it was like walking to heaven on earth. The smell of old books stacked from the floor to the ceilings and a selection containing so many great writers nearly made me giddy. I could have spent hours in there if I had the time. I did find a book containing all 56 of the Sherlock Holmes short stories with their original illustrations. And with my student discount all it cost me was a fiver! Definitely the best £5 I've spent since arriving in the UK.

That night some of us decided to hit a local club and after a bit of a wait ended up in a place with plastic American flags everywhere. It was a bit weird, but nonetheless the night was a blast after everyone got there as the music was, for the most part, pretty on point. And of course, we couldn't not have a little Scotch in Scotland.

On Saturday one of my best friends, who is doing a semester at St. Andrews, made the short trip to Edinburgh to hang out with me, which was really exciting! First thing a bunch of us decided to do was to make the hike up to Arthur's Seat and boy was it a hike. But the view from the top was absolutely worth it.  For those who don't know, Arthur's Seat is an extinct volcano from the top of which you can see basically all of the Edinburgh skyline. The climb to the top was a bit of a mess as it was muddy, slippery, cold, and extremely windy, but the view from the top was breathtaking. Pictures truly don't do it justice. The hike back down was much easier aside from the fact that it started to snow. That part was a bit odd.

With a view like that I couldn't help but throw up my diamond at Arthur's Seat. FTK.

After the hike we made our way to a local Mexican restaurant before we headed over to Edinburgh Castle. We didn't have as much time as we'd have necessarily liked because the castle closes at 5, but nonetheless we made the most of it. The castle as a whole was absolutely beautiful despite being so old. The part that most interested me was the prisons. On one of the preserved doors on display you could see where an American prisoner actually carved an early version of the US flag. It was actually really cool to see when you consider it was done during the Revolutionary War, or as it was called here: the War of American Independence. 

One of the things about the prison that struck me was the showers: they reminded me of the showers in East halls, but better. Seriously. Part of it could've been how they were remodeled but they still looked better. And the sleeping quarters for the prisoners were barely bigger than the East dorms.

By this time the castle was about to close so we headed back to our hostel, which was fortunately only a short walk, to relax a bit. A few of us met up with some others from our group and headed out to the Fiddler's Arms pub for a bit to eat. It wouldn't be right to head to Scotland and not get some fish and chips and a pint. As you can see below, mine was massive.

Unfortunately we left early the next day to head back to London. I wish we'd have had more time to explore but despite being short, my trip to Edinburgh was a lot of fun and hopefully I'll go back. Just with some more cold weather gear. This weekend it's off to tour Leavesden Studios, better known as the Harry Potter Studio Tour. I'm already kind of geeking out about that one!

Talk to y'all soon!