Category Archives: Real Life

London Tales: That Hipster Life

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On our first day of not being destroyed by jet lag, Amy and I headed east to Shoreditch to visit Brick Lane Market. Shoreditch is a well-established hipster neighborhood that’s famous for its ubiquitous street art. The way the locals talked about it reminded me of how Minneapolis residents talk about uptown: if they don’t live there, they probably avoid going there. However, we were tourists eager to experience that London hipster life, so go we did.

The market is found down narrow streets crowded with tiny shops and restaurants. In a bizarre moment of global culture, there was a band outside playing “Californication” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Both Amy and I found trinkets in the market. I bought coasters with Queen Elizabeth’s face, and Amy went for a far classier item. We also wandered into a courtyard of sorts with food trucks and tables, which was perfect for our lunch. Even better, it was an ideal place for people-watching and eavesdropping on British accents.

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Fast forward to our last day, we visited another part of East London for a less polished hipster scene. After an English breakfast in Bethnal Green, we walked through the famous Columbia Road Flower Market. (A Photo Friday of the market is forthcoming.) Waling this crowded, narrow street was the time I felt the most oppressed by crowds during the trip. Thankfully my claustrophobia was quickly cured when we walked toward Haggerston Park and stumbled upon Hackney City Farm. I never fully understood the function of the space, but it had farm animals and rustic charm up the wazoo.

This day was also one of several walks we took along Regent’s Canal. The concept of a canal boat wasn’t completely foreign to me, but I wasn’t aware that they were found in London. In fact, both sides of the canal are packed with moored boats. In addition to classy or creative paint jobs, some boats were decorated with strings of lights or potted plants. Amy pointed out that owning—and perhaps even living in—a canal boat would be the ultimate hipster move.


My next post will return to the posh side of London when we visit a palace or two and have a decadent afternoon tea.


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London Tales: A Very Posh Beginning

As an Anglophile from an early age, London has always been my most-desired travel destination. This year the wedding of a dear friend finally gave me the incentive to plan a trip. I was lucky to be there with my friend Amy, a seasoned international traveler, unlike myself. At the end of September, we spent over a week staying in Primrose Hill and exploring the city and beyond.

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Primrose Hill is a very posh neighborhood just north of Regent’s Park. In other words, an area where we could never afford to live in real life but were more than pleased to rent an Airbnb. We arrived in the early morning, utterly wrecked by jet lag, to meet our lovely hostess and her son, who was dressed in a Gruffalo onesie and very keen to show us the amenities. Behind this blue door, we had our own bathroom, kitchen, and living space in the basement of the house, but at that moment the only amenity we was interested in were the beds.

Amy and I eventually emerged from our ill-advised but completely necessary naps to have dinner with our friend and begin enjoying the neighborhood. I don’t think it completely struck me that I was in London until the next morning when I ventured out alone to buy tissues. Then I had a blissed out walk through the neighborhood, taking photos and feeling grateful. Just down the street from our home-away-from-home, a surprising incident occurred.

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It was a Sunday morning, and the sidewalk was bustling with people visiting the many shops and cafes. Up ahead I saw a young woman wearing sunglasses who looked vaguely familiar. Then I heard her speak to her companion, and it became clear. This was Emma Watson! Yes, Emma Watson, Harry Potter actress and thinking-man’s dream woman, was a few feet away from me on the sidewalk. I had no inclination to speak to her or take a sneaky photo. I did, however, blatantly stare as I passed because I needed to be absolutely sure it was her. On the scale of invasive fan encounters, a bit of awestruck staring seems forgivable.

I may not be able to top the Emma Watson story, but there’s plenty more to share. Stay tuned for tea, trains, and a strange sighting in Trafalgar Square.

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Warm Weather Wardrobe Refresh


When I was packing for my Florida trip, I realized that I’ve been wearing a lot of the same summer clothes for years. It seemed like the right time to freshen up the warm weather wardrobe. I found several tops at my beloved Ann Taylor Loft, as well as the dress pictured below. Everything is wonderfully soft and comfortable. I also had a hankering for some proper sandals, and this Steve Madden pair from DSW was exactly what I had in mind.


For more casual wear, I picked up a few tank tops at Old Navy, including the one below. I’m a total tank top loyalist in the summer. The photography in this post is by my lovely and talented cousin Bailey Jordan. Check out her Instagram for more photos and her website for other design work. Bailey, thank you for making me feel pretty while also capturing me for the awkward turtle that I am.


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That Time I Met Prince

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“Met” is perhaps a generous word for my brief interaction with him. It happened several years ago during my time as a bookseller. I was assigned to the cash registers for the hour and was probably more than a little bored. Few things are more painful than being trapped in a small, narrow space when a sunny day is happening just outside the window. I paced over to one of my coworkers who was stationed near the door. Jason had a strange look on his face, and he started typing me a message on one of the e-readers.

I was confused by what he was doing and generally foiled his attempt to be discreet. Finally I read the message he had typed: I think Prince is in the magazines. Just as I understood what was happened, the man himself emerged from the magazine section. He was on his way to the registers, which meant he was walking right towards us. I’m sure we looked guilty and had clearly just been talking about him, but he pretended not to notice.

Let me just paint you a picture. He was wearing a Prince version of a casual outfit: head-to-toe cream, stretchy flared pants, and a hooded sweater with an interesting neckline. His hair was straight, and he had some nice stubble going. No afro or round, colored glasses like he often had for public appearances around this time. Across the wide counter, he appeared to be about my height, which is apparently accurate. He was a small and quite beautiful man.

I scurried back to my register like the embarrassed bunny that I was. There was a woman with him who did most of the talking as they paid for a stack of music magazines. In fact, Prince said a total of three words to me. When I asked if they wanted a bag, he answered in his soft voice, “Yes.” And then the most wonderful moment of all happened. As they turned to leave, he tossed the bag over his shoulder and said “Thank you” as he sashayed out of the store. It was a stylish exit, as you would expect from a seriously unique, seriously stylish man.

I won’t pretend that I’m the biggest Prince fan in the world, but I do love his music. I have fond memories of dancing to “Kiss” with friends at a wedding and listening to a friend’s band play a gorgeous cover of “I Would Die 4 U.” I always feel happy when I hear “Let’s Go Crazy.” And I’m glad that I have my own personal story about him, however silly it may be.

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NerdCon: Stories, Day Two

When I got to the convention center on Saturday, Friday felt like it had been a practice round. Now I knew where the bus stops were and the layout of the venue. I knew that a water bottle was unnecessary and to sit near the aisle unless you enjoy feeling trapped. I also brought a better tote bag. (Well, my free NerdCon tote broke while I was waiting for the bus on Friday, but I probably would have brought a different one anyway.) And perhaps most importantly, I caffeinated early.

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The mainstage shows on Saturday were on point. John Green opened the morning show with his own explanation for why stories matter, and it was probably my favorite talk of the entire event. He spoke about stories as the only way to be someone other than ourselves and how escapism can be valuable. I’ve actually given some thought to why I think reading is important, and my answer is that it teaches empathy. Apparently John Green and I are on the same page, which pleases me to no end. There was also a rapid-fire Q&A with some of the guests and a poetry reading. How many events are there where a poetry reading gets massive crowd support? And hello, Dessa Darling was one of the performers. (Dessa is a member of Doomtree, a popular Minneapolis hip hop group, and a solo artist. She’s rad.)

My first panel of the day was No Pressure: How to Keep Creating Once You’ve Technically Succeeded. Not a problem for me currently, but an interesting topic featuring some of the most interesting guests at the convention. We’re talking Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Dessa, and moderator Patrick Rothfuss. Hearing about creative struggles and insecurities feels more personal than most topics discussed in a convention setting. It didn’t hurt that every member of the panel has an excellent sense of humor. Seems odd to say that the panel least applicable to me was also the best, but that’s what I’m sayin’!

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My next panel was going to be Is This A Kissing Book?: Writing Sex, but instead I felt the might of the Patrick Rothfuss fandom. When I left the main auditorium, there was already a loooooong line outside the smaller auditorium where the aforementioned panel was taking place. Were many of them waiting to see their bearded overlord and not interested in kissing at all? It seems probable. After a few hopeless minutes in line, I decided to scrap it and take the hour to eat lunch and head to the Rainbow Rowell signing. And oh my goodness, am I lucky that I got there early.

Hank Green and Rainbow Rowell had the same consecutive time slots for signings. The first session was full long before I got there, and despite the fact that we weren’t supposed to line up until one hour beforehand, people were already loitering for the next session. It was definitely the most “yuck, there are people everywhere” moment of the convention for me. I was getting anxious on behalf of the volunteers being stared down by a crowd of impatient fans. However, I met some nice female comrades while waiting in line, plus running into a former coworker from the bookseller days.

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This signing needed to move along faster than the one I attended two years ago. We were near the end of the line, and it was almost time for the afternoon mainstage show. Once again I was thankful for my pre-written note to give her. We did still manage to have a brief but ridiculous exchange. When I approached the table, she said, “Are you Courtney?” My expression was utterly shocked because I was thinking, There’s no way she remembers me from two years ago, right? This woman meets thousands of fans, after all. Then I remembered that I was wearing a nametag. Well, we had a nice chuckle about that, and I scored some awesome Simon Snow pins.

I was originally planning to hit up one more book signing—Maureen Johnson, after the mainstage show—but after the battle to get to Rainbow, I was rather wiped out. I decided to just enjoy the show, and if there was room at the Maureen signing afterwards, so be it. (There wasn’t.) The highlight for me was a mock debate between two teams of guests on such vital topics as: would you rather fight a hundred duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck? Few things are more entertaining than watching people get worked up over ridiculous arguments. The afternoon ended with a couple thousand people singing along to a Paul & Storm song about Game of Thrones.

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I left the convention feeling inspired about my own creative work and grateful that so many other people appreciate good stories and storytellers.

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NerdCon: Stories, Day One

Bright and early on Friday morning, my fellow nerds and I flocked to the Minneapolis Convention Center to hear from some of our favorite storytellers. Although the crowd skewed toward teens and young adults, there were people of all ages in attendance. I saw more cat eye glasses and brightly dyed hair than you would find in a random sampling, as well as an abundance of nerdy T-shirts.

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Each day opened with a mainstage show, followed by several time slots for discussion panels and book signings, then another mainstage show in the afternoon. Hank Green kicked off the Friday morning mainstage by explaining why he organized the convention and why he thinks stories matter. There were separate (but hilarious) history lessons from the musical comedy duo Paul & Storm and games played with some of the guests. Book people are generally a decent sort, but it was nice to start off on a positive note with the whole group.

Next on my agenda was the Stephanie Perkins signing. Remember how I love her? For signings they set up a room with four sections of chairs. In theory, after a guest’s section was full, the signing was closed. This was my first exposure to the popularity of fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss. He was signing at the same time as Stephanie, and there were a bunch of people who couldn’t even get in. We were a more subdued group on the Stephanie Perkins side of the aisle. That made it possible for her to take photos and chat a bit with each person.

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My biggest mistake was probably not caffeinating beforehand. I found myself a little surprised and awkward when I actually met her. Thankfully I had written a card to give her so that I wouldn’t feel pressured to be brilliant on the spot. She’s a very sweet person, not to mention adorable. I had her sign my copy of Isla and the Happily Ever After because it’s the only one that I have in hardcover. Her inscription is a reference from the book. I was a little frustrated with the dim lighting in the signing room, but they rectified the situation the next day.

In the afternoon I went to two panels. The first was the Nerdfighter Q&A with Hank and John Green, which was mostly silly but also touching at times. Maureen Johnson moderated with her dry sense of humor, pretending to get angry if the men would go off on tangents. There were running jokes about An American Tail and the fact that John owed Maureen a dollar. In one of the serious moments, John got choked up talking about how much he appreciates the support from the community that’s built up around the Vlogbrothers videos.

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My second panel was the “So How Do You Make Your Money?” panel. This topic may have been a little broad for a one-hour discussion, or else it just wasn’t what I was expecting. At least I got to see Hank Green and Stephanie Perkins at close range. Stephanie talked about how she felt pressured to write serious fiction when she was studying creative writing in college, even though her true passion was for children’s literature. I definitely felt that pressure as well, although a lot of it was self-inflicted, so I was hardcore relating to her story.

When I was planning my NerdCon adventure, I intended to go to an event during every time slot and probably stay for the evening performances. The problem with this plan is that it ignores basic needs like eating and rest. Being an introvert, I get exhausted by crowds after an extended period of time. After the afternoon mainstage show, I decided to head home. I went to everything that really mattered to me, and I needed to rest up for the bananas day that was Saturday.

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I’m Going to NerdCon!

I’ve always wanted to go to a convention. Since I don’t have unlimited funds for traveling to southern California for VidCon or ComicCon, I didn’t know if I ever would. Then Hank Green, brother of John and founder of VidCon, decided to try out some smaller conventions with more specific themes. And where would the first one take place? In my very own Minneapolis! Even without travel and hotel expenses, I quibbled about the ticket price. That is, until I got a nice reward from work that was the exact amount of a ticket.

NerdCon: Stories is basically the perfect convention for me to attend. The guests are storytellers, many of them authors, but other media is also represented. If I were to list my top five young adult authors, all but one of them will be at NerdCon. I’m talking about Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Stephanie Perkins, and Maureen Johnson. The only person missing is my girl Sarah Dessen, but it feels like an embarrassment of riches already. The convention is two days of discussion panels, signings, and mainstage shows. When I looked over the schedule, it was surprisingly easy to decide what I want to do during each time slot. There’s also a vendor room that I’m excited to peruse. Hopefully I go home with some books and nerdy merchandise.

I haven’t been this excited about an event in quite some time. My only concern is that my introverted side will come to the forefront and be bothered by the crowds. However, I’m determined to fully enjoy this experience. This crowd is nothing compared to VidCon, for instance, and the tickets haven’t even sold out yet. I plan to come prepared with headphones and reading material for times when I need to wait in line. In a lovely turn of events, Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On comes out the week of the convention, so I may be reading that unless I devour it in three days. Either way, if all goes according to plan, the book will be christened with the author’s signature.

I’m planning to take photos and blog about the convention obviously. I just wanted to provide an introduction and share my excitement. NerdCon is a week from Friday!


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