Asheville Adventures: A Day at the Biltmore

During my North Carolina vacation last month, my friends and I decided to take a day trip to the beautiful city of Asheville. After a two-hour drive from our hotel, our first stop was the Lexington Avenue Brewery for lunch.

Things To Do in Asheville, NC

Brice’s brother had suggested the brewery prior to the trip as one of the best sandwiches he’d ever had, and the place did not disappoint. I ordered the chicken caesar salad — a safe though seemingly boring choice — and was surprised by how delicious it was! Never will you hear me rave about a caesar salad more than I did that afternoon (and for the rest of the trip). We were excited to learn that a percentage of the proceeds from our meals actually benefited the local humane society. It was nice to enjoy a delicious meal while giving back to a great cause!

After lunch, we meandered around downtown to check out a few of the shops. At one point, we spotted this gem, which I may forever regret not purchasing.

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Our afternoon continued at the Biltmore Estate, a highly anticipated point in the trip. This mansion was built by the Vanderbilt family and reawakened my dream to someday marry into old money. If the Moses Cone Manor was Charlotte Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, then the Biltmore Estate was definitely Thrushcross Grange.

Things to Do in Asheville, NC | Biltmore Estate

For a single admission price, we had the opportunity to tour the 33-bedroom/43-bathroom mansion. The Biltmore features a bachelors’ wing, an indoor pool, a gymnasium, countless kitchens, a breakfast room, and a Halloween room with bizarrely terrifying artwork. We also strolled through the gardens and the greenhouse. Most of the plant life in the gardens was still dead from the winter, but the greenhouse was in full bloom.

After touring the grounds, we drove over to the Antler Hill Village and stopped in the winery for a wine tasting (also included in our admission). While my palate isn’t exactly sophisticated enough for reds, I enjoyed the Century Sweet White wine that the winery had to offer. Harry, Brice, and I had a lot of fun rating the different wines and filling out our comment cards.

Things To Do in Asheville, NC | Antler Hill Winery

We ended our day with dinner at the Noodle Shop in downtown Asheville. I enjoyed a curry chicken while we listened to live music outdoors with a scenic view of the city. If you’re stopping in Asheville and have any Chinese food cravings, the Noodle Shop is a must-try!

Things To Do in Asheville, NC | Noodle Shop

The verdict: Asheville is a cool, artsy city with great food and beautiful architecture. It is the perfect place to stop during any North Carolina trip!

Cheers Before Mountaineers: Adventures in Boone, NC

Sometimes a change in scenery is exactly what you need to experience before you conquer the world. At least that’s what I told myself earlier this month, as my friend Brice and I jetted off to North Carolina just a week before my graduate school interview and a guest speaking appearance. It was my first time leaving the state of Florida since 2012 (something I made sure to prioritize on my 25 at 25 bucket list this year!), and the perfect opportunity for us to visit Harry, one of our best friends from college.

Harry moved to Boone for graduate school a couple of years ago, so we were excited to visit his new stomping grounds and create brand new memories in such a beautiful place. Of course, the photos and descriptions from all of my Pinterest research didn’t even begin to do this mountain town justice.

Adventures in Boone, NC

We took the roads less traveled as we hiked through the woods and forged new (unpaved, possibly dangerous) paths. We sipped strawberry-flavored imitation moonshine on the side of a mountain. We crossed a mile high bridge, said hello to a bear, and decided that nearly everything is a metaphor when you are in the wilderness. Being with two of my closest friends truly made the trip nothing short of an adventure.

For those of you planning a trip to Boone or the surrounding areas, here’s a quick recap of what we did!

Adventures in Boone, NC

Howard’s Knob.
This mountain has the best view of the town and was the perfect place for us to get our first taste of Boone. Our visit to Howard’s Knob was when it truly hit me that we were in completely new terrain, and that mountains were not just some vague shadows in the distance. (Bonus: There was still snow on the mountain, so a snowball fight just might have taken place.)

Adventures in Boone, NC

Moses Cone Park.
First of all, if your last name is Moses, then you’re basically breaking the law if you don’t visit Moses Cone Park! Though we did not go inside the house (pictured above), we felt completely haunted by its beauty. It reminded us of Wuthering Heights, and we half-expected to see the ghosts of Heathcliff and Cathy Earnshaw. From the house, we followed the winding trails for a few miles and found ourselves at Bass Lake (all to a very inspiring soundtrack of Taylor Swift and Donnie Darko music), before beginning our treacherous journey back to Moses Cone Manor. There was not a single bad view in sight, and there was something so invigorating about being out in the crisp air among nature.

Adventures in Boone, NC

Linville Falls.
We took the intermediate and advanced trails to various lookout points to see the waterfalls of Linville Falls. Just look at the picture. Do you even need another reason to go?

Adventures in Boone, NC

Grandfather Mountain.
Grandfather Mountain is not named for the many old men who inhabit it, but for its shape — from various angles, the mountain looks a lot like the profile of a man. This stop was nearly an all-day activity. After driving in, we purchased a CD that guided us on our way. We stopped at various lookout points and rock formations, took a tour of the museum, and visited a few animal friends: a bear who came out of hibernation for us, two very happy otters, a mountain lion, and a pair of eagles. Soon, we crossed the Mile-High Swinging Bridge (yes — we were a mile above sea level!) and stood at one of the peaks. It may not have been the smartest decision to do this while wearing Vans (and I swear the wind almost took me!) but it was truly a breathtaking experience that I would recommend to all visiting Boone.

During our time in North Carolina, we also spent a day in Asheville, which I’ll discuss more in a future post. 🙂 For now, I leave you with this quote, which perfectly summarizes our trip:

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, and leading to the most amazing view.” – Edward Abbey

The Weekend Five: Worst Girlfriends in Literature

Holly-Golightly-and-Paul-Varjak-paul-varjak-and-holly-golightly-24466180-601-400Falling in love can be a difficult experience, especially when the person you love brings a lot of baggage to the relationship. However, an extra dose of drama makes for a great story, one that makes us want to keep reading. Back in April, we talked about a few of the literary world’s most tortured souls (who happened to be some of the worst boyfriends in literature), but what about the ladies? This week, we’ll talk about five of literature’s worst potential girlfriends, and why you should steer clear if you ever pop into a literary universe.

The Weekend Five: Worst Girlfriends in Literature

1. Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote).
If you’re a long-time reader or we’ve met in person, you’ll probably know that I’m a huge Audrey Hepburn fan, and that Holly Golightly is easily one of my favorite literary characters. The film version is more of a rom-com than the actual book, but even if your only point of reference is the movie, you can see that beyond the Givenchy dress and the Tiffany jewelry, Holly is kind of a mess. Forget the whole call-girl thing – Miss Golightly can’t commit to one thing, not even her cat (“poor slob without a name”). She drifts from man to man and, while engaging to listen to, is more interested in a man’s money and prestige than anything else. (She’s also tied to a seedy racketeer in the Sing Sing prison!)

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2. Catherine Earnshaw (Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë).
I included Heathcliff on the worst boyfriend list, so it’s only natural that Catherine appears here — their relationship screams dysfunctional! When Heathcliff marries another woman, Cathy becomes completely insane, locks herself up and stops eating, even though she’s already married to a perfectly nice guy. She’s cruel to the man she loves because of their different stations in life, and she continues to haunt him even in death. Theirs is one of the most doomed love stories of all time, which is not something to aim for in a functional relationship.

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thesunalsorises3. Brett Ashley (The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway).
Lady Brett Ashley has a wandering eye and very little motivation. The socialite can’t stick to one man and at one point, winds up with a 19-year-old bullfighter. Although she is in love with Jake Barnes, the novel’s protagonist, she refuses to commit to him because his war injuries have rendered him impotent. When he asks if they could simply live together, she says no because she knows she wouldn’t be able to remain faithful. While her concerns are understandable (and at least she’s honest!), she doesn’t seem to have much luck with her other relationships.

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4. Alaska (Looking for Alaska by John Green).
Although Looking for Alaska is one of my favorite novels, I’ll be the first to admit that most of John Green’s female characters are manic pixie dream girls. Although beautiful and intelligent, Alaska is self-destructive and emotionally unstable. The main character Miles can’t help but fall in love with her, even though she has a boyfriend and doesn’t always treat him well. Alaska is a great character, but definitely not ready to settle down.

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5. Most of the female characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s female characters are often selfish and superficial, and only with their male love interests for the money. From Gloria of The Beautiful and Damned, who has no ambitions other than acquiring her husband’s inheritance, to the famous Daisy Buchanan of The Great Gatsby, these characters have few accomplishments or positive qualities. (In fact, don’t date anyone from any of his books – they are all shallow!)

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Which female literary characters do you think would make the worst literary girlfriends?

The Weekend Five: Worst Boyfriends in Literature

f1b229fa2f08710e4aebcb63fc386dddIn the past, we’ve talked about our tendency to fall in love with fictional characters, regardless of how unrealistic our attachments to them really are. During my childhood, for example, I was especially enamored with The Fonz from Happy Days and Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy – both of whom were around way before my time. Today, in the era of fanfiction and copious film adaptations, it seems that more and more people have developed feelings for fictional characters, especially those in literature. (Ladies, does the name “Mr. Darcy” ring any bells?)

This week, we’ll talk about some of the literary male characters you shouldn’t fall madly in love with. These are some of the men in literature who would ultimately make the worst boyfriends/husbands.

The Weekend Five: Worst Boyfriends in Literature

1. Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë).Before you say anything, I know… I talk way too much about Heathcliff on this blog. That’s because this brooding gypsy from the wrong side of the tracks is a magnet for drama, especially of the romantic kind. When the woman he loves marries a man of a higher station than his own, Heathcliff retaliates by marrying the man’s sister and ultimately becomes emotionally abusive and manipulative. There’s a lot more to the story than that, but would you really want to be with someone who treats everyone in his life poorly and is still obsessed with a relationship that never worked out?

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laters baby2. Christian Grey (Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James).
We could sit around all day and try to figure out what exactly constitutes this series as literature, but let’s face facts: Christian Grey is not the guy you want to date. Sure, he’s handsome and wealthy, and he has a penchant for saying things like “Laters baby,” but when it comes down to it, he’s extremely controlling and emotionally fragile. He purchases an entire company in order to secure a job for the girl he loves (against her wishes, by the way), and when she tries to end things with him, he basically stalks her until she gives up and decides to give the relationship another shot. Let’s also not forget that he has a pretty rough past that clearly affects the way he treats women. (The part that saddens me is that a lot of girls still think of him as a sort of Prince Charming, even if he’s kind of the opposite.)

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3. Edward Rochester (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë).
At first, life with this man seems perfectly fine. But then you start to show signs that you’re a little crazy, and he decides to lock you in the attic. Then he has the nerve to start seeing someone else? Just say no to this one.

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Edward-376194_429619737081258_1836140990_n4. Edward Cullen (Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer).
First of all, Edward Cullen is more than 100 years old. He may look like he’s 17 (or closer to 25), but don’t let his non-aging fool you. Hint: If a guy warns you repeatedly against being with him, you probably shouldn’t be with him. To maintain a relationship with this vampire means giving up any ambitions you ever had, and remaining completely stuck in your teen years forever. It also means that you’ll be dating someone who might be able to read your mind (scary) and who sparkles in the sun (also scary).

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5. Harry Potter (Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling).
Throughout seven books and eight films, The Boy Who Lived is the king of angst – and for good reason. He’s a great guy, but Harry Potter simply does not have time for a relationship. Between hunting down horcruxes and trying not to get killed by Voldemort every year, Harry barely ever has time to take his final exams, let alone wine and dine anyone who isn’t an active member of the Order. Even when he and Ginny Weasley first dated, Harry broke things off because it just wasn’t “safe” for her. (And who can blame him? Anyone who tries to get close to Harry is just setting themselves up to become Voldemort-bait.) If you’re looking for a romance in Hogwarts, try a lesser-known character in Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff, because then you’re more likely to avoid being kidnapped by a Death Eater or possessed by an old diary.

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Readers: Who are your literary crushes, and which literary boyfriends could you do without?

The Weekend Five: Literary Characters Whose Problems Could Have Been Solved With Love

Throughout many works of literature, love plays a significant role in the characters’ personalities, decisions and overall well-being. Some characters sacrifice their lives for love, some let it cloud their judgment and some even flourish in its presence. However, for some literary characters, a lack of love causes them to suffer and can lead to their ultimate demise. This week, we’ll take a look at some of those characters for whom love would have solved their problems and changed their fates entirely.

The Weekend Five: Literary Characters Whose Problems Could Have Been Solved With Love

1. Miss Havisham (Great Expectations by Charles Dickens).
Already a bitter old woman at the start of the novel, Miss Havisham is a spinster who has been burned. (For those of you who have read the book, I apologize for the awful double meaning here.) When she was young, Miss Havisham was left at the altar by the man she loved, and as a result, she stopped all of the clocks in her home and remained in her decaying wedding dress, the house preserved to the state it had been on her wedding day. Her coping mechanism? Miss Havisham adopts a beautiful little girl named Estella and raises her to be a heartbreaker. She teaches Estella to be cold to men and even lets her use Pip, the novel’s protagonist, for practice. Although Miss Havisham realizes the error of her ways in the very end, she still could have avoided this quest for revenge had she listened to a few Taylor Swift songs and moved on to find a new love.

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2. Frankenstein’s Monster (Frankenstein by Mary Shelley).
Don’t let the picture deceive you… this next one isn’t Herman Munster, but Frankenstein’s Monster! Dr. Victor Frankenstein brings this man to life, and then immediately abandons him in disgust and fear, considering him to be a Monster. (When I refer to Frankenstein, then, I am referring to the scientist, not to his creation, as some have made that easy mistake.) Frankenstein’s Monster lives peacefully alone for a while, reading Paradise Lost and longingly observing a family from afar. He feels rejected by his father and often compares himself to Satan in Paradise Lost — and the fact alone that he’s even reading Milton in his spare time should be sad enough! Frankenstein’s Monster isn’t inherently evil, but because he cannot get the love and care he so desperately needs and deserves, he fights back by destroying everything that Victor Frankenstein holds dear. As depressing as that is, Frankenstein could have avoided all of this, had he not created something he wasn’t going to love and care for.

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3. Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte).
As a gypsy orphan, Heathcliff lives with the Earnshaw family and falls in love with the young Catherine Earnshaw. Of course, because of their different stations in life, she refuses to marry him and instead accepts another man’s proposal. Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights and returns a wealthy man, but never does end up with Cathy. However, he marries the sister of Cathy’s husband, treats her terribly, and acts cruelly toward each of their heirs. Heathcliff is haunted by Catherine for the rest of his life and is ultimately buried alongside her. Granted, Catherine seems like a piece of work, so maybe Heathcliff should have given his wife Isabella a fair chance?

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4. Dorian Gray (The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde).
Dorian Gray, as a young man, falls superficially in love with an actress named Sibyl Vane, mostly because of the beauty of her acting. However, when her feelings for him affect her theatrical abilities, he cruelly rejects her, which leads to her suicide. Dorian also more or less sells his soul for youth and beauty, which ultimately leads to years of meaningless debauchery, scandal and eventually his death. Dorian is adored by artist Basil Hallward, who paints the titular portrait, but Dorian’s problem stems more from the fact that he loves no one but himself. Dorian, you’re good looking and all, but maybe you should stop being the poster child for Gluttony and find a nice person with whom you can finally settle down.

images5. Voldemort (Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling).
The Dark Lord Voldemort has a lot of angst – and his dysfunctional family tree certainly doesn’t help the situation. His mother Merope used a Love Potion to attract Tom Riddle Senior (Voldie’s father), so essentially, Voldemort wasn’t even conceived out of true love. Tom Senior leaves Merope when she stops giving him the potion, Merope dies in childbirth and Voldemort – then Tom Marvolo Riddle – goes to an orphanage. He’s an outsider for all of his young life, and even though Dumbledore looks out for him at Hogwarts, he still becomes a complete sociopath jerk and eventually his killing spree begins. Of course, when Harry survives his Avada Kedavra curse because of his mother’s protection, love is what nearly destroys Voldemort and reduces him to a very weak form. Voldemort is feared by those who follow him, but never really loved (in spite of that awkward hug scene between him and Draco Malfoy in the final film installment). Love is one of the series’ major focal points, and because he has never experienced it, Voldemort stands to lose the most because of it.

What are your thoughts? Are there any characters missing from this list that you would want to add?

The Weekend Five: Literary Characters I Wouldn’t Invite To Dinner

Last week, we talked about the merits of a fancy dinner party with some of the wiser, more sophisticated, and semi-revolutionary literary characters of all time. From that blog post, I concluded that a dinner party with those characters would be an inspiring, lively experience, one that I could walk away from feeling a bit classier and a bit more enlightened.

Of course, this isn’t to say that an encounter with just any literary character would make me feel that way. In fact, some characters at a dinner party would make me feel completely uncomfortable and creeped out. Therefore, this week, we will discuss some of the literary characters not to invite to dinner. Enjoy! (Feel free to add your own to the comments section below.)

The Weekend Five: Literary Characters I Wouldn’t Invite To Dinner

1. Humbert Humbert (Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov)
Possibly known as literature’s most famous pedophile, Humbert Humbert would by far be one of the scariest people to sit at the same table with. Humbert, who married his landlady in order to get closer to her young daughter, speaks eloquently but has a few too many screws loose. I wouldn’t dignify his actions by asking him to dinner, especially if there was any chance of a pre-adolescent guest in attendance.

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2. Lady Macbeth (Macbeth by William Shakespeare)
Although there are usually no political positions associated with a dinner party, I would be terrified that Lady Macbeth may order the strategic assassination of a dinner guest or two in order to gain power. Maybe she would target the nobility in attendance, or perhaps she would find me a threat as dinner party hostess. Either way, I would sit at the table in constant fear that she somehow poisoned my drink or that of one of my guests.

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3. Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte)
Okay, so maybe Heathcliff would have a right to be brooding at the table with those sideburns of his — he did lose the love of his life in one of the most tortured love story soap operas of his time. But one more look at the gypsy-turned-gentleman and his history would suggest that he would not be an appropriate dinner guest. He was cruel to everyone in his life, manipulative, and obsessed with a love that just never worked out. Besides, does anyone want to invite a downer to this kind of dinner? (Author’s Note: On second thought, nobody from this book would be invited.)

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4. Miss Havisham (Great Expectations by Charles Dickens)
Much like Heathcliff, Miss Havisham is obsessed with a relationship that never worked out, and it turns her into a bitter old woman. (Perhaps she and Heathcliff would have worked out well together!) Ditched on her wedding day, Miss Havisham stopped all the clocks in her home and kept the place frozen in time for the rest of her life. She then does the next most reasonable thing: she adopts a daughter and raises her to be cruel to men. I fear that Miss Havisham would insult my dinner guests in the name of her  lost love. And if I really wanted to dwell on “the one that got away,” I could just listen to a mediocre Katy Perry song, now couldn’t I?

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5. Bella Swan (Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer)
Admittedly, some of this may have to do with the fact that I’m not a fan of Bella’s actress counterpart, Kristen Stewart (although I can do a pretty good impression of her). Having said that, I don’t like to spend time with whiny teenagers as it is, so a dinner with Bella would be far from enjoyable for me. To converse with a girl who thinks she is better than everyone else and cares only about her sparkly boyfriend would feel a lot like stepping in a time machine and going back to high school. (No thank you!) The only vampire I really want to talk about is Nosferatu, not Edward Cullen, and the only werewolf that matters to me is Remus Lupin. Dinner with Bella would be dull for those who attend, but ironically enough, she would probably assume that her presence was the only thing that made it interesting.

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Isn’t it funny that so many of these characters can’t seem to stand alone, but instead allow their significant others and relationships to consume their lives? 🙂

Readers, which characters would you not want to eat dinner with?

The Friday Five: Best Literary Love Quotes

If you couldn’t tell from last week’s posts (here and here), Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. Although I’m not enamored with the idea of taking just one day to let someone know how you feel about them, I can’t help but smile when I see all the beautifully-wrapped chocolates in the stores and begin hearing more smarmy love songs on the radio. In honor of a holiday that may or may not be Hallmark’s excuse to instill feelings of love/happiness/loneliness/inadequacy in us that we didn’t know we had, I would like to present some of my favorite love quotes from books and literature. (No, you will not find anything from the Twilight saga here.) Feel free to recite some of these to your significant other if you want to seem worldly/nerdy!

The Friday Five: Best Literary Love Quotes

1. “I will love you as we grow older, which has just happened, and has happened again, and happened several days ago, continuously, and then several years before that, and will continue to happen as the spinning hands of every clock and the flipping pages of every calendar mark the passage of time, except for the clocks that people have forgotten to wind and the calendars that people have forgotten to place in a highly visible area.” – Lemony Snicket, The Beatrice Letters

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2. “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” – Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

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3. “I cannot fix on the hour, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

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4. “I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride; so I love you because I know no other way than this: where I does not exist, nor you, so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.” – Pablo Neruda, Sonnet XVII

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5. “No one actually needs another person or another person’s love to survive. Love is when we have irrationally convinced ourselves that we do.” – Gabrielle Zevin, Elsewhere

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And here’s a bonus that will forever be my all-time favorite.

“I have spied for you and lied for you, put myself in mortal danger for you. Everything was supposed to be to keep Lily Potter’s son safe. Now you tell me you have been raising him like a pig for slaughter – “
“But this is touching, Severus,” said Dumbledore seriously. “Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?”
“For him?” shouted Snape. “Expecto Patronum!”
From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe. She landed on the office floor, bounded once across the office, and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.
“After all this time?”
“Always,” said Snape.
— Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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What are some of your favorites?