Saturday, October 1, 2011

Reading Harry Potter With My Mom: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

As the pages open on my frail copy of the third book in the saga (the entire middle has come loose from the binding) Mom and I are entering new territory for her. The first two books she remembers fairly well but from PoA on, everything is new. Which means that she is even more excited to read in the evenings or whenever I have a spare moment.

I have started to realize that by the time I finally get to book seven I am going to be an absolute mess. Because for some reason I am either more sensitive now or I just know so much about these characters and reading it aloud just hits me harder or a combination of this but I started crying in the middle of Harry's Dementor defense lesson. Not for long, not for much, but I have never teared up int PoA before. Just thinking about Lupin and all that he had lost and what he must be feeling when Harry is talking about hearing Lily and James just was too sad. And he believes that one of his best friends murdered them.

Lupin is a sad puppy. (art by hilarity on

Okay, enough sad, now for happy! When I was reading about Harry getting the Firebolt for Christmas and McGonagall taking it, saying it had to be checked for jinxes, my mom thought I said it had to be checked for Jesus. I joked, "Yes, this is Wizard school. Can't have any Jesus in here." It made us chuckle for quite a bit actually. Probably far longer than it should have.

We are a Jesus-free zone

This book has always been my personal favorite, especially because of all the things it sets in motion as well as the introduction of the Marauders, who are some of my favorite characters. I mean, you meet Sirius and Lupin, two of Harry's parents' closest friends as well as real father-figures for Harry. You meet Pettigrew, who becomes super important. As I said before, the Marauders are introduced and they are awesome. A little more about why Snape hates Harry is revealed and the rivalry between Sirius and Snape is set up. And you get to learn about Azkaban and the dementors. It's just such a cool book.

You know you love us (I may have just spent far too long looking up Marauders pictures...but you'll never prove it ;) art by fishbizkit on

Sadly, for me (and Mom agrees here) the movie does not live up to the reputation of the book. A lot about the Marauders is left out, to the point where you never really learn that James and his friends were the ones who created the map. Plus the Firebolt isn't given correctly and you never get to meet Pigwidgeon who is the most amusing owl I've ever met and the bane of Hedwig's existence. Instead, you get a lot of shots of the Whomping Willow as the seasons change. The director had a vision.

"Never mind your plot points, there must be more tree!"

As one last point, I like David Thewlis as an actor. But Mom and I agree that he isn't exactly right for Lupin. He doesn't seem to have the air that he once raised hell with James and Sirius. Yes, Lupin has grown up and isn't that kid anymore, but I like to think there'd still be a trace of the kid who snuck into Hogsmeade late at night with his friends. He didn't disappear; he just got older and more mature.

Now onto Goblet of Fire, the book that transitions the series from children's books to a YA series.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten Years Ago: Looking Back

I am not one for real patriotism, no matter how hard I try. Yes, I am grateful to live in America. I am glad for my liberties and civil rights and I am happy with where I live in the world. But pride in my country is something I never quite got. My country, just like every other country in the world is an amalgamation of good people and bad. People who murder and steal as well as those who teach Sunday school and cook dinner for their neighbors.

And a country is a huge land mass. It is 3000 miles from one coast to the other. That is a lot of space and a lot of people cover that space. There are parts of my country I love, and parts I could do without, just like every other country in the world. Thankfully, the parts I am grateful for far outweigh those I dislike.

So this is not a post about patriotism and what it means to stand for your country. Frankly, I am not the person to talk about those things. Instead, this is a post of thank yous and the parts of this country I am grateful for.

Thank you to the men and women who put their lives on the line every day (or have done so in the past) to secure the freedoms we enjoy without even thinking about it. Whether or not I agree with a war does not mean that you are not courageous and heroic. Thank you for all you do.

Thank you to the men and women who are firefighters, who are on the police force, who are willing to put themselves in peril to save another human life. Thank you for being caring and selfless and often showing us the best of humanity while you deal with the worst.

Thank you particularly to those on the United 93 flight that crashed in the field in Pennsylvania rather than its intended target. I may not like our government all the time or agree with every decision, but if you plane had hit its target, our country would most like have been much worse off. Thank you for your bravery and sacrifice and know that we will always remember the valor you have shown and be grateful for it.

To the family and loved ones of everyone in the Towers and on the planes that were part of that horrible day, my heart still breaks for all you lost because of the selfishness and evil in the souls of a few. I know it is not something you will ever fully heal from but I pray you find peace.

To those who fear one race or religion because one day, I ask that you remember this was the act of a few, not a majority. These are the views of one extremist group and they are wrong. But that does not mean that every person who shares a characteristic with them should be punished for it. They are just people.

To the people who oppose the war, yours is a valid point (and those who do not oppose it also have valid points). This does not mean you have the right to tear down the soldiers who put their lives on the line. They did not choose this war. They chose to serve their country in what they believed to be the best way, just as some serve by running for office and others work in various positions to keep the country running. The first step towards peace is accepting that your side is not the only one to consider.

To the adults who were mere children that day, do not forget. Remember as much as you can, because one day your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, are going to ask you what that day was all about. Don't let it be another fact in the history book that gathers dust while the newest generation forgets why it matters. Remember, in honor of all those whose lives were irrevocably changed.

And to everyone, from sea to shining sea, whether you consider yourself a patriot or not, remember that hate and fear are not the most powerful forces in our world, though often they seem the most pervasive. Hope, though rare, is far more powerful. For while fear and hate can wreak destruction and chaos, hope forges though and rebuilds. Destruction takes no real effort, no true power.

But to believe you can try again? To look for a brighter tomorrow? That takes a strength of spirit and soul that those who sow terror can neither understand nor harness. Hope is what brings dreams to life. Hope is what crushes the darkness threatening to close in. For if you lose hope, you lose what makes all things possible. Hope molds lives to better and brighter things.

So remember the sacrifices of those who fight for hope. And carry on the legacy they leave. Let hope shine and never forget.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Reading Harry Potter With My Mom: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Second book is now complete. And Hagrid's accent is still wonky as every. Mom now bursts into laughter every time Hagrid speaks and she's like "Well I know exactly who that is." Yes, Hagrid doesn't need his giant footsteps lumbering along for Mom to know he's coming. She just need the screwed up tones of an accent that has an identity crisis.

When we got to the Polyjuice Potion chapter, Harry and Ron's voices deepen into Crabbe and Goyle's. Now, I don't know about anyone else, but for some reason, in my head, Crabbe and Goyle have looked and sounded fifteen since they started at Hogwarts. Which means they have very deep voices. So when Harry and Ron become them, they have these deep man voices and when I would say something as them, both Mom and I would burst into giggles because it was quite hilarious to say things as Goyle and then have Harry be the one saying it.

"You realize we're only twelve right?"

Hagrid is still having a wonky time with his accent. For a little while, he managed to be Australian. And then I tried to just keep him Cockney, because that is an accent I can manage, but he doesn't sound right because my Cockney accent is high pitched than the Scottish brogue. I feel like Hagrid's voice is Flynn Rider's nose.

"She just can't do my accent"

Speaking of odd voices, let's talk about Dobby for a moment. Now, I have a naturally high pitched voice but after speaking like Dobby, my voice sounds alto rather than soprano. It's bizarre for my voice to sound almost low. And of course Dobby's squeak made us laugh. A lot.

I had to stop a couple of times when reading this book because I kept welling up, thinking about Dobby and Colin. And I know that it's just going to get worse as the series goes on. Because I know what happens to everyone.

In watching the movie, Mom was surprised at some of the things they changed. I however, was shocked to find that Harry apparently now has classes with every house. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had Transfiguration and Defense Against the Dark Arts with not only Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle, but also with Justin Finch-Fletchey from Hufflepuff and Susan Bones from Ravenclaw.

Why the hell are we all in the same class?

So that's book two. We're actually in the middle of PoA right now because I've been slow in posting this. We should hit Goblet of Fire in October. Marvelous.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Reading Harry Potter With My Mom: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Recently, my mom decided to let me read my Harry Potter books to her. These are some of my favorite books of all time and getting to finally share them with Mom made me extremely happy. We decided to read each book and then watch the movie. And of course we started with Sorcerer's Stone.

In which Hagrid was Scottish. At least he was at first. You may not realize this, but a Scottish accent is particularly hard to maintain. For me, it some time slipped to Russian and I was like, "Wait, we're not at Durmstrangs here."

What ruddy kind of accent is that?

It's also hard to flip between speaking normally and figuring out what Hagrid is supposed to sound like. At points he was Cockney and even this odd place between American, English, and Irish. Near the end I was like, "Oh god, Hagrid, please stop talking. I love you, but I can't figure you out." Mom rather enjoyed the odd variety of accents Hagrid used.

I think we can all agree that Ollivander is just a little creepy, at least when you meet him in Sorcerer's Stone. Apparently he is no longer a maker of fine wands but a maker of fine wines. Hey, you let a wine sit for 2000+ years, it's probably going to be...whatever it is you want to get from wines when they sit for a long time (can you tell I have no clue what happens with wine?)

Ollivanders Wand Shop-Sign.jpg
Doesn't this look like the label that would be on a fine vintage?

I am not accustomed to reading out loud, so sometimes my tongue will get tied. This is happens also because I am a fast reader, which means when I read I don't read each individual word, as you have to when you read aloud. Which is what led to Ron's arms not windmilling but treadmilling.

How do you translate that into your arms?

And then we came to Lord Voldemort. And I really like my Voldemort voice. It's kind of creepy and thready and perfect for him without a body. But, I am not a man, nor do I have a low voice. So when he starts to yell, the voice tries to growl...and then I start choking. I can either be Voldemort or yell but I can't do both. Maybe Voldemort's voice box was damaged when he LOST HIS FREAKIN' BODY.

I'm so confused. How will I my followers listen if I never speak above a harsh whisper?

We just watched the first movie this afternoon. And Mom was struck by how much was left out of the movie, how much info they never talk about. I have clearly seen this movie too many times because I was sitting there quoting it under my breath. And I noticed for the first time that Fred and George actually do chant "We've got Potter" in the Sorting scene. You just don't hear it because of the din and instead have to read their lips.

Honestly woman, you need to pay closer attention.

I can't wait for Mom to get to know Neville. Because really, I have come to love him and Mom doesn't quite understand why yet. Which is why we are reading these books (well, a side reason. Mainly we're reading them because I love them and Mom said I could). Tomorrow we begin Chamber of Secrets.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Adventures in Cooking: How Not To Make Minute Rice

In my house now, we have a rotation of who cooks dinner. My parents cook two nights, my sister and her boyfriend cook two nights, and I cook two nights, with the guidance of my mom. On Friday, everyone fends for themselves. It's a pretty good system.

Since I have Mom helping me, I am slowly learning how to cook things more complicated than Mac and Cheese (which tastes perfectly fine when made with lactose-free milk) and hot dogs. I was going to add spaghetti to this list, but I kind of set a noodle on fire when I made spaghetti two weeks ago.

Last week, I was making Orange Chicken from a recipe on the Food Network website. Everything was going fine, it was cooking away happily in the oven, when my sister comes home. She asks what we're having and I tell her, rather proudly, "Orange Chicken"

Lemon Chicken Breast
Basically this, but with some alterations to make it orange instead of lemon

"And what with it?" she asks. And at this question my mind stops comprehending English for a minute. What with it? What goes with chicken? What does she mean?

"Um...broccoli?" I say, drawing out the word. "Aaaand?" she asks again. This is becoming a maddening question. Mom realizes what she's asking and takes pity on me. "Oh, a starch." Right. Duh, we need rice. But rice takes forty minutes and the chicken will be done in ten. "Uh, I think we have some Minute Rice in the cupboard," Mom says.

Mwhahaha, don't I look simple? I'm gonna make you wish you used the rice cooker.

Sure enough, there's a box of Minute Rice. I pull it out and look at the side to figure out how to make it and the number of portions to make. Mom leaves me on my own to do this, mostly likely figuring, incorrectly I might add, "How can she screw this up? It's Minute Rice."

I get the water boiling, add the correct number of cups of rice, and then place a plate on top since we can't find the lid to cover it. I leave it alone to the required time. After the buzzer dings I lift the plate off and hot, water steam drips onto my leg. Probably an omen of bad things to come.

I throw the plate in the sink and look in the pot...and then call Mom over. "Something went wrong with the rice." For, instead of fluffy, perfectly cooked Minute Rice, there was instead a vat of rice that was a little...soggy. There may have even been extra liquid in the pan still.

I'm going to taunt you for the rest of your life.

Mom stares, perplexed at the rice for a moment. Then she turns to me and asks, "How much water did you use?" I look at her confused. How much water? Does it make a difference? I shurg and make the vocal equivalent of "I have no freakin' clue".

Apparently, rice is not like pasta. You can't just throw any amount of water you want in with the rice. Rice is the baking equivalent of the starch world; everything must be precise. Since I didn't measure the water, now I have really wet rice.

Which Mom valiantly tries to salvage. We put the rice in the microwave, covered, for 2 minutes. Then, we try putting it back in the microwave for another two minutes without a cover. Mom explains as the microwave whirs that the reason it doesn't matter how much water you put in with pasta is because you drain it. So, when she takes the rice out and it still looks watery, I ask, "Why don't we drain the rice?"

"I'm so mocking you right now"

So we did. Yes, I can actually say that I have drained rice in a colander. This seemed to get rid of most of the excess water. And the rice wasn't completely inedible either. But when Mom said she wasn't going to keep the leftover rice, I was the first to agree. I bet that would have been the moistest rice ever when reheated the next day though. ;)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Diversify Your Reading Challenge

So, a little while back, I found this reading challenge (and contest because you know I love books).

For this challenge, there were two categories, one for librarians (which sadly I am not) and one for bloggers and readers. For readers you were challenged to read Young Adult books that either had an LGBT character as a main character or significant side character (protagonists' best friend, love interest, etc.) or were written by a person of color or an LGBT author. One lucky person can win fabulous prizes (click on Reading Challenge at the top to see the rules of the contest)

I personally was more drawn to the LGBT side of the challenge, so that's what I focused my reading on. I read Beauty Queens by Libba Bray where one of the beauty queens is a lesbian, The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson which is about friendship and sexuality and discovering who you are and how to be that person (one of my all time favorite books), Hex Hall and Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins in which Sophie's roommate is gay, Empress of the World by Sara Ryan about a girl who falls in love with another girl at a summer program, and Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce (which I don't know if it quite works for this challenge since the gay couple aren't exactly main side characters, but I wanted to address it as well).

One of the things that really struck me about these books, especially ones where the LGBT relationship wasn't the main focus (like the Rachel Hawkins books) is that the authors write their characters like it was no big deal that they were gay. They weren't even saying, "Well this character is gay and isn't that wonderful?" They instead were saying, "Yes, this character has brown hair and is gay and has green eyes and is tall. Now moving on with the story." It was simply another character trait.

This is also something my friends (who watch much more BBC than I do) have pointed out about British TV vs American TV. If we have a LGBT character at all on American television there seems to be extra effort exerted to show that this character is just like everyone else. With British TV, they don't put in that effort; they figure everyone knows the character is like everyone else and it's just another facet of their personality.

I also noticed (just from the books I read and maybe this isn't true of all of them) that when the relationship is the focus of the book (like Bermudez Triangle and Empress of the World) the relationship doesn't work out. Why? Can't I have a sweet happy gay or lesbian story that ends well for all involved? Why can't they just end up together? And please, if you know of a book where this happens feel free to leave it in the comments. I'd love to read it.

I do want to talk about Bloodhound and Okha Soyan and Nestor Haryse. I loved how Tamora Pierce wrote this relationship. She didn't try to tell the reader that "Of course this person is gay and isn't it wonderful" and highlight that. But she didn't ignore the fact that some of her readers don't understand people who are transgender or why men can see themselves as women and have relationships with men. One of my favorite quotes in this whole book is Okha explaining to Beka, (and I'm paraphrasing since I can't find the exact quote) "The Trickster god played a cruel trick on me, putting a woman's soul into a man's body." It's a beautiful passage with the perfect explanation (at least in my mind) of what transgender people feel in their hearts.

I really enjoyed taking on this challenge. I enjoyed the books that I read and the ideas it provoked. I really hope that through books more people can learn acceptance. Books are one of the best ways that people can be introduced to ideas other than their own and begin to change their minds toward the better. If you understand how someone thinks, you can better see their side of an argument and understand why they feel what they feel. From there it's not a hard leap to humanity being just a little less cruel.