Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Things I Learned From Harry Potter: Self-Reliance

*As a note there are spoilers all over my examples. So if you haven't read the books or seen the movies and are planning to, you may want to skip all the examples in the middle. I will mark the section with a spoiler warning since I know some people only watch the movies (for shame!) and I will be spoiling the end of the seventh one.*

Part of what makes the Harry Potter series so wonderful is the lessons in teaches kids, without feeling like it's teaching them a lesson. I know that I learned a lot from Harry and his friends growing up. And I don't just mean that going into the Shrieking Shack on a full moon is a very bad idea.

One thing I learned was the idea of self-reliance, knowing that at some point you're going to have to do something on your own, despite the encouragement and support of friends and family. There's going to come a time when only you can do what needs to be done. It's not going to be easy, it's not going to be fun, but you're going to have to do it.


This is evident for Harry in pretty much every book. In the Sorcerer's Stone, Ron and Hermione are with him through the trapdoor and the tasks that follow, but after the bottles on the table, Harry has to go alone on to face Voldemort. Hermione gives him encouragement and both she and Ron help him through the tasks that lay before, but he has to get the Sorcerer's Stone and face down Voldemort alone.

In the Chamber of Secrets, Harry has to face Riddle by himself while Ron stays behind and figures out a way to shift the rock from the minor cave-in. Yes, Ginny's there and Fawkes helps blind the basilisk and heal Harry, but Harry is the one who has to figure out how to get rid of Riddle and save Ginny.

In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry and Hermione go back in time together and both save Buckbeak. But on the lake, Harry is the one who has to cast the Patronus. Hermione tries to help, but this time she just can't. If Harry wasn't able to do it, they'd all be screwed.

In Goblet of Fire, Harry has to do a lot this alone. People help him prepare for the tasks, but he's the one who has to enter the arena and compete. Hermione helps him practice Summoning and "Moody" gives him the hint about flying, but Harry is the one who has to face down the dragon. Cedric gives Harry the clue about his egg, but Harry himself has to save Ron from the mermaids (we need a stronger word for the fierce Amazonian tribe of beings that confronts Harry when he tries to save all those taken. Mermaid sounds too sweet). And then there's the whole maze and Voldemort in the graveyard.

In Order of the Phoenix, Harry has Dumbledore's Army backing him when they enter the ministry. And when Harry takes off after Bellatrix and Voldemort appears, Dumbledore is there to fight him. But Harry is the one to take the brunt of Voldemort's attack when he possesses him. And...(Okay, cards on the table, it's been a while since I read the fifth book. It was really sad to me and I'm not entirely sure I paid attention to exactly what was happening at the end the first time around since I was broken-hearted about Sirius).

In Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore teaches Harry so much about Voldemort, information that will be vitally important. And Dumbledore gets them into the cave where the Horcrux lies (or used to). But Harry can't rely on Dumbledore for help when he has to feed his mentor the potion in the basin holding the Horcrux. All Harry has is one simple direction and he has to hope that he's doing the right thing.

And in Deathly Hallows, Harry has the ultimate moment of going it alone. He has to walk out in the middle of the Battle of Hogwarts and die so that Voldemort can be defeated. Part of why the scene in the forest is so absolutely heart-breaking is that even though the ghosts of his parents and their dearest friends are with him, he is still utterly alone. This is something only he can do. It's not easy, and it's the last thing he wants to do, but it's the right thing.

******************END SPOILER****************************

Time and again throughout the books, you find that while Harry has people who love him and help him, there are some things he has to do alone. Things that only he can do. And so when I read him, I learned that there will come a time that I am going to have to make a decision or complete an action on my own. My parents can give me advice, my friends can help get me to the point when I need to do it alone, but ultimately, I have to be the one making the choice in my life. I'm the one who has to do something if I know I need to, not wait for someone else to pick up the slack.

And these books also taught me that it's okay to ask for help when you need it. You don't have to be completely reliant on yourself all the time. Friends and family are there to give advice and stand with you when they can. Like Hermione says to convince Harry that he should ask for help finding the Ravenclaw Horcrux, "You don’t have to do everything alone, Harry."

There are times in our lives when we're going to need to stand on our own two feet. Times when only we can make the decision, take the chance, change our lives. But there will also be times when it's okay to ask for help, to rely on those you love and who you know love you back. And this is one of the best lessons Harry Potter has to teach kids and adults alike.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Teen Queens: Marie Antoinette

Yes, there was no book post this past week, which I apologize for (although I did put up three posts, so it all evens out. Kind of). But I finally finished editing my novel, which means that I will have much more time for reading and making book posts (hopefully). The two weeks or so may be kind of off, since I'll be in Bellingham again visiting friends, but I will try to get them posted on time.

Now onto our Teen Queen.

Imagine that you are fourteen years old and you are sent away from everyone and everything you know, everything you love. You are sent to a country where you are held in the public eye every moment of your life. And the public hates you, simply because of your nationality. And when you get to this country, you are married to a boy you have practically nothing in common with and then told to produce a boy as soon as possible, being blamed when you and your husband remain childless.

This was the early life of Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France. She was the fifteenth child of the Emperor and Empress of the Roman Empire. Her mother, Marie Therese, was a demanding woman, who expected perfection of her children. But she was also a capable ruler, beloved of her subjects. And while she tried to keep a close eye on her children's education, she left the job mostly to governesses. Marie Antionette's governess spoiled the girl, letting her spend more time playing than studying.

Antonia, as she was called by her family, was in awe of her mother and actually closer to her father, Francis Stephen I. Her family was a happy one, with her parents married for love rather than power, but when Antonia was 10 her father died. Four years later, her mother arranged the betrothal of her daughter to the Dauphin of France, Louis XVI.

Fifteen year old Louis was a painfully shy, awkward, chubby boy who preferred hunting and playing with locks to performing his royal duties. At first, Marie Antoinette was a welcomed contrast to their solemn heir. But life in France was much stricter than she was used to and Antonia ended up creating court faux pas, as well as making unwise choices in friends.

She created new (useless) offices for her friends to give them a higher station at court and spent much money on clothing and jewelry, as well as redecorating her homes. She was also generous to the poor and unfortunate, but all the people saw were her expensive and frivolous tastes. When she and Louis ascended the crown at 20, the fears over her frivolity turned to resentment and hate, which helped contribute to the French Revolution. And the country fears the fact that even after five years their newly crowned King and Queen are still childless.

Finally, three years after their ascension to the throne, Marie produces a daughter, who they name Marie Therese Charlotte after the baby's grandmother. Three years later, the couple also has a son, who they name (what else?) Louis Charles. Yes, apparently no royalty is known for their originality in the name department. (The name of her third son (born four years after his brother)? Louis Joeseph.)

Sadly, Marie's first son died young due to a respiratory failure. The couple also had a four child, a daughter named Marie Sophie Elene Beatrix. But the girl died in her first year of life due to tuberculosis. There is a famous painting of Marie with her children.

In this painting Marie Therese is standing next to her mother, who has Louis Joseph on her lap. Louis Charles is pulling aside the bassinet covering. It's believed that Marie Sophie was originally in the bassinet but was painted out at the last minute.

At the birth of her children, Marie settled down and cut back on her extravagant ways. But in the public's opinion, the damage had been done. And as a foreigner, she made the perfect scapegoat for a country looking for an excuse. A combination of crop failings and a harsh winter as well as Louis XVI's declaration that the nobles have 2/3 of the votes in court causes unrest in the city, setting the stage for the French Revolution.

In 1789, a mob of women (and perhaps some men dressed as women under the notion the royal guards would be more hesitant to fire upon women) march to the palace, calling for bread and the Queen's blood. Marie's guards are killed protecting her from the crowd. Encouraged by Lafayette, the King's commander-in-chief, to address the crowd, Marie bravely stood at her balcony, facing down those who called for her death.

The entire family was taken captive after this episode, imprisoned in one of their palaces, the Tuileries, where they remained for two years. A friend of the family organized their escape, but Marie refused to be separated from her children, insisting the entire family ride in a large, slow coach, rather than two faster ones. This decision led to their capture.

Louis XVI lost hope at this point and it fell to Marie to negotiate with the revolutionaries on her family's behalf. But she also secretly pleaded with Austria to intercede and save them. Austria went to war with France and the entire family was charged with treason. In 1792 the monarchy was abolished and the family was moved to Temple Prison.

One kindness was bestowed upon the family; they were all allowed to stay together. They were also treated fairly well, but that December Louis' trial began and in January he was found guilty and executed via guillotine. Louis' brother, who had fled years earlier, declared Louis Charles to be the new king.

For a time, Marie's children were allowed to remain in her cell with her, though they were often ill. But to spite her, Marie's jailers decided to separate her from her son, and placed him in a cell below hers where she could hear him crying. The boy was only ten. A few weeks later, Marie's daughter was taken from her as well.

Finally the night came where she was roughly awakened and taken to a separate prison. She never saw her children again. She was tried and sentenced to death by guillotine. Taken through the streets in an open cart, Marie maintained her composure and dignity to the very end. Her last words were to her executioner, whose foot she had stepped on. She said, "Monsieur, I ask your pardon. I did not mean to do it on purpose."

Louis Charles was kept in his prison cell until his death from tuberculosis. But Marie Therese managed to survive the Revolution. She married her cousin Louis-Antoine, Duc d'Angouleme. She had no children.

Marie's story is a sad one. She was punished mostly for being a foreign and caught in the crosshairs of a country angry at injustice. Is didn't matter that she could have been a great ruler or that she was a generous Queen (her famous words "Let them eat cake" supposedly said gaily in response to pleas for bread by those at the palace gates were never spoken by her and were most likely penned by an incensed revolutionary). The people needed someone to blame and the monarchy was the easiest target.

One book I suggest to get inside the head of young Marie Antoinette is the Royal Diaries book on her, by Kathryn Lasky. It shows a young girl who is very alone and makes some bad decisions in friends simply because she is lonely. I think this may be a sympathetic view of her. But her story was rather tragic. I like the idea of not blaming her more.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

And Then The Harry Potter Fans Broke The Internet (Plus Geek Is Not A Members Only Club)

Anyone who is a Harry Potter fan probably already knows that at four this morning (Pacific Standard Time) JK Rowling released a special announcement about her new site: Pottermore. This site is going to be an interactive way to read the Harry Potter books. There'll be games to play and you get sorted and get a wand and go to Hogwarts. You can see some of the screenshots here and it looks so flippin' amazing! It'll go live in October, but on July 31st a group will be selected to beta test the site.

Now, as I mentioned, this announcement was made at 4 this morning (at least in my time zone). A normal person would just check what the announcement was first thing in the morning. I am not a normal person. A slightly less sane person may have just set an alarm to wake up, check the announcement, and then go back to sleep. I am not that sane.

No, I am the person who stayed up until four this morning, waiting to see what JK would tell us. Instead of sleeping like a normal person (and one who had to be up at 8:30 this morning), I sat in front of my laptop, cataloging my books, and chatting with other friends who are just as crazy as I am.

I watched the announcement, I followed the owl, and I tried to input my email, before giving up because it wasn't working for me. I have tried periodically throughout the day and only just now made it through. Which brings me to believed that one day, when the internet crashes and dies, it will be because of the Harry Potter fandom.

I have no clue how this phenomenon will come to pass. I don't know what we'll do to flood the servers and break them for good, but I am sure, based on how long it's taken to wade through the masses and finally get my email in, that we will short circuit the internet. Because we're just going to keep growing as years go on and the children of the fans are introduced to the series. The geek generation is starting to have children and they will be Harry Potter fans.

Speaking of the geek generation, I'd like to bring up the mudslinging happening in the bowels of the internet over Miss America winner Alyssa Campanella and whether she can be a geek. People lit up Twitter, arguing that she can't be a geek because she's too pretty. Many people believed she was lying just because being a geek is considered cool now.

One man said on Twitter "anybody that can walk in a bar and get free drinks all night shouldn't constitute as a 'geek'. 'less they're doing ppl's hmwrk." And while I could smack the guy's use of English, that's not the biggest issue with this statement. The biggest issue here is that being a geek has become a kind of club that only certain people are allowed into. If you aren't geek enough, if you're too pretty, if you aren't smart enough, you can't be in the club.

You know what that reminds me of? The popular people clique in high school. The people who dictated where you ranked in school. Isn't part of being a geek being able to throw off the restrictions on what you have to be to fit in? As a geek you get to love things and talk with people who like the same things as you. What part of that says only certain people can do that?

And I kind of get why some people feel threatened by people hopping on the bandwagon because being a geek is cool now. Some of the people jumping in are those who mocked us mercilessly for liking the same thing in school. What's to say they won't ruin the wonderful thing fandom and geekery has created?

But you know what's been created by those things, the best part of being a geek? It's getting to love something wholeheartedly and unashamedly and sharing that love with others. It's outside the bounds of what's "in". Geeks get to make their own niche, burrow down deep, and stay there, nice and cozy, chatting with others in nearby burrows, unaffected by the changing social climate of the world. All we need is a fan to chat with and we're good.

Why aren't other people allowed to love things, just because maybe they're a little late to the party? Are you not a Harry Potter fan unless you've been there since 1997 when it released? Are you not a fan if you only recently fell in love with Doctor Who? Who are we to dictate the love people are allowed to have for things?

Personally, I think even if people are jumping on the bandwagon, there's a high probability they'll find something they truly enjoy and after the social fads have turned to something else, those people will still have a fandom and fans to geek out over things. And then maybe shows like Firefly will get to live on, while some of the more mind-numbing shows can finally be laid to rest (I'm looking at you Kardashians).

Here and here are a couple more arguments about not shunning people from the geek community. I hope that people understand that dictating who can do what or who can be something is absurd. Keep an open mind and maybe you'll get another fan to join your cult ;)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Feudalism Should Have Worked

My mom and I were recently discussing health insurance and how it used to be that people worked for their company or business for forty or fifty years and then retired with a pension and benefit package. The employees were loyal to their company and in turn, the company looked out for the employees in the benefits they received. It was a system of mutual benefit.

And yes, I know that we tend to add glossy coatings to our notions of the past. That what seems like it was wonderful still have its major flaws. But it also seems that for some reason, we have moved away from the idea that human beings should actually care about one another. Not just that you look out for friends and family and feel bad for the far off children starving in Africa.

But that you have true compassion for strangers on the street. It feels like now we all assume the worst of other people. Because a few of the people on street corners aren't actually homeless, we've painted all of them as liars and cheats. Because some people bring homelessness on themselves through really bad decisions, suddenly every homeless person has done something to severely screw up their life and this is their penance.

In medieval England, there was a system known as feudalism that most of the lords operated under. The way it worked was the vassals who lived on the lord's land worked the soil and produced crops, as well as raising animals for hie table. They provided food and labor for the noble. In return, the noble gave them a place to live, as well as protection under the laws of the land and looked out for his people.

At least, this is how it was supposed to work. With many nobles, this is how it worked. The nobles take care of their people and the people provide for the nobles. It was a mutually beneficial system. Unfortunately, as always seems to happen with humans, there were a few lords who took advantage of the system and believed they were entitled to all the benefits without having to hold up their end of the bargain.

And sadly, as a society we're in the same place know, just in a slightly different setting. Instead of nobles and peasants. we have workers and companies. Part of working for a company is that they provide you with reasonable compensation and benefits. In return you provide dutiful service and work to advance the company.

However, some companies (not all of course, but enough that it's discouraging) have decided that since they can always get new workers so they need not find ways to look out for their employees. Instead of the health insurance and other insurance plans that actually provide good coverage without making a person broke, the companies look for the cheapest deal for the company and leave their employees to cover the rest of the costs.

When did it become okay to care more about the bottom line than people? Well, in part it started because as a country we started buying imports (half the stuff we buy is made in China) rather than things made in America. As a country we realized that foreign products are cheaper and cared more about that than funneling money into our economy and supporting it.

There are no perfect answers or solutions here. Companies look for the cheapest solution because they're afraid of being outsold by their competitors overseas. People buy foreign products because sometimes they just don't have the extra money to spend one more expensive products made in America. But you also pay a little more for better quality.

So what can we do to change things? Unfortunately, a large group has to change to make a difference. But let's say that everyone bought just one thing that's American that they usually buy from overseas manufacturers. Suddenly there's a little more more in our economy, and maybe companies feel a little more secure and funnel better benefits to their employees (I'm not saying that it will happen, but it could).

But because we live in an imperfect world most likely someone will find someway to take advantage and the system will fall apart. Sadly, that's the world we live in. I didn't mean for this post to sound so morose.

So I will end with this, for every person willing to screw over someone else for there own gain, there is also a person who is willing to help someone down on their luck. There are good people in the world, you just have to find them.

And maybe someday, whatever the current version of feudalism is, will actually work the way it's meant to. We can always hope.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Teen Queens: Cleopatra VII

If you have ever been the parent of a teenager or remember yourself as a teen, you may realize that these are not the people you want in charge of your country. Teens are not usually known for their ability to empathize and think outside themselves (this is not to say that compassionate and unself-centered teens don't exist. They are just rare). They are not the people you want to give power and wealth without restrictions.

But throughout history, there have been women who begin their reign as teenagers. Sometimes this ends well, sometimes not so much. Cleopatra is one of these teenaged queens

All that most people know about Cleopatra is that she was rolled in a rug, played by Elizabeth Taylor (if they are old enough to a) know who that is and b) cared enough to watch the movie), and killed by a snake. Some remember it was an asp because it sounds very close to another three letter word that starts with A.

Cleopatra was the last ruler from the House of Ptolemy (toe-leh-me), the family that had ruled Egypt for centuries. She was born in 61 BC to Ptolemy VII and Cleopatra V. She was given the name Cleopatra VII Philopator. Philopator means father lover (it does not mean beloved of her father) in Greek, the language of the rulers of Egypt. Cleopatra was the first ruler to actually learn the Egyptian language in the 300 years her family ruled the country. She also spoke seven other languages including Hebrew and Latin.

Cleopatra's father was considered weak by those he ruled and his court was fraught with violence. He went to Rome multiple times to buy the support of the Romans. While he was gone on one of these trips, Cleopatra's older sister Cleopatra VI Tryphaena seized control of the throne, but died soon after under suspicious circumstances. Many believed Cleopatra's other sister Bernice poisoned her, as she took control after her sister's death. But she too was put to death upon her father's return.

When her father died, Cleopatra at 17 was forced to marry her 12 year old brother Ptolemy VIII (Yeah, Ptolemy was not very imaginative when it came to names). They ruled jointly for three years before Ptolemy's advisers, who found a twelve year old boy much easier to control than a headstrong woman who was bent on taking the reins of the country, drove her from Egypt.

Ptolemy made the misstep of murdering a war enemy of Caesar (who also happened to have been married to Caesar's daughter at one point) and Caesar attacked. Caesar usurped the capital, placing himself in charge of hearing the rival claims of the two siblings for the throne and Cleopatra saw an opportunity. She rolled herself in bedding and had it delivered to Caesar. Enamored of Cleopatra's ingenuity, he ruled in her favor.

Ptolemy, outraged, threw the equivalent of a royal temper tantrum, running to incite the mobs of Egypt against his sister, saying she would be Rome's puppet (which was pretty much the worst thing that could happen in the eyes of the Egyptians). Caesar's guards captured him and Caesar made a speech to the crowd, telling them the war he'd brought was over and they had nothing to fear from Rome (what captive nation hasn't heard that before?).

Ptolemy's advisors tried to lay siege to Alexandria and free their pharaoh. But Caesar's guards held the harbor and Ptolemy drowned in an escape attempt, leaving Cleopatra as ruler once more, this time with her younger brother Ptolemy XIV as her co-ruler. Caesar remained in Egypt, monitoring it as Egypt was an important source of grain and debt (Egypt owed them big time) to Rome.

Cleopatra became Caesar's lover, thinking to secure his protection over Egypt through giving him a son. And she did have his child, a son named Caesarion (little Caesar. Because heaven forbid the child of these men have an original name). Cleopatra took her son to Rome, where Caesar acknowledged the child as his and had a gold statue of Cleopatra erected. Caesar lavished them with favor and hospitality (which had the small side effect of ticking off a lot of the other powerful people in Rome. Oops). Things were going swimingly for the young queen.

But then Caesar was assassinated. Nothing was left to Cleopatra or Caesarion, and his stepson Octavian (rather than Caesarion) was named his heir. Cleopatra returned to Egypt to make sure her throne was secure (also, probably because with Caesar gone, no one in Rome was looking out for her). Once there she either poisoned her brother, Ptolemy XIV, or otherwise had him assassinated. Then she proclaimed her son co-regent of Egypt.

Now Marc Antony makes his grand entrance (come on, you know you were wondering where he's been). As lieutenant to Octavian, he summoned Cleopatra to answer questions about her loyalties to Caesar and to Rome. She arrived, dressed as Venus (Roman goddess of love) on a dazzling ship bedecked in finery, awing Antony so much that he spent his winter with her in Alexandria as her lover. She gave him twins, a son named Alexander Helios (finally! An original name! There's hope for you yet) and a daughter, Cleopatra Selene.

Antony had to return that spring to his wife in Rome, but four years later he returned to Cleopatra and gave her control over much of Syria, Palestine, and Cyprus, lands Egypt had tried to claim for generations but never held on to (and which weren't actually Antony's to give away. Uh-oh, you've angered the powerful people again). Cleopatra in turn agreed to fund his campaign against Armenia, which he returned from victorious.

Returning to Alexandria (where Cleopatra waited with another child of his) he proclaimed her Queen of Kings. He also proclaimed her son Caesarion as King of Kings, a title that had gone unclaimed since the time of Alexander the Great. All his children were given royal titles, even the youngest son, Ptolemy Philadelphus, just two when his father returned.

But, when he'd run into trouble on a campaign right before this, which Cleopatra also funded, he managed to piss off his wife Octavia, and his brother-in-law Octavian, ruler of Rome. *facepalm* And being a man with an ego, he did not try to make reparations with either of them. This, combined with the giving of titles and lands that weren't his to give and his marriage to Cleopatra, enraged the bigwigs of Rome and Octavian's fleet, captained by Marcus Agrippa was sent to stop Antony and Cleopatra from creating an empire of their own. Antony and Cleopatra could not defeat nor fend off the fleet.

Antony, refusing to accept the humiliation of capture committed suicide. Cleopatra, realizing that Octavian could not be wowed by her charms and skill, followed suit, letting herself be bitten by an asp. The snakebite was believed to confer immortality on those who died by it.

Sadly, Caesarion died a horrible death at the hands of his captors. Cleopatra and Antony's three children however were taken to Rome and reared by Octavia, Antony's ex-wife. The two boys died young, but Cleopatra Selene lived and was married to King Juba II of Numidia. They had two children, a son, Ptolemy of Mauretania and a daughter whose name is unknown.

Cleopatra is often painted by popular media as a woman who used her wiles and looks to get what she wanted. And she probably did. But she was more than simply a conniving woman with a flair for the dramatic. She was a skilled politician. She had to work to keep Rome from swallowing Egypt into its empire and she actually succeeded for a long time. Plus she made Egypt prosper out of a time of famine and disease and unrest.

If you want to read more about Cleopatra (in a YA setting) I suggest Cleopatra Rules!: The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen by Vicky Alvear Shecter (nonfiction. The voice can get a little annoying but it has a lot of really interesting information. And the voice doesn't get annoying until you've read it for a bit. I review it here) and The Royal Diaries: Cleopatra VII: Daughter of the Nile, Egypt, 57 B.C. by Kristiana Gregory (historical fiction. These books seem to be fairly accurate and have real pictures and information about what happens after the book ends).

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Book Blog: Cracked Dracula Has Affairs With Fantastic Short Stories

Yes, I am later than I said I would be. Yes, I feel terrible. Yes, I promise once more to try and do better. I just need to get a schedule down. But I do have a book post! Oh and the main heroine in Something Borrowed is Rachel. Enjoy :)

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Gah, I'm a day off again! How does this keep happening. Wait, I know how it happens. Distractions are how it happens. Sometimes the distractions are insignificant, like beating everyone on my friends list at Bejeweled (you're going down Arron!). Sometimes they're a bit bigger like applying for jobs or editing my novel (I have 14 days! I must get on this!). And distraction is such an easy thing to succumb to.

Which is probably why a lot of my ideas start out as ideas and don't going anywhere. Like the collage of shiny bits of paper I started in late high school (as a side note, I have no idea what I'm doing making a collage. It is not one of the art-ly pursuits I can do well). Or the collection of Harry Potter clay figures that I only got the trio and Luna out of before I got sucked into something else (although I do have the Marauders and Lily, pictures to come...eventually).

So, here are somethings that have been stealing me away from posting on the blog:

1. Tortall and Other Lands by Tamora Pierce

I am almost through this book and it is excellent. Tamora Pierce always writes amazing books and this collection is no exception. It's made up of eleven short stories, both set in Tortall and outside it, with people we've met and those who are completely new. There's a story about the tree Numair turned into a tree and one with Nawat and one about Kitten in Carthak. My favorite line in the book? "No more hurt! Or no more breathe." Want to know the context? Go read the book! Review to come on Friday.

2. Pottermore

This website and the speculation surrounding it has been driving me crazy. It's not a book and the people who've gotten sneak peeks have said it is beautiful and a fantastic addition to the fandom. But I want to know what it is! JK Rowling's going to release an announcement here when the countdown ends.

3. The Great Gatsby

My mom read this when she was in high school and I have heard the horror in her voice so many times that I thought I'd never read it. But then along come vlogbrothers and John says that the book for the summer is the Great Gatsby ("Summer, which in Nerdfighteria means putting on SPF 30 and reading classical literature for fun"). So I went and found it online and will commence reading it. Luckily it's not a very long book because I also have The Odyssey (yes, the one by Homer that the Greek geek in me is so excited to finally read) and a couple of other books from the library to read. Oh and the best thing about reading it with the Nerdfighters? In my head I hear John Green narrating it.

4. Masterchef

It has returned and I am avidly watching it with my family (well, Mom mostly but I'm sure we'll all watch it together at some point). I love this show because there are cooking challenges, but far less profanity and yelling than takes place on Hell's Kitchen. And now that they're through the auditions, the real cooking begins.

5. Editing my novel

I am now at chapter nine in my novel (there are thirty-three chapters and an epilogue to revise). Which is not bad, but it's also not great considering I have less than 14 days left. But I really, really love this novel. It's been my baby for so long and I find myself sitting there chuckling as I edit. Although it'd be much easier to edit if my characters didn't keep changing things on me. *grumble grumble* Because one little change (like, oh I used an alias here) and ripples go through the next five chapters. At least the story is still entertaining.

That's basically it for now. Sorry I don't have a real post. I promise, tomorrow there will be an actually book video with real books and such. But for now it's off to Mom's graduation (she's a better student that I am even: 30 classes and nary a B among the grades. Show-off ;) ) and relishing the time I have between freaking out over finding a job.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Crazy Man With A List

Probably everyone here has heard the phrase "Seven Wonders of the World" at least one time or another in their lives. And you probably know the basic implication behind the words. But while most people can name one or two, very few people know what all seven wonders are. Or even where the whole thing came from. I mean, who decided what these "wonders" were? Was it a committee or a king or the gods or a crazy man with a pen and a hat with a bunch of places in it and he picked seven at random?

Actually, it was a poet in Ancient Greece (which you know, may be the same as crazy man depending on your views on poets). The first reference to Seven Wonders of the World was actually written by Herodotus, a historian in the fifth century BC (Yes, I use BC and AD. Because I refuse to change to BCE and CE just for the sake of politeness or fearing backlash from the religious community. We've used this form for a few centuries people; I think you're safe.)

Sorry, where was I? Oh right, Herodotus. So, Herodotus wrote the first list of seven wonders, but the list we are most familiar with today (or supposed to be familiar with) was written by Antipater of Sidon, a poet from from the latter half of the second century (and I say he was a Greek poet, but he was actually from what is now Lebanon). He wrote short poems called elegiacs (don't ask me how to pronounce that because I have absolutely no idea) which are mournful funeral type poems.

He also was a lover of monuments and thus wrote a poem depicting those he believed to be the most impressive in the ancient world, as a way to show the might of the Greek Empire. Most of the places he had never even seen. But with only one change, this is the list we use to this day. (Antipater also has a Facebook page. And while there is nothing really on it, this amuses me to no end). So, on to the list!

1. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

These gardens were ordered built by King Nebuchadnezzer (Neb-i-kuh-nez-er) II in the sixth century as a gift for his wife, Amytis, who missed her homeland. However, even though they are considered one of the wonders, it is uncertain whether or not they actually existed. The only references to them are made by Greek and Roman poets, who would have never seen them and the Babylonian records have no mention of them at all. And archaeologists can find no evidence of them, although it is a wonder anything survives for archaeologists to find considering how much cannot be preserved.

There is also a theory that these gardens were actually confused over time with another site built in Nineveh by Sennacherib, king of Assyria in 705 BC. He too constructed an elaborate garden, but his was located near the entrance to his palace on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in Assyria.

2. Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece

In 450 BC, the people of Olympia built a temple to honor the top god, Zeus. But when construction was completed, they found the temple wasn't grand enough for the King of the Gods, so they asked one of the finest sculptors in Greece, Phidias of Athens, to create a statue of Zeus for the temple. The finished product was as tall as a four story building, made of ivory and gold, with the king seated on a throne of cedar wood with gold, ivory, and precious gems.

When the Roman Empire took over and changed the official religion of the day to Christianity, many of the wealthy Greeks in the area took the statue to the palace in Constantinople (No, Istanbul. No, Constantinople. No, Istanbul), where it stayed until a palace fire fifty years later destroyed it. I bet that trip probably scared the crap out of many people on the travel route:
"Hey what's that?"
"Oh dear Zeus, it's alive! Run for your lives! Wait...oh, people are just moving him to Constantinople."
"Well of course, why didn't we think of that earlier?"

3. Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

This temple was dedicated to the virginal goddess of the hunt. It was built in 550 BC by a Cretan architect and his son. It is believed to be one of the first marble temples ever built.. In 356, a man named Herostratus set fire to the temple, hoping it would make him famous. Which I guess it kind of did, since we still know who he is. Alexander the Great offered to rebuild the temple for the city leaders, but they didn't want him putting his name on it, so they tactfully declined and paid for the reconstruction themselves. It took decades, but when they finished, the temple was as lovely as ever.

Aaaaaaaand then the Romans came through and destroyed it again in 262 AD. By this time, most of the citizens of Epheus had converted to Christianity and thus it wasn't a religious site the Romans destroy, but a heathen one that the Christian leaders ordered torn down. Only one of the 127 columns that originally made it up still remains. The marble was then repurposed for churches and roads.

4. The Great Pyramid at Giza

Of all the wonders, this is the one most people are able to remember. Pyramids were built as tombs for pharaohs and the Great Pyramid was built for a pharaoh named Khufu nearly 5,000 years ago in 2580 BC. This pyramid was built over a 20 year period and consists of over two million stones, each weighing over two tons. The structure is forty-five stories tall, making it the tallest structure in the world for over 3,800 years (the spire of Lincoln Cathedral in England surpassed it in 1300 AD). Now I wonder how Vector stole it in Despicable Me.

5. Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

This was the first mausoleum ever built (well, the first one to be called a mausoleum, since I suppose the pyramids hold the same purpose). It was built for a Persian satrap (a ruler in the Persian empire) named Mausolus and his sister wife Artemisia II of Caria (who was a strong and creepy woman. When Mausolus died, she ruled the land for two years. But during that time, she is also said to have drank a little bit of his ashes everyday and pined for him until her death).

Mausolus chose Halicarnassus as a new capital because he found it would be greatly sheltered from capture and invading armies (which is a big problem when you have empires trying to expand and running into each other). The couple built many expensive structures in their new capital and Artemisia planned this temple as a tribute that would forever stand as a testament to their riches.

On top of the Mausoleum is a twenty foot tall statue of a chariot that hold Artemisia and Mausolus, pulled by a four horse team. The entire building was the height of a fourteen story building and stood for more that 1,500 years, until an earthquake toppled part of it and human hand destroyed the rest.

6. Colossus of Rhodes

Now, before you start thinking this guy's name is Colossus, let me stop you right there. This statue, which guards the harbor of the city of Rhodes is actually of the sun god Helios. It was built to give thanks to their patron god after surviving a year long siege. The statue was paid for by the proceeds the people of Rhodes made when they sold the abandoned siege equipment for 300 talents (between thirty and forty thousand dollars today). It came to be known as the Colossus of Rhodes, most like because of it's huge size.

The statue took twelve years to complete and consisted of an iron framework, covered by sheets of bronze. It was as high as an 11 story building. About sixty years after its construction, an earthquake snapped the statue's knees and it fell to the ground, where it stayed until Arab armies raided Rhodes and took the statue apart. They then stole the pieces and sold them to a Syrian merchant who took them back to Syria and it was melted down.

7. Pharos of Alexandria

This is the one wonder that was originally different when Antipater wrote his list. He instead had the Ishtar Gate (which was the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon, also built by King Nebuchadnezzer II). Obviously, this wonder was a lighthouse. It was built on the small island of Pharos to guide ships into the harbor in Alexandria, Egypt. It became so famous that over time, derivatives of the word pharos came to mean lighthouse in French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian, and Portuguese.

No one is actually sure what the lighthouse really looked like, but it was forty stories tall and could be seen by ships 35 miles out at sea. It stood for more than 1500 years, but two large earthquakes in the early 14th century caused major damage to the lighthouse. Any remnant of the building was destroyed when a medieval fort was built on the ruin using some of the stone in 1480. It was the sixth wonder to crumble.

So there you have it, the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Now you can go and win that final Jeopardy question and all will be awed by your knowledge of the ancient world.

*And yes, I realize this is posted kind of late, but it's still technically Monday! And it's extra long to make up for missing so many posts

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Saying Goodbye

I am sorry there has been so little activity here the past week or so. I didn't finish any books before Friday, so I didn't get a book blog done and then the whole weekend was a whirlwind of adventure and Monday I woke up sick. Plus this is my last week as an undergrad, so I have been a little busy with finals and packing and hanging out with friends just one last time before I leave. In light of this event, I have decided to postpone History Lesson Monday until next week and reflect instead on the last two years.

When I started at Western, I was kind of sickly and antisocial. It wasn't that I didn't like people; it was just that I believed being by myself was more important than actually spending lengthy amounts of time with friends. I was part of a couple of clubs and had fun, but I also spent a lot of my time reading or on my laptop in my room.

I'd never traveled outside the Pacific Northwest on my own. I had never been kissed. I'd never been to a party, outside of graduation and birthday parties. I wore glasses and was the very definition of a goody-two-shoes. I was much more emotionally reserved. I'd never considered myself beautiful or been on a real date or gone out with friends to a club. I procrastinated until the last moment on projects. I'd never written a blog in my life or made a YouTube video or been able to dance.

But I look back at that girl and think "She didn't have a bad life. It was actually pretty good. It was just missing things." And since I'd never had those things, I didn't realize they were missing until now. I thought I was a mature young woman, secure in who I was. And that was true, but I'd also kind of forgotten how to be a teenager. How to have fun and do stuff just because I can and I want to.

The people I've met in my time at Western have helped me grow so much into who I really am. And now that nerdy girl who loves books is melded with the girl who can look beautiful, go to parties, and have a blast just hanging out with friends. Especially hanging out without purpose (like going to a movie or studying for the SAT), which I never really got before now. I feel like I have a better grasp of who I am and who I want to be. And I of course have wonderful people who I can turn to if I ever need to talk.

To the Harry Potter Club people, who have made my Wednesday nights epic. You introduced me to A Very Potter Musical, which is where I discovered Darren Criss, who I love. From the movie nights where we lovingly mocked our fandom to the discussion nights where we talked about elf rights, whether Voldemort was a virgin, and all of the things that would have made the movies better (which no one besides the fans ever understands) to the Yule Ball, the best version of a school dance ever, you all have made my life amazing. And even if I don't make it back for many meetings, I will see you at the Yule Ball.

To the Glee Club, thank you for making me feel welcome, even when I felt like I was crashing your parties This applies to all of you, but especially Tom, who always says hi to me, and Lizzy, who made me feel like part of the group even when she didn't know me very well. Even just getting to do one number, one quarter, with you guys was fantastic. I love that breaking into song with you all is perfectly natural. Thank you for teaching me I am completely capable of learning choreography and for making the nights I've spent with you comfortable and amazing.

To all the people I met in London last summer, I've told you how much you mean to me, but just to tell you again, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for working to draw me out of my shell and taking me under your wing. Thank you for looking after me and showing me I didn't have to choose between being the nerd or being the beauty. I will never forget that month of my life. It was one of the times I can pinpoint as being truly life-changing.

To Michelle, I am so glad I met you at Summerstart. You've been a wonderful friend and someone who gets me. I love that when I talk about Dresden or Tamora Pierce, you totally understand what I'm saying. I love that you will fangirl out with me and you understand about the voices in your head when writing. You are amazing and I hope to see your writing in stores one day.

To Libby, thank you for always being available to talk and letting me know I could drop by any time I needed. I never feel lonely, knowing I can just look out my window and see the light on in your room. Thank you for being there.

To Becky, thank you for being Darren's stalker with me. When it was just me alone, I never dreamed we could take him, but now we have a full-fledged plan. I'm glad I found someone as crazy as me who loves Starkid and baked a terribly sad but delicious pirate ship cake. Thank you for all the fun things you post on my wall and for being my partner in crime.

To Natalie and Chris and Erin and everyone else at the Hive, I wish I had hung out with all of you sooner because you are all fantastic people. Thank you for inviting me to your parties and letting me crash on your couch every time. And thanks for just letting me hang out and great conversations. I plan to attend as many of your parties as possible in the next year.

To Cortney and Sarah, thank you for the nights of hanging out, watching movies and chatting while Cortney did our hair and make-up. It was a great way to relax and have fun. I'm so glad I met you in Myth and Lit and I'm glad for the time I've spent with you.

To Alyssa, you've been the best Greek buddy I could hope for. You've made me laughing during class and after and I'm going to miss Greek next year. Thank you for making me take this final quarter of Greek and for reading the Black Dagger Brotherhood. I've enjoyed talking books with you and making up weird Greek sentences.

To all of Disney Club, we started small but we became a place where people could fall back into their love of childhood. You made my Halloweens wonderful and I'll never forget our sing-alongs or marathons or karaoke night.

To Johanna, you've been the best suitemate I could have hoped for. I'll miss nights with you and Ron, talking until 1 AM in the bathroom. If I could have chosen my suitemate, I couldn't have picked someone better than you. I know you will survive your history classes and do something wonderful. I'm going to miss living with you.

To Anne, you've also been a great suitemate. We didn't get to talk a lot, but you are sweet and patient and I'm glad you've been my neighbor.

To Lisa, who is crazy and wonderful and amazing. I am so glad I got to be your friend. You always make me smile and laugh and your art is fantastic. I love when you give me piggyback rides around the room. I hope to see you at another Hive party soon, where I'll let you nap on me and NOT fall down the stairs.

To anyone I missed, you have all touched my life so much. Coming to Western has been one of the best decisions I ever made. I hope to come back and visit as often as I can. Thank you all for making the last two years something I will never forget. I really did make friends I will never forget here.

We've got these Days of Summer to
remind us of each other
The time we have to spend apart
will keep us in each other's heart
I'm hopin' that the good old days are something
I will dream about at night
Don't matter if it's sooner or later
I know that it's gonna be alright

Don't wanna see you go
But it's not forever, not forever
Even if it was you know
that I would never let it get me down
'Cause you're the part of me
that makes me better wherever I go
So I will try not to cry
And no one needs to say goodbye.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Badass Women of Early America: Hannah Dustin

Sorry about the lack of post of Monday. I was gallivanting about with my family and completely spaced on what day it was. So you get to have your History post today (I should be hearing some cheering right now. Even a half-hearted clapping works). This will be the last of the Badass Women of Early America, though Badass Women may appear in the future.

Hannah Dustin was a Puritan woman living in Haverhill, Massachusetts in 1697 when the town was attacked by the Abenaki tribe. She is one week past having given birth when the town is attacked and her child is killed by one of raiders. Hannah herself and her midwife are taken as captives and sold to an Indian family of 12.

She stays with them a little while and is then told she is going to have to run "The Gauntlet". The Gauntlet was a test of bravery for the Indians. They'd strip you down and make a corridor you had to run down, with people on either side armed with sticks. Then you ran down it and they hit you with said sticks. But for them, this wasn't a bad thing. It was a measure of your courage and once you did it you gained respect from them. Although if you failed, they sold you to the French (who were not Protestant. Quelle Horreur!)

Of course, as a Puritan woman, she saw this as a perverse torture by her captors and decided to escape, along with her midwife and a boy was also a captive of her family. In the dead of night, she rouses the others, and kills the family she's been sold to. She then proceeds to scalp them with a tomahawk and flees for her home.

Where, against the odds of what should happen in a Puritan community, she is welcomed back and revered. Even though she ended up killing ten Indians, six of whom were children. Because she was outside the realm of Puritans, the rules didn't apply. Plus at one point there was actually a bounty out for Indian scalps (although this had ended by the time Hannah returns). And she petitions for payment and receives 25 pounds.

Now, I realize that this means horrible things on both sides. She was kidnapped by Indians who killed her child and then sold her as a slave (Demerits to the Abenakis). But then she turned around and murdered 10 Indians, including six children, in their sleep (Demerits to Hannah Duston). Basically, no side is the good guy here.

But what makes Hannah badass is that she didn't just sit there and twiddle her thumbs waiting for her husband to find her and buy her back. She didn't like her situation so she decided to change it. Albeit, the method was a bit more radical than necessary, but she was in enemy territory and if someone saw them leaving, they'd be hunted and probably killed. Hannah took control of her destiny which is what makes her a strong woman.

Now for some fun facts. The picture at the beginning of this post is of one of two statues of Hannah Duston. This one is on the island where she was kept captive and has her with tomahawk in one hand, scalps in the other. It is the first statue of a woman in the US. It is 25 feet tall and made of granite.

The other is located in Haverhill. It is only 15 feet tall and made of bronze. That one features her simply with a tomahawk. And for a while in Haverhill, there was also a Hannah Dustin Elementary School. I wonder what version of the story they told the kids?

Hannah was believed to be buried in an unmarked grave for fear of Indian retaliation. And I don't blame them for that fear. If you want to read a slightly longer version of her story (with some chuckle worthy commentary although it has some swearing) you can read this person's
Badass Of The Week.