Monday, July 25, 2011

"Where You Live, Where You Are, Be A Staaaaaaaar"

Wow, sorry about the extended hiatus. I've been wrapped up in job hunting and cleaning my room for the first time in two years and helping out with my family's garage sale. And I'm kind of at a loss for what piece of history to talk about next. I have one last teen queen planned, but I want to read a couple more books about her first. Any history topic suggestions?

Also, since I have been sunburned and this made me feel ill, I have been sitting here with my laptop and watching a movie on YouTube that I watched as a child. So today you get a movie review! Won't that be fun? (just nod and smile; it'll be over soon).

The movie I watched is called Life Size. It has young Lindsey Lohan and Tyra Banks in it. It's about this girl whose mother died not too long ago and she decides to raise her mother from the dead and ends up instead bringing an Eve doll (pretty much black, anatomically correct Barbie) to life. Mishaps ensue, the girl is very much at odds with the doll until (shock, awe) she finds herself growing to like the doll woman just when the doll decides she needs to return to being a doll.

Okay, first of all, I think we should take a moment to realize that this girl, who is like twelve, is using necromancy to raise her dead mother from the grave. And she gets the ritual for this in a book that she partly stole (she only paid $63 out of the $150 it cost).

I personally, have nothing against magic. I read a lot of books, watch a lot of movies, love Harry Potter. But the movie doesn't even address the seriousness of what she was trying to do. What would have happened if her mother had come back from the dead? Would she be anything like she was before? Yes, it's kind of chuckle-worthy that the girl instead animated a doll, but I almost feel like they should also remind kids that necromancy is not the answer (just say no, kids ;) )

To me, there didn't really seem to be bad acting in this. But I'll also be the first to admit I'm a little slow when it comes to identifying bad acting. Oh sure, none of it was award worthy, but all the characters seemed pretty believable and constant. Particularly Tyra as the Eve doll.

There was one nagging thought left over when I finished watching it though: Does Eve ever get to be happy just for herself? Yes, I know she's a doll and who knows what thoughts are running around in that pretty little head of hers. But it didn't seem like there was something she loved that she wanted to do.

And, since she left the girl's dad (who she seemed to really like) to return and save the whole doll line, I gotta wonder, does she get the chance to fall in love? Because at the beginning when she first met that dad, she said there were no guys like him in Sunnyvale. So does she get to meet some man doll from another line and have tiny plastic children sets, or is she just going to be rah-rah, I'm a role-model and that's all I need? Just a ponderance.

Now, this movie isn't stellar, but it's not completely terrible. It occupies a kind of lower tier, middle ground. It's one of those cheesy made-for-TV Disney Channel-esque movies. It probably would also be more entertaining if I was not a twenty year old young woman. But younger girls (seven through eleven or twelve) would probably find it fun to watch.

So yeah, that's all I have. The movie is on YouTube if you want to check it out. And hopefully I will have something else to write about on Wednesday. Oh, and I'll try to get a book video posted soon. Warning in advance: it's going to be long.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It's The End of and Era

So as pretty much anyone who hasn't been living in a tundra devoid of media and human life knows that this Friday is the release of the final Harry Potter movie. It's kind of a heavy moment for all the people who've grown up with Harry and his friends. I mean, it's been in my life for 14 years. That is a really long time.

You may remember that a little while back I wrote a letter to Harry Potter, talking about what he's meant in my life. In honor of the release of the final movie, I wrote another post about Harry Potter and what it means to me. There's so much to say I could probably write a hundred letters and never say it all (side note: I now want to write a bunch of Harry Potter letters and then recreate the Letters from No One chapter in Sorcerer's Stone with either some poor unsuspecting soul or my own children some day far in the future (like leading up to their eleventh birthday when I bequeath them the first book (If I manage to wait all the way until they're eleven. They may be closer to seven or so when they get the first book))). Anyway, here is that post (sorry Facebook friends, you've already seen this. But you should read it again :) )

"I was seven years old when my sister brought home the first Harry Potter book, at which point she promptly forgot about it. I tried picking it up a couple of times, but never got past the first page. Then, finally, I picked it up and was determined to finish. It took three months, but I did finish it and I read it whenever I had time to. I can remember the exact place in the highway I was when I finished and still smile each time I pass it. And I set about procurring and reading the next book as soon as possible.

For the longest time I was always a little younger than Harry, but that meant that he was almost like an older brother to me, a mentor about the periods in my life to come, while still helping me deal with what was happening currently. Harry wasn't perfect, he wasn't self-assured, and he didn't have all the answers. Harry made mistakes, he got upset, he said the wrong thing at the wrong time. Puberty was no easier for him than it was for anyone else.

But he was always able to survive and deal with whatever came his way. He showed me that anything could be accomplished and survived with determination. It wouldn't be easy, but doing the right thing and not giving up would be worth it in the long run. I'd be better for having made the hard, but right choice.

And it wasn't just Harry who became my mentor. Like many female fans I've talked to, Hermione was like the fictional version of myself. She was bookish, a teacher's pet, and a know-it-all. She didn't make friends easily or fit right into the social structures of school life. She knew what it was like to be a loner, emanored of books while people around her found her completely bizarre for her love of school and reading. And yet, she always had the crucial answers. Without Hermione, the trio would've been sunk long ago. Because she enabled Harry to know what he needed to go up against Voldemort and survive.

Because of Hermione, I was perfectly fine to be who I was, without a crippling fear of ridicule from my peers. Because I knew that there was nothing wrong with who I was and that I didn't need a large group of friends for my life to be worthwhile. It was the quality of the friends I chose that mattered, far more than the quantity I had.

Which brings me to Ron. A lot of people, myself included for a while, saw Ron as comic relief and sidekick. He was an intrinsic part of the trio, but you couldn't pinpoint why he mattered. But Ron is as loyal as a Hufflepuff. He is brave (and okay, stubborn) as a Gryffindor ought to be, but he is also completely loyal to Harry, sticking with him through thick and thin. They've had rough patches (hello, Ron's only human) but he never left for good. And when he came back, it didn't get any easier. In fact, it just got harder. But Ron was there for his friends, despite all he had to lose. And of all the trio, he had the most to lose.

As a child, I was sick for a lot of time, especially around third and fourth grade, right before the fourth book had released. And more often than not, it was Harry, Ron, and Hermione that kept me and Mom company at night. They kept me from wallowing in self-pity and losing my sanity altogether, showing me how to keep going even in crappy circumstances. Because things can always get better, but you have to be willing to work for it.

It's at least partly because of these three that I never allowed my IBS to dictate how well I did in school. The example they set is why I would get up after a night of staying up until 2 AM and sleeping curled in a ball, and still went to school if I wasn't still hurting. Harry Potter and my parents taught me the perseverance I needed in my life to succeed as well as I have.

For me, these books have been more than simply words on a page, or even interesting stories. These people have come alive for me in a way few other books have managed. In Order of the Phoenix, when Sirius was getting sucked into the veil, I had to stop and shut the book, not wanting ti read what happened next. Mom came in then and asked if I wanted to put the book in the freezer, which is what we do with books that are frightening or make us cry.

And when the seventh book came out, I was finally seventeen. I was the same age as Harry, at the same point in our lives. And while I wasn't in a position where I had to save the world, I was still at a transitional point in my life. I was about to enter my senior year of high school, and like Harry, I was going to have to graduate and make my way into a new world. And while many may not like the epilogue, that epilogue kind of gave me hope that I would make it. If Harry and the rest of the gang could find peace and happiness, I was sure I could too. Harry was there again to tell me that I'd be okay.

It's because of Harry Potter that I have made some of the best friends in my life. Without Harry Potter, I might not have made as a strong connection with Ron as quickly. Who knows if we'd have been more than passing accquaintances? And without Ron it is quite possible I never would have heard about the Running Start program and finished college in 2 years instead of 4. Without Ron I might have never found Western, the absolutely perfect university for me.

Without Harry Potter, there's no way I would have met Natalie Hoyt or Chris Godwin or Erin Brewer. I never would have met the wonderful people at the Hive, people who've taught me a lot about life and loosening up. The people I met in London started the process of loosening me up, but the people at the Hive helped finish the process, turning me back into a twenty-year-old young woman who can have fun rather than a quiet, homebody who knows more about responsibility than acting like a teenager. These people have enriched my life more than I could have imagined.

I've earned my Snitch wings as a Harry Potter fan. I've sat 19.5 hours in line for the Order of the Phoenix midnight movie premiere, in 103 degree heat. I've frozen to death and burned my hands on a hand dryer waiting in line for the Deathly Hallows Part 1 movie premiere. I have the inscription on Gringotts memorized and have freaked people out by opening foreign editions of the books and reading the first page because I have it so clearly in my mind.

I've fought tooth and nail for Jeopardy victory as a Ravenclaw and corrected people making Jeopardy questions when they've gotten it wrong (like the fact that JK Rowling's middle name is not Kathleen but took her grandmother's name because she doesn't have a middle name). And of course I've had people look at me with confusion, shock, and (very rarely) awe when I recite such facts. I can quote the musicals practically word for word and I've walked through campus dressed in Hogwarts gear.

It's been fourteen years since Harry entered my life. The first time I picked up a Harry Potter book, I'd never cooked dinner or done laundry or driven a car. I had few friends and nowhere near as big a book collection. The internet was still young, DVDs were a novel device and Walkman's were still common. It was a very different world than where we are now, and a simpler time for me.

When I started reading I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I didn't know how to write good stories, or even that I wanted to. But I think JK Rowling is part of the reason why I've become a writer. The idea that entire worlds could be created and people brought to life, simply through words ensnared my imagination. Harry and Jo made me realize I had stories of my own to tell. And that I didn't need to be a writing god to do so.

Harry Potter is one of those generational things that will forever unite everyone in this generation. Even people who don't like Harry Potter are bound to it in a way that's hard to explain but can't be escaped. Everyone knows who Harry is, knows at least part of his story. And it has tied children, growing up all over the world, to each other. One common ground that may seem small, but may end up one day being the difference between peace and war (even if it may simply be a small peace, in the sense of getting along with someone unexpected).

Many fans are saddened because they say this is the end of Harry Potter. But it's not really. It's the end of an era certainly, and I will be weeping at the premiere at the comclusion of another chapter in my Harry Potter experience. But Harry Potter is like Dumbledore at Hogwarts. As Harry says, "He'll never be gone. Not as long as those who remain are loyal to him." Harry will always be there for those that need him, just as "Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home" (Jo Rowling, UK premiere). That is Harry's legacy."

I have also created an "It's the Last Harry Potter Movie EVER" playlist for when I'm sitting in line on Thursday. And I have it here for you, broken into helpful categories:

The Tearjerker I-Can't-Believe-It's-The-End Songs
Open at the Close by Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls
End of An Era by Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls
Missing You from A Very Potter Musical (listen to the lyrics. It applies nearly as well for our feelings about Harry)
Hallows (Beyonce's Halo Parody)
Don't Leave by Ministry of Magic
Where Are You Now by Honor Society
The Meaning of Lonely by Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls
Those Voices from A Very Potter Sequel

Harry Potter Will Never End
This Is Not Harry Potter by Hank Green
Days of Summer from A Very Potter Sequel
Get Back to Hogwarts from A Very Potter Musical

What Harry's Meant To Us
Firebolt by BYU's Divine Comedy
Not Alone from A Very Potter Musical
Not Alone by Darren Criss (Yes, I needed both. Besides, now Harry Potter is singing it to us)
To Have A Home from A Very Potter Sequel
I'm Going to Hogwarts by Lauren Fairweather
Tell Me A Story by Librarian Lily and The Tales of the Bard (This song doesn't actually exist online. I only have it because I got a CD at Yule Ball and I don't believe there's a way to post MP3s. Sorry)

Tribute to the Boy Who Changed Lives (And The Ones Who Changed His)
The Boy Who Lived by Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls
Harry Freakin' Potter from A Very Potter Sequel
Waving Flag by K'naan (it's more the sentiment of the song and only some of the lyrics that make me think of Harry (could also apply to the remaining members of the DA at Hogwarts in year 7)
Sirius Black, Fly Away by WeasleySweaters (one of the best Friday Parodies ever. It doesn't even sound like the same song)
Give It Up by Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls
Mischief Managed by Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls

Fan Pride
We R Slytherins (Ke$ha Parody)
This Isn't Hogwarts by Hank Green
The Harry Song (Lazy Song Paroday) by WeasleySweaters

Get Pumped to Fight Voldemort
Voldemort is Going Down from A Very Potter Musical
Spells and Scars by Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls
We Are the DA by Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls
The Hallows by Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls
Hunt You Down by Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls
Flight of the Prince by Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls
I May Lose Everything by Ministry of Magic (a little more low-key, but great lyrics that especially dovetail with the end of Deathly Hallows)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Teen Queens: Lady Jane Grey

Sorry about how late this post is. I got a little caught up in writing a goodbye to Harry Potter (which will be posted on Wednesday) and making an End of Harry Potter playlist for the premiere (which will also be posted on Thursday. 31 songs guaranteed to turn any Potter fan into a gibbering pile of goo. Well, and get them psyched for the premiere). And it's a little short, but that's because of the queen it's about: Lady Jane Grey, the nine day queen.

To fully understand Jane, you may need just a little bit of background on her. The first thing you should know is that she was Elizabeth I's cousin. Yes, she was related to the mass of issues and drama that was the Tudor family. She was the granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Mary (and to be confusing, her father's name was also Henry. I know, I know. The royals are crazy. Want to know something even more bizarre? Mary Queen of Scots and her husband, Henry Stuart, shared a grandmother).

So of course, Jane has issues just from being part of that whole messed up family. Now, Henry VIII's son Edward IV took the throne when Henry died, but he was still young, with a council of Lords to help him rule. Sadly, his youth meant that he was easier to manipulate.

Thomas Seymour, uncle to the young king wrote to Jane's parents. He wished for Jane to be his ward and hinted that in exchange for her wardship, he would get her married to Edward, a position of authority and power. Jane went to live with Henry VIII's last wife, Katherine Parr, Thomas Seymour (her husband) and Princess Elizabeth (who was later sent away because of a scandal with Thomas Seymour). It seemed Thomas Seymour was a man with a plan.

But a year passed and nothing happened. Katherine died and Jane's parents decided they wanted her home. Thomas pleaded for a little more time, saying his mother would come stay and take care of the girl, adding extra money on his bond of wardship to sweeten the deal. Jane's parents agreed.

John Dudley, seeing the chance to steal power for himself and be appointed Lord Protector (almost as good as King with Edward so young), pounced on opportunity. He had Thomas arrested and as Parliament was in session instead of a trial a bill of attainder (a document declaring one guilty without trial) was drawn up and handed over to the Lord Protector (Thomas's own brother Edward Seymour) to sign.

Edward Seymour was understandably reluctant to sign this document, just what Dudley was hoping for. He appealed to the king, who cared little for either of his uncles. King Edward signed the writ and Thomas was executed. Edward Seymour was seen as having executed his own brother and the public turned against him--exactly as Dudley had hoped. Dudley and a small group of soldiers captured Edward as he tried to flee. Edward was sent to the Tower.

Dudley had another ace up his sleeve when it came to dealing with King Edward: he had been part of the council of Henry VIII, one of the most volatile kings in history. He knew how to deal with Edward, flattering him and weaseling in next to the king.

Meanwhile, Jane had been returned to her family. But it was not a happy family reunion. Jane's home life was filled with physical abuse typical to the era (slaps, pinches and the like). She had grown into a well-educated and pious young woman, but she was critical of her parents' lives, which most likely led to the "discipline" her parents employed.

By now Edward was very sickly. It seemed unlikely he would live long as king or be able to produce an heir. Because of the tenuous grip Protestantism had on England, this created a succession dilemma.

For, you see, Edward wanted to carry on his father's legacy and make Protestantism the foremost religion of England, with the king as its head. But, next in line for the throne was Mary I, a stalwart Catholic. And thus a power struggle was born. And Dudley saw his opportunity to achieve even more influence and power (and to remain in favor, which would not happen if Mary took the throne).

He approached Jane's parents with a plan, marry his son Guildford to Jane (a girl he saw an amenable enough that he could bend her to his will) and place them on the throne in Mary's place. Jane's parents, seeing the opportunity for wealth and power agreed. Jane tried to protest, but was threatened with physical and verbal abuse.

Jane did not like John Dudley, and feared him, but she also did not want Mary on the throne, despising her cousin's religious beliefs. She was devoted to her Protestant beliefs and wanted to keep the country on what she saw as the correct path toward salvation. However, she disliked her in-laws even more than her parents and remained in her parents home rather than with Guildford after their marriage.

Edward was easily persuaded to instead place Jane on the throne. He was similarly devoted to his religion and knew that with Mary as queen Protestantism would be quashed. So he wrote the Device for Succession, a document denouncing Mary and Elizabeth as illegitimate (the only reason he would be able to alter his father's divine will) and wrote that they were likely to marry foreign husbands who would make plans without considering the best thing for England.

Dudley lobbied hard in Parliament to get this document approved, for unless they approved it the Act of Succession written by Henry VIII would override it. At this time Jane was told by her mother-in-law that Edward was dying, had named her as successor and she must return to the Dudley's home.

We don't know whether Jane knew of John Dudley's plans to place her on the throne. Really, it doesn't matter if she did, as there is nothing she could have done to derail Dudley's plans. But I choose to think that she knew nothing about this plot and would have been appalled. Odds are all she wanted from life was to be left alone with her books and God. Because if all of this went wrong (and oh, it would go wrong) Jane would be screwed.

Jane had a period of illness where she was sent from the Dudley's home, as they were concerned for her health. But upon her return John Dudley and a group of distinguished nobles greeted her and informed her of the King's death. They then dropped the bombshell that she was now Queen. Jane was stunned and did nothing to show that she was glad for the queenship. She murmured a prayer to God, saying if this was His will she would trust in Him to help her.

Jane was installed in the Royal Apartments in the Tower of London, traditional for all monarchs of England. The royal crown was brought for Jane to try on, which she hesitated at doing, knowing that being the queen was a dangerous position to be in. The Lord Treasurer told her to try it on and said another would be made for her husband to crown him King.

Jane did not care for her husband, and she despised the Dudleys. In that moment she snapped, realizing the full extent of John Dudley's plan. She told those assembled that Guildford could be made a duke, but she would never make him King. Guildford and his mother argued vehemently, but Jane would not back down.

Meanwhile, Mary was still free and a threat to Jane's crown. A summons was sent for Mary to come to her brother's deathbed. Mary rode for the palace, but was warned that a trap was waiting and turned back before Dudley's forces could capture her. She eluded the men sent after her and this was the start of the end for Jane.

Jane was crowned as queen. But she was queen for a mere nine days before Mary's supporters overthrew her and imprisoned her in the same Tower she'd been staying in. Mary was placed on the throne and John Dudley's plans went up in smoke.

Mary, though called Bloody Mary for her frightening attack of heretics, was not a completely heartless woman. She did not intend to kill a sixteen year old girl, her own cousin, for a plot she surely had no part in. Jane would stay in the Tower until Mary's reign was secure and then she would be released.

But Jane had stupid, power-hungry relatives. Her father led an uprising against Mary and forced her hand. Mary couldn't leave her cousin alive now. She had to make and example of her. And so Jane Grey, the nine day queen was put to death, for a rebellion she most likely took no part in. Her biggest crime was simply having royal blood and being in the sights of ambitious men.

I don't think Jane wanted the crown. I think that given the choice between being queen and becoming a nun, Jane would happily have chosen the convent. And maybe I just like to see the good in people. Maybe I'm sentimental because she was young and her story seems to be a tragic one. But I really do think that she never wanted to be queen.

There is a wonderful book I read about Jane called An Innocent Traitor by Allison Weir. It tells Jane's story from multiple points of view, Jane's, Mary's, Dudley's, Jane's parents. Jane's governess'. It is a fascinating book and is very well written. I highly recommend it. Another tragic teen queen. I need to find a young woman whose story ends well.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Reader's Nook: Vampires, Witches, and Beach Reads (Oh My!)

Here is the latest book blog video. Sorry about the quality. My camera died and I'm visiting friends, so I had to use my webcam. Hope you enjoy :)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Adventures in Cooking: The Saddest Little Pirate Ship That Ever Did Sail

A couple of months ago, during the middle of the Spring quarter at Western, Team Starkid was having a contest to advertise their newest show: Starship. To enter you just had to make a profile picture that was in some way Starship related. My friend Becky and I decided that we should make a cake. A pirate ship cake. With stars on it. (Get it? Star Ship?)

To make sure we could actually do this, we searched the internet and actually found directions on making a pirate ship cake (which of course looked epic, as all bakery examples from housemoms with far too much time on their hands tend to do). And we were like, "We can totally do this!" Oh internet, why must you lie so cruelly?

We went out and bought a funfetti cake mix, along with funfetti frosting (because that is the best frosting of all (or it was until they took the candy bits out of the frosting itself)) along with the basic boxed cake mix ingredients like oil and eggs. But alas, after getting it all back we didn't get time to make it and missed the deadline.

Fast forward to dead week of Spring and Becky messages me, reminding me that we still have the cake mix. So we set a day and thus the cake adventure begins. There were signs right away that this would not turn out as smoothly as it should. The first was that we didn't actually have a bowl large enough to mix up the entire box mix.

Okay, no sweat. We split the mix into two bowls and split the ingredients between the two (doing this with the three eggs was very interesting). At first, one was very watery and the other was kind of dry and yellow (it was a white cake mix). But, here the universal rule of sauces appeared: if you let it stand a little, it will thicken up. It finally actually started looking like cake mix and we managed to mix it all together and pour it in the pan (which we did grease).

Now, Becky's oven actually is bitter about its lot in life and hates the people who use it. She told me that once her roommate was making chicken and she'd been waiting nearly an hour for it to cook and it still looked fairly raw. She left it, came back five minutes later and it was burned. Like I said, it hates people.

So we put it in for twenty minutes and went to check it. The top looked kind of golden, so we pulled the pan towards us to check it...and it jiggled. Like it was semi-solid Jello. Yeah, that didn't look right. So we put it back in and decided to check it again in ten minutes. At which point the middle still jiggled. Not good. We put it back in. We pulled it out and put it back three more times before it was finally cooked.

And then we faced a new dilemma: getting it out of the pan. Because it was greased, it should have fallen out gracefully with just a little edge work. We tried to flip it onto a plate. No dice. We shimmied a knife around the edge again and tried again...nada. One more time, we cut around the edge, this time sliding the knife slightly under the cake as well.

Third time's a charm. Sort of. This is what happened:

Half the cake exited correctly. The other half was still stuck in the pan. *facepalm* But it was okay, since we had decided to cut the cake in half to have a base anyway. So ha ha Cake, the joke's on you! (Yes, I am mocking the cake that has already been consumed. This way it can't torture me any further).

We started off frosting the cake with a knife. And right off a couple of issues arose. A) Our cake was still kind of warm because we were impatient ferrets who needed to make it now, and B) we had cut off some of the golden part to give us a flat surface for our deck, which unfortunately meant that c) pieces of cake flaked off. But, we just turned those pieces into our ocean. Yes, we were insanely determined not to let the cake beat us.

At this point we just decided to give up using the knife and instead frost it with our fingers. Well, Becky was frosting it mostly, since I am more of a supervisor than craftsman. Also, I figured that I really wouldn't be doing a better job, although I did try to frost a little bit. And I got the same result of cake collecting on my fingers instead of frosting collecting on the cake.

Oh well, we still managed to get the cake frosted and set a little deck up. We even broke up some tiny Popsicle sticks to make it look more deck-like. Sadly, we didn't have any of the blue frosting you can get that comes out like spray cheese, or we would have used that to color our ocean.

Then it came time to build the mast. Instead of cutting one long piece of cake and reinforcing that one piece so it stood up, we decided to cut up a bunch of little pieces and build it cake brick by cake brick. Yes, we are insane. Even more so when you consider that we had to frost each of these cake bricks to get them to stick together.

There is a very good reason that Becky looks perplexed here. Frosting the little buggers was even more tiresome and difficult than doing the cake. It was like tiny cake imps were shoving the frosting off as we tried to put it on the square. Try to roll it on and it would just stick to your finger. Dabbing, I swear more of the frosting came off, even if none was on it.

I even pitched in to try a couple of bricks. As you can see, more of it ended up on my hands than probably ended up on the cake itself. We probably sat there for a good twenty minutes trying to get these little pieces frosted so they could stand up as our mast. We may not be cake masters, but we were determined, dang it.

In the end, we did manage to get the mast up, but as you can see, it was heavily leaning on side supports and popsicle sticks in the middle. We weren't even entirely sure it would stay up through the finishing touches and travel time to the Glee Mary Kay Party (which is where it was destined for since we couldn't eat an entire cake ourselves). But we gave it the benefit of the doubt.

Okay, so we still had a lot of doubt. We decided to just stick one of the star sticky notes on the cake's mast and call it good. We stuck it on and then frantically took pictures, willing it not to fall down in the process. As you may be able to tell, it was still quite precarious and probably one of the saddest pirate ship cakes to ever be made.

But we were very freakin' proud out it. It was messed up from the beginning, failed to cooperate, looked nothing like the picture, and we still had about a half a can of frosting and a third to a quarter of the cake that we didn't use. But dang it, we made a pirate ship cake. We made a Starship. And despite it's woebegone appearance, it was absolutely delicious.

So that is the tale of the saddest little pirate ship cake in the world. And hopefully the first of adventures in cooking segments to come. Because I keep trying to tell people I can't cook, but I have to learn because otherwise I will live off of toast and sandwiches which, delicious as they are, get a little tedious after a while. So, on to the next adventure!

Monday, July 4, 2011

History of Independence and the Wrath of Jefferson

Today is the Fourth of July, which in America means BBQs and beer and Fireworks (because lighting stuff on fire while intoxicated is a good idea). It's the day we as a country have dedicated to celebrating our independence from Britain and tyranny. Yeah, it sounds like a very impressive day for what boils down to eating a lot (as happens with most of our holidays) and becoming pyromaniacs.

This is not to say that I don't love the Fourth of July though. There's something comforting about the rituals of dressing in red, white and blue, eating burgers and potato salad until you can't move, and watching colorful fire blow up in the sky. I missed it terribly when I was in England last Fourth of July (I even pulled on my Fourth of July tee shirt that matched my family's and smiled at the bangs of whoever was setting off fireworks outside).

However, as also happens with many of our holidays, when asked what the history behind the holiday is, we tend to mutter some watered down story we learned in elementary school and never deviated from. So why the 4th of July?

Well, contrary to popular belief, the Fourth was not the day that we received our independence from Britain. Nor did we really achieve independence in 1776, although that is the year we formed our country and its government. And it was when the Revolutionary War began in earnest, a war that lasted eight years (beginning with skirmishes in 1775 and ending with our independence being secured in 1783).

However, the Fourth of July does have to do with the Declaration of Independence. On June 11, 1776, a committee was formed to write the declaration. This committee was made up of Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams, and two men who were apparently gypped on the recognition scales: Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman. The committee asked Thomas Jefferson to draft the declaration.

Now, Thomas Jefferson was a young man, and had a fiery revolutionary soul. So his declaration was a kind of "We're making our own country, screw you" to King George and Britain. His document (which can be read here although you will have to scroll down to nearly the end) is full of very strong language, denouncing the rule of Britain. And yes, much of that same language is in the version of the Declaration that we are familiar with today. But this is to an even greater degree.

Congress believed that Jefferson's wording may be just a bit stronger than they wanted, and they spent July 1-4 locked in Independence Hall in Philadelphia arguing the wording and tweaking it to their liking. On July 4th, it was finally approved by all. It wasn't signed and sent to England until August.

So basically we celebrate the fact that 56 men from 13 different colonies finally agreed on what they wanted this document to say. Which, when you think about it is actually quite a feat, considering all these men were politicians and from differing parties. Remember all of the arguing and crap that went on when they were trying to approve the health care plan? Now imagine that, but with more dissenting ideologies and with treason.

Thomas Jefferson it turns out was actually very ticked off about the changes made to his document. So ticked off that not only did he keep the changes made to his draft, he kept his original copy. Now, this is in a time when it wasn't a simple matter to have multiple copies. If he got his draft wet or it was torn, that was it. It had to be preserved carefully or it would be lost.

So he managed to keep both the published draft and his original copy. In his autobiography, he wrote his draft in and everything that Congress took out was written in very angry red pen with what they put in written in blue. Jefferson was probably one correction away from completely losing his mind and becoming a serial killer, seeking vengeance on all who dared question his genius.

Sorry, off on a tangent. I just really love the idea of righteous anger Jefferson stewing for years before publishing his autobiography. So anyway, as you go and eat your hot dogs and burgers, remember that we are actually celebrating 56 men actually being able to agree on something. And remember, the fireworks stand for the righteous anger of Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, July 2, 2011