Currently Reading: The Chocolatier's Wife

The Chocolatier's WifeHe managed a smile. "I know, and think it most good of you, but I cannot help feeling sorry. Our marriage was doomed to be hard in the beginning, simply because our people are so different, but now the weight of these events will make it even worse. I would not have pulled you into this mess for the world."

"Mess? And here I thought this little adventure was your wedding present to me. I am quite disappointed, William."

He rolled his eyes. "Nay, my dear, I am supposed to slay dragons for you, not deacons. But you look like you could use a rest. The guard has my personal effects. If you please, tell him you have my permission to claim them all, and among them you will find the key to the front door of the shop. My brother will bring me dinner at a quarter after four. Were you to come and meet him, I'd be quite grateful."

"I would be most honored. I shall return then. Have you any wish for aught, while I'm at your home?" There were two books on his bed; he took one and handed it through the bars. She took it: Creighton's Mysteries volume one. "Reading about the unseen world, Mister Almsley?"

"It is part of your world, is it not?"

She shook her head. "Haunted temples and people who claim to have been able to step back into time is not exactly my field."

Author: Cindy Lynn Speer

Synopsis: In Berengeny, where marriage matches are made by spell just after birth, romance is uncommon, but northern Herb Mistress Tasmin has corresponded all her life with her intended, southern sea-captain-turned-chocolatier William—and when William is accused of murder and promptly jailed, Tasmin goes straight to his aid. Unfortunately for her, southerners are suspicious of magic-friendly northerners, so Tasmin is mostly on her own as she fights to keep the chocolate shop alive and prove William's innocence.

Sheer determination, budding love, and a pack of wind sprites stand Tasmin in good stead as she deals with a strange town, William's antagonistic family, his unknown enemy, and the final obstacles to achieving his freedom and their long-awaited marriage.

Notes: The motif of the arranged (or convenience, or otherwise contractual) marriage turning into a love match crops up regularly among romance novels, but it can still be enjoyable if well done. In this novel's case, it was certainly responsible for some of the prettiest moments; Tasmin's and William's letters to each other, which preceded every chapter, were fun to read and helped develop the love story nicely.

The book is fantasy and mystery as well as romance, however. That combination has been well done by writers such as Sharon Shinn, so I was excited to see the blend of genres begin to develop in this story. The fantasy side is quite light; there are a few moments of mage activity that are neatly described, and the wind sprites were lovable and amusing, but otherwise there's little to it. The plot depended more heavily upon the mystery, which, though fairly ordinary, was readable enough.

The execution, however, hampered the story on all fronts. Speer can write a decent sentence, but her prose is uneven, and the choice to formalize the dialogue along Olde English lines, with a few pirate terms thrown in, proved awkward. Her timing was lovely on occasion, but sometimes the character interactions were baffling. I liked the romance overall, but much of the conflict failed to work for me, as did the final sweet moment.

These sorts of weaknesses seem commonplace among novels published independently (in this case, through indie house Dragonwell Publishing.) On the other hand, I've seen stories in far worse condition shipped out with pride by the Big Five, so there's that. I'm on the hunt for really good self- or indie-published fantasy—there has to be some out there—so I was happy to take this one in stride. It's not quite what I'm questing after—it needs too much polish—but it held my attention and was a pleasant afternoon read.


Harry Potter Book Club: Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 2-3

All right, magical friends! Who wants to help me de-gnome my garden?*


We have to be careful, de-gnoming in town.
The neighbors will hate me if this lands
in their yard.
Make sure and bring your leather gloves; the gnomes bite.

Before we get up to our elbows in peony bushes, however—well, any more than I already have—we've got to cover last week's book club entries. Masha commented on Harry's lack of confidence in love:
Harry is home again, hating his family, longing for escape, and anticipating another school year with friends..but uncertain again - he never really knows where he stands in the magical world, or the hearts of his friends. He wants certainty that can’t be given in this world, he lacks trust - a faith in the goodness and consistency of those he loves. It’s sort of a common thread for Harry throughout the books - like most of Rowling’s characters, he doesn’t love confidently or consistently..there are too many doubts and resting demons he can’t overcome.
To which Christie responded, among other commentary:
I remember writing early on about the horror of Harry's upbringing and my subdued surprise that it hadn't affected him more severely.  Children raised in such a home, outside of the fictional world, would almost certainly have deep emotional wounds and problems with delinquency.  Here we start to cast light into the deeps of Harry's woundedness, of which, so far, we have not much left the shallows.
I'll be interested to see further thoughts on this as the series progresses. Harry isn't wholly child either of realism or fantasy; he's neither paragon of virtue, nor profound and pathetic victim of abuse, and yet, in some ways, he's both. The story itself sits in a weird place, really; it combines myth and humanity into a light tragicomedy that is simplistic at one moment and startlingly thoughtful the next.

It might be interesting to compare Harry to Dudley in, say, book five. And there'll be lots to talk about in book seven, of course. :)

On to this week's reading!

P.S. It's really hard to take pictures of yourself de-gnoming. I think this girl did a better job than I did.

* * *

This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, chapters 2-3

You guys. Muggle problems!

Referring to a different clock than the one we meet in Ch. 2.

Or better yet, the ability to Apparate.

So it's not just me?!

Potential Discussion Points

1. Dobby.

I'm afraid that if I say anything about Dobby, there will be SPOILERS. Masha tells me that his existence, and that of his race, are problematic (see combox at the link)... and I can't argue yet, because I don't know what she means. ;) So far, however, we've got what is really a beautiful scene in retrospect—the way Harry treats Dobby, and the way Dobby responds, are quite powerful in context, but I can't describe it properly, because it would spoil half the plot of the book. Ugh. Frustrating. There's more to come when we get to socks.

Art by mneomosyne.

2. Uncle Vernon's racist joke (page 18; we're not told either buildup or punchline, just that it's about a Japanese golfer.) Is Uncle Vernon a racist because he's a jerk? Or because he's uneducated, or ignorant in that arena at least? Or because Rowling, like too many people from left of the political center, believes that everyone right of center is a racist? Or is it just a throwaway sign of Uncle Vernon's overall nastiness and distrust of anyone different from himself?

Art by LMRourke.
This artist's character sketches are sublime.
3. Molly Weasley. Now and again a Potter fan doesn't, but I love Molly just as she is—domestic, poor and thrifty, busy to the point of being harried, open-hearted, and so driven by old-fashioned, faithful love that she shouts at her sons for breaking rules to rescue Harry and then welcomes Harry warmly, though she barely knows him, in the same scene. I'm not a fan of yelling in a household, but there's a difference between yelling fueled by grudges and contempt, and yelling fueled by warm temperaments inside the security of a solid, tested-and-true commitment. As an extremely conflict-averse introvert, I can't quite comprehend it myself, but some families seem to thrive on bickering and raised voices at levels that would drive the rest of us into insanity.

And the other half of the pair... Art by LMRourke.
4. Arthur Weasley. Here's one of Rowling's most delightful contradictory personalities; a poor government employee with seven children and a ramshackle country house (hard to comprehend in America, or at least in this part of America, where government employees may get paid three times what private laborers do for the same jobs), a man who heads the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office at the Ministry of Magic and tinkers magically with said artifacts in his own shed. He's a good complement to his wife: worn, often a little stressed, but eternally cheerful and never tempestuous. The Potter series isn't exactly laden with good father figures, but Arthur Weasley, despite his handful of flaws, is one of the greats.

5. De-gnoming the garden. All right, this is a funny scene, but I always feel sorry for the gnomes when they walk away with their shoulders hunched. Even though they're stupid and vicious.** Ron presumes they don't feel pain, which I might be more inclined to believe if Ron weren't so desperately prone to believing just what he wants to believe on such subjects. More on that later, too.

Art by Rawenna.

Update: 6. The Burrow! How did I forget the Burrow? And now I don't have any time to talk about it, except to say that this first visit to it is one of the beautifully magical parts of Rowling's worldbuilding, and I understand why Harry thinks it's the best house he's ever been in.

Also, I really want clocks like Molly's.

Anything I overlooked? Got thoughts on chapters 2-3? Put them up for discussion!

* Muggle moment: I'd as soon have gnomes as slugs.
** I've never figured out a good way to kill slugs, either.



Harry Potter post tomorrow, y'all! I just. can't. finish it today. Start it, yes. But I have apples and zucchini to take care of, and fresh herbs steeping in hot olive oil to make homemade insect repellent, and not enough time or energy to say anything much more interesting than "Next up: Harry goes to a WICKED AWESOME HOUSE and meets SUPER RAD PEOPLE."

Today, then, I'm joining Masha! Join in over at Piękno, or leave your own sensory notes in the combox...

Today I am...

Feeling... affirmed. And kind of weirdly happy. There's that scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone where Harry jumps on a broomstick for the first time, and rushes up into the wind, and all of a sudden he realizes he's found something he can just do—"this was easy, this was wonderful...." Somehow, despite stage fright and plenty of mistakes and the fact that my knit shirt kept slipping off one shoulder during Mass, I still loved conducting choir this week, and I still felt like I did well considering that it was only my second time behind the music stand for a full liturgy. The latter is partly because I had such fun with it and partly because people kept coming up afterward and saying nice things till I felt like a superstar.

Seeing... evening sun through the panes of the front door. I love July in the Pacific Northwest.

Smelling... mint, oregano, thyme, sage, lavender, and olive oil. Supposedly those all steeped together make a reliable insect repellent. I don't know why the bugs don't like it. It smells fantastic.

Tasting... a mint julep. Complete with maraschino cherry. Courtesy of Lou. The mint smelled so good as I picked it for the repellent that we decided the drinks were necessary.

Listening... to Mozart on King FM. My favorite radio station. They rock.

Grateful... for summer weather.

Reading... oh, gosh, I don't even know. I just finished The Chocolatier's Wife by Cindy Lynn Speer (attempt #2 at reading self-published fantasy; review coming soon). Still haven't picked up the Chesterton novel, but it's in paperback and my Kindle charger just broke, so it's probably next on the list.

Loving... our choir and musical team. Rather madly. In case you couldn't tell. :)

Hoping... for all kinds of things, from more ripe tomatoes soon to more ways to use my little newfound talent.


Gimbling Cats and other stories

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe

It isn't quite brillig, which Humpty Dumpty says is around four o'clock. And Maia isn't a slithy tove. She has, however, been gyring and gimbling on my manuscript and editorial letter. Or if not precisely that, she's at least been wrestling and pouncing and then sleeping on them. While halfway under the edge of the couch cover. It's apparently more fun that way.

Maia: "It's a cushion that slides around! FUN."

Me: "Could you not destroy that? And don't lose it under the couch, either."

Maia: "You don't care if it gets bent. You had it in your workbasket."

Me: "Touché. But I'm not the one who walks all over the workbasket. Or sleeps in it."

Maia: "I'm not the one who put it in MY REACH. Ha! I'll get you."

Me: "Put those claws away! Little beast..."


* * *

Doctor's orders do not quite seem to be enough for me... but shared accountability helps, so I'm joining Masha in a proper detox during August. We're getting off sugar, caffeine, and alcohol—that is, as much as possible; Lou and I have got huckleberry picking mid-month, and everybody lives on pancakes and hot dogs and beer for three days—as well as cutting out meat for the most part during the first half of the month, and drinking cleansing herbs and eating fresh foods. And that's just part of it. Masha's goals include:
Waking before my alarm most mornings and replacing coffee with tea. I am deciding on a time to be online, a time to be available for texts and calls, I’m deciding on lectio Divina for my early morning hours, weeding and harvesting after breakfast, afternoon walks, focused cleaning, prayers and journaling..in short a spiritual detox. A time to form my flighty self in the imitation of Christ.... I’m giving myself a good part of Yarrow’s average nap-time for writing.... It will not be journal-writing, nor editing, but writing with form, shape, and direction.
I haven't plotted my goals out quite as clearly, but they're forming along similar lines. I'd love to more consistently pray the Liturgy of the Hours. I need to sing every day, ideally in the morning, to help my voice heal, and I want to be absolutely faithful about my piano time before bed. The garden could use some extra weeding and pruning, and my novels are desperate for some full attention.

Anybody else in? This could be fun. Or, since eating oatmeal is not exactly fun when there's Frosted Shredded Wheat in the house, at least it could be healthy.

* * *

The sweet pea bloom is one of my favorite things the year has to offer.

I'm also loving watching the fruit begin to ripen.

* * *

Music of the week: I came across this Orla Gartland video on YouTube a couple of weeks ago and loved it. Wish I was this good. (I've been instructed to bring my guitar to the choir picnic this Sunday, and judging by my recent practices... hmmm.)

* * *

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jub-Jub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!

That poem has been running through my head a lot lately. I have no idea why.

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Airs Above the Ground

Airs Above the GroundI noticed that Herr Wagner was watching closely. Even if he did not value the horse, he was too good a horseman to hand the animal over to someone and then leave them unsupervised. He said nothing, but washed up himself and then stood near me, obviously constituting himself my assistant.

I clipped the horse's leg and cleaned the area with surgical spirit, then reached for the hypodermic. As Herr Wagner put it into my hand, I caught sight of Tim's face, taut and anxious, watching across the horse's neck. There was nothing for him to do, so he stood by the animal's head and spoke to him gently from time to time, but in fact the boy seemed much more disturbed by the operation than the patient, and looked so anxious at the sight of the needle that I gave him a reassuring grin.

"I'm going to give him a local, Tim, don't worry. He won't feel a thing, and twenty minutes from now he'll be doing a capriole."

Author: Mary Stewart

From Goodreads: Lovely Vanessa March did not think it was strange for her husband to take a business trip to Stockholm. What was strange was the silence that followed. Then she caught a glimpse of him in a newsreel shot of a crowd near a mysterious circus fire in Vienna and knew it was more than strange. It was downright sinister.

Once again Mary Stewart unfolds a masterpiece of intrigue, terror, and suspense in this headlong-paced tale of a young wife's search for a missing husband....

Notes: Out of the stack of Mary Stewart mysteries given me by Arabella, this book appealed directly to the memory of my little-girl horse-craze phase, which lasted in force until my late teens and never entirely went away. Airs Above the Ground, set in Austria, with a focus on the Spanish Riding School and its Lipizzan stallions, starring a young veterinarian as heroine, looked like ideal light reading material.

While Austria and the famed School weren't developed to the same level of immersion as the Greece of Stewart's The Moon-Spinners, there was enough there for the senses to catch onto. The characters were even more enjoyable—especially cheerful, witty young Vanessa and seventeen-year-old Tim, who was quite the charmer. The loyal, playful, basically platonic friendship between Tim and Vanessa carried the story and was one of its most likable aspects.

The plot was intriguing, and Vanessa had plenty of action to survive without relying entirely on the leading men; she was resourceful enough to do some rescuing and sensible enough to accept help. That said, much as I would like to avoid the supposed necessity of scolding the work for the presumably unforgivable sin of being a creature of its time, I confess there were moments when even my eyebrows went up at the way Vanessa views male/female relationships. I'm afraid I risk undoing all that show of enlightenment, however, by admitting that it was nice to revisit the days when a terrified heroine could, without shame, take refuge in a man's inescapably superior strength.

As for the horses, I would have been glad to see much more of them than the book provided for, but what Stewart did offer was fun. There were moments that were even beautiful. And as Stewart's old-world settings and lively characters are the high points of her work, at least for readers like me who have little interest in smuggling rings and drug busts and fictional shoot-outs, I'd say that while this is perhaps one of her weaker stories, it's still engaging and a very pleasant read.



The Today meme is hosted by Masha! Join in over at Piękno, or leave your own sensory notes in the combox...

Today I am...

Feeling... comparatively peaceful. I had a lovely evening last night with Lou and both our sets of parents, got up this morning and warmed up my voice properly for the second weekday in a row (in the shower, yes), gave the garden a thorough watering as the night fog cleared slowly, and got a decent start on the laundry. I have also not had caffeinated coffee since last Thursday's fiasco, and I think my piano playing has improved in consequence.

Seeing... blossoms all over the yard, nearly-ripe windfalls under the apple tree, and green pumpkins appearing in the uncut grass around the vines.

Smelling... a whiff of hot car tires and exhaust on the otherwise-clean summer air.

Tasting... a raspberry from the garden. They're getting to the end of their season, but to my surprise, they haven't lost all their flavor yet.

Listening... to the fledgling chickadees hopping about in the trees and twittering.

Grateful... for two loving sets of parents. I am more than usually blessed.

Reading... Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I couldn't stop at the end of chapter one. I'm also procrastinating on taking up The Man who was Thursday; Chesterton's novels are odder than his nonfiction. Mr. Pond recently suggested a couple of Agatha Christie works to me, too, which he swears are not as terrifying as And Then There Were None, so I may try and track those down.

Loving... this little 'bit of earth'.

Hoping... for a pleasant and not-overly-nervous experience filling in as director for the other parish choir this week. After that, I suppose it'll be a long time before I do much conducting again, and it'll be nice to have my concentration freed up for, say, writing novels. But I'll miss it. Considering my crazy panic over that first time behind the music stand, that's good to know.


Harry Potter Book Club: Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 1

All right, fellow travelers through Harry Potter's world! We're approaching a dark door, deep in a tunnel, great and forbidding, with the sign and seal of Hogwarts' most compromised founder carved upon it. This is a time for bravery, for holding tightly to your wands, and possibly for getting in touch with your inner Goth.

I'm spending the evening with my parents and my in-laws,
so this is as Goth as I dared go.
Note the skull-and-crossbones earrings, though. :D
Before we all paint our nails black, however (WHY do I not have black nail polish??!!), we need to look at last week's summary of the end of Sorcerer's Stone. Masha finds the ending disappointing, and she doesn't trust Harry's hero and mentor:
Art by azmin
...even here - so early on - [Dumbledore] has the after-taste of utilitarianism, a tendency to use others like chessmen, to manipulate. There’s a similar subtlety and secrecy about him to Snape’s, but sugar coated, and that much sugar gives me headaches. He’s one of my least favorite characters..I don’t like him or trust his motives.
In so doing, she's chosen her side in the Great Divide between Harry Potter fans: Snape loyalty and Dumbledore loyalty. By my guess, Snape fans tend to value passion and brokenness, and may make excuses for the meanness that often results from that combination. Dumbledore fans tend to value fervent dedication to love and rightness and goodness, and may make excuses for the Machiavellianism that often results from that. The Snape/Dumbledore loyalty divide isn't necessarily a hard line, but it frequently is, and it was the source of some huge combox and forum battles immediately following the release of Deathly Hallows.
Art by EnigmaticSS

I'm a Dumbledore fan. For better or for worse... and probably for both. I often feel affection for Snape, and I often hurt for him, but his brutality is still hard for me to forgive. But I can forgive Dumbledore everything but one or two BIG SPOILERS, because his utilitarian tendencies arise from his being stuck in a spoilerifically difficult position, and he fills that position—as best as he can—with faithfulness, compassion, and humility.

Christie's Sorcerer's Stone finale post is still in the works. But I can forgive her that, no problem, partly because she's awesome and partly because she devoted her writing time to challenging Harold Bloom more thoroughly and knowledgeably than I was capable of doing:
Now, as far as I have read, Harry Potter is not a challenging, game-changing story.  But I have to protest the implication that reading it will not at all enrich mind, spirit, and personality.  What is the anthropomorphic castle if not an introduction to the Gothic genre?  And the Flamels' longevity coupled with Voldemort's rabid lusting for the Stone (and the blood of innocents) if not a grammary to Paradise Lost?  On the contrary, I think Rowling's borrowing of these classic elements is essential to and accountable for, at the very least, some of the interest in Harry Potter, beyond action in the form of zipping brooms and hi-jinks with clever and uncomfortable spells.
Art by Gustav Dore
Which reminds me that I should read Paradise Lost. (Instead, I just keep re-reading Dante...) Along those lines: I'm a little ashamed to admit this, considering how old I was when I started reading Harry, but the Potter books have quite literally been my introduction to much of foundational Western literature. Sure, I'd read Tolkien and Austen and Dickens and a few others, but I knew next to nothing about Greek and Roman mythology or the traditions of Western lit outside of the influence of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures (and only the modern Protestant canon, at that.) I've been making up for lost time ever since I learned that Hagrid's "Fluffy" was a creature of historical myth.

If that's not sign of enrichment, I don't know what is.

And now, travelers, we move forward. The red Stone has been destroyed, the evil wizard is off plotting a comeback from his weird inhuman state, and Harry is back with the Dursleys, anxiously awaiting his return to Hogwarts at any cost.

* * *

This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 1

It's only eleven pages—ten and a half, really—and it's mostly re-introduction to the story and Harry's situation. If we go any further, we'll be introducing important new characters, so we'll hold right here for the week.

Also, you can make Aunt Petunia's pudding for yourself, if you're feeling adventurous. I'm supposed to be getting off sugar, so I can't do it just now. Terribly unfortunate.

Bloomsbury UK adult edition

Prelude to Chamber of Secrets, Chapter One

Chamber of Secrets is my least favorite Harry Potter book. Now, to understand that statement fully, you must realize that every time I get to the end of CoS, I wind up thinking to myself that it's a wonderful, beautiful little story.*

But the tone of the tale is darker than the first, darker throughout. That is—if its scenes are not especially darker than the sight of something creepy drinking unicorn blood at night in a forest, or than a professor with a demoniac face on the back of his head attacking a student in an underground room, it's at least not quite as carefully balanced with light. You'll need your Lumos charm to get through this one. A St. Benedict medal might come in handy, too—let the dragon never be my guide! Though it's not dragons exactly that we're going to be dealing with... And some of the events are more suggestive of a psychopathic murder mystery than of a book meant to be read to little kiddos by a librarian in a pointy hat.

Wicked stepbrother
Art by JamusDu
We're not quite there yet, though. Right now, Harry's back at the beginning of the journey, hanging out with the Dursleys, celebrating his twelfth birthday by pretending not to exist. This hurts to read about—that's a very direct and symbolic attack on Harry's identity and human worth, perpetrated by his blood relatives. Harry gets his Cinderella time in, too, with tauntings from his wicked stepbrother and abuse and slave-labor treatment from his wicked step-parents.

Just weeks ago, he was famous and popular, victor once again over Voldemort, key player in helping Gryffindor win the House cup, surrounded by magic and friends. But on his twelfth birthday:
Wish they could see famous Harry Potter now, he thought savagely as he spread manure on the flower-beds, his back aching, sweat running down his face. (p 10)
Crappy photoshop job alert!**
Famous Harry Potter has come right back to the beginning of the monomyth, readied—though he doesn't yet know it—for another trip around the circle. He's going to be stuck in that loop for a while, and by the time he's done... well, SPOILERS. Our focus for the next few weeks is this dark, sometimes garish, difficult turn of the wheel.

Everybody got your wands out? Say it with me now... Lumos.

* The word I usually use is awesome, but I thought it best to vary my lexicon a little, as I'd used it at least once in the post already. I use awesome like a true child of the eighties, or nineties, or whenever the word became popular. I'm not awesome enough to know.
** I took these pictures in our bathroom, without thinking about how appropriate that is to the story. Accidental genius FOR THE WIN.


Pink Dobby and other stories

First things first: I've spoken with Masha and Christie, and the Harry Potter Book Club is cleared to move on to the Chamber of Secrets! Look for the first post right here on Monday. :)

* * *
I left the shopping bag on the table for her comfort. At least,
that's her theory.

* * *

Some Fridays, I have lots to say in a post. But then, some Thursdays don't involve having a mocha and mojito cake for lunch*. The latter fact may not appear to correlate with the former, but the equation series looks like this:

2 shots of espresso
+ lemony frosting
+ 0 protein outside of the mocha
+ flaming hurry
+ serious case of nerves preceding having to talk/conduct music in front of people for 2 hours
= too queasy to eat anything else all afternoon

1 case of too queasy to eat all afternoon
+ serious coffee jitters
% a great deal of prayer, careful preparation, and half an hour of peaceful piano music
= 1 relatively sane substitute choir director, for approximately 2 hours

1 relatively sane substitute choir director
+ huge amounts of residual caffeine
+ 1 small plate of spaghetti
+ bedtime
= 2 wide-open brown eyes and 1 hypercaffeinated, racing mind

Which meant I was up till two, and then my brain forced itself awake early. I didn't dare have more coffee—I still feel like I have jitters—so I fell asleep on the couch a little while ago and then chose to fight my way out of the resultant sleep paralysis. (No hallucinations, though. And I didn't follow the mocha with bad whiskey. I promise.)

All that to say: I feel super weird. And I still have to clean house and go to a cookout tonight, so yeah. Unless you count this not-very-interesting ramble, I haven't got lots to say.

* * *

I'll let the garden talk for me.



Oregano, leeks, pumpkin vines



Non-invasive morning glory

Cinquefoil, dahlias

A rose of splendid color.

My little poppy bloomed! Depending on angle, I think it looks
like a pink Dobby. Or Yoda. Something with huge ears.
Not Jar-Jar, though.

* * *

Music of the week: Maria brought this song to my attention on Facebook. It's soothing, and it's not often you see a violin strummed.

* * *

Happy weekend!

* Courtesy demands that I mention I was invited to help myself to a perfectly good restaurant menu. I turned it down, planning to get home in time to eat before the next event on the day's schedule, but I couldn't tear myself away from my nieces. They're adorable. So, the whole thing was totally my fault.


Currently Reading: The Power and the Glory

The Power and the GloryA new voice spoke, in the corner from which the sounds of pleasure had come. It said roughly and obstinately, "A man isn't afraid of a thing like that."

"No?" the priest asked.

"A bit of pain. What do you expect? It has to come."

"All the same," the priest said, "I am afraid."

"Toothache is worse."

"We can't all be brave men."

The voice said with contempt, "You believers are all the same. Christianity makes you cowards."

"Yes. Perhaps you are right. You see I am a bad priest and a bad man. To die in a state of mortal sin"—he gave an uneasy chuckle—"it makes you think."

"There. It's as I say. Believing in God makes cowards." The voice was triumphant, as if it had proved something.

Author: Graham Greene

From Goodreads: In a poor, remote section of southern Mexico, the Red Shirts have taken control. God has been outlawed, and the priests have been systematically hunted down and killed. Now, the last priest strives to overcome physical and moral cowardice in order to find redemption.

Notes: While we're talking cowardice, I've spent years being afraid to read this book. I'm picky about potentially depressing fiction; I try not to read it while I'm depressed myself, and if I'm going to invest my time and emotions in a tragic work, said tragic work had darn well better not end in existential angst and meaninglessness.

The story certainly begins depressingly enough. There's not a lot of bravery in the little state of Tabasco; not a lot of hope, and not a lot of love. The Church is nearly gone, and the one priest who remains is terrified of pain and death and doesn't feel repentant of his mortal sin. Timid and nameless, he flees the police through a landscape as bleak as his outlook, and the people he meets, disciples and betrayers alike, are often sun-baked and scraggly and desolate to match.

Greene narrates in slow, vivid, loosely connected scenes that function as pictures, as images: complacent piety and viciousness and lust and fatalism crammed together into a reeking prison cell in total darkness, tears over an empty bottle of wine, a pitiful confrontation between starving human and starving dog, and many more. Through the pictures, the author gives us a sense of the priest's struggle with his conscience and cravenness, of his compassion and his conviction that he's not the stuff martyrs are made of—and of what the sacraments mean to him that they drag him away from safety, again and again, because they are needed and there is no one else to provide them.

I had mixed reactions to the whisky priest's thoughts. It seemed to me that he missed distinctions when it came to comprehending things like love for sin versus love for a child who resulted from a sin. His empathy was outstanding, however, and his conflict with his own weakness was profoundly moving. Joyless as he and his story often were, even in the execution of duty, his dogged belief and determination to provide the sacraments were beautiful and, in their own unassuming way, alive. Greene portrayed that unseen life and beauty with such intensity that he almost made me want to write tragic fiction.

How any given reader will take the ending of this novel will depend in part upon perspective and in part upon which scenes and ideas stick particularly in the mind. There's too much to the conflict, too much even of ambiguity in the final scenes, to predict a response.

For myself, I finished this novel down at Larrabee Park, with the sun burning as hot as it ever does on the edge of the northern Pacific; with a languid, fishy bay lapping masses of kelp against the shore, and a handful of well-dressed, well-meaning parents scolding their youngsters for playing in the water. The heat and atmosphere gave me an extra moment's connection to dusty, uncharitable little Tabasco as I came up out of the last page, breathless and trying to scold myself into not crying on the beach. It was a sad story, after all, and the tragedy had its share of existential angst and meaninglessness.

But that wasn't where the tears came from. The final few scenes of the story brought some of the loosely connected images together with unexpected force, and the title of the book—drawn from the doxology that follows the Our Father—finally made sense. We humans are weak, and we are cowards, but Christ is strong. Whatever our individual lives may suffer, the Eucharist has been given to the world, and He will never leave us nor forsake us. He has built His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.



The Today meme is hosted by Masha! Join in over at Piękno, or leave your own sensory notes in the combox...

Today I am...

Feeling... a whole mix of things. A little sleepy, a little wrung out, a little ways toward peaceful after transplanting strawberries and a passion flower and my poor long-suffering aloe, a great deal lonely for my piano as I've been too busy or exhausted to play it four nights out of the last eight, a touch regretful that yesterday's Potter post had to be put together so late and so quickly, a touch nervous about running choir practice this week and cantoring Sunday, a touch frustrated with reworking stories I've already written, and desperately anxious to start something new....

Seeing... gray clouds on the horizon. They're not supposed to last. I hope they don't rain too hard on my tomatoes.

Smelling... blue cheese from lunch, which I've only just finished.

Tasting... grilled chicken, which Lou cooked to perfection, with blue cheese and some of yesterday's white wheat loaf from the bread machine.

Listening... to Maia stalking a fly.

Grateful... for Lou, for his steadiness and sanity and comforting gentleness.

Reading... well, I'm in between books. Recent reads include Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory—oh, the beauty of that work—and Mary Stewart's Airs Above the Ground, which was fun. Next in line is Chesterton's The Man Who was Thursday.

Loving... kindred spirits, from the internet and from ordinary life. <3

Hoping... for a chance to fly out and see my grandma soon.


Harry Potter Book Club: Sorcerer's Stone, Chapter 17

At last, magical friends, we've come to the long-awaited final chapter of the first book. I must recommend finishing the book before you read much further in this post, as HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. (For the first book only!)

Also—I must check with my fellow hostesses, but there may be some delay between the end of book 1 and the beginning of book 2. Life happens to Muggle and wizard alike, and we have all been kind of having Things Going On with capital T-G-O, so I want to make sure we're reasonably ready to enter the Chamber of Secrets before we do. (Preparedness is helpful when you're facing giant SPOILERS.) I will let you all know the schedule as I can.

Before we get to all that, however, we must check in with the most recent offerings: Christie's piece on the Point of No Return, which I linked and quoted last week, and Masha's piece on friendship with Harry and acquaintance with Snape:
Snape's [Stone-protecting enchantment] though, is delightful. It's more than a task, it's sort of an introduction to the man, a picture of his layered and solitary soul. A soul full of nooks and chambers and dusty-0ut-of-the-way places where old photos are laid face down so we can't snoop. He's clever, hidden, lost inside himself, and oh-so-full of secrets, like his potions, and he offers clues..but not direct ones. If you need direct clues he despises you..which may be more of the reason for his dislike of Harry than anything else. Harry's a liar, but he's a clumsy one, he has no subtlety. Snape has subtlety in spades. I adore it!
One more link, in case anyone didn't know: Rowling pulled a first-class invisibility-cloak surprise the other day and released a brand-new mystery novel under the pen name of Robert Galbraith. I wasn't excited about her literary novel, being nearly as cautious around depressing fiction as I am around Death Eaters, but a mystery?? I may have to give this one a shot. If I do, I promise to review it.

And now, for this week's reading! There's more to talk about in this last chapter of Sorcerer's Stone than there may be in any one section till we get to Deathly Hallows... let's get to it.

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This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Chapter 17

Potential Discussion Points:

1. The Seventh Enchantment: Look into the Mirror of Erised and be totally pure of heart. Dumbledore has set his task up so that no one who actually wants to use the Philosopher's Stone can find it. If your ultimate desire is for life and wealth, that's what the mirror will show you. If your ultimate desire is to serve Lord Voldemort—if you're one of those few, (Le)strange* people—that's what the mirror will show you. If you want to find the Stone but don't care about using it, it drops into your pocket. "One of my more brilliant ideas," Dumbledore says, "and between you and me, that's saying something."

Art by Seraphim-burning.
2. "His head looked strangely small..." Perhaps it's a matter of the old saying that if you're too open-minded, your brains will fall out. Quirrell is no longer master of himself; he's surrendered so thoroughly to Voldemort that the latter's face is sticking out of the back of the former's head. This is one of the vivid horror elements in the series, and it's an interesting reversal, if you will. Those who surrender to love, to faith, show that in their eyes and faces; Moses, after getting a glimpse of God's back on Mt. Sinai, had to veil his face because it was "radiant" (Exodus 34:35). Quirrell gives his soul to the bad guy, and you can see it in the back of his head.

Art by rajafdama.
3. Snape "does seem the type,..." "swooping around like an overgrown bat..." Is Snape bad or is he good? We can't say yet—this is one of the biggest potential SPOILERS in the series, and what enormous debates were had on the subject in the year before Deathly Hallows released! But in this book, he's not the villain. Dark, yes. Terrifying, yes. Mean, yes. But pulled by an obligation he can't escape, forced by it into protecting the boy he hates. He succeeds, but it doesn't assuage his hatred. And I'll stop there, before the spoilers start flowing.

4. Burning hands. Every time Quirrell tries to grab Harry at Voldemort's orders, he gets blistered upon contact with Harry's skin. Dumbledore later explains:
"Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn't realize that love as powerful as your mother's for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign... to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good."
It's interesting here that hatred leaves a scar—as per Harry's forehead—but love leaves an invisible mark with stunning powers. But there's a lot more in this paragraph. This quote is one of a pair of bookends; we'll see its mate in Deathly Hallows. It has various companions, too, of which my favorite is near the end of Order of the Phoenix. Love, specifically self-sacrificial love in the face of death, is the central theme of the series. More on that in a moment.

5. "Three days."

It's often argued, usually by pagans and atheists and others who understandably want to claim the Potter books as equally theirs, that the Potter books aren't particularly thematically Christian. The dying and rising god is a popular story in history, goes the argument. Self-sacrificial love isn't the province of Christians alone.

Bronze figurine of the Egyptians' Osiris,
god of the dead, the afterlife, and rebirth.
By Suraj. Source.
And I say, sure. Self-sacrifice and resurrections are not the exclusive property of Christianity, and neither are the Potter books, which are in many ways obviously, intentionally vague about theology. Rowling steers very clear of making any stated claim about the afterlife other than that it exists.

That said, self-sacrifice and resurrection are the very core of Christianity, and all Christians are commanded to live lives of self-sacrifice, even unto death, in hopes of resurrection. (We often don't, but that's another blog-post.) Now, those facts wouldn't prove that the Potter stories are thematically Christian. There's more than enough evidence to show that the author centered her story in Christian symbolic tradition and meaning, however. Rowling didn't go vague at all with her symbolism, particularly at the ends of books one and seven.

"KILL HIM!" Voldemort yells here, and Harry, believing all is lost, sinks into blackness. When he wakes, one of the first things he asks is how long he's been in the hospital, where he has found himself upon regaining consciousness. He was sunk in the blackness for three days.

Art by Noel Coypel.
That's not vague. Neither is the idea of self-sacrificial love acting as a shield against the attacks of the Evil One. Neither, of course, is this quote from her October 2000 Vancouver Sun interview with Max Wyman:
Harry, of course, is able to battle supernatural evil with supernatural forces of his own, and Rowling is quite clear that she doesn't personally believe in that kind of magic -- ''not at all.'' Is she a Christian? 
''Yes, I am,'' she says. ''Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I've been asked if I believe in God, I've said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what's coming in the books.''
Which, by the way, if you've read the series (otherwise, potential SPOILERS for all the books but the last one), you can click this link to see how close this hopefully intelligent then-twenty-nine-year-old reader came to guessing what was coming.

6. The nature of evil. Another point of non-vagueness is Rowling's clarity about how willful evil treats its adherents. "He left Quirrell to die," Dumbledore says of Voldemort; "he shows just as little mercy to his followers as to his enemies." That speaks for itself,  I think.

Art by Linnpuzzle.
7. Dumbledore's quotes. There are some great ones in here:

"After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." That sounds reasonable, but it's certainly not the view of someone who believes in annihilation. In context, he's talking about Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel, who have allowed for the destruction of their Philosopher's Stone at the cost of their temporal immortality. They've accepted the reality of death, and SO MANY DEATHLY HALLOWS SPOILERS I WANT TO TALK ABOUT. I'll restrain myself.

"...[T]he trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them." Well, don't we, though?

"The truth. It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution." Which is a refreshing idea in a world where popular belief is that truth is a weapon to be thrown around willy-nilly.

"Alas! Earwax!" All right, that one just makes me laugh. I love the whole concept of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. I can't even guess what earwax tastes like, but apparently Dumbledore knows (vomit, on the other hand... that one we all know, and making a jellybean that flavor is just mean). Here are the Parselmouths, trying a few of the beans—yes, someone did capitalize on that idea:

8. Hagrid's book. Here at the end of book one, the Mirror of Erised disappears from Harry's life, but he's passed the test; when he faced it alongside his enemy, it wasn't his long-lost family he saw, but the way to defeat Voldemort and protect the world from an immortal and very powerful evil.

Art by RohanElf
But Harry's love and longing for his family was never the problem with Erised, and Hagrid gives him the same image in a form that isn't dangerous to him: old wizard photographs, collected in a leather-bound book. "Smiling and waving at him from every page were his mother and father." Harry, of course, is moved to tears. I cried, too.

9. Dumbledore's recognition of the four Gryffindor students, three of whom had earlier lost serious points at the hands of McGonagall. I love how appropriate and thoughtful these are. Ron is honored for "the best-played game of chess Hogwarts has seen in many years"; Hermione for "cool logic in the face of fire"; Harry for "pure nerve and outstanding courage". And then there's Neville. "It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends."

Possibly more, actually, all other things being equal. In this case, all other things are not equal, but Neville will have his chance later. This honor is just the beginning of his goodness and glory.

10. Harry's family. "You must be Harry's family!" says Mrs. Weasley, and Uncle Vernon responds with, "In a manner of speaking." I'm not sure whether this shows that Uncle Vernon is less capable of being family than Aunt Petunia [SPOILERS], or that the Dursleys are less Harry's family than the Potters or even the Weasleys, or just that Uncle Vernon is a jerk. Maybe all of the above.

And that's a wrap for me for book one. Go forth and discuss!

* Sorry, I couldn't resist.


The Problem with Positive Energy and other stories

The phrase "it never rains but it pours" is not exactly true of Washington State, in which a misty drizzle is part of two-thirds of the days in the year, but it does seem to be true of life. This was apparently the week for my friends to get hit with sorrows.

In one case, perhaps some of us can help: fellow blogger and NaNoWriMo friend Shallee McArthur's sister's house and garage burned down the other night, and the family—which got out safely, thank God—lost most of their belongings. Shallee has a site up with a list of clothing and household items they need, along with the option to donate financially. If you have the will and the means, I'm sure Kylee and her husband and baby would be grateful.

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I washed a horse blanket with a laundry load this week, and Maia claimed it almost the moment I had it out of the dryer. Which actually made doing the rest of the laundry easier, as she spent most of the rest of the day in it:

She did, of course, swipe me with those claws at one point.

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More garden color! I love this hanging basket.

Also: I happened across these minuscule poppies while I was weeding (the poppy is at my palm; of course, the little blue-flowering weed is cute, too... too cute to pull, so I left it there...)

I can't wait to see that blossom open.
Here's the big one I actually planted, for scale—and also because it's gorgeous:

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I spent most of this week in productivity mode, and felt very thrifty and efficient as I made my currant jelly. All that positive energy may have backfired, however, as in my enthusiasm I boiled that jelly till I was quite convinced it had reached the ever-elusive jelly stage. Then, once I'd gotten it in the jars and through the canner, I used an old grandma-trick to guarantee a seal: flipping the jars upside down as soon as they come out of the water bath, and leaving them there till they cool.

Thanks to my aforementioned enthusiasm, this proved to be a mistake.

Nailed it. Haha.
Boil past the jelly stage, and you get what amounts to fruit roll-ups in a jar. :)

Not all my productivity suffered the effects of too much happy-go-lucky zeal. Beth and I made these maxi skirts on Monday. There's just one cut (two if you need to cut for length) and one seam, and the result is fantastic:

Girls, you want to make one of these! They're so comfortable.

It's also lovely to have an alternative to jeans, which are next to impossible to find long enough for me. This skirt laughs at length challenges. Next time, however, I will allow for my apparently having a longer stride than the girl who designed the pattern and add seven or eight inches to the lower measurement instead of five. I can't keep up with Lou when I wear it unless I pick up the hem. :)

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Music of the week: Carrie-Ann linked me a couple of songs in the combox a few weeks back, and they were both so splendid that they'll probably both wind up on here eventually. Here's one: the Tallis Scholars singing Allegri's "Miserere". It moved me to tears.

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Mermaid school!!! For that, I might try and get over my irrational horror of swimming pools. Thanks for the link, Arabella.

This post is late for many reasons, one of which is that Christie and Masha are getting me hooked on Firefly. I started the hour-and-a-half-long pilot last night, watched more of it while putting on makeup this morning*, and just had to finish it in my brief window of afternoon free time, when I should've been prepping this post. A sci-fi Western... I'm reveling in this. Now, here's hoping that Joss Whedon isn't a sadist about killing off characters like the writers for Downton Abbey are.**

Happy weekend, everyone!

* Why, yes, it is hard to put on eyeliner while watching television. And yes, propping my Kindle Fire up on the edge of a  high towel shelf so I could stream the show by the bathroom mirror was a little risky. But it all worked out in the end.
** Lou and I are working through season three of Downton Abbey, and after I complained about one shocking character killing to Beth, she told me who they kill at the end of the season. HORRORS. What, are they trying to be George R.R. Martin? I'm furious.