Street Hockey Obligations and other stories

Anyone who smiles and cries and goes agog over Orson Scott Card novels as often as I do may not need another reason to love the author, but I found several dozen in this interview over at The Millions. I don't have a hard number on that; I didn't count the sentences in the post.

Among other things, he explained for me why I find present tense novels uncomfortable:
First person present tense [is] a convention that makes sense in French, which hates its preterite, but none in English, where our real present is present progressive: Not “I pick up the envelope from the table” but “I am picking up the envelope from the table.” Who could bear to read a story, let alone a novel, in the true present tense of natural spoken English? So we get stories written in this artificial, impossible voice.... It worked for Hunger Games because the story was so powerful; but the choice hampered the sequels.
and paraphrased Dumbledore* in response to a question about Xenocide and religion:
Even when we are genetically modified (and we all are; it simply is nature rather than government that usually does the modifying), our self is distinguished by what we choose to do about our drives and impulses, our weaknesses and strengths.
and gave further confirmation of his unusual perceptiveness about human nature:
All knowledge that we believe so firmly that we act upon it is faith, and almost none of it is based on our personal experience. We believe what others have told us, and consider “sane” those who agree with the people we agree with.
Advisory: if you want to save yourself a serious headache over the savagery of semi-anonymous humanity on the internet, do not read the comments. Judging by the dozen or so I saw, there's not much point, anyway, seeing as how they're not often responding to the article.

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The question now is, should I get my next Card novel in paperback, or download it onto this?:

Less than twenty-four hours with that Kindle Fire, and... I think I might actually read books on it. Not that I didn't read books on the hardworking old 2nd Generation Kindle George passed on to me—I loved having it for book club books and free classics off Amazon, but I never figured out how to use it easily for anything I wanted to re-read.

The old Kindle burned out this week, and as I spoke with an Amazon CS rep, he said, "We can get you some good discounts on upgrades..."

He wasn't kidding. (Thanks for that, George!!) And now I have a Kindle Fire. And—not from Amazon—a cold, which has unexpectedly cleared up a bunch of my weekend. I'm furious about the cold; I wanted to have the book club girls over tonight and go to my friend Donna's party tomorrow, and I still hope to sing Mozart with the choir on Sunday and go see The Lonely Forest. But this does mean I'll have more time to set up apps and possibly start in on some Wodehouse.

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Maia's favorite place to cuddle down this week: in my avocado plant.

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I had to limit myself to a reasonable number of photos of exciting garden things this week. One of my favorites was discovering a hummingbird whirring around the hanging basket my in-laws gave us:

Lower left, just above the eaves of the neighbors' roof
I am also thrilled about having a way to keep cabbage worm butterflies out of my kale. Apparently tulle works well as a netting cover, even when it's bright pink stuff left over from tutu-making. Of course, I accidentally set one of the bricks on one of the long-suffering baby kale plants, but it seems to have forgiven me.

Then there's the up-and-coming fruit. This second-year blueberry plant is trying its hardest to please:

One of the surest ways to make me smile.
...and our cherry sapling is ripening its first fruit.

Then there are old roses and new roses, about to bloom their hearts out:

And the elderberry starts that my mom gave me just this spring are budding.

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Music of the week: If you feature music regularly on your blog, and then you play a game of street hockey** with a musician, I think you're contractually obligated to feature them at first opportunity. But I would anyway—I've always loved John's voice and the thought he puts into his lyrics.

He's also an all-around good guy and one of our best hockey forwards. :)

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The unfortunate thing about having a little cold is that it doesn't get you out of housecleaning. Lou would understand, but I'm not sick enough to overlook the hair in the bathtub and the even distribution of cat litter throughout the house. Off I go.

Happy weekend!

* The Dumbledore quote: "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."—from Chamber of Secrets, chapter 18

** The Great Annual Memorial Day Street Hockey Game, as I think of it. This was its fourteenth year. I'd never miss it if I could help (though sometimes people can't help... it wasn't the same without you, Matt and Darci!) All you street hockey Bible study friends, you're wonderful. <3


Currently Reading: Shadow of the Giant

Shadow of the Giant (Shadow, #4)She had come here from Rwanda, as humans had come out of Africa for fifty thousand years. Not as part of a tribe that climbed down into caves to paint their stories and worship their gods. Not as part of a wave of invaders. But... wasn't she here to take a baby out of a woman's arms? To claim that what came from this stranger's womb would belong to her from now on? Just as so many people had stood on the hills overlooking the bay and said, This is mine now, and it always was mine, regardless of the people who happen to think it belongs to them and have held this place all their lives.

Mine mine mine. That was the curse and power of human beings—that what they saw and loved, they had to have. They could share it with other people but only if they conceived of those people as being somehow their own. What we own is ours. What you own should also be ours. In fact, you own nothing, if we want it. Because you are nothing. We are the real people,  you are only posing as people in order to try to deprive us of what God means us to have.

And now she understood for the first time the magnitude of what Graff and Mazer Rackham and, yes, even Peter were all trying to do.

They were trying to get human beings to define themselves as all belonging to one tribe.

Author: Orson Scott Card

Synopsis: Bean, dying of giantism, doesn't have a lot of time to do the great things he has to do: aid Peter Wiggin in creating worldwide hegemony, and find his own eight missing children. Nor does he have a lot of time to live with his wife, Petra, and their son. With just months allotted to him, he's all over the world, leading armies into the final battles that will free their nations to ratify Peter's constitution, and getting the help of the International Fleet in tracking down his and Petra's IVF babies. As the clock ticks down for Bean and the chance for hegemony, the choices are made—not just by Bean and Petra, but by the other Battle Schoolers as well as Peter and the I.F.—that will set the course for post-Formic Wars human history.

Notes: This is the fourth of the Shadow books, and in it, Card picks up the question of what happens to a lot of young people who have never known anything but war, as Ender's Jeesh and other key Battle School graduates take their places among the heads of state. It's thoughtfully done, if not carried to great personal depths in every case; so much happens in this story that a lot of the political maneuvers simply have to be summed up, and some of the important character development happens in just one or two scenes. Card has quite the knack for doing great things with lone scenes, however.

Of those great lone scenes, I was surprised at which characters' big moments affected me the most. This was Bean's book, and Petra's, and yet I have loved Bean and Petra for five books. I did not expect to love Peter. That astonishing little delight provided for a hefty share of the sweetness in the bittersweet ending, and in some ways, this was his book as well. The narrative hops perspective a lot, giving the reader sight into the various Battle Schoolers' struggles to shape the world and their own lives; it focuses on Bean and Petra, but Peter's genius and his motivations, his hard work and his healing are the central tale.

As for the Battle Schoolers' struggles, Card structures the military movements with outstanding logic, best as I can tell; he appears to have done his research thoroughly on the various countries involved, and everything from motive for action to the playing out of battle upon available terrain seemed thought-through and believable to me. Someone more knowledgeable of strategy than myself may catch mistakes, but the only thing I saw that resembled a flaw was in how briefly big events had to be summarized—probably a consequence both of word count limits and the fact that not every active country had a Battle School graduate to follow around.

But that abbreviating of key events was well made up for by the thoughtfully optimistic perspective on life and humanity that carries Card's work. If Shadow Puppets came off slightly moralistic, Shadow of the Giant reverted to true Orson Scott Card empathy and brilliance. The comprehension of human nature and culture, the compassionate philosophy, and the powerful, ever-hopeful drive toward light and redemption are overwhelmingly beautiful even amid grief.

And there is grief in this book. This is a tale of hope and happiness and suffering together, and it was both the sorrow and the beauty of it—and the truth of it, for that matter—that had me in tears for the last thirty pages this morning. Card shows redemption working in the most unexpected characters, of which Peter is only the most central, and his latter scenes allow for the existence and goodness of a God who has, as in Psalm 18, 'made darkness his hiding place.' It was those things, even more than the sorrow, that put my eyeliner to the test. (Both eyeliner and mascara survived the meltdown. I'm impressed.)

Card sold me on the ending, but I can imagine some readers being a touch less satisfied. A handful of threads are left unresolved for sequels' sake, and the heartache and sweetness are pretty inextricable. I'll recommend the entire Shadow series wholeheartedly to anyone who has read much of the Ender saga and loved it.

For anyone who has not read the Ender saga: if I taught writing, Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead would be required reading for an understanding of how to write humanity; but even for those only looking for some good reading, I recommend those two books almost without reserve. They are some of the best modern fiction I've ever come across.


Harry Potter Book Club: Sorcerer's Stone, Chapter 7

Warrior Girl's homemade wands.
Last week we talked wands, so for those of us who can't quite justify shopping at the WB shop or Alivans, here's a link on how to make your own. Ollivander doesn't mention papier-mâché, but if he didn't use it, perhaps Gregorovitch did. But as Seth pointed out this week, you'll want to make sure it's long enough.

Masha began the conversation on classism in the story, with the probability of much more to come (yes, Masha and Seth wrote in one post together, so the wands and classism commentary are at the same link):
Harry is somewhat outside class - as lost in suburbia as he would be along side Draco, watching with longing the pleasantly proletariat Weasleys knock about at the train station. It’s an opportunity to set him up to do ‘great things’ formed either by a connection to and welcoming of the good that can grow in all of the classes he can see - but never belong to; or else a rejection of these pockets of belonging and all the people who fit easily in one or the other. I don’t know that Rowling managed either in the end..but right now, Harry is still in formation - full of potential and the loneliness it brings.
Christie talked about expectations:
So what is a boy to do?  When he is already "known" by a whole class—no, a whole world—of people, yet still inherently unknown?  How does he establish himself as an individual?  And how does he climb out from under the shadow of such a daunting figure, someone he can't even be allowed to name in order to stand against face-to-face and ask, "Who are you?  And, more importantly, who does that make me?"
And there's magic to be had over at Kelly Orazi's, too, as she discusses similarities between Mr. Dursley and  Uncle Andrew from The Chronicles of Narnia:
While the others are able to hear beautiful music and understand the language of animals, [Uncle Andrew] and Jadis (the White Witch of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) cannot and will not understand. The narrator states, "For what you see and hear depends a good deal where you're standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are" (125). Like Mr. Dursley, Uncle Andrew talks himself out believing what he is seeing and hearing...
And now, witches and wizards and Muggle ladies and gentlemen... are you ready for Chapter 7? This is a big chapter.

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Read: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Chapter 7: The Sorting Hat

All right, firs' years! Which House are you in?

I know where I belong.

I'm Hufflepuff and I'm proud
Yeah, I'm not one of the crowd
I'm in the right House, baby, I was Sorted this way*

Did you know that Hufflepuff has produced the fewest Dark wizards of any Hogwarts House? That you get doused in vinegar if you try and get into our dormitories without knowing what you're doing? That our dormitories are a lot like hobbit holes—round, underground, comfortable, and with easy proximity to the kitchens? That Professor Sprout keeps lots of interesting plants in the common room, some of which sing and dance? That, like the badger which serves as our emblem, we're quiet but extremely tenacious?

Okay, so that one's mostly aimed at Slytherin.
But Slytherins are the ones who mostly treat us like idiots, so, yeah.
All right, I'll try and rein in the House pride. Too much boasting isn't considered seemly among us, after all.

Also, we got Edward Cullen. *grins*
Composite by loveeisGonee.

Potential Discussion Points:

1. The Houses. Here we begin one of the more controversial aspects of the British Wizarding educational system: the dividing of Hogwarts into rival houses based on choice virtues or ideals. The rivalry is the source of much fun and team spirit and delight, which, as you've seen above, I don't have much trouble displaying wholeheartedly. On the other hand, that same rivalry has been known to cause serious problems and to exacerbate the usual competition and bullying among students—which my Hufflepuff heart can't be anything less than horrified over.

Discussion could go a million ways, but here are the dividing lines, as they ostensibly stand:

Shields via the Harry Potter Lexicon


Values: Courage; "daring, nerve and chivalry"
Elemental correspondence: Fire
Emblem: Lion
Colors: Red and gold
Head of House: Minerva McGonagall, Transfiguration Mistress
Ghost: Nearly Headless Nick
Teaches: Standing up for others, and for what is right
Weaknesses: Seeks glory, tends to believe itself to be the best of the bunch
Arch-rival: Slytherin

...HPL: Slytherin


Values: Ambition, cleverness, status
Elemental correspondence: Water
Emblem: Snake
Colors: Green and silver
Head of House: Severus Snape, Potions Master
Ghost: The Bloody Baron
Teaches: Cunning, competition
Weaknesses: Arrogance, slyness, sometimes meanness
Arch-rival: Gryffindor

HPL: Ravenclaw


Values: Intelligence, wit, ready mind
Elemental correspondence: Air
Emblem: Raven
Colors: Blue and bronze
Head of House: Filius Flitwick, Charms Master
Ghost: The Grey Lady
Teaches: Logic, reasoning
Weaknesses: Snobbery, "know-it-all" tendencies
Arch-rival: Hufflepuff

HPL: Hufflepuff


Values: Loyalty, hard work, inclusiveness
Elemental correspondence: Earth
Emblem: Badger
Colors: Yellow and black
Head of House: Pomona Sprout, Herbology Mistress
Ghost: The Fat Friar
Teaches: Work ethic, kindness, universal dignity
Weaknesses: Often low achieving, over-simplistic
Arch-rival: Ravenclaw

All that should be something to start from, in symbolism studies and sources of rivalry.

2. Harry gets his first sight of several important people in this chapter. Among them are:

  • Albus Dumbledore, whose hilarious opening speech is the introduction to a supremely clever wizard who has learned not to take himself or anyone else too seriously.
  • Severus Snape, who obviously hates Harry from the outset—an unfortunate position for a teacher to take—and who seems somehow connected to Harry's past.
  • The pain in his own scar. Anything more than that, and we're straight into spoiler territory.
  • Peeves the poltergeist. With Peeves, Rowling proved her imagination to be wickedly funny. I'm glad he doesn't haunt my house, but he's one of the details that makes Hogwarts seem not only real but well worth visiting.

3. All right, this might not make much of a discussion point, but I love that the ceiling of the Great Hall is enchanted to look like the sky—full of stars, when Harry first sees it. If I were a Hogwarts student, the Astronomy classes would definitely be among my favorites.


* I love this Not Literally song. Advisory: being a Gaga parody, that is not a modestly-dressed bunch of girls in the music video. Fair warning! But the song is awesome. If you want to check out Not Literally's other House songs, here are their Gryffindor, Slytherin, and Ravenclaw anthems.

P.S. Don't look too closely at my wand. It has a sneaky habit of taking the form of a knitting needle.


Sunny Side Up and other stories

So, the interstate bridge that collapsed last night is just a few miles south of us:

Photo: Joshua Trujillo, seattlepi.com
Which meant that I spent last evening calling family in the area and then watching Facebook and the news to make sure everyone was safe. As it turns out, no one died—something of a miracle; the Skagit River is something like eighteen feet deep there, and just shy of ice water this time of year. Had it happened a couple of hours earlier, during rush hour... that's a busy bridge, and it's hard to imagine that everyone would have made it out of the water alive.

Traffic is going to be a real bugbear for months to come, but I'm going to try and smile through it. Thanks be to God, we were spared tragedy. Moore, OK has worse to deal with by many orders of magnitude. Thoughts and prayers are with you, Moore.

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Doctor Who fans? Buffy fans? I've seen only one episode of the former, and none of the latter, but I suspect I'd be addicted to both if I were willing to prioritize them over blogging, which is what I'd have to give up to have time for television. If you're a fan, though, check out Kat and Curt's TV Re-View, a podcast in which a couple of Mythgard Institute students—Katherine's a Hog's Head friend—watch and analyze both stories. I almost wish I was an addict, because this podcast is probably a lot of fun.

* * *

Speaking of The Hog's Head, it's under major reconstructive surgery right now, for any of you wondering why no one's posting. No one's posting because nargles got in and shut nearly all of us out. Tech elves and Headmaster Travis are working away on getting it cleaned out, but it's proving to be about as difficult as the doxy removal in Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.

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OK, normal blog post detail!

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This peony looks oddly like fried eggs, sunny side up:

But it blooms wildly, and I love it. The traditional ones are hard at work, too:

The snowball bush is still in full bloom:

And the maple tree is making these funny little things, which I don't have enough botany to name properly:

And we have two tiny lily of the valley blossoms!

...seen in context here:

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Music of the week: King of Instruments feature! I need to do these regularly. Dad St. Hilaire sent me this one recently: Bach's Sinfonia, played by Diane Bish.

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Off to make dinner... Happy weekend! And yes, there should be a Harry Potter post on Monday. Even though I will be off playing street hockey most of the day. :D


Currently Reading: The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn"Do you know what I am, butterfly?" the unicorn asked hopefully, and he replied, "Excellent well, you're a fishmonger. You're my everything, you are my sunshine, you are old and gray and full of sleep, you're my pickle-face, consumptive Mary Jane." He paused, fluttering his wings against the wind, and added conversationally, "Your name is a golden bell hung in my heart. I would break my body to pieces to call you once by your name."

"Say my name, then," the unicorn begged him. "If you know my name, tell it to me."

"Rumplestiltskin," the butterfly answered happily. "Gotcha! You don't get no medal." He jigged and twinkled on her horn, singing, "Won't you come home, Bill Bailey, won't you come home, where once he could not go. Buckle down, Winsocki, go and catch a falling star. Clay lies still, but blood's a rover, so I should be called kill-devil all the parish over." His eyes were gleaming scarlet in the glow of the unicorn's horn.

She sighed and plodded on, both amused and disappointed. It serves you right, she told herself. You know better than to expect a butterfly to know your name. All they know are songs and poetry, and anything else they hear. They mean well, but they can't keep things straight. And why should they? They die so soon.

Author: Peter S. Beagle

Synopsis: The unicorn lives in a lilac wood where spring never fades, and she knows no sorrow. Upon hearing a rumor that she is the last unicorn in the world, however, she sets out to find the rest of her kind. Joined in her quest by the magician Schmendrick, whose unreliable magic causes more problems than it solves, and gaunt, bad-tempered Molly Grue, whose one grace is her love for the unicorn, she must brave the castle of King Haggard, where the Red Bull awaits her—the demon which drove all the other unicorns out of the world—and so does a more painful fate: that of experiencing mortal fears and loves.

Notes: The best books need more than one read for proper absorption, and this is one of them, which means that at the moment, I can only give it half the review it ought to have. Written in thickly poetic prose, with dreamlike aphorisms of original make broadcast throughout the text, it demands attention and thought beyond the one scatterbrained plunge through I could manage this week. I'm more than a little sorry that the library wants its copy back today.

There are a thousand ideas running loose in the story: the unicorn's mystique and immortality as related to by the humans, the thorough self-sacrifice demanded by love, the effects of greed and fear versus joy and hope on the human life, the effects of the physical body and mortality on the soul, and especially the need for—in the terms of the tale—the presence of unicorns in the world. There are striking Christian parallels, though I don't know enough about the author to tell whether he meant them, or how. The story itself is a wandering, often dark fairy tale, but it's drawn along by a single bright light that flickers but holds true.

Schmendrick and Molly, the unicorn's primary companions, are fascinating in that neither of them starts off as particularly sympathetic, but both earn their place. Prince Lír, too, is an odd mix of heroic and awkward. King Haggard, for all his badness, is not the sort of villain who can be indiscriminately hated, and the reader even winds up feeling sorry for the skull on the wall and partially losing sympathy for the unicorn in her mortal phase. It's uncomfortable at times, but the characters grow throughout the story, and the final juxtaposition of joy and suffering manages to be both painful and beautiful.

There was a moment toward the end where I was reminded acutely of The Little White Horse, another beautifully thick unicorn fantasy written for children but meant for the childlike. The two stories aren't much alike in terms of characters or plot, but both catch the exquisite bliss and sorrow inspired by the mystical beauty of the unicorn. They share a scene, more or less, albeit to different purposes, but it's hard to say whether Beagle's book owes anything directly to Goudge's twenty-two-years-older story, and not just because the older tale is a human drama touched by a unicorn and the newer is a unicorn's drama touched by humans. Goudge wrote a clearer, jewel-toned story with bright, untainted optimism; Beagle wrote in softer, more diluted colors, with a bit more modern sadness and a little less confidence in the goodness of either humanity or magic. Goudge is more my usual style, but I suspect Beagle appeals more naturally to most present-day readers.

The story meanders a bit, but that allows it to be contemplative in ways that heavily plot-driven tales rarely manage. It's the kind of read that can be picked up and put down and picked up again, thought through and relished, and while I didn't have time for a second cover-to-cover read, I did go back over a few key parts. Even that was enough to suggest it would only get better with time and consideration, and prove that it deserves the label of classic.

I've no idea how I made it to thirty-five without having ever read this book, especially since in childhood I saw the first part of the animated movie and have wondered about the ending ever since. Fortunately, I've never lost my little-girl love for unicorns. The tale of this unicorn is one I hope to have in my own library before long.


Harry Potter Book Club: Sorcerer's Stone, Chapters 5-6

Art by Alkanet.
There's nothing more magical than fairy tales, and Christie's last post recognized our Harry's early similarities to a popular one:
the recurring theme of chapters two and three is nothing short of a Cinderella tale, a boy-who-in-reality-is-a-prince adopted by relatives and treated as a servant in his own house.... as far as situations go, it couldn't have been much worse for him and he couldn't have come out better.
She also covered the timelessness of the tale—that is, its clean avoidance of obvious references to pop culture, which would date it very quickly. The story would feel dated even nowadays if Rowling had built her world into the brand names and celebrities and public ideals and debates of summer 1991, which is the actual time period in which these few chapters of the story occur. As she didn't, however, children and the childlike should be able to read Harry Potter in a hundred years as easily as we now read Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess.

With a tip of pointy hat, then, I recommend Christie's post; also, her picture of her own homemade Knickerbocker Glory. Masha had the week off since her piece was already up, so we'll move forward. Before we do, however: the first butterbeer attempt!

From Masha's kitchen:

1 pint chocolate stout (Jenna used cold stout, but room temperature would make for a warmer drink)
1 pint vanilla gelato

Melt gelato over medium heat, stirring frequently, until gelato simmers (but don't boil it!) Whip on high speed until frothy. Stir in stout, pour immediately into mugs, and serve.

They come in PINTS???

Stir three times clockwise to one time counterclockwise

Every wizarding family needs a KitchenAid mixer;
you'll never get such good results with frothing spells

Make swirling motion with wand, say "Tempero"

One for the wizard, one for the witch

Got butterbeer?
The result met nearly all of my criteria for a good butterbeer recipe: 1) it was alcoholic, 2) it would almost certainly be good either warm or cold (for cold, just chill the stout well and don't heat the gelato past melting), and 3) it was foamy, with a nice, smooth consistency that wasn't at all watery or soda-poppy.

Also, it tasted good. This is where most butterbeer recipes fail; they're usually cream soda based and sweet enough to make your teeth ache. The stout gives this one a strong, pleasantly sharp flavor underneath the cream. It's like a cappucino translated from coffee language to alcohol. It did not taste buttery or butterscotchy, but that was the closest thing to a fault I could find with it. This recipe's going to be hard to top.

And now, Accio this week's study!

* * *


Read: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Chapters 5-6

(We'll probably take more chapters per week once we're into Quidditch games and chasing around Hogwarts, but there's so much in these early chapters that I don't want to blast through them at the expense of good discussion.)

I am feeling very tempted to try this pumpkin pasty recipe. It could happen. I'll take pictures if I do.

Potential Discussion Points:

1. The amount of foreshadowing in these two chapters is astounding. It's hard to talk about all that without spoilers, but seriously... Gringotts and Griphook and thieves, James' wand being "excellent for transfiguration", the wand cores, Dumbledore's accomplishments, Harry's being "singled out"...

Holly tree, by Colin Smith. Source.
2. The symbolism of the wand cores and woods fascinates me, although I don't know much. I don't quite trust the websites Google turned up at the top, but here's what first results and a little comparing with the story got me:
  • mahogany: "strength and endurance"
  • willow: varied symbolism from use in the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles to Celtic association with the moon, which would work alchemically within the books
  • holly: unconditional love, sacrifice, and reincarnation
  • yew: dark, complicated symbolism involving immortality and death
Again, however, that's a Google search for you. Masha, this is your area of expertise! You're welcome to debunk any of my research, above and below. But here's Rowling on Harry's and Voldemort's wand woods, anyway:
"It was not an arbitrary decision: holly has certain connotations that were perfect for Harry, particularly when contrasted with the traditional associations of yew, from which Voldemort’s wand is made. European tradition has it that the holly tree (the name comes from ‘holy’) repels evil, while yew, which can achieve astonishing longevity (there are British yew trees over two thousand years old), can symbolise both death and resurrection; the sap is also poisonous." —Quoted from the Harry Potter wiki entry on wand wood*, referencing a now-dead link to Rowling's site
Art by Giova94.
Feel free to peruse the wand woods and cores,
decide what combination would be most likely to choose you,
and post the results in the combox!
According to Pottermore, my own wand is vine, like Hermione's, with a phoenix feather core, 14 1/2 inches long, and pliant. I like the vine wood's reputation for sensitivity and attraction to "personalities with hidden depths". But if I think outside Pottermore, I'm tempted to lean toward the likelihood of ending up with a unicorn hair core; I have sort of a devotion to innocence. The fiery rebirth of the phoenix is a moving concept as well, however, and the reputed flexibility of it appeals to another part of me, so I suppose things could go either way.

3. Hedwig, Harry's quiet white owl, is probably named after St. Hedwig of Silesia. St. Hedwig—feast day, 16 October—is the patron saint over the death of children.

4. Young students' first entry into the magical world as initiates is beautiful, even mystagogical. It starts with an act of faith—running headlong into a concrete barrier to get onto Platform 9 3/4—and continues with the Keeper of the Keys at Hogwarts leading them to the school on a boat ride, heading their procession up to the castle, and knocking three times on the door.

It reminds me a little of initiation into the sacred mysteries (sacraments) as a Catholic, actually. I don't recall our deacon marching my group of candidates up to the door of the church and knocking, but I believe that's sometimes done. Baptism itself is an initiation rite, though I suppose talking about Dennis Creevey getting dumped into the lake on his boat ride would be getting ahead of the game a little. And we won't even whisper about a certain event involving a silver doe yet.

5. "I think we must expect great things from you, Mr. Potter. After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things—terrible, yes, but great."

6. The Weasleys—oh, the Weasleys, all foreshadowing their future. Molly is immediately empathetic and motherly, Ginny curious, Ron stubborn and self-protective but friendly, Fred and George hilarious, Percy self-important. Bill and Charlie get mention, and though Arthur doesn't, I wind up thinking of him all the same. I love the Weasleys.

I also love Ministry of Magic. They're probably going to get a lot of their videos embedded in these posts.

7. Another of the best naming jobs in the story: Draco Malfoy. Draco is Latin for dragon, and Malfoy is basically the French mal foi: bad faith. I'd call that a spoiler, but Draco doesn't waste any time making his snobbery and meanness known to Harry and reader alike.

8. Hermione Granger. I love our first sight of her—bossy, know-it-all, sniffy, and yet she's trying to help poor Neville find his toad. That's our girl!

Lots of things to talk about this week, and as always, those are just the options that came to me! Take from these topics or pick your own, and have fun!

* I only discovered the HP Wiki entries after doing all that Google search, which is why I didn't just take everything from there... silly Jenna!


Mopping to the Beat and other stories

* * *

I'm short on words today because I've got an hour before a three-day scramble that's going to take in four different towns ranging 30 minutes to nearly three hours from home. And I want to spend some time working on my book. I want to, actually want to, which is amazing. Of course, I've been trying to get everything else done first, but at least I cleaned house to techno music. That makes it go faster. Even while taking a little time to dance.

Right, where was I? Short on words. But here, pictures:

Stars of Bethlehem... one of my favorite blooms of the year

Snowball bush

Golden chain... Mom, this is what that baby bush I gave you
will grow up to be someday, if I didn't kill it in the transplanting

This bush puts its whole heart into flowering.
I love it.

* * *

Music of the week: After a listen to Christie's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone playlist, my first response was: Loreena McKennitt, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?

She had me at 'Dante'. I'm already trying to learn it on the piano.

Also proven by Christie's playlist: Seth was right; I do like Maire/Moya Brennan. How could I not like Enya's sister? Music from her coming after I have time to listen around to more of her repertoire on YouTube and pick a favorite.

* * *

I've finally got my coffee and about thirty minutes. That ought to be enough to get a couple of paragraphs down.

Happy weekend!


Review Fail

It finally happened: I didn't finish a book in time to review it on Wednesday. Granted, I read half of two books, but that's not particularly helpful here.

If you're desperate for a review, try Giffy Reviews. This one is my favorite—I've heard that about The House of Leaves, though I've never read it. Also, there's a cat. But there's plenty of awesome to be had in other entries as well.

Peace offering: a cat picture blooper. Is it just cat eyes in the flash, or is Maia wearing Spectrespecs? You decide.


Harry Potter Book Club: On Being Villainous

[Spoiler redacted]
Hail, Muggles and wizards! We're hanging out in chapters 2-4 of Sorcerer's Stone this week, as Christie's post is yet to come. We can't blame her for the delay; she's been off among flutterby bushes and floating champagne bottles, wearing her best dress robes and witnessing a supreme example of that which is stronger than magic.

While we wait, of course, we at least need some things to talk about, and fortunately there's always something to say about Harry Potter. Before I start talking, though, let me direct your attention to Masha's excellent piece about name taboos, and the ensuing discussion:
Rowling does a lovely thing with Harry in allowing him to forget that fear. Because while it’s true that “fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself” it’s also true that speaking the name of another gives, in a vague and magical sense, a hint of power over him. We do not speak the name of God, but when we cast out demons, we do so by name. I like the subtle reminder here, that Harry is unafraid of Voldemort’s name because he has no need to fear. He rests in the power he has only begun to discover.
I should also add that Masha has come up with the first butterbeer recipe for us to try, the concoction of which will require me to make a trip to the grocery store, which is why you don't have pictures of my own attempt in this post. It hasn't happened yet. Wait till next week. :D

Despite his dearth of lines,
there's an image of him on the internet.
By Annezca.
Your resident wand-waver having recently enjoyed Kat Fernandez's beautifully humble and inspiring piece about suddenly finding herself identifying with Javert from Les Misérables, it seemed—since Harry Potter's tale, like Les Mis, is very much a moralistic one—reasonable to take some time to contemplate possible personal similarity to the moral villains of these early chapters. Which, thus far, is mostly the Dursleys, unless you really want to study the soul of Piers Polkiss, the boy with "a face like a rat" and approximately two speaking lines in the series. Voldemort is mentioned, but we don't know much about him yet, other than that he tried to kill Harry, and we're none of us likely to identify much with that, whether or not we like the books.

Here's the thing: The single most dangerous thing I've ever seen come out of Potter fandom, including my own, is a tendency to identify ourselves with the heroes and our principles with theirs to the point of making dissenters into villains and therefore enemies. Black-and-white moral tales carry this danger alongside the good they offer, and even a tale like this one, designed to encourage love and a righting of injustices, can turn into a justification for a complete lack of mercy and empathy toward anyone who can be perceived as an enemy.

The thing is: regardless of whether they're Republican or Democrat (which is where American Potter fans draw the lines surprisingly often), no one with any innate compassion is going to naturally feel much kinship with the Dursleys (or the Malfoys, or the Death Eaters, or Voldemort, or or or...) This is the way a moralistic tale works. We sympathize with the good guys, and despise the bad guys, and find ourselves championing whatever virtue the author wants us to approve. What we tend to forget is that we all do so in the context of our own pre-formed opinions and priorities.

But while it might be fun to let myself go off on a long-suppressed rant* over the mean-spirited nonsense contained in the idea that the American Republican is the epitome of the Dark Side (Star Wars reference? Not entirely; Harry himself uses that term at least once), it seems my time is better spent considering what ultimately makes characters like the Dursleys bad, and whether that ought to teach us anything about ourselves. I'm sure we'll all agree, anyway, that our own minds could use a good Scourgifying from time to time. Mine does. Disclaimer: never use a Vanishing spell to clean out your own mind.

Anyway, the Dursleys (didn't know I could talk about them for three weeks running, did you?):

You're too quick to judge,
Too quick to hate.
Too quick to speculate.
You're too blind to see,
That truth sets you free.
But then again,
You don't know jack about magic or me.**
I don't like the Dursleys—no one ever does, as far as I know. They're child abusers for one thing, and fatally unimaginative to boot. It horrifies me to think that I might have anything in common with them besides the mere situational fact of being middle class (although not high enough in the middle class tier to afford the outlay of presents Dudley received for his eleventh birthday... sheesh). It's certainly possible to argue that Rowling mocks middle-class values through them; if she did, she only jumped on the popular political bandwagon that suggests a correlation between financial status and virtue or lack thereof, with opinions on what financial status correlates to which virtue depending on whether one leans capitalist or socialist, and on one's own set of background difficulties and personal resentments.

But the Dursleys' problems, in the end, rely on internal issues rather than external ones.

This is not the face of a happy Muggle.
Art by Tr1nks1e.
Vernon's capital sin is pride manifested as the need to control. In that one attribute, he is more like Voldemort than—as we'll later see—even some of Voldemort's head Death Eaters, though far be it from me to suggest he's remotely similar in level. He is happiest when his daily life is running hitch-free under his supervision, and when he's handed the unmanageable problem of an adoptive son with uncontrollable powers, he makes a go of pretending the "problem" doesn't exist.

Petunia's moral weakness is envy:
"How could you not be [a wizard], my dratted sister being what she was? Oh, she got a letter just like that and disappeared off to that—that school—and came home every vacation with her pockets full of frog spawn, turning teacups into rats. I was the only one who saw her for what she was—a freak! But for my mother and father, oh no, it was Lily this and Lily that, they were proud of having a witch in the family!" 
She stopped to draw a deep breath and then went ranting on. It seemed she had been wanting to say all this for years.
It would be spoilerific to say too much more, and we can't have that! But the prim little border-garden flower has, we see, never gotten over the fact that she wasn't the tall, white, eye-catching Lily—she's never submitted to the call of humility, never accepted her own status in life. Her failure to do so has enslaved her to the need to prove herself superior to others, which is presumably why she likes spying on neighbors so much.

Oh, the spoilers...

I don't spy on my neighbors. I promise! Nor do I make my nephews sleep in closets. But if any of you readers can look at Vernon and Petunia and not see at least hints of their sins in yourself—not see the instances when you've made another person's difficulties all about you, the times when you've tried too hard to be attractive or attention-grabbing or likable, the people you've caught yourself judging for their not being as successful as you in some way or other, the times when you've made a point of getting out of an uncomfortable situation even though the discomfort-maker had at least the claim of Christ*** upon you—you're better souls than I.

Oh, and in the spirit of Kat's post... I sincerely hope I never find myself identifying with Bellatrix Lestrange. Because her taste in magic and men... ew. And, she's crazy. But mostly, ew.

Got a post on chapters 2-4 of Harry? Link it in the roundup! And stay tuned over at Christie's blog for her post, possible further thoughts from Masha, and here next week, the next set of readings and—if I can pull it off—butterbeer pictures. :D

* Yes, there's a long-suppressed rant, and I'm not even much of a Republican. I'm disenfranchised. But that bumper sticker and the ideas that go along with it are still mean-spirited nonsense. And that's the truth, so there. Pthththbbth.
** I LOVE that Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls disc, and may link every track by the time this book club ends. Christian Caldeira, you rock.
*** As in, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."


Some Passing Angel and other stories

Some passing angel broke a half-dead sprig of purple lilac off some neighbor's bush two nights ago and threw it in our yard. Lou found the sprig and brought it in, and now our whole living room smells like it.

Goal for this year: get a purple lilac bush. I love our white ones, but the scent is just not the same.

* * *

With Harry Potter taking over Mondays for a while—I'm not complaining; he's ever and always welcome around here—I haven't been talking much about writing. Well. I don't think I can wait till the end of the H.P.B.C. to link Hilary Smith's post on the problem with trying to treat writing as an industrial profession. It's what I'm working with right now:
You're falling behind.
         You're lazy.
Why are you so lazy?
         Stop making excuses.
                  Be professional!
         Be professional! 
I don't have an industrial mind. Sometimes, it weeps for days at a time. That isn't very professional. Some days, it wants to sink to the bottom of the sea. Some days, it dissociates, like the key that's supposed to match up to the keyhole of reality just doesn't fit. Some days, I don't have the right key.
At the moment, I don't even feel like reading, and can't keep my mind on it, which is pretty weird for me. I've been finishing books on Wednesday afternoon and reviewing them Wednesday night.

As for writing, I'm having to dig and scrape through gravel for every word of my favorite section of my own beloved novel. The blinking cursor in a Word document sometimes puts me to the point of tears, though it never lets me actually get there. When I read back over the half-a-book I've gotten polished in the last few months, the gravel-dug feeling disappears and the story delights me—truly delights me: it makes me laugh, catches my attention, pulls all my heartstrings. But every step forward is so blind, so grating, so... just damn hard.

The blue pimpernels and dark red verbena
were some of my favorites last year.
I was so excited to see them at the grocery this week.
I'm not sure what to do with the end of Hilary's post. I'm not sure it is okay that nailing a Chopin prelude and getting blue pimpernels in the garden interest me more than my writing work right now.

It's just hard to know what to do about that. My best instincts, I think, tell me spend some quiet time with sunshine and flowers, love on my piano and guitar and choir, and let myself be taunted daily by the cursor in hopes of getting at least a few words down.

Of course, the standard industrial comfort likes to come around and haunt me: "If you're not enjoying writing it, nobody will enjoy reading it." Which I once believed, but which now makes me want to throw this month's six-hundred-page book club choice at whoever said that to me first. O aphoristic would-be comforter, that is not how things work. But that's another blog post.

* * *

Some of the sunshine and flowers, just for the heck of it:

...okay, these are pumpkin seedlings. I'm just so happy that they're alive.
You can do it, second set of baby pumpkins!

* * *

This week in life with our cat:

Maia: "Hey, it's fun walking on people who are lying under blankets. It's like the uneven floor of the jungle."

Me: "...mmmph... Maia, what time is it? Four-thirty? Six-thirty? It is not morning yet. Get off me."

Maia: "Ooh, make a cave. I want to hide out like a wild cave lion."

Me: "I'm not rolling over on my back and putting up my knees so you can crouch under the blankets and stare at me with glowy cat eyes and pounce on my hand if I happen to scratch my ankle. Go throw socks around the living room or something. Let us sleep."

Maia: "I'll bat your things off your bedside table."

Me: "Do. Not. Do. That. Now scram!!"


Maia: "MEOW."

Me: "I've got my hands covered in makeup, and the curling iron's hot on the counter. Don't jump up here. What now?"

Maia: "MEOW."

Me: "I don't understand what you want."

Maia: "If you were a good cat person, you'd just know. MEOW."

Me: "MEOW."

Also, there's zefrank's hilarious Sad Cat Diary. Maia could've written two-thirds of that herself.

* * *

Music of the week: The good thing about knowing you tend depressive is that you can actually be aware of the danger when you're skirting the abyss on a particularly unstable stretch of trail. You can see the demon creeping up on you. And sometimes, after a bad day or week, you can put on some fighting music, make a flying leap for a higher path, and shake the devil off. At least, for long enough to catch your breath.

Masha and Christie, thanks for introducing me to Florence and the Machine. This is now one of my favorite songs. (Advisory: admittedly dark video.)

* * *

I'm going to clean house and try and get some sun. And maybe blow off the last five hundred fifty pages of book club book for today and read The Last Unicorn instead. And make fresh bread, and hopefully re-string my guitar, and memorize the communion antiphon so I don't have to rely on shaking fingers to hold the music when I have to intone it in front of God and everybody on Sunday. And maybe I'll spend a little time digging for words.

Happy weekend!