Happy Thanksgiving!

Right now I'm happy—and thankful—because I just made it in and out of Haggen grocery in less than an hour, and all their employees were smiling and making sure people had a non-stressful shopping experience. Two teenage members of the staff asked me warmly if I was finding everything okay, and a checker caught me on my way to the front and took me straight into her aisle, chatting like she was out to make a new friend. I didn't even have to wait in line. Thanks, friendly Haggen people!* I hope you all have a proper holiday tomorrow, and a lovely one. :)

I'm also thankful because I had a quiet hour in Adoration this morning, and because I had a gift card to Woods Coffee and twenty free minutes after Adoration so I got a mocha with whipped cream, and I'm pretty sure it was the best thing ever.

And because I finally got caught up on music filing for choir!! YAY. I suck at being choir librarian—I'm much too prone to leaving octavos in my own book bag. But I'm working on this.

And because made-of-awesome Deborah more or less gave me a camera she couldn't use, and it arrived this afternoon! Which made today feel like Christmas:

Selfie with new camera, taken with old camera...

Thank you, Deborah (and Rick)!!! Pictures with fabulous new camera coming soon.

I'm also grateful because Lou and I both have loving families that want us present for the holiday tomorrow, and with the exception of Lou's older siblings, they live close by. That's not everybody's situation, and it may not always be ours, so I'm enjoying the heck out of it while I have it.

And because we share house space with a completely dopey, sock-eating cat:

Even if she does stand up under my elbows and lay down on my pedal foot
while I'm playing the piano.

Music of the week: Gwyneth Walker's setting of e.e. cummings' "I Thank You God." It seemed appropriate. I've been enjoying Walker's music (thanks for the rec, Jade!); she's done a lot of pieces for women's voices, which I particularly like, a lot of poetry-themed music... which I appreciate despite poetry being my weak spot... and some beautiful sacred music.

Poetry may be my weak spot, but who doesn't love e.e. cummings? Even if my inner English Nazi desperately wants to capitalize those two e's and the c.

Happy Thanksgiving! May you all be blessed and loved. Virtual hug! [[[ <3 ]]]

* As a matter of fact, I do know two out of three names there... I just usually presume people don't want their names on the internet till I know otherwise. :)


Harry Potter and War and Peace

This being Thanksgiving week, blogging is going to be a bit of a mashup. Christie hasn't posted for the H.P.B.C., and I suspect we'd all like the holiday week off, so I suggest we take it. Also, I mean to make some serious progress with my fairy tale today, so this will be short.

Harry Potter

Masha did post. Feel free to check it out and join me in the combox, wondering how Harry ever manages to develop any sense of ethics at all. From Masha:
causing physical harm to another (even repairable harm, unintentionally caused) is not something to ignore, in any situation, and I'm not surprised Harry never really ends up learning to control himself, with the unbalanced jump from neglect and abuse in the one society to catering and over-excusing  in the other.
Considering that Harry's examples of ethics include the Dursleys, who punish him for existing, the Ministry of Magic, which only punishes him when he's innocent, and the Hogwarts teachers, who only sometimes bother punishing him even when they actually catch him doing something wrong, which they don't half the time, it's pretty remarkable that he has a sense of right and wrong at all. It would've been a different story if he hadn't. (Fan fiction. Go.)

War and Peace

Current status:
Those who tried to understand the general course of events and to take part in it by self-sacrifice and heroism were the most useless members of society, they saw everything upside down, and all they did for the common good turned out to be useless and foolish... Even those, fond of intellectual talk and of expressing their feelings, who discussed Russia's position at the time involuntarily introduced into their conversation either a shade of pretense and falsehood or useless condemnation and anger directed against people accused of actions no one could possibly be guilty of. In historic events the rule forbidding us to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is specially applicable. Only unconscious action bears fruit, and he who plays a part in an historic event never understands its significance. If he tries to realize it his efforts are fruitless.
Such cynicism, Tolstoy.

Also: damn it, but there's a reason I put off reading books like War and Peace. It's fear of having to re-experience the reason I hated Jurassic Park and never, ever should have read The Hunger Games*. I find it very difficult to sit through a scene where a human being is brutalized and/or murdered. Yes, this is a staple of fiction at every level, and yes, I'm fulfilling female stereotypes, and yes, many of my favorite books contain such scenes, but Tolstoy's account of an arrogant policeman's sacrifice of a prisoner to the mob, upon which the mob did what mobs do despite the young man's cry for mercy, was absolutely horrifying and heartbreaking to read.

It shook me pretty badly. Possibly the sidecar I was drinking at the time did not help. But I'm not sure when I'd have gotten up from the corner of the couch, where I'd lodged in protest against the awfulness of the world, if Lou hadn't lured me out with lit candles and a back rub and a patient reminder that fiction doesn't reflect reality in proportion.

Tolstoy has some serious making up to do right about now. He made me want to ditch the whole story and go re-read Twilight. Fortunately for him, I'm much too fond of Pierre and Natasha and Prince Andrei to give up on them. It's also quite possible, of course, that when I get to the end of the book, all will be forgiven.**

I still might re-read Twilight, though. Brace yourselves.

* Oddly enough, I read the sequels to both. You'd think I'd learn.
** The chances are good, actually, since Maria (of commenting days of yore) recommends this book with enthusiasm. Maria despises cruel endings of the Tess of the D'Urbervilles variety as furiously as I do.


Hoping for Miracles and other stories

St. Cecilia by Guido Reni
St. Cecilia, patroness of musicians, pray for us!

Hers is one weird story—the virgin martyr tales always are. The Catholic Encyclopedia reasonably writes it off as "pious romance", but says her existence is historically verified and she was buried with fellow martyrs in the Catacombs of Praetextatus on the Via Appia. Good enough for me. I need her prayers. What with shaking fingers, years of vocal problems, and being only half trained, I'll take all the prayers I can get.

This blog post might come off a bit slapped-together today, and it sort of is. I'm sorry. I've got a funeral to attend, a house to clean, a refrigerator spill of sticky jam that got all the way down underneath the crisper, and more writing work than I know what to do with. Wish me luck, if you will.

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 little sad, because my in-laws' neighbor passed away this week (it's his funeral today). I didn't know him very well, but I liked and respected him. I'll miss the sight of him, leaning on a shovel in his ever-healthy vegetable garden, greeting us with warm good nature from across the fence. He'd lived by my in-laws for something like thirty years.

Rest in peace, Mr. Anderson.

* * *

Seeing... frost and sunshine. The garden denuded of tomato plants and half denuded of weeds, awaiting its mulch as soon as I can convince myself to get out in the cold and lay it down.

Smelling... coffee.

Tasting... coffee, right now. I'll probably make homemade mushroom and olive pizza tonight.

* * *

Listening... well, this Wednesday was the seventh anniversary of Lou's and my first date, so I thought I'd play "our song." Or what passes for such a thing, anyway. This whole concerto is beautiful, but I especially love the first movement; it's when that mellow horn solo comes on the radio that I wander around the corner from the kitchen, look at Lou, and smile.

* * *

Grateful... for a warm house. It is cold out. For Bellingham, anyway. My inner Montanan is mocking my Washington-adapted self, but whatever. I don't have ski sweaters anymore.

* * *

Reading… War and Peace. There's some possibility I'll finish this week. We'll see how bogged down I get in the extended philosophical ramble I hear is at the end.

Studying… Mozart. I'm writing a... shall we say, whimsical post for a couple of weeks out, if I can pull it together.

Working on... chapter seven of the fairy tale retelling, and an editing project for a family friend. The world has been set against me working the last couple of weeks, though, I swear. Well. Most of the battle is in my own sleepy head, but there are external factors:

I NEED that notebook, Maia. That's my manuscript with my editor's notes.

* * *

Loving... quiet.

Hoping... for miracles of productivity, which are hard to come by in the holiday season.

* * *

Happy weekend!


Ender's Game: From Novel to Movie

Yes, I'm still reading War and Peace, but I only have time for one post today, and I thought a review of the Ender's Game movie would be of more general interest. More W&P next week.

N.B: I'm reviewing this movie as a devout fan of the book it was adapted from. If you've never read the book, the review may make comparatively little sense and include mild spoilers. :)

The great challenge of adapting a much-known, much-loved book to the screen is not so much in translating details from the verbal medium to the visual; it's in finding the heart of the novel and making that the heart of the film as well. Failure seems more common than success.* The Narnia movies were mostly soulless because the scriptwriters missed the point of Aslan and therefore of the entire story. In the 2005 Pride and Prejudice, Keira Knightley caught Elizabeth Bennet's depressive side without catching her bright sense of humor, which resulted in a halfhearted portrayal. And nobody in the film industry seems to quite get the silent moral courage that powers Jane Eyre.

Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card's best-known and very-deservedly-loved novel, centers around the tension between brutality and compassion in the soul of one young human. This is worked out as Ender commands others while undergoing intense psychological suffering himself. It's an unusual and meaningful exploration of the necessity of loving your enemy, with contemplation of innocence and guilt and culpability, of the ethics of self-defense and of the means used toward that goal, of forgiveness and the righting of unrightable wrongs. Some of the questions are answered with a steady regard for truth and hope, and others are left for the reader to wrestle out with his own conscience. The whole of it is written with rare humanity and empathy.

Card was wise to hold onto the movie rights till he found someone who understood his novel and could share the vision. There are plenty of interesting, filmable details in the novel that screenwriter Gavin Hood could have focused on to the exclusion of more important points: tactics and strategy, Battle Room zero-gravity action, bullying scenes, everything that happens at Command School. Instead, Hood exercised unheard-of directorial self-control, abbreviating every one of the action scenes to make room for the core story, which he gave open recognition to with the quote at the beginning.

Not that the film lacked for action, mind. Ender gets his time in both mock combat and the real thing, and the Stilson and Bonzo fights, while shortened, are especially painful to watch. Even the dialogue is generally intense, and all that dramatic tension is reinforced by vids of Mazer Rackham's battle, the Giant's Drink mind game, Battle Room, and the simulator.

It was a delight to get visuals on the Battle Room and the space stations, and here I should say that the sets and photography were utterly beautiful. Scenes involving both Graff (Harrison Ford) and Ender (Asa Butterfield) were shot mostly in dark blue, which emphasized both characters' blue eyes and thereby subtly drew attention to the psychological nature of the story. Scenes with Valentine (Abigail Breslin) were warmer and browner, and while I'd always pictured Val and Ender as fair and Peter as dark (as per the book's descriptions, I believe), rather than the reverse, the color scheme was lovely.

I also loved seeing John Paul and Theresa Wiggin—though the shortening of John Paul to John, while probably accurate to the Wiggins' hiding of their respective Catholic and Mormon faiths, more or less removed the suggestion of religion entirely. Graff's in-book explanation of the Wiggins' quarrels over baptizing their children and of their conscience-stricken compliance with the global two-child policy is not plainly central to the story, so it wasn't an offensive removal, but it's a detail I always found fascinating, so I missed it.

Peter came off as a thug and not much else, but there simply wasn't time or place to give Peter and Valentine their subplots. What Hood kept, however, was Ender's internal conflict between the main characteristics he shares with each sibling: Peter's domineering brutality and Val's empathy and compassion. This was quietly emphasized through images as well as words.

Films rarely equal novels for nuance, and the story did lose some of its depth. The novel doesn't skimp on showing that Battle School is legitimized child abuse, but it communicates the I.F. leaders' belief that there's a clear motive for it in a way the movie doesn't. The movie shows the reactionary aggression of the humans against the Formics a little too unequivocally, too early. The end result is the same, of course, but in the movie, this amounted to making the ending seem a little more predictable and Graff a little less complex. Harrison Ford compensates well for the latter, though.

Moviegoers who have read the book will probably smile affectionately at mention of names like Alai, Bean, Fly, and Dink. Moviegoers who have not read the book will barely notice. These characters were mostly deemphasized—Bean included—for the sake of bringing Petra Arkanian forward, which invested the Battle School segment of the story with a little more female presence than it has in the book. Any study focused on war tactics and combat is naturally going to be male-heavy, so I wasn't bothered by that in the novel; on the other hand, I've always loved Petra as a character, and Hailee Steinfeld brought an impressive amount of light and energy to the role. Her appearance onscreen often eased the tension temporarily.

The ending was modified in a few ways to work better onscreen, and I generally thought these ways so clearly did work better for the medium that I wasn't disappointed. Getting an actual image of a Hive Queen, and a beautiful image at that, was a striking touch. I found that incredibly moving.

I'm just disappointed in two things about the movie: first, that they didn't pronounce Chamrajnagar for me, and second, that we didn't get to see Bean lean into his microphone at the end and whisper about Absalom. To be fair, that latter is from Ender's Shadow and might have given the game away, as it were, but whatever. Like any fan, I have my favorite details.

I'm beyond grateful, though, that the heart of the book was there.


Harry Potter Book Club: Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 2-4

Art by Anariel27
Hail, magical ones—a day late, but here I am! It's time to talk some Potter, and both my co-hostesses have done so this week. Christie went first, with "HPP: Modernism vs. Magic" (emphasis hers):
"You can throw some powder in the chimney, walk into the fireplace, and end up in another town altogether.... we Muggles see it as charming, but for the wizard-born-and-raised, wouldn't the e-mail and the text message seem more magical? And what separates magic from science, in a universe where magic seems to lack all elements of spirituality and is a naturally found occurrence?  It reminds me of the passage in The Lord of the Rings when Lady Galadriel kindly tells Sam that what he considers "elf-magic" is for them art, skill, and science."
Arthur Weasley excepted, I wonder if the wizard-born-and-raised would find texting and email more magical than Floo powder. Those technological advances might just look like the Protean charm.

But while Rowling's magic is a naturally found occurrence as it's portrayed, I don't think it's necessarily unspiritual for all that. Art, skill and science involve the whole person, spirit and all; roughly put, I'd say that there's the hard, technical craft side of any skill or study and the more fluid, artistic side that draws from unseen places. I'm with Sam in taking a bit of a mystical view of such things.

(Apparently I am Sam. Sam I am. [Sorry, I couldn't help myself.])

I'm debating Christie's words here, not her meaning. She would be the first to recognize the Greek honor for the Muses, the Psalmists' inspiration from God, the spiritual aspects of the faculty that allowed Michelangelo to find David in a block of marble and Copernicus to hypothesize about heliocentrism. As for Harry Potter, I've probably introduced terminological confusion into this discussion by too-eagerly defending Rowling's treatment of magic as nonspiritual with nonspiritual meaning "obviously not based upon the invocation of spirits."

If you want to re-create fifth-grade science, here's how.
When put that way, it's easy to view Rowling's magic as comparable to the straightforward act of mixing vinegar and baking soda for a fizz. [*resists urge to go re-create fifth grade volcano experiments in the kitchen sink*] But while said magic is generally distinguished from the pursuit of occult powers, it's also more than the rote combination of reagents for a predicted reaction. Rowling says this flat-out in book one:
"There was a lot more to magic, as Harry quickly found out, than waving your wand and saying a few funny words."
She gives very little explanation of what she means there—merely a brief comment on studying astronomy and herbology. Based on the overall presentation in the story, though, I do think of Harry's magic as spiritually invested in the artistic sense, at least. Hints include:
  • it's something he has an innate talent for but must study and perfect
  • it's obviously deeply connected to the emotions/psyche (consider, for instance, what Harry does, wandless, in this week's chapters)
Sheesh. This conversation will be so much easier toward the end of the series.

Gotta keep up with Masha on the cat picture thing.
Masha responded briefly to Christie, included an adorable kitten picture, and said something I keep coming back to, although I think it could take a long time to respond to properly:
This is the [Potter] book that seems to have more unrealized potential than any other
Which suggests that the other books are either more realized, or have less potential, which could be quite a series of arguments (and might become so when we get to OotP and DH). I'd like to keep this in mind as we work through this book; if it hadn't been that I love one and five and seven so much, book three would be my favorite, and I'm hard put to come up with anything I'd change.

In other news: Harry Potter stamps!!! Now—who on earth would you want to send a letter with this on it?:
Two words: TAX RETURN. Hahaha.
Source: Mugglenet.

Also, you can go to Starbucks and get them to make you a butterbeer. Sort of. I still think butterbeer recipes need to have at least trace amounts of alcohol present in order to qualify. But I'm picky like that.

On to this week's reading! But first: why didn't I see this one in time for the last book???


* * *

This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, chapters 2-4

This Katy Perry parody by BYU students is hilarious and adorable. I love it.

Potential Discussion Points:

So much of these three chapters is simple mystery-building, which is why I took them all together. By the end of it, at least Harry understands the Ministry of Magic's uncharacteristic graciousness, but Rowling's dropping details right and left that set up the end of the book. It's hard to comment much on those right now. Here are a few things we can talk about, however.

1. The late Margaret Thatcher. I've always respected her, though admittedly from too much distance to have hard confidence in my feelings. But it's almost taken for canon in Potter fandom that "Aunt Marge" is intended as a pointed mockery of Dame Thatcher and of conservative politicians in general.

Art by heatherlynnharris
On account of which, the Aunt Marge chapter is one of the more politically charged segments of the Potter series, which I kind of wish I didn't know. As story alone, these are a workable few scenes in long-standing children's literature tradition: tough orphan pitted against comically horrible adult guardians. That's an odd tradition, maybe; taking a serious look at the things Aunt Marge does and says to Harry will make the hand twitch toward the phone for a call to CPS. But it works inside the schoolboy-story tradition nonetheless.

Once anyone starts tying something like this too specifically to modern politics, however, it gets mean. Maybe some of the Marge and Vernon Dursley statements are a fair parody of some of the more extreme and mouthy conservatism, but it's certainly not a fair presentation of conservatives in general. Though possibly I'd just find the satire more bearable if groups like the Harry Potter Alliance weren't so desperately prone to presuming that this sort of thing is serious and accurate and that they're therefore justified in writing all conservatives off as monsters.

Disclaimer: I'm politically disenfranchised, to the point where I sometimes don't vote. Part of the reason is that neither side treats the other fairly. Oh, what a rough world we live in....

2. Critique of excess. The final Aunt Marge scene, with the overflow of food and alcohol and criticism of those who need to rely on charity—outside of the party lines, there's some human truth behind the hyperbole here.

Art by Ry-Spirit
3. Harry, free in Diagon Alley. I love this little section, where Harry, used to being practically jailed in cupboards and rooms in the Dursley household, discovers real freedom for the first time in the magical world. Having gone through a similar experience on the spiritual level, his delight gets me right in the feels.

Art by Liza Phoenix
4. Cassandra Vablatsky. The name is almost certainly a reference to Helena Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society. Considering that Rowling has said "New ageism leaves me completely cold," this is perhaps the first playful hint of the nature of Harry's upcoming Divination classes, which Rowling has some fun with in this book.

Death omens, by the bye, are something it would be best if I never know anything about. The Flourish and Blotts shopkeeper is right when he says that reading Death Omens: What to Do when You Know the Worst is Coming will make you start seeing them everywhere. I totally would.

5. "You sometimes have to join forces with those you would rather avoid." Leaving aside the fact that Molly seems conveniently ignorant in this scene for narrative purposes, Arthur's statement is... one of the other reasons I have a hard time with politics. :P We won't meet the Azkaban guards till next week, but considering how horrible they are when we do meet them, I think this is definitely fair game for a real scrapper of a debate about ethics. The stationing of SPOILER-sucking SPOILERS around a school full of adventurous children, even in defense against a murderer who is planning to break into the school with a particular victim in mind, is dangerous almost to the point of insanity. I think Dumbledore knows this, and I'm not sure why he caves here... but the Ministry of Magic is involved, and again, politics.

* * *

Batteries not included.
There are other things we could talk about—the Knight Bus, the loquacious Stan Shunpike, the Invisible Book of Invisibility (which always makes me think of The Emperor's New Clothes), and the fact that if you really thought about the names in Rowling's story they'd be spoilers half the time, which says a lot for Rowling's powers of misdirection, which are on full display here—I'll let you guess where and how. :)

But this post has already been delayed long enough, so—converse away!


The Prey of a Jungle Tiger and other stories

The game Maia takes especial delight in of a quiet evening: pouncing on typing fingers. This is difficult to photograph, but here she is biding her time till I start typing again:

Maia: "Do it again. That finger thing. I want to pounce."
Me: "This is really not my favorite game of yours, beast."

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... ragged out, but somewhat more alert and cheerful, after an intense week wrestling down my personal brand of crazy: irrational nervousness and anxiety. I suppose it's possible that I regularly annoy the entire western world—or everyone I know in it, at least—but if people can't stand me, they do an awfully good job of being warm and friendly to me, anyway.

Mad props, people. <3

* * *

Seeing... a dim, wintry day of clouds and rain, and two lamps on in the living room in defense against the perpetual twilight.

Tasting... fish tacos tonight. Cod cut into chunks, dipped in beer and rolled in flour with lots of salt and pepper, deep fried, and then sprinkled with lemon juice; iceberg lettuce or cabbage finely shredded with chopped fresh cilantro; equal parts sour cream and mayonnaise well dosed with chili powder and garlic plus a little cayenne; salsa and avocados for topping; all of that layered in warm tortillas. It's Friday appropriate for Catholics, and the flavor combination is absurdly good.

* * *

Linking... (I can't think of anything for 'smelling', so I'm replacing that with something I meant to do anyway) Anna Ilona Mussman's commentary on "How to Homeschool Without Warping Your Kids", parts onetwo, and three. I was one of the homeschool graduates she tapped for ideas, and am quoted in part two.

* * *

Maia: "Look, I'm all snuggly and cute. Don't you want to play with me?"
Me: "No! I want you to be snuggly and cute."
Maia: "But it's so funny when you jump and scold."

* * *

Listening... to knighted composer John Tavener, who passed away Tuesday at age 69. Tavener was Russian Orthodox, and he wrote a lot of sacred music in that tradition—which means a lot of the sweet, haunting, pure chant tone that is one of my favorite things in the known universe.

It's hard to pick one piece; even narrowing my search to work of his that relates to death helps little, because some of his most beautiful pieces are funeral songs or tributes. The obvious choice would be Song for Athene, which was played at Princess Diana's funeral and is therefore particularly well known—also particularly stunning, with that deep Byzantine drone beneath the moving parts—but the Funeral Ikos, a setting of a text taken from the Orthodox burial service for priests (translation by Isabel Hapgood), made me cry. The words in the selection are pretty universally applicable.
Why these bitter words of the dying, O brethren,
which they utter as they go hence?
I am parted from my brethren.
All my friends do I abandon, and go hence.
But whither I go, that understand I not,
neither what shall become of me yonder;
only God who hath summoned me knoweth.
But make commemoration of me with the song:
Rest in peace, Sir John.

* * *

Grateful... for smiles and friendly words, and particularly for a little group of friends whose open-hearted conversation was comforting this morning.

* * *

Reading… still War and Peace, and Natasha Rostova is breaking my heart.

Studying… *blushes* I glanced over at Evoking Sound twice this week, and both times I picked up War and Peace instead.

Working on... getting chapter six of the fairy tale retelling to my editor—progress!—and practicing a hymn so I can record it for my lullaby CD. :)

* * *

Maia: "Ooh, Lou's got the camera, and the cord is swinging."

* * *

Loving... cozy days indoors with soft lighting and warm blankets, the rain except when I have to go out in it, choir and music ministry friends and the impressively beautiful concerts many of them put on, and authors who write characters that speak to me in sighs too deep for words.

* * *

Hoping... that Lou doesn't have to go in to work tomorrow. He'll probably wind up working, no matter what, but I'd rather it be at home. The poor man has been working every spare moment for a month.

Maia: "I am a fierce jungle tiger, stalking big and dangerous prey."
Me: "Pounce one more time, tiger, and you're getting kicked off the couch."

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: War and Peace, status: 47%

Dimmler, who had seated himself beside the countess, listened with closed eyes. 
"Ah, Countess," he said at last, "that's a European talent, she has nothing to learn—what softness, what tenderness, and strength...." 
"Ah, how afraid I am for her, how afraid I am!" said the countess, not realizing to whom she was speaking. Her maternal instinct told her that Natasha had too much of something, and that because of this she would not be happy.
Natasha Rostova has been a favorite character of mine from the beginning; all "spirit and fire and dew", as Montgomery called Anne Shirley, quoting Browning's poem "Evelyn Hope". She's such a delight that she's even got me loving and valuing Prince Andrei, whose early treatment of his Lise seemed at the time almost unforgivable.

Tolstoy, if you kill her off, so help me.

I'm at the stage in the book where most of my reactions aren't fit for public display—at least, not anywhere requiring more intelligent expression than Twitter, e.g.:
"OMG this hunting trip is really getting built up SOMEONE'S GONNA DIE I CAN TELL #warandpeace #ivegotabadfeelingaboutthis"
It's probably a good thing I swore off Twitter.* But that point brings up another: I have spent the last, oh, ten or fifteen percent—love my Kindle, but sometimes I really miss pages—bracing myself for tragedy. It's a classic Russian novel, right? Death and despair are inevitable—and yet I keep reminding myself that half of Anna Karenina was downright happy (just not Anna's half), and even Crime and Punishment had a shockingly beautiful ending. (The Brothers Karamazov, not so much... I'm not sure that even qualified as an ending. Dostoevsky died before he could write the planned sequels.)

In other news, Pierre is a Freemason now, but I am sympathizing with his spiritual journey in interesting ways. I'm curious to see what comes of his acquaintance with the sad and adorable Princess Marya.

More next week!

* MILD SPOILER: It's a good thing I didn't tweet that, because I was completely wrong. Part of the reason I enjoy Tolstoy is that I spend the whole time expecting him to kill off his characters, and am always thrilled when he doesn't.


Harry Potter Book Club: Pumpkin Recipes

Greetings from Hagrid's garden and hut, where I've been cooking pumpkin! I don't know where either of my co-hostesses are—last time I checked in with Christie, she was headed up to see Madam Pomfrey, and Masha's probably down in the Potions dungeon, chatting with Snape—and honestly, it's probably a good thing they're AWOL since I fell asleep on the couch this morning instead of reading or writing.

Merlin's pants! Saturday's concert was splendid, quite magical, but the stage fright was nearly as murderous as old Voldy. Especially during the first piece I was in (Faure's "In Paradisum"). Trying to sing an accidental-heavy alto part in a very controlled straight tone is challenging enough without also having to ignore your own arms. I had to pretend mine belonged to unfortunate, invisible people standing on either side of me. They were shaking much too hard to be of any use for things like, say, turning the pages of my music. I think I'm still recovering from the adrenaline surge. Hence, the almost-unprecedented morning nap.

Standard performer's advice for wizards and witches is to picture everybody dressed as Muggles.* This thought did occur as I filed into position, and it did make me smirk briefly, but a good Soothing Charm or Draught of Peace would've been more useful.

Anyway, pumpkin! I promise Hagrid didn't help me with the following. He's an excellent gamekeeper and pumpkin-grower, but a lousy cook.

Art by Azurehusky

Before we begin in earnest, I should say that I have attempted to make a pumpkin liqueur, and I do not recommend that, at least not the way we tried it, which was uncooked pumpkin steeped in plain vodka with sugar and spices. Raw pumpkin, when boozed up, gets dejected and insists that it is only squash and it can never be anything but squash, and that's not pleasant for anybody.

Now we begin in earnest! First, the pumpkin requires baking, which is simple enough (thanks for this recipe, sister-in-law Lindsey <3):

  • Set your oven to 350 degrees
  • Wash and dry your pumpkin
  • Stab a few holes in the pumpkin with a fork or knife so it doesn't explode in your oven
  • Place pumpkin in a dish or baking sheet with sides (it will leak juice everywhere)
  • Bake pumpkin for about 1 1/2 hours, or until soft enough to pierce easily with fork

You'll need a very LARGE oven to cook one of
Hagrid's pumpkins.
Mine, however, fit in a regular oven.
 When the pumpkin is cooked, peel it (this is SO much easier when it's cooked than when it's raw) and separate the seeds and the juice from the pumpkin flesh.

Pumpkin juice!

Warning: my experiments in making pumpkin juice were just that—experiments. I tried to more or less follow these recipes. None of them turned out particularly well, but here are the attempts and the verdicts.

Attempt #1: Plain pumpkin juice.

Verdict: Tolerably drinkable. At least, unlike the liqueur, it tastes like pumpkin rather than zucchini.

Attempt #2: Straight pumpkin juice with a little honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice.

Verdict: This might actually be decent if done up in quantity, with more sweetener than I used.

Attempt #3: Half pumpkin juice, half apple juice, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg

Verdict: Tastes like apple juice.

Attempt #4: Pumpkin juice and puree cut with a little apple juice, sweetened with honey

Verdict: Still tastes like apple juice.

Attempt #5: Pumpkin puree with pineapple juice, a hint of apple juice, honey, and sprinkles of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice.

Verdict: Flavorful, but way too pulpy, and does not taste like pumpkin at all.

Final verdict: If I were going to make pumpkin juice just to drink, I'd do the following:

Pumpkin Juice (Warning: Untested)

  • Run some pumpkin through a juicer or save the liquid from a baked pumpkin
  • Add a fair bit of sugar, maybe one part sugar to two parts juice
  • Sprinkle in some cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice
  • Heat it to just below the boiling point, dissolving sugar and spices
  • Chill and serve

I'm not trying that one on company till I've tried it on myself, though. Attempt at your own risk.

Much more successful were the roasted pumpkin seeds:

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

  • Separate seeds from all pulp, rinse well, and pat dry with paper towels
  • Grease a baking sheet well with olive oil
  • Spread seeds in the oil and sprinkle with garlic salt, black pepper, and a dash of cayenne
  • Toss seeds in oil and spices and spread into a thin layer for baking
  • Bake for 25 minutes at 375 degrees... in my oven, anyhow. You may want to check yours at 15 minutes.

The third recipe was also quite successful: pumpkin pancakes. Unfortunately for the blog, I was too busy frying eggs to take photos of this.

Pumpkin Pancakes

This recipe is shamelessly adapted from here; that one wanted salt and oil in the batter. The original spice measurements are below, but I doubled them.

  • ¾ cup unbleached white flour
  • ¾ cup whole wheat flour (or stick with white for lighter cakes)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • Pinch powdered ginger
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 medium egg
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ cup cooked pumpkin

Mix dry ingredients, then add wet ingredients and stir till blended. Fry on a buttered griddle, flipping when pancakes puff and bubble slightly.

These were so good with syrup and fried eggs, crispy bacon and coffee...

Happy post-Halloween cooking! Hopefully we'll get back to reading Potter this week.

* Okay, I never picture anybody anything when I'm onstage. But that particular thought often comes to mind, and it never fails to make me smile, so it is of some use.

NB: If "picture everybody dressed as Muggles" doesn't sound like a really funny joke to you, it'll make sense when we get to book four. ;)


Beyond the Lot of Mortals and other stories

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... as is usual for recent Novembers, hopelessly jealous of everyone doing NaNoWriMo. But three cheers for Masha and Seth! Go, fight, win! <3

It hit me this week that if I want to have both my fairy tale retelling (status: 13,368 words of 45-60K) and my middle-grade epic fantasy (status: 10,520 words of 80-100K) revised by New Year's, I need to revise at a faster-than-NaNoWriMo pace for the next two months straight. That working speed is probably beyond the lot of mortals. Or at least, beyond the lot of mortals who can kill a whole afternoon on a few paragraphs.

Optimism is holding me to my goals. But if little A.D. hasn't made it all the way around her monomyth by January first, I'll shake my head and smile and keep on. I do love spending time with her.

* * *

Seeing... a wind-harassed tomato shelter that's protecting the last few Italian heirlooms for seed. Also, dead leaves in all the gardens, and unassuming bare sticks that I hope will wake up as elderberry hedges and a healthy little quince tree in the spring.

Smelling... rosemary on my hands; I was out mourning the dying sweet peas, which are all tangled up in the rosemary bushes.

Tasting... earlier this week, spicy sausage and kale soup with homemade bread. That's an outstanding and most definitely repeatable recipe.

* * *

Listening... to girl barbershop. One of my sisters-in-law and I have barbershop chorus experience in common, which has made for lots of good musical conversation. Sometimes she introduces me to some fantastic music, too, so this video of the quartet GQ comes to you by way of Marie. (It's not her quartet, but maybe someday we'll get that on here, too. <3)

The girls are maxing out the sound input a little, which is unfortunate because the scratches make it hard to listen for the harmonic overtone that's the crowning glory of barbershop tuning. They definitely raised chillbumps on my arms a few times, however. This is some of the tightest barbershopping I've ever heard.

Wait—a little Googling, and Marie's chorus' championship performance is available for embedding! Why didn't I notice this months ago? You get two videos this week. Oh, and my sister-in-law is the headbanger. ;D

* * *

Grateful... for a practically miraculous morning directing the early choir last Sunday. It might've been adrenaline, it might've been the team's affirmation and support, it might've been God and the saints taking over for crazy, weary, stressy Jenna—but whatever it was, it triumphed over missed rehearsal and my own exhaustion and gave me a tightly-run practice and a smooth Mass. I was a walking jumble of delight and relief by the end.

* * *

Reading… War and Peace, of course. (I got to the gambling part, Laura. Sheesh... Dolokhov is cold-blooded.)

Studying… the music for this weekend's concert, and that long-pursued but rarely attained three-against-four passage of "Aeris' Theme" on the piano. Math was never my favorite subject. *sigh*

Working on... getting chapter five (of nineteen) to my editor, pronto.

* * *

Loving... The Harry Potter Book Club. "Aeris' Theme", difficulties and all. Sunny fall afternoons. Choir members who look up at the substitute director and smile.

Hoping... for a successful and well-attended concert, with enthusiasm and peace of mind for all the hardworking planners and participants.

Also, to get to the theater to see Ender's Game soon. Ender's Game!

* * *

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: War and Peace, but I'm only 28% through

He was always busy and always felt in a state of mild and cheerful intoxication. He felt as though he were the center of some important and general movement; that something was constantly expected of him, that if he did not do it he would grieve and disappoint many people, but if he did this and that, all would be well; and he did what was demanded of him, but still that happy result always remained in the future.
I feel ya, Pierre. Or Pyotr, or whatever your name is. I have not yet managed to discern how much of the odd French/English/Russian naming stew in my copy is Tolstoy, and how much is Edition.

To those of you who are not fictional characters and are therefore actually reading this, one week is not enough time to get through a book of this magnitude. Not as I hope to get anything else done, anyhow. I might've blasted through a couple of those Wheel of Time monsters in a matter of days, and they might've had similar quantities of words and war scenes and secondary characters with complicated names, but the exploits of Rand al'Thor did not require nearly so much careful attention.

I also don't think I'm quite dauntless enough to write a blasé review of a book like this. Hence, informal updates like this one.

It's still too early in the book to say much, of course. Tolstoy has a painful knack for pointing out all the narcissistic little ponderings that go through the human brain. He possesses an even more painful knack for making my favorite characters do abominably stupid things. I'd like to complain that he keeps leaving out all the How They Got This Way bits that, for instance, might have connected the humbled and shaken post-battle Nicholas Rostov of one scene with the hotheaded jerk who resurfaced, transmogrified, two chapters later. It seems unreasonable, however, to complain that this book should've been longer.*

It should be added that I'm all in favor of length when an author can pack it with the kind of beautiful moments that rise unexpectedly out of dark corners in this story. Also, that Tolstoy keeps making me love my least favorite characters in spite of myself, which almost makes up for his hardheartedness toward the ones I liked in the first place.

More next week...

* Am trying very hard to restrain a sudden flippancy that would have me suggest that Tolstoy could've made this a fourteen-book saga with magic and madness and polygamy and plenty of time for developing dozens of POV characters, like Jordan did, and I still would've been willing to read it. But all I've succeeded in doing is keeping most of that flippancy to a footnote.


Harry Potter Book Club: Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 1

Salutations, friends! Before we move on to the vivid and oft-aerial story that is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, we need to briefly revisit the Chamber with its dead and de-fanged basilisk and its punctured diary. Both my co-hostesses have posted, and our contra voice, Masha, actually gave me something to argue with. ;)

She first quotes a magazine article by Philip Ball, titled "Why We Need Magic":
Magic in fiction needs to be more than hocus pocus spells: it must be difficult, rare, and perilous. It's why - forgive me - I personally don't buy the magic of Harry Potter, which is attained too easily and lacks consequences.
and then adds her own thoughts:
I can't help but see his point. The magic in Harry Potter is not magic in the true sense, and teaches us nothing about how to approach this "embodiment of  the sublime virtue of hope", with all it's dangers, pitfalls, and beautiful potentialities. More often than not, the magic of Harry Potter is mere 'hocus-pocus spells' - not fairy at all. But then, there are at times that real sense of 'ritualized optimism' that makes the magic real. What do you think, my fellow readers - easy and mundane, or delightful possibilities??
Phoenix/Jean Grey
Art by Jill Johansen
Ball's problem strikes me as semantic: I think it's not far removed from the difficulty that causes certain pockets of conservative Christianity to believe you get Satan as a free extra when you purchase a Harry Potter book. Rowling took these risks when she used the terms witch and wizard and magic. For all the charms and potions and spending nights atop the Astronomy tower, however, the power possessed by her witches and wizards is more analogous to superpowers like those of the X-Men or even Clark Kent. Magic is written in the genetic code; it's not something a Muggle can steal or study or learn. It's not a secret art; the Statute of Secrecy is a matter of convenience and protection from the unequally endowed rather than an attempt to conceal occultic practices from the uninitiated.

So, Masha and I are agreed that "the magic in Harry Potter is not magic in the true sense." I'll also agree that if magic in literature is presented as an attained art, if it’s presented as belonging to faerie and wildwood and not the proper right of humans, then yes, it should be “difficult, rare, and perilous.” I think very highly of Masha's respect for the magical in literature. I'm not prepared to ask a superhero story to submit to the laws of the fairy tale, however; that sounds like an exercise in frustration. The virtues of Harry Potter, its moments of "embodiment of the sublime virtue of hope" are in things like phoenix song and the silver doe and the locked room in the Department of Mysteries and the whispers behind the veil.

In other words: give me till books five and seven to play the full rhapsody. ;)

[redacted: excursus challenging complaints about Edward Cullen not being a "real vampire"]

Christie summed up the last few chapters of the story beautifully, and she, too, gave me a little something to debate:
This is one of the instances I wrote on previously, in which Harry asserts himself—as a character, as a personality, as the subject of his novels, rather than just an object to be acted upon and blown about by every wind.  In which he lays down the title earned for him by his mother, the Boy Who Lived, and fits out a reputation of his own making.  He gets angry.  And it is that very human anger and its source in love for his near and dear that brings me closest to him thus far.  It's when I really believe him and feel I know him as a person.  I just love it when he gets angry!
I love her differentiation between the reputation Lily gave Harry and the one he makes for himself. And I won't challenge her delight in Harry's anger, nor her appreciation for characters asserting themselves and making their own choices. Most people do appreciate that... but that point nudges a long-standing frustration I have with the world in general and with the books-and-writing blogosphere in particular.

[redacted: ten-thousand-word essay in passionate defense of protagonist passivity, mostly centered around Isabella Swan]

Art by Pevansy
Short form: I'm a big fan of characters being allowed to get knocked about by the story a little, because that's what life feels like to me. (So much angst. I know.) Readers and writers with more active energies overlook, sometimes, the fact that the passive protagonist is replicating the experience of people whose personalities and understanding are formed interiorly, more through contemplation than through assertion.

A handful of outspoken folk (never Christie, who is far too generous) have boldly stated in my hearing that quiet, reserved, diffident, or otherwise unassertive people are "anti-social" or "have no personality" or "aren't interesting or likable". The reasons I sometimes get annoyed at said outspoken folk and the aforementioned blogosphere may perhaps be obvious.

Anyhow, back to Harry! Riddle's and Lockhart's memories have both been destroyed—I failed to notice that last week. Rowling loves her doppelgängers. Meanwhile, my overtired brain feels like it's firing as feebly as the erstwhile D.A.D.A. professor's, but we're going to blaze ahead.

* * *

Read: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, chapter 1

Introduction to Prisoner of Azkaban

Whereas Chamber of Secrets was dark and watery, Prisoner of Azkaban takes us out of the dungeons and into the sky. The air element is everywhere—floating Aunt Marge, flying hippogriffs, Quidditch and broomsticks, dementors, souls. This is also a book of light and shadow. I've always sensed that contrast more sharply in this Potter story than in any of the others.

Hippogriff art by Gustav Dore

Longtime blog-friend Mr. Pond claimed, leading up to this Halloween, that PoA is the scariest Harry Potter book (SPOILERS at the link). I suspect he has a somewhat different base fear set than I do (I argued for Chamber of Secrets), but he makes an excellent point about the book being about fear:
Prisoner of Azkaban is a book about fear, and learning to deal with it.... Rowling crams the book full of people trying to deal with fear.... Harry fears fear itself. It’s the deep, primordial fear—the ancient, quivering fear of a weak, wily species fighting for survival—not the fear of the dark, but the fear that the dark needs to be feared...
That's mostly yet to come, however. Rowling spends the first chapter re-introducing us to the Wizarding World, primarily through humor. Harry, being unusual, is happily doing his homework by flashlight in the dead of night, under his bedclothes. His homework is inarguably more interesting than the average, since it includes Wendelin the Weird getting herself burned at the stake forty-seven times and the Monster Book of Monsters scuttling around under the desk.

Wendelin the Weird
Art by Kiraya00

There's not a total dearth of discussion points in the first chapter. Rowling is surely well-read enough not to assume that the entire medieval period involved hatred and fear of witches and magic, and she was kind enough not to hard-link the comments about Wendelin the Weird to Christianity, but modern popular culture is neither so educated nor so generous. Here I recommend the fantastic Kelly Orazi's "Evolution of Witchcraft in Art and Literature: Part One, Late Medieval" and its sequel, "Part Two: Early Renaissance." I also recommend traveling to the thirteenth-century duomo in Siena during the few weeks per year when the floors are uncovered, for the purpose of seeing Hermes Trismegistus and the Sibyls carved thereon alongside Biblical scenes and the Rota Fortunae. But that takes a little more doing.

Beyond medieval studies and the first chapter of this book, another trip to Hogwarts awaits. For this one, hang onto your souls and pack lots of chocolate.


Angel Voices Say to Thee and other stories

Happy All Saints' Day!

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles (now you can have that running through your head for a while): we had trick-or-treaters, plural, last night. Five knocks at the door. I was delighted.

Lou and I lit the candles and turned on the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack (if you prefer, you could have that running through your head), and between door-answerings we both worked. As it turns out, it's next to impossible to write pensive little fairy tale retellings with Gerard Butler (sorry, Alison and Travis; I like Emmy Rossum!) growling in your ear. Lou seemed to manage his reference-sorting without undue influence from the angel of music, but I didn't get anything done until Butler roared, "It's over, now, the music of the night!"

Oh, and I'm done with the parenthetical phrases. I promise.

Masha didn't post her meme this week, so I'm going free-form. I'd forgotten what this feels like. But I believe cat pictures are still required.

Maia, having resurfaced after the front door was locked

I don't dare post pictures of the garden. It wants winterizing, and looks terrible.

* * *

Music of the week: Jadrian Coppieters. For all my tortured relationship with modern art in all its forms, I'm always hoping to understand it. Therefore, one of the reasons I've been listening to this young composer all week is that while his forays into atonality go beyond my comprehension, he mostly keeps the door open for me. He's got quite a gift for evocative melodies, and that helps me find my way along the more dissonant passages.

The second reason is that several of his pieces are based on classic texts—Kerouac, Faulkner, Dickens. I am now reminded of my obligation as a literary American to read the first two authors, but it's his setting of the Dickens poem "Things That Never Die" that I'm embedding; the poem is Dickens at his most universal, juxtaposing bright, innocent hope with very real pain, and the setting is absolutely beautiful. The two together put tears in my eyes.

The third reason is that I know Jade. He's a quality accompanist and a great guy. And the fourth reason is that I really like this music. In case that wasn't already clear. ;)

The soprano is Andrea Paulson; the pianist, Kelsey Barnes. Enjoy.

* * *

Now I'm in the mood for Dickens. I downloaded A Tale of Two Cities—it's shorter than David Copperfield, which I've long wanted to re-read—but first I'm bound to finish War and Peace.

* * *

What I was thinking, picking up a novel that's over a thousand pages long right now... well. There are reasons I call myself an optimist. I've planned too many big projects for "by the end of the year": finish revising two novels, perform in November concert, attend all the extra choir rehearsals leading up to Christmas, make Christmas gifts for all the local family including seven children, record another song and subsequently make my little lullaby CD available online*... yeah. I might be comparatively scarce around the interwebs in the next two months.

* * *

Happy weekend! Make sure you set your clocks back and get your extra hour of sleep. Or whatever. Maybe this'll be the year that I defy books and the blogroll and go to bed in time to sleep that extra hour, but that would be a first.

* Christie has me convinced to do it, and I think I'm bold enough to follow through. The entire project was recorded on a dying mixer in the course of two weeks from planning to completion, and I’m such an amateur, and I have a long-standing horror of someone trying to blast it over a proper auditorium-sized sound system.... but the small fry don't care about such things, and I did mainly make it for them. :)