misfit monday: the woman who changed my life

In honor of the announcement that JK Rowling will be writing a new film series taking place within her magical world, I thought I should write about how much Harry Potter changed my life.

Except I don’t actually know how it changed my life because I was in 5th grade, nearly 11 years old, when I picked up the first book, and very soon after finished off the 2nd and 3rd books. When you’re that young, something doesn’t change your life so much as it becomes a formative part of your life. The Harry Potter series was that for me. However, there are a few ways that I can point out that it changed things for me.

friends at I at the Chinese theater, being the golden trio.

friends at I at the Chinese theater, being the golden trio.

1. Through the characters of Hermione Granger, Ginny Weasley, and Luna Lovegood.

When the books first came out, I was nicknamed Hermione because people thought of me as her. Saw me as her. I corrected other kids, even in front of teachers, I was a smartalec and a know-it-all. I also had brown hair and brown eyes. I was made fun of and had a hard time keeping friends. But once people saw me as Hermione, it changed. A little.

Later on, with the development of Ginny and the introduction of Luna, it became clear to me that I possessed qualities of all three, and each quality I had in common with them was one I was able to accept in myself. I wanted to be smart, but I also dreamed of being pretty, like Hermione. I was odd, obscure, and artsy like Luna, and people accepted that part of me when they realized I was actually good at art. It was the part of me that didn’t care what other people thought because I just wanted to do art and be good at it. And there was the sporty, competitive side of me like Ginny, who always felt like she had something to prove because she was just a girl, or just Ron’s little sister, and the guy who she liked pretty much ignored her. She could command a lot of authority, and she was incredibly capable. I think, though, that I always envied her one particular thing: she was indeed beautiful and a lot of guys noticed her. My best friends in high school were the ones who got noticed. I was the one they could count on to never have a date.

2. Through making me love reading.

I was not a reader as a child. So when I found books I wanted to read, books that I didn’t want to put down, it changed everything for me. I still haven’t found books that grab hold of me like the Harry Potter books do, but I developed a love for reading and the written word from that moment on.

Odd story: when I was 11, reading the books for the first time, I wanted to be like Harry Potter so much that I cleared out a cupboard under a sink, crawled in there with the book and a flashlight, and stayed crammed in there for hours reading, pretending that I was like Harry living in the cupboard under the stairs.

As a teenager who struggled with depression, reading was my escape. I got in trouble on numerous occasions from when I was 13 all the way through when I was 17 for reading in class. The best part was that the teachers would call me on to answer the question, and I KNEW THE ANSWER. They had intended to catch me unaware and to make an example of me in front of the entire class, but when I knew the answer and could go into detail about it, as well as telling them exactly what I’d been reading, it left them fuming. My mom fielded a few angry emails and calls from teachers about this.

I’m not a huge reader, although this year has been a little different for me, and I’ve read around 25 books since late January.

3. Through giving me a world in which I felt I belonged.

Again, this goes back to Hermione. I didn’t fit in well as a child, but at Hogwarts, I always felt like I belonged. I was smart, I was brave and fearless, I felt absolutely sure I was a Gryffindor. I identified with Hermione in a way I’ve never identified with any character. But also, the books gave me friends. Harry, Ron, Ginny, Luna, Neville, and Hermione were all my friends. I laughed at all of Fred and George’s jokes and pranks, snuck around with Harry at night, and faced the tough times in life with all of them too. With a common last name, I easily fit into one of the better known wizarding families (it was a huge joke with all my friends that Sirius Black was my dad). I finally had names of nemesis I could hate (Crabbe, Goyle, Voldermort…. not Draco though, because I had a major soft spot for that little prat) rather than feeling like I was just bullied by a large group, not anyone in particular. (I was bullied a lot in middle school and standing up for myself didn’t do much. I was bullied some in high school, but standing up for myself did a lot more then, mostly because by the time I was a junior, I just didn’t care and the teachers didn’t care if I punched someone after repeatedly telling them to stop harassing me.)

wizard dad

what you don’t know is that I’m wearing a shirt I sewed that matches one Hermione wears in DH1. Pictured here with my wizarding dad.

The characters were more than characters for me. They were my friends, my enemies, my mentors, my allies, my teachers, my family. Some of the times I have cried the hardest have been in the deaths in these books, because it wasn’t a character dying, it was someone I knew and loved. They were as much a part of my life as any real person, and sometimes more.

4. Causing me to learn unusual skills.

I learned to knit because of Harry Potter. I couldn’t afford to buy an official Gryffindor, so I asked my grandma to teach me to knit so I could knit my own. It took a few years before I eventually got around to it, and I think I might knit a new one sometime. But what 14-year-old learns how to knit for fun? Uh, apparently this one. People in my family know to expect at least one person to get a hand-knit something for christmas almost every year.

knitting

an in-progress shot of a hat Hermione wore in HBP. I love that hat.

This kind of makes me more like Hermione again, because she learns to knit to free house elves and actually it’s pretty cute.

5. Through teaching me a thousand things I don’t know if I can ever verbalize or recount.

I grew up reading these books. How could I say what I learned from them and how I changed because of them when they were a fundamental part of my formation as a person? But it’s a thousand lessons I learned from these seven books that play into every single day of my life. Harry’s sarcastic responses to things, Hermione’s dichotomy of intellect and emotion fully fitting into one person, how things aren’t always as they seem (pretty much from every book), how one letter can change your life forever, how there is magic in everything. How words are our most inexhaustible source of magic. How love touches us even after death, and how the ones we love never really leave us.

I often feel that I am some strange mix of Hermione, Ginny, and Luna wrapped up into one person. I don’t think I would have ever been able to accept myself and all the oddities of me without JK’s characters, and being able to say, yes, they are the way they are, and they are all parts of me, as I am all parts of them. And it’s okay.

until the very end

in what Hermione wears for the final battle, fake blood and all

On a side note, I’ve dressed up as Hermione at least 6 times. Twice for midnight showings.

I am a proud part of the Harry Potter generation, and Hogwarts will always be home.

Book Review: The Host

Hmm, a little behind on the times? Reading an author generally shunned by people who actually like books? Actually admitting to reading it by posting a review on my blog?

Well….. yes.

So here’s the thing: I’ve read all of Twilight. And I’ve seen all the movies, so you probably think I have the worst taste in anything now. But here’s the thing with me: I like to be entertained. I don’t always mind watching or reading something mediocre if it is at least entertaining. Now, I may be finding my entertainment in the films way outside the plot (shirtless men with tattoos, the awkward faces people make, thinking about twilight farts or the Hillywood parodies – Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn), I am no less entertained for the duration.

But, all that to say that I have a starting point to judge Stephenie Meyer’s writing against–herself. This is probably the only actually fair way to judge The Host.

It keeps me interested the majority of the time. I lost a bit of sleep because I’d stay up late to read it. So yes, all in all it’s quite entertaining.

The attachment to Jaime is entirely understandable from my point of view. I have a much younger brother and the absolute desire to protect him is second nature.

And then comes the love triangle. Can no one write a book with a central female character that doesn’t involve one now? I’m kind of sick of them. This isn’t just me being cynical, this is that every book seems to have one. Twilight, Hunger Games, Snow White and the Huntsman (movie, I know)… thank god Harry Potter never actually developed one, although in movie 7.1 they tried to make a go of it. For once I just want someone to write about a female who no guy likes except the creepers. But I guess real life isn’t good enough for the books. And I do get sick of the girl gets the guy and vice versa in films. That never happens in real life. Unless you look like (insert famous actress/actor name here).

The plot would have worked a lot better without the love triangle, I think, and it gets annoying having to read the conversations between two jealous men, and then between Melanie and Wanderer. Mel’s all like you can’t have Jared he’s mine, but won’t let Wanda have Ian either. And Wanda getting beat to a pulp all the time? Boring. Although Kyle trying to kill her repeatedly is actually interesting.

The Seeker part of the plot is much more interesting to me. The middle part of the book dragged on, all the while I was waiting for that evil Seeker to show up again. I kind of felt like the beginning was rushed versus the middle was drawn out. Stephenie Meyer has a tendency to do that though, to rush the interesting things (or maybe I’m just reading really fast because it’s interesting?) and then dwell on the monotonous middle without truly pushing the plot forward. A love triangle doesn’t push the plot forward: it keeps it stagnant while we wait for it to get sorted and life to go on. I will say that this book is much more eloquently written than Twilight though, and Stephenie Meyer has a wide array of vocab she uses. However, her mormonism shows prominently in the fact that she is very chaste when it comes to physical touch or colorful language. And while this works to her advantage when writing from a female’s perspective (Bella, Melanie/Wanderer), I get frustrated with it. Just because we shy away from saying crude things doesn’t mean our mind doesn’t fill in the gaps. Everyone has a filter between their mind and their mouth for a reason. And then once the Seeker showed up again, a very interesting thing happened: the plot moved, and Wanda was forced to make a choice that would drive the rest of the story. Yes, this is why I wanted the seeker to show up again!

But once that is all taken care of, it leaves us with Wanda on her self-sacrificing mission to save Melanie. While this is all fine and dandy, it gets annoying at times. Although, I do like that Wanda set a fast time table for herself. Once she knew what she was going to do in regards to the seeker, she went on and made the choice that would also kill herself in order to give Mel’s body back to the rightful owner.

The ending is sugary sweet. I’m beginning to realize that’s Meyer’s style. She can’t not write a happy ending. If I were about 5 years younger, I would probably have liked the whole book much more, as I think her intended audience was between 15-20, rather than an actual adult audience.

I honestly would have preferred if the book had ended with chapter 58, with the last bit of text:

As I took another breath I saw three stars again. They were not calling to me; they were letting me go, leaving me to the black universe I had wandered for so many lifetimes. I drifted into the black, and it got brighter and brighter. It wasn’t black at all–it was blue. Warm, vibrant, brilliant blue… I floated into it with no fear at all.

With the context of things, this would have been such a poetic ending, and for me, the book felt complete here. That is the kind of person I am, I guess.

The last bit of the book, in the epilogue, is a neat twist though. I won’t give it away, but it adds that tiny spark of interest to let your mind play with an idea.

For as much as I’ve been picking on the book, I’ll give it a positive: Meyer is very descriptive visually. I naturally see things in my head like a movie when I read books, but Meyer gives me extra layers to work in there, bonus bits of visual anything and everything that create a fuller picture within my mind. She also is good at giving a hook into the next chapter, so even when you’ve been bored out of your mind in the last chapter, suddenly something exciting is happening and you want to keep reading.

Okay, over all I’d say that it’s not a bad book, but I don’t think it’s the kind to last more than a generation. If you have a fair amount of free time, I’d say read it, but if you’re on the busier side and don’t have lots of time for reading, I’m not sure this would make it anywhere near the top 50 books you should read list. I should probably make that list someday.

Guess I’d give The Host a C for a grade. Pretty average. Parts are really good and other parts are really bad, so it kind of evens out.

Also, I wanted to read this because the movie comes out next year and has my favorite young actress, Saoirse Ronan, in the lead role.

Hunger Games recipes: Lamb and dried plum stew

I’ve been waiting for the right occasion to make this, and a little over a week ago I was having a party, and thought it would be the perfect time. Now, although I have found a recipe for this from The Unofficial Hunger Games Recipe book, I was like, forget that, I’ll make up my own! Because that’s how I roll. I freestyle it, as my friend Luke says. I’m sure you could really say that I don’t like to follow recipes because I have problems with authority or some other psychobable bullocks. A few days ago, I made it again, trying to perfect my own recipe.

Anyway, here’s the amazingness!

For those of you who are cheap like me, you’ll just buy stew beef. It works just as well as lamb in this case. You’ll need a crockpot/slow cooker. The flavors will all mix and mingle this way, and the meat will tenderize to the point where it nearly melts in your mouth.

On a side note, this is the gluten-free, dairy-free version.

Start putting things into the crockpot:

1 can beef broth
1 can veggie broth (or a 2nd can beef broth if you want)
about as much water as broth (which is 2 canfulls basically)
1/2 cup cooking sherry
4 carrots, sliced
2 potatoes, peeled and cut up into chunks
1/3 onion, caramelized. (sliced up into long thin strips, then cooked in a skillet in oil on low heat, then add some sugar once the onions are soft and let them just start to get a little brown on the edges)
1 stick celery, sliced (optional)
1 lb stew beef/lamb, cut up into bite size pieces
spices to taste: 2 bay leaves, garlic, salt, paprika, pepper, chives, red curry powder (my favorite) and any other spices you really want to add.
3 T worchestershire sauce (to give it some kick)

At this point, the stew will have a rich, hearty, salty sort of flavor. This is good. Let it cook for about 2 hours, then add in:
1 package of dried plums (which are really prunes)
a handful of golden raisins (optional, but they’re good in it)
4 T cornstarch

Let that cook for another 4ish hours. The dried plums will significantly sweeten the taste. Stir it occasionally so that you don’t have things stuck to the sides of the crockpot. If you want it to be less sweet, just add a little more salt later on in the cooking process, to taste.

Cook up some rice, then put that in the bottom of your bowl before ladling on the stew (which will have thickened thanks to that cornstarch). Et voila, mes amis! Bon appetite!