Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Maybe we should just make Harry Potter an honorary member of the family....

We finished the Harry Potter series last night. Seven books...with the corresponding movie after each one. (Or two movies in the case of the final book.) This is the third time I have read the entire series out loud to my children. I started the first round shortly after book six had just released and Rebekah and Julianne were old enough to recognize and understand the hype surrounding it. I had read the first three books at that point but hadn't continued on...so once we reached book four, it was all new to me as well. We had to wait for the seventh book which was released the summer I had Lilian. I remember one day in particular where we spent five hours in her little bedroom, reading. The girls were willing to tickle and coo and rock little Lilian so I wouldn't stop.

The second time around was a few years later when Brandon was a bit older. He learned pretty quick that he could convince me to continue reading way past his bedtime if he scratched my back and played with my hair...

And now Lilian. We visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios last November and Lilian had seen bits and pieces of the movies...so this spring I decided she was ready. Young as she is I was surprised when she caught onto things and made important connections even before they were explained in the book. All the same, I don't think she quite realized how raw and gritty they were going to get. For example, when Cedric Diggory died she was completely stunned and had big tears pouring down her face. And then grieved each death that came after with tears yes, but more and more upset. She was in a rage when Dumbledore died, stomping around the room. And really, didn't we all feel the same? It was with more resigned battle-weary acceptance that Lilian grieved the deaths of characters such as Tonks, Lupin, Fred and Dobby. But then the elation that came with the revelations within Snape's memories, the out of body conversation with Dumbledore and the final show down with Voldemort. And Lilian insisted I read the final chapter of book seven twice.

We were both sad to come to the end of the series. Interestingly enough, the Harry Potter books have become the stuff of family tradition and memories in our house. We like to read. We enjoy reading aloud as a family. I've read many books to my children over the years....from picture books to full series of chapter books. But Harry Potter is the only series I have read aloud three times. And despite their older ages, Julianne and Brandon would frequently come home from various activities and sit down with us if I was reading Harry Potter to Lilian...even to the point of asking if I would wait to begin that night's reading until they were home because they didn't want to miss a particular part. There's just something special about Harry Potter.

Some final thoughts...

1. J.K. Rowling is brilliant. I remember when the books first came out and there was a bit of controversy with people thinking a children's book about wizards and witchcraft would be inappropriate...or even downright evil. How wrong they were. And how wonderful to find that Rowling found a way to get a whole new generation of kids excited about reading again. I feel really sorry for the publishing company that turned her first manuscript down. They are probably kicking themselves....

2. If the movies are your only look into the world of Harry Potter you have no idea how much you are missing! Reading each book and watching the movie immediately afterwards brought this home to me even more. The movies had to leave out so many details and side stories. The whole Harry Potter experience is so much richer if you read the books.

3. But that is not to say that the movies are bad. Because they aren't. Yes, we all know that in almost every instance a movie based on a book will never be as good as its original source material. But in this case, they really did a fantastic job! The movies are great. Yes, they miss a lot...but mostly because they have to seeing as each book is just so long. And the casting...oh my goodness, I could go on and on about the genius of the casting director. From the regulars to the one book wonders...I mean, really could you get a better Professor Lockhart than Kenneth Branagh? Or Maggie Smith as McGonagall? Or Alan Rickman as Snape???

4. Speaking of Severus Snape....I think he is the true hero of book seven. He is complicated and layered. He's got a lot of hate in him, resentment and pride. But darn it all if he doesn't also have a lot of loyalty and that love that Dumbledore is always saying is so important. Yes, Harry vanquishes Voldemort in the end...but oh, Snape. I love that quote in the final chapter where Harry is talking to his son who has fears of being sorted into Slytherin house. "Albus Severus, you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew." I love J.K. Rowling for giving us that complete twist that we never saw coming. I love her for giving us Snape's memories. I love her for giving us Severus Snape.

5. And we also have to give a moment to Neville Longbottom. The movie doesn't show it as fully, but Neville...the insecure, bumbling little wizard we meet in book one who is growing up in Harry Potter's shadow and also trying to fill the very large footsteps of his parents...the boy who could've just as likely been "the chosen one" (the movie doesn't tell you about that point) ends up a hero in his own right. Leading Dumbledore's Army when Harry is gone, fighting every bit as hard as Harry, Hermione and Ron in his own way at school, standing up to the Dark Lord, the sword of Godric Gryfindor appearing to him as a brave and worthy Gryffindor, killing the horcrux snake right there in front of Voldemort...Neville is every bit the brave leader and hero as Harry.

6. I love Albus Dumbledore. I love his dry humor. His lines were some of the funniest in the books and I looked forward to them. He was brilliant and wise and kind. But he was also incredibly strong and magically gifted. He was the only one You-Know-Who feared and it is no wonder. His flashes of anger were few and far between, which made them that much more powerful when they came. But second to his humor, I loved his humanity. He is so powerful and famous in the wizarding world...almost like a god on a pedestal. So I love in the 7th book how J.K. Rowling shows us his past and brings him down a few notches. We see that Dumbledore really is human...flaws and faults and all. To watch him cry as he explains what happened to his sister. To see his shame as he explains his obsession with the deathly hallows and his friendship with Gellert Grindelwald. And as he explains the mistakes he has made in his handling of certain aspects of his relationship with Harry and asks for his forgiveness. I think the true leaders in this world are ones who are flawed, which makes them that much more wise and empathetic....especially if they can do so with humor.

7. In this reading of the series more so than the others, I started seeing themes. Not that I didn't realize they were there before, I just spent more time thinking about them....maybe because I had read the books before and wasn't as caught up in the newness of the actual plot. The fight between good vs. evil, of course. But I also saw many conversations alluding to faith vs. logic. And I'm assuming I'm not the only one who saw Hitler and Nazi Germany in there...with talk of being worthy and having pure blood as opposed to being half-blood, mud blood or squib. Having to prove your magical blood lines. Wizards trying to protect and sometimes hide their Muggle neighbors. In the movie they even had students at Hogwarts who by book seven were under Death Eater rule, goose stepping like the SA or Hitler Youth as they made their way to classes.

8. And though I'm certainly not the first....I have to say that the movie got the ending of the final book wrong. Completely wrong. I can make allowances for changes and details going missing in the other movies....as I've said before, I think it would be an incredibly daunting task to turn these detail and plot dense books into 2 hour movies. However, in this case I think Hollywood decided that they needed the ending to be a bit more dramatic. And that decision I believe, shows their lack of true understanding. Maybe they were catering to the audience who were relying solely on the movies for their Harry Potter fix. But for the millions of us who had read the book...we felt a bit cheated.
*Because Neville needs to kill the Nagini the snake right in front of Volemort and the hordes of people watching....not to save Ron and Hermione from being attacked by the snake in a silly chase, but out of resistance...and to see Voldemort's horror at the loss.
*Because we needed to see all the house elves hacking at the Death Eater's legs with kitchen knives, Professor Trelawny dropping crystal balls on people's heads, Peeves the Poltergeist causing havoc, Professor Sprout using mandrakes, venomous tentacula and other poisonous plants as weapons during that final battle inside Hogwarts.
*Because Voldemort needs to see his most loyal supporter Bellatrix Lestrange be killed off by mousy little Molly Weasly in her anger right in front of him.
*But mostly because Voldemort needs to be finished in front of the whole crowd of people who had risked their lives trying to resist him and support Harry. They needed to be a part of it. They needed to hear and understand, just as Voldemort did...as Harry demeans him by calling him his real name of Tom Riddle and explains to him all the reasons why he is not going to win this time. That Snape wasn't ever his, that Dumbledore was not dead on his orders, that Harry had hunted down and killed all his horcruxes, that he Harry was actually the true master of the Elder Wand. And see that Harry ends up finishing him off not with a killing curse but once again with his tried and true expelliarmus disarming spell.

I have read a lot of books in my time...all different genres. It's hard for me to narrow down when I'm trying to come up with a list of say top ten favorites or books that have stuck with me, had an influence on me. The Harry Potter series always makes the list.

I told Rebekah in an email last week that I was a little sad, seeing the series and the time reading with Lilian come to a close. She told me not to worry...that she was very interested in seeing the tradition continue and was already planning to have me read the books to her children someday. Something to look forward to.
In the meantime...we started the Percy Jackson series last night.

Monday, September 21, 2015

"Life is like a game of craps, and the devil is playing with loaded dice!"

As you all know, Julianne is our resident actress. She started taking children's community acting classes when she was 6 years old and it has been her passion ever since. Rehearsals and performances are a big part of her life. And as the years have passed, tap classes, voice lessons and theatre courses at school have been added to the mix. I often find her to be rather giddy when she comes home from a call back or a particularly engaging and challenging rehearsal.

But this summer marked a first for her. She auditioned for and was cast in Centerpoint Legacy Theatre's production of "Guys and Dolls." All of her other shows up to this point have been school or children's community theatre type of productions. And though she did do "Power in His Touch" with me when she was 12...that wasn't a show associated with any particular theatre or arts council and was kind of an independent thing...not to mention the fact that she was doing it with her mom. To be cast in a production at Centerpoint Legacy Theatre is a bit bigger of a deal...so much more professional than anything she had done before. And it was just her, none of her normal theatre friends she has already done countless shows with.

Which meant in a big way her summer wrapped around rehearsals, and then by mid-August...performances. The show ran for four weeks and she was in the Monday-Wednesday-Friday cast. And she LOVED it! She was a "mission doll"...a Salvation Army type volunteer. It wasn't a huge part. But she bonded tight with all those guys and dolls in both casts, despite the differences in age (she was the youngest) and life circumstances.
Side note: Gary, my voice teacher and one of my best friends, was also in the show as Sky Masterson as well as serving as music director for the cast. He was absolutely terrific, of course...and it was incredibly fun to watch him on stage with Julianne!

By the time they finished the run, Julianne was two weeks into school and already deep into rehearsals for the high school musical "Les Miserables"...so it was with equal parts relief and sadness she said goodbye to her "Guys and Dolls" pals. But she is already looking forward to auditioning for other shows at Centerpoint Legacy Theatre in the future.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Take a hike

After spending our anniversary in Park City back in July, Bryan and I decided that the hike we took was something we wanted our children to experience. Brandon miraculously didn't have gymnastics workouts over Labor Day weekend so we decided to make Saturday a hiking day.

(We brought our mini "Sister Croft" with us on our adventure...Rebekah was at least with us in spirit.)

It was forecast to be windy. With the potential for rain showers. We forged ahead with our plans...much nicer to hike in cooler weather anyway, right?

A few raindrops fell while taking the Crescent chair lift to the top of the mountain. And as we came over the peak, the freezing wind blasted us. I told the kids that once we got off the top of the mountain and onto the trail in the trees, the wind wouldn't be as strong and would also provide a bit of shelter from the rain. But they continued to look at me like I was crazy as I finished up with the suggestion of considering it all an adventure...war stories. "My parents made me slog through a massive windstorm with the rain coming down in sheets all in the name of family togetherness!!" (Complete with wild exaggerations.)

I was right, though. The wind was nowhere near as strong once we got down into the trees. And the rain tapered off rather quickly. When we got the occasional cloud burst, we'd move off the trail under a tree and wait it out seeing as they always passed by within 5 minutes. The sun came out and our jackets came off. The scenery was beautiful and I was reminded me of the quote from Anne of Green Gables when Anne has just come to stay and Marilla is teaching her how to pray in the correct and proper way. Anne says, "Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I'll tell you what I'd do. I'd go out into a great big field all alone or into the deep, deep woods, and I'd looke up into the sky--up--up--up--into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I'd just feel a prayer." 

Because really, there is something about nature that makes me feel God's presence. There are few other places that show me so certainly the existence of God. Hiking this trail in the mountains with my family, trees and plants and wildflower and little critters and such beauty all around....I was so content.

We took a wrong turn at some point (well wrong from the way Bryan and I had done it back in July) and found ourselves at an old silver mine, with buildings that were in various stages of decay. We explored a bit...peeking in windows and doors. Being careful to not knock into or step on anything that might give way. And watching for any animals that might be making their home inside one of these buildings. (Actually I might be the only one that had concerns about that. I'm not a fan of running into something slithery. Or stinky. Or anything that might not like us disturbing its home....)

The ride down the Payday chair lift was a well earned break after all our hiking around and was such a beautiful and leisurely way to finish up our time on the mountain. We stopped for BBQ at a restaurant on Park City's historic Main Street before making the drive home. The kids all admitted that their worries of a miserable hike in the wind and rain were unfounded and that they had a wonderful time. It really was such a great day!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

42 with a view

I turned 42 on Sunday. Yes, I admit to my age. I may not be completely thrilled about it...but I am willing to own it.

Being a Sunday, birthday celebrations included going to church. After three hours of meetings and then a big dinner we had decided to hike Ensign Peak. That sounds all impressive, doesn't it? Hiking up to a peak? It's really only a mile total round trip. The majority of the altitude climb is in the car winding our way up through the neighborhoods of the Avenues above Salt Lake City. I'd never been there before so I expected a pretty little walk up to the peak and then the famous view. We'd planned it to be right in time for the sunset out over the Great Salt Lake. But I was surprised to find that it was much more than just a pretty little walk. It really was a hike...short maybe, but one that had me huffing and puffing. I wasn't really thrilled about the fact that I was indeed huffing and puffing on this short little hike...even if it was rather steep and full of switchbacks. I decided to blame it on my sedentary summer due to recovery from surgery and clearly my body was just not up to its normal physical standards yet. {right???}

Rounding the final corner and ready to climb the last few feet, a warning was called down to us by a man already on top of the peak. "Stay to the right of the path," he said. "There's a rattlesnake down there."
Ummm...what?! His warning stopped me in my tracks. Cold fear came over me in a wave. I hate snakes. Someone in our little group pointed out the snake curled up under the big boulder just to the left side of the skinny little trail. Oh my. Before I had time to even think about turning around and going back down to the bottom, peak-less and view-less, Bryan hustled me past the snake...me doing the heebie jeebie shivers the whole rest of the way to the top. And the view was worth it...even if I did watch where I stepped the whole rest of the evening. I mean, who says the snake didn't have friends, am I right??

The view of the Salt Lake valley was pretty spectacular. And the sunset over the lake to the west was fascinating to watch. We explored around up top, took pictures and enjoyed the view for a good half hour or so. I was all set to stay longer and watch the lights wink on in the city below. Bryan thought it a better plan to start our walk down the trail before it got completely dark, especially seeing as he had somehow forgotten to bring his flashlight. {very unusual...he always has a flashlight, even when he isn't planning to be out after dark.} My iPhone has a flashlight...but as I mentioned this to him, my thoughts went back to the rattlesnake. Umm, yeah. Maybe taking the trail while there was still natural light to see by might be that much better to watch where I step. Our way back down was uneventful. The snake was gone. Although in some ways that made me more nervous...where did it slither off to? Was I going to run into it on the trail a little further down? I felt a little more in control when I could eyeball it. {as completely gross as that even is...to eyeball a rattlesnake. ewwww!}

Every now and again we heard rustling in the bushes to the sides of the trail. Lilian would stop and listen...nervous and excited all at the same time, wondering what kind of animal might be moving around in there. And then as Bryan grabbed my hand to walk with me behind the other three kids, I saw him lean down and scoop up a small rock...and throw it into the bush ahead of Lilian. She gasped and stopped...looking intently, trying to see if she could get a glimpse of anything...with Bryan sporting a sneaky little grin behind her. Daddies and their teasing. Lilian didn't realize what was going on till we got to the bottom of the trail.

It was a fun way to celebrate my birthday. I wished we'd had Rebekah with us, of course. But a few days later I got a birthday card in the mail {or the post, as the British call it} covered in Queen Elizabeth stamps. She filled that card full of her recognizable handwriting, saying such sweet things...line after line of specific things she was thankful I'd taught her, reasons why she loved me. I cried and cried and cried. I miss my Rebekah something fierce...even if I am so unabashedly proud of that girl and what she is doing!!!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Zoo day

The company my Dad works for had a summer party at the zoo. They were invited to bring their families...children and grandchildren alike. A hot breakfast was provided, along with face painting, a raffle and of course, free entrance to the zoo. We got an email from my parents...were we interested in coming along? Lilian and I jumped at the opportunity, despite the fact that I would still only be 3.5 weeks post op. I figured I'd take it slow and sit a lot of I got tired. Brandon didn't want to miss his gymnastics workout and Julianne had some other things on her Saturday to-do list so they both declined. But Bryan said he'd come! I have to admit I was surprised and delighted that he wanted to tag along. Katie came with her four kiddos (Dalton, Holly, Allison and Jackson) and Melissa brought Maddy.

Once arrived and in the specially set aside party pavilion, the kids immediately decided that face painting was the first order of business. I thought to try and convince them to eat first but Katie pointed out the wisdom of jumping in line before the line got long...and she was right. Not to mention, happily face painted kids would be much more willing to focus on breakfast. My Dad won two tickets to Lagoon in the raffle. All in all it was a successful morning and we hadn't even seen any animals yet!

(A butterfly, two rainbow cheetahs, a dragon, a wolf and a polar bear.)
 (Even Grandma decided to get in on the action and get a little butterfly on her face.)

But the animals of course were the main draw of the day. So despite the fairly intense heat and the crowded Saturday-in-summer zoo conditions, we headed out to do some animal watching.

The kids were pretty obsessed with the zoo maps...constantly referring to them to see where we were headed and what was up next. I think a favorite of everyone was Rocky Shores...the area of the zoo that housed the polar bear, sea lions and otters. They were super playful and therefore, really fun to watch.

"Run away....run away!!!"
In homage to dinosaur mania due to the new Jurassic World movie, there were life-size dinosaur models spread throughout the zoo. 

The zoo did indeed wear me out...helped in large part by the August summer heat. I tried to sit as often as I could but was red-faced and feeling decidedly lightheaded by the time we left the zoo. We had a wonderful time seeing all the animals and hanging out with the cousins, but as soon as we got home I climbed in bed and stayed there pretty much the rest of the day. It was worth it though!