What Harry Potter Taught Us, 20 Years Later

Hello, dear readers! I have missed you! Life since my last post has been thrilling, heartbreaking, amazing, rather epic and ultimately beautiful…but that’s all for another post (or dozen). Today, I’m going to be talking about an anniversary important not just to me, but to millions of readers around the globe. Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter publication. I think it’s just as popular and relevant now as when it first debuted.

Despite J. K. Rowling’s battle to get Harry Potter published, the work was so instantly a pop culture smash hit that I initially shied away from it. (I’ve since learned that rabid book fans are the best fans and usually of good taste.) I’d developed my book snobbery at a very early age (likely in utero), and thus anything with mass appeal seemed unappealing to childhood me. Had I known one of the main characters herself was just such a snob, I might have been open to it earlier.

It took until the third book came out–at my sister’s utter insistence–for me to pick up the series.

I was instantly hooked, so much so I couldn’t even pretend not to be–nor did I want to. Even in a blurb, the story appeals to all: underdog finds self, triumphing over daily hardship and ultimately great evil, with a lot of love and help from quirky friends. Add magic into the mix, and it makes for a spellbinding (pun always intended) read.

Rowling is credited for “getting the world to read again,” and it’s no wonder why or how. The universal message appeals to all, but the world is so chock-full of heartwarming and quirky characters, there’s someone for everyone to relate to.

For me, that was Hermione Granger. Not since Belle (Beauty and the Beast) did I come across a character I loved so much because she was me. She was unabashedly brainy, always choosing justice over popularity. Her devotion to the pursuit of knowledge, to speaking her mind, became central to her heroism. She made it cool to be smart and opinionated.

Wingardium Leviosa! Hermione is one of my favorite cosplays!

Another aspect of Harry Potter I cherish is how it showed the world that the power of friendship and love can overcome anything–that there’s nothing more powerful than those. It did that throughout the plot in the whole series. It also did that, beautifully and unpredictably, through the fandom that linked the world together through the series. These books inspired people to be themselves, and at impressionable ages, showed teens they weren’t alone or strange. What could be more pure than a love of books (perhaps I am biased)? A Harry Potter book in someone’s hands is a universal symbol of community, of the message, “I value love, friendship, and courage, too.” It brought my community of friends and fellow bibliophiles closer, too. While my sister and I were already at maximum sister closeness, it was so much fun to celebrate every book and movie release together, having someone right in your own house with whom to discuss every plot twist and inkling! 

Sisters cosplaying for the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” book release 10 years ago!


What a unique experience it was to grow up with this series as it was coming out! It is one of the only book series I know of that “matures” as the characters get older–a neat experience for a girl paralleling the ages of the characters as the books were released (but then–children nowadays can get the same effect if they space out their reading year-to-year–but the addictive quality of these books makes that a difficult feat!). Indeed, the books became more dark and angsty as the characters grew up, which I found a fascinating and intriguing concept.

Something else Harry Potter taught us: to see magic in the everyday–that it’s all around us. Twenty years later, this is a lesson I use every day. ✨

Happy Father’s Day


(My first Easter, adorned in custom-made gown and bonnet, with my dad <3)

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there–biological, adoptive, mentor, and otherwise. 🙂 Thank you for the huge difference you make in your children’s lives.

As I grow older, I realize I rely on my dad just as much now as I ever have. Maybe the reasons have changed–I’ve now learned how to tie my own shoes, for instance–but he is still the steadfast pillar in my life I turn to when I fall and cry. It’s not skinned knees anymore (well, sometimes it is)–it’s more like a bruised heart. He is the man who has always been there for me, even as my romantic relationships come and go. Through his loving relationship with my mom, he has shown my sister and me how a healthy relationship should be. Through his support and encouragement of our dreams, my sister and I have realized we don’t need a man to accomplish anything we want–though we are lucky to have our dad, blowing air into our sails.

Happy Father’s Day to all fathers, but especially mine. ❤

If you’d like to read my letter to my dad about his crucial role in my recovery from my TBI, please visit my previous Father’s Day post: Happy Father’s Day.

One Voice: Orlando Shooting

What can one voice say in the midst of such a tragedy?

The largest mass shooting ever in the history of our country:
49 dead, 53 wounded. Countless loved ones devastated. A ripple effect of fear throughout the world.(If you haven’t read the news story of the Orlando shooting at Pulse on Sunday, you can here: http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/12/us/orlando-nightclub-shooting/ ).

I’ve never understood the hatred against the LGBT community. Live and let live, I say. Love and let love.
Love is always good. Love is peace.

As a writer, I am always seeking to make sense of things. I think that’s everyone’s draw to stories: to find the cadence of meaning that drums through a course of events. It resounds through our own lives, helping us understand our own biggest challenges through symbolism, allegory, dragons.
And, as a writer, it’s imperative to get into the heads of villains–to understand their motives. My own villains, when not abstract, are usually damaged beings that have been hurt by the one(s) they’re trying to retaliate against.
This massacre is so senseless it would make for bad fiction. The more I learn, the less sense it makes. These innocent people did nothing to the shooter. They were shot at random. They were there to have fun, to find love–not to be violent.
What I do understand is the light shining through the darkness. (“Look for the helpers,” Mr. Rogers tells us. “You will always find people helping [during tragedy].”) We can’t let one extremist’s hatred control us, reverse us, put us back into the dark ages. I’m humbled and touched to see the response of the world in the wake of this tragedy: http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/13/health/orlando-shooting-acts-of-kindness-trnd/

(Photos of mourners from Pulse Nightclub’s Facebook page)

Here are the ones who were lost: http://fusion.net/story/313038/orlando-shooting-victims-names-pulse-massacre/

This story is all of ours. We own it. Gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, atheist–this grief, this fear–it’s ours. Orlando is one of my favorite cities. Several of my friends are gay, including one of my very best. It could have been me in that club. It could have been you. It could have been anywhere.
Let us shine a light and show that good people will unite and shine brighter than hate. We cannot devolve into fear and counter-hatred–remember that Muslims stand with us in love and sorrow, and that it was an extremist who committed this atrocity.
Be the light–be that kindness you want to see in others. Only love can overpower hate.

What can one voice say in the midst of tragedy? When one voice joins another, and another, and another…praying for love, praying for peace…we will be louder than the ugly shouts of hatred and violence.
We stand with Orlando. We stand with the LGBT community. We stand for love.

Happy Thanksgiving: 10 Things I’m Most Grateful For

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! I hope all of you around the world are having a great day, regardless if you celebrate our American holiday or not.

It’s been a difficult year, but I’m blessed to have so much to give thanks for, anyway. I decided to take a quick break from helping with meal prep (a minor assistant role to my Master Chef mother!) to jot down a list of what I’m most grateful for.

Apple pie from scratch! I try to save most of my stomach space for this and the pumpkin pie. 😉

  1. My family.

    They’ve been there for me since day one. I’m so lucky we get along so well. With them, every day is amazing fun like a party, but every second nurtures and fills my soul. They’ve helped me become the woman I am. They’ve believed in me so strongly I’ve had no choice but to believe in myself, and they’ve built that confidence and drive in me since infancy. I love you, guys. ❤

  2. My friends.

    Like my family, they have helped me to become who I am today. I can’t believe I’ve had the same best friends for 20 years. How lucky am I? We’ve gone from children to adults together, sharing every important moment together and supporting each other when we needed extra strength. I love them more with each day. We have just as much fun now planning weddings and navigating transitions as we did building snowmen and playing Barbies as kids.

  3. Oreo & Chad

    Even though now, they are both our angel babies, I am grateful for their huge impact on my life (and the world at large, of course). Perhaps our babies belong with #1, but they are a different, more adorable species, so I think they can have their own category. Our babies are guinea pigs–see this poem to read just how much they mean to me. Our babies–both so different and wonderful–have awakened a new type of love in me. Though I can be, um, “motherly” to others I love, there’s nothing like loving a (guinea pig) baby. They have enriched my life on such a deep level; they are the embodiment of love. They have me wrapped around their little paws, if you couldn’t tell.

  4. My Faith & God

    This grows stronger for me each year, as I witness miracles and kindness, even in the midst of tragedy. He has always been there for me, even when I wasn’t paying as much attention to Him as I should have been. He saved me, in more ways than one, and I think He brought me back to do good–and I think that is through:

  5. My Writing & Speaking

    Communication is vital to all of our lives, and we often take it for granted until it’s taken away from us. I’m grateful mine has come back in such a way–I have so much to say, and I can’t wait to share it all. I always feel like I have more to do; it’s a never-ending quest to listen and speak, through voice or written words. Dear readers, you are an integral part of this! Thank you for listening to what I have to say and encouraging me to move onward in this journey.

  6. Books

    Books have been an integral part of my life, shaping the way I think and the person I want to be. They bridge continents and eras, connecting our human existence and making sense of this crazy thing called life.

  7. My Job & Coworkers

    I’m so blessed to have a job where I get to do what I love every day: writing, editing, public speaking, and events. I’m doing it all in a place I believe in passionately–Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital–and I get to apply my skills to fundraising and publicity purposes for this wonderful place. The icing on the cake that I did not expect (but should have!) is that I LOVE my coworkers. Several of them have become very dear friends.

  8. Nature

    I’m constantly inspired by nature. It’s as alive and changing as humanity itself, and its unpredictable beauty and nurturing are gifts to us. I’ve been lucky to have several adventures in forests, mountains, and oceans, over the last year, and I’ve truly learned that every leaf, rock, and sky is uniquely awe-inspiring.
    On a less poetic note–or perhaps, since it’s Greek mythology, it is poetic still–I was even a Dryad for Halloween this year, wrapping my limbs in vines and hair in flowers. I feel my full integration into nature is progressing well.

  9. Love

    Life is funny, and relationships don’t always work out how you plan them. Despite the pain of when they end, I’m still grateful to have had the experiences. They’ve taught me what I need and want out of life, and they’ve helped to shape me in important ways. As a writer and reader who adores love stories, I’ve learned to adore true love, even if I don’t know where it will lead. 🙂

  10. My Health

    Well, this one is pretty self-explanatory, especially with my recent reflective post about my TBI. Against all odds (<5%), I have survived a near-fatal injury, and against even greater odds, I am living a beautiful, healthy life. This is another one we take for granted, and every time I’m having a bad hair day (so many days), I remind myself that there was a time when I had no hair on one side of my head–boy, how it grew back with gusto. I’m looking forward to having it long enough soon to donate. I am blessed and very grateful.

 

Thanks for reading my list of gratitude, readers. What are YOU most grateful for? Have a wonderful holiday season; talk to you soon. I think I smell some pies that are ready for my sampling. ❤

 

 

A Wedding and a Campaign: Andrea & Ben | #LikeAGirl

Good evening, dear readers! It seems the whole Midwest has been pelted with thunderstorms and worse today; I hope everyone is OK! As for me, that puts me in that gothic melodramatic writing mood (it’s all so sweepingly romantic), so I have come here to funnel those energies. My novel characters have been awfully greedy with my time lately, talking to me in every moment. (Writer friends–does this happen to you, too? 🙂 ) I tell them my blog misses me, but they don’t listen…so I put the towel over their cage for the moment, if only briefly, for one of them will surely set it on fire sooner or later (*spoiler alert*). First, I’d like to say congratulations to my writer-friend Andrea, who got married this weekend. It was a beautiful wedding, and Jeremiah and I were so honored to be invited to share the special day. The reception was a blast! Andrea snuck several literary details into her wedding design, which I absolutely loved. I wouldn’t expect any less of this clever lady! 😉

Bridesmaid Meg reads a Shakespeare sonnet during Andrea and Ben’s ceremony

Writing buddies 🙂

Jeremiah and I had so much fun! 🙂 (A special thank-you to Jennifer for wrapping the gifts gorgeously, as well as buying that dress for me without me even there!)

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Secondly, I’d like to share something that’s been going viral on Facebook, which I first saw from my sister. It’s for a campaign the company Always is trying to start: #LikeAGirl. It’s based on the concept–what does the phrase “Like a Girl” mean to you? This video, comparing what little kids think, versus adolescents, is so moving–and it says a lot about our society.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a few friends several months ago (they shall remain anonymous…you’ll see why 😉 ).

They were talking about a time when *someone* had, for some reason, an electric fly-swatter. She wanted to test it on our male friend, because obviously, right? (Haha, I couldn’t, but she can get away with these things. 😉 ) Anyway, the best way to go about such a thing is with shock, so she snuck up behind him and zapped him. Since I was hearing this story for the first time, they courteously reenacted the subsequent scream for me. “He screamed like a girl!” exclaimed another female friend. “That’s an insult!” I retorted. They laughed, but, to his great credit, the male friend laughed hardest of all.

But all of us were playing off of the societal message that “like a girl” is a bad thing, somehow lesser than the average. [Scholarly note: Even the French diminutive “-ette” suffix, borrowed into English is a feminization.] To translate for people less strangely obsessed with language than I, it means that even on a language level, we make “lesser” mean “like a girl.” I love this usage note on dictionary.com (at the bottom), which says that the diminutive forms for females is going out of style and evolving into gender-neutral. Yay!

This also echoes my earlier post about strong female characters–that “strong” has to be said, because it’s not the socially believed standard. I hear “like a girl” all the time, from people I love and respect; I’ve said it many times, myself!

I am all for this #LikeAGirl campaign, and I hope you will be, too. From now on, when someone says I do something “like a girl,” I will say, “Thank you. I take that as a compliment.” (Or, if I just did said activity poorly, I will simply say that it is not my gender, but rather the negative aura of their company that has influenced my performance. Yessss.)

Until next time, my dear readers. I shall try to escape my characters’ demands soon, if only for brief updates or shares. 😉

My Valentine’s Day Surprises

Hello, dear readers! I hope you had a wonderful weekend and a lovely Valentine’s Day. 🙂

As I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to tell you a little bit about my Valentine’s Day this year.

Ever since my TBI, I’ve had a “carpe diem” view of life. This means I get very excited about all celebrations and I plan all details long in advance. Although, to be fair, I’ve always been excited for celebrations. 😉

That’s one side of it. The other side of it is when things don’t go exactly as planned, I can get majorly disappointed at what I see as a missed opportunity. It’s not exactly the best thing, and I’ve been working on this over the years, trying to take a more “jelly-side up” view. I heard a phrase once that really stuck with me: “We plan, and God laughs.” So true! I’ve realized that things aren’t always meant to happen as we plan them, but there is almost always some good that comes out of a situation. Sometimes, when things don’t go as planned, even better things are able to happen.

Needless to say, I certainly hadn’t planned on having bronchitis this Valentine’s Day. Jeremiah and I didn’t have anything enormous planned, although we did consider dinner/dancing/movie/trip options and made a schedule. However, it was apparent early in the week that it was not to be, because I was so sick. I hadn’t even left the house in over a week, so the plan–or so I thought–was a FaceTime date.

I got to start the day with another leading man in my life–my wonderful dad–who was kind enough to make another doctor appointment for me and chauffeur me there. Even though he pretended(?) to be grumpy about spending his whole day doing this, he made me laugh all the while, and he took really good care of me. It was a daddy-daughter date of doctor’s office; Panera for lunch; hospital for X-rays because I wasn’t getting well; and Costco for medicine. At least at Costco, they had an amazing array of samples, and as exhausted as I was, I felt up to the task at making the rounds to every single station. This is a favorite activity for our whole family, although my dad would never admit it. 😉
(Upon hearing I was doing this while sick, Jeremiah said to me, “The world could be ending, and you’d still be at Costco.” My response was, “If the world were ending, I would ESPECIALLY be at Costco. I’d need to stock up!” I mean, right?)

Then, my dad had the pleasure of helping me look through scores of flower planters on the shelves at Costco, so that we could pick the very best one. I’d wanted to get flowers for Jennifer for Valentine’s Day, anyway, and I was really happy to luck upon such a pretty option.

I dressed up the planter with ribbon and a homemade card…all materials I found in Jennifer’s impressive craft station in her room, which of course she immediately recognized, LOL (Happy Valentine’s Day to you…from you). I drew portraits of us as hearts–Jennifer on the left, me on the right–and used our self-appointed Frozen nicknames. Jennifer had made me a valentine, too, and she left it for me to see first thing when I woke up. 🙂

Jennifer and our parents had planned to go to Sweet Tomatoes for Valentine’s Day, and although they wanted to stay home with me, I insisted they keep their plans.

I also insisted that Jeremiah stay away, because I didn’t want to get him sick. Plus, I told him I just wanted to stay in my pajamas all evening. However, he wound up surprising me anyway, bringing me our favorite meals from Noodles & Co., a cookie for dessert, and these:

I was so touched by his thoughtfulness. It was simple enough not to be any fuss for me, and yet it was so many of my favorite things. He even came prepared with advice about a plot point in my novel I’d been struggling with. 🙂 And I got to stay in my pajamas, after all.

And so, dear readers, I keep learning that letting life happen is just as important as planning it out. FYI, I am slowly feeling better, finally! I hope you have a great week, and stay warm. 🙂

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Which Literary Love Story Are You?

Hello, dear readers! This girl certainly had a much more eventful day than expected, and all of it led to a lovely Valentine’s Day after all, despite my having bronchitis (my official diagnosis now! At last…). I shall fill you in on my story tomorrow, but for now, to wind down tonight, here are some fun Valentine’s pieces from the literary community. No matter how we try, we readers can’t hide that we love to imagine ourselves in the books we are reading, perhaps most of all in the storybook (fairy-tale, dystopian, etc….) romances.

First, allow me to share a valentine that Harper Impulse (the romance imprint of HarperCollins) created, based on a quote from an author I’m proud to say has been a dear friend for over 10 years! Her book, The Best Thing I Never Had, just came out a few months ago to eBook, and it is coming out in paperback in April. I’ll talk more about it another time, but for now, enjoy her brilliant quote on a lovely valentine:

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Wow. One of life’s great truths that I’ve never thought about in those terms. Erin Lawless has a knack for poignant insight. 🙂 (Check out her blog here, where you can also buy her books, follow her on Twitter, etc.)

Also, some great bookish candy hearts, posted today by Random House, originally posted here.

And lastly, I will leave you with this great chart, developed by Goodreads, where you can find out which love story your life matches best among some popular novels.

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That’s all for tonight, dear readers! I hope you had a great Valentine’s Day and that the spirit of love fills your life beyond just this day into the rest of the year. 🙂

Join me later this weekend for the story of my interesting and lovely Valentine’s Day. 🙂