Saturday, February 23, 2008

Books Review: Harry Potter (I-VII)

Warning: Here There Be Spoilers!

So I managed to get myself to avoid reading the last Harry Potter book until about a month ago. That was important because, like G, I get a little obsessive about books I'm reading. Since I couldn't afford to blow a week perpetually distracted from work because I wasn't reading at that exact moment, I decided to hold off until the hype settled down. I also told myself I would read no more than one chapter a day. That worked. Sorta. A little. OK, I was really good except for the day I had jury duty and when I realized it was Friday night and I only had six chapters left.

Anyway I liked the series and since you missed G and I's (G tells me this is grammatically incorrect but I think it sounds right anyway, and she thinks this comment should come after the word discussions but she's not writing this post is she?) discussions of books 1-6 I'll throw those in here as well.

So lets start with the good stuff. Kids actually read these books. I figure in a day where pokemon passes as good television, as long as it isn't hate crime propaganda who cares what it is as long as kids read it. But this series goes beyond that. It really is about good and evil and it hits pretty close to home most of the time. It's about family and friends and love and hate and hits those nails right on the head.

It's well written and engaging. JK (cause we're on a first initial basis) manages (mostly) to avoid letting the Harry Potter universe become the story. The magic isn't the story, it's just there because you need it to tell the story. She also manages to make a story about a boy thrown into a magical world where there's a lunatic monster that keeps un-dying funny most of the time. The characters and places are endearing.

JK also had the guts to do what had to be done. In a story like this somebody has to die. Actually lots of people have to die. And they do. I liked most of them but you can't have a scary group of bad guys who just run around saying "Boo" a lot (like Scott does).

Of course JK forgot to consult with me on several of the books so there are some things that could have been done better. For example Books 4,5 and 7 should have been 1/2 to 2/3 the length they were. Book 6 could have lost a little weight too. I suspect she could have done better with more time. Writing very concisely takes time (which I clearly haven't put into this post).

I have to admit, I've read more fantasy that is probably healthy for me along the way and Voldemort is one creepy dude. I mean really, splitting your soul up to live forever? Besides wouldn't all your soul pieces die of old age eventually anyway? Whatever. Weird.

Also, the last book didn't really make a whole lot of sense to me. I still don't know what the deathly hallows had to do with anything. I was under the impression Harry could come back from the brink of death because his mother died for him and Voldemort used his blood to come back to life. What does the stupid invisibility cloak have to do with anything?

My biggest complaint revolves around Severus Snape. For all the time JK spent propping up the "Snape is a mean guy" straw man she just didn't spend enough time tearing it down. I was looking for him to be a good guy for at least a third of book 7. I also think he died a little too ignominiously for someone with his skill as a wizard. This guy was inventing magic while he was at school. The only other characters that did that are Dumbledore and Riddle. When Dumbledore runs afoul of Voldemort's protections on the Perevel ring who does he go to? Who's the best potions man we've ever seen? Severus. But somehow this guy dies from a snake bite to the neck? From a snake large enough it has to be a constrictor and therefore wouldn't bite people to kill them anyway? Sorry, I'm not buying it JK.

A book by book synopsis, M style:

Book 1: Harry's a wizard. He goes to a school for freaks wizards where he meets his two new best friends. They play games on brooms where people get hurt. Harry is good with a broom just like his dad. He looks like his dad but he has his mother's eyes. Voldemort is back and has a bit of a chip on his shoulder. This Dumbledore guy seems to have things pretty well under control. No one believes Harry.

Book 2: People are dying and no one knows why. Harry hears voices. Harry can talk to snakes. Harry finds a weird diary that talks back to you. It turns out there's a weird room under Hogwarts. Voldemort made the diary to control people and he's really the one killing people. No one believes Harry.

Book 3: There are weird ghosty things that make you sad and steal you soul. Harry has a godfather who betrayed his parents is an awesome guy. Ron's rat is really an old guy who was a great guy betrayed Harry's parents. You can travel through time. No one believes Harry.

Book 4: There is a weird cup that shoots fire and student names out like some kind of twisted roman candle. Harry's name comes out which means he has to do a lot of dangerous stuff. Harry can see into Voldemort's head sometimes (weird). Voldemort uses Harry to come back to life (weird). No one believes Harry.

Book 5: Some weird old lady prophesied that Harry and Voldemort would never be at peace while they were both alive. Severus Snape was responsible for Voldemort finding out about Harry. Dumbeldore says Severus felt bad when Harry's parents died (this is actually important).

Book 6: Voldemort has split his soul up and captured pieces of it in objects so he won't really die till they find and destroy them (extra creepy). Severus Snape is not a greasy haired two bit hack, he is a greasy haired ridiculously talented wizard. Severus kills Dumbledore in a way that makes it ambiguous whether that is good or not.

Book 7: Harry et al camp in the woods a lot. No really, a lot. There's a rock, a wand, and an invisibility cloak and if you have all three you are master over death or something like that. These appear to be nearly irrelevant to the actual story. Harry finds out about Severus's past, that he was in love w/ Harry's mom, and Dumbledore told Severus to kill him. Harry lets Voldemort kill him, has a nice chat with dead Dumbeldore, and for reasons still not clear to me comes back to life. Voldemort dies dueling Harry and there is much rejoicing.

Bonus Material: M's alternate ending:
Severus is devastated by the loss of Lily. He doesn't need convincing from Dumbledore to join the fight against Voldemort because he has seen the bitterness that comes from being like Voldemort. He agrees to work on the inside to bring down Voldemort knowing that Harry is the only one who can do so. In book seven he shows up, kidnaps Harry and takes him back to spinners end. Harry of course is not powerful enough to do anything about it at first. Severus begins to teach his deep defense against the dark arts knowledge to Harry. Legellimancy (You might be thinking this is misspelled. And you may be right. Why don't you go look it up... freak) and Occlumency are part of the training and eventually Harry manages to get inside Severus's head enough to see what is really going on. Harry is forced to reconcile his bad feelings towards Severus. As reluctant partners they search out and destroy the remaining horcruxes. At the pivotal confrontation Severus dies protecting Harry which gives him the protection he needs to finish Voldemort off. This is artistically paralleled to Lilly's death and accentuates the fact that Severus is finishing the job Lilly started. Man, I should be an author.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

It's ALIVE!!!

Our stick is sprouting! Look!

That's hard to see. EXTREME CLOSE UP!!!

Rock Slide

So I decided to get as close as possible to the flip book idea without having to expend too much effort. You will no longer be bored to tears by individual posts dedicated to the growing rock pile. I will just add another photo to the slideshow over yonder on the sidebar. Don't forget to check in every now and then to see our progress! (As if you care about a bunch of rocks...)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Supervan and Loosely Related Topics

M found an excuse to use the circular saw he got for Christmas by building a bookshelf for the kids. Not only was it an excuse for power tools, but it was also an excellent excuse to demonstrate one of our minivan's superpowers:

M was so excited to finally put a 4x8 sheet of plywood in the back the way he'd always dreamed of doing that he snapped a photo.

Fine with me as long as I get this out of the deal:

SIDE NOTE: While I've got you looking, check out my old lunch boxes. These days they hold toys, but I actually used these in high school and college because I never got to do the lunch box thing in elementary school (another post for another day). Never mind the toolbox shaped one. It's a new one Scott got a little while ago. The pink and blue is a metal one with a Candyland motif. Very old style but actually given to me new about 10 years ago. The red one rocks because it's Animaniacs. My Pinky and the Brain one is better, but it's an insulated soft-sided one, so it doesn't make a good playroom item. Ah, how I loved that show... But the crowning glory is the yellow one. Vintage Cabbage Patch Kids. Mine from back in the heyday.
Now back to the bookshelf discussion.

Marshall did a great job, but I have to take credit for painting it. It was part of my white high-gloss paintfest, along with the kid table Santa brought:

The paint really makes the inevitable hot chocolate spills
from microscopic tea cups easier to clean. These days our "tea parties" have been upgraded with doilies, peppermint stirring sticks, sugar cubes, and cookies thanks to Aunt Jessica.

So now the kids' playroom actually looks sort of like a room and not just a place that we dumped all the boxes full of toys when we moved in. (Never mind that the latter is probably more accurate!)

Next step? A coat of polyurethane for the two new little chairs because sometimes the hot chocolate strays from the tabletop!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Unless You Plan to Lick Your Butt...

I just don't get it. What's with the female paranoia of public toilet seats? Well I don't know, maybe it's not just women, but men so rarely have to deal with sitting down in public restrooms that I don't know how things "go down" on that side of the stall. So I will restrict my comments to what I have gleaned from my years of group bathroom trips and various more-than-even-I-wanted-to-know discussions on female bathroom habits.

Prepare yourself for a ghastly confession: I don't always bother with those stupid toilet seat covers. *Gasp, choke* Now don't blame my mother. She taught me the "right" way. As a kid I was even made to execute precautions in all their "toilet paper precariously balanced on the seat" glory when those paper covers weren't available. Then I got to thinking, and I rebelled.

I mean, sometimes I laugh when I look at those frail little things telling me that they've been "Provided by the management for my protection." What protection can they really offer? You know, the ones you have to carefully finesse out of the dispenser to keep from ripping? Assuming there are actually any there? Five tries later, you finally get a mostly cohesive one and lay it down on the seat only to have it get soaked in about five places where unidentified moisture has collected on the seat. Let me tell you the secret to a happy bathroom experience. Just tell yourself it's water. It probably is. I mean, it's almost always pretty clear, right? Otherwise you would have seen it before. And really I think it's more likely that the ancient plumbing in the back leaks a little or that there was a tiny splash at the tail end of the last flush than that the last woman was actually a man with bad aim. Oh, I know what you're thinking. I forgot, I was supposed to have wiped down the whole seat with toilet paper first, right? Because toilet paper apparently has magical disinfecting properties I am not aware of. Also, do you really want to risk running out of toilet paper for something like that? Because seriously, I'll take a few water splashes over not getting to wipe when I'm done. I guess we all have our priorities...

Now for the purposes of this discussion we're just going to assume that no woman has ever had to use a public restroom with one, let alone two or more, of her children crammed in the stall with her. No, no, that would NEVER happen. We're also going to assume for a moment that, against all odds, you have managed to meet all the following criteria:

1. Didn't pee your pants waiting in line for all the other women before you to perform their own special brand of delusional sanitation rituals.

2. Managed to enter a stall that has both a lock and a hook for your purse so you can perform the rest of your own rituals with both hands.

3. Lucked out and found a stall that still has seat protectors in the dispenser AND ample toilet paper.

4. Wiped down the seat so that there are no wet spots to spoil your seat protector in all it's glory.

5. Extracted, unfolded, and successfully torn your seat protector along the perforation without tearing through the outer seat ring.

6. Laid the protector on the seat without it sliding into the water or having the water wick up the center flap, causing it to get sucked down into the bowl before you can sit down all the way. Because I'm pretty sure that a seat protectors' favorite time to fall into the bowl is once you've already checked that it's appropriately positioned and begun your blind descent...

Okay, so you've met the criteria and now you're seated. You can finally go! Oh, but watch out that the water from the bowl doesn't wick up the center flap now that you're sitting there and get you even wetter than the water on the seat to begin with would have made you. Don't even get me started about the hassle of trying to wipe off with that wet thing dangling in your way. And definitely watch out that the slightly waxy surface of the seat protector doesn't create, say for example, a water resistant channel for urine to run away from you and onto your clothes or legs. Not that I speak from a scarring life experience or anything...

So now that we've hypothetically gotten to this point, how much good do you really think that thin paper is doing? It's not exactly an impenetrable shield, nor is it "shielding" the parts of you that care if they get germy. I mean, I don't know about you, but I usually keep the "important" parts of me squarely in the middle of the seat, not touching anything. But maybe the rest of you like to drag yourself back and forth across the seat? First of all, EWWW. Second of all, how much is even alive on that toilet seat anyway? Most public toilets get cleaned at least once a day. That's more than I can say for my toilets at home. I know, I know, you argue home toilets don't get that much traffic, but you obviously don't live with Claire. Now my poor cleaning habits are a whole different discussion, but I venture a guess that bacteria cultures would reveal that you're better off at most public toilets than coming over to my house and using my toilet. (I suppose that statement combined with yesterday's urine chair comment have just ensured that we will never have guests again... Meh, saves me the trouble of tidying up for guests. But for the record, I bet you'd fail this petri dish test too.) I'd be a lot more afraid of what's on the toilet paper in public restrooms. That's actually going to touch "the goods." Alas, I'm not willing to bring my own roll with me everywhere, so I'll take my chances. But in the end, you do have some form of an immune system, right? So if by some chance these hypothetical germs leap from the seat or bowl directly into your "inner workings," you'll probably pull through.

Now if every one behaves normally (no cavalier butt swipes), in the ideal case you should essentially only have the equivalent of skin-to-skin contact, right? Not that I love the idea of skin-to-skin contact with strangers, but I'd feel a little OCD if I started refusing to shake people's hands. I mean, what if they didn't wash their hands? What if they have bad cough and sneeze habits AND they pick their nose??? Guess what? Get over it. All of those are probably true AND they probably just left a public bathroom without washing their hands. Their hand might actually be WORSE than a toilet seat!

Now let's assume for sake of argument that, undoubtedly by some evil terrorist plot (darn you, Osama bin Ladies Room!), there are catastrophic germs just waiting to cause an epidemic lingering on the toilet seat.
And. You. Sit. On. Them.

Okay, I'm sorry to have stopped your heart beating like that. Take a moment. Just breathe. In fact, take all the time you need to pull yourself together after the shock and horror. I'll be right here waiting...


You good now? Great, let's pick up where we left off. So the unthinkable has happened. Now what? Were you planning to rub your hands across your bare buttocks after you get up from the seat? Oh, you need to pull up your underwear, tuck in your shirt, etc etc and that might lead to cross contamination. Okay, go ahead. You were still planning to wash you hands before you leave the bathroom, right? See where I'm coming from here? If all I have is some germs on my "cheeks," under my underwear and under my pants, I don't really see the problem. I'm not usually in the habit of the following:

Other person: Here, I brought you some food.
G: Thanks, it looks delicious.
OP: Let's eat!
G: Wait, just a minute.
[G quickly undoes her belt and jams both hands down the back of her pants and rubs vigorously while OP indulges in a little Purell]
G: [buckling back up] Okay, let's dig in.
[OP, face contorted in disgust, leaps up and runs away screaming, leaving G all by herself to consume the delicious food with her E. coli-ridden hands]
G: [evil laugh] Just as I planned...

So I know another alternative to toilet seat protectors is the ever popular "hover." Don't you realize that this is another probable reason your seat was wet to begin with? The last paranoid nut-job tried to hover over the seat to avoid a "horrible germ-ridden fate" and in the process, probably found her quads or triceps not up to the task and wavered, thus contaminating the seat and probably her clothes. If you do this, I hope your rogue pee washes someone else's germs off the seat onto your pants. And then I hope you fall into the bowl when your arms give out. Can't you see it? We've set up a vicious cycle here. Let's put our foot (and our butt) down and stop it. Let's put the "rest" back in restroom.

Unless you have open sores on your bottom or you have an immune disorder:


Ah, the blissful simplicity of it all, or at least as simple as possible while still being a female in our society. Enter. Lock. Unbutton. Sit. Wipe. Button. Unlock. Flush. Leave. Don't do a little dance (because you really gotta go), make a little noise (ditto), and get down on the floor to scour the whole stall with some nappy toilet paper and half of a baby wipe. Instead, make it quick and dirty then spend twice as long washing your hands, where it will actually do some good! I will concede that. Though I'm not protective of my glutes, I AM protective of my hands. I flush with my foot and count while I lather up with soap, etc. So I am not totally devoid of sanitation, I promise. Unless I'm missing something. Is there some horror of toilets seats I don't know about? Did I not get the memo from the Women's Estrogen Association for National and International Etiquette (WEANIE) that public toilet seats must not be touched on threat of being disqualified as a member of the female kind? Feel free to enlighten me, but until then, I bet I can beat you out of the bathroom. A couple of times I have even beat M out!!!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I Know the Chairs Are Ugly, But Please Don't Make It Worse

Scott has been trying his hand at interior decorating. I'm less than pleased with the results:

I suppose he thought marker can only improve chairs that have been soaked in food, drink, and urine too many times to count.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

In and Out of the Closet

Now that I've "come out of the closet" about my love of firearms, I might as well tell you about something we put in our closet over Christmas:

So in case you were wondering, yes, that is my 3 year old playing with a gun safe box. The kids had a blast with it! Aren't big boxes great? And it's fitting really, since the gun safe is for them in a large part. I mean, we've held off acquiring more guns until we had a good safe to keep the kids out, among other reasons.

I can't help but look at this picture and laugh. I mean, Claire even donned her toy cowboy hat. I fear Texas may have turned us in to hopeless closet rednecks. You'll still be our friend, won't you?

Friday, February 1, 2008

Fun with Food

I've continued my cooking renaissance. Random food for your viewing pleasure.

Baby bok choy with oyster sauce

Deep chocolate shortbread
(Made with Splenda because M avoids sugar - another discussion for another day)