20 Years Of Harry Potter

It’s 20 years since the first Harry Potter book was published. I’m re-reading the series again to celebrate. It occurs to me I have a lot to say about these books.

Often I don’t talk about Harry Potter and how big a part of my life it was because it is so inbuilt into me – of course Harry Potter was a huge part of my life. How could it not be?

Memories of the HP books are woven into all my childhood memories. Visiting my cousins and seeing the first HP book on his shelf and starting to read it. Having Mum read aloud the fourth book to us because we were still pretty young and it was too scary. Reading the sixth HP book in a day when it came out. Reading the books at the Sport Carnivals instead of, you know, doing the sports. Re-reading the books again and again, like coming back to an old friend.

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Hogwarts Express at the Warner Bros Studio

Then of course, there was all the extra stuff that came with the books. Going to see the movies as they came out. Thinking that the Harry Potter Puppet Pals was the funniest thing ever. Still knowing that A Very Potter Musical might be the funniest thing ever (or at least the funniest thing on YouTube). Watching as HP became the global phenomenon it deserves to be, as it got a theme park and a stage play and a spin off series of textbooks that somehow got turned into a movie with more to follow (hi Fantastic Beasts!). Being excited with the advent of Pottermore and finally being sorted into our own houses.

I visited the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio when I was in the UK last year, and it was magical in every way. Most of all, it brought home to me again that Harry Potter is not a just a magical world I can escape to – it is a shared love, a collectively adored series. There are strangers all over the world who love these characters and these books the same way I do – who know the feeling of escaping back to Hogwarts. Harry Potter makes me feel less alone.

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As the world celebrates 20 years of Harry, as I ponder again how seven books can make such an impact on the world and can produce so much more than just those seven books, I’m thankful again for imagination, for bravery, for stories and for the magic of reading.

I’m grateful for the world of Harry Potter. I’m grateful for the Harry, Ron and Hermione’s example of friendship, for the Weasleys’ example of family, for Dumbledore’s and McGonagall’s example of teachers who care, for Remus Lupin and Sirius Black, for Luna and Ginny and Neville, even sometimes for Draco (except not ever for Snape. Sorry guys).

I don’t think I would be the reader – or writer – I am today without HP. I don’t think I would have learnt to value the Hufflepuff qualities I have – of hard work and loyalty and compassion – without knowing that we are all talented differently and there is a place for each of us.

So, with 20 years done, it’s time to say thanks to JK Rowling and to Harry Potter. Let’s all agree the Cursed Child never happened and keep re-reading the books forever.

Things I Liked In May

Each month I do a post covering ‘things I liked’ – from articles to videos to tv shows to books to anything in between. May is my birthday month so I’m extra happy to share this list with you. Here’s my list of what I liked in May. What have you liked this month?

33 Things to Do and Undo When Simplifying Your Wardrobe

Maybe the best thing I have read about minimalist wardrobes and decision making. This list is straightforward and simple. Just like I want my wardrobe to be.

Debunking The Myth Of Lady Jane Grey

This was fascinating – it tracks the development of the common image of the ‘Nine Days Queen’ – Jane as a weak and helpless victim and her mother as a domineering and awful manipulator. Even if you don’t know much about Jane Grey, you should read this article – there’s a lot of interesting stuff in there.

Uprooted

I read Uprooted, by Naomi Novik recently. It came highly recommended from a friend, and I absolutely loved it. It was the first fiction/fantasy book I have read in a long time that I simultaneously didn’t want to finish and couldn’t put down. I can’t emphasis enough how interesting and clever this story is – it hits all the conventions of the fantasy genre while still being fresh and new and surprising. Read it! (Link to a more indepth review is above).

Writing Retreat

I went on a writing retreat a few weeks ago, and it was the best. Mick and Kamina from We Write You have done up a ‘how to’ guide for your own retreat!

Historic Royal Palaces Podcasts

The Historic Royal Palaces Society are responsible for the upkeep of a number of palaces and castles in Britain. They also do a lot of work producing media to educate people about these buildings, their history and the people who lived there. I recently discovered their podcasts. They are very easy, interesting, informative listening – especially if you’re a history nerd like me!

The Intersection of Minimalism and Luxury

Been thinking a lot about why I like minimalism – and this article helped to resolve a few things. I like living simply where I can, where it makes things less stressful and less cluttered, but that doesn’t mean always denying myself things. It means being thoughtful and deliberate about what is important to me, what is truly most valuable to me, and using my resources on those things instead. For me, it’s not necessarily fancy airport lounge upgrades; but there are things I want to spend money on, and living simply might make those things more possible in the future.

What Reign Got Right

There is a show called Reign, which is ending it’s fourth and final season soon. It’s a loosely historical trashy Gothic drama romance (it’s a thing, okay) and while it has many, many absurd moments, characters, costumes and plotlines, it does get some things right. Namely, it’s portrayal of women. I don’t agree with everything in the above article, but it mostly hits on why Reign has such devoted fans. Also because Megan Follows is flawless as Catherine de Medici and is the real hero of the show.

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The real hero. Will do anything for her family and France (in that order unfortunately).
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Still not clear on why Mary likes wearing headbands and beads in her hair in this alternative historical reality…but I don’t judge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

the ANOVA – a blog on education

This blog is a highly analytical and slightly cynical commentary on education. This post is my favourite – the Official Dogma of Education. Here’s a great excerpt:

10. Our educational policy succeeds when it improves the academic performance of all students, and when individual students rise above and leave their peers behind. The tensions between these goals are to remain unexamined.

But where is the green sheep? Old maps put the art in cartography

Beautiful and informative maps of Australia.

Sorry 

I say sorry too much. Way too much. So much it is annoying (sorry). Someone made a video about all the times they didn’t need to say sorry and I related a little too much.

Imagination – Part 2 – Escapism

Hiding from reality in books, tv shows and other alternative worlds is a common tactic people use to unwind. It’s so common, we gave it a name – escapism. We disappear from view, from ‘the real world’ for a few hours, to live through characters with more interesting lives, or worlds with more exciting adventures. We lose ourselves in the make believe. We escape.

Why do we like escapism? Wherever it is that we prefer to escape to, there’s a pull towards leaving our own world and problems to dwell in another world. We are attracted to worlds where the problems are usually easier to solve, or at least, there’s different problems to solve. There’s a clear issue or tangle to sort out. There’s a more obvious divide between right and wrong, good and bad, truth and lies.

The good guys are good and motivated by honor and charity and justice, and the bad guys are bad and motivated by greed and hate. Even when the good guys mess up, it just makes them more relate-able, more like us – and in the end, they still sort it all out anyway.

That last part is the key – the thing that draws us towards these stories is that we know there will always be a resolution. The story line finish, the plot points will resolve and there will be a clear solution to the problem. Most of us will be dealing with the same stressful things next week, or even next month, as we are today. Our problems are generally ongoing and exhausting, without a clear end or fix in sight. Not so in the fantasy lands we escape to.

Of course it’s not just fiction that we can use as an escape. Some people use work or their area of expertise or a hobby or interest area. They spend all their time reading about it, or only interacting with others who share this niche interest. Of course, when you only spend time with people who share this hobby, and never talk about things other than the hobby, there’s no risk of deep friendships developing. It’s emotionally safe – and it’s escaping true emotional connection and accountability.

So there are many forms of escapism that different people use in different ways to cope. Is that so bad? Well, like most coping mechanisms, what is helpful in small doses becomes unhelpful when we rely on it and use it constantly. Finding the balance between disappearing to other places to recharge, and living more in fake worlds than in the real world is a tricky tightrope to walk. Generally, when you’re consistently avoiding your real life problems by investing emotionally in fantasy worlds, storylines and characters, there starts to be a problem.

I have certainly spent times in my life on the wrong side of that balance – where the stories I am viewing and reading seem more real and important and interesting than the real people I see day to day. When life is hard, it feels like, well, why not? Why not escape for a while and check out emotionally until things are better? But of course, the difficult things don’t just go away. They will still be waiting when I get back. They still require my time and energy to tackle and solve.

So I’m trying to be more aware of my flights of imagination and the joy of escapism as a useful coping strategy, without relying on it to avoid the difficult things in my life all the time. I am trying to find that delicate balance between enjoying something and being consumed by it.

There are times when it’s okay to use escapism as a temporary form of coping. Sometimes, you can’t deal with the difficult thing or react to the hard conversation straight away. Sometimes you need to pull yourself together for a few more hours of class or work or social interaction. Sometimes, if ten minutes of escape into a book or to your Instagram feed is what you need, it’s okay to do that. Sometimes that is what will help you keep it together until it’s an appropriate time to process what has happened emotionally.

However, spending hours in these escapes, constantly checking out from real life and avoiding work and responsibilities in favor of an alternative reality is where you run into a problem. It’s where I can see I am struggling, if I’m spending all my time in the fantasy world of a book or tv show rather than staying on top of my uni work and talking to my family.

There’s a big difference, at least for me, between watching the new episode of a tv show I am watching and then talking to someone about it, than spending hours scrolling through the internet for more gifs and reviews of the latest thing I’ve watched. This is when I need to stop, take a break and start focusing where I am right in the moment, and what demands are making me want to run.

Everyone deals with these things differently. Maybe escapism isn’t the temptation you face or maybe you find it easier to visit these make believe worlds without neglecting real life. But i think a lot of us still have work to do in finding that balance between a healthy coping mechanism and an unhealthy avoidance strategy. I know I do. I’m going to keep working on it.

Things I Liked In February

Each month I do a post covering ‘things I liked’ – from articles to videos to tv shows to books to anything in between. I was overseas in most of January and February, so I’m a little behind. But here’s what I liked in February. What have you liked this month?

Let’s start with a dog pun. Capture.PNG(sorry).

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

Guys I love history. So much. All of it. But Reformation history – Tudor England – you are speaking my language. I don’t read the Gospel Coalition much, but this article was interesting and engaging without stereotyping and repeating common historical inaccuracies about Jane Grey, the girl who was Queen for nine days.

Why You’ve Already Failed Your New Year’s Resolutions

I feel like I recommend something from Nina Kardia every month, but I can’t help it, her writing is just too good. Please read this blog, especially if you have ever been disappointed in your ability to meet your goals (so that means everyone should go read it). It contains this gem of advice in achieving, well, anything:

Think about where you’d like to be year from now.  (Hitting the gym for an hour a day.)  Then think about what you can realistically achieve this week.  (Walk around outside for 10 minutes before breakfast a couple of times.) Then do that.  Re-assess next week.  Repeat.

The Lady In The Tower (By Alison Weir)

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More history. I’m not even sorry. This book, by Alison Weir, is exactly the kind of history book I love best – a detailed analysis of primary sources and a dismantling of our preconceived ideas about events in history that have often moved from collective memory and fact to collective myth and storytelling. It focuses on the three months leading up to Anne Boleyn’s arrest, trial and execution – the first execution of a Queen of England ever.

(Even Eleanor of Aquitaine, who helped her sons stage a rebellion against their father and King, her husband Henry II, was only placed under house arrest. Isabella of France, who did commit adultery, disposed her husband, Edward the II and ruled England with her lover, Roger Mortimer in the name of her son, Edward the III, suffered the punishment of being committed to a nunnery after she and Mortimer were ousted from power).

Also, this book makes a number of logical points I haven’t seen clearly stated elsewhere – for example, Anne Boleyn couldn’t be both guilty of adultery AND never have been the King’s lawful wife. You can’t have it both ways Henry VIII!

Coffee Coffee Coffee Coffee Coffee

I missed my family, my friends, my pets and my church while I was away. I also desperately missed having access to a good flat white. I am so spoiled for choice, but seriously, Australia, I love you and your coffee.

Human Life Is Getting Better 

The world can suck. But it used to suck more. People, especially small babies, don’t die as often from things like a lack of access to food and medical care. There’s still work to do. But there’s hope. Watch this video. It contains this great quote:

“And I really believe that as a species, our success is best judged not by how the richest or the best connected amongst us live, but how the poor and the oppressed and the vulnerable live.”

 

Hedger Humour

This instagram account posts the delightfully hilarious comics of Adrienne Hedger. Check it out. This is probably my favourite of her (recent) comics (definitely not because I do this all the time):

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The West Wing Reunion: Walk and Talk

I just like it when people from the West Wing do basically anything. I can’t help it.

Reading Recommendations

Today I’m taking a break from introspective, theological, decision making writing and instead I’ve decided to do something a bit more fun.

I’m going to share some books/writers with you.

It’s a list of ten, though not every point is a separate book – some are author recommendations, some are series recommendations. It’s not an all encompassing list, but it is a list that has shaped me (for worse or for better). I’d love to hear what’s on your top ten list!

1. Anne of Green Gables

Anyone who has encountered Anne through L.M. Montgomery’s books will know what I mean when I say Anne has helped shape me as a person. If you haven’t read them or only have a vague picture of a girl with red hair in your head, I’m begging you to give them a go, whether you are old or young, male or female, a reader or a writer. It’s a story about finding a home and growing up and changing and learning. It’s about friendship and mistakes and nature and people. It has everything – from schoolyard stories to family tales to the adventures of a group of girls studying at university and sharing a house, to a brand new teacher out in the world dealing with being an outsider, to marriage to family to war to heartbreak to loss and sorrow and joy and love. Read it.

2. Sarah Bessey (Out of Sorts/Jesus Feminist) 

Without Sarah Bessey this blog might not exist and I might not be still trusting Jesus. I encountered her blog and her first book, Jesus Feminist at a time when I had a lot of questions I felt no one wanted to hear. I thought I’d never find the answers or that the answers might destroy me. Instead Sarah Bessey’s words picked me up and sat me down for a chat and showed me how God is big enough and good enough to handle all our questions and doubts. I had the privilege of being included in the launch team for her most recent book, Out of Sorts. I found a group of kindred spirits, all asking questions and trusting Jesus and in the book I found it was okay to be still sorting yourself out and changing your mind.

3. C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis is the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, but was also a leading Christian writer and thinker. All his books show a very rare and true insight into the human heart and mind and our profound need for God. I loved Narnia as a kid and The Last Battle still has me in joyful tears at the end every time, but particularly The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce and A Grief Observed are my favourite re-reads from C.S. Lewis’ vast collection.

4. Harry Potter

To say I like Harry Potter doesn’t quite describe it – it often doesn’t occur to me to put the series by J.K. Rowling on lists like these because of course I’ve read Harry Potter and of course I loved it and of course it’s simply one of those things that were a key part of my childhood. It’s the ultimate coming of age story, in many ways not unlike Anne of Green Gables, as we see friendship and truth and bravery prevail in a world that’s often too dark. I can revisit the pages anytime and feel like I’m coming home. I’m a true Hufflepuff at heart, because I firmly believe Hufflepuff is the house of just doing your best.

5. Half the Church

This book was inspired by a secular book called Half the Sky, which explores the economic, political and social ramifications of women living lives under oppression. Carolyn Custis James’ takes this concept and explores what it would mean for the church if men and women joined together in the mission God’s has set us on, to take the Gospel to his world. This book was also the inspiration behind my longest ‘series’ here on the blog, which you can start reading here.

6. Innocent Traitor 

Historical fiction is what I read the most these days, and Innocent Traitor is my favourite. By Alison Weir (and really, you should check out all her work), it looks at the life of Lady Jane Grey, the doomed ‘Nine Days Queen’ of England, from the perspectives of everyone involved in the tragedy. It’s brilliant, and my favourite part is the portrayal of Jane’s faith, which we see evolve throughout the story.

7. The Little Princess

While The Secret Garden, also by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is more popular, The Little Princess was her book that impacted me the most. Set in London, Sara Crewe starts with the life most of us have dreamed of at one point or another – loved and surrounded by luxury. When tragedy takes away everything that made her special, Sara is faced with challenges she’s never had before and tries desperately to hold on to her true self through it all.

8. Emily Rodda

My main diet of reading growing up were Emily Rodda’s various fantasy series. Deltora Quest, Finders Keepers, Raven Hill, Rondo, and my favourite, favourite favourite; Rowan of Rin. Emily Rodda’s writing and world creating is magical. Her characters are funny and real and lifelike. When I’m a teacher it’s fairly possible I’ll make my students fall in love with the fantasy worlds like I did by reading her books to them over and over again.

9. Mozart’s Sister

Back to historical fiction. When Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a small boy, he was part of a duo with his older sister Nannerl. Nancy Moser brings Nannerl’s story to life, and explores what life would have been life, first as a travelling child prodigy, and then as a young woman left behind. I re-read this book after visiting Salzburg and Vienna earlier this year, and I can’t wait to go back to Austria early next year. In this book Nannerl feels like a kindred spirit waiting for a friend.

10. Introverts in the Church 

Okay, for a long time I wasn’t 100% certain whether I was an introvert or an extrovert. I got tired with people, I got anxious alone. I’m a weird mix. But I do know that large groups of people and social settings are overwhelming and I never feel comfortable in them. There are parts of church I will always struggle with, particularly as society as a whole and therefore churches are wired for extroverts and the socially confident. Anyway, while I could write a whole blog post on this topic, I probably don’t need to because Adam S. McHugh has written a book on it. Introverts, read this book and begin healing from all the times we’ve been made to feel other, not good enough or out of place.

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If you are interested in any of these books, you can find any of them on Book Depository (free shipping)! Or, if like me you consume so many books buying them is impractical, most public libraries will have them. Let’s all stop and appreciate public libraries for a second. What a beautiful, wonderful thing they are.

So, which of these books are on your top ten list? Which ones do you want to read? Please share your list with me – I’m fascinated by how our reading shapes us!

Unraveling ‘Faith Unraveled’

I’ve just finished reading ‘Faith Unraveled,’ the first book posted by the now well know Christian author Rachel Held Evans. It tracks RHE’s journey as a young woman raised in evangelical America who suddenly encounters questions and doubts about faith she wasn’t equipped to answer.

I found the first half of this book rang very true for me and my experiences – I was also raised in a Christian family, in a Christian community. Just like Rachel, as a kid I prided myself on knowing bible facts and understanding tricky concepts. I consumed books, I answered every question in kids church and zealously invited my friends to church.

But just like Rachel, I’ve struggled with the suffering in the world and the hypocrisy of Christians. I have slowly let go of the rote answers and neat explanations I once clung so tightly to. On many issues now, my answer is simply ‘I don’t know,’ and it’s not for lack of reading and research and thinking and praying. I have lost certainty in my own rightness, but I have not lost my faith. I just don’t think there’s one way to follow Jesus or one group of Christians who have a monopoly on truth and have it all right.

‘When we refer to ‘the biblical approach to economics,’ or ‘the biblical response to politics,’ or ‘biblical womanhood,’ we’re using the Bible as a weapon disguised as an adjective. We inadvertently imply that embracing the Bible as truth requires embracing one interpretation of it. This results in false fundamentals, which results in an inability to change, which results in a failure to adapt and evolve.’ – RHE, Faith Unraveled. 

I agree that for too long the statement ‘I am a Christian,’ has come along with a lot of baggage and assumptions about your opinions on things. I can see that changing though, at least in my corner of the world. But I am still not sure about the nature of truth, and what is and isn’t open to interpretation. Some things must be sacred, some things must be true, or what is point?

RHE spoke a lot on what she doesn’t think the Bible is, but I’m not quite sure what she does think it is. If Jesus is true and real and good, and his word is good, than surely that must be true? If he says that scripture is the word of God, than surely that must be true?

I’m still figuring it all out – I’m still thinking things through. I don’t agree with all that RHE says – but her story is still important and helpful to me in figuring out my own story. Maybe I’m moving to a place where I can see people in more than black and white terms – good or bad, right or wrong – but instead can see the shades of grey and rainbow of opinions instead. I can accept what is helpful about someone’s work or writing or worldview with taking it all with me.

I don’t think it will be the last RHE book I will read, but not because I think she’s right about everything – but because I know I am still figuring it all out.