Book Chatter: Comfort reading

As I have mentioned previously, I’m currently in the throes of moving.

This image is only the faintest of exaggerations.

How many books do I have? Well …

Now, there are are good ways to move, and there are bad ways.

A Good Moving Experience (a true story)

  1. You have enough boxes.
  2. The weather is clear and mild.
  3. You have had time to purge your possessions of nonessentials.
  4. You have several helpful friends with cars.
  5. You aren’t moving far.
  6. You have neither small children nor pets.

A Bad Moving Experience (also a true story)

  1. You have recently graduated from college and are currently jobless.
  2. You have never met your future roommate or seen your future lodgings.
  3. You are moving alone.
  4. It is 90°F in the shade.
  5. You have a tiny car and a box spring that patently refuses to fit in your back seat.
  6. You are plagued by the memories of last year’s move, when you had a boyfriend with a truck.

Fortunately, my current story is the first scenario, but all moving situations are still stressful by definition. There are tough decisions and hard physical labour and — ew — change involved. And that last night in your old place, when you’ve essentially been stripped of your familiar surroundings and are down to the impersonal, uncaring four walls … that’s always a character test, huh?

You just know I would have been the pioneer wife who was always campaigning for a permanently settled life.

You just know I would have been the pioneer wife who was always campaigning for a permanently settled life. The beckoning west be darned — I am not packing up this house again, Henry.

But something that always helps, I’ve found, is to keep a small pile of your favourite books next to your clothing and toiletry essentials, a stack of talismans against the horrors of change. For me, this means engaging narratives, preferably with an element of humor, that will draw me out of my present situation and relieve some of my anxiety, even if it’s just for a few minutes in the evenings before I collapse into bed.

So what’s in my current stack?


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, because as we have already established, I am a huge fan of the series, and rereading it — especially the early books — makes me feel young and safe.

Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island

Bill Bryson’s Notes From a Small Island, because as previously discussed, it’s all about finding the comfort in whatever situations life throws at you — or, if that fails, complaining as wittily as possible.


Ree Drummond’s first cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks, because Ree has had some tricky transitions in life too, and knowing that she’s come through them with grace and humour has been a fantastic inspiration. Also, nothing says “comfort” like pictures of chicken-fried steak.


Terry Pratchett’s The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy (comprised of Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny and the Dead, and Johnny and the Bomb). Three great stories about a boy facing huge changes in his life and taking them in stride.

By the time I post next, I should be completely moved into my new place, so stay tuned for a celebratory Seasonal Sunday!

What books do you turn to for solace? 


Photo credits: Book covers from Better World Books (pages linked in images); wagons from amychyde and mountains from tpsdave on Pixabay.


The Golden Toga Flap: The Harry Potter Alliance

It’s hard to believe, but D.A. Days 2014 is already over, folks. Here’s a lineup of the week’s events if you want to revisit them:

Sunday: Butterbeer cake

Monday: The Secret of Platform 13

Tuesday: How I met the Harry Potter books

Wednesday: Some gorgeous HP wall art

Thursday: The Magicians

Friday: Some gorgeous HP jewelry

And today: A special edition of the Golden Toga Flap, the semiregular award that affirms lovely people and organizations making a positive difference in the world.

You go, cheese man. Sell that Gouda.

For some time I’ve been considering the nomination of Cheese Man, who slices down evil. Many people say he’s worthy for all of his Gouda deeds, so who am I to disaBrie?

Today’s focus is on the Harry Potter Alliance, a fan-driven group on a mission:

Just as Dumbledore’s Army wakes the world up to Voldemort’s return, works for equal rights of house elves and werewolves, and empowers its members, we: Work with partner NGOs in alerting the world to the dangers of global warming, poverty, and genocide. Work with our partners for equal rights regardless of race, gender, and sexuality. Encourage our members to hone the magic of their creativity in endeavoring to make the world a better place. Join our army to make the world a safer, more magical place, and let your voice be heard!

At the moment, the HPA has three projects on display on its main carousel: the Odds in Our Favor campaign against economic inequality; a petition to Warner Bros. to address alleged human rights violations in its production of official Harry Potter chocolates; and Esther Day, a holiday created to celebrate all types of love, not just the ooey-gooey Valentine’s Day kind.

"Aww, Jerry, come and look at --- hey, did they move?"

“Aww, Jerry, come and look at — hey, they weren’t like that before. … Jerry?”

If that’s not an impressive snapshat of the scope of their work, take a look at a few of their past successes:

  • They raised $123,000 for Partners in Health’s efforts in Haiti.
  • They’ve donated over 120,000 books to various causes, including 4,000 books to a youth center in Rwanda and over 9,000 books to a charter school in New York City.
  • In 2009, they contacted nearly 3,600 people in one day in an effort to stop marriage inequality in Maine.

With stories like these in my mind, I can’t help but laugh every time someone says dismissive things about Harry Potter fans — like they’re still eleven years old, dressed in too-big robes and spangled hats, jumping up and down in line at the bookstore. Some of us still are those kids at heart, and we will always hold those memories dear. But in our relationship with these books, we’ve picked up more along the way than a little Latin and mythology. We’ve also picked up lessons in loyalty, equality, friendship, love, courage, hard work, and forgiveness — and as the Harry Potter Alliance proves, those lessons are powerful indeed when put into practice.

So here’s to you, Harry Potter Alliance, for all of the wonderful projects you’ve done already and for those you still have ahead of you. You’re the embodiment of fan power at its best, and we can’t wait to see what you do next.


Photo credits: Cheese man from romy52 and angels from UBodnar on Pixabay.

Highlights in HP jewelry

All Internet safety concerns aside, here are seven hints about my age:

  1. I once had a Lisa-Frank diary (and stickers, and stationery, and folders …) that I loved dearly.
  2. In my youth, Gushers were the preferred form of classroom currency.
  3. I was once blindingly jealous of my friends’ Sky Dancers and Polly Pockets.
  4. Not so long ago, twisting the waxy top off a Squeezit would instantly transform any day from good to great.
  5. As a child, I would have worn my stirrup pants every day if my mother had let me. When they were in the wash, I wore overalls.
  6. In middle school, I was psyched to replace my 5.25″ floppy disks with those sleek new 3.5″ ones.
  7. The Internet still finds new ways to amaze me every single day.

It’s true. I thought I had a handle on this whole emailing thing, and then whoop, MySpace. I thought I understood blogs; hello, Twitter. It’s like there are people out there devising new ways to confuse me! I just know it!

Like how I found this picture while looking for an image of an escort for this post. I mean, I guess this is an escort too. But still.

Etsy, though … Etsy I can wrap my head around. People find or make gorgeous things. They put them up for sale on the Internet. Other people can browse those things and buy them. It’s simple. It’s great.

In honour of D.A. Days 2014, I’ve scoured the depths of Etsy and found some gorgeous pieces of homemade Harry Potter–themed jewelry. It was a tough call. There’s a lot of lovely stuff out there. But in the end, I narrowed it down to seven pieces — because as we all know, seven is the most magically powerful number.

(Please note: I am not affiliated with Etsy or these Etsy Shop owners in any way. The only contact I had with them was to ask for permission to use their shop photos, and occasionally to have a fangirl moment over the loveliness that is Harry Potter.)

owl pendant

Item #1 is this lovely copper owl pendant from MostlySweetJewelry — not overtly Potterish, but a great subtle communication to other Potterheads with whom you come in contact.

lightning bolt necklace

Next is this subtle lightning bolt necklace from Alicia at LakunaBoutique. I like how it’s definitely a recognizable design, but it’s also abstract enough to fit in at a non-Potter event. If you like layering your necklaces, something tells me it would work well in that setting too.

lovegood ring

So much of the jewelry on Etsy looks like it’s been put together with the same beads and charms you’d find at any craft store. Not so with this Luna Lovegood ring, available from thinkupjewel — you can definitely tell that it’s been custom-made to resemble a pair of Spectrespecs. This piece will do double duty for you, identifying your fandom and allowing you to see Wrackspurts.*

*(This claim has not been tested. If your career depends on your ability to see Wrackspurts, please use Quibbler-approved Spectrespecs.)

draco pendant

Here’s a real conversation piece: a pendant engraved with the constellation Draco, found on MadamePoindextra. So if you’re at a coffee shop hoping to find a cute Harry Potter enthusiast, you’ve just widened your field to include cute astronomy enthusiasts as well. Congratulations!

grumpy green owl

I love this little guy so much — he reminds me of a certain coffee owls cartoon. Stephanie at PhoenixDesign made him from ceramic, and then hand-painted him. Her shop also carries several similar owl designs and other Harry Potter–themed creations.

antler pendant

Continuing with the animal theme, we next have this exquisite deer antler pendant from Lisa at underhercharm. I especially like the texturing of the antler’s surface and the coronet. It’s a truly admirable level of detail.

snitch ring

Finally, we have this Snitch ring. I’ll admit it: when I spotted this, I squealed. Made from copper and rose quartz (or sterling silver, if that’s your fancy), this piece is available from JustPeelTheOranges. Can we just take a moment to appreciate how the wings wrap back like that? So pretty. Guys, if your girlfriend loves Harry Potter and you’re looking for a special piece of finger-bling for her, this will get you major points.

In conclusion, I should note that attempting to turn any of these pieces into a Horcrux is strongly discouraged. If nothing else, think of how terrible it would be for anyone to have to destroy any of this jewelry past magical repair. It’d be a travesty.


If you own any HP jewelry, what’s the story behind it? Is there a piece on Etsy that you have your eye on?


Photo credits: Escort from WikiImages on Pixabay; all jewelry photos used by permission of their shop owners.


Today’s post, unlike owl post, is going to be super quick. You know how Wednesdays can be. You start the week eating enough fiber and going to bed on time, and by Wednesday you’re eating a handful of dry Cheerios for dinner and hitting the snooze button until two minutes before your bus leaves.

But in the middle of such a week, it can be nice to stop and look at something lovely.

And this artwork, my friends, fits the bill.

travel posters

Isn’t it gorgeous? It’s the wizarding world portrayed with a classic 1930s feel, created by Nic and Ariel at 716designs. I find it an especially appropriate design choice given that the wizarding world seems to be only a bit more technologically developed than 1930s Britain. All in all, I’m a big fan of these posters and their classic approach to fan art.

(Please note that I’m not affiliated with this Etsy shop in any way. I just thought their work was lovely.)

May the middle of your week be as enjoyable and productive as the beginning!


What’s your HP story?

I was eleven years old, dressed in a black skirt my mother had made, and waiting to go and perform in a Christmas concert.

Not this kind of concert.

Not this kind of concert. Add a few more violins and some timpani.

My birthday was fairly close, so my grandparents had traveled to celebrate with a special lunch, see the concert, and then head straight home afterwards. We finished lunch, got dressed, and were about to leave the house for the concert when my grandma remembered something.

“Here’s your present,” she said, handing me a gift bag. “You can open it when you get home.”

“Thank you,” I said dutifully. Gift bags being what they are, I was able to see what was inside: a paperback copy of that book everyone was talking about, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Immediately, my heart sank. I’d heard terrible things about the book — that it was turning children into bad people. How could my grandmother have given me something like that? After the concert, I took the book gingerly out of its bag and expressed my reservations to my family.

“I think you’d like it,” said my sister. “There’s a boy who gets a lot of birthday presents and he’s angry that he didn’t get as many as he did the year before.”

“You don’t have to read the whole book if you don’t like it,” said my father. “Just try the first chapter and see what you think.”


Dads: enabling happiness and openmindedness since the Middle Pleistocene.

Still full of misgivings, I sat down and opened the book. The cover art was a little scary. There were a ton of good reviews in the front. The list of chapter titles seemed interesting. And then came the first sentence …

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

And just like that, I was a fan. I still can’t say why, exactly. It might have been all of those lovely commas. It might have been the sauciness of that thank you very much. But for whatever reason, from that moment on, I devoured the other three books available at the time and impatiently re-read and re-re-read them as I waited for news of the next book and the new Harry Potter movie. I dearly wanted to play Hermione Granger in the film and was instantly jealous of this Emma Watson person when I read about her in American Girl magazine. When my father gave me the fifth book on a camping trip, I read it in two days, perched on a folding canvas chair by the fire, plagued at every turn by mosquitoes, fading daylight, and emotional turmoil.

Whoever acted as the human model for this photo should have demanded serious compensation.

Let’s have a moment of silence for the human model in this photo.


When I got my hands on the sixth book, I had a plan: I would allow myself to look at the cover art, read the jacket blurbs, and take in all of the preliminary text, all the way through to the end of the first sentence. It was a long first sentence, if you recall. As I read it, I inched my index card down line by line, trying to take in each word slowly, failing in my craving for more details about this story. Still, I kept to my plan and succeeded in putting the book away until I had long, uninterrupted hours in which to read the rest of it properly.

I used the same method to savour the seventh book, reading long through the night until those relief-filled last words, All was well. It had been a long journey, but now it was over (not counting the movies, which were covered in Sunday’s post).

Somewhere in the middle of the epic, perhaps without realizing it, I realized that just as you can never go home again, so too could we never read a book again for the first time. From then on, I would always cringe in anticipation of the deaths, and sigh in anticipation of the resolutions. The story would never again have the old sheen of excitement, the lure of an unknown quantity. Its task now was to fade comfortably into the background, like a well-loved armchair, to be visited again for comfort and nostalgia and reminders of old promises.


How did you first encounter the Harry Potter books? Were you a mega-fan, lining up at midnight readings with a wand and a spangled hat? Or did you read quietly at home?


Photo credits: Concert from stux, father from Stevebidmead and mosquito from nuzree, all on Pixabay.

Counter Action: Butterbeer cake

butterbeer cake i

Welcome to D.A. Days, a celebration of all things Harry Potter! I’m deviating from my usual schedule to post every day this week, so feel free to check back every morning and join in the merriment.

Today’s installment features a cake I made for a party in my junior year of college. The summer before that year, I had been living in that hot, dusty, snoozy college town, with not a lot to do except work, read, and try not to get heatstroke. Fortunately, there was a classmate I knew slightly — we’ll call her Liz — who was also in town, living in an air-conditioned house. Merlin’s beard.

I feel your pain, kid. Unless you get any closer.

Most kids cool their mouths with popsicles, but Edna Mae is what you’d call an innovative thinker.

As Liz had just come back from nine months in England and I’d recently spent a delightful seven weeks rummaging around the same country, we agreed that we should get together immediately at her house and wax nostalgic about that royal throne of kings, that scepter’d isle, that earth of majesty, that seat of Mars, that other Eden.

(Ten karma points if you can name that play.)

During that kaffeeklatsch, we quickly discovered that we had other things in common, including a serious cooking habit and a love of all things Harry Potter. And where should those two things intersect, we decided, but in periodic movie/dinner parties. This cake made its debut at our very last party, for Deathly Hallows Part II. Or perhaps I should say our last Harry Potter party, because Liz and I have been roommates now for two years and heaven knows we’ve had enough Merlin parties, Firefly parties, Castle parties, and It’s Finals Week And We Seriously Need A Break parties since then to fill a shelf of scrapbooks.

But without further ado, the cake.

butterbeer cake ii

Butterbeer cake

(Based on this recipe at Amy Bites. Just a heads-up: the original recipe is super cool, with a butterscotch filling and a fancy topping. In other words, if Amy’s recipe is a Peter Jackson epic with a budget of $34 million, my version is a video someone shot with their phone in a vacant lot. Use her recipe if you really want to make a splash at a gathering; try my version for something more everyday and budget-friendly.)


  • 2 c. flour
  • 1½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ c. unsalted butter
  • ½ c. white sugar
  • ½ c. brown sugar
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ c. buttermilk
  • ½ c. cream soda


  1. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  2. Cream butter until light and fluffy. Mix in sugars and vanilla. Add eggs and continuing mixing.
  3. Combine flour mixture, butter/egg mixture, buttermilk, and cream soda in stages, beating well after each addition.
  4. Pour into greased 9″ x 13″ cake pan. Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes.
  5. Garnish with butterscotch icing (recipe below).


Butterscotch icing

(Made from this recipe at Simply Recipes)


  • 4 T. unsalted butter
  • 1 c. packed brown sugar
  • c. heavy whipping cream
  • up to 1 T. vanilla extract
  • up to 1 tsp. salt


  1. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add sugar and stir to mix. Continue to heat and stir until sugar is melted.
  3. Add cream and lower heat slightly. Whisk until smooth.
  4. Heat mixture to a boil. Whisk periodically for 10 minutes or until quite thick.
  5. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and salt to taste.
  6. Pour over cake.


Photo credits: Child and fan from Andi_Graf on Pixabay.


Counter Action: Rosemary challah rolls + an announcement!

rosemary rolls

Yes, these are the uncooked rolls. Don’t worry.


Summer summer summer!

It’s been a long time since I could wear shorts or eat super-fresh tomatoes. I think it’s going to my head.

Add sunlight and sprinkle with fresh basil, and this is roughly how I feel.

There are so many lovely things going on this summer, I hardly know where to begin. There’s Shakespeare in the park and cultural festivals and street food fairs. There’s concerts and hikes and races and parades.

Granted, I won’t be participating in all of the above, but it’s still lovely to know that they’re going on. It creates an atmosphere of community investment.

And speaking of communities … let’s alight briefly on the topic of fandoms.

Pixabay: "No results for 'fandom'. Did you mean 'fado'?" Me: "Aaarrrg, no --- oh, heck, why not."

Pixabay: “No results for ‘fandom’. Did you mean ‘fado’?”
Me: “Aaarrrg, no — oh, heck, why not.”

Fandoms, I’ve found, are like moles: Most people have at least one, even if they’re not always willing to discuss them in public. I technically belong to the fandoms for SherlockDoctor WhoStar Wars, and Marvel movies, though not to the extent that I’ll create fanart, write fanfic, or debate my theories passionately online. I just love the complexity of the stories, characters, and settings, and I love being one of millions of people who share that love.

I’m a scoche more invested in the Harry Potter fandom. And by “scoche”, I might mean that I own a house scarf and take great pride in having been sorted into Ravenclaw on Pottermore.

(At this point I’d like to point out that my roommate, a legitimate grown-up with a corporate job and a fiancé, has all four house scarves, owns a wand, has visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and periodically cooks recipes from The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. So, clearly I have a ways to go before I am a True Fan.)

One thing I love about the Harry Potter fandom is how dedicated it is. Any other readers might have lost patience with a series that went years between installments. Not so the Potterheads — at the next midnight release, they were there, ready and waiting, wearing robes that got a little shorter every time. There are precious few fictional worlds as magnificently detailed, intensely beloved, and universally appealing as the world of Harry Potter, and that’s something that deserves celebration.

Lasers optional but highly recommended. (A good motto for life, I've found.)

Lasers optional but highly recommended. (A good motto for life, I’ve found.)

So here’s the announcement: The week of July 20, this blog will be one massive Harry Potter tribute. If you’d like to be a part of this project, please let me know. I’m looking for the following:

  • Fanart
  • Fanfics
  • Personal essays describing what Harry Potter has meant to you
  • Critical essays on various aspects of Harry Potter (feminism, politics, economics, class dynamics … go for it)
  • Themed recipes you’ve developed
  • Themed songs you’ve written
  • Original crochet patterns for house elf ears
  • In short, virtually any creative endeavours inspired by Harry Potter.

If you have something you want me to consider for the final lineup, either send it to me via private message or post a link to it in a comment below. Tell your friends. Tell your neighbors. Let’s make the week of July 20 one big joyous celebration of all things Potter.

Caution: Topical whiplash ahead.

Caution: Topical whiplash ahead.

And now, to finish off, here’s something completely different.

Rosemary challah rolls

(a combination of recipes from Jewish Recipes and The Pioneer Woman)


  • 1¼ c. warm water
  • ½ c. sugar
  • 1 packet (2¼ tsp.) active dry yeast
  • 2 eggs
  • 1½ tsp. salt
  • 3/8 c. oil
  • 3–4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2–3 c. whole wheat flour
  • ~3 T. melted butter
  • ~1 T. kosher salt
  • ~1 T. rosemary


  1. Mix warm water, sugar, and yeast in large bowl, and let stand until yeast is dissolved.
  2. Add eggs, 1½ tsp. salt, and 3/8 c. oil. Stir well.
  3. Add flour 1 c. at a time, mixing well, until dough is kneadable. Turn out onto floured board and knead until windowpane is achieved. (For more about the windowpane test, check here.)
  4. Set in oiled bowl and let rise 1–3 hours or until doubled in size.
  5. Punch down and form into rolls a little larger than golf balls. Place in oiled pan and let rise 1–3 hours or until doubled in size.
  6. Brush tops of rolls with butter. Sprinkle with rosemary and salt, then brush again with butter.
  7. Bake at 375°F for 30–40 minutes, or until golden brown.
  8. Brush again with butter, pull apart, and enjoy. Makes about 24 rolls.


Photo credits: Concert from beeki, fado player via dunyazade, laser show from Logga Wiggler, and crash test dummy via Nemo on Pixabay.