Thoughts on Harry Potter and Hogwarts Express Day


I made this post two years ago on an old blog, but today is Hogwarts Express Day once again so I am reposting it. In the last two years, my friends Lindsey and Peter and I have made a tradition of releasing a “family cookbook” each year on Hogwarts Express Day. I’m the coordinator of this project, so I’ve been hard at work editing the book for a few weeks and just released it to the two of them early this morning. I love how traditions in my own life are growing and developing as I get older! Anyway, here’s what I wrote on September the first, 2014:

Today is a holiday that very few people actually observe or even have heard of. My best friends and I, however, are all about it. Today is Hogwarts Express Day, the day on which the Hogwarts Express takes students to Hogwarts each fall. As dedicated fans of the series can tell you, each year a scarlet steam engine picks up all Hogwarts students at Platform 9 ¾, Kings Cross Station, London at precisely 11 o’clock in the morning. The long train ride through the English and then Scottish countryside is a chance for students to catch up and eat sweets from the trolley as they approach the castle.

My boyfriend-turned-best-friend, Peter, and I, began observing Hogwarts Express Day when we were first dating. We would “create a feast” – usually including a frozen pizza, some fancified leftovers, Harry Potter themed candy, and always pear jelly beans, and watch the first movie in the series. Several times, I have observed it by myself, and several times with my mom, Peter, or David. Today I am celebrating in Bloomington with David – we have some great food lined up (that will produce the week’s lunches in leftovers!), a Harry Potter shrine that I created in the living room, and soundtrack music is playing. I’m donning my Hermione t-shirt (“Keep Calm and Try Not to Get Killed, or Worse, Expelled”) and a pumpkin-orange cardigan. In a few hours we’ll be curled up on the couch, sipping pumpkin ale and watching Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s faces as they see the Great Hall for the first time.

Obviously, I love Harry Potter. It is a book series that I have been reading and growing with since the age of 8. I got the last few books at midnight-release parties and saw the final film at midnight with Peter. My best friend and her girlfriend took me and David to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and to LeakyCon, an amazing Harry Potter convention, as an early wedding present. I volunteer on the side with The Harry Potter Alliance, a pretty awesome nonprofit. But my love of Harry Potter is so much more than a childhood comfort or a crazy obsession. It is a really meaningful thing.

For me, Harry Potter was a consistent friend through the inconsistency of my adolescence. Teenage years are rocky for everyone, but for me, they had an especially rough edge: my father, with whom I was quite close, was diagnosed with cancer when I was 13 and died when I was 20. Through those years, I read and reread my Harry Potter books until they fell apart. I identified with Harry’s pain and loneliness. Once my father passed, I watched the films and read the books literally every day for months. I raged with Harry when Sirius Black died, I wept while he looked at old wizarding photos of his dead parents, and I held his hand when he visited his parents’ stone in the cemetery in Godric’s Hollow. Harry Potter was both an escape to a fantasy land where my geeky enthusiasm was valued and a really true and honest exploration of the struggles I myself was facing. It brought me together with many people, including my best friends Lindsey and Peter – both of whom used Harry Potter in similar ways in their childhoods and adolescences.

I wept when I got on the ‘Hogwarts Express’ at the theme park in Orlando for the first time, and again when I saw the castle. These amusement park rides represent real homes that really exist inside my heart and mind, and seeing them brought to life was overwhelming. I know that I always have a safe place to turn in this world of fantasy, magic, friendship, grief, and good triumphing over evil. I always have role models for whichever ‘hat’ I am wearing: Harry when I need to be strong in the face of my pain, and I need to make the choice of what’s right. Hermione when I need to buckle down and study or make a careful decision. Molly Weasley when I am finding a nurturing, mothering part of myself. The list goes on.

So Happy Hogwarts Express Day, everyone! Take some time to think about what this amazing series means to you, and enjoy a Butterbeer or a Chocolate Frog. You deserve it!

a letter

My dad didn’t often write me letters — we usually spoke on the phone (and for the vast majority of our lives together, we lived in the same place, so why would we write letters?). But when I was a freshman in college, I left my parents a card under their pillow(s) when I went back to school after visiting for Thanksgiving. (I almost always left my parents little notes, from when I was a kid — one of “my things.”) It was a Thanksgiving letter, telling how grateful I was to them for so many reasons, and how much I loved them. And my dad, rather than just phoning me, wrote me a letter in reply.

In the letter, he tells me how much joy I have brought to him and to my mother, starting from before I was born. He writes that he is proud of me, and that he loves me very much, and that he doesn’t know anyone more beautiful than I am. He reminisces about the moment that he learned I was going to be a girl, about my kindergarten play, about Glee Club concerts I sang in. I was just barely nineteen when he wrote me this letter, and already he was so proud of me. He writes that he could not imagine having a greater daughter. All the usuals, I am sure, for letters written to children by their adoring parents. But that doesn’t make this letter any less valuable to me, because I know that it represents my father’s adoring love for me, and in a universe of parents loving their children, I know that my father’s love for me remains unique and precious.

That letter still lives, inside a little plastic bag, in the big, beautiful wooden jewelry box that my parents gave me for my seventeenth birthday, in my childhood bedroom. And I have photocopies of it tucked around my apartment, and digital copies on my phone and my computer. When the conversation question “what is the most precious item you own” comes up, I think immediately of that letter (and am immediately glad that there are multiple physical & digital copies of it — none of that grabbing it before running out of a burning building nonsense for me).

And some mornings it is cold and I’ve just finished a novel and I’m on my second, now-cold cup of tea and I open the computer file and reread it, and feel my eyes fill up with tears again. And I quietly thank my nineteen-year-old self for writing my parents that card, and I quietly thank my wonderful father for writing and mailing that letter, but mostly, I thank him for loving me so much that I can still feel it today, six years to the day from when he passed away.

looking at me looking at you

& I miss him every single day.


the Vespers, Advent, & the darkness

This morning, I listened to the Rachmaninov Vespers while I drank a cup of tea and wrote in my journal. (As I mentioned previously, starting on November 1st I listen to the Vespers as often as I feel so moved throughout the winter.)

‘The Vespers’ is actually an incorrect translation — the piece is better translated as All-Night Vigil. But I’ve called them the Vespers for so long that I sort of can’t stop.  The piece was composed in a bit under two weeks (!) by Sergei Rachmaninov in 1915. They were received fantastically by popular audiences and critics alike, but performances ceased after the rise of the Soviet Union when religious music was banned.

I was introduced to the Vespers when my college choir performed one piece from them, Bogoroditse Djevo, when I was twenty years old. (In hindsight, it was the last piece of music I performed before my father passed away.) Bogoroditse Djevo is a setting of the Hail Mary. We performed this piece at our Christmas concert. And performing Bogoroditse Djevo was a truly transcendent experience — the crescendo a swelling of golden light, when I neither felt my feet on the floor nor saw anything to my left of right — I simple seemed to be suspended in air, connected to my fellow singers and my conductor by the strong cord of this 100-year-old piece of music. And every time I listen to this piece, not only do I feel that overwhelmed, too-big swell in my chest, but I also feel the swelling of tears pressing against my eyes, the swooping of painful emotion in my stomach. Bogoroditse Djevo is too much, it’s too heavy. It is not a holly-jolly-Christmas carol.


This year, David and I are trying to set some of our traditions for December. In the past several years, I have done things on my own — written daily during Advent, read passages from books — but this year, we’re doing things together. We have an Advent wreath (well, the best I could do was four candles in a pie plate with some evergreen clippings we gathered) — each Sunday night we take turns reading passages from the Bible, we read a quote, we place a relevant object in the ‘wreath,’ and we light the candles. Every night before dinner, we light the candles again and read a poem about winter. We decorated the apartment — I made gingerbread cookies, we set up our little two-foot-tall artificial tree and decked it with ornaments. Every evening, we open a little box on my childhood PlayMobil Advent calendar, and set up a scene of ‘Santa’s workshop.’ I remember setting those toys up as a kid with my family, and smile. I read David A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas over the course of several days, and I’ll probably do it twice more before the season is over.

A few nights ago, we talked about Advent, and David shared his memories of it growing up. Basically, what it boiled down to was : yeah, it was cool, but the point was Christmas. It was a countdown : when would Santa get there and we get to party and eat four kinds of pie and open all the PRESENTS? I was the same way : Christmas was always the highlight of my year. In a BIG way. My favorite season was (and is) winter. I collected snow globes. I was the keeper of family traditions, setting up the crèche, singing carols in the car, and just pushing everyone to keep the jolly spirit of the season going as much as possible. I was all about Christmas.

I’m still totally into Christmas — I haven’t turned Grinch, I love the whole season. But now, I also have the pain. The writer Sarah Bessey, in her beautiful blog post “in which Advent is for the ones who know longing,” writes,

            “Advent has become more important to me as I’ve gotten older. When I was young, I couldn’t understand this emphasis on waiting – let’s get to the Christmas joy! Now that I have wept, now that I have grieved, now that I have lost, now that I have learned to hold space with and for the ones who are hurting, now I have a place for Advent.”

The Vespers, the candles, the journaling — they create that space for me. Space for the kind of emotions so big they carry you. Space for this new tension : no longer a child’s anticipation of gifts, but now the feeling of remembering the Christmases of your childhood while facing the reality that those will never happen again — you’re an adult now — and the truth that even at Christmastime, the world is full of sorrow and pain and injustice. It will not be what it was. While I browse for gifts for my husband, I pick up a book and open my mouth to say “oh, this would be perfect for Daddy –“ but instead I close my mouth, turn on the spot, and wait for my blurry vision to clear while All I Want For Christmas Is You pipes over the bookstore’s loudspeakers.

Advent is the place where I wait, aching, for God to meet me. The dark space of Advent blooms out around me, making room for the mix of pain, sadness, joy, and love that come with the holidays now that I’ve lost my father and now that I’ve suffered and now that I’ve grown up.

Advent is the year turning towards darkness. The ache, the longing, the waiting. The glorious, beautiful, wonderful, painful spark of birth and newness coming in through the death of the year. I will celebrate and sing Christmas songs — I will wrap gifts in silly reindeer paper and watch my favorite old movies — I will drink wine and laugh and I’ll bake for you, don’t you worry — but first, I will pause for a moment to light the candles and remember.


In praise of my legs

I don’t know how it has happened that two weeks in a row, my posts deal with my appearance. But lately I have been thinking (and talking) about my legs and my relationship to them, as a result of having hurt my left hip and knee in training for a half-marathon. So, this was on my mind.

My legs are very long.

Even before I grew to my full height of 5’10”, my legs were longer than my five-foot-nine-inches-tall mother’s. Today, as a grown woman, my long legs begin at my wide hips. My thighs are thick, powerful, and dotted with pale, puckered stretch marks. My knees are scarred from falls and a surgery. I have long, narrow, size-eleven feet.

My legs, I have not always loved you well. I do not stretch you as much as you need. I resent you for not being more magical, for not being shorter. When people ask, “wait, are you taller than your husband?” I don’t just feel annoyed at them — I sometimes feel a bit ashamed of you. As though there is anything wrong with your glorious length, your strength, your size. As though my long legs are not gifts from my gorgeous, tall, wonderful parents. I glare down at you, thighs, as you spread out upon a chair or a bench, as though I am expecting you to remain the same size always, as though I wish you were two plastic cylinders and not muscle and fat and bone. I run you too hard. In March, I ran you in crappy shoes for three weeks because I didn’t have time to go to the running store and I didn’t have patience. I fail to ice you. I expect you to take me on ten mile runs, to carry me over uneven ground, to tangle with the legs of my lover, to help me lift heavy boxes, to dance at weddings, to be a surface for books and journals and my friends’ heads as I comb their hair with my fingers. And in return, I ignore you. I scoff at your roundness, your softness. I push my fist into you when I’m frustrated. Oh, legs. I am sorry.

Not this time. This time I will do better. I hear you, hip and knee and shin. I am stretching you out, I am trying to be patient. I am letting you finally rest. I am laying ice on your sore joints.

I am sorry, my beautiful, strong legs. From now on, I will do my best to take care of you. I will let you rest. And this weekend, if you’re up for it, let’s run a race together, okay? I’ll listen, while we’re out there. I’ll drink enough water and eat enough food so that you have the energy you need. And when we are done, I will thank you. I will stretch you and ice you and let you rest.

Thank you for all the beautiful hours we’ve spent together in the woods. Thank you for taking me out into open spaces, where my mind can soar as you carry us along.

I love you.

I am not much of a doodler, but I felt moved to draw while I worked on this blog post. My glorious legs are here, too, soaking up some sun and resting on the stack of winter tires that elegantly sits on our deck.

My Hair

My hair has been one thing that I have liked about my appearance for basically my entire life. That nearly puts it in a category of its own. At times I have disliked other things about my appearance : that mole on my right cheek, my long nose, my wide hips, my small breasts, my big feet, and on and on. But my hair? Hair’s been good to me. I have very fine, very dark brown hair with reddish tints that come out in summer. And I have almost always worn it long. And I have almost never bothered doing a single thing with it, except for washing and throwing it up in a ponytail. I have had long hair for so long that it seemed to become a part of who I am. Even with a short bob, I still “thought” of myself as a “long-haired person,” as if that is a static identity.

Above : a commemorative gallery of me and my hair over the years.

And now, most of it is gone. Because I went and did a crazy thing : I got a pixie cut.

Why did I do this? (I ask myself, laughing weakly.) I did this for a lot of reasons. I did this because my long, straight hair has been a protection of sorts. A protection from thinking about the parts of my appearance that I don’t as easily love and embrace. A neutrality, the opposite of a statement. I did it because I realized that my hairstyle had become a part of my identity, and I wanted to challenge that, to shake it up a bit. I did it because everyone thinks that I am heterosexual. You, dear reader, probably thought so, too.

I know I’m married to a man, but just as being single does not make someone asexual, neither can my marriage make my straight (and thank God for that). I identify as pansexual — and I’ve linked you right to Wikipedia so you needn’t even Google — although I often use the term bisexual because people know that one, and I much prefer the term queer and use that term in my personal life. And although my short hair isn’t going to magically queer me in society’s eyes, it’s a challenge to me to not hide behind the heterosexual privilege I am afforded when I’m in public with my wedding band on and David beside me. It’s a way to maybe influence a few more people to feel, I guess, a little unsure when they see me. And mostly what it comes down to is me, trying on a new way of showing my identity to the world. It comes down to me forcing myself to really grapple with how I feel about my nose and the mole on my cheek and my “fang” tooth — because I can’t hide behind my hair now that most of it is gone.

People assume confidence of women with short hair — I know I do it. Wow, she must have great self-esteem to rock that look, I think, seeing chic, cool women with their short, punky hair. I wonder if being seen that way now will help grow some real confidence in me.

I felt like if I didn’t cut my hair short now, I might never do it. I don’t think I’m going to prefer pixie-cut life to long-hair life — but now I’ve tried it. Plus, I got the haircut for free by being a model for a hairstylist class at an upscale salon that I never would have set foot in otherwise. And now, I can grow it back. (Gulp. Right?)

the selfie I sent my mom right after The Haircut




homecoming (my time of year)

My time is the cold months, and they are arriving. Last night we slept with the windows open to feel the cool night air, and I wore flannel dark-blue-with-stars pajama pants and pulled the quilt right up to my chin. Fall is here, and winter is coming.

I have never been a summer person. My dad often reminded me to “never wish your life away,” and I’ve learned to love the summer. It was one thing to learn to love the Northern California summer when we would visit our family there — that love came naturally, love for the brown hills and the smells of eucalyptus in Tilden, love for hearing my parents’ stories of growing up, love for a coast where you wore your jeans and a sweatshirt to sit on the beach. Love for New York summers has taken a bit more coaxing, but it has come, too : getting up at dawn in July to feel the temporary dip in temperature, when the regular day’s heat is still somehow present and bumping against you in big balloons that will soon burst. The lush, overgrown Eastern woods. Tuning out the impossibly loud buzz of cicadas until your ear suddenly, shockingly notices it, again and again. Reading on the front porch while the dog sits in the yard and patiently watches the quiet street. Yes, I have found my love of summer.

Nevertheless, my time is a cold time. I was born in November, and my heart seems to have stayed there. November : the darkening, in-between month before the winter blows fully in. Dustings of snow on gray-brown leaves. Morning darkness, which is a different darkness than evening. The memories that return each year : helping my mother prepare dinner one evening during a fall evening rainstorm while we sang along to Norah Jones. Venturing out with my father and brother after the blizzard of 1996 to see the magical world outside our apartment, where snowdrifts were taller than I was — taller even than Daddy was. Thanksgiving with friends in Oregon during college, playing boardgames until we laughed ourselves silly and eating double helpings of pumpkin cheesecake. David, getting down on one knee before me two late-Octobers ago, me in my dad’s old wool sweater and boots and David with tears in his eyes. (And I don’t remember a single thing he said, although I think it had to do with marriage and I know I said yes.)

Every year from November first until spring, I allow myself to listen to the Rachmaninov Vespers again (and again, and again). (If I didn’t limit my listening, I worry I’d ruin them for myself.) After singing Bogoroditse Djevo in my college choir, I fell in love with the entire work. There is truly nothing like lying on your back, alone in a dark room, half-watching the rain, snow, or wind-blown leaves outside the window, while listening to the Vespers. I listen to at least part of them almost every day for those months. I live in them. They are my soundtrack and they connect me wherever I am to the places and times I have lived. The Vespers are fall and winter to me.

And fall and winter are safety, adventure, and stories. They are my childhood and my point of origin. They are cooking in a kitchen that is made more pleasant (not less) by the extra heat of the stove. They are friendship and peace after the frenzied energies of summer. And it is good to be home.

frosted leaves

Enough is Enough


When I was in twelfth grade, I took a political philosophy class. We read classics — Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia, John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government — and every day in class we had discussions about the texts and about political topics of the day. This was the 2007-2008 school year, and things were gearing up for the 2008 presidential election. And as I sat through class after class with my mouth shut tight, I wondered how my classmates could possibly know enough about any topic to feel comfortable speaking up. I felt like I had barely scratched the surface, even after doing the readings and listening to others’ opinions. A part of me kind of thought that no one was qualified to speak on a given topic until they had read nearly everything written about it. After a couple of weeks, I determined that none of my classmates really knew much more than I did — they just spoke up anyway. This was not a satisfactory conclusion, and I continued to be quiet as a mouse every day. But my mind kept working on this problem and eventually I landed upon this : while my classmates didn’t know enough (by my standards) to talk, neither did anybody else. Practically no one on Earth knew enough on these topics by the standards I had imagined were necessary, and if we all only spoke on those topics on which we had “my” standard of expertise, each citizen of the planet would have one thing they could say (and one thing only). Conversation would not go far. What a relief! No one was an expert. We were all just students, without answers, exercising our brains and learning what our thoughts were by voicing them to each other. I spent the remainder of the school year enthusiastically debating topics in class with a particular classmate and friend with whom I always either 100% agreed or 100% disagreed.

Sadly, my high school revelation did not magically endow me with lifelong confidence. Especially in the academic world, it can still often feel like everyone else knows everything and my presence in the classroom is a tragic mistake. But on some level, I know (or at least hope…) that that isn’t true, and that my ways of thinking and communicating are just more cautious and steady than others’ ways — and not necessarily worse. But I still need that push sometimes, to just talk. Just share. Just email that professor, just start the blog, just voice my opinion. This past April, that push came in the form of a bottle of nail polish while I was browsing (AKA avoidance-shopping) at Target. I had been dragging my feet about writing a project proposal for a summer research project. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, and I was scared of being told that my proposal was crap and I was clearly not cut out for a research career and should give up now (yikes). But I would have to do something. As I was looking at the nail polishes, trying to pretend that the only decision I had to make was what shade I preferred (and not what, specifically, to study, and how to find a professor, and how to convince him or her to work with me), my eyes spotted one label on a hot-pink polish and my face broke into a grin. “E-nuf is E-nuf.”

That’s right, I thought. This is ridiculous. I’m a good student, and everyone has to start somewhere, and enough is enough. I’ve agonized enough. I always agonize enough! 

So I bought the polish, went home, painted my toenails, and wrote my proposal that very night. My proposal was (good) enough — I was (good) enough — and that is the story of how I began my first-ever research project.

(I went on to finish the project, too, but it’s not nearly as good a story. It mostly involves a LOT of time at coffee shops and libraries, and covering the whole apartment floor with papers.)

the morning lark & the night owl

Thank goodness for our internal clocks.

David’s is a clock that craves extremes: he wants to wake up when the sun is full shining and not fall into bed until pitch-midnight. I, on the other hand, am my father’s daughter. Once dinner dishes are put away, I am already on a short road to sleep. And as the sun is just beginning to peek (in summer), or hasn’t even come close (in winter), I’m padding into the kitchen in my pajamas with my heart set on a cup of tea and a book of poetry.

Daddy was always up early. I can still see him, in his sweatpants and slippers, sitting in his armchair with, yes, a mug of tea and a book. Me coming down second and him smiling as he looked up – hi, bunny – and our morning beginning together. While our family was on vacation at the ocean, we’d share toast and then venture outside. “Let’s let Mom & Matt sleep in,” we’d say, as we laced up sneakers and pulled on fleece jackets. And we’d walk out into the chilly Northern California morning, eyes on the waves as we walked to the beach. So much life and love in our day before it had really begun. And if we have all that before the sun is fully risen, it sets our whole day on a good trajectory. We’ve had a good day even before we sat down to breakfast.

Tea, toast, and poetry at the ocean this past summer
Tea, toast, and poetry at the ocean this past summer

And now, years after his death and miles from the California coast, I maintain this rhythm. The morning is my private room. In our (sweet, beloved) small apartment, we have very little space to ourselves. But for David, the late hours are a haven, and for me, the early. I can reconnect to myself, the self that is alone and only-me, and not David’s wife. I read, and I listen to pieces of music that I loved before I met him (Smétana’s Ma Vlast, Joni Mitchell, The Indigo Girls). I write in my journal and browse through anthologies. I can hear the clock ticking. I can hear other early risers in our apartment complex start their cars’ engines as they begin a long commute. Sometimes, when the light is just right, I’ll slip outside to the end of our block to watch the sunrise.

In a little while, David will stumble sleepily into the kitchen. He’ll greet me with one word (hi) or two (good morning) as he makes his coffee. And the real-world day will begin.

But these first few hours in the early morning are mine. A separate time that I claim and cling to as my own. And I thank goodness for that.

this morning.
this morning.