Tuesday, July 31, 2007


When a letter goes missing from a billboard or sign, the results can be humorous. Yesterday I drove by a McDonald's with a yellow sign advertising: "EW! CARAMEL ICED COFFEE!"

Well, it is McDonald's, after all. The sign could have been somewhat accurate in its altered state.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Harry Potter Etymology

Don't worry; no spoilers here! This is not a review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I've finished the book, but the whole series encompasses so much, so many things to think about, that I'm hardly in a place to write a review right now!

I read all seven of the Harry Potter books to myself. Like most people, I don't actually "pronounce" each word in my head; I absorb whole sentences at a time as I read. Perhaps as a result of never reading the books out loud, or perhaps because I'm just dumb, it wasn't until I was reading the final book that I realized what a clever name Kreacher is for a house-elf. Yes, I really didn't realize until the seventh book that Kreacher is a play on the word "creature."

I started thinking about other word plays in the books, and realized that Number 12 Grimmauld Place, pronounced aloud, becomes "Grim Old (Auld) Place." Rather a fitting name for the Black family home, don't you think?

Rowling has also developed the names of several places with a play on "alley" and "-ally." Knockturn Alley, the dark, seedy alley frequented by dark wizards, is, of course, a play on the word "nocturnally." And Diagon Alley (which I've always pronounced to myself as DIE-agon Alley rather than "Die-AGON Alley" - I'm not sure which is correct) is naturally a play on "diagonally" - whether because the street is literally diagonal or because it is in the middle of London but somehow in its own dimension, I'm not quite sure.

From the earliest Harry Potter books I've always enjoyed the Latin references throughout the books: expelliarmus, liberacorpus, levicorpus, imperio, accio, crucio, lumos, confundo, expecto patronum, (possibly my favorite), and so many others.

After discovering many of these Latin references and plays on words for myself, I found MuggleNet.com this morning, whose name origins page revealed to me a word whose origins I never would have guessed on my own. Alohomora (a spell that opens locks), the website claims, is derived from the Hawaiian "Aloha" (hello or goodbye) and the Latin "Mora" (obstacle or barrier): "goodbye, obstacle!" Brilliant.

Of the many, many things I love about Rowling's books, it's the scope and power of her imagination and creativity that has me in awe. From the smallest details (names of characters, streets, spells, and towns; little things considered "normal" in the wizarding world that bring the stories to life) to the biggest themes (good and evil, power and corruption, love, choices, humility, and sacrifice), her books are filled with material to delight and fascinate readers of all ages. As C. S. Lewis's wardrobe has always beckoned me into the imaginative world of Narnia since my childhood, so J. K. Rowling's Platform 9 3/4 sweeps me into Harry's world at Hogwarts - a world, like Narnia, that is much fuller than the physical world we see.

(Did Chapter 34 remind anyone else overwhelmingly of The Chronicles of Narnia? Not surprising, I suppose, since Rowling has been quoted saying Lewis was one of the most influential writers she read as a child.)

The Outcast Bridesmaid

My friends Cara and Gregg are getting married this weekend, and FavoriteBoy and I have the honor of being in the bridal party.

Unfortunately, actually getting my bridesmaid dress - and getting it in the correct size - proved to be a much more difficult process than it ought to have been! The right dress did finally arrive this Tuesday, but not before I started to get a little worried.

I guess it was the worry that prompted the dream: The other bridesmaids had pretty purple dresses, but I had purple satin overalls - ugly metal buckles and all. I couldn't find my strappy black heels, so I wore the purple overalls with white sneakers. (I'm so fashionable.) I didn't know what to wear under the overalls, so I pulled on a light blue shirt with white daisies all over it, strangely reminiscent of a shirt I had in seventh grade. (I was so cool in seventh grade.) The other bridesmaids tried to be nice at first, but then they scoffed at me and told me I was ruining all the pictures. I was a wedding outcast.

I woke up and reminded myself that the dress came, and it's here in my closet. No pant legs, and no buckles. I'm relieved.

(Now if I can just find a way to get rid of the sunburn on my right shoulder left over from my brother's wedding; sunburn shaped like the dress my nephew pooped on and not at all like the purple bridesmaid dress...)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Turkey Vegetable Chili

When FavoriteBoy gave me a Vegetable Chop and Measure for my birthday, little did he know that it would be the instrument of his own demise! A few weeks ago I made a turkey chili recipe I found on Allrecipes.com. (I added a few tablespoons of chili powder to the listed ingredients.) The recipe includes, among the traditional chili ingredients, a green bell pepper and three zucchini! It turned out so delicious that I wanted to recommend it to all my faithful blog readers. I loved it, and even FavoriteBoy ate a whole bowl. In getting FavoriteBoy to eat vegetables, I chalk my small successes up to my handy veggie-chopping tool, which lets me quickly chop vegetables into easily disguised teeny tiny pieces!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Bought the book Monday night. Read through page 150 Tuesday evening. Read through page 759 today. Finished!

(I cried all through chapter thirty-four.)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Remembering Rowling

So we all know the final Harry Potter book was released tonight - about 45 minutes ago. But I haven't gone out and bought the new book yet. I also haven't seen the new movie, and that one isn't even really new anymore. What's happened to me? I devoured the sixth book in approximately 1.5 days. I love all these books!

It's not that I'm slipping in my devotion to Rowling; the problem is my memory. I can't remember what happened in the last book... okay, the last three books even... and that's putting a real damper on my enthusiasm for reading the most recent book. Somebody help me, please. I'm too young to be losing my memory.

Comfort Food TV Episodes

FavoriteBoy is at Gregg's bachelor party and I am lonely... for him and for watching episodes of JAG with him. (I'm not allowed to watch ahead without him.) I'm watching a lame late-night cooking show on WGBH where a foreign woman is claiming that "there is nothing more comforting than a bowl of soup." I disagree. A husband at home watching JAG with me, for example, would be more comforting.

Berry Delicious

I almost forgot to mention what may have been the highlight of all my travels.

I was really good about my no sugar, no fruit, no caffeine, no dairy diet for a MONTH! I mean, I had a few wheat thins (before discovering they have sugar in them), and then I had a slice of the birthday apple pie I made for my Mom, but at least that didn't have any refined white sugar in it since I used honey. For the most part I was really strict with myself. When I was visiting my parents, Dad and I avoided sugar together and took psyllium seed husks together before bed each night; we really bonded over our dietary peculiarities. And then, on Friday, we both broke our diet to have a slice of Jonathan and Jenn's wedding cake. It was tasty. But the best was yet to come...

Carolmom, Stevedad, Jared, FavoriteBoy, and I went to Coldstone in Erie. I had a small sweet cream ice cream with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and bits of graham cracker crust stirred in.

It was so worth it.

Travels, a Wedding, and Murphy's Law

FavoriteBoy and I have been having grand adventures from Beverly to Erie to Cleveland to Reno to Nevada City to Carson City to Reno to Las Vegas to Houston to Pittsburgh to Erie to Beverly...

Of course, it was never supposed to be that complicated.

Our travels started out quite well. After driving 9 hours to Erie (Dear iPod, I love you), we flew from Cleveland to Reno, rented a car, and drove to Nevada City to spend time with my family. Monday (the 9th) was my Mom's 50th birthday! I made her an apple pie (with no sugar at all - only a bit of honey) and my brother grilled Italian sausages on the back patio and we all had a wonderful evening. Tuesday and Wednesday we spent time with my grandparents, and we also spent hours and hours sorting through everything I ever owned. We packed 6 boxes of books, sheet music, records, and CD's! Plus a few dolls, a teddy bear I sewed myself in Jr. High, and some special things my grandparents have given me.

The boxes of music are all due to an extraordinary stroke of good fortune which I guess you could say came about as a result of my selflessness and generosity several years ago (ha-ha). My family helped some friends clean out their elderly parents' house in preparation for a move. We quickly discovered that these people had kept everything. they. ever. owned. Which worked out definitely to my advantage, as I walked away with piles of sheet music for four hands, two pianos, organ, violin, and piano. I also got dozens of wonderful records, a correspondence course from the 50's on tuning pianos, several Clavier magazines from the 60's, a stack of The Etude magazines from 1901-1908, and quite a few old fashion magazines as well.

Thursday I went to Jenn's bridal shower, which was one of the most enjoyable showers I've ever attended. It was held at a pottery-painting place, and we all chose pieces of white pottery to paint for Jenn. What a fun idea! I had a great time. That evening was the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. Here's a photo from the rehearsal. What a background for a wedding!

The rehearsal dinner was at a restaurant called B'sghetti's - which I think is a fabulous name for an Italian restaurant. I got to see my two nephews, and it was so nice to finally meet Thomas. Here's Jonathan stuffing his face with spaghetti:

Mom and Dad enjoyed spending some time with Thomas:

Here's Jonathan again...

And my husband and my Dad:

Friday was the wedding! Jonathan and Jenn had pictures taken prior to the wedding. I like this snapshot I got of them, because Jenn looks really wary of what she's about to get herself into. (Fortunately, she did go through with it.)

As a big answer to a very specific prayer request, Mom walked up the aisle for the ceremony. No wheelchair, no walker - just Dad on one arm and a cane in the other hand. Those of you who have been following my Mom's recovery probably know that doctors predicted she would never walk - in fact, that she would never do a lot of the things she's doing now. Isn't it unbelievable how great she looks? Thank you, God!

The wedding was so beautiful. The mountainous backdrop was stunning, and the wind must have made for incredible photos. The girls' dresses were blowing in the wind, and Jenn's veil floated all around her. (You probably can't tell from my feeble attempts at photography, but I'm confident that the professional photographer did much better at capturing the event.)

I was so happy to watch Jonathan and Jenn take their vows. Ever since I got married and realized how fun and wonderful it is to be married, I can't help wanting everyone else to get married, too! I wasn't the only happy one; not surprisingly, the bride and groom were all smiles:

Thomas was pretty happy about the union as well!

At the reception, Jonathan demonstrated his dilemma: "Should I be a photographer when I grow up... or a plumber?"

We ate yummy food while great country songs like "She's Everything" by Brad Paisley played in the background, and then Jonathan and Jenn cut their cake.

The left the reception in Jenn's car - thoroughly decked out by their crazy engineer friends!

Well, I hate to put a damper on the happy day, but it was at the reception that our travel troubles began.

When we parked our rental car, the front right tire ended up in a little ditch. With no hope of getting the car out on our own, we called AAA. They were quickly on site to save the day, but it was too late - our string of bad luck had begun.

You see, soon after the car incident, Thomas pooped on me. Actually, "pooped" isn't really an adequate word to describe the sudden explosion that defeated his feeble diaper and ended up all over my dress while I was holding him. So while relatives watched, laughed, and took pictures, FavoriteBoy attempted to wash the poop from my dress using only a baby wipe. All things considered, he did a really good job and I was able to enjoy the rest of the reception. But still, I tell you this tale of poop because it was second in our series of travel woes.

After the reception we took a red-eye flight from Reno to Las Vegas, where we were supposed to catch a connecting flight to Cleveland where we had left Nathan's car. Nathan was to be a groomsman in his friend Ben's wedding the next day, so we needed to get back to PA by morning. Unfortunately, our flight from Reno was delayed by over an hour. Airline officials kept assuring us that the flight would be delayed by only ten... fifteen... twenty... okay, thirty minutes. They promised we wouldn't miss our connecting flight. We arrived in Vegas ten minutes before our flight to Cleveland departed, only to discover that our flight was leaving from another terminal located in another building. We missed it, obviously.

We spent almost an hour talking to airline employees at the ticketing counter trying to arrange another flight. They dillied and dallied, and one by one each flight we wanted to take passed us by while these inept employees kept vanishing into back rooms for ten minutes at a time. It was so frustrating! We were finally down to one option: a flight to Houston leaving at 1 am. It was the last flight leaving Vegas for the night. The airline workers didn't want us to take the flight, but as they couldn't offer us any other options, Nathan insisted they put us on the flight. We arrived in Houston around 5 am and promptly began trying to get on a flight for anywhere near Erie, PA - Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo... please? Someone finally promised Nathan a ticket on a flight to Pittsburgh that left around 7:30. We were really relieved, because that meant he could get to Erie in time for the wedding! But I was not looking forward to sitting in the airport for five hours and then taking the flight to Cleveland they offered me all by myself. I followed FavoriteBoy to his gate and took a long shot. I asked the gate attendant if they had any room for passengers to fly standby. And then airline officials pointed out that the boarding pass Nathan had been issued wasn't valid, and everyone had been giving us incorrect information, but to make a long story short, they were able to put FavoriteBoy and me on the flight to Pittsburgh! We were so glad to finally be on a flight, but the whole thing had been so stressful... we were exhausted and extremely unhappy with USAirways.

So Stevedad had to come pick us up in Pittsburgh, but our luggage ended up taking a late afternoon flight from Houston to Cleveland. We arrived in PA with only the clothes we had in Nathan's garment bag - a few of his suits, and my dress Thomas had pooped on. Carolmom helped me wash the area by hand, and I put the dress on - still damp - to go to Ben's wedding.

That night, I tore a contact lens. Incidentally, I have carried spare contacts with me on every trip I have ever taken, and also, I have never torn a lens in my life, but this one time I forgot to bring extras contacts, naturally I would tear a lens.

Sunday morning I enjoyed a church service, sang hymns with a small group for some sick and elderly people, and then went to lunch with a group of FavoriteBoy's family friends - all half-blind. That afternoon it was WalMart to the rescue. They had a trial lens in my exact prescription!

And then we all had to go pick up our luggage and our car in Cleveland.

Back to Erie for a day, and then on Tuesday FavoriteBoy and I drove home. We needed to be back by Tuesday night since I had three lessons to teach scheduled for Wednesday morning. Three lessons that were all cancelled during the time that we were driving on Tuesday.

We arrived home safely, and thus endeth our own personal series of unfortunate events. On the other hand, there were lots of marvelously fortunate events tucked in amongst the unfortunate ones, and all the unfortunate things were resolved in fortunate fashions, so all's well that ends well as they say.

Okay, so this is a really long post. But it has to suffice for almost all of July!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Summer Students

Can it be July already? It seems like the summer is flying by.

Last week I kept a busy teaching schedule working from 8:45 am until around 3 pm each day at a summer music camp - this in addition to my usual afternoon private teaching. The summer music camp was a real success. This was the first year this particular camp has included an instrumental program, so there were just three violinists in my little ensemble, but they were a real pleasure to work with. Rachel, age 9, was finishing Suzuki Book 6, and Chae, 9, and AJ, 13, were both in Book 4. Their ability levels were similar enough that they were all able to greatly enjoy playing little chamber pieces together with aspects that were challening for each of them. They were all charming, motivated, well-behaved kids that made me look forward to each day's rehearsals. The week culminated in a concert. The violin kids performed Mazas, Pleyel, and Bach with good intonation, nice tone, vibrato (!), and much cuteness (particularly emanating from the little Asian girls).

I finished the week with pride in the students' accomplishments, a happy heart, and a special keepsake - an origami notecard reading:

Dear Mrs. S___,
Thank you for teaching us violin at the Summer Music Academy.
We plan to come against next year!
Rachel and Chaeyoung