Friday, July 29

Potter Month: Why UVa Was My Hogwarts

Meagan from Little Red's Reading Blog recently shared pictures she took while attending an academic conference at Oxford (congratulations Meagan!). While she was there, she saw some sites that were used as settings in the Harry Potter films. Inspired by Meagan's post, for my last Potter Month contribution, I'm going to share why my alma mater, the University of Virginia, was my Hogwarts.

I visited UVa for the first time on a seventh-grade field trip and fell in love automatically - it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen and the tour was actually really interesting. I decided then that I was a future Cavalier, even though I wasn't at the top of my class and neither of parents had gone to college. Everything I did in high school was to strengthen my application! Over my five years at the University, I think I had quite a few moments when I understood how Harry felt to be at Hogwarts. 

1. Our Founder is kind of a big deal and our grounds are (kind of) haunted - So much of the culture of Hogwarts is based on the values and beliefs of its four founders: Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Salazar Slytherin, and Rowena Ravenclaw. UVa's culture is still largely influenced by the father of our University, Thomas Jefferson. One of Jefferson's beliefs was that it was impossible to be finished learning, so incoming students are referred to as "first years" and so on. Sound familiar, Potter fans?

While the ghosts at Hogwarts are the real deal (and some people would surely say UVa has that kind, too), I'm using haunted as a metaphor here. After I'd been accepted to UVa my senior year, I had one last opportunity to visit as a high school student, for the state science fair. After I'd finished presenting my project, I took some time to walk around the Academical Village and Carr's Hill by myself. As I walked on the cobblestones, I couldn't help but think about the history of the University, both good and bad, and how many accomplished and intelligent people had walked on those same paths. I got the feeling that I'd never be alone.

2. Hogwarts Houses / UVa Dorms - Much like the Hogwarts Houses, UVa has different dorms for different personalities. Old Dorms tends to attract politicos and Greek lifers, New Dorms tends to be more diverse and laid-back, Brown kids are usually indie and artsy, Gooch/Dillard residents are quiet and scholarly, and Hereford kids will yell at you if you don't recycle. 

While we all filled out an application with our preferences, the choice was ultimately up to the Sorting Hat - er, UVa Housing. The kids in my dorm, Woody, became really close, and there was always something fun going on. I made lifelong friendships and lived with Woody kids for the next two years as well!

3. Secrets! - Hogwarts had the Chamber of Secrets and Dumbledore's Army; UVa has secret societies. Throughout Grounds, they have left their markings on buildings, and the societies do various philanthropic activities in the community or advocate for various principles near and dear to UVa students' hearts. The most secretive of all is the Seven Society - membership is not revealed publicly until a member's death. Members of the Z society wear a special ring at graduation. There are also some less secretive societies - I knew one of my friends was an Imp because she wore an engraved ring, and one of our 4-H officers was a member of a ribbon society called Eli Banana. I was pretty sure one of my fifth-year roommates was in a secret society because she was never home. Or she was a Death Eater.

4. That one super-beloved staff member - In the books, Hagrid serves as Harry's introduction to the magical world, and he becomes a parental figure to the trio while they're at Hogwarts. 

At UVa, we have Mama Kathy, who does so much more than swipe meal cards at Newcomb Hall. During my first week on Grounds, I recognized her from my high school visits, and she said, "Welcome back, baby!" as soon as she saw me. Since I was involved with several student organizations, I was in Newcomb Hall a lot, and Mama Kathy always seemed to know when her babies needed an extra big smile or even a hug. I still make a point to visit her every time I'm back on Grounds.

5. Getting dis-proportionally excited about sports - For most of my time as a student, our football team was not very strong, but that didn't stop students from acting like Hogwarts students at a Quidditch match, from completely blue-and-orange outfits and face paint, to one of our RA's who ran around shirtless in November with a rotisserie chicken (representing the Viginia Tech Hokies, of course) on a plastic sword (for Cav Man).

The irony of UVa athletics is that since most of the state of Virginia is obsessed with football, our programs don't always get the media attention they deserve. In 2015, the Cavaliers held the men's NCAA titles in soccer, baseball, and tennis, and hold the ACC record for national championships in men's sports. UVa also has 14 current students, 2 former students, and 2 coaches currently headed to the Olympics in Rio.

6. The Corner = Hogmeade. Hogwarts students get excited about butterbeer from the Three Broomsticks and candy from Honeydukes. We got excited about soup in a bread bowl from Jabberwocky, Gusburgers from The White Spot, secret sauce from Take It Away, and Bodo's bagels.

7. Break out the dress robes - Our equivalent of the Yule Ball was the Harvest Ball, which usually had a fun theme like Casino Royale. 

At UVa, there's some kind of formal dance going on just about every weekend because we have so many student organizations, fraternities, and sororities, so it's not unusual to see girls in sky-high heels and ballgowns and boys in suits and ties hitting the bars on the Corner in the wee hours of the morning.

8. Prefects = Res Life Staff. Student self-governance is a huge part of UVa life, and our residence system is almost completely student-run. I was a Resident Adviser in upperclass housing during my fourth year. Just like Percy Weasley, I had the power to punish students (it was called a VSOC, for Violation of Standards of Conduct, like underage alcohol possession), and had to patrol at night - not to make sure no one was breaking curfew, like at Hogwarts, but to make sure no one was passed out on the sidewalk. It happens. While Hogwarts prefects get their own special bathroom, I got a whole apartment that I shared with another RA!

9. The McGregor Room is definitely a Hogwarts common room - The most wonderful study spot in the world, in the bottom of Alderman Library, was unveiled when I was in school. Oriental rugs! Fireplaces! Chandeliers! Gorgeous bookshelves with ladders! Also a great place to nap. It's lovingly nicknamed the "Harry Potter room."

10. Some strict professors, and some amazing professors - I was trying to remember if I encountered any Snapes or Umbridges during my time at UVa, and I thought of my Environmental Science professor, who would actually drop students from the course if their cellphones rang in class. 

We have professors that are actually more famous than Gilderoy Lockhart, like Larry Sabato, who can often be seen on shows like Meet the Press explaining American politics, and poet Rita Dove. I had a drama professor who was a bit like Slughorn in that she liked to name-drop famous alumni like Tina Fey, Benjamin McKenzie, and Sean Patrick Thomas. I was lucky to have a lot of professors who were more like McGonnagal, Lupin, and Dumbledore - caring, passionate about teaching, and all with their own quirks!

Thursday, July 28

lately in entertainment.

lately in entertainment - summer 2016

Finding DoryOne of my former students invited me and two of her other favorite teachers for a movie date, and we had a great time at Finding Dory. If you've seen the trailer, you know it's about Dory's search for the parents she barely remembers - and the closer she gets to them, the clearer her memories become. The flashbacks with baby Dory are pretty much the cutest thing ever. The teacher in me really loved that Dory's parents are portrayed as being supportive of their daughter's desire for independence and find accomodations for her short-term memory loss. This sequel features some of the best characters from the first movie, like Crush the turtle and Mr. Ray, and introduces new characters like grumpy octopus Hank, voiced by Ed O'Neill, and Dory's childhood friend Destiny the whale. Parts of the movie seemed like they would be very intensely scary or sad for children, and there was real suspense about whether Dory's quest would be successful. Just like the first movie, the animation was gorgeous and colorful. We all enjoyed Finding Dory, laughed out loud a lot (especially at the crazy ending), and our resident science teacher approved of the marine biology elements!

Ghostbusters - Both Mr. Q and I were really excited about this one - the original Ghostbusters movies are some of his all-time favorites, and I was pumped about some of my favorite female comedians (and my favorite Hemsworth) being in the cast. We were also both really dismayed to see all the hate that was directed toward the movie online before it even came out, despite that fact that Dan Aykroyd was an executive producer, original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was also a producer, and the original cast and new cast have made numerous appearances together talking about how much they love both the original and new movies! At first, I was curious about the new Ghostbusters being a reboot instead of a sequel, but I liked that the female team aren't carbon copies of the original male characters and that the story was unique. Kristen Wiig is Erin, the uptight nerd who has given up her paranormal interests to pursue her dream of being a physics professor. Erin loses her chance at tenure when her department finds out that she wrote a book about ghosts with her best friend, Abby (Melissa McCarthy). She tracks down Abby, who's working at a for-profit college that has forgotten she exists, alongside nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). When they help subway worker Patty (Leslie Jones) track down a ghost in her line, she decides to join their team and lend her knowledge of New York City's history.

The plot of Ghostbusters does have some weak points: the villain is basically Syndrome from The Incredibles and there's no sense that he won't be defeated, I thought Erin and Abby's friendship should have had some tension after Erin had turned away for so many years, and most of the best jokes really were given away in the trailer. In some of the reviews I've read, the reviewers have complained that Kate McKinnon's Holtzmann is over-the-top or distracting, and/or that Leslie Jones' Patty is stereotypical. I think it all comes down to whether or not you've watched these ladies on SNL - Mr. Q and I love these actresses and felt like their characters and performances were in keeping with their styles of comedy. If you saw the trailer, you saw the scene where Holtzmann licks her proton gun. Right after that, she runs into battle with ghosts - and I realized that I was tearing up a little because I was getting to see a woman in a movie be: a.) a scientist  b.) an action hero  c.) not in any kind of romantic entanglement. I thought of all the men who say the female Ghostbusters "ruined their childhood," and how in my childhood I never got to see someone of my gender be those three things at the same time on a movie screen. Then I thought of the whole van-load of little boys in the row behind me and how much they were loving the movie. I really loved the cameos from the original Ghostbusters cast, which were a reminder that this movie was a tribute to our childhood favorite, not a replacement. For anyone interested in seeing this one, I recommend staying until after the credits roll.


Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - I wanted to read this novel after seeing the previews for the film version, added myself to the waiting list for my library's ebook copy, and read the book in one sitting when it finally became mine. Three things: 1. It's beautifully written.  2. The main characters are adorable and complex.  3. It broke my heart into a million tiny pieces. The main character, Louisa, has low expectations for herself and is content with the safety and routine of living with her parents and single-mom sister in the town she grew up in. When she loses her comfortable cafe job, she becomes a caretaker for a paralyzed man named Will, who is bitter and angry because he has lost his active, jet-setting life. While Lou is determined is to help Will find reasons to want to live, he surprises her by encouraging her to examine whether she is fulfilled in her own life.


Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - I was so, so happy when Kimmy came back for a second season! Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, and the rest of the writing team are really on point creating ridiculous characters that are still sympathetic. This season, we had Jacqueline visiting her parents and trying to reclaim her Native American culture, Titus falling in love, Lillian fighting gentrification. Guest stars included Anna Camp as Jacqueline's super-competitive WASP rival (basically her character from Pitch Perfect cranked to eleven), and Tina Fey as Kimmy's drunk Uber fare turned therapist. There were jokes about AirBnB, Uber, ADHD medication, Columbia House, the Washington Redskins, creepy show tunes. I just think of the phrase "stoop crone" and start laughing now.

Chelsea - I'm enjoying Chelsea Handler's new late night talk show for Netflix. She says in the first episode that she's getting to do the kind of show she's always wanted to, and it's interesting to see Chelsea and the stars she interviews discuss actual important issues instead of regular celebrity gossip, and she brings less well-known people involved with the issues onto the show as well - it reminds me more of The Daily Show than Chelsea Lately. It's a refreshing change of pace. 

Orange is the New Black - I didn't even try to pace myself with this season of OitNB - I binged! This season picks up right where Season 3 left off, and begins with the fallout of all the new inmates that have come to live at Litchfield now that it's a for-profit prison, including celebrity chef Judy King (when the real Piper Chapman was in prison, the inmates hoped Martha Stewart would spend her time at their facility). The racial hierarchy and tenuous relationships take center stage this season: Cindy distrusts her new roommate, who is Muslim; the Dominican women face off against Piper's underground business and the power-tripping prison guards; Brook makes completely off-base assumptions about Poussey's background; Piper almost-accidentally allies herself with white supremacists. Piper herself is less of a focus this season, which was fine by me - she had become such a horrible human being by the end of Season 3 that as a viewer I needed the time away! For me, the most compelling moments of this season featured supporting characters - Sophia and Nicky in maximum security, and Lolly and Blanca's background stories. When the tension that had been building all season finally broke in the last two episodes, it was heartbreaking - and the seemingly inevitable cliffhanger ending leaves me waiting impatiently for Season 5.

Wednesday, July 27

what makes a wedding fun?

Back in 2011, someone in an online wedding planning community I participate in asked what differentiates a "fun" wedding from a "boring" wedding?  I reposted my answer here on the blog, with some elaboration and some sneak peeks from our wedding. I wanted to share it again today, since I still believe so much in this message.

The things that make weddings "fun" for me are:

Happy guests!  Photo courtesy my college Apartmentmate Senora M.

1. Not feeling awkward at dinner; getting to sit with people I know, or at least people who are close in age/interests. As wedding hosts, don't invite people out of guilt or because you feel like you "should," invite them because you can't imagine celebrating your marriage without them, and it will be easier to seat cool people together. I've always appreciated it when I could tell that a bride and groom put in the extra effort - like one where even though I didn't know most of the other guests at my table, we were all alumni of the same college so we had a lot of common ground.  I got really stressed out about our seating chart, so I let Mr. Spin make some of the final decisions about who should sit where.  When he had to put someone with people they didn't know very well, he made sure they were people who would get along and maybe even form a great friendship.  We ended up with some awesome groupings of people and I saw several of my friends from different circles adding each other on Facebook after the wedding- proof that new acquaintances, at least, were forged.

Bridesmaid Philly and another college fellowship friend getting their groove on! - photo from BM Philly

2. Good music. Even if there is no dancing, play a thought-out set of music during dinner rather than the "smooth jazz" most DJ services bring. We worked on our playlist for a longtime, digging through everything from our old CD collections and our parents' favorite music, to the soundtracks of our favorite movies. But really, dancing is going to make a wedding much more fun- that's why I knew our wedding reception would not be held in a Baptist fellowship hall. Sure, alcohol helps loosen people up, but so does playing the cha-cha slide!  If people are sticking to their chairs even after the dance floor has opened up, the bride has the right to drag them out.  It's an actual rule of weddings that no one can say no to the bride, so milk that moment while you can!

The centerpiece at our wedding party's table - Photo from Vinton War Memorial

3. Personal touches - like, "oh, those J. Crew bridesmaid's dresses with pockets are SO Carolyn, and they match the flowers on the invitations she designed!" or "Katie and Aaron are cyclists and there is a bicycle on the program, cute!" or "Susie is quoting Journey in her vows!"  People loved the book centerpieces at our wedding because they know we are nerds, and some were even finding "hidden meaning" in the books at their tables - a coworker asked if the Emma table was more special than others since she knew I re-read that particular Austen novel every year.

The sparkler exit did not go perfectly, but our photographer got some great pictures!

4. Some way to be involved as a guest - give me some confetti to throw, a "we will" to say during the ceremony, a word search, a photobooth, something cool to sign, a sparkler to hold... some way to feel like I'm really a part of the celebration, not a spectator watching a performance. We call it a wedding ceremony for a reason.

Our "Social Hour" bar menu - Photo from Vinton War Memorial

5. Keeping the serious parts meaningful but efficient: you do not need to make your guests sit through "The Wind Beneath My Wings" while you stare lovingly at one another and light candles. That's just cruel. If you do photos after the ceremony, give guests something to do (photo booth, crossword, puzzle, scavenger hunt, neat venue to explore, cool guest book), something to eat (cocktails, appetizers, crudites, milk and cookies, something!) and somewhere to sit if their feet hurt (high heels are killer). If you aren't doing a fancy choreographed first dance, invite your guests or at least bridal party to join in halfway through so guests aren't watching you do the seventh-grade sway for three minutes.

We burst into giggles during our first dance.  Photo from Senora M.

6. MOST IMPORTANT: the bride and groom at a fun wedding don't take themselves too seriously. You are not auditioning for Four Weddings, and your wedding is not really going to be The Best Day of Your Life (because in reality, that would suck- the best days are still to come!). Loosen up, don't sweat little details, and take time to enjoy having all your favorite people in one place because it probably won't happen again.

What details and decisions have made weddings you have attended FUN?  Are you adding any special FUN touches to your wedding day?

Monday, July 25

this week's clicks.

get your week off to a colorful start...

  • Thank you, James Corden, for the gift to humanity that is Carpool Karaoke! Have y'all seen this one with Michelle Obama and Missy Elliot yet? These folks are having so much fun with "Single Ladies" and "Get Ur Freak On!"




Friday, July 22

Potter Month: Harry Potter Spells Book Tag

5 Fandom Friday is a weekly prompt challenge for female geek bloggers hosted by The Nerdy Girlie and Super Space Chick. You can learn more about the Female Geek Bloggers group here. This month, we're doing things a little differently and zooming in on one fandom (which just happens to be the most amazing universe to be a fan of) for Harry Potter MonthKristin from Super Space Chick posted one of the coolest book tags every in honor of this month - the HP Spells Book Tag! 


I'm obsessed with Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass series and can't wait to read book #5 when it comes out in September - the stakes have gotten higher for the characters with every book, and Aerin is one of my all-time favorite heroines.


Diana Gabaldon has had me under her spell from the very beginning. The Outlander series is such an amazing blend of historical fiction, fantasy, and romance, and the first novel sets the tone so well. 


This category was really hard for me... I just do not read warm and fuzzy books! Meyer's Lunar Chronicles are fairytale retellings with a science fiction twist, and my favorite pairing are Cress and Captain Carswell Thorne - innocence and trust meets swagger and cockiness (please recommend your favorite warm and fuzzy books in the comments!). 


Oh, goodness. I checked this one out from the library after seeing the trailers for the film, and I'm glad I did because I don't think I would have been able to handle this story in a theater. I read it in one sitting, and it completely wrecked me emotionally.


Stephanie Plum is one lucky bond bailswoman - whenever she's in trouble, she has two hotties who are already there for her - while I love her banter with her on-and-off fiancee, Joe Morelli, I think if I needed protection I'd call on dark, mysterious Ranger and his never-ending supply of Land Rovers and weapons.


One of my all-time favorite books, from my favorite YA fantasy writer. The Scorpio Races is so unique and beautifully written, with amazing worldbuilding. I think its length is off-putting to some people (it's a doorstop!) but it's definitely worth the time it takes to read.


This was such a creative YA series - sci-fi, romance, and dystopia. I loved the characters, Petty and Aria, and their unlikely romance, and definitely could have read more books about them having adventures together!


I love reading about strong women, but I love books about women becoming strong even more - especially when they're true stories! Even though I had a little bit of trouble getting into Cheryl Strayed's memoir at first, I am so glad that I read about her journey hiking the Pacific Coast Trail solo.


I was such a big fan of the first two Divergent books, along with many of my students, but I thought the final book was such a let-down. I did not like the ending at all, not just because it wasn't a happy one but because it made me feel like I'd wasted my time investment as a reader.


There's a reason Neil Gaiman is a living legend - is there anything he can't do? Novels for adults, collaborations, story collections, graphic novels, YA, middle-grade, and even children's picture books - there's a Neil Gaiman book for everyone, ranging from whimsical magic to the terrifying paranormal.


Henry DeTamble, always and forever.


I tend to be a marathon reader anyway, but this book was insane and I had to knew how the conflict would be resolved and if my favorite characters would survive. As soon as I finished it, I was on Facebook recommending it to all my friends.


This was one of the first books I received as a digital ARC through Netgalley, and I felt obligated to read it all the way through so I could give honest feedback. I'd just finished watching the Astronaut Wives Club  television show and was interested in this book because of the Cold War setting, but the plot was so slow and the narrator was, quite simply, a boring man. Even as interesting things were happening around him (his wife's mental illness, his secretly adopted daughter's biological mom returning, his daughter dating a Cuban refugee, a shortage of gas at the gas station he ran), his "I'm a good guy, I have to do the right thing" reactions weren't interesting at all.


Do I even need to explain why?


When I was in eleventh grade, I threw The Scarlet Letter out the window of the school bus. Then I got out and got it because it was the school's copy and I didn't want to have to pay a fine. When I was a sophomore in college, my boyfriend told me I looked like how he imagined Hester Prynne when he read the book. That relationship did not last.


It's not a very creative answer, but Narnia for sure. In reading the Magicians books by Lev Grossman, I've realized just how much I have in common with the main character, Quentin, who feels such a sense of ennui because the real world never matches the fantasy worlds he's read about in books.


My mom had told me that this was her favorite book for years, and has always assured me that it's not where she got my middle name. I finally got around to reading it a few summers ago, and it actually made me look at my mom in a whole new light (I started recommending things like Girl in the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl to her afterward!)


This novel really made me think about how we need more strong female friendships in YA novels. I felt the loss in this book so keenly.


This series by Sarah Rees Brennan was so fun to read after following her publication process on Livejournal, and I love the way she tied everything up (especially for Nick and Mae).