Thursday, September 22, 2016

The mysterious green box: where the cool kids hang out

They sit on nearly every street in America. You've probably asked your mom at some point what they're for. They're ugly and boring, yet shrouded in mystique.

Okay, okay, this box is brown. But you still know what I'm talking about, right?

These things were the focal point of a lot of my childhood games. The one at our house was at the edge of our property, so it was "safe" when we played any variation of tag, the boundary line when we needed one, even a base if we played baseball in the front yard. (Siblings/parents, this actually happened, right? I'm not just making this up?)

The Payson park had a huge one, and whenever we went there with my cousins the giant green box had a myriad of roles: a prison for (a) a bad guy who was trying to get out, or (b) a good guy we were trying to rescue; a cage for a big, bad monster that had been trying to get out for 100 years; a bomb that would explode if you touched it; a fortress (especially useful when water guns and snowballs were included in our game); or a transformer-in-disguise that was only pretending to be a box to lure us in.

None of us really knew what the thing was for, which might be why we were so drawn to it.

Kids congregating around boring objects—that, I get. Kids can make a game out of anything.

But as I've gone on my evening walks, I've noticed that these green boxes are hang-out magnets for adults, too. I've started avoiding one area of sidewalk because someone is always smoking by the box. Even worse is the one right next to my parking space, which I'm starting to fear is becoming the hot spot of my apartment complex. Half the time when I'm leaving or going, there are teenagers leaning against it trying to look cool, a couple coupling, or a lone person on their phone. Every time I see somebody by the box, I feel like I did in high school when my locker was by the good drinking fountain with the really cold water, which meant I could never get to it because there were always 20 football players blocking it.

The only difference now is that I don't care if I break up the party—I pay 15 bucks for that spot every month, dang it!—so every other day I'm parking a few feet away from strangers who are engaged in various forms of socialization, and trust me, there's no non-awkward way to interrupt them. (The socially gifted might have a shot, but as a territorial introvert I just want people to get off my lawn.)

Maybe it's because the boxes make convenient seats if you want to sit down (I'm still hesitant to do that, since you never know when one could be a bomb). Maybe there really are aliens hiding inside, using their mind powers to draw people into their trap.

Whatever the reason, I hope this trend stops before it gets out of hand. At the very least, the cooling weather will push people back to their couches inside, right?

Thursday, September 15, 2016


A few days ago, I turned 29. Before too much longer, people won't feel the need to qualify my adult status with the word "young." The cushion between my current age and 30 is gone—which is a little disconcerting for someone who's been afraid of turning 30 since her early 20s.

Because somewhere along the line, I absorbed the "30 before 30" philosophy, the idea that you have to accomplish certain things before you turn 30. I think it started in high school when college was looming on my doorstep and the yearbook staff was asking seniors what their post–high school plans were (actually, I have no idea if the yearbook staff actually did that, and I was on the yearbook staff). So I made a plan. Several plans. I even made a pre-30s bucket list.

But I couldn't plan past 30. That version of me was too old to relate to, and at some point I started thinking that 30 was the end—if I didn't have it figured out by then, then it was too late. I'd have to schmooze around with my regrets for 70 years.

Not to mention 30 is a milestone age in LDS culture that no one wants to reach—if you're not married by 30, then you'll either be single for the rest of mortality or end up marrying a divorcĂ© with three kids. (Or an apostle, and really, does anyone actually want to marry someone that busy and famous without the riches that typically come with that type of lifestyle?)*

*If you don't hear from me in the next few days, it's because I've been struck by lightning.

So I've been spending some time over the last few years trying to unlearn these crazy ideas so I wouldn't have to hit the panic button when I turned 29.

And I think it's working, because I don't feel like I'm standing at death's door. I can look at my past and be proud of my accomplishments, and look forward to my—gulp—30s where I will, yes, continue to experience new things. It still feels weird picturing myself in my 30s at all, but the point is, I can picture it. In fact, now that I'm pretty much an established adult with a stable life, I think my 30s will be easier than my 20s in a lot of ways.

Now that I've come to peace with the fact that I'm not the one person who will get to avoid this nasty aging business, I think I'll enjoy the last year in my 20s quite a bit (maybe I'll even find that ever-elusive perfect Ranch recipe, though I'm not holding my breath).

Provided I'm not hit with a quarter-life crisis in about six months.*

*Although I should probably just woman up and get used to calling it a mid-life crisis.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Summer book wrap-up, Twitter style

22 books, summarized in 140 characters or less.

How Many Roads, by Dean Hughes. 4 stars.
Mormons. America. Germany. The '60s.

Take Me Home, by Dean Hughes. 4 stars.
A Mormon in Vietnam. A picture-perfect marriage crumbles.

So Much of Life Ahead, by Dean Hughes. 4 stars.
Mormon soap opera. Plus history!

The Big Rock Candy Mountain, by Wallace Stegner. 4.5 stars.
A dysfunctional family hops across the American Northwest, chasing dreams that are doomed to crumble. Stellar writing.

Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld. 2 stars.
A modern Pride and Prejudice, minus the charm.

I Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh. 4 stars.
A compelling and cozy crime novel, with a couple of twists you won't see coming.

Rose Daughter, by Robin McKinley. 4 stars.
A wordy, comforting, and magical Beauty and the Beast retelling. With sisters.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. 2 stars.
Like a crazy dream you can't wake up from. Oh wait, it is a dream.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle. 2 stars.
We've got an unsolvable mystery; Sherlock Holmes to the rescue! And there are dogs.

Midway to Heaven, by Dean Hughes. 2 stars.
Like a Mormon Hallmark card.

My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Picoult. 3 stars.
A complicated and heartbreaking situation where everyone has a valid perspective and no one wins.

A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly. 3 stars.
A plot that mirrors the protagonist's self-picked word of the day. Also, a murder mystery in 1900s New York.

Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. 4 stars.
A time-traveling story where the romance is secondary to the characters and historical details. Well, except for the "honeymoon" part.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by Jack Thorne. 3.5 stars.
An entertaining play if you forget it's supposed to be a continuation of J.K. Rowling's masterpiece.

Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent's Expectations, by Ron Fournier. 5 stars.
A dad and a kid with Asperger's take a trip together. They learn things. You needn't be a parent or know someone with Asperger's to enjoy this.

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. 5 stars.
A life dedicated to medicine is cut short. But not before this young man shows us the beauty of living.

Silver in the Blood, by Jessica Day George. 3 stars.
Werewolves and Russian princesses.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. 4 stars.
A delightful story you'll wish you had read as a kid. A classic in its own right, regardless of the movie's success.

Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler. 3.5 stars.
A modern retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. The "shrew" is hilarious, and the "rogue" who woos her is rather adorable.

Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch. 5 stars.
A page turner with possibilities that will make your head hurt.

The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. 1 star.
The movie's better.

Letters, by Marjorie Pay Hinckley. 4 stars.
Glimpses into an amazing life, where yardwork and parenthood are just as prominent as exotic places and famous people.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What I did this summer besides not sleep and talk about Harry Potter

I just realized that the only things I've blogged about this summer are Harry Potter and sleep. And while those two things really have been on my mind a lot the past three months, I'm pretty sure other stuff happened, too.

Such as, I worked a lot. Preparing for this year's International Convention about killed off our department. But that's not a fun thing to talk about, so let's move on.

I played stake softball. But I don't have any pictures, so I guess it didn't happen.

Ooh, I know. I finished my ginormous afghan just in time to summerize my bedding. I'm excited to pull it back out in a few months.

My family had a water party on Memorial Day for the grandkids and Tyrel.

Ladies, this muscular dork is single. (That's a balloon on his head, if you're wondering.)

Avonlea loves her cousin Noah. LOVES him. 

Passing on a beloved tradition.

The 4th of July happened, and we did sparklers and pop-its (is that what they're actually called?). Once again, for the grandkids and Tyrel.

She looks so much like baby Kimberly in this picture.

We also watched Prince Caspian on our garage door, because that's what you do when fireworks are banned in your area.

I colored my hair for the first time since high school. It's not really what I had in mind, and I miss my natural boring brown hair. But I'm reconciling myself to going about life with yellow hair.

I went to Seattle with my family (minus the married kids), where we weren't allowed to talk about the w-word for a whole week. Many hilarious things were said, we ate a ton of great food, watched the Olympics every night, and slept in every morning. Heaven.

Other highlights include going to a Mariners game, which we all enjoyed more than we thought we would.

Except maybe Shannan.

I ate a deep-fried Twinkie, which kind of tasted like bread with powdered sugar on it. Not really what I was expecting.

We fulfilled our hike obligation for the next couple of years. (Except for Tyrel, who climbs a mountain once a week.)

Look at all that green!

Mom and Dad aren't so sure about Tyrel's tripod/selfie stick.

I had a great time embracing my crazy, curly hair for a few days (humidity's one redeeming quality), and learned that taking dramatic wind pictures is hard and usually not glamorous.

We went to a bunch of museums. The guitar tower was my favorite.

And the Invisibility Cloak display that had nothing in it.

I faced my fear of heights and made it to the top of the Space Needle without completely losing my dignity. I somehow ended up at the front of the elevator, right in front of the window, and had nothing to hold onto to make me feel anchored. And once we got out of the elevator I couldn't shake the feeling that the tower was swaying. The view was awesome, but I don't need to go through that again.

Note Mt. Rainier in the background. 

This picture makes me look slightly more terrified than I actually was. Only slightly, though.

And other shenanigans happened in Seattle.

We rode the ferry and went on a boat cruise.

We sat in these amazing recliner chairs for the Star Trek movie, so we had to go back and see another movie (Pete's Dragon) on our last day. And stick our very own Troll in the Troll's head.

I dove right back into the craziness of work, and went into Convention exhausted. I have no pictures or cool stories from this year, but I do have documentation from my Fitbit that it happened—I averaged 18,000 steps per day over the four days. That's about double what I usually get. I watched Friday Night Lights every night and took the most amazing bubble bath of my life on the last night to recover. And slept a lot on Sunday.

So, some good stuff happened this summer. But, as always, I'm stoked for it to step aside for fall.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Manufactured magic: What happened after "all was well"

When the last Harry Potter movie was released in 2011, a lot of people assumed the Harry Potter fandom would finally start to settle down. Of course, those of us who live and breathe the books knew better; no way was the lack of new material going to temper our passion.

And we were right. Potterheads are as dedicated as ever. We still go to conventions. We still read and discuss the books. And the original Harry Potter generation is already introducing this incredible story to their kids. (I'm resigning myself to the fact that my kids will probably hate Harry Potter just because I love it, because rotten kids tend to get their just reward when they pass on their genes. My only hope is that I came around to Lord of the Rings eventually, and Chris Pine managed what my parents earnestly tried but could not do—get me to enjoy a Star Trek movie.)

In fact, it turns out that we weren't done getting new Harry Potter material. In just five years, we got Pottermore, tons of information on the Harry Potter world and even some on the North American wizarding school, a promise for at least three movies about New Scamander of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them fame, and a play. JKR invited us further into the world she created (although Potterheads prefer to say "discovered") with her sorting and wand selection quizzes, and even gave us "live" updates on the Quidditch Final in 2014 (spoiler: Krum won). And that's not even getting into theme parks, merchandise, and endless amounts of fan-created content. It doesn't take a business genius to see the money-making opportunities in Harry Potter, so of course people with marketing teams got involved to "give the people what they want."

We drank it all up, and kept demanding more. I'm as guilty of this as anyone.

But after reading Cursed Child (stop reading if you want to avoid spoilers) and getting a sense for how my fellow Potterheads feel about this new branch of "canon," I finally started to see what's happening to the franchise. It's just what the Harry Potter grinches have been predicting for years—continuing a story that has a solid conclusion would only dilute it until it is no longer recognizable. It took Voldemort and Bellatrix having a daughter and Harry being afraid of pigeons for me to see it. JKR's voice, which is what made Harry Potter most special, is slowly being phased out.

The amount of pressure JKR has experienced because of Harry Potter has got to be tremendous. Someone without her talent and sense of humor would probably have had a mental breakdown by now. Passionate fans aren't a whole lot different from gluttonous beasts, and no matter how much information she feeds us, we're never going to be completely satisfied. And those trying to capitalize on Harry Potter's guaranteed money-making powers are even more persistent than fans who just want to know what Moaning Myrtle's middle name is. Warner Brothers and other corporations are going to take the Harry Potter cash cow and keep running with it, whether JKR is on board or not. So she got involved with the Fantastic Beasts trilogy, and signed off on the play. Because she loves Harry Potter too and wants to do right by her fans. And no artist wants to see her creation tarnished by someone else.

But it's clear that her heart isn't into it. Not like it was 10 years ago.

We have no one but ourselves to blame. We wanted more, and we kept getting it—now we're to the point where a writer who is not JKR thought he could get away with having the "canon" Harry Potter say something like, "You don't understand, because you don't have kids" to Professor McGonagall (in an alternative universe, sure, but alternate universes don't belong in Harry Potter anyway).

As I've talked about on this blog many times, I love getting anything Harry Potter related, and I'm not ready to telegraph a "cease and desist" order to JKR. And while the charm, wonder, and—gosh, I'll just say it—magic of the original seven books will always be there, the franchise as it currently stands feels manufactured. Like Squibs trying to imitate the world they can't truly be a part of. Perhaps it's time to start tapping on the brakes. Or—imagine this—let JKR take back her control, even if it means we never get another word on Harry Potter.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

9 years later: Reading a new Harry Potter book for the first time

For those of you who cautiously clicked through, don't worry; there won't be spoilers here. Not really.

Ya'll know my thoughts on the so-called 8th Harry Potter story. I would much rather have a novel we can all enjoy than a play only a few can experience.

But when the script went on sale for pre-order, of course I ordered a copy—a new piece of Harry's world was waiting to be discovered, and ignoring it simply wasn't an option.

I was a little annoyed when I realized that July 31 was a Sunday, which meant I'd have to wait an extra day to read the book. Uncle Vernon won that round.

But still, it wasn't too big of a problem. It was like that Christmas before I was a true Harry Potter fan and chose to read my Nancy Drew books before I read books 2 and 3 of the Harry Potter series. I'd get to it eventually.

Which is why I was a little surprised that when I sat down with the book I got a little emotional. The dust jacket has the same texture as my other Harry Potter books. The book design is the same. It felt like a Harry Potter book, and it dawned on me that I was reading a new Harry Potter book for the first time in nine years. No, it wouldn't be quite the same, but it was new Harry Potter canon nonetheless—that's not something you can just brush aside.

In traditional Harry Potter fashion, I stayed up too late finishing it, and then had to sit down and jot down some of my thoughts before attempting to sleep. Therapy for Harry Potter withdrawals won't be required this time because the script isn't on that level of literary magic, nor did I expect it to be, but, come on. It's Harry Potter. Of course I have thoughts.

(If you're one of those who considers impressions spoilers, I would advise that you stop reading now.)

Did I enjoy it? Yes, more than I thought I would (though it's definitely got problems). Do I think it would make a good play? Absolutely, and I'd love to see it. The writers managed to convince me that a play would be a fun way to tell this story, more so than a movie would be, even. But I stand by what I've said for years—there's no better medium for Harry Potter than a novel written by J.K. Rowling. It's no contest. Reading the script was a bit like watching it through a foggy window—you grasp enough to know what's going on, but you don't truly experience it.

Did it feel like Harry Potter? Well, sort of. Tone-wise, it felt most like Sorcerer's Stone; lighthearted with some dark moments. But mostly it felt like fan fiction to me, and that's because of the plot, not the format. However, it was delightful seeing the trio, Ginny, and Draco as adults. Some of the lines made me laugh out loud. Some made my heart twinge a bit.

It wasn't the type of experience that made me a devoted Potterhead for life, but it was still a continuation of a story I love so much. And that's enough. Just knowing that Harry and co. are still out there, dealing with parental struggles and magical problems while we stalk them with the best of our Muggle capabilities, is comforting. JKR didn't have to let us into their lives again, but she did, and honestly, I'm grateful for whatever I can get.

Now, I wanted to do some kind of recap of my reactions to the play, so I took some notes as I went along.

Again, there aren't any blatant spoilers, but depending on how well you know me and Harry Potter, you may be able to guess what some of my vague exclamations mean. I doubt it, though.

Be ye warned.

pg. 17: WHAT.
pg. 29: JKR, do you really want to go down that road again?
pg. 48: Oh no!
pg. 52: This is starting to sound like that Harry Potter Musical on YouTube.
pg. 55: Now this is the kind of magical backstory I was hoping for.
pg. 59. Wait, did I read that right? ::Pauses:: Actually, that's not surprising.
pg. 67: Oh, Ron. Nobody can lighten the mood like you can.
pg. 78: Okay, this scene would be hilarious to watch.
pg. 81: Don't touch those books!
pg. 82: I told you not to touch those books. What would Grandpa Weasley say?
pg. 91: This better not mean what I think it means.
pg. 106: WHAT? It actually worked?
pg. 115: Oh, Harry. Dumbledore was right about you.
pg. 118: Gosh dang it, look what you did to Ron!
pg. 122: Ugh, Harry, stop being such a jerk.
pg. 125: See, this is why Hermione needs Ron.
pg. 135: Harry cooks?
pg. 136: Who would have thought that Draco and Ginny would have something in common?
pg. 144: Always. Sniff.
pg. 160: Okay, I know that wasn't supposed to be funny, but I can't stop laughing.
pg. 183: Did _____ seriously just crack a joke?
pg. 187: Stop trying to make me like _____.
pg. 195: I mean it.
pg. 223: This play is worth it for the Ron and Hermione scenes alone.
pg. 224: I hope canceling on the goblins doesn't come back to bite you.
pg. 249: Awwwwwww.
pg. 258: Awwwwwww. ::fake cries::
pg. 273: Yay! Ron gets to go with them this time!
pg. 274: Draco learned that from Voldemort, I'll bet.
pg. 277: #TeamBookGinny
pg. 280: This just got really weird.
pg. 287: I KNEW IT!
pg. 298: Finally! I've been waiting for _____ to show up.
pg. 306: Hmm. That's new.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

What the doctor ordered

As someone with near perfect health, I don't have a lot of experience being a patient. The most traumatic healthcare experience I've had is getting my wisdom teeth removed. Pretty routine procedure.

But after kicking off what has been the worst summer—sleep wise—of my life, I finally did what I should have done years and years ago: went to a sleep doctor. It introduced me to a world of ridiculously high co-pays, repetitive questions about my sleep habits, and trips to the hospital to get blood tests done. All stuff that was new in an almost eerie way, although a part of me enjoyed finding out what the inside life of a patient was like.

Unsurprisingly, the doctor ordered a sleep test as well, which is just another way of saying, "We're going to charge you a buttload of money so you can have the worst night of sleep in your life." Still, I was kind of looking forward to it, partly because I was curious what it would be like, and partly because I was willing to do just about anything to get to the bottom of why I can't sleep like a normal person.

I showed up at the clinic just before dark, feeling like a homeless person as I stood there in my pajamas, clutching two pillows (never underestimate the importance of good pillows), waiting for someone to let me in. The lab tech took me to the same room I had my initial consultation in, where I saw this waiting for me:

The lab tech spent the next 45 minutes wiring me up. That's about 40 wires connected to my body, mostly on my head, with two on each leg, some on my shoulders/collarbone, a couple straps across my waist and chest, a clamp thing on my left pointer finger, and two breathing tube things in my nose (which would have been a disaster if my allergies decided to come play).

I was a sight to see—wires hooked up everywhere, no makeup on, my hair a frizzy mass of unruly curls because they made me wash it beforehand and I wasn't allowed to put any product in it.

Yes, I took a picture, and no, you can't see it. Basically, I looked something like this:

Only instead of the skeleton, just imagine that there are little white squares glued all over my face.

If I wasn't already exhausted from the frustrating 4.5 hours of sleep I got the night before, not to mention months of sleep deprivation, I might have laughed hysterically at the thought that this was the best solution medical professionals have come up with for monitoring someone's sleep. (Oh, and I'm pretty sure there was also a video camera in my room. Creepy.)

Just picture it: a group of sleep experts sitting at a conference room table in their lab coats, laughing evilly as they map out a formula for the perfect worst night of sleep.

  • Strange environment—check.
  • Cheap bed with a thin blanket that barely covers it—check.
  • Wire the patient up so that in addition to having foreign objects taped all over the place they'll also be paranoid that they'll get tangled up in their sleep—check.
  • Sporadic noises throughout the night—check.
  • Turn the thermostat down so patient will never be quite warm enough—check.
  • Prohibit bathroom breaks/don't tell patient where the bathroom is—check.

(To be fair, my lab tech was a very nice guy, and he did ask me if the temperature was okay, I just underestimated how little coverage that stupid blanket would provide.)

All things considered, I don't think it was the worst night of sleep of my life, but it would make the top 5 if I were weird enough to track that kind of thing. The wires weren't as uncomfortable and distracting as I thought they would be, and I actually slept okay once I managed to fall asleep. Which took a good three hours, even after two doses of melatonin and all of my other tricks to stimulate sleep.

After 3–4 hours of sleep, I was awoken and finally got to get rid of all those wires. Which left goops of this jelly glue stuff all over my face and caked into my hair. Luckily, it wasn't hard to wash out, but this is another one of those situations where I envied bald men everywhere.

Now all I have to do is wait and see what the results are. That and finish up what's turning out to be my busiest week of the year. And wait for the sleep-loss headache to escalate.

Am I laughing or crying?