The Unexpected Pleasures of More Than a Decade of Reading Harry Potter

A Guest Post by Leo Babauta

Recently, I finished reading Book 7 of the Harry Potter series with my youngest daughter Noelle. We cried, laughed, gasped in shock, cried some more.

It was quite a journey, reading all seven books with her, and it took us four or five years.

Amazingly, it was my fourth time through the series. I read all 7 books with four of my kids, taking several years each time through.

I absolutely love the Harry Potter series, and have had the immense pleasure and honor of reading it to my kids, learning new things each time, finding new pleasures with each one, rediscovering details I’d forgotten, falling in love with the characters all over again each time.

Reading the series with four kids brought me some unexpected pleasures:

I started reading it with my eldest daughter, Chloe, when she was in elementary school. Probably 17 years ago or so. It began a lifelong love affair with Harry Potter for Chloe — she eventually fell in love with the actor who played Harry in the movies, Daniel Radcliffe, though she might not want me to tell you that, and we saw him in a Broadway play in New York after she graduated high school. I was there at the beginning of that love affair with the series, and sharing that with her has always been something special for me.
Chloe and I used to wait for each new book to come out, which was a delicious pleasure of anticipation. She was always so excited to read, but my time to read with her was limited —- she was only with me a few nights a week, I worked full time and was doing freelance writing, and I had a bunch of younger kids to help take care of. So she had to wait as we made agonizingly slow progress through the last couple of books, despite the nail-biting excitement of the plots.
Reading with Chloe gave me the pleasure of discovering things about her, as we read together … she was able to grasp complex vocabulary at a young age, understand difficult plots, and seemed to pick up on subtle relationship dynamics in the book that I didn’t think she’d understand. She had a deep sense of empathy for the characters, and a tender heart that I saw as we read through emotional parts of the book. What a lovely thing, sharing that with her.
We started when Chloe was in elementary school, but didn’t finish until she was 15 (we had to wait for the books to come out, and we took long to read them) … that meant that we would bond together reading in bed in a way that I might not have done with a teen-age daughter normally. By that age, they often start to grow apart from you, but reading with Chloe helped us stay close.
I remember crying as I read some of the more emotional parts (like the deaths of some characters, who shall remain unnamed for the sake of avoiding spoilers), with all the kids, but Chloe was the first. My voice would crack with emotion, and at times tears would flow down my face as I read. Chloe cried with me. It was like losing family members.
When I picked up the series again with my son Rain (who is now an adult in college), it was a completely different experience. It felt more like going on an adventure with him, and sharing in that adventure was so much fun. I’d already forgotten lots about the earlier books, and so it was also a process of rediscovery, which was a delight!
As with Chloe, when I read the series with Rain, it became a shared experience, something we did together while he was a kid (into middle school) that we’ll always have. He’s an adult now, but those times reading with him were some of my favorite experiences with him.
Rain remembers the two of us falling asleep together when we read the book sometimes. Sleep was actually a big theme for me as I read to all the kids … I’ve become infamous in their eyes for falling asleep while reading to them. It’s as if the books cast a stunning spell on me, perhaps.
When I read with Seth, it was a new experience as well. He had such enthusiasm for the books, it was so much fun. He bought Harry Potter wands and would cast spells. He really liked using Avada Kedavra (the killing curse) on me, which I patiently explained (as a ghost, I guess) was patricide. He seemed unbothered by that, as he kept cursing me.
Seth also liked to dress as Harry, robes and glasses and all. I loved being a part of his fantasy world, bringing it to life every time we read.
When Seth and I finished the series, it was satisfying but also left a hole in our lives. We started reading Lord of the Rings, which is awesome but without the same emotional connection, I think. Noelle and I are looking for a series now … I think we’re going to read the Unwanteds.

With Noelle, she brings an innocence to the reading experience that I really love. It’s a freshness, a wonder, an excitement. It reminds me of reading with Chloe. Each kid’s personality comes out in different ways in these shared experiences.
As with the other kids, Noelle and I read the books in spurts. We’d get interrupted by travel or visitors or holidays, then pick it up again, letting the memories of what happened the last time we read flood back into our minds, as if we were looking at memories in the pensieve. When things got exciting, sometimes we’d read two or even three times a day, trying to read as much as possible. It was if the thread of the books were woven in strange and magical ways into our lives.

That’s what Harry Potter was for me, with all the kids: a magical thread woven into the last 15+ years of my life, weaving me and each child together in unexpected, joyful ways. There have been lots of other experiences weaving us together — being part of a large family, traveling together, riding bikes and playing in the park, playing boardgames and werewolf, cooking together and spending time with other loved ones. Harry Potter was like all of that, except with wands.

That part of my life is over now, which brings a bit of sadness in my heart. I hope to read the series with my grandkids one day. I will always cherish the magic experience I shared with my kids.

p.s. I didn’t read the series with my two other kids, Justin and Maia, because Eva wanted to read them with them, and it saddens me that I didn’t have that with them. But I have my own shared experiences with them, and love them just the same.

10-new-1024x727Leo Babauta is the founder of Zen Habits, a writer, runner, and a vegan. Zen Habits is about finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives. It also happens to be one of the Top 25 blogs and Top 50 websites in the world, with more than a million monthly readers.

LiveThought: Cult of Chucky

Hey kids:  A new Chucky movie! On Netflix!

For nostalgia buffs, it all starts out very strong. Andy is back, in a surprisingly opulent opening shot, and the dialogue is not-so-bad.

Five minutes in

Super-cool twist before the opening credits even roll. Clearly, we knew Chuckster was on his way back, but that was fun.

As the credits roll, we learn the Fiona Dourif is starring in this flick along with her dear-old-dad. She starred in this film’s predecessor Curse of Chucky too, but it’s hard to know how the continuation train is going to roll in this franchise. I’m glad to see her back.

15 minutes in

We are in a mental-health facility. The acting in this scene is, again, surprisingly good. It’s actually a bit triggery in spots. Hot sex scene, though.

23 minutes in

…Damn, Fiona Dourif is a great actress. And she’s sharing screen with Jennifer Tilly, who lest we forget, is an Oscar-nominated actress. She’s also a killer poker player, FYI.

Also? Multiple Chuckies running around right now.

30 minutes in

Sorry for the delay, I needed a beer for this. Goose IPA, for the record.

Angry lady with bangs is bugging me, which probably means she’s not long for this flick, so I’m going to try to let it go. In addition: Worst. Therapist. Ever.

35 minutes in

Plot exposition time, please hold…

44:50 minutes in

HOLY SHIT

These effects are sick! The cinematography is amazing! A slow-mo of a breaking skylight falling into a stark-white examination room? Dude. BTW I was right about annoying lady with bangs. She’s now annoying head with bangs.

Michael Therriault Picture50 minutes in

Just going to reiterate that worst-therapist-ever sentiment here again, with the added bonus of actor-info: he’s 17 days younger than I am, he’s Canadian, and much less menacing in appearance in his head shots.

 The actress playing Madeline is a dead-ringer for Lili Taylor.
1:15 in 
 …I’ve had the Labeled for ReUse photo below all night, and just hit the point in the movie where it happens.

Surprised this film wasn’t called Army of Chuckies… I bet the research proved that cults were more popular than armies this year.

Ok, so we just reached the super-meta point in the film at which Fiona Dourif is basically playing her dad.

1:25 in

This is happening. Reminds me of Bound…remember Bound?

1:30 in

There’s the final twist, ensuring an eighth installment. And I have to say … that might have been the best Chucky/Child’s Play film ever.

October Food 2017: The ‘Seriously though, what’s in this’ Edition

Every year around this time, I enter my altered state by the light of the moon…and start researching for my annual October Food post. As the winds howl outside, you’ll find me: traipsing around the internet trying to uncover weird-ass eating trends from all over the world.

2017’s quest did not disappoint. Four trends bobbed to the top of the bucket of tepid water and apples for me this year; they all tempt the Pinterest Fail Fates, but most new and wacky things do. Plus, they seem to suggest that the act of celebrating — and promoting — off-the-wall edibles in October is still decidedly undead.

So, queue up your Amazon orders for lime-green fondant and dry ice, and scroll on for the picks.

The Blackening

This year’s blackened food of choice appears to be ice cream. Further, the blackening agent du jour appears to be charcoal — black sesame paste and squid ink are also options. The greater story here is the trend of activated charcoal as a health food, and as such, a sudden glut of cuisine noir, if you will. If dairy isn’t your thing, it’s just as easy to pick up a loaf of black bread, a glass of black lemonade, or super-dark dim sum.

Spotted at: The Daily Press

One Bite and All Your Dreams Will Come True

The Poison Apple is popping up all over Pinterest, not to mention at Disney Parks coast-to-coast, and there are oh-so-many interpretations. It can be an actual apple, or a cookie, or a cake pop… the poisoning options are endless. Not literally.

Here’s one great how-to from Eat the Trend:

Spotted at: Food & Wine

Break Me Off a Piece of that Momiji Manju Bar

There’s an entire economy growing around the Kit Kat bar, beginning in Japan and spreading westward fast. Virtually anyone worldwide can order customized flavors, personalized wrappers, and elaborate gift-wrapping from a Kit Kat off-shoot dubbed the Chocolatory — and that’s in addition to 300 readily available flavors including purple potato, wasabi, sake, and momiji manju — a nod to a steamed bun filled with red bean jelly.

Stateside, pumpkin-pie-flavored Kit Kats have arrived, joining the previously released Halloween Kit Kats – which are just regular Kit Kats in orange and white, but still fun.

Spotted at: The Jakarta Post

Meet Me at The Leaky Cauldron

Harry Potter-themed sundries aren’t a new thing, but they seem to be reaching a fever pitch lately. For one, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London is hosting a Dark Arts Dinner this year; it’s slated to span two nights and include such entrees as shin and bone marrow croquettes and forest mushroom mille feuille.

The Potter-esque drink menu is also endless and ever-expanding: for example, the Felix Felicis cocktail above is a solid step up from a butterbeer — arguably — and I was also impressed by this Patronus Punch made with fresh mint and a black light.

For dessert, Chocolate Frog molds totally exist, and so do printables to make the special purple candy boxes from Honeydukes.

Bonus… I was also reminded of a few past Oscar-party entries from my own annual fete, which were clearly before their Potterlicious time:

Hairy Pudding and the Half-blood Prints

Hairy Pudding and the Half-blood Prints

Oscar Party  2010

Harry Potter and the Half-nut Cookies

Fantastic Meats and Where to Find Them

Spotted at: Buzzfeed

SKC Page 4: Avocado Dip

Next up: Avocado Dip, which is not guacamole, but could play it on tv.

We had a friend over for dinner recently, and therefore our first outside-taste-tester in the Small Kitchen Cookbook cook-down.

This is also one of the first times in the book  that the reader/home cook is presented with what seems to my late-Gen-X eyes to be a strange either/or combination. As we wrap this recipe, the instructions ask us to finish things off with the (ever-popular) parsley, or instead paprika.

Not for nothing, as my mid-western friends say, but those are some radically different flavors. That said, there are much more drastic choices to come in this book, so maybe reserve your judgement for then.

We start with halved avocados, and Mortellito counsels us that we can hold on to the pits if we are interested in growing new avocado trees. Points for early ecology — however, I live in the Northeast and don’t think I’m in an avocado-friendly environment. So we move on to mashing and adding ingredients. White pepper, another popular ingredient in this book, makes an appearance along with mayo, lemon, and onion salt.

The consistency at first is a bit gritty, but I made the dip the night before serving — at which time it was much smoother. We went with parsley as garnish, because we still have a field’s worth in our home herb garden. Plus, paprika reminds me of Deviled Eggs, and I hate those.

We figured tortilla chips counted as ‘corn or potato chips,’ so as directed,  we “arranged” them in a chip and dip bowl from Homegoods.

I’ll probably make this again; it was gone at the end of the night and it didn’t brown overnight, like guac often does. It was a little bit weird at first in the taste department though, because the tongue is expecting guacamole and, as we addressed, this isn’t that. But like green tea ice cream, it has an acquired taste.

I give this recipe three and a half bunches of jaunty cherries. Let me know if you make it with paprika, and if it was worth it.