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.

Blogtoberfest 2016 – And How

IMG_6925Pumpkin Watch 2013 – I think we can do better this year.

at The Jump has been an annual celebration of all things Octobery and bloggy for a while now.

This year, the gist is largely the same. I’ll be blogging feverishly about all of the October things I love — horror movies, fall baking and decorating, the best road-trips of the season in and around New England, etc. — and you (yes, you!) are invited to submit a guest post at any time throughout the month. Readers pick the winner, and you’ll be entered to win a (fairly small) prize.

The topic can be just about anything that falls remotely under the umbrella of ‘October.’ That can definitely relate to Halloween and all the spookiness that ensues, but it doesn’t have to. Some equate October more with baseball or poker; others with Breast Cancer Awareness, others still with Jewish High Holy Days.

If you’re itching to blog but you’re stuck for inspiration, here’s a tip: there are more than 125 official ‘National Days‘ in October in the U.S. alone, including National Kick Butt Day and National Cheese Curd Day (plus some meant to be taken more seriously, such as National Coming Out Day and National Stop Bullying Day).

Here’s another nudge, too – you’re free to write a blog post, but photo montages, video, audio, and anything else you can come up with is also fair game. Send your entries to writerjax – at – gmail .com with the subject line BLOGTOBERFEST to get started, and keep an eye on The Jump for more entries and inspiration. You can follow the #Blogtoberfest hashtag, too — there are a few other similar ‘fests out there, but this time of year, we dominate.

Happy Blogging!





…And the Winner is

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 11.48.46 PMThe votes are in and a winner has been chosen! Beat your hands on the desk or laptop briskly for a drumroll, please…

The winner is Natasha Clark, author of The Wicked Mrs. B!

Natasha is the founder of The Lioness Group, a full-service media relations firm in Springfield, Mass., and publishers of Lioness magazine. Natasha also manages the Partners in Education program at Springfield School Volunteers where she recruits the business community to get involved in the local school district. taking top place, Natasha wins a gift basket from Berkshire Naturals and Berkshire Outdoors of Lenox, Mass. with a lemongrass-scented soy candle, soap, and foaming hand wash.

It’s been another great Blogtoberfest season! Thanks to everyone who wrote, read, and voted … we’ll do it again next year.

NAOS, The EMP, Drum Fest

Blogtoberfest Guest Post #5, by Leo Mazzeo

It’s been a fair amount of time since I last visited North Adams for the annual Open Studios Event there.  My last foray was as a guest exhibiting artist.  This time out was as an interested spectator and arts indie blogger.

Eclipse Mill

The decumbent autumnal greyness overhead saw the tires of my vehicle coming to rest in the attached roadside visitor’s lot of the Eclipse Mill, allowing a beginning terminus for the day’s planned cultural sortie.  Well, not quite a sortie, but I had envisioned an ambitious agenda and wanted to take in much during a limited amount of time.

Eclipse Mill

Photographer Stacey Hetherington was greeting visitors at a hallway table inside the main entrance of the mill.  When I arrived, she was in conversation with ceramicist Gail Sellers.  Photographer and ceramicist are, of course, only one each of the talents both engage in as both are multi-talented and very accomplished in many fields.

Stacey Hetherington

Sellers I’ve known for a time now in regional arts circles and Hetherington, I was just making acquaintance.  During the card and information exchange, I was bemused to learn, not for the first time, that the arts indie aura, presence, whatever it’s becoming, preceded me.  Fine.  Teamwork and good branding in action.  Bravo to all that have helped and supported!

So, I decided a start from the upper floors down might be the best way to go here and used the stairs to effect the plan.  First off, though, I don’t want to mislead and say I took it all in.  Not possible in the brief time I had and even a vastly more lengthy time as well, so I’ll just share a few accounts in a kind of breeze through manner to illustrate and illuminate a few tiny sections of the tip of the iceberg.

Eclipse Mill

Four floors the building has.  All with hallways filled with artwork created by the mill’s live-in artist residents.  And that’s just the hallways.  And that’s just the hallways.  Twice for emphasis.

Eclipse Mill

Eclipse Mill

Eclipse Mill

Eclipse Mill

This being an open studio event, studio doors, it follows suit, were open.  Liz Cunningham’s studio was the first studio I entered.  Cunningham, a longtime practitioner of the healing arts, has, over time, experimented with a broad range of media and combinations there of, but has found in her field and artistic practice, satisfaction in working as a printmaker with mixed media elements combined, particularly with found objects from nature.  Of her work, Cunningham states, “If my art does not evoke an emotion in me I do not consider it a finished piece.”

Liz Cunningham

Next, I visited with Wayne Hopkins, Tippy, and Cathy Wysocki.  The three share one of the larger spaces in the building.  Tippy is the studio manager and naps and treats specialist.

TippyHopkins is a premium caliber veteran and has shown widely in high-profile galleries and museums.  A graduate and later instructor at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, his work may be found in the museum’s collection, as well as The Fuller Museum of Art, The Zimmerli Art Museum Rutgers, and The Bank of Boston.  Looking through the galleries on his website, as well as what may be seen in his section of the space, one discerns that Hopkins paints broadly and completely from a core that ranges stoically from quiet, serene places to, well, decidedly and deliberately, not so quiet and serene places.

Wayne Hopkins

Wysocki is best known for a body of work centered around the Lumplanders.  In Wysocki’s words, “The Lumplanders are a society forming & devolving simultaneously.   A mangled & mutated lot.  Some in search of power and control, others trying to survive, and the hopefuls…they are looking for escape (perhaps to the sea).  Various theories have been posed by scientists, religious figures, and the medical community concerning their origin and their possible contagiousness.  The Lumplanders as a society are in the early stages of formation.  Only time will reveal their final outcome – hopefully, not a dismal repeat of past societies and civilizations throughout history.”

Cathy Wysocki

Cathy Wysocki

After leaving the welcoming, readily symbiotic cohesiveness of this trio, a floor down, I had the pleasure of spending some time with Betty Vera amidst her work and Jacquard weavings.  Vera garners inspiration and composition ideas for her weaves from all that she sees.  The world that surrounds her is her reference subject and her process begins with the most striking of imagery and evolves as she works, gleaning and building in an improvisational manner to the finished piece.

Betty Vera

Her top choices for inspiration are firmly landscape based and more specifically are thematically linked by urban elements such as street surfaces, walls, and alleyways.  Primarily, she works abstractly, which I liked and found compelling, though in some work she moves decidedly close to pure representational and often combines abstract and representational elements in a single piece.  Because each work begins in a setting of richly and heavily topical environs, a deep and abiding narrative is built into the work; one can imagine entry-level factory workers struggling and failing to make ends meet in minimum wage jobs, desolate and roughly graffitied back alleys, and glass and needle littered dead-end mugging scenes.

Betty Vera

From the second floor, I descended again via the stairwell to the first from whence I started and had a look at the current gallery show taking place in the mill’s Eclipse Gallery.  This artist-run space is used to showcase not only the work of resident artists, but non-resident artists based in the area as well.  The current show, “Progresiones”, features recent work by Joan Carney and Lichtenstein Center for the Arts studio artist Julio Granda.  Carney is showing abstract work on glass and Granda selections of his abstracts on canvas.

Eclipse Mill Gallery

Carney was in the gallery meeting with visitors.  During our conversation, we connected more dots and I received more illustration about how the former Berkshire Artisans thread runs strong through the North Adams arts scene.  Both Carney and Granda were heavily active in Berkshire Artisans, as was William Bettie, whom I encountered a bit later this day at Gallery 107.

Joan Carney

Before leaving the Eclipse for points onward, I ducked in quickly to say hey again with Phil and Gail Sellers at their homebase River Hill Pottery.  Both are longtime fixtures and icons of the regional arts scene and it was great to finally have a chance to see where they create their magic.  I was running way behind in my self-induced agenda, so we didn’t have time to talk more, but I was lucky enough to see Phil in action at the wheel working on a piece.

River Hill Pottery

Phil Sellers

As I mentioned previously, I did more dot connecting in regards to the Berkshire Artisans thread when I encountered William Bettie at Gallery 107.  Bettie, another member of Berkshire Artisans, knew both Carney and Granda, above, as well as Mario Caluori, whom I interviewed and featured at St. Francis Gallery in the post just prior to this one, and photographer Nicholas De Candia, a colleague and mentor of mine featured in other arts indie posts as well.  Bettie, now retired, has recently become more active with his artwork after a hiatus and is looking to return to showing more often.  Bettie works in pastels primarily en plein air for reference and finishes details upon returning to his studio.

William Bettie

Initially I had hoped to visit every stop on the Open Studios map, but it just wasn’t meant to be in the timeframe I had available.  I still wanted to zip down to Great Barrington for an opening, then zip back north to Berkshire Community College to do photography coverage of the “4th Annual Berkshire Drum & Dance Fest.”  So after my conversation with Bettie, I got back in my truck and started zipping.

"Nudes 'n' Trucks"

With now freshly buffed disks and pads, I arrived in Great Barrington with a bit less than a half-hour left in the announced time of the opening reception of “Nudes ‘n’ Trucks”, the delightfully quirky pairing of Roselle Chartock’s mixed-media collage nudes with Scott Taylor’s boldly painted, bright and colorful acrylic on canvas trucks.

"Nudes 'n' Trucks"

The venue is The Emporium Antiques & Art Center, 319 Main Street.  Proprietor Arthur Greenstone has recently hired Bethy Bacon as manager for the business and as curator for a new series of art shows in the venue.  Taylor’s trucks, along with some fine samples of his landscape work, hang in the southern room of the two-chambered space, while Chartock’s nudes hang on the southern wall of the northern.

"Nudes 'n' Trucks"

Roselle Chartock

Because I still needed to be punctual for the photography gig at BCC, I again was pressed for time and barely had a chance to say hello and goodbye here, but I did manage to snap off a few photos in my hurry.  Yes, and it is possible to travel from Great Barrington to Berkshire Community College in less than a half-hour while consuming a McDonald’s #6 meal.

Be that as it may, I was on time for this appointed assignment and throttled down to take in the scene as it unfolded before me, rather than feeling internal self-drive to rush my work and be on edge to find ways for making it happen quicker.

"4th Annual Berkshire Drum & Dance Fest"

The Berkshire Drum & Dance Fest is an annual showcase for some of the area’s finest talent on percussive instruments and accompanying dance.  Organized by Environmental and Cultural Educator Aimee Gelinas, this year’s edition featured youth performers in a high-spirited evening of multi-cultural, intergenerational, family-friendly entertainment.

"4th Annual Drum & Dance Fest"

Beginning at 7:30PM, BCC’s Robert Boland Theater in the Koussevitzky Arts Center pulsed and undulated with the unifying language of rhythm and movement.  Artists from the Berkshires and beyond performed with passion traditional pieces from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, including West African, Haitian, Puerto Rican, Caribbean, and more.

"4th Annual Drum & Dance Fest"

"4th Annual Drum & Dance Fest"

"4th Annual Drum & Dance Fest"

Individual and group performers appearing on stage included Berkshire Pulse, Williams College Kusika Drum & Dance, Youth Alive Step Dance Team & Drum Corps, Christopher Hairston, Matthew “el diablitto” Perez, Adams Youth Center Inc., & Berkshire Rhythm Keepers, Grupo Folklorico El Coqui, Hillcrest Educational Center Drummers, Tommy “Two-Step” Brown, Beat Mob, and Iroko Nuevo Junior.

"4th Annual Drum & Dance Fest"

"4th Annual Drum & Dance Fest"

"4th Annual Drum & Dance Fest"

"4th Annual Drum & Dance Fest"

The grand finale included performers from all of the above as well as guests and a special, large-than-life appearance courtesy of the Robbins-Zust Marionettes.

"4th Annual Drum & Dance Fest"

"4th Annual Drum & Dance Fest"

Phew and wow.  It was quite a day.  Hope you’ve enjoyed reading and viewing the account.  I’d meant to have this piece ready some days earlier, but life and other arts indie work pushed the posting out a bit further than I intended.  However, busy is good and knowing the folks in the subscriber list, I know your days run in similar fashion.  Hope all is well with all and hope to see you soon at something.  Take care!

Leo Mazzeo is a visual artist working primarily in oils, as well as in watercolors, pastels, photography, video, and various mixed media. He’s also an arts blogger at;