A Literary Halloween

We currently live in a subdivision which is big on Halloween. Many houses sport decorations, some elaborate, and there was even a haunted house, just around the corner, with the entrance fee of a canned good for the local food pantry. Luckily, Halloween also happens to be one of my favorite holidays.

Since our house is known as the castle house by the neighbors, both kids and adults, it made sense to use that to our advantage. It was a no-brainier for me to decorate in the spirit of one of my favorite book (and movie) series, Harry Potter. Some of the pictures are taken with flash, some without. The lighting was dark and moody – it looked great to the naked eye and cast just the right atmosphere, however it’s not so good for the camera.

 

Did you get your Hogwarts letter?

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If not, don’t worry. All are welcome at Hogwarts tonight.

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Welcome to Hogwarts!

 

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First the trick-or-treaters get to walk by Aragog.

 

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And Hagrid’s Pumpkin Patch.pumpkin

 

 

Sorry this video is dark. The spot light on the Dementor was bright enough to the naked eye, but the camera had a harder time picking it up.  Luckily Harry’s Patronus was strong and saved all the little ghosts and witches from the soul sucking Dementor! (MAKE SURE TO TURN YOUR SOUND UP FOR SOME AWESOME SOUND EFFECTS!)

 

 

This is what the Dementor looked like in daylight.

 

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Visitors entered at Diagon Alley where they could browse many of the shops.

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Eeylops Owl Emporium had a selection of owls as well as owl treats!

 

 

 

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Ollivander’s Wand Shop

 

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With a selection of wands.

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Flourish & Blott’s Bookstore

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Where Harry and friends can buy their school books.

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Every student must stop at Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions!

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And of course, Quality Quidditch Supplies!

 

We also had the Hogsmeade shop, Honeydukes.

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Where you can find Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, Fudge Flies, and Droobles Best Blowing Gum.

 

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Butter Beer!

 

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Fizzing Whizzbees, Cockroach Clusters, Blood Pops, Chocolate Frogs, Licorice Wands, and Pumpkin Juice are available.

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And you can’t forget Ton  Tongue  Toffee, Fairy Floss, Pepper Imps, and Dumbledore’s beloved Lemon Drops!

 

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Now we enter Hogwarts. Our first stop is the potions classroom, with none other than Snape brewing several potions.

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 Where he brews from Moste Potent Potions.

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With all kinds of creepy ingredients.

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Watch out for the Hand of Glory!

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A potion bubbles and spurts in the corner.

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The Great Hall is set for dinner.

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It wouldn’t be the Great Hall without floating candles!

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Anyone for a game of Wizard’s chess?

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What can you see in the crystal ball in Divination class?

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Herbology is Neville’s specialty.

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Watch out for the screaming mandrake!

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Can you turn a snail into a teapot?

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That’s the lesson being covered  in the Transfiguration classroom.

 

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In the Entrance Hall you can check out one of the portraits, check the counters to see which house is in the lead for the house cup, or take a look at the Goblet of Fire.

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See the smoke and blue flame?

Here are some of the how-to pictures.

I built the Dementor by pounding a metal fence post into my garden, then I wired a long piece of PVC to it. The flexibility of the PVC pipe made it so the Dementor swayed ominously in the wind.

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I shaped his torso, arms, and “tail” out of chick wire, with a styrofoam block for a head. I painted all of this black so the the shiny chicken wire wouldn’t show through the fabric.

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I made the Dementor’s hands out of wire, wrapped in regular masking tape. Then I spray painted them gray, and went over with a light coat of black, making sure not to cover the gray completely.

After attaching the hands, I just covered the Dementor in layers of black dyed cheesecloth and black sheer fabric I picked up cheap at a rummage sale. I made sure to tear all the edges and leave long tatters hanging down.

He was sufficiently scary. Every once and a while he would move in the wind and startle us, and freak out our dog.

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I didn’t want kids grabbing at all the props, so I took plastic cauldrons from the dollar store and filled them with a quick dry cement. Before it set, I put in a piece of PVC painted gray (It was cut to length at Menard’s, where I bought it. I added a “T” connector on the top to run rope through. Once the concrete was dry a gave it a base coat of green, then dry brushed a coat of glow-in-the-dark green paint. With the black lights in my garage, the glowing, lumpy concrete looked like a bubbling potion!

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My goblet of fire started with a plywood base on which I screwed a length of closet pole. From there I just cut a hole in each piece and slid it over the pole to secure. The top and bottom are made of pressed paper rose cones. The star shaped platform is just cut from foam core. Then I used things like soup cans, margarine containers, and an oatmeal container.

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After it was all assembled, I added a blue spot light inside, and hid the cord under the paper mache’ rocks. Some paint, and gel stain and we have a Goblet of Fire. I used “smoke” oil drops from a model railroad (available at any hobby store). I just squirted a few drops onto the hot spot light bulb and got the blue flame/smoke effect.

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Before it was Hogwarts, it was just a garage. The “stone” walls are from scene setters. Details like the gargoyles and lots of battery operated candles brought it all to life.

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I spent a few dollars on the hanging flame lights, stone walls, and life sized Snape, but almost everything else was either something I already had, or fashioned out of finds from thrift stores, rummage sales, and the dollar store. Even the old beat up student desk was only $2.00.

If you have any questions on how any of the props were made, just ask in comments. I’ll be happy to share.

Road Trip Day 10 and 11

Day 10 was a all day driving day. From Albuquerque we had driven to Amarillo, Texas for the night. From there we drove through the rest of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, finally spending the night in Tunica, Mississippi. Although we thought that this long leg across the panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma were going to be flat and boring, it turned out it was hilly and tree-lined. We could have been convinced we were back in Wisconsin.

Our only order of business once we arrived was to eat, maybe do a little gambling, and get some sleep. We ate at Paula Deen’s Buffet at Harrah’s Casino. We all agree it had to be the best buffet any of us have ever eaten at. But after eating grilled oysters, fried chicken, fried catfish, fried green tomatoes, cheesy grits, cheesy biscuits, and hoe cakes (just to name a few of the selections) I had worse indigestion than when I ate the spicy food in Albuquerque! It was worth it though.

We gambled a little (and actually won a little) then crashed for the night.

 

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Day 11 started with breakfast and a drive across the river into Memphis, Tennessee. Our first stop –  Graceland.

It’s funny how one can have false perceptions of the places they have never been. First, Graceland is tucked tightly into a pretty depressed neighborhood. In fact, if it weren’t for the iconic gates, and 101 large signs, you could drive right past it. It does have over 13 acres, but from the front entrance, that’s not obvious.

The Graceland Mansion, is certainly large, but by today’s standards, the rooms are small. One must also remember that Elvis lived in this home from 1957 until 1977, which leaves the decorating … let’s just say, if it wasn’t the home of the King, and it was just a house, almost any new owner would start gutting and updating the interior. But it IS the home of Elvis, so it’s unusual, outdated decor takes on a whole new meaning, and we couldn’t help but wander through it with a sense of awe.

 

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I think Charles Dickens would have liked Elvis. In a way they had quite a few similarities.

Elvis, like Charles, came from poor beginnings. Vernon Presley, like John Dickens, wandered from job to job, without ambition. Both fathers spent time in jail.

This affected both Elvis and Charles Dickens, compelling them to do better. Both men were quirky and enjoyed music and entertaining. Both were driven in their careers. Mr. Dickens and Elvis  were both a bit obsessive compulsive, and both would rearrange hotel rooms to suit their obsessive needs.

Both worried about the success of their careers, pushing themselves to the point of poor health.

Although cast in singing roles in movies, Elvis, like Charles Dickens wanted to be taken seriously as an actor.

Just like Mr. Dickens, when sales started to fall,  Elvis  decided to do something to boost his career. In Dickens case it was a Christmas book, for Elvis it was a Christmas television special.

Finally, despite failing health, and those around them imploring that they take a break, both men insisted on pushing themselves to embark on a tour of live performances, which inevitably added to the stresses that eventually ended their lives.

So, although time and culture made them very different people (I can’t imagine how Elvis’ gyrating hips would have caused an uproar in Victorian England) in essence they were in many ways the same.

Back to Graceland. Here are a few pictures from inside the mansion.

 

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This first picture is the living room.

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This is the kitchen, as I mentioned, not overly large by today’s standards of enormous granite-covered islands and restaurant sized stoves.

 

 

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The ever famous “Jungle Room.”

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This is the last piano that Elvis ever played. He performed “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” for his cousin, Billy Smith and Billy’s wife, Jo just hours before his death.

 

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The resting place of “The King” is in his meditation garden, alongside his mother, father, and grandmother. There is also a memorial plaque for his twin brother, Jesse, who was stillborn. I’ve since found out that just one week before our visit, Sir Paul McCartney was here and left a guitar pick on Elvis’ grave.

 

After departing Graceland, we made another pilgrimage of sorts. We live in the Waukesha, Wisconsin area and are very proud to be the home of Les Paul, as well as the site of Gibson Guitar Town for the second year running (only Waukesha and Los Angeles have ever had that privilege). So we couldn’t go to Memphis and not stop in at the Gibson factory.

 

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Although this plant is not the one that produces the Les Paul guitar, it was fascinating to see how each guitar is made individually, by hand. There are no stencils used –  all paint jobs are done free hand which means there are no two alike.

Also, they do not mass produce any guitars. They don’t start building a guitar until there is an order placed. Each guitar is meticulously inspected. If there is any flaw, even if it’s undetectable to the average person, the flaw is either repaired, or the guitar (even if it’s complete) is cut up on the band saw. There are no seconds.

 

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Our last stop of the day was Beale Street. On the way, we drove past the famous Sun Records, where Elvis got his start.

 

Beale Street, for those who don’t know, is a street that is known as the home of the Memphis Blues. It has been frequented by blues legends such as Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Memphis Minnie, B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, and Roscoe Gordon, to name a few.

It  now has the distinction of having another famous visitor! I have to believe that Mr. Dickens would have enjoyed the intensity of the place and the liveliness of the people here.

 

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We arrived just as a parade, or so we thought, was making it’s way down the street. A gentleman, overhearing us wonder out loud as to what the occasion was, told us it was the funeral procession for Silky O’Sullivan, a well loved and respected club owner. We just happened to be standing next to his club.

 

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When Beale Street says farewell to one of it’s own, it’s anything but a somber affair. What we were lucky enough to stumble upon was a celebration of  life – Mardi Gras style!

Beale Street is filled with music, food, and an energy that is tangible.

The smell of BBQ is enough to make your nose twitch and your mouth water. The soul-filled riffs of street musicians fill your ears. The spirit and vitality of the people and the place fill your soul. Beale Street was  not created by someone to be a tourist attraction. As my husband said – what’s so great, and feels so special about Beale Street is that this place is real.

Of course we had to sample the flavors of Beale Street and sat down to eat  a platter filled with barbecue ribs, smoked chicken, pulled pork, beans, coleslaw and onion rings at “The Pig”. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we sat outside where we could hear live blues being played right across the street. DSC00355a

After stuffing ourselves, we wandered up and down the street, browsing the shops. Of course we had to stop in at Schwab’s which is a Beale Street mainstay. The general store is the only remaining original business on Beale Street.

Established in 1876, the store has never lost it’s charm. We strolled the creaky wood floors and stairs to check out all of it’s quirky merchandise. I purchased two small charm bags, one for creativity, and one for success, from the Hoodoo section of the store. When on Beale Street, it can’t be wrong to buy myself some good juju!

Our last stop, was to get some fresh beignets . When I say fresh, I mean fresh! We watched as just enough dough for our order was made from scratch. Skilled fingers mixed, then kneaded the dough. Hot from the fryer and dusted in powdered sugar, they were the perfect finish to our visit to Beale Street!

 

A Moment for Magic

Despite the excitement of my first review for my novelette, Finding Hope, and my self-imposed pressure to get my novel done.  I’m going to take a moment for magic.

I’m talking about pausing for Potter.  Harry Potter. I’m one of those crazy Harry Potter fans. I can’t complain, it’s paid off in ways I could never have imagined.

J.K. Rowling’s books were one of the things that inspired me to write. Her books pulled me in to a world I couldn’t have imagined. Her speech to Harvard graduates convinced me that everything is worth trying. That you can only fail by failing to try at all.

All that aside, she has also turned me into a Potter geek, and I’m a proud one at that. So for the next nine days I will be consumed by every Harry Potter interview, trailer, magazine article, and promotional picture.  I will rewatch the previous seven movies and I will be one of the many lined up at midnight on opening night. I’ve never been to a midnight showing, I figure this is my last chance. I may even dress in costume, when in Rome…or in this case when at Hogwarts…

Eighteen hours later I will be in line again with my friends. I will make sure I have plenty of tissues. Yes, I will cry.  It’s inevitable. I cried while reading the last book and have no doubt I will at the last movie. I’m sure I have family and friends that question my sanity, but then again aren’t all good writer’s just a little bit off?

After my period of mourning, I will return to my novel in full force.  I’ve taken the last week of July off in hopes of putting all the final pieces together.  But for now I’m perfectly okay with taking a hiatus for Harry.