It’s been a while since I’ve written my blog.  I honestly can’t remember the last time.  It’s difficult to spread you’re creative wings when you feel weighted down and I, personally, was the one responsible for tying dumbbells onto my sparkly, bubblegum pink butterfly wings.  In the wake of Dark Waters being finished, I needed to switch things up for a bit and I decided to pursue a lifelong (well, just about) dream of studying Shakespeare at the graduate level.  Much to my delight, I was accepted into the University of Birmingham’s Master’s program in Shakespeare and Theatre and much to my chagrin, I actually had to start writing essays.

 

 

 

You wouldn’t think writing books and writing essays would be that different.  I mean, it’s words on paper, right? I loved watching Shakespeare and reading Shakespeare, so three years of intensive studying should be a dream, right?  But like so many things in life, a love that is enjoyed as a leisure can become a bit of an albatross around your neck once it becomes an obligation.  So, how does a butterfly like me remove the weights and flutter back into the universe of creativity?  Great question.  One that I’ve been sorting through myself. 

 

 

 

Earlier this week, I realized that for this self-confessed over-achiever, good enough is going to have to be good enough.  I can’t over-achieve on all the things in my life: I have too many.  I have to do my best and let it go.  When my children don’t do so hot on a test at school, my question is only, “Did you do your best?”  If they can honestly answer yes, then that is good enough for me.  Why, then, am I judging myself by a different standard than I have for my own children?  Why am I not allowing myself that if I try my best, then it was good enough.  I was trying to come to grips with this idea when only two days later I was having coffee with a friend.  After I told her of my struggles she said to me, “Have you ever considered that good enough is good enough?”  I kid you not.

 

 

 

So, am I going to become slacker Tracy?  No, I’m afraid I can’t.  As much as I hate spinning plates it appears to be in my genetic makeup to be a plate spinner and I can’t escape it.  I am going to try to relax on some expectations I have on myself, however.  I began this degree to grow as a person and have fun and if I’m so focused on a letter grade that I can’t fulfill either of these objectives, then I’ve lost the point.  I need to go back and love what I’m studying and let good enough be good enough. 

 

It's been a long and beautiful summer, full of travel and fun with my family.  A major project of my daughter's and mine has been making a fairy hotel to put in our yard for the area fairies.  

 

It was ironic that we had already begun our project when a friend alerted us to the fairy houses of nearby Firefly Forest.  I encourage you to visit this website to see this magical place!  (https://fireflyforestwatcher.wordpress.com/tag/fairy-houses/)  Here are a few discoveries we made during our visit.

          

 

fairy house

 

 

My daughter, however, had felt the need to provide for the more transient fairies in our neighborhood, thus our hotel.  It has taken a lot of work, but the hotel opened this evening!  First, we purchased a pre-made wooden doll house (or castle) from Michael's craft store.  My daughter and I both took our turns painting with outdoor acrylic paint.  My daughter was quick to point out that it didn't look very comfortable, so she made all the furniture (6 beds and a sofa) with Crayola Model Magic, and I crocheted blankets for each bed to keep the fairies warm as the weather cools off.  

fairy house hotel

 

 

fairy house

 

I have to admit, I wish I were small enough to stay the night there myself.  

 

2013 was big for me.  It was the fulfillment of what was literally a life-long dream - to become an author.  Blue Sun, my first published novel, became available to the public with surprisingly strong initial sales and a fantastic turn out at the book launch.  So what does one do in 2014 after achieving that kind of personal goal?  To quote Walt Disney, "Keep moving forward."

Blue Sun is only the beginning of Genny Hazard's story.  I'm working on the sequel now and hope to have that in your hands in December 2014.  That's THIS year folks!  I have also begun booking speaking engagements around the extensive travel plans I have.  The third (and final?) installment on the Blue Sun saga is a heavier project, but I'd like to have that out to you in December 2015.  

What about after that?  I am a storyteller.  Always have been.  And I have a lot of stories to tell.

Let me start out by saying that I get it.  I understand why some people feel that their version of "honesty" is the best policy when it comes to children believing in certain things that some deem fantastical - Santa Claus, fairies,...  Let me clarify that I understand, not that I agree. 

My daughter went to her second full day of 1st grade today.  The class was told to bring things that represent them so they could share with the class.  Well, my daughter loves unicorns more than just about anything, so she brought a little stuffed unicorn in her bag.  I wasn't there, so I won't pretend to know how it all went down, but it apparently ended with someone telling my daughter that unicorns are not real - they are make-believe.

What I love about my daughter is that when she was retelling the story to me, she wasn't crying or even upset.  She was disgusted.  Even though she wasn't grieving the loss of unicorns but genuinely bemused by the person's unbelief, I took the opportunity to talk with her.  

"I've never seen a unicorn," I told her, "but I still believe there could be some out there somewhere.  Why not?!  I've never seen a black hole or even the Taj Mahal, but I believe those exist."  

I'm just not into dream crushing.  Maybe that's what makes me a writer.  I believe that just about anything can happen.  Isn't that what makes life wonderful and fun and gives us a really great reason to wake up every morning?  Guess what?!  One day I was kissed on the cheek by Daniel Craig!  James Bond kissed me!  That can't happen in real life, but it happened to me!  I've had some crazy-awesome things happen to me, and I'm starting to think they happen because I believe they can.  You've got to look for the magic in life and then make that magic happen.

And another thing I might as well admit here.  I've seen a fairy.  I wasn't on drugs and I'm not lying.  I've also heard sleigh bells on Christmas Eve night in the middle of farm land in Mississippi.  Truth.

If a little one, or even a large one, finds joy in something, who are we to say it's not real.  My dreams are real even though you can't see them.

I'll close with something that has always been inspirational to me - the exchange between little Virginia O'Hanlon and Francis Church, editor of the New York Sun.

 

Kenneth Branagh Macbeth

I owe Kenneth Branagh a lot.  It was his films that made me fall head over heels in love with Shakespeare.  So much so that I was only a hair's breadth from accepting an invitation to pursue a postgraduate degree in Shakespeare studies at the University of Birmingham, England after getting my BA in English.  I went to DePaul University instead for English Lit, and always regretted my decision.  

But what's a Shakespeare-lovin', Branagh-smitten girl to do when he returns to perform Shakespeare on the stage for the first time in over a decade?  She goes to Manchester!

My husband, through Ninja-like cunning, obtained tickets for us to see 2 performances of Macbeth!  

Everything about the play was perfect.  The venue was St. Peter's - a small deconsecrated church.  I loved the choice of the play being performed in a church, where Macbeth's dark and brutal deeds were so beautifully juxtaposed against the surroundings of a church.  Where the center aisle of the church would have been they created the stage, with two tiers of raked, stadium style seating facing the stage on either side.  It only sat about 120 audience members per performance, so it was very intimate.  We were on the front row both nights, so there was a time or two when Kenneth Branagh was so close to me that I considered stroking his hair.  Maybe Macbeth would think that a kindly angel had taken pity on him?..   I was more afraid Branagh would bite my hand off, so I fought off the urge! 

The stage floor was mud that occasionally slopped up on those of us in the front row, not gratuitously so, but in the battle scenes especially it was inevitable.  I loved the idea of the mud.  It made the performances so visceral and gritty and enabled the audience to see (and feel!) the filth that Macbeth was wading through literally and figuratively.  I wore my mud splatters proudly back to the hotel each night.  

Macbeth Manchester Kenneth Branagh


As for the acting.  What can I say?  There's a reason that Branagh made me love Shakespeare.  He breathes life into ancient words that can feel so foreign today.  But the emotion that is expressed with those words...  Shakespeare was a master at expressing emotions, and when properly acted, few things can be more powerful, or I dare say relevant, than Shakespeare.  Yes, I was very well acquainted with Macbeth beforehand and yes, I did cry the same times during both performances - when Macduff discovers his wife and children were slaughtered and when Macbeth hears that his wife took her own life.  Ray Fearon and Kenneth Branagh, respectively, made us feel the shock and the heartache.  It was beautiful, subtle, heart-felt acting at its finest.  I also had the opportunity to meet one of the actors, Norman Bowman, who played Ross, after the show.  He was a standout to me as well.

Alex Kingston Lady Macbeth Manchester

And I can't forget Alex Kingston, who played Lady Macbeth.  Here I am getting her autograph.  I never found Kenneth Branagh.  I heard rumor that he was "beamed up" after every performance!

It was well worth the trip for me.  It was one of those moments in life that remind you of the passions of your youth and not to abandon them.  l've been listening to sonnets ever since I returned home.

I'm sorry Shakespeare.  I'll try to visit more often.  

The Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesdon, England is like Universal Studio's Harry Potter world on crack.  Ok, I haven't actually been to Universal Studios in Orlando, and I've never taken crack, but I'm pretty sure I'm right!  This tour takes you through the sets where the movies were filmed.  you just can't beat that.  Seeing the original sets, costumes, props...  

But first, if you're travelling to Leavesdon from London by train, you must go to King's Cross Station, where the series' famous Platform 9 3/4 can be found.  In the books, this is where the students catch the magical train to Hogwarts.  Lucky for me, some ingenious marketer created a real-live platform 9 3/4 in King's Cross Station complete with photo op!

platform 9 3/4

 

And of course, the genius marketer also added a Harry Potter shop for all of us who forgot to go to Diagon Alley before arriving at the station.  I'm joking.  There is no real Diagon Alley.  At least, I don't think so.  I am a muggle, after all.

platform 9 3/4

 

Once we arrived in Leavesdon, we took a double-decker bus to the studio which lies outside of town.

 warner brothers studio tour

 

Even the lobby gave me goose bumps!

warner brothers studio tour harry potter

 

From the lobby, you are ushered into an intimate theater where you watch a brief film about the making of the Harry Potter movies.  And after that, the screen rises and you are face to face with the doors of the castle!

doors to hogwarts

 

I know it sounds silly, but I got a little misty when the doors opened.  I mean, how can you possibly beat walking in the actual Great Hall!  But yes, it's smaller than it appears in the movies!

great hall hogwarts

 

The tour is a whopping 3 hours long, so from here out, I'll hit the highlights.  Below is the Gryffindor common room.

gryffindor common room

 

Harry's and Ron's beds, which they mentioned fit them in the first movie, but were never replaced as the movie progressed, even though the actors' feet were hanging off the ends.

harry and ron's beds

 

Professor Snape in his classroom.  I'll just throw in here that I LOVE Alan Rickman.  LOVE!

snape

 

The Burrow, the Weasley home.  

the burrow weasley

 

We were fortunate enough to be at the studio for animal actor weekend!  Look who we saw!  

Hedwig and Crookshanks!

hedwig   crookshanks

 

Finally, we got to walk down Diagon Alley.  So cool!

diagon alley

 

There's sooooo much more but I simply don't have the time to upload all the pics.  I couldn't recommend this tour any more highly to any who happen to be in the London area.  A truly unforgettable experience!

Oh, yeah.  And you can get butterbeer.  'Nuff said.

I think my 12 year old son summed up my feelings about Iron Man 3 as we walked out into the movie theater parking lot.  "My rage has eclipsed my ability to think."  I blame my inability to think for this post being several days in the making.

Since I was a little girl, I've LOVED superheroes.  They were, and still are, an important part of who I am and how I think.  They represent hope, and ideals, and an existence that reaches beyond going to bed at 10:30 and oatmeal for breakfast.  The life of a superhero is never ending battle.  And triumph.  They are a constant, a rock that you can rely on to be there and that will not change.

While the 60's Batman and Robin series was officially the beginning, the Superman movies with Christopher Reeve were the beginning of my big screen love.  Superheroes have also become a major bonding point between me and my son.  I honestly didn't know that Pinterest had recipes on it for a year after being on it.  All I use it for is taking screen shots of cool superhero pictures to text to my son.  I enjoy it as much as he does.


WARNING: IRON MAN 3 SPOILER ALERT!


You know all that stuff I said about constance and hope.  You know that feeling you had when you left Iron Man 1 and 2?  The one where you and Tony could conquer the world?  Throw it out the window.  'Cause here comes Iron Man 3.  

I can see how some people might appreciate the misdirection of the identity of the Mandarin, but I think most fanboys will agree on the disappointment.  We were so excited to see Mandarin's finger loaded up with his rings.  Each one giving Mandarin a different power - influence, time warp, invisibility, etc.  Haha.  Fooled ya, fanboys.  He's not really the Mandarin!  "I'm only ACTING!"

Besides a massive plot flaw, (I'll get to that in a minute), they completely strip the Iron Man out of Tony Stark - figuratively and literally.  Tony Stark blew up ALL of his armor?!  What a slap in the face to the fanboy.  Why did he do it?  I guess it's because Pepper didn't like it.  And we all know what a sensitive boyfriend Tony is, right?  Wrong!  Tony and Pepper love each other for who they are.  And Tony wouldn't give up his love (the Iron Man armor) for his love (Pepper).  The reason he gave in the movie?  I think it was, "Heck!  It's Christmas!"  Come on, people!  You are demasculinizing Tony Stark!  And if there's one thing Tony is - it's 100% maMALE!  That's why we love Tony!  My jaw literally dropped when he was saying the armor was like a cocoon.  Great.  Tony is likening himself to a butterfly.  That's true to character.  Fly, sweet butterfly.  Spread your delicate wings and fly.

To quote Tony Stark in Iron Man 2 when asked by Senator Stern to turn the armor over: "Well, you can forget it.  I am Iron Man.  The suit and I are one.  To turn over the Iron Man suit would be to turn over myself...  You can't have it."

And for the most upsetting thing of all, he elected to have his Arc reactor removed.  Sorry, Tony, I wasn't aware this magical operation was available.  Why the heck didn't you have the shrapnel and Arc reactor removed once you got out of the cave in Iron Man 1?  Why the heck didn't you have the shrapnel removed in Iron Man 2 when you were dying of freakin' blood poisoning from your Arc reactor?  All that work you did decoding the secret message your dad left to you in the blueprints of Disneyland, or Starkworld, or whatever, to make a new power source...  Why didn't you just go get your "surgery".  That surgery completely invalidates the struggles of Iron Man 2.

So, let's see, they took away Tony Stark's armor and the Arc reactor (or it's replacement).  What's left?  Go ahead and take the playboy out of "genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist", too. 

I want Iron Man back.

 

As I continue to write the sequel to Blue Sun, I find it interesting how I continue to find water imagery popping up in my writing.  

The Pre-Raphaelite painting above is "Ophelia" by John Everett Millais.  It has long been my favorite.  

In Act 4, scene 7 of Hamlet, the queen recounts Ophelia's death.

"...an envious sliver broke, 
When down her weedy trophies and herself 
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide 
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up; 
Which time she chaunted snatches of old tunes, 
As one incapable of her own distress, 
Or like a creature native and indued 
Unto that element; but long it could not be 
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay 
To muddy death."

I love the resignation in Ophelia's face.  Her limp arms.  They show me her willingness to accept the natural fate that the water brings her and the relief that her woes in this life are about to be over.

This is one of those weeks when a national tragedy makes me yearn for the simper days.  I found myself in my closet looking at my treasured possessions of childhood.

When I was a kid, merchandising wasn't the phenomenal beast it is today.  I loved Batgirl, but since there were no Batgirl dolls that I could find, I got a small, black, plastic toy motorcycle at K-Mart and pretended she was riding it.  I loved that cheap thing because in my mind, it represented Batgirl.  Back then, imagination replaced the dearth of merchandise.  The 'Batgirl motorcycle' must have eventually become garage sale fodder, because it's not in my closet.  But then, only the very dearest of toys have made it into the little shrine in my closet.  

Here is my Most Valued Possession.

"What is it?" some of you are asking.  Others are wondering, "Isn't that the gadget that enabled you to play 45's on a turntable?"  Maybe to you.

But to me, it was my "communicator".  

My dad worked three jobs back then and went to school.  The only time I would see him was late at night and late at night was when the local TV station would play Star Trek reruns.  It was my favorite time of my day, laying in bed with my parent, watching Star Trek.  I've already mentioned in another blog entry that I did, in fact, have the Enterprise play set.  But guess what.  I don't know where it is.  Garage sale fodder just like the Batgirl motorcycle.  So why do I still have my "communicator"?

Because it was magical.  The play set was a toy.  But the communicator was a portal.  I held it in my little hand and it was silent, but as soon as I held in that little switch on the side, I had direct access to the people in my starship.  Magic.

I guess I've held on to it for so long because there's a part of me that still believes it works.  Or wishes it would.  That on the other side of the communicator there's still a nice, safe starship with wise people inside who can give us some good advice and tell us how to get out of the jams we run into on this dangerous planet.

 

I'm not even going to pretend that we got VIP tickets to the screening of the movie "42" because we're such big baseball fans.  My husband is British, so he often slips and calls baseball "cricket", and I, well, I'm a girl.  We went for one and only one reason.  To meet Harrison Ford.  

Using ninja-like stealth, we intercepted Harrison at an elevator.  While he couldn't pose for a pic with me (I asked! and he replied "I wish I could, but I've got to keep moving."), my husband took this picture of him while we briefly spoke and I got to shake his hand.  I may never wash that hand again.  

The big surprise of the evening for me was how much I appreciated "42".  I was expecting a baseball movie, but it was more about Jackie Robinson's struggle to be allowed to use his God-given talent.  It was truly moving.  

So that's how I met Han Solo, I mean Indiana Jones, I mean Harrison Ford.  It was a bizarrely huge moment for me and I was actually a bit misty afterward.  I have, after all, had a crush on that man for over half my life.  Yes, we did the math.

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