Molly Weasley Comfort Cooking

Eating shepherd’s pie just like Harry. Photo: Amy Kraft

After a long winter’s day, ever wish you could just cozy up in the Burrow and have Molly Weasley whip you up a little roast chicken with mashed potatoes? Or feast in the Great Hall on some lamb chops? Now you can… with a bit of Muggle work.

When I was sent The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook for review, I thought it was going to be little more than some fun gimmickry. But, on thumbing through the pages, there are some delectable-sounding treats, including a lot of stick-to-your-ribs winter fare, the kind I usually have to head to a pub to get.

Sure, the gimmickry comes first, but that’s what makes it great fun for fans. It appears that author Dinah Bucholz has scoured the seven books for any mere mention of food, and then paired that nugget with a recipe. Mr. Weasley mentions to Kingsley Shacklebolt that Molly’s making meatballs for dinner? Accio meatballs! Here’s a recipe for Molly’s meatballs with onion sauce. Like Harry, want a taste of treacle tart while Ron and Hermione argue? Or a taste of the vol-au-vents from Bill and Fleur’s wedding? Early and often we’re warned that this book is unofficial. JK Rowling has nothing to do with it. Please don’t sue them! However, this unofficial book reads as wonderfully delicious fan fiction.

But does it work as a cookbook? The organizing principle not only gives the book a structure that follows the arc of a Harry Potter book, it also encourages a wide range of recipes:

  • Chapter One: Good Food with Bad Relatives
  • Chapter Two: Delights Down the Alley
  • Chapter Three: Treats from the Train
  • Chapter Four: Recipes from a Giant and an Elf
  • Chapter Five: The Favorite Cook’s Dishes
  • Chapter Six: Breakfast Before Class
  • Chapter Seven: Lunch and Dinner in the Dining Hall
  • Chapter Eight: Desserts and Snacks at School
  • Chapter Nine: Holiday Fare
  • Chapter Ten: Treats in the Village

The recipes focus on British cuisine, and lacking any other British cookbooks I decided my first crack at the book would be something basic: shepherd’s pie (though as both the book and GeekMom Sarah would quickly point out, I actually made cottage pie because I only had ground beef on hand). Surely you’ll remember in Chamber of Secrets when Harry barely touched his shepherd’s pie because he was so dreading his detention with Professor Lockhart?

Harry and Ron slouched into the Great Hall in states of deepest gloom, Hermione behind them wearing a well-you-did-break-school-rules sort of expression. Harry didn’t enjoy his shepherd’s pie as much as he’d thought.  Both he and Ron felt they’d got the worse deal.

Overall, the recipe was pretty easy, made with mostly staple ingredients. The timing of elements in the instructions could be clearer, but an experienced cook won’t have much trouble parsing these recipes. As for taste, it totally served it’s purpose as wintertime comfort food, but I already have a few things I’d do differently next time – definitely use lamb to make a proper shepherd’s pie, and spice it up a bit. I expect to start scribbling in the margins like the Half-Blood Prince.

It may not be the finest cookbook for British food out there, but it sure is fun cooking to these literary references. And if you have any plans to throw a Harry Potter theme party, this cookbook is a must-have.

Geek Tragedy in Middle America

My twelve-year-old son finished Americus and said, “This is a good book.”

I’m always annoyed to read the list of “banned” books in American schools and libraries. It’s one thing for a parent to decide what to put in their own child’s head, but a town board? Harry Potter was banned in many places because ignorant people believed that by reading these books, children would learn about satanic practices. Morons. When I heard about this I wrote a song called, “Fool’s Blues.” I’m guessing MK Reed and Jonathan Hill felt similarly angry to churn out the graphic novel, Americus.

In their book, which I checked out from my library, a young geek named Neil has to save his beloved fantasy book series from being banned. He already knows, through junior high hell, that being a geek sucks in a small town, but he also learns that you can find your tribe and stick together to protect what matters.

“You kids better stop thinking on your own and start listening to what I tell you!” pretty much sums up much of the adult mind-set in the town of Americus, Oklahoma. The main plot is about a mother (see quote above) trying to convince the town board to ban The Adventures of Apathea Ravenchilde from the public library on the grounds that it is akin to pornography in its moral degradation of youth. This same mother sent her son (Neil’s best friend) to military school for declaring he was gay. However, the graphic novel is really showing what life is like for outsiders in real towns like Americus, where the enemies are, “liberals, atheists, and gays.”

This is a place where Neil’s mother gets flack from other women for letting her son wear black shirts. Apparently, only troubled youth that will eventually burn down the school wear black. Neil reads for fun (big mark against him) and the library is one of the few havens for geeks in Americus. Charlotte, the librarian, is a friend.

Mr. Howard, Neil’s neighbor, tells of his experience in high school, “Each day brought another indignity…now I sell them steaks, and they pretend like all that never happened.” Later, Mr. Howard defends the fantasy series at the town meeting, saying everyone needs an escape from reality.

Neil’s POV in high school is a highlight of this book. The first day of class speeches by the teachers are spot on. I reread them out loud to my husband to our mutual amusement. The biology teacher: “Now we all know that God created the earth 6,000 years ago for man to live on, but science tells it another way…” is hilarious. Though my favorite is:

“Realistically, most of you will quit or graduate high school and become cashiers and waitresses, and those of you with lofty goals might be a real estate agent or car salesman. Regardless, you’ll never use algebra again. But some of you might go to college and to prove that you’re more intelligent than a field of corn, you’ll need to take the SATs, half of which is math…”

Neil is pessimistic, frustrated, and misses his best friend. Yet, the young boy finds music and books that make him happy. He speaks up for what he cares about and makes friends along the way. I recommend this book for junior high and up.

Quidditch: Nerds Fight For Gender Equality

I was busily buying tickets to attend the Quidditch World Cup next month, and found myself perusing the IQA (International Quidditch Association) website. There is a documentary film coming out about the 2010 World Cup: what started as a Harry Potter fan game in Vermont a few years ago has become a sport drawing hundreds of teams from around the world to New York City.

On their website, I found this video about a new ruling in the sport. If you watch it, skip to 3:25 to get to the point. Basically, as the sport is growing in popularity, women are becoming marginalized. The board of directors at IQA decided to pass a rule that would require all teams to have a 4:3 ratio of gender equality. Apparently this has not been enthusiastically embraced. You may be surprised that anyone cares enough about a fantasy sport to get riled up. However, Muggle Quidditch, based on the Harry Potter series, has become its own legitimate world. Quidditch is not a joke, it’s a way to socialize and exercise and yes, to have fun.

Why is it co-ed in the first place? Because that’s how it was in the books. Because everyone can be athletic. And because the founders made it that way. In the video, the board of the IQA is passionate about their sport and the impact it can have on gender relationships and sports around the world. It’s still for fun, but fantasy books are for fun, yet Harry Potter changed the way the world looks at geeks. You know it.

I actually got teary-eyed listening to the Commissioner speak about how Joanne Rowling was pushed to change her name so no one would know she was a women, since it would hurt sales of the book. He and the board believe women and men should be treated equally in all areas of life, and if they have the power to do something about it, they will. I applaud their decision, and also their willingness to wait to implement it until after this year’s cup, so teams do not have to restructure their member rosters last minute. That’s just polite.

Next month, I’ll be cheering with my two kids, one boy and one girl, at the World Cup. It will be one of the few places where both my kids can be inspired in creativity, competition and community.

Music Week: Confessions of a Soundtrack Geek – Part One

The London Philharmonic Orchestra Playing The Lord of The Rings Symphony © Henry Burrows via Flickr
The London Philharmonic Orchestra Playing The Lord of The Rings Symphony, conducted by Howard Shore © Henry Burrows via Flickr

Before I start this article, I think I need to get one thing straight with you. I am a soundtrack geek.  When a new movie is coming out that I am excited about, such as Deathly Hallows just the other week, not only am I eagerly awaiting the release of the film itself, but also the soundtrack. It’s the same with TV shows. Right now I am getting rather excited about the potential for a Doctor Who Series Six album to tie in with the second half of the series that begins airing at the end of this month. I have the soundtrack albums from countless movies and TV shows plus I even have several gigabytes of background and on-ride music from the Disney theme parks.

I’m not entirely sure when my interest in scores developed. I remember buying the score album from The X-Files: Fight the Future back in 1998 when I was just eleven, but that was more out of an obsessive “buy everything related to this movie” phase than genuine interest in the music. I certainly don’t think it was listened to that much. I also had an album of cult sci-fi and fantasy TV themes back then, but I think the real love for this music began with a friend a few years ago. When we would drive around in her car, she would usually have the soundtracks to Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter or some other film playing, and I found myself increasingly drawn to them. I began getting copies for myself and now I have a vast collection of soundtracks and scores. I find them great for listening to when I’m writing, as the vast majority are instrumental so I don’t start singing along or inadvertently typing the lyrics instead of whatever it is I’m trying to write. It never ceases to amaze me how such deep emotions can be conveyed without needing to speak a word.

As the terms soundtrack and score can be used somewhat interchangeably, I feel I should clarify that my interest lies with the orchestral background and incidental music, rather than albums that compile tracks by various music artists that are heard in the show or film. Often, two albums are released, an example being with Twilight: New Moon where both a score and a soundtrack collection featuring tracks by Muse and OK Go are available. Although I do own several of these soundtrack compilations as well, to me they are more like themed albums rather than the true music of the film or show.

Here then are some of my personal favourite soundtracks (or series soundtracks) for you to check out. This post will focus on film soundtracks with TV shows coming later this week. The linked track titles in my favourites will take you to short clips courtesy of Amazon and iTunes.


Star Wars Album Covers
Star Wars Album Covers

If there was an award for the most iconic film theme ever created, I’d say it was a fair bet Star Wars would be in the top three at least. I am one of those rare people, especially amongst geeks, that genuinely likes the prequels as well as the original trilogy. They certainly aren’t as good to me but the originals are such genuine classics that they never could match up. Nonetheless I will most certainly be hitting the cinema to watch them all again in 3D from next year – if only to see some of my all time favourite movies back on the big screen.

One way the prequels do match up to, and for me, possibly even out-do their predecessors, is in the quality of their scores. Even Phantom Menace, which even I concede as the worst Star Wars film (well, if you exclude the Clone Wars film) has some truly fantastic music. “Duel of The Fates” is easily one of the best Star Wars pieces of all the films put together, as is the epic “Anakin vs. Obi-Wan” from Revenge of The Sith. The original trilogy also has some outstanding pieces but, no, the Cantina Band is not among them for me! Naturally the “Imperial March” ranks as a classic but there are other great tracks including “Binary Sunset” and “The Battle of Yavin”. However for me, if you want great Star Wars music, this is probably the only time I would always turn to the prequels over the original trilogy.

My favourites: Duel of The Fates (I), The Hologram/Binary Sunset (IV), Across The Stars: Love Theme from Attack of The Clones (II), Victory Celebration/End Title (VI), Anakin Vs. Obi-Wan (III)


Album Covers for Harry Potter 1 - 8
Album Covers for Harry Potter 1 – 8

In terms of iconic themes, the twinkling Harry Potter theme (actually entitled “Hedwig’s Theme”) is hot on the heels of Star Wars as one of the most well-known pieces of music in film history. Out of all the films series I own, the Potter scores are probably the ones which are most different from beginning to end.  The light-hearted, jovial sounds of the Philosopher’s Stone soundtrack with its fun brass sections is a million miles removed from the quiet tragedy and swelling drama of Deathly Hallows Part Two; however certain scenes do hark back to the early films such as the comical “Detonaters” in Deathly Hallows Part One giving the soundtracks as a collection a feeling of being the individual pieces of a whole. A number of different composers have worked the Potter position over the years, almost as many as there have been Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers at Hogwarts, each lending their own unique flavour. The result is a collection that progresses along with Harry’s story, not disjointed despite including so many styles, but gradually changing and darkening over time.

My favourites: Hedwig’s Theme (Philosopher’s Stone), Fireworks (OOTP), When Ginny Kissed Harry (HBP), Into The Rushes (HBP), Obliviate (DH1), Lovegood (DH1), Lily’s Theme (DH2), Dragon Flight (DH2)


Independence Day Score by David Arnold
Independence Day Score by David Arnold

Films like Star Wars have become known for their scores, the theme music being instantly recognisable and other bits of their music well-known as well. Independence Day on the other hand is a far more obscure soundtrack but no less beautiful for that. A big blockbuster movie that relies more on impressive visuals needs an equally large scale score to match so this album is more about big sweeping pieces than intimate, touching ones; that being said a standout track for me is “The First Lady Dies” which plays over a scene I count as one of my top ten tearful moments in sci-fi.

My favourites: 1969 – We Came in Peace, Aftermath, The First Lady Dies (extended edition only so no mp3 available)


Covers of Twilight, New Moon & Eclipse
Covers of Twilight, New Moon & Eclipse

With two more scores yet to come from the two parts of Breaking Dawn, this collection is far from complete, yet it already includes several great tracks. Creating the lullaby written by Edward for Bella in the first film was always going to be a challenge for any composer, however Carter Burwell created a beautifully simple piece that stands out from the rest of the album which manages in turn to convey well the mixture of overwhelming teenage passion with a constant sense of foreboding. Taking the reigns for New Moon was Alexandre Desplat who was later responsible for both Deathly Hallows scores; to me there is a marked similarity between the three scores which can be heard distinctly if you compare “Obliviate” from Hallows Part One with New Moon’s “Memories of Edward”.

My favourites: How I Would Die (Twilight), Bella’s Lullaby (Twilight), New Moon (New Moon), Memories of Edward (New Moon)


Cover of Wall-E by Thomas Newman
Cover of Wall-E by Thomas Newman

Whilst Disney movies are well known for their big musical numbers, Pixar films are less musically driven. However the speechless robots and corresponding lack of dialogue in Wall-E really threw the score into the limelight more than with any of its predecessors. The love story between Wall-E and Eve had to be told almost completely non-verbally and so tracks like “Define Dancing”, where the pair dance through space together, are vital to the film in a way few score pieces get to be. The characters of Wall-E and Eve are partly explored by their music too, with the former having fun, bouncy pieces when he is on screen, shifting to far gentler, flowing strings for Eve.

My favourites: Define Dancing, First Date, 2815 A.D.


The Fight The Future & I Want to Believe Album Covers
The Fight The Future & I Want to Believe Album Covers

The two X-Files films were released ten years and four show seasons apart, in every way they are completely different beasts.  While the first film, Fight The Future focused and progressed the show’s central mythology, the second, I Want to Believe was a stand alone story which only briefly hinted at the main plot.  A result of these differences is a significant difference in sound styles.

Fight the Future uses a score that sits perfectly within the TV show; in fact many pieces from it were later used in season six episodes. It begins with the classic six-note theme music presented in a hauntingly quiet stripped down with just a lone instrument sounding them out before the full orchestra bursts in dramatically. The score does for the music what the film did for the visuals, taking the same basic outline and doing it on a far grander scale. This was the first time an orchestra had been used for the franchise—all previous music being entirely created by synthesizer—and it gave the film a much more dramatic feel. Hearing the theme motif being played out by a full brass section was incredibly thrilling the first time and continues to be so.

The second film is overall a far slower, more melancholic affair. Mulder and Scully are older and have suffered far more over the years than they had in FTF. The plot itself is also darker and creepier that the blockbuster feel of the first film. There are no helicopter chase scenes or huge explosions here so the music is subtler and sweeter in some ways as we are now seeing a couple finally admitting their love for each other. Of course there is plenty of angst between the pair that results in quiet and terribly sad moments too. These things can never be allowed to run smoothly.

My favourites: Threnody in X (FTF), Soda Pop (FTF), Corn Hives (FTF), Facts (FTF), The Trip to DC (IWTB), The Surgery (IWTB), Good Luck (IWTB), Home Again (IWTB)


Jurassic Park Album Cover
Jurassic Park Album Cover

Jurassic Park is, and will always remain, one of my all time favourite movies. It was released when I was was only six but I got to see it soon after once it came out on VHS and I have loved it ever since. This was music I truly grew up with and so it holds a very special place in my heart. The classic theme tune plays at the entrance to the Jurassic Park island at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando and I can honestly say that it was that piece of music that almost brought me to tears when I first walked under that gate as a seventeen year old finally getting to experience a sort of childhood dream come true—walking through the gates to Jurassic Park. Just listening through this music as I write this is enough to almost bring me to tears, this is the music that is truly close to my heart. As with Independence Day, a film of this scale needs a big sound, one capable of lending the appropriate majesty and awe to creatures most of us grew up holding in real reverence and, as usual, John Williams delivers the goods in spades.

My favourites: Journey to The Island, Dennis Steals The Embryo, Welcome to Jurassic Park

There are so many great soundtracks that it would take forever to cover them all. Here then are a few honourable mentions from other great movie soundtracks. No doubt I’ve missed dozens more. Why don’t you comment with your favourites too? Don’t forget to check back later this week for part two which will be all about the scores from TV shows.

Married Life (Up) – Michael Giacchino
King of Pride Rock (The Lion King) – Hans Zimmer
The Medallion Calls (Pirates of The Carribbean – The Curse of The Black Pearl) – Klaus Badelt
Mind Heist: Trailer Music (Inception) – Zack Hemsey
The Raider’s March (Indiana Jones Quadrilogy) – John Williams

Geeky Novel Word Counts–How Long Are You In For?

Earlier this week, I found myself in a discussion about the lengths of various novels. It was spurred by two similar conversations I’ve found myself in repeatedly, based on the recent Game of Thrones TV show and the release of the final Harry Potter film. They go like this:

Game of Thrones Harry Potter
Friend: *complaint about TV show, usually about a character being killed off* Friend: *complaint about final movie, usually regarding the slowness of Part I*
Me: You should try reading the books. I think it’s a much better experience. When characters are killed off so quickly, you don’t have a chance to get attached to them in the TV show. You also don’t see the variety of points of view that the book offers. Me: Did you read the books first? The movies have to cut a lot out, so it seems like people who didn’t read didn’t understand a lot of the first part of Deathly Hallows.
Friend: There are books?! Friend: Yeah, they’re just too long.

A Dance With Dragons, the latest book in George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, weighs in at 1,040 pages. (The series title is actually A Song of Ice and Fire, but TV-only people have never heard that name.) Deathly Hallows is practically bite-sized in comparison at 784 pages.

All this got me wondering how those two compared to other epic series. Available word counts vary, and since I’m not inclined to count the words individually myself, consider the following to be reasonably accurate, but not perfect.

Your favorite may be missing from this sampling–feel free to add it in the comments. But there’s one that I intentionally left out because it threw the chart off so far. If you decide to get into Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, you’re in for 4,012,859 words, over 635 chapters and 11,308 pages. Even in audio format, you’ll be committing to 17 days, 11 hours, and 30 minutes. Deathly Hallows doesn’t sound so bad any more, does it?

Harry Potter Week: The Busy Traveller’s Guide to Harry Potter’s London

Harry, Hermione & Ron in London
Harry, Hermione & Ron in London © Warner Bros.

There are countless reasons to visit London but for many fans of Harry Potter, getting to see some of the real life locations from the films has to up near the top. A quick Google search will provide you with countless options for everything from self-guided walking tours to week long vacations taking in all the Potter goodness you could possibly wish for, but a good number of visitors to London are here on business without the time for such extended tours. If you only have an hour spare in your trip, what’s worth seeing and what is convenient? Here then is the guide to Harry Potter filming locations for those people who are in a hurry and just want to squeeze a bit of Potter magic into a hectic business trip.


1. Kings Cross Station/Platform 9 and Three Quarters

Underground Station:
Kings Cross St. Pancras (Victoria, Piccadilly, Northern, Metropolitan, Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines)

Is it worth visiting?
This is the location that gives you the most Potter for your time with three distinct Potter locations within minutes of one another and all right at the station, meaning there’s little chance of getting lost in London’s winding back streets. If you only have time for one Potter experience, this is where you should head. It is worth noting that the current location of the entrance to Platform Nine & Three Quarters is outside and the brick wall into which the trolley appears to be vanishing is actually a shiny plastic photograph of a brick wall and very fake when close up, not the genuine brick wall inside the building which was used previously. This may be because of the major renovations currently happening at Kings Cross in preparation for the London 2012 Olympic Games and so the platform entrance may eventually be moved back to a real wall.

What is the location like?
For the unseasoned London traveller, it is very important to know that Kings Cross actually comprises two different stations which are set across the road from one another, Kings Cross and Kings Cross St Pancras International. Past visitors may recall a third Kings Cross station – Thameslink which has now closed with services to that station now re-routed to St Pancras. Make sure you are aware which station you will be arriving at, Kings Cross is one of the largest hubs in London and is nearly always very busy, even late at night. You will need to cross a road to see both areas but a pedestrian crossing is located close by and the area is usually so busy that the traffic is often stationary for long periods anyway.

What will I see?
Kings Cross itself is home to Platform 4, where the bridge scenes from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone were filmed, however the bridge that Harry & Hagrid walked across has been demolished. Scenes from Chamber of Secrets were also filmed on Platform 4. You cannot access the platform itself without a valid ticket however it is easy to see the distinctive arched roof from the station concourse. Outside the station (follow the signs for lost property) you will find the false brick wall that marks the entrance to Platform 9 and 3/4 – if you get lost, look for the crowd of people queuing up for a photograph, it was a constant presence during my time waiting for a friend there.

Platform Nine & Three Quarters
Platform Nine & Three Quarters

Finally, to your immediate left as you look at Platform 9 and 3/4, you will see the distinctive architecture of Kings Cross St Pancras, where the exterior shots from Chamber of Secrets with the flying Ford Anglia were located. Crossing the road and heading up the stairs immediately in front of you will take you away from the traffic and into the courtyard of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel which will allow you to really see the location and the beauty of the building. This is also where several publicity shots for Deathly Hallows Part Two were taken last week.


2. Grimmauld Place




Lincoln's Inn Fields
Some Houses at Lincoln’s Inn Fields




Underground Station:
Holborn (Piccadilly & Central Lines)

Is it worth visiting?
This is rather debatable as the true location for Grimmauld Place is still up for some debate, meaning there’s a good chance that what you’ll see has nothing to do with Harry Potter except baring a bit of a resemblance to the film set. However when we went along to the most  touted location for Grimmauld Place, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, there was no mistaking that the houses here are an uncanny match to those at in the films.

What is the location like?
We used Holborn underground station and followed the signs to Lincoln’s Inn Fields from the station exit, they were clearly signposted. This is not scenic, picturesque London by any stretch of the imagination but if you want to see something closer to the “real” London, this is a good stop. The location was around five minutes walk and unmistakeable upon arrival. Lincoln’s Inn Fields is believed to have been the inspiration for New York’s Central Park as all the houses face out onto  a scenic open square, accurate to the film. If you’re on a lunch break and want to mix your Potter sightseeing with a nice spot to get lunch, this is the place.

What will I see?
All the houses facing the square have elements of Grimmauld Place to them, walking along the roads we would spot a familiar railing at one house and the next would have the correct window surrounding. Take a stroll around the square and you can probably amalgamate the appearance of Number 12 by piecing together the different bits from each different front. Naturally you wouldn’t actually be able to spot Number 12 anyway, unless you have been there before.


3. Shaftesbury Avenue & Piccadilly Circus

Shaftesbury Avenue
Shaftesbury Avenue

Underground Station:
Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly & Bakerloo Lines)

Is it worth visiting?
This is where Harry, Ron & Hermione apparate to when they escape from the wedding in Deathly Hallows Part One. There is little here to actually mark the location as being a Potter location but you will certainly see some of the same sights around you from those scenes.

What is the location like?
Busy! This is the heart of tourist London, expect huge crowds from dawn ’til dusk. The underground station has numerous exits that bring you out on various sides of a huge road junction with multiple streets converging. It is difficult to truly see much of the area because of the crowds and tricky to get your bearings. Unless you really want to see everything or are interested in the tourist attractions, theatres and restaurants here, this may be one to avoid.

What will I see?
This stop is more about atmosphere, especially if you’re visiting at night, perhaps before a show in one of the countless theatres located nearby. The crowded pavements, roads filled with bright red London buses and neon signs of the theatres and restaurants give you the feel of being in the scene along with the characters which is a feeling you may struggle to attain at other locations. One of biggest tourist attractions here is Ripley’s Believe It Or Not which can be seen very briefly in the film as can the famous Piccadilly video screen wall.


4. The Ministry of Magic

The Ministry of Magic
The Ministry of Magic

Underground Station:
Charing Cross (Northern and Bakerloo Lines) or Embankment (Bakerloo, Circle and District Lines)

Is it worth visiting?
This is one of few locations that are almost identical in reality to the way they appear on screen. It is a significant walk (perhaps 10 minutes) from Charing Cross, where we approached from however you will get to see Trafalgar Square on your walk, combining the location with some more traditional London tourism. This one is certainly worth it if you have the time but there are certainly more scenic places to see.

What is the location like?
The Ministry of Magic  is aptly located, close to many real governmental buildings including the Ministry of Defence, Cabinet Office and Downing Street – home of the Prime Minister. Coming from Charing Cross, you will pass by Trafalgar Square and you are close to other famous London landmarks such as The Mall. The surrounding areas aren’t much to look at, this is a government area with little to attract non workers so expect grey monotony. You are also right by the original home of the Metropolitan Police at Scotland Yard.

What will I see?
Scotland Place is where the trio staked out the main entrance to Ministry in Deathly Hallows Part One and also where we see Harry & Mr Weasley enter the Ministry in Order of The Phoenix. The phone box Harry & Arthur used to enter the Ministry was a prop and does not really exist, however apart from this nothing was changed for the film so this is one of few places where you can stand in the exact locations seen in the films. Nearby is Trafalgar Square where the premiere of Deathly Hallows Part Two took place last week.


5. Other locations

London is a big city and, partly due to several large protests that were converging on Parliament the afternoon of our trip, we didn’t have the time (or consider it entirely safe) to visit every filming site. The Millennium Bridge which is destroyed in the opening scenes of Half Blood Prince can be seen from many points along the River Thames as can several other bridges and the Houses of Parliament where we see Harry & members of the Order flying in Order of The Phoenix and Lambeth Bridge where the Knight Bus squeezed between two London buses. Australia House (interior of Gringott’s Bank) is close to the Ministry of Magic location and can be accessed best from Temple underground station; Leadenhall Market (Monument underground) is the location for Diagon Alley and a flower shop in Borough Market (London Bridge underground) marks where the Knight Bus pulled up to deposit Harry at the Leaky Cauldron. Finally, if you do find yourself with a little extra time, you could always visit the reptile house at London Zoo and see if you can talk to any of the residents there or take the 17 minute train ride from Waterloo to Surbiton Station where Harry flirted with a waitress in the platform cafe at the beginning of Half Blood Prince.

Wicked Fun with the Kodak All-in-One ESP C310 and Design Gallery Software DVDs

Kodak Harry Potter graphics softwareYou’re likely already read the printing adventures by our own GeekMoms over the course of the week. I am admittedly a bit of a Harry Potter fangirl, so this project seemed like a no-brainer for me. Kodak Design Gallery Software featuring Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows™ boasted all sorts of wicked good fun, and seeing the faces of my familiar and favorite characters come to life in a variety of creative (and with a decidedly Potterian aesthetic) was equally exciting.

But let me start at the beginning.

Because any good project is only as good as our printer. For reference, we had an HP all-in-one before Kodak sent the ESP C310 my way. And we were generally happy with it. At least, marginally so. I mean, printers are only as good as the ink you use, right? And the last time we went and bought ink (right before a hurried convention appearance where I was supposed to be printing out little cards for promotion) we just about broke bank. Not to mention that the printer was notoriously finicky with my MacBook Pro.

Well, I’m happy to report that there were no such problems with the Kodak All-in-One ESP C310. Setup was a snap, and after a restart and a short calibration period, we were connected to the printer via wireless network. Wireless printing is one of those things I marvel at, still. Geek that I am I can’t help but feel like printing without a cord in the middle is just a little magic.

Add to that that the price of ink for the ESP C310 is significantly lower than our previous printer, and that the print quality is great… well, I’m a happy camper, let’s just say.

Now. On to the projects. You’ve seen this week that there are many possibilities when it comes to projects with the Kodak Design Gallery Software featuring Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows™. That’s no surprise. I love the many symbols and designs, and they really all do evoke a sense of the world of Harry Potter, right down to the menus and elements in the program.

A screen shot of the project in progress.

However, I am biased. Sure, there are all sorts of camps when it comes to the Harry Potter oeuvre. But personally there is no home like the Burrow, and no hero like Ron Weasley. Okay so he’s a little tempestuous at times. And the whole fight between Ron and Harry really dragged out in Book Four, to the point where I wanted to knock both their skulls together. But when it comes down to it, Weasley really is my king. He’s the most likely character to make me laugh, cry, and giggle. Yes, admittedly I have a thing for ginger guys. But that’s hardly the point!

While there were a few odd bugs with the Macintosh version — switching between windows caused the program to blank out until I clicked on “Home” and it does not fill the whole screen — the tweenager in me was still quite thrilled to print a project featuring my most favorite wizard. And if I were so inclined I could also emblazon his face upon banners, doorhangers, and calendars, all as easily as if I had a wand of my own.

Just don’t call me Lavender.

At any rate! If you, too, would like to experience a great printer with some fun software, remember that Kodak and GeekMom are giving away the last and final bundle this week. All you’ve got to do is comment on Monday’s post to enter.

What are you waiting for? Appararate over there already.

How to Make Fun Harry Potter Printables with Kodak Design Gallery Software DVDs

Kodak-Harry-Potter-2-small-475x633Just in time for the upcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 movie premiere on July 15, Kodak has come up with some great software for making your own Harry Potter collectibles. The Kodak Design Gallery Software featuring Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows™ DVDs let the crafty witches and wizards in all of us create printable masterpieces. You can design and print papercrafts such as invitations, banners, posters, calendars, collectible cards, or anything that will fit on an 8 1/2″ x 11″ piece of paper.

I had a fantastic time designing projects with the software DVDs, and then was able to easily print them on the Kodak ESP C310 All-in-One printer. Unlike the last printer I had to set up, the Kodak C310 was incredibly simple to set up. With my family’s varied needs, the copying and scanning functions will get used frequently, and being able to print directly from my SD card or iPad will be useful, too.

The printer was also easy to set up on my network. It was simply a matter of following the included directions. They were a bit like IKEA assembly instructions (which I consider fun), but they were very clear and I encountered no difficulties. It detected my network automatically, and I only had to put in my network key. Then it just worked. No hooking it up to my computer or router. Just plugging it into the wall.

But back to the projects. The main menu presents you with many project choices. All of them have access to the same tools and graphical elements, so it’s just a matter of what shape and format you are looking for. For my first project, I made some collectible cards with various Harry Potter themes. They are more like art cards than ones with particular people or places, but I could imagine having cards for each of the cast members, one for Quidditch, one for Runes, and so on.

There are four already-created collectible card sheets in the software for you to look at for inspiration, print out as is, or embellish with additional design elements. (This spot is also where projects you have saved will show up for later printing or editing.) Or to make your own project, just start with a blank card template. Then design your own collectible cards with photos of the Harry Potter cast, scenes from the movie, house flags and crests, and many borders, patterns, icons, swatches, and phrases. Everything is perfectly Potter. And whether you want to do high quality photo-based projects, or line drawing and artistic ones, there are plenty of built in options in the library for you to use. Many of the items are in black and white, but most of the Harry Potter character photo images and plenty of the other elements are in color.

On the design page, all of the elements are able to be moved, resized, rotated, written on (with Harry Potter-esque fonts), or changed in color. You can send elements to back or to front, so you can have the right layering. Save your designs as you go, and print them when ready. The working area for collectible cards is divided up into spots for four cards, with a blue border to stay within for easy cutting. These borders also print when you print the page.

To keep you in the mood while making your wizardly creations, there is Harry Potter music in the background, but it can be turned off if you so choose.

As I was working, I had more and more ideas of designs to create, and thought up plenty of extra reasons to use collectible cards. One idea is to make them into little stationary notecards that could be part design, part blank area. They could be used to hand write notes or messages to send to people or to include with a gift (such as a Harry Potter book). Another idea is to make personalized Hogwarts Express train tickets to give to each kid at the start of the school year. The ink cartridges that this Kodak printer uses are quite affordable compared with inkjet cartridges for other printers, making all this printing feasible.

I especially had a good time with the borders and icons. There are enough graphics to choose from that there should be something to fit anyone’s style, or particular house sympathies.

Don’t feel like you have to keep all of the elements entirely within the print boundaries. I purposely went over the lines much of the time, to create a layered, larger look for when the cards would be cut. Having an element only partially showing is sometimes a good thing. When I was done with all of my wizardly wares, I printed everything out, cut the cards apart, and showed them off to my kids. They are now inspired to make their own!

Since these are meant to be collectible cards, or notecards in general, these would best be printed on card stock, whatever your printer can handle. The Kodak C310 printer that I was sent takes up to 110 lb card stock paper, but I had to make do with the regular inkjet paper I had on hand.

These Kodak DVDs are the perfect way to make projects for your own Harry Potter party or personal celebration. They are also just as useful for creating more general projects. I found myself wanting to create more collectible cards than I really had time for; the design elements you can use are that fun.

To sum up, the Kodak Design Gallery DVDs mingle classic art styles with modern Harry Potter memorabilia to create really special design software. Visit for more information.

Also, don’t forget! To win a Kodak Design Gallery Software featuring Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows™ Part 2 DVD and a Kodak ESP C310 All-in-One printer, go to Monday’s Kodak post to tell us what you plan to do for the final Harry Potter movie premier. And feel free to  share your photos of Harry Potter parties, celebrations, and countdowns in the GeekMom Flickr group. We can’t wait to see what you all have planned for the big event!

Note: Kodak provided GeekMom with free samples of their software and printers for these posts.

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GeekMom and Kodak Bring You Some Magical Giveaways (Now Ended)

In four short weeks, Hogwarts fans will be lining up to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the last movie in the series based on the great adventure novels of J. K. Rowling, which opens July 15. And in honor of the event, GeekMom has joined with Kodak to give you a chance to show off your magical celebration of this momentous occasion.  For the next month, we’ll be giving away four packages that include the Kodak ESP C310 All-in-One Printer and the Kodak Design Gallery Software featuring Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows™ Part 2! (See entry information below…)

The Kodak Design Gallery Software lets you make your own fun Harry Potter printables using over 300 images and graphic elements. You can use it to make invitations, banners, collector cards, door hangers, posters, and lots more cool printable projects using images from the movies. It also includes a collection of Harry Potter crests, borders, patterns, icons, swatches, and phrases. Using the unique customization tools, you can add your own photos, type in your own text, draw, color, rotate and scale the images to create your own personalized designs. Or select a pre-designed template, add any special touches you want, and just print!

The Kodak ESP C310 All-in-One Printer that will be included with all four giveaways is a wireless printer with an easy Wi-Fi setup. And it’s affordable — it’s priced at $99, and it uses KODAK 30 Series Ink Cartridges with the lowest ink replacement cost in the industry. Like all KODAK All-in-One Printers, the C310 Printer delivers crisp, sharp text documents, brilliant graphics, and KODAK Lab-Quality Photos that dry instantly and last a lifetime.

On Wednesday we’ll be sharing some of the designs made by GeekMom Jenny Williams and her family using the Kodak Design Gallery Software and the Kodak ESP C310 All-in-One Printer. In the meantime, enter to win a Kodak Design Gallery Software featuring Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows™ Part 2 DVD and a Kodak ESP C310 All-in-One Printer of your very own by leaving a comment at the bottom of this post, telling us your plans for the culmination of the great Harry Potter movie series next month! You have until midnight Friday night to enter this week’s drawing. And we’ll have a drawing each week, so you have four chances to win!

We’d also love to see your Harry Potter-related photos and images, so put a link to them in your comment, or just add them to the GeekMom Flickr group! We’ll feature the best in future posts.

And be sure to visit for more Harry Potter goodness over the coming weeks. Thanks to Kodak for inviting GeekMom readers to be a part of their celebration!

(UPDATE: We’ll be giving away four Kodak packages, each with the Kodak Design Gallery Software featuring Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows™ Part 2 DVD and the Kodak ESP C310 All-in-One Printer!)

The Magic Behind Real-Life Butterbeer

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure just sold its millionth butterbeer, which creates a nice segue into two burning questions about the Hogsmeade brew of choice: Does it contain butter? Does it contain beer?

No on both counts.

Having a son who’s ragingly allergic to dairy, I shook down several WWoHP staffers on several different occasions about the dairy content, and they all professed that the potion was dairy-free. We ordered ours – one frozen, one regular – but I got a little concerned when the butterbeer slingers (the patient souls seen in the clip above) topped the concoction with a creamy foam. They assured me that the foam was also dairy-free, and judging by the fact that we didn’t wind up in the Wizarding Emergency Room for a magical encounter with the Epi-Pen, they were right.

On to more fun topics: What does butterbeer taste like? Not beery at all, but more like a sophisticated take on cream soda. Butterscotch can be oversweet and cloying, but butterbeer is not. I’d recommend trying both the frozen and the regular kind, as they taste a bit different. If it’s early in the day, though, pass on the souvenir mug, as it’s a drag to carry it around all day.

Another wizarding potable worth trying is Pumpkin Juice: It’s for sale in souvenir bottles the shops of Hogsmeade as well as in cups the The Three Broomsticks and the Hog’s Head pub, where–in case you were disappointed at the non-alcoholic nature of butterbeer–you’ll also find Potter-inspired cocktails, beer and wine. In the books, pumpkin juice never sounded all that appealing to me, but Universal’s version is a treat: made of apple juice with pumpkin and apricot puree and spices reminiscent of pumpkin pie, it’s refreshing and less soda-sweet than butterbeer.

Stay tuned for a look at the shops and attractions of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. More questions about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Post them in our forum, and if I don’t have the answers, I’ll find ’em.

And be sure to check out Matt Blum’s review of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter over at GeekDad!

The Top 25 Ways You Know You’re A GeekMom

Jenny Williams, circa 1980. Photo taken by her mom.

What is it that sets a Geek Mom apart from the mundane mass of mothers? Have you ever questioned if you qualify? To really know if you are part of this proud parental pack of geeks, read on…

  1. As soon as your daughter’s hair was long enough, you put it in Leia buns.
  2. You make hot cocoa with a Bunsen burner and a beaker.
  3. You told your kids you were watching Avatar: The Last Airbender because it had such an amazing plot, but really, you just had a crush on Zuko.
  4. Your diaper bag is covered with anime character pins.
  5. You drag the family out of bed at 2AM to watch a lunar eclipse.
  6. Your children KNOW what to do in case of a zombie-pocolypse.
  7. Talk Like A Pirate Day is an honored family tradition.
  8. Your children think going grocery shopping means going to the game store.
  9. Your children’s names are Logan and Jean Grey.
  10. You have to explain to your eight-year-old daughter why she can’t dress up as a Lolita.
  11. You expect your child to know as many digits of pi as their age.
  12. As soon as a new book came out, you would send your children to bed early so you could get a head start on Harry Potter.
  13. You worry more about the font choice than content in your child’s essay.
  14. You try to make cut out cookies in the golden ratio.
  15. You crocheted Star Trek communicators for the whole family.
  16. You rearrange your kid’s extracurricular activities around your role-playing game schedule.
  17. Legoland is a perfect family vacation.
  18. Your children’s toys equipped with LEDs are in extreme danger if you can ever find that tiny screwdriver.
  19. The Toys R Us big book has two colored pens…one color for your kids’ wish list and one color for yours.
  20. You and your children sing RE: Your Brains by Jonathan Coulton on the way to school.
  21. You have a photo of your infant holding a joystick at a computer.
  22. You teach your twins to say, “Wonder Twin powers…ACTIVATE!” when they fist-bump.
  23. You sing lullabies in Elvish.
  24. You have a Zelda cosplay Christmas card.
  25. Your children think this is all normal.

What else, geek moms?

With thanks to: Kathy Ceceri, Jenny Williams, Corrina Lavitt, Catherine Post and Jenn Tylbon

What’s To Read After Harry Potter?

Book covers: Scholastic Press. Mashup: Kate Miller.

Readers, I’ve got something explosive to say. OK, here goes (nervous throat-clearing sound):

I just don’t like Harry Potter.

I don’t loathe Harry Potter, I just don’t see the magnificence and originality that others do. The first book left me cold, and even my boys lost interest at around book three.

There, I’ve said it. Please don’t yell at me or arrest me. I’m just speaking out for a tiny, overwhelmed minority in America. We Potterphobes cower in our closets.

So why am I posting on our Harry Potter week? Just to be a downer? To be the critic everyone hates? No! My job here is to recommend an alternative series, good for Potterphobes as well as Potterphiles who are ready for fresh material.

And my recommendation is – drumroll, please — the Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. My older son and I picked up the first book a couple of years ago when I was still reading aloud to him. We buzzed through the next four books with the urgency of addicts. Like Harry Potter, the protagonist of this series is a boy with a mysterious destiny who moves between the real world and an equally real alternate world. But the resemblance ends there.

Gregor is a smart and troubled 11-year-old New York kid who inadvertently discovers the Underland, a human civilization living in enormous caverns deep beneath the city. There, humans uneasily co-exist with species of rats, bats, spiders, mice, cockroaches, and other creatures, all grown to enormous size. These creatures are also highly intelligent, armed to the teeth, and as flawed and unpredictable as humans. It’s a blazingly original landscape. Shifting alliances and misunderstandings propagate the plots, and we watch as Gregor navigates. He’s decent. And conflicted. It’s awesome.

The books thrum with themes of war and peace. One plot closely parallels Hitler’s rise to power and the Holocaust. Gregor is strategically placed to answer some of those old philosophical chestnuts you toss around in college: “It’s 1939. You have a loaded gun and a clear shot at Hitler. What do you do?” Or, more to the point, what would Gregor do? (WWGD?) These questions sparked lively discussions with my son, for which I’ll always be grateful to Suzanne Collins.

So if you liked Harry Potter — or even if you didn’t – you might give Gregor a try. Oh, and when you do, let me know what you think of Ripred, a vicious and brilliant rat with traitorous tendencies. We adore him.

GeekMom Games: Harry Potter Wizard’s Dueling is for Everyone!

Image courtesy Warner Brothers

It’s here.  The second to last Harry Potter movie.  The books are done.  The movies are coming to an end, and by golly, my obsession is not nearly over.  I’m a Harry Potter fan through and through.  Admittedly a latecomer to the series I didn’t read the first book until after the release of the second movie (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets).  Even then I only did so because a particularly insistent friend gifted me the book in college.  A tried and true bibliophile I couldn’t not read it.  It’s a book, that’s what its for, right?  Six hours later I was in the car praying that the local Border’s was still open at two in the morning so I could get the rest of the books that had been released at that point.  It was and so my obsession began, late and in-austere, but obsession nonetheless.

I own a channel-changing wand (courtesy my paycheck devouring fave site, ThinkGeek), I regularly don a Professor McGonagall costume, and have taken every blessed Which Harry Potter Character Are You quiz ever written on the internet.  I draw the line at writing fan literature although that can’t be far behind with the book and movie franchise drawing to a close.  I have however created my own version of Wizard’s Dueling to be used by my geekiest of friends.  My three-year-old daughter even plays it.   With the movie premier nearly here I thought I would share my abbreviated version with GeekMoms to use in the theater as you wait for the midnight showing.  The beauty of this version is that it can be played from memory, much like Rock Paper Scissors. If you can remember three spells you can duel your fellow wizards.  It is easy for kids to learn and you get to yell out Harry Potter spells as loud as you can.

You’ll need three spells and an optional wand:

  • Confundo
  • Petrificus Totalus
  • Expecto Patronum
  1. Confundo beats Expecto Patronum (In order to cast a Patronus you must be able to focus your thoughts on things that make you happy.  Under a Confundus Charm you would be unable to focus.)
  2. Expecto Patronum beats Petrificus Totalus (Expecto Patronum is a simpler spell to cast if you know how to do it and a Patronus, when conjured properly, can have physical effect on its target.  Since it takes a bit more wand work to cast Petrificus Totalus, the Patronus would have your opponent on the ground before the spell could be cast.)
  3. Petrificus Totalus beats Confundo. (You can’t cast a curse if you can’t move your arms.  Petrificus Totalus is the Full Body-Bind Curse and is pretty effective.)
  4. In case of a tie, it is a draw and you have to cast again.
Wizard’s Wand Remote from ThinkGeek

Yes, I’m that a big a nerd.  Most of my information is from extensive reading (and re-reading) of the books as well as this awesome spell compilation I found on Wikipedia.

You can add various dimensions to this by assigning point levels to each spell.  You can also add your favorite spells, just be sure to write down what beats what.

Another variation to try:

Using the above matrix, assign point values.  I use increments of five (5) because it makes the math easier.

Confundo gets 5 points, Petrificus Totalus gets 10 points, Expecto Patronum gets 20 points.  Each time you win using one of those spells you get that number of points.  However you lose the assigned number of points when you lose the match, so you can’t just yell Expecto Patronum every time. Now we add a bit more.

Add to the list Expelliarmus (expels the wand from the opponent’s hand) and Finite Incantatem (negates the effect of most spells):

  • If you use Expelliarmus your opponent loses 10 points.  You, however lose 5 points. Great tactic if you are close in points.
  • If you use Finite Incantatem you win the match, however you receive no points.  Your opponent still loses the points associated with the spell they attempted to cast.
  • You play in rounds.  A round consists of ten castings. You can only use Expelliarmus and Finite Incantatem once each per round.

Again, these are the kid friendly versions of the game.  When playing with my grown-up Harry Potter fan-friends we have a much more complicated version that more closely resembles the old-school table top games.  There is a point system, the forbidden spells (which I left out of the children’s versions, even the loudest geek part of me really can’t condone kids yelling out imaginary killing curses at each other), tie breakers and the like.  I’m choosing not to post this version for two reasons.  First, it is painfully complicated and it involves diagrams and matrices and insanity.  Second, I’d like you to post your own variations of Wizard’s Dueling without mine to taint the creation.  Use the comments section and share your tales of dueling. I look forward to hearing from you!