Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pottermore!...for you Harry Potter fans...

*If you haven't heard of Pottermore, go here.*

Now, many of you know that I LOVE Harry Potter. I love it so much that I "forced" my hubby to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter <--link to that post
Mind you, we lived in Sacramento at the time; we've got Disneyland. But fans will be fans...

When the Pottermore site was announced, I was very curious, but also a little skeptical. They said Pottermore would be an experience like nothing we'd seen before, but for me, seeing how incredibly interactive pre-existing websites are, I thought, "Really? Just HOW much of an experience could it be?"



*WARNING: If you prefer to save entire said experience for yourself, do not read further. I'm not posting everything, but I'm posting enough. Okay, I warned you...*


I finally got my email, saying I could logon. After a few attempts ("Due to overwhelming demand, you cannot access Pottermore right now"), I logged on.

The site is like a giant, interactive book with equally interactive footnotes that have the detail level of an encyclopedia. You "read" through, chapter by chapter, via various images - all of which are interactive. Each image has "layers," where you can sort of zoom in (more like change the focus), images in the background/foreground come into view and you may find tokens (or potions or books or bezoars), unlock items, etc.

What's really amazing about each part/chapter/etc., is that Rowling has never before seen descriptions associated with certain items/characters (ie she's got a whole history on Professor McGonagall, McGonagall's parents, et.). She talks about where she got ideas, how those ideas morphed.... Some of you may appreciate this blurb (I found it very inspirational!), where she talks about all the plots in her head that never made it to the books:

(click on images to enlarge...)

Main Screen. So far, all I can access is Philosopher's Stone - all the other books are greyed out. The rest will be revealed in the future. Each "small" gold dot is a chapter, and each chapter has a few interactive scenes associated with it. Those owls are where my "friends" are. Yes, I only have 2. Madeline?? FIND ME!

Then began my journey, chapter by chapter. I explored the Dursley's (this is just one room):
The letters were floating all around the room. See how the background is blurry in this photo? Well, on the REAL screen, if you arrow up, the table becomes blurry and the room beyond is in focus, and you can find other items. Get it?

Hagrid arrives, you get your letter, and are shipped off on platform nine and three-quarters (all of which have interactive images and background information from Ms. Rowling). You then get a list of supplies you need before starting school:
As you purchase items, they're crossed off on your list
You have to go through Diagon Alley, into each appropriate shop, and buy your items (this is, of course, after you've opened an account with Gringotts and received your Galleons).
Each shop illuminates and displays store name as you hover - and then you can go inside :)

And guess what...you go to Ollivanders to get a wand! First, you must answer a bunch of questions, and then the wand chooses you. I was picked by an Ebony with Phoenix Feathercore, thirteen inches, unbending. (you can go to a page which tells you all about wands and what the properties mean, if you so desire.) Once you get your wand, you're stuck with it.

You answer another slew of questions and are sorted into your house. (I was sorted into Gryffindor. Also, once you're sorted in a house, you'll stay there.) From there, you may go to your common room and meet other people in your house/do magical challenges for points, or go to the great hall and see how all the houses are matching up.

 There's a place to practice spells (this is my cousin Madeline's favorite) and enter wizarding duels. I would have to say that, for me, the most entertaining part of this is potions. OH MY GOSH it's hard. Seriously. You have to crush things in a crucible, heat to "X" temperature for "Y" seconds, stir it this way and that "Z" times - almost threw my computer. I SO empathize with Ron now.

You get something like this:
Read them. Read them again. Memorize. 

And then you say to yourself, after preening of course, "Pfft. No problem! You want an antidote...I'LL GIVE YOU AN ANTIDOTE!"

And then you proceed. Did I mention this is all timed? See the purple hourglass? My first 20 tries looked something like this...

I eventually got it right, though, and decided to let my laptop live.

Remember - this was all just for book one! The others aren't "active" yet.

My only complaint is that the site has a tendency to crash. Often. Hopefully that'll be worked out before it launches next month.

I can't remember having this much fun on a website. Thank you, again, JK Rowling! Now I'll never get anything done...

OH, almost forgot - if you're on Pottermore, find me! My name is: AccioSnitch12 :D

***If you like YA Fantasy, check out my book, GAIA'S SECRET. The sequel is coming soon!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gaia's Secret is Available!

Gaia has grown up. (Is this what empty nest syndrome feels like?)

I can't believe it. After a few years of being with her night and day, I'm finally sending her out into the world.

I wasn't sure, exactly, how long all of that formatting was going to take me. So, when I finished it, like, three weeks ahead of schedule, I was a little startled. *insert jumping and screaming and freaking out the dog*

As of today, it's available via e-reader through AMAZON <--- click link
 SMASHWORDS. <---click link

And, if you're interested, I'll give you a code so you can download it for FREE! It's my way of saying thanks for being such an awesome, supportive blogging community. If you DO read it, please leave a little "blurb" about the story, because that will help me share it with others.

You guys are amazing...thanks for helping me get here. :D

Tuesday, September 20, 2011



Um, can't you tell? :)

I'm back from across the pond, and, as promised, I've got something I can't wait to share (so I'm not).

The cover for GAIA'S SECRET...


...wait for it....

Again, I want to say THANK YOU, because I wouldn't have a cover if it weren't for all of you. You've been vital, getting me to this point and making this story what it has become.

I'll let you know when it's available, and the sequel is already in progress :)

Thanks again! *life-squeezing hugs*

Saturday, September 17, 2011

TOSCANA...and other such hilltop towns...



This shall be the very, very condensed version of my past week. Just the highlights. You don't want 200 photos in one blog post, trust me. I haven't blogged sooner because, well, I HAD NO INTERNET! *pulls out hair* What is this world coming to, when you travel to distant lands and stress because even your 3G gets all Italian on you and takes siestas throughout the day? Ugh. Moving on...

We've spent almost the entire week gallavanting about the Tuscan countryside. We went to Sansepulcro and watched their annual Palio della Balestra Festival – a medieval crossbow match.
The target after all competitors shot
My favorite

The next day we went to Montepulciano, where New Moon was filmed (*clears throat* Alice’s car? Volturi?) then on to Montalcino for some Brunello tasting.

Me with Montepulciano in background

The building Edward stepped out of...the fountain was built
for the square since there is none.
The streets of Monetpulciano
I also want to take a moment to inform you, if you didn’t know, that there really aren’t any “major” roads in Tuscany. Sure, you might have a freeway here and there, but the “main” roads in lovely Toscana feel like your neighbors long and windy driveway.  After a full day of feeling like I was going to throw up (yes, I'm very sensitive to motion which I find it highly inconvenient ), me and Dramamine were best friends.

Near Montalcino with abbey in background

The next day we went to San Gimignano (pronounced “Jimmin-yahno”, unless you’re the GPS, who insisted on calling it “Jimig-Nane-oh”. Come to think of it, hearing a GPS say Italian words was quite entertaining…). In San Gimi, we had our cooking class. We made homemade pasta (pici) and bruschetta and sauces and panzanella and chicken…and our teacher picked the herbs fresh from her garden. Our dear teacher said, “The secret—“ she wagged her finger “—wait, there is no secret. Everything must be fresh!” Oh, and never—and I mean NEVER—serve bread with pasta. When we told her that is how it’s done in the States, her jaw dropped and her eyes bulged and she said, “Oh, noooooo!”

View from the Fortress in San Gimigniano

Homemade pici and cheeses (um, NOT homemade :D  )...Mmmmmm!
By the way, a staple of Toscana is fagioli (cannellini beans). They're on every menu as a side, and we always ordered it to share. It's my new favorite food group. Also, a little warning about the shops and restaurants here. They open and close when they want. On three different occasions, my uncle had a restaurant picked out, but when we arrived, they were closed for whatever reason. O_o

Okay, and something else really random. They sell paprika seasoned Pringles here. Yeah, I know I'm in Italy. Why am I eating Pringles? Well, my uncle bought some for our long car ride (not a lot to choose from at gas stations...) and THEY'RE DELICIOUS! We ended up buying Pringles for every car ride. I'm going to buy a few packs for the return trip...

The next day, in my Dramamine-induced coma, we headed for San Marino. Like the Vatican, it’s its own small country. It took us all of a windy, narrow three-hour drive to get there, and it was beautiful!

From the top of San Marino, Umbria in background (and a "perspiring" raincloud...)
The next day was Assisi (my personal favorite…mostly because I like to climb around in ancient castles)


Me on top of the castle wall...scary....no railing!

I LOVED this long corridor! It went between towers...
Alas, we’ve arrived in Roma, where we ended this jaunt. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen the Colosseo, it always amazes me. And I always have to take a photo of it ;) I find it incredible that people and cars and mopeds and busses drive down cobblestone streets, and…BAM! There’s the Colosseum.

Spanish Steps - finally, without scaffolding!

Colosseum. Wait, does this even need a label?

NEVER drive in Rome. Never, ever, EVER! There aren’t lanes, and even when there are, people ignore them. Cars go everywhere, triple park, quadruple park, taxi’s drive on sidewalks, mopeds try and take off rearview mirrors—I usually close my eyes in the taxis.

Flying back home tomorrow. It's been a WONDERFUL vacation, but I miss Ben and can't wait to see him.

Thanks for joining me on this adventure.

Ciao e buona sera!

***If you like YA Fantasy, check out my book, GAIA'S SECRET. The sequel is coming soon!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Only in Italy....

So I spend a week in Scandinavia, and I've got nothin' unusual to share except some history and interesting food. But one day in Italy - ONE! - and the chaos begins :)

Chapter 1 - Parking (or "You're better off with a taxi")

Let's just say it's sorta a nightmare. There are all these restricted zones that can get you a thousand dollars in tickets - you have to be VERY careful. So, we parked in a nice, designated lot - you know, the kind where you take a ticket, the bar raises, and you drive in and park?


Chapter 2 - After Dinner (otherwise known as "The foreigners are reminded they're in Italy")

We drive up to our exit - which, of course, is blocked by another bar - insert our ticket, and...nothing. Bar doesn't move. There isn't even a place to pay the stupid ticket. So, after realizing that no amount of pulling will get that bar to move (ahem), me and Anthony walk over to where we actually bought the ticket to see if we were supposed to pay there. After much grumbling and seeing no signs of a "pay center", Anthony finally sees a sign saying we are supposed to pay in a little triangular glass building across the street. Like that makes sense. *rolls eyes* We cross the street, find the little glass building with the "pay center" inside and...no service.

We try and try to insert that ticket...nothing. We hit the service button and get someone on the other end. "Non e funziona," we say (it's not working). The man spews all sorts of Italian we can't understand and hangs up. Me and Anthony look at each other, and try it again. Same thing, only this time, when we exclaim it's not working, Anthony catches the man say "I know," right before he hangs up.

Anthony and I are deciding what to do when an older gentlemen arrives with his ticket. "Yay!" we say, "Maybe he can help us!!"

The older man smiles, walks to the pay station, inserts his ticket...same thing. He hits the button to dial service (like we had done) while we tell him, in Italian, that it's not working...the voice on the other end comes on again and our dear older gentlemen says, "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"

Now I'm contemplating cutting chains...

Chapter 3 - Our Italian savior (also known as "I almost feared for my life")

Someone younger with dark hair approaches...could it be?? He opens the door and, lo! His first words are in Italian! And, of course, he understands everything. He then explains there's another place to pay, and we should follow him.

So, we follow...

Out the door, down a dark sidewalk, into another set of doors, down a staircase...winding down and down that staircase...down a dark corridor (where in the WORLD is he taking us?!?!)...and voila! Another pay station. *looks around for vampires*

We Americans and the German shout for joy. We never would've found that. And it worked...well, you put in a 20 and get your change all in coins :) "Like slot machine," as the wonderful Italian said.

Gotta love this country...

Sent from Barbara's iPhone

Friday, September 9, 2011


Kobenhavn (click to enlarge)
First, let me just say....I LOVE THE SCANDIC COUNTRIES!

It's like "old world" meets upscale IKEA. All these beautiful old buildings have modern architecture and style infused within - it's gorgeous. Copenhagen is clean, and cold, and the people are TALL. I'm SO in my element here :)  Average height for a woman is about 5'6" (though they seem taller than that...), and men are around 6'2", but on top of that, they're all sticks!

Everyone here speaks English very well. I feel bad, but they insist it's the lingua franca for many, so they're used to it. For instance, when I was at Zara (I LOVE that store), the ladies behind the register were speaking to each other in English because one was from Sweden and the other from Denmark, and English was the common language. Swedes speak Swedish, and Danes speak Danish - neither of which I even remotely understand, though there are some words similar to German (which I DO understand. A little). Note to self: add Swedish and/or Danish to list of languages to learn.

Something else I find incredible about this city are the cyclists! Seriously, everyone rides bikes (Um, Tour de France anyone?). There are bike taxis, bike stoplights, bike ROADS - and I'm from California...we've got the bike lanes. It's crazy. People ride bikes in business clothes, heels, while texting...you name it. When crossing a street, you don't worry about the cars, you worry about  getting run over by a cyclist.

See...sidewalk, bike road, regular road...crazy.
I could totally live here. The only bad thing is everything's expensive (ie coffee and a pastry will cost you $20.) So we "live like paupers" during the day, as my uncle likes to say, and then splurge a little at night.

The Little Mermaid
The mornings are gorgeous, but, as my sis so eloquently put it, "the afternoons get cranky." Clouds roll in and spit on you when they feel like it. You don't like the weather? Wait a minute (and duck under an awning).

The Little Mermaid (sculpted by Edvard Erichsen) is a symbol of Copenhagen, from the story by HC Anderson. And yes, this was well before Disney...

Gefion Fountain (Norse goddess, Gefjun, driving large animals)

St. Alban's Church. BEAUTIFUL! Looked like something from a fairy tale.

Copenhagen is the home of Hans Christian Anderson, so of course, finding a book from here was top of my list. Which, by the way, I found a beautiful, gold leafed hardback containing 80 stories, IN ENGLISH, but made in Denmark.  YIPPEE! The bookstore even stamped it for me. *still giddy*

Me and Annie and HC Anderson (well, his statue...)

Me and my sis, Nyhavn in background
Another beautiful area of Copenhagen is Nyhavn, a 17th century canal, lined with colorful buildings. It was built in 1670-73 by Swedish war prisoners to provide a "gateway" from the sea to the King's Square. HC Anderson even lived at Nyhavn for a few years. Today, it's lined with food and cafe's, or it's full of drunken, patriotic Norwegians before a Denmark/Norway futball game, like the night we arrived. SO funny and entertaining!


King's Square

Maybe you've noticed I put a little more photos up this time? It's been almost a week and I think I'm finally waking up :) If you'd like to see EVEN MORE of the beautiful Kobenhavn (gluttons, I tell you!), you can look at them HERE.

Getting ready for our last dinner here (so sad!), and tomorrow...andiamo Italia!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

STOCKHOLM!...and pirate ships...

Hello from Scandinavia! (or, as they like to say, "Hej"!)

Blogging about Europe is probably one of the hardest things for me because, well, THERE IS JUST SO MUCH TO WRITE ABOUT!

I love Europe. I love everything about it - the cultures, the languages, the history, THE FOOD. So I've decided to organize my blog posts by country. That way you aren't overwhelmed and I'm not exhausted, or is it the other way around? I don't know. I'm tired. And I'm not in my normal timezone.

Stockholm, Sweden. Okay, so that's a little more specific than the whole country, but you get the idea :)

I LOVED Stockholm! Much of that was finally meeting our wonderful extended family (see earlier post...), but Stockholm was so beautiful! The air was like a beautiful autumn morning, the kind where the sun warms your skin but the shade makes you shiver so that you never quite know how to feel. Puffy grey clouds filled the big blue sky. The sky seemed larger there, somehow. And all the various architecture - from Dutch to Swedish to Italian to French to German to MODERN - kept me distracted most all the time (...I also ended up tripping on the cobblestone streets. In flats...)

Here, see for yourselves (abbreviated version...seriously, I'm not posting all 100 photos of Stockholm.):

We stayed right in Gamla Stan (old district) at a really nice boat hotel (really, it rocked at night) with a name longer than anything I'd ever seen (Malardrottningen). Every street in Stockholm reminded me of Middle Earth. Stromgatan. Riddarholmen. I'd use the right vowels if I had the right keys...

Despite all the Italian restaurants (seriously, they were EVER-Y-WHERE!), we ate things like Swedish meatballs and Toastkagen. Now I'm assuming most of you know about Swedish Meatballs or at least can deduce what they are. Toastkagen is toast with shrimp salad on top (sorta like chicken salad...but with shrimp) and lots of dill (YUM!).

Swedish meatballs, potatoes, pickled cucumber (yes, pickles...)
and lingonberries (kinda like cranberries)


We walked and walked and walked (that's what we do), took boat rides and photos, but my FAVORITE part was the Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet), located on the island of Djurgarden. 

The Vasa Museum opened in 1990 and houses the only existing 17th-century ship. On August 10, 1628, the Vasa set sail on her maiden voyage. Twenty - TWENTY! - minutes later, she sank in the Stockholm Harbor. With two decks of cannons positioned too high and insufficient ballast, the Vasa was top heavy! There it lay for 333 years, until 1961, when an archaeologist found it. Through a series of lifts, they brought the Vasa above water and pieced her back together.(<----a link to more details...)

The Vasa
From Stockholm, we took the train to Copenhagen. I'd hoped to get some blogging/writing/reading/emailing done whilst admiring the Swedish countryside - but lo! The train rattled my equilibrium, and I spent half the trip trying to sleep off nausea. O_o 

Up next, Copenhagen, and until then...Hejda :)  (bye)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Long Lost Family!

FREE WIFI! Oh, how I love you. Well, when you work... :)

So. Some of you know I'm in Europe on vacation right now (which I'll blog about the travel later...), but I HAD to share this (assuming the intermittent internet reception lets me).

We FINALLY met some of our extended Syrian family!

I'm not sure exactly how it all came about, but one thing's for sure, Facebook made it all possible :) I know, I know, Facebook has it's evils, but in this particular instance, I feel nothing but complete gratitude!

My grandfather, the one that passed a few months ago, was from Syria. (My mom's maiden name is Azar.) It wasn't until Facebook that we realized some of those Syrian relatives had moved to Sweden, right outside Stockholm. And my uncle, the brilliant uncle he is, contacted our cousin, Firas, the moment he'd made plans to come to Stockholm. Through Facebook emails and photos, we decided to meet at a restaurant. 

No one really knew what to expect. We've all grown up, well, continents apart. Not to mention, being, you know, multi-lingual Americans (cough-cough), we weren't sure if/how we'd be able to communicate, but alas! At least they were prepared, and spoke incredible English (Note: Nina speaks Syriac, Arabic, Dutch, Swedish, and English. *slaps head* Yeah. I felt a little culture-centric, and not in a good way.) 

The incredible part was they actually felt like family! We talked and talked and talked, and laughed, and reminisced (Firas and Ramih's father, Issa, came to stay with my grandfather in the USA when my uncle and mom were kids...) and they invited us to their home for a traditional Syrian dinner the following night.

From left to right: Annie (my sis), Me, Nina, Firas, Ramih, Uncle Alex
Christian and Nina

Little Issa and food!

So, this is what Nina "whipped together" : Fatosh (salad), Malfof (like Domas) and cosa (stuffed squash), humus (HOMEMADE!), kebe (a meat dish), basterma (dried meat), and harise for dessert. Everything tasted so fresh and was bursting with flavor. My mouth was in ecstasies! Nina even sent me home with little baggies of spices, though I'm not sure anything I make will come even remotely close to what she'd cooked. And just as we'd cleared our plates, she had been ready with another heaping spoonful! Still full this morning... :)

Firas, Christian, Issa, Nina, Gabriel, Ramih, Annie, Uncle A, Me
Here's everyone, and I'll explain the connection for those of you that might care (family trees have been known to cause massive headaches...): Ramih and Firas are my third cousins. Their father, Issa, is Uncle Alex's second cousin. And Issa's father, Fahed, and my uncle's father (my grandpa), were first cousins. See? So simple :) While we were there, we even Skyped with Issa, who lives in Syria! My uncle said he looked just as he remembered him. Nina is Firas' wife (they have two beautiful children, Issa and Christian), and Gabriel is Nina's brother.

They tried teaching us some Arabic (and laughed when we butchered the throat sounds). I think we came out saying a few words that might be recognizable. Maybe.

All of them are such wonderful people, and I'm so glad to finally know them! Now I just wish we didn't live thousands of miles apart. Thank goodness for the internet to help bridge the distance!

Thank you, Nina, Firas, Ramih, Issa, Christian, and Gabriel, for such an unforgettable experience...you truly are a wonderful family! Until we see you again... :D

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