Tea Tales – In Chicago

One delightful experience that all tea drinkers should try at least once is “high tea” or “afternoon tea.” This generally incorporates tea with some combination of food; anywhere from scones to finger sandwiches to ornate pastries and desserts. In my own humble opinion: the more food, the better. When I do afternoon tea, I’m looking for a MEAL.

That takes us to downtown Chicago on a blustery, snowy day on January 12, 2019. These fine ladies and I ventured through horizontally-blowing, stinging flurries to enjoy afternoon tea. Our first stop was the French Market in Ogilvie Transportation Center where 2 of us got some bubble tea. Because, why should you not get tea before having MORE tea? We reluctantly passed on the dim sum to ensure we had enough room for all the food awaiting us. We were heading to Russian Tea Time, a well-loved Chicago restaurant in the Loop just in sight of the Art Institute.

The 2017 afternoon tea crew.

I first discovered the glory that is “Afternoon Tea at Russian Tea Time” in May 2017 with a group of 9 ladies from my church. We came with curious minds, and left with full stomachs at a VERY affordable price: $32 per person. Afternoon or high tea can easily cost anywhere from $35 to $50 per person, and without much food to go with the tea (I once paid $60 to attend a Japanese tea ceremony…but that’s another story). The amount of food Russian Tea Time provides is truly DELIGHTFUL. I vowed to return again, hence the January excursion.

We were seated for tea around 2pm (tea is served daily 2-4:30pm), settling into the warm, cozy atmosphere and gratefully removing our damp coats that had just come through a snowflake firing squad. We each chose a tea, and those who pick the house tea (which has a fruity, black currant taste) get fancy glass cups with metal decorative accents. Tea description: “Bold mix of the finest Darjeeling and black teas infused with Black Currant aroma. The delicate and flavorful taste of this mix will satisfy any palate – hot or iced.” Everyone else receives a personal tea pot with infinite refills. I went for the smoky Russian Caravan tea, which although enjoyable, was a bit too strong for my taste. The description: “Smokey blend of lapsang souchong and fine quality Indian and Chinese black teas. The unique aroma and taste is reminiscent of the campfires of traders as they made the camel-ridden long journey over the silk road.”

And, are you ready for this? Each pair of people gets a 3-tiered service of savory and sweet delicacies, pictured here in all its glory with my friend eagerly anticipating its consumption.

Top tier: cranberry scones with fresh clotted cream and jam (2 per person):

Middle tier: Tea sandwiches assortment, which includes salmon, tomato, chicken, varieties of breads and herbs, pâté…and stuff I didn’t even fully know what I was eating — it just tasted delicious!

Bottom tier: A variety of assorted sweets, including cookies, meringue, and strudelish delicacies.

Can you see why it’s rather exciting to go here and experience this? We had two of these food towers of bliss at our table of four, and all left with satisfied palates and full stomachs.

So if, dear reader, you find yourself in Chicago, feeling peckish, and looking for a unique tea experience, I heartily recommend Russian Tea Time. Just don’t go without taking me too! 🙂

Until next time… tea you later!

Scones of happiness.

Savory selections.


Tea Tales – In Iowa

This blog has been neglected for way too long. Thought I’d start up again with a new series: “Tea Tales,” featuring my adventures trying out tea hither and yon. If nothing else, it will serve as my personal tea journal. 😉

I don’t recall how or when I came to love tea, but it has certainly become one of my passions, and I love exploring new flavors and experiences!

LE CLAIRE, IA – December 22

Driving out to visit family over Christmas, I stopped in Le Claire to see the Buffalo Bill Museum and decided to walk the streets in this charming little town. The “Royal-Tea” shop caught my eye, not just because of the pun, but because…it’s a tea shop! I popped in and perused their loose leaf teas for something to enjoy while I’m on the road. I landed on “Sunrise Mojo,” and my friends, this was a very good decision.

Web Description: This breakfast blend pairs pu-erh with the ideal black teas to create a perfectly rounded morning cuppa. Pu-erh, known for its effective caffeine punch, has been used traditionally for centuries as a slimming and beauty tea, as well as a hangover cure. With added vanilla to smooth out your morning routine, and citrus peels for a cleansing glow.

Ingredients: organic pu’erh tea, organic black tea, organic orange peel, vanilla flavoring

Loved it! I’d tried pu’erh before, and pairing it with citrus and vanilla was an inspiring combination. Rich and sweet taste. Gotta track this down again! The tea shop owner and I had a nice chat too, and he gave me the advice of taking my favorite tea, Earl Grey de la Creme, and adding brown sugar and vanilla extract. Tried it on January 6 and it was pretty good!

DES MOINES, IA – December 28

I take my nieces on individual outings over Christmas (it’s tradition!), and one niece in particular is a tea-lover (although thanks to Avatar: The Last Air-Bender and Uncle Iroh, both nieces are willing to try tea now – hallelujah!). Tea Niece and I decided to do a “tea tasting” adventure in Des Moines, complete with a scoring system.

With 10 points for each category we rated teas on:

  • Taste
  • Aftertaste
  • Presentation
  • Color
  • Smell

Our first stop was Gong Fu Tea, and I’m definitely returning here! Wonderful, knowledgeable staff, cool atmosphere, and great tea variety.

They set us up with 4 teas (2 per person), each tea in its own pot. Presentation scored well here. They had a tatami mat section too, which I’m totally going to sit in the next time I go!

The teas I tried:

Organic 500 Mile Chai – The tale of a 500 mile chai originates from the many late night truck drivers stopping at small chai stands along India’s highways asking for a very strong and sweet brew to help them drive long distances (“for another 500 miles”). This blend of chai includes small leaf black tea, dried ginger, cloves and cinnamon.













Tea Niece’s Teas:

Mediterranean Chamomile – with orange and hibiscus adding sweetness and color









We enjoyed them all! The chai was sweet enough to certainly keep you going for another 500 miles, the puerh was brewed well and very flavorful. Tea Niece liked the chamomile so much, we bought some to take home.

Our second tea tasting stop was Grounds for Celebration, which is more a coffee shop, but their larger selection of teas swayed us to try it out (plus there weren’t a lot of choices for tea establishments in Des Moines, I’ll be honest).

The tea I tried:

China White Pearl (with cinnamon roll)

Tea Niece’s tea:

World Peace Tea (with cherry strudel)

Gong Fu definitely had higher-quality teas, but these were nice too (and: pastries, hey). Niece’s tea was an herbal tea blended with mint and cloves. I wanted her to try the subtle taste of a white tea, hence my selection.

The verdict: see our chart below!

My sweet tooth declared 500 Mile Chai the winner, and Tea Niece had a tie between South African Rooibos (despite its smell) and World Peace teas, but we loved them all!

Until next time… tea you later! 😉

How I discovered Irish Music: A St. Patrick’s Day Post

Four-leaved_clover2I’m often asked why I love St. Patrick’s Day and all things Irish and Celtic. “Are you Irish, Laura?” is often the query. I do have a bit of Irish blood, but that’s far from the reason why I celebrate Ireland all year round. One of the elements I enjoy the most about Irish culture is the music, and here’s the story of how I first encountered it and the four artists who have become lifelong favorites.

1) Finding ALTAN

CelticOdysseyMy sister inadvertently introduced me to a lot of things that quickly became passions for me. She had a tape, I think made by a college friend, that had the Celtic Odyssey album on it (Narada Collection). It’s a sampler of songs from a bunch of different Celtic music artists, and I fell in love with it almost immediately. I had recently just read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings for the first time, and this album evoked all kinds of feelings and imagery from the book that had just changed my life. It was like the two were meant to go together.

Of all the songs on that album, my favorite was “Dónal Agus Mórag” by a band named Altan. It wasn’t even in English. I didn’t have a clue what the Irish lyrics were saying (the homemade tape just had the song names, no liner notes), but it captivated me. I began searching for this band and what other work they had done.

Enter: the Celtic Fields store. A store with Celtic and Irish-themed things opened in a mall near my home, and it quickly became my favorite place to go. The 1990s saw a huge influx of interest in all things Celtic and I was luckily standing in the right place when the tide came in. Yes (for those who remember them), Riverdance and Lord of the Dance were part of my journey too. It was at the Celtic Fields store that I found 3 other audiocassette tapes by Altan: “The Red Crow,” “Harvest Storm,” and “Island Angel” – and bought them immediately. I also bought some “Teach yourself Irish” tapes, but that’s another story…

Altan’s albums did not disappoint, I enjoyed scouring the liner notes that came with them, and trying to decipher the mysteries of the Irish language in the included lyrics. Eventually I somehow nabbed a catalog of their distributor: Green Linnet Records. This was my gateway to traditional Irish music. I found artists Eileen Ivers, Cherish the Ladies, Déanta, Andy Stewart, and more. I used my scanty funds as a high school student to buy more albums, and raided the public library, which luckily had plenty of CDs for these and other Celtic music artists to explore.

altan.jpgAnd what happened to Altan in my life, you ask? Well, naturally I bought all their albums, and continue to get each new one that comes out. I’ve also seen them 3 times live, which is always a supreme joy when I get a chance. My first Altan concert was February 1, 1999 (thanks parents!). I wrote an excited diary entry in green ink documenting the play list from the concert, audience reactions, the stage lighting and ambiance, and the way the band and audience interacted. High school Laura was disappointed all the Altan t-shirts were sold out, and reflected: “I really have more appreciation for the other members of the band on accordion, guitar, and bouzouki now that I actually got to see them in action and their parts in the mold of music.” Interestingly enough, that same diary entry records that I got my acceptance letter to Wheaton College that day. It gets a half-sentence mention. At the end.

My second time seeing Altan was in Ann Arbor, MI during grad school in the spring of 2005, but the third time seeing the band remains my favorite. It was on March 12, 2011 at the Ramsey Auditorium at Fermilab. I was there with friends good enough to put up with my, shall we say “excited?”, demeanor. We had great seats to see the band well and their hands as they made magic happen on their instruments. After the concert they said they’d stick around for a meet & greet and to sign albums. I had bought the lead singer’s solo album, Imeall by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh (beastly difficult to get with limited distribution), and wanted to get her signature.

I was the last in line, and when I stepped up to her I got to say: “You played my favorite song tonight during the concert!” “Which one?” she asked, with her characteristic smile. “Dónal Agus Mórag” I said, hoping my pronunciation passed. “Oh! We just started playing that again!” she said. (Lucky me!) “Your music has been a huge blessing in my life, and I’ve been a fan for many years,” I added. “What a sweet thing to say!” said Mairéad, giving me a hug. I then had my photo taken with the whole band. “Go in amongst the gentlemen in the middle” Mairéad said, waving me over. That photo is framed and gives me the largest grin every time I see it sitting on my bookshelf at home. And yes, CD cover and program were both signed by Mairéad and the band.


2) Finding ENYA

EnyaMy first encounter with Enya was a very strange occurrence indeed. Well, the first encounter I enjoyed. My sister also had an Enya song on one of her mix tapes, but it was “Cursum Perficio,” one of what I now affectionately call her “angry-sounding Latin songs” and not to my taste. No, I had been watching an episode of Northern Exposure (one of my favorite shows) and was poised to turn off the TV because Baywatch was coming on, when I heard the most amazing music ever. Some lady in a blue swimsuit was doing a slow-motion complex dive through the air, but the music filling the scene was a sound of beauty like I’d never heard before, and I was transfixed. What was this mysterious music with the ethereal singer? It was Enya’s song “Caribbean Blue,” and it remains my favorite song by her to this day. Do you know how hard it was to find that out in the pre-internet days? Well, it was hard.

My first Enya album was Watermark, and “Orinoco Flow” wowed me just like everyone else. When I got to Shepherd Moons, I was very intrigued to see that one song title was “Lothlórien.” Good heavens! Could Enya be a Tolkien fan too?? Turns out she is, as the world found out when she scored two songs for The Fellowship of the Ring film in 2001. And what else did I learn after some investigation? She had been on keyboards back in the day with Altan and came from the same part of Ireland as them. Whaaaatt?!

Another favorite early Enya memory is when I spotted a VHS tape in a store (Best Buy?) that was of her music videos. “Music videos aren’t generally very entertaining,” my mother warned me, “you won’t want to watch it more than once.” But, this is Enya. I mean, I couldn’t imagine how her videos couldn’t be good. They were probably filmed in secluded forests and ended with Enya walking up a rainbow into the sky, right? Well, my high school wishes were pretty close to that. The thought that went into the videos is evident, and the visual imagery is stunning. Her videos are amazing, and although I now have a DVD with all of them on it, the VHS tape still sits proudly on my shelf as my first introduction to the visualization of her music. I’ve also gotten into artist Maxfield Parrish thanks to her videos and album art.

And Enya’s music is one of the two artists I can listen to on infinite repeat, without weariness, and whenever I need to concentrate or relax. The other artist? Owl City, who by the way loves Enya too, and has said that he uses a lot of her chord progressions and techniques in his own music. Of course he does.


The VisitSo my sister had this mix tape made for her by a friend…seeing a trend here? This time the song was “The Lady of Shalott” off of Loreena McKennitt‘s album The Visit. I was familiar with the Tennyson poem from Anne of Green Gables, which made me predisposed to like the song. What I wasn’t prepared for was that it was 11 minutes long! A good portion of the poem was used, beautifully set to music, and Loreena’s haunting voice had me hooked at once. I got the album from the library, and the rest is history.

I used Loreena’s version of “The Two Trees” for my report on Yeats in my junior year high school English class. I also begged my senior year high school English teacher to include “The Lady of Shalott” poem in our studies of English literature even though there wasn’t time for it in the schedule. She did, much to my delight.

Had the pleasure of seeing Loreena live at the Lyric Opera in Chicago on May 1, 2007. She’s just as good live as she is on her recordings, and I wrote a thorough concert report to capture every memory from the experience. Hoping to see her again soon…she has a new album coming out after all!

4) Finding THE CORRS

Forgiven_Not_Forgotten.jpgIn the summer of 2001 I traveled to Ireland for the first time as a college student with the Wheaton in England program through Wheaton College. You can maybe, just maybe, gauge how excited I was on that trip after reading the post up until now. I booked it to the Irish Music Hall of Fame and Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin, and was so excited to hear live music and explore. Amongst the rows of albums I thumbed through at the ITMA, and the CDs available for sale in stores, the album Forgiven, Not Forgotten by The Corrs caught my eye.

The band is a set of 4 siblings who have been trained in traditional Irish music, but splice it with pop-style music. It was, and remains, a very fun and dynamic combination. Soon I was shoving my headphones into friends’ ears as we bumped along the Irish roads in our big coach bus saying: “Listen to this new band I just found. Aren’t they great?!” Some people on the trip had heard The Corrs’ popular single “Breathless,” which led me to more of their albums, which I looked up in the internet labs and cafés when we were lucky enough to have such luxuries of web access. I remember sitting in my St. Anne’s College dorm room in Oxford jamming to the Talk on Corners album on my discman.

One of my favorite Corrs memories though was long after at my friend Elizabeth’s wedding. She and I had been on the Wheaton in England trip together and she had a certain favorite Corrs song that was a very peppy Irish jig she enjoyed dancing to. Without telling anyone but the DJ, we played the song at her wedding reception and she suddenly leapt into an Irish jig dance with several bridesmaids. It was magic.

So that, friends, is my tale of Irish & Celtic music discovery, and what a marvelous journey it has been! I’m always up for trying out new artists. Can’t wait to see what else is just around the corner!



Postcard I got in Ireland.

Mind the Gap: Where Scholarship on C.S. Lewis and other Wade Authors needs some Filling-In

mind-the-gapHello friends. As promised, and long overdue, I am checking in again to write the third and final post on reflections of the C.S. Lewis and Friends Colloquium that took place at Taylor University in June 2016. Posts one and two focused on why I felt the Colloquium embodied a healthy example of academia, and the enjoyment I had of attending as an archivist. This post will focus on a gap in scholarship on C.S. Lewis (and other Wade authors) that I’ve noticed and that I was reminded of at the Colloquium.

Let me start by making 2 observations I’ve had as archivist at the Wade Center over the past 12 years:

    1. First of all, for many years people would come up to me and say: “I’m leading a Bible study group / church group / book discussion group and we’re reading C.S. Lewis’s book: (fill in title blank here). What resources have been published that will help me teach this book / lead discussion in a group setting?” Earlier on, I had to shamefully hang my head and say: “Amazingly enough, I have nothing to recommend to you unless you are teaching The Chronicles of Narnia.” That is, thankfully, no longer the case for several of Lewis’s books, including some of the most popular titles, but remains the reality for many other important Lewis titles, and those of other Wade authors.questions
    2. Next, it has been surprisingly apparent that although Lewis is known for the clarity of his writing and amazing ability to communicate complex ideas to the common reader, his texts are thought to be too “heady” for many people today to read and understand. There may be a number of reasons for this. As we move further away from the era when Lewis was writing, it is possible that his examples or vocabulary are harder for the average person to grasp. In a similar vein, I’ve heard at least one Lewis scholar argue that people’s ability to grasp complex ideas while reading has decreased greatly in recent years due to the media-infused culture in which we currently live. A philosophy professor friend confirmed this to me as well, saying that students are less capable of spending time with a text, or of reading it multiple times, in order to grasp its content if the first read-through doesn’t make sense to them.


  1. Now before we all start to despair over current culture, I have seen many examples in contrast to point #2. I know a lot of people who are readers, and many who are quite capable of patiently pursuing complex thoughts and ideas in texts that require such attention. I also realize, however, that I move in academic circles which are not exactly mainstream society…but a conversation about culture trends or proving statistics is not what this blog is about.The fact that people want to engage with Lewis’s works, but have roadblocks to doing so, is disheartening to me. I, for one, have gained so much from reading him; I definitely want others to have the same experience and remove any roadblocks keeping them from doing so. This is where my call to Lewis (and other authors!) scholars comes in, with a question and some ideas.The question: how can we help modern readers, both those academically inclined and the more casual reader, dig deep in Lewis’s works and find the gold in them?

    I have a few ideas, which I’ll list here:

    1. pilgrimsregress_cropped-cover.jpgCritical & Annotated Guides: Scholars have a very unique set of information that readers can really benefit from, and critical / annotated versions of books are a great way for a reader to have an experienced / informed guide walk them through a text. Such books contain notes in the margins or footnotes that provide context to historical references which most readers won’t know, explain complex concepts that might be outside of a reader’s range of experiences, and also interesting facts about the text like how an example is understood in British culture, or where an idea may have come from the author’s personal life. These notes are like a wise companion along the reading road, and that guidance helps readers finish the reading journey and get the most out of all the roadside attractions and truths along the way.
      Examples of some books in this category includeThe Annotated Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, annotated by Douglas A. Anderson; The Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis, annotated by David C. Downing; and Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, annotated by Craig M. Kibler.
    2. heavenStudy Guides for groups and individuals: When you’re leading some kind of class or book discussion, a quality resource that comes in an easy-to-access pre-packaged format is always a great help. Having guides written by people who KNOW the text well is essential, and can be very effective if that knowledge informs how to break the text down for group consumption over a number of class or meeting sessions, complete with recommended group activities, homework, appendices, charts, guides to the main themes in the text, glossaries, and study questions.

      Examples of some books in this category includeA Reader’s Guide Through the Wardrobe: Exploring C.S. Lewis’s Classic Story (a literary guide on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) by Leland Ryken and Marjorie Lamp Mead; Speaking of Jack: a C.S. Lewis Discussion Guide by Will Vaus; and C.S. Lewis goes to Heaven: A Reader’s Guide to The Great Divorce by David G. Clark.

    3. Bandersnatch-coverAdapted texts for non-academic readers: A recent trend I’ve noticed is scholarly / academic books being reformatted and adapted to simpler texts intended for non-academic readers. This can transform the difficult-to-digest academic concept texts into texts edible by the common reader, while still conveying the same observations and ideas. This way: everyone can partake in the feast.

      Examples of some books in this category includeBandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings (a reworking of the earlier title The Company They Keep) both by Diana Pavlac Glyer; and The Narnia Code: C.S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens (a reworking of the earlier title Planet Narnia) both by Michael Ward.

    4. SG_DVD_BOOK_imageMedia supplemental material: And the answer some folks have arrived at is by providing a media-infused culture with media supplements to go along with reading the texts. Notice I said supplements. No video montage or podcast can ever replace reading the original work by the author, but it can aid it, particularly for those who thrive on visual elements or learning through a lecturer or coach. The key here also remains to provide plenty of substance in whatever is created, rather than just filling the space with fluff or surface-level observations. This requires both a deep understanding of the text and, especially with video, a creative flair to make it engaging to modern audiences.

      Examples of some books in this category includeDiscussing Mere Christianity: Exploring the History, Meaning & Relevance of C.S. Lewis’s Greatest Book by Devin Brown (book and DVD set); and the C.S. Lewis Study Program Lectures by the C.S. Lewis Institute (sets of free online video lectures by Lewis experts on Mere ChristianityLetters to Malcolm, and The Screwtape Letters).

    I would love to see any and all of the books by the seven Wade authors given this kind of attention by scholars who can do the job well (emphasis on well, folks), but particularly the works of C.S. Lewis which haven’t yet had this treatment. They have a ready-made audience for such resources. And if traditional publishers won’t bite, then self-publishing or free online resources might be other avenues to pursue.

    Want to see a few more examples of what’s already been written in the “study guide” genre for the Wade author’s works? Well, check out this listing in our catalog of around 250 titles (but most of those are for K-12 classrooms, y’all).

    Here are some of the top Wade author titles that come to mind which have not yet been fully mined in this way:

    C.S. LEWIS:

    1. The Space (Cosmic / Ransom) TrilogyOut of the Silent PlanetPerelandra, and That Hideous Strength
    2. Till We Have Faces
    3. The Four Loves
    4. Letters to Malcolm
    5. Lewis’s essays (various titles)
    6. A Grief Observed
    7. The Problem of Pain
    8. Miracles
    9. Surprised by Joy


    G.K. CHESTERTON:everlasting

    1. Orthodoxy
    2. The Everlasting Man
    3. The Man Who Was Thursday
    4. Manalive
    5. The Father Brown mystery stories (various titles – particularly their embodiment of elements of theology and philosophy)
    6. I also really want a succinct text on Chesterton’s conversion story, but one can’t have everything…


    1. Religious dramas (various titles)
    2. Selected essays (various titles, but particularly those in Creed or Chaos)


    1. His 7 novels in particular, but
    2. Pretty much anything else the man wrote


    1. Phantastes & Lilith (particularly focused on his use of imagery in these stories, and the journey of the individual through redemptive experiences)
    2. His fairy tales (if study guides wouldn’t ruin their magic…)
    3. Any of his novels


    1. Poetic Diction
    2. Saving the Appearances
    3. Anything else the man wrote
    4. But let’s be honest, what Barfield really needs is a biography written at the same caliber as Grevel Lindop and Abigail Santamaria’s masterpieces. And it’s true, that’s far from easy to accomplish.

    And to the best of my knowledge, J.R.R. Tolkien is already covered — but feel free to prove me wrong!

    So there you have it. Spread the word! Go! Write! Find ways to get the concepts embedded in these authors’ works into the hands of the masses (not just academic papers that are read and / or accessible to only 12 people – although those are important too)! We’ll keep doin’ our thing at the Wade with this mission and always love to collaborate with those who share that vision.

    Feel free to post any guides you’ve found particularly helpful on the Wade authors’ works in the comments section of this blog post.

Book Review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry_Potter_and_the_Cursed_Child_Script_Book_Cover***NON-SPOILER CONTENT***

I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne. The book is the published script from the 2 plays by the same title currently being performed in London. Altogether, the script embodies 6 hours of on-stage drama. As I’ve learned by reading Shakespeare over the years, reading a play and watching a play can be very different experiences, so note that this review is based solely on what I read in the content of the book. I would be interested to know how the play compares, and welcome anyone who has seen the play to weigh in.

First off, as to be expected, something big is lost in the setting when you’re reading rather than seeing a play. I imagine that the special effects, costuming, and backdrops would be spectacular to see on a stage. I missed having the settings described in the book version of the play as they would be in a novel. Seeing the magical world in action in real time in front of you, rather than a TV or movie screen, would indeed be a sight to relish.

One of my main disappointments was the characterization of this latest addition to the Potter universe. For me as a reader, it felt as if the characters were stereotypes or caricatures of themselves rather than the deep, believable, and wonderful people we got to know and love in the previous seven volumes. The talents of Hermione and Harry in particular seemed dim examples of what they were in the past. Instead of seeing them untangle riddles and stay ahead of the action as they had done even as Hogwarts students, they always seem one or two steps behind. Is being slower simply the curse of adulthood, or could we have expected more from the talented trio of Ron, Hermione, and Harry in their adult years? Granted, the story does not have them as the focal point, and again, reading a script strips the story of the way actors can add life to the roles.

The written voices of the characters seemed different at times too. Ron was flat, only used as comic relief most of the time, and I only fully recognized Harry’s voice later in the story near the end where he takes on the noble and caring tones we know to be deep in the heart of his character. I did appreciate seeing more roundness and backstory for Draco Malfoy’s character, which is consistent with the boy we knew in the first seven books who was battling the pressures of right and wrong and the power struggles that surrounded him in Hogwarts, his family, and within Voldemort’s circle of followers. Neville at least is mentioned as a background character, although I would have liked to see more of him. And Luna? She’s not in the story at all, which is a disappointment.

Regarding the plot, I felt that it rested too heavily on previous backstories from the original seven books rather than paving new ground. It is always a gamble in such a sequel to know how much to give an audience from “the familiar” in previous stories, and how much to make “new.” Going too far in either direction can make a story collapse, and in this case — although the story premise is an intriguing “what if” speculation — I felt that my affections were being called for on the grounds of how I felt reading the previous seven books rather than dedicating them to the action and characters of a new and engaging story. And when you have a really convincing villain who is destroyed in the final volume of the previous story, it’s hard to create another threat that can propel the action of a new story convincingly. It’s easier to go back to the old tried and true villain and threaten a return or an unforeseen connection that was not fully blotted out, and so it proved here.

Overall, I’m glad I read the book, but have to say that I don’t think I’ll be reading it again or will be tempted to see the play in person now knowing the story. It didn’t add to the Harry Potter world I knew and loved, and was working hard to remain part of it — which I’m not sure it did successfully. I guess it lacked that indescribable element which the previous tales had and makes all great stories endearing and lasting…magic.





To expand a little on some of the “characterization” disappointments I mentioned above, here are some points to consider:

-Since Harry, Hermione, and Ron had witnessed first-hand how to break into the Ministry of Magic (and a dozen other places), as well as the full uses and limitations of Polyjuice Potion, I find it hard to believe that Hermione as Minister for Magic would not have placed security measures that would have prevented Scorpius and Albus from getting into the Ministry and stealing the time turner as easily as they did. But then again, you have time limitations in a stage play you don’t have when writing an 800-page book.

-When Professor McGonagall mentions on p. 58 that “Boomslang skin” and “lacewing flies” are missing from the Hogwarts potion stores, and then goes on to state that they think Peeves stole them, how in the world can no one suggest that someone may be brewing Polyjuice potion, particularly Hermione who had made it herself? It seems remiss not only of Hermione, but also of Professor McGonagall, who we all know is not a person lacking insight and intelligence. Her dealings with Ron, Hermione, and Harry also seem to remain on a “student-teacher” level rather than as colleagues who are now adults and share a long history of knowledge and friendship together.

-I’m glad for the Malfoys having a chance at redemption and Draco actually getting to work with the team. It’s believable that he has always envied them their closeness and friendship. Would the “lust for power” he previously had ingrained into him by his family, as well as the past jealousies, pettiness, anger, and hurt really have allowed him to get to this point as a character though?

-The Trolley Witch’s background and task to keep all students on the Hogwart’s Express was one of the only things I found that added something wholly new to the HP universe (other than revealing Voldemort had a child — which I can see as both believable and unbelievable). A fanatical spike-ridden Trolley Witch was an interesting idea, but instead of feeling it clever or enjoyable, I found it simply creepy and her chance to have a realistic character with actual history and roundness was lost.

-Harry’s comments in Act 4 scene 4 with Dumbledore’s portrait didn’t seem to really fit until the end of the scene, which was charming. I know he’s stressed and upset with Albus missing and the world he knows on the brink of destruction, but his comment to Dumbledore: “Go. Leave. I don’t want you here, I don’t need you. You were absent every time it really counted. I fought [Voldemort] three times without you. I’ll face him again, if needs be — alone.” Really? Would he really say this? It sounded more like 15 year old Harry from book 5 than how adult Harry should sound. I suppose seeing it played on stage and allowing Harry to have this moment of vulnerability, not saying things he actually means, could be quite a different experience. The same is true for the “I wish you weren’t my son” comment he says to Albus earlier in the play.

-I really enjoyed Harry’s character at the end of the story and how he sacrifices himself for his son. That’s the kind of tenderness and maturity learned from previous failures and experiences we’ve seen that I would have expected to see earlier in the story as an adult Harry. It is at least closer to the character I knew from the previous books. The themes of friendship and loyalty are still very present in this story and have always been a great strength in all of Rowling’s Harry Potter writings.


Who let the Archivist Out?: A Reflection from the Lewis and Friends Colloquium

This is the second of three posts reflecting on the experience I had at the Taylor University Lewis and Friends Colloquium which took place June 2-5, 2016.

An additional element of joy I experienced at the colloquium was attending as the Wade Center Archivist and seeing my professional life overlap with my personal interests (which, honestly, happens quite frequently since I’ve got my dream job). Upon first arriving and walking up to the registration table, I immediately saw scores of friendly faces who had come to visit the Wade Center at various times. It was a wonderful opportunity to see folks I’d helped on an individual basis in the Wade Center’s reading room over the years ALL IN ONE PLACE! I even had the pleasure of attending some presentations where the speaker had written me a reference question email a few days or weeks before. “Oh I see now why they needed that bit of information,” I said to myself as I listened to the talk and watched the glowing Powerpoint slides pass.

In essence, these experiences brought the work of research to life and let me see it walking around in the world outside of the Wade Center; applicable to others in real time. Diana Glyer said most notably: “It’s like my bookshelves have come to life!” Hearing authors’ voices explain what their books or topics are about, and the passion behind their research motivations, on such a broad scale was truly a memorable experience. Now every time I see these books on the reading room shelves I’ll not just have a face and name, but a voice speaking from the pages as well.

The Kilby Reading Room, The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

The Kilby Reading Room, The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

I’ve been to other Wade author-themed conferences before, but I don’t think I’ve ever had this many Wade visitors & researchers all together in once place at the same time. When public programming is hosted by the Wade Center (which will happen again at the end of June), the engagement I have in the proceedings and with the guests must, by necessity, be different. I’m in a fully  “professional” role and often need to step aside from events and conversations to see that things run smoothly and/or assist guests in our reading room with accessing materials. It is the hosts & planners who create wonderful events, but they often don’t get to reap the full benefit of attending those events; a point worthy for us all to remember, and appreciate.

Balance with professional duties must also occur during normal Wade Center operations as I’m at my desk working on projects or answering emails while also assisting reading room patrons. No matter how smoothly one tries to navigate the balance, it can often feel like trying to do advanced calculus while playing classical music on the harmonica. The focus is, and always must be, on the person there in the flesh before you – but it is also necessary to have other points of focus during a working day. Even after 11 years in the saddle I can find navigating this balance difficult at times.

At the Colloquium, I was freed from both programming responsibilities as well as professional archival duties. To have the luxury of talking about topics, theories, shared areas of enjoyment, family news, and travel plans was just delightful. Sometimes I was called to put on my “archival” hat, or my “fan” hat, or my “scholar” hat, and sometimes just my “Laura” hat. The “hats” experience put me greatly in mind of Owen Barfield’s book This Ever Diverse Pair, which changed the way I viewed my personal and professional life upon reading it several years ago. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it.

pair-bigWhen Barfield wrote the book, he was a solicitor (British lawyer) dealing with the frustration of working a day job which stifled his creative side. He was eager for writing, philosophy, and other artistic venues, but there simply wasn’t sufficient time, money, or energy to be creative and earn a living. He personifies his “professional” legal side and his “creative” side as two partners in a law firm who are constantly bickering. The resultant humor, reflections, and realizations as the partners muddle through their work days are quite poignant and thought-provoking. (Also: Lewis is a character in one of the chapters in a fictionalized version of a real-life event between him and Barfield. The whole book is worth reading just for that part.)

Doesn’t every working person feel there is some kind of separation between professional self and personal self? The barrier between the two may be thinner for some than others, but presently it seems vocation is often used as the sole identification technique. “What do you do?” is a popular conversation ice-breaking topic. Many people spend their lives devoted to their work to the point where they may not have a full identity outside of that sphere; a terrifying thought when retirement comes on the horizon.

For me, after reading Barfield’s book I pondered my title “the Archivist” which often follows my name. Who is Laura without “the Archivist” attached? Who is “the Archivist” without Laura attached? How do they look, act, and feel when paired together? It’s an exercise that can be done with almost any profession, I’d imagine.

hustle + grind

Add “God is calling me to do it” and you’ve got it!

The beauty of vocation comes when the two selves are paired allowing both personalities to flourish. Dorothy L. Sayers goes after this ideal in her writings (see her essay “Why Work?” and her play The Zeal of Thy House) on work and vocation when she states that it is our God-given gift to be workers using the talents He provided to do creative and purposeful acts. As Christians work must be done, and done well, no matter where we find ourselves in the professional realm. That work becomes a joy when it is aligned with our true talents and heart desires which God has given us just for that purpose. And in the end the work speaks for itself, not bolstering the ego of the artisan who completed it, but providing the community with joy that the work was done, and done to God’s glory. It was the struggle to suppress these inherent creative desires that drove Barfield to write This Ever Diverse Pair. I am sure many people can relate to his story.

And so at the Colloquium I rejoiced in seeing researchers with their scholar hats on, fans with their enthusiasm overflowing, professionals speaking the languages of their trades, but I also delighted in the freedom to speak of families, hobbies and creative projects, and the way a good story can leave an imprint on your soul. I liked talking to people as friends as well as colleagues, and the respect that goes along with both categories. I delight in the safe havens that allow individuals to be fully themselves as both professionals and people, without marring or insulting either persona. We’re meant to be whole people despite our different roles. Let’s embrace the complexity of what that looks like when getting to know each other, rather than cutting it into digestible bits which fit our cultural definitions of sense-making. Life and personhood are too rich to dissect in such a manner.

Final blog post on the Taylor Colloquium is up next. The topic: where I see a gap in the scholarship of Lewis & Friends – a call to scholars.

Reclaiming the Ideals of Academia: A Reflection from the Lewis and Friends Colloquium

20160602_195413I just spent a very refreshing weekend in the good company of friends and colleagues at Taylor University’s Lewis and Friends Colloquium (June 2-5). I’ve been to various conferences in the past relating to the Wade authors, but upon reflection what made this one memorable was two main qualities:

  1. The level of scholarship in the presentations
  2. The camaraderie & collegiality of the participants

If you look at the speaker list then #1 is no surprise! However I want to focus on #2, which in my estimation is far more difficult to achieve in any group setting as it requires “buy in” from all in attendance, and a conducive atmosphere in which to flourish. Let me back up a little here to explain why I find this quality such a refreshing attribute.

Academia is, to put it mildly, a challenging world and certainly not for the faint of heart. Experts in their fields are honed to be the best they can be, which can lead to extreme levels of competition to get into the best programs, retain prestigious mentors, maintain GPA, land the desired internships / post-docs, and ultimately clench the best job positions and secure tenure. The levels of stress to simply survive in this kind of climate are off the chart for a great many people, and it’s also a climate where unkindness can flourish.

Through my educational career I’ve heard (and seen) stories unfold in the jungle of academia that have made my blood run cold.

Real Examples:

  • An adviser stealing 75% of the income from their teaching assistant and spending it on travelling or other extraneous expenses.
  • A master’s thesis denied from passing because one adviser had a grudge against another adviser (nothing to do with the student who wrote the thesis)
  • Work stolen and claimed to be the work of another person
  • A display damaged by a jealous colleague to reflect poorly on the designer
  • False accusations to sully reputations

On some of my less-optimistic days walking among academic buildings with quotes written in stone proclaiming the pursuit of truth, illumination, morality, wisdom, and religion; I’ve wondered how many people on those campuses still followed such lofty ideals. Of course these instances of pettiness and cruelty are not unique to academia; they are the cancer of humanity in a broken world and can be found everywhere. It is disheartening, however, to ponder what academia claims to exist for and how far it often falls from that standard.


I will also hasten to add that for all the sad examples listed above, I’ve also encountered some of the most humble, servant-hearted, incredible people along my academic path, for whom I will forever remain grateful. The difference? In a world that trains you to shout: “I am the best!” these fine people are still motivated to:

  • Put others first through quality teaching and mentoring along with self-sacrificing acts of service
  • Truly love and want to forward their discipline through good scholarship and raising the next generation of scholars
  • Be good listeners along with deep, discerning, and honest intellectual rigor

Now let’s get back to what I witnessed at the Taylor Colloquium last weekend. Academic professionals from across the US and a handful of international locales descended on Upland, IN to give and attend talks of scholarship and have rigorous intellectual discussions, but were also actively engaged in laughing together, having sing-alongs and amateur drama, and above all befriending and encouraging all those present, be they a scholar, a student, or a local enthusiast. In our world which is currently so ready to react with anger and alienation where thoughts and opinions differ, there is a real beauty in witnessing intellectuals who revel in those differences, feel thankful for them, and work collaboratively for love of forwarding the discipline that has brought them together; all while laughing and enjoying each other’s company and friendship. It is a celebration of so much that is right, true, and good. How could the world of academia change if these values were embraced?

Scholars gather to enjoy looking at an original C.S. Lewis manuscript at the Center for the Study of C.S. Lewis and Friends at Taylor University.

Scholars gather to enjoy looking at an original C.S. Lewis manuscript at the Center for the Study of C.S. Lewis and Friends at Taylor University.

Diana Glyer, one of the three excellent keynote speakers at the Colloquium, defines this practice as “intellectual hospitality.” If you haven’t heard her speak on this, I highly encourage you to watch this video which explains the concept.

Real Examples of Intellectual Hospitality from the Colloquium:

  • Encouraging comments, discerning feedback, and honest critiques during sessions and informal conversations
  • Fellowship at meals and times of fun
  • Helping fellow scholars solve research queries through shared resources
  • Desire for collaboration in future projects
  • A respected scholar who was willing to send me a pre-published draft of his article which will help with my current research (this has happened more than once)
  • Discussion on how to encourage more student participation, and mentor the next generation of scholars
  • An invitation during a chapel service to share meaningful moments from the conference and/or the works of the authors we’re there celebrating
  • Prayer for those at the conference with health and job needs

That last point is another element, as a Christian, that I highly valued. Taking time to pray for those with real concerns outside of the conference topics was a touching gesture. Gracious collegiality of this sort is not exclusive to the Christian academic community, nor is it a given in Christian academic community, but when the two coincide it is a glorious sight to behold. It combines academic integrity with loving someone as the Maker intended; not for their work or their title, but because of the inherent beauty of their soul and worth as a human being created in the image of God.

The weekend was a lovely look at the best in present academia and all it could be in the future. I can think of no better way to transform academic culture and help it recapture those lofty ideals carved in stone across campuses around the world.

One or two more blog posts to come on other Colloquium reflection topics. Stay tuned!