Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

After stuffing myself on Thanksgiving, I went with a group of friends and my brother to go see the newest from J.K. Rowling’s magical world, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

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As I’ve gotten older, my appreciation for the well-crafted world that J.K. Rowling dreamed up has grown and matured. What the canonical material lacked in depth and insight, I found in Tumblr’s fantastic Harry Potter community.

So what did I think of the newest prequel to the Harry Potter film franchise, which is the first of five films?

In general, I liked it! It was a fun movie to see, and it was nice to revisit the wizarding world in a new film. Sometimes, the last HP movie seems like it came out just yesterday and then I remember that it was released 5 years ago…

I have to say that having the film take place in the United States… was a fun choice, but not an obvious one. And when I say that, I mean that I frequently forgot that the events in Fantastic Beasts takes place in New York City. It still felt very British to me, except for the actors who forgot to do British accents!

Let’s talk about some of the actors and characters, shall we?

  • Eddie Redmayne is a darling. Here’s a great piece by Bustle about the roles he has chosen and how they challenge toxic masculinity. I have to agree that Newt Scamander is not a traditional Male Movie Hero. He seemed to struggle socially, but he cared so deeply for his beasts that he was smuggling in his suitcase. (There is a theory I like that Newt has adapted his body language to be non-threatening based on his experiences with his fantastic beasts.) You do root for him, and I think we needed a male hero like Newt.
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  • I can’t say that I particularly liked Katherine Waterson’s Tina Goldstein. She seemed to struggle a lot at work (at the American Ministry of Magic, MACUSA) but her struggles seemed so easy to avoid. It was just another case of strange social interactions. Her earnesty and unwillingness to be swayed from the right path was admirable, as was her compassion that is revealed throughout the film.
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  • Apparently people have been talking about Alison Sudol’s Queenie a lot, because she’s a very Marilyn Monroe-esque character who is ultra feminine in contrast to her sister Tina, who is no-nonsense. She even says herself that her sister is the career woman and she… isn’t. But I really liked that she is comfortable with acknowledging that she doesn’t have the same career ambitions her sister has; not everyone does, and women who don’t are not less feminist than women who do! I also loved that her thing is her prowess with Legilimency (mind-reading). It added a beautiful layer of compassion and empathy to her character, and I found her really hard to dislike.
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  • A fan-favorite character out of this film is Jacob, played by Dan Fogler, who is a muggle. Sorry, “no-maj”, ugh. He encounters the magical world the way we, the movie-goer, do: with awe and wonderment and wide eyes. Seeing this amazing, fantastical things for the first time is amazing, and while we had Harry acting as our eyes and ears in the original movies, Jacob is a funny and endearing way to experience magic as someone who did not grow up with magic. And yes, he is very funny.
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  • I think Colin Farrell is finally being recognized for having more depth as an actor, given his earlier work, but these past few years he’s really stepped up his game. He plays Percival Graves with this dark solemnity that you’ll recognize immediately, that guy who doesn’t want you to succeed, that guy whose motivations you can’t quite pin down (until the end of the movie, of course!). I love Colin Farrell and I’m glad to see him play an antagonist like this.
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  • Let’s also say that Ezra Miller’s portrayal of Credence was… chilling. I am not super familiar with his work, but I felt very thoroughly on edge whenever he was on screen. Interested to see how his portrayal of Barry Allen will be!
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I had a few little issues with plot and story, and even with some of the world-building in this movie. (Why use Accio instead of Expelliarmus? Not sure.) I think the world-building in this movie was weaker than in the Harry Potter movies, but that could also be partly due to how high my expectations are after having additional world-building done by the HP fandom. Still, there were many times where I felt I had to really suspend belief.

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One thing to consider when watching is how easy the magic comes to the wizards and witches we see in this movie. We are not watching teenagers learn magic, with a few exceptions in-between. We are watching adults practice magic, as they have been doing for years, many of them who do so professionally. It’s very different and it’s something to get used to – people performing magic with little to no difficulty at all.

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The movie was a lot of fun though. Lots of action, lots of creativity and imagination. All the fantastic beasts were great. It’s a much darker movie than the Harry Potter films, and I want you to be ready for that. There is abuse. There are gruesome deaths. More serious family drama occurs. This is not a children’s movie, the way the Harry Potter movies were. It’s a movie for the young adults who watched Harry Potter when they were kids.

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Also, full disclosure, I cried a few times watching this. Okay.

How about some spoilers? After the trailer:

Read More »

givingtuesday

#GivingTuesday

I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving holiday and was able to take advantage of sales to get some gifts for your friends, family, and yourself!

If you are able to spend a little more time and money, please consider #GivingTuesday. 2016 has been a pretty crazy year (remember when we all wished 2015 would end?), but I think that sitting and feeling crummy about it for more than a few minutes isn’t the way to go. This year, I have been trying to at least actively think about what I can actually do to make the world a better place, rather than just thinking about how it isn’t better yet.

Giving is so important, especially during the holidays when those who are without may feel it more acutely. It connects us to other people and adds a little more goodness into our world that so desperately needs as much as it can get.

According to GivingTuesday.org:

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration.

Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

One of the best ways to get involved is in your own community. We’ve created a directory to help you find organizations, charities, events and more in your own community.

If you aren’t sure how or where to give, GivingTuesday.org has some resources to help you get started. To break down how you can give, roughly in order of time commitment, you can:

  1. Donate money – This can be a one-time donation or you can set up a regular donation with an organization you care a lot about. Think local if you can, as you can often more easily make a large impact on your local community, and you may be able to more readily see that impact yourself! GivingTuesday.org has a great resource to help you get started with finding local organizations. Even if you’re only able to donate a small amount of money, it counts. If you’re just saving pennies from your change to donate, it counts.
  2. Donate items – Whether you are leaving boxes of old clothes outside your house or organizing a canned food drive, giving items can be a really impactful way to give. I highly urge you to think a little bit outside the box with your donations. Check out this list as a place to start with items that are in high demand, and also please consider picking up extra feminine hygiene products to donate! It’s something that gets overlooked because we don’t like thinking about it, but imagine how difficult it is to not like thinking about it and not having options when you have to.
  3. Volunteer – One of the most valuable assets we are able to give is our time, along with our energy. A lot of folks will volunteer at soup kitchens on Thanksgiving, and I’d love to see that continue on. Sometimes volunteer work isn’t fun or glamorous, but you just need to remind yourself that you are giving your time for the sake of someone else and not for the sake of your own personal enjoyment. For example, I once volunteered at a pet shelter with a group that was disappointed to learn that we were not volunteering to play with dogs! Because the shelter really needed us to help with wiping things down and filing folders away, so that’s what we helped them do. You can do one-time activities or find a cause that you want to give your time to more often.
  4. Do pro bono work – Check Taproot+ to see what skills you can give and what organizations need. As a Ruby developer, I can recommend Ruby For Good, which gets Ruby devs together to work on projects for non-profits that can’t afford to spend their limited budgets on hiring developers to put together great tech solutions that they may really need. There are a lot of ways to work pro bono for organizations, and that can be an immensely valuable way to give your time and energy to groups in need.

Another thing you can do is make your purchase with an organization that gives back. Here are a few lists to start with, if you still need to buy any gifts. Giving a gift that gives back is nice because the recipient knows the impact of your gift is goes beyond him/herself and that’s very special.

When in doubt, reach out and ask how you can best help. The folks at the organization you are thinking of will know best what they need the most if you’re not sure whether you should be giving money or items or your time and know that you can’t do all three. And if you aren’t able to give any of those right now, think about at least giving these organizations your attention. Be aware of what their goals are and maybe promote them and how other people can help them through social media, so that someone in your network who is looking to give but isn’t sure how can get a little nudge in the right direction.

Sometimes giving can feel very overwhelming. You might need to research the charity you are giving to, to make sure it’s legitimate and using most (if not all) of their proceeds for the actual cause itself. (When in doubt, check Charity Navigator.)

What I find makes regular giving a little easier is not to think about it. I know this is counter-intuitive to what I just said about actively giving organizations your attention, but what I mean is try your best to automate your giving so that you don’t need to actively think about it – it just happens. Two ways I do this are through Amazon Smile, which lets you give by allowing Amazon to donate a proceed of your purchase prices to an organization of your choice, and Tab for a Cause, which donates a little bit for every new tab you open in exchange for showing you some ads that fund those donations. (I also just really love Tab for a Cause as a new tab page with handy widgets on it.) With these two tools, I am able to give a little bit without even having to change my routine. I just make my Amazon purchases at smile.amazon.com and keep opening a bazillion tabs and I am still able to do a little good.

What organizations will you give your attention, and possibly more, to this #GivingTuesday?
What was your best experience with giving? Remember that you can give to one single person and it still counts – a lot! As cheesy as it sounds, as long as you can help one person, you are making the world a better place.

11-29-2016

White Elephant Gift Guide – Under $10

Secret Santa is fun, but my preferred gift exchange game is White Elephant. It can be a little stressful to get assigned a person to get a gift for, especially if it’s a group like coworkers or a large organization where you might not know everyone that well. Personal gifts are really tricky and you feel like you’re not able to get something a little more generic.

White Elephant is great because you don’t know who is going to go home with your gift. The rules vary from group to group, but it’s a lot of fun to see gifts exchange hands and the different reactions to gifts. What matters isn’t who bought what for whom but the fun in the game.

There are a few approaches to White Elephant. Some folks play the variation my friends call “Pass the Trash”, where you bring in a gift that maybe no one wants. This can result in some troll-tastic gifts. It’s also a great place for rejected gifts from past years to show up. One man’s trash can be another man’s treasure, so this could be great for some folks! It also results in a lot of laughs. Some examples I’ve seen from this variation include a $20 bill superglued in a mason jar, a signed photo of another participant, and the leg lamp from A Christmas Story.

I don’t like playing that way and try to think of something that people will like and have a fun with. (Just not a lot of troll in me…) Here’s three suggestions to help you think of things to pick up for a White Elephant exchange you might be doing that has a spending cap of $10. Remember, with a lot of deals coming up on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you might be able to make that $10 stretch quite far!

FUNKO POP! VINYL TOYS// Funko makes cute vinyl figurines for every franchise you can think of. Disney? Superheroes? Video games? TV shows? Movies? They’ve got ’em, usually for a little over $9. They can be tricky for White Elephant because Funko Pop! toys are one of my go-to gifts for friends who are in fandoms, and it’s harder to have any one toy appeal to every person participating in the gift exchange. You can pick something that most people are interested in — like a movie or show or game the group has discussed often — and hope that one of the folks who has an interest in it either chooses the gift or steals it! These can be purchased from a bunch of online retailers like Amazon or ThinkGeek and at physical stores like Hot Topic and Barnes & Noble.
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FUN DRINKWARE // A lot of us have too many mugs and cups, SO if you are able to find fun drinkware, this works out great! Again, this could be tricky because it can be easier to get a mug  or cupfor a specific person, but you are free to be a little more broad here. For example, if your Greek organization is participating, you can get a tumbler with your letters on it. Some fun options include those heat change mugs and cups that have a special shape to them, if you don’t want to risk it with the text or design that is printed onto the item itself.

Heat changing world map mug

NOVELTY CANDY // Along with that book, I felt the need to beef up that gift with some Pop Rocks, which, for the record, are always a lot of fun to watch people open up and eat and share. Things that fall into this category are sweets that you wouldn’t ordinarily get but are super fun and enjoyable anyway, maybe for their novelty. Other examples include Japanese Kit-Kat flavors you can’t find in your usual grocery, astronaut ice cream, and anything that tastes like bacon. (Why is there bacon-flavored everything??)


Before this post gets too long, I think I just want to say that White Elephant gift exchanges should not be stressful. If you get anxious trying to pick out the perfect gift for a specific person, this format of gift exchange should relieve a lot of that anxiety. As long as the recipient(s) can tell that you got the gift with their enjoyment in mind, they’ll have fun with it!

(And if it’s better than the box of condoms and can of Spaghetti-Os I once received, you’re solid.)

Note: Links in this post are affiliate links.

What’s the best and worst White Elephant gift you’ve ever received or seen at a gift exchange?

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Oh Hi Ohio!

About a year ago, I started a coding bootcamp. Last week, I went RubyConf, an annual conference for users of the programming language Ruby. I applied to attend as a RubyConf Scholar, which is a program set up to pair first-time conference attendees with Guides who will mentor them and get the most out of their conference experience.

RubyConf 2016 was held in Cincinatti, Ohio. I have never been to Ohio before, and I was a little nervous because I didn’t really know what to expect…

Well, I had an incredibly lovely time!

The conference itself was great. I made a lot of great Ruby friends and heard some really amazing presentations about the language and about being a programmer and developer. Since I’m new to the field, it really does help to hear about people’s experiences with being new and becoming better.

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The founder of the Ruby language, Yukihiro Matsumoto, aka Matz!

Can I also just talk about Cincinnati? I’ll be honest: I was not expecting much from this city.

But wow, the city is pretty.

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I did a 7AM 5K run (haha, I know) that wound up being more of a 4.9K sunrise stroll along the riverfront. As I walked from Ohio into Kentucky and back, I was totally blown away by how gorgeous downtown looked in the golden dawn light.

A week before the publishing time of this post, I was sneaking off on my own to find the bench swings that I walked past during my 4.9K walk. As you might know, I’m a sucker for a swing. Smale Riverfront Park is a super lovely spot and well worth a visit. I could’ve sat on that swing for hours and hours basking in the sunlight…

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This is the actual view of the “Sing the Queen City” sign

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Are you watchig Westworld by the way…?

Also of visual interest is the Contemporary Arts Center, which is hard to miss thanks to its colorful facade.

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Cincinnati recently underwent a beautification project that, I have to say, really nailed it. A lot of buildings that previously looked really run-down have been transformed by some amazing murals.

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By the way, I ate a lot of good food while I was in Cincy.

However! The crazy chili — a more liquid consistency, a touch of cinnamon, just meat, and served over noodles! — was not my cup of tea. But at least I can say that I tried it!


My anniversary and Ben’s birthday were actually both over the weekend that I was in Cincinatti. I felt so guilty leaving Ben during this special weekend, but he really wanted me to attend this conference.

Bu what made me feel most guilty was just how much I wanted to share Cincinnati with him. I wish I had a day not at the conference that I could’ve spent walking around and exploring just a teeny bit more. Even just enjoying the view from my room could’ve used a few more hours. I guess I’ll have to come back with Ben in tow!

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What conferences have you enjoyed attending?
What are some spots I should visit the next time I visit Cincinnati?
What are some weird regional foods that you’ve tried?
The chili was definitely out of my comfort zone. And can I confess something? I’ve never had Philly cheesesteak, despite having lived fairly close to Philly for most of my life! I’m not a cheese fan, so I’ve never felt so compelled.

Oh Shenandoah | Part 3

Last time in the Shenandoah Valley, Ben and I visited the Luray Caverns before our early anniversary dinner. Today, we finally see what we drove down to Shenandoah for…

By the way, here’s the song, “Oh Shenandoah”, that I hum every time I write these posts.


We awoke for our final meal at By the Side of the Road: the breakfast soufflé.

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I sat on the porch swing one last time and we were off, back to Skyline Drive. We drove down Skyline Drive from the northernmost entrance southwards just one week prior, before a Halloween party, because we weren’t sure when peak foliage was going to happen. The reports were unsure, the leaves were already late with turning, and we didn’t want to miss it this year.

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Driving up from the southernmost entrance, we were a little worried. While the trees were mostly green when we came down a week ago, most of the trees by this entrance were browned or, worse, bare. Did we miss peak foliage within just one week?

We saw a few disappointing views from the overlooks that indicated that, if nothing else, maybe the southern parts of Skyline Drive had already passed peak. This was terribly disappointing until we started seeing much more promising views.

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While stopping for lunch, we noticed that one of the hiking trails had waterfalls! It was listed as a challenging hike, and Ben and I were literally both wearing jeans, but whatever! Hike for a waterfall!

This was indeed a very strenuous hike. It was about a mile to the first waterfall and very very steep. We don’t hike much at all, so I was definitely huffing and puffing on my way back up the steep incline. I only got a break to catch my breath because Ben finally got signal on his phone and was able to conduct some fantasy football trades. Whodathunk I’d be grateful for fantasy football?

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After catching our breaths and letting our body temperatures come back down, we were in time for sunset! I really thought we would miss golden hour because I was so tired during the hike that I didn’t think we’d last long to still be in the park.

But we made it.
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I have so many photos from the brief half hour when the sun dipped below the Blue Ridge Mountains. With everything bathed in this sumptuous golden sunlight, I felt so content and at peace with the world.

Happy anniversary, Ben. I had a truly fantastic weekend exploring Shenandoah Valley with you, and I look forward to many more adventures together.

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Where are your favorite places to hike? I am super new to hiking and am not sure where to start, to be honest. Any tips would be really appreciated!

What are the best places to see foliage, aka “leaf peeping”? (I swear this is a term that I read on the foliage report and not one that I made up!) Next year, we might look into going up to New York to check out the gorgeous foliage in the Catskills. I remember the leaves looking spectacular back in New Jersey, too, so we’ll see!