Category Archives: Blog Posts

My Favorite Female Villains

Those readers who’ve followed this blog for some time know that I occasionally write a piece about strong female characters, the kind that star in action movies or solve crimes or just go toe-to-toe with their male counterparts.  Today, I decided to take a look at the other side of things, those strong female anti-heroes.  These ladies definitely stand their ground; they just do so for their own gain, or on the side of evil.  In no particular order:

The Borg Queen, Star Trek: First Contact.  This ruler of a cyborg race threatening the galaxy with “assimilation” routinely gives orders that overrun planets and turns sentient beings into mindless drones, but she still understands emotions well enough to sway both Captain Picard and Data with her feminine wiles, pitting them against each other in a deadly conflict that could mean the end of the Enterprise and its crew.

http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Bellatrix_Lestrange

Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, et al.  One of Lord Voldemort’s most sadistic followers, Bellatrix is an evil unto herself.  She tortured Neville Longbottom’s parents into insanity, a fact she can’t help rub in his face, and tried to kill Harry before sending her own cousin into the Veil of Death.  She has no scruples, and even a stay in the worst prison of the wizard world can’t dim her thirst for mayhem.

There have numerous retellings of Snow White, but no Queen is more evil than the version portrayed by Charlize Theron in Snow White and the Huntsman.  Queen Ravenna, in true fairy-tale fashion, drains the youth from young women in her kingdom to maintain her own youth and beauty.  She murders the king on their wedding night, and imprisons his daughter in a tower.  She then lures the huntsman into doing her bidding with promises to raise the dead, and aspires to eat Snow White’s heart to become immortal.

Harley Quinn, Suicide Squad. This completely certifiable femme fatale is the Bonnie to The Joker’s Clyde.  A former psychiatrist, she gives up sanity and morality for the sake of the man she calls “puddin.”  She is the ultimate crime moll whose weapon of choice is a baseball bat, and has no qualms about using it on anyone who gets in her way.  She is violent, dangerous, and perfectly capable of smiling at someone while she kills them where they stand.  Don’t get in her way.

Dolores Umbridge wallpaper possibly with a pullover titled Umbridge
http://www.fanpop.com

Delores Umbridge, a politician who makes her debut in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  This witch, who dresses in all pink and decorates her office with plates covered with cute kittens, has an evil smile and a giggle that would not be out of place from a villain in a horror movie.  She pretends to be a friendly, mild-mannered government servant until someone disagrees with her, or her beloved minister, then anything goes, from illegal artifacts to outright torture and attempted murder.

http://marvelcinematicuniverse.wikia.com/wiki/Hela

Hela, Thor: Ragnarock.  The god of thunder’s long-lost sister wants revenge for her imprisonment, and to take her father’s throne.  When Thor and the citizens of Asgard disagree, she starts killing off the population, and resurrects the dead warriors of Asgard.  She puts her little brother in his place by destroying Thor’s hammer and putting out his eye.   Why? Because she carries a grudge against their deceased father and she has to show little brother that she is more powerful and deserves the crown more than he.

What all these women have in common is that they have chosen to a life filled with violence, with evil, with violence.  They may be lacking in morals and even humanity, but they prove that they are just as capable and strong as their male counterparts.

Who is your favorite female villain?

 

 

 

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A Recipe for Reunion Success

The promise of warm weather and a break from school is the opportune time for many families to reconnect.  When your family is as scattered as mine, getting together can be a huge and potentially overwhelming undertaking.  To help you prepare your next get-together, I’ve shared some of my best tips for serving up a successful family reunion.

Family Reunion
The entire clan is gathered together for this shot! Photo by artgoeshere on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Start by Prepping Your Space.

One of the beautiful things about planning a reunion in the spring or summer is the fact you can use the weather to your advantage.  If you have a small space and a large number of relatives, you can always move the bulk of the festivities outdoors.  Picnic tables and benches or camp chairs are wonderful for sharing food, conversation, and keeping an eye on the little ones.

If you live in an apartment and don’t have outdoor space you can reserve or utilize, check out your local parks.  Some take reservations while others have a first-come-first-serve policy, so do your research as soon as possible after the date for the event is set if you choose this option.

Add Plenty of Good Food.

Sharing a meal is usually an integral part of family time, so plan ahead.  Try to over-estimate on the amount of food that you think you’ll need, because the last thing you want to do is send someone away hungry!  Be aware of relatives with special dietary needs, such as for medical conditions and allergies, and make sure there are plenty of options for picky eaters.

Consider having willing family members help in the preparation, or in bringing their own signature dishes from home; everyone wants to feel needed and to be a vital part of the gathering.  Also, don’t forget to have plenty of disposable containers on hand to pack up leftovers.

Blend in Activities.

Be prepared for when the conversation lulls or the kids get bored by planning a number of activities appropriate to the group as a whole and the ages of the family members.  There are any number of games the entire group can enjoy, from three-legged races to water balloon tosses to Pictionary or charades.  These require very little equipment, and can be adapted to suit the size and ages of your group members.  If you have one available, a fire pit can be a wonderful addition to your party, offering a venue for toasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories as the evening winds down.

Prevent or At Least Chill Conflicts.

The last thing you should have to worry about at your family reunion is a major argument between attendees.  There will always be disagreements between family members, but a group party is more than likely not the ideal time to resolve these problems.  If conflict is unavoidable, try to encourage those involved to move to another room or space and calmly, quietly discuss their issues.  Offer impartial intermediation if needed.  Hopefully they can work out their differences or at least agree to a truce.  After all, they may only have the opportunity to see each other and the rest of their relatives once or a few times a year.

 Enhance with an Archivist. 

If your family gatherings are as rare as mine, they feel all the more precious each time you gather.  Children grow up and move away, and older relatives sadly pass, so it’s impossible to predict who will make it to the next reunion.  Consider creating a Facebook event page or similar where photos and memories can be shared and posted.  Put everyone in front of the camera.  Elect one relative to film each attendee as they share personal remembrances, funny stories, or nuggets of wisdom to pass on to other members.

I hope you get to spend time with your extended collection of loved ones soon, and that these tips help you host your ideal event.  Remember: family is special and irreplaceable, whether you have a large clan by blood, or a few you call family by choice.  Either way, they provide us with a sense of belonging and community that fills our hearts and enriches our lives.

Until next time,

Amy

 

 

Why I Read (and Write) Fantasy Stories

To certain individuals my penchant for reading stories about wizards, hobbits, and ghostly apparitions may seem to be an odd hobby for a woman in her mid-forties.  What would perhaps surprise those same individuals more is that I also have penned a number of fantasy stories where the characters include werewolves, banshees, and virtual reality monsters.  My literary tastes aside, I have found that fantasy stories as a genre offer a number of benefits for those with even the most casual interest in reading for pleasure.

reading couch pillow
This little one has discovered the joys of a good book.  Photo on Foter.com

Fantasy Stories Offer the Reader an Escape

Sometimes the easiest way to escape from the stresses of daily life is to take a mental vacation.  For me that may take the form of visiting an entirely new world, one populated by creatures from childhood dreams.  I find it’s rather difficult to worry about everyday things while reading tales of an epic quest to rescue a princess and slay a dragon.

Immersion in a completely alien landscape for a time can allow us to relax and recharge our minds, alleviating tension and allowing us to return to “real” life with a fresh perspective.  Numerous studies have been done which suggest reading for enjoyment, of any type, can even help alleviate or alleviate symptoms of ailments such as high blood pressure and depression. To find out more about the benefits reading can offer see the article here.

Fantasy Stories May Boost the Mind and Creativity

As the saying goes, if you can imagine it, you can do it.  Sometimes changing focus for a time, such as through reading a good book, can help to find a solution to a problem that seems insurmountable.  Indulging in leisure reading can help improve cognitive functions, increase vocabulary, and improve analytical skills.  I encourage all readers out there to allow your favorite book, or a new find, to inspire you to think, write, and problem-solve in ways you may not have considered before.

Fantasy Stories Can Help Forge Connections with Others

I’ve discovered one way to maintain connections with my adult children as well as my circle of friends is through a shared interest in literature.  Books make good discussion topics, sometimes even more so when we don’t all agree on a particular work or author!  Tip for family bonding: Don’t just read stories separately, if your children are young, take turns reading aloud with them.  If they are older, give everyone a chance to read a particular book and then talk to each other about it.

Fantasy Stories Can Contain Hidden Wisdom

While my favorite works of fiction may involve characters that are not always human, the writers who produce these works still frequently manage to insert nuggets of wisdom that can be applied universally.  Searching for these “truths” in the deeper meanings of a fantasy story can provide hours of entertainment, and thought-provoking discussions.

For instance, consider this philosophical truth from The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien: “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”  This quote from a novel published in 1954 contains just as much potential for controversy today as it did when the story was first written, despite the fact that it was part of a conversation between a wizard and a hobbit.  Have you ever considered Tolkien, best known for The Hobbit as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, as a philosopher?

No matter your favorite genre, here’s hoping you take the time to read a good book today!

Amy

A Gift for Life-Literary Heroes

I was a bookworm from an early age.  I spent my childhood wandering the prairies with Laura Ingalls.  I hunted for clues with Nancy Drew, and I swam the channel to visit the wild ponies of Chincoteague. I spent my allowance at the local bookstore or at neighbors’ yard sales where I scavenged for Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes.  These adventures to places near and far with “friends” on the written page taught me a great deal about life, and fueled my aspirations to someday write stories of my own.

What young girl hasn’t read Nancy Drew? Image from Amazon.com

My children had their own set of literary heroes, chief among them Harry Potter.  We listened to cassette recordings of the series, and refereed who would read our copy of each new release first.  There were Halloween costumes, and roleplay, and bedroom decorations; but most of all there were hours spent reading.  My kids both grasped the written word eagerly, as an old friend.  From my son’s first R.L. Stine “chapter books” to my daughter’s Princess Diaries collection, books became a big part of their lives, and their academic success.

 

The most famous young wizard in the world, after Merlin?  Image from Amazon.com

I am a firm believer that one of the best gifts we can give our children is a deep, abiding love of reading.  Not only does reading for enjoyment help develop their vocabulary and comprehension, it stimulates their imaginations.  An entire new world, or many worlds, opens to children when they discover a love of literature.

Tomorrow’s scientists, doctors, teachers, police officers, and of course, writers, can be born out of the inspiration they find in books.  Give them the fuel for their dreams, and watch what they achieve.  They can explore an existing passion, or find a new one, by simply picking up a book.

I challenge all parents, grandparents, and anyone who has a special child in their life to spend some time reading with their little ones.  Take them to visit your local library, either in person or by downloading the latest release.  Visit that disappearing institution, the neighborhood bookstore, if you are lucky to have one nearby.  Introduce the children in your life to your own childhood heroes, or pick up a book about one of theirs.  You may just find a new passion yourself.  Most importantly of all, spend some quality time with your loved ones as you lose yourselves to a new world only visible through an author’s vision.

Here’s hoping you have time to enjoy a good book this evening.  (If you’re like me and live in the Midwest, it’s a much better option than venturing out amidst tornado and flood watches!)

Amy

 

The Power of Self-Worth

via Daily Prompt: Micro

The Power of Self-Worth

Micro- a word meaning something small, something scaled down to the point where it is undistinguishable to the naked eye.  It would be easy to mistake something labelled “micro” as being insignificant, but that would be a huge mistake.  Tiny things do matter, and sometimes have the power to create a major impact on the world around them.

When I was growing up, I experienced my share of bullies and snobs, both groups of which seemed determined to prove in my adolescent mind that I was less-worthy, less-deserving, and just plain less than they were.  Why?  At the time it wasn’t obvious, but with the perspective granted by age and maturity, I realize it wasn’t my own shortcomings, but theirs that prompted their behavior.

Stop Bullying!
You should never let anyone make you feel like you are not worthy of love, acceptance, and understanding.  Photo by The Naked Ape on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-N

I was never the most popular student; I lacked any athletic prowess, but I made good grades. I garnered a certain amount of respect from my teachers for my attitude and regard for the rules.  (Yes, I proudly accept now that I was a nerd.) My detractors didn’t share my values, being more concerned with popularity or being “cool.”  Perhaps they were simply jealous of my achievements; I never felt brave enough to ask them at the time.

During my junior high years there were taunts in the line in the lunch room, laughs and whispers behind my back in the hallways.  Oh I know it could have been much worse, but for a thirteen year old who simply wanted to be accepted, life was sometimes painful.

What I had yet to realize, was that the opinions of others, especially the more negative ones, only had power over me when I granted it to them.  Eventually I gained the strength, and experience, to stand up for myself.  The bullies and the snobs in school couldn’t make me feel small or inferior unless I permitted it.

Even today, I sometimes find myself in situations where I am uncomfortable, where I am not sure of my acceptance in a group or situation.  But I recall the lessons of those early years, and acknowledge, that it is okay to be who I am; that whether or not everyone likes me really doesn’t make me less of a person, or less worthy of respect than anyone else. I can only be myself, and that’s enough.

To all my readers out there, remember you are worthy of love, of acceptance.  Never let anyone make you feel like a “micro” being.

Amy

 

Being Fearless in a Scary World

Fearless is a word that gets flung around far more often than I would have imagined when I began writing this post.  Merriam-Webster defines fearless as being without fear or being brave.  The truth is, we are all afraid sometimes, so perhaps a more realistic definition of the term would be to carry on despite the presence of those emotions.

Fear in itself is not a bad thing; experiencing fear is just one of the mixed blessings of being human.  And fear can be useful; it can stop us from rushing headfirst into dangerous situations.  It’s what we choose to do with our fears that truly define us.  Do you allow fear to take control of your actions, or do you strive to overcome that fear and take action in spite of it?

When you find a cause worthy of your attention, be it your own situation or something that affects others, do not let your fears prevent you from speaking out, standing up, or otherwise showing your support.  You, as an individual, are a person of value, and your opinion is worth being noticed.

 

rock sky woman
Do you stand up to your fears? Photo on Foter.com

Stand up for yourself.

It can be hard to take a stand when you are faced with harassment, peer pressure, or verbal or physical abuse.  It may feel easier to just accept the unwanted words or actions, and hope you will fade into the background.  Perhaps if you don’t draw attention to yourself, it will just go away.

Deep inside a part of you knows that’s not likely to happen.  In dealing with harassment or peer pressure, the only solution to truly free yourself is to take a stand.  By confronting your tormentors, you may earn their respect or at least convince them to back down.  In dealing with abuse, verbal or especially physical, the best solution may be to simply remove yourself completely from the situation.  You do not deserve what you are experiencing, no matter how much the abuser tries to convince you otherwise.

 

hand lifestyles missions
You don’t always have to stand alone.  Photo on Foter.com

Stand for a cause.

When you find an issue that you are passionate about, it can be difficult to openly talk about it to others, especially if you believe they will not support you or will not share your concerns.  Those feelings should not discourage you from speaking out.  Any cause that is worthy of your attention is likely to draw in others too.  Perhaps they are just as nervous about speaking out, but will happily join you if you fearlessly take the first stand.

There are numerous issues society faces today that need strong supporters.  One person alone is unlikely to achieve much, but by individuals taking a stand, and joining with others, a group can be formed that attracts attention.  Change most often comes when enough people come together to present a united front that cannot fail to be noticed by those in power.

One such movement in the media right now is the #Me Too, which is designed to fight back against sexual assault and harassment of women in the workplace.  As much as many of us fear becoming victims ourselves, it is only by standing together that we can hope to affect change.

We are only human and we all experience fear.  To live a fearless life we have to look beyond those sometimes crippling emotions and live our lives as the people we truly want to become.  Don’t let fear stop you from taking a leap, or a stand, or finding your voice.

Till next time,

Amy

Changing Life-Goals and Ditching Plans

I used to think that by the time I reached my mid-forties I would have the entire rest of my life mapped out.  I thought that at some predetermined point I would have a firmly set path in front of me, complete with clearly-defined goals and the steps required to get there.

The road to the hills
Each journey we take starts with one step. Photo by highlights6 on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

I started a career in the medical field, and though there were missteps and difficulties here and there, I managed to get where I wanted to go.  That vocation allowed me to support my kids while they grew up, finished school, and then began the pursuit of their own dreams.  One day, though, I realized the work no longer satisfied me, fulfilled me.  I asked myself, where do I go from here?

Life, I’ve heard, is not a destination, but a journey.  It follows then, that when one goal is reached, it’s time to set a new one.  Some people are lucky to find a career, a lifestyle they love, and are content to stay with that for the rest of their lives, and I say great for them!  However, I was not one of those people; after a while the job I held for so long became, to put it bluntly, boring.

I became aware that the aims and goals that I had when I was struggling with a young family in my twenties no longer fit my changing life now that my kids were grown and (mostly) on their own.  Eventually I decided to go back to school, and start on a new path, one that I had lacked the financial security and perhaps, the courage, to pursue as a parent of young children.  I decided to become a professional writer, something I’d dare only dream about before.

I still don’t have it all figured out, but somewhere along the way I realized that that’s okay.  Somedays it still feels like I take two steps forward and four steps backward on the path I have chosen.  I don’t expect I’ll ever become rich or famous, but I’m happy sharing my gifts with the world.

My life no longer has a completely set plan, but I’ve decided I really don’t need one.  All the changes, growth, and even succumbing to uncertainty I’ve experienced on this particular expedition, means I’m still alive, still growing, still becoming whom I’m meant to be.  I’m only forty-six after all; I ‘m optimistic that I still have quite a bit more untraveled road ahead of me, and I’m just enjoying the journey.

Here’s to hoping you all find your own path to happiness,

Amy

On Dreams of Spring

January often presents itself with disagreeable weather in many parts of the country, either frigidly cold or just gray and dreary.  However, I don’t (normally) allow this to bother me.  Why?  Because to me, January presents the perfect time to plan for the days, and seasons to come.

Winter Storm
Even a bleak winter landscape offers a promise of spring. Photo by Stanley Zimny (Thank You for 27 Million views) on Foter.com / CC BY-NC

January heralds the beginning of a new year, with endless possibilities.  Instead of allowing the chilly temperatures and gray skies to get me down, I start planning the garden I will plant come spring.  Last year, I experimented with growing vegetables in pots in my back yard to protect them from an infestation of moles and an over-eager dog.  My “vegetable patch” produced mixed results, but left me more than eager to continue, and expand, my little garden this year. Not to mention, the recipes I can make with my homegrown produce.

January is also the perfect time to clean out clutter, and think of possible ways to reorganize, redecorate, and reorder my home.  My daughter graduates from college this spring, so it’s the perfect time for me to freshen up not only the guest room for visiting relatives, but the rest of the household as well.  I’m spending my free time pouring over paint colors to brighten or lighten up different spaces, and rethinking furniture arrangements.  It’s time to put the home décor magazines I horde to good use!

While many are struggling with resolutions or perhaps have already abandoned some, I’m picturing myself as I want to be this spring and summer.  I want to have to buy new clothes because much of my current wardrobe has become too large.  I want to walk into my former workplace and be noticeably thinner, as well as having achieved my goals for leaving in the first place (to devote myself to writing full-time.)

I’m reflecting on all the changes I’ve made in the last year, and the places I want to go and things I want to accomplish in 2018.  Will I get there?  Maybe.  The point is, January is the perfect time to hope, dream, plan, and take baby steps toward making this the best year yet.

Here’s hoping you can do the same!

Amy

 

My Favorite Female Action Heroes

Since we’re currently experiencing a significant cold spell here in the Midwest, I decided that it was a good time to veg out and watch some favorite movies, old and new.  As many of my readers will know, I am especially fond of movies that feature strong, independent female characters.  So I’ve come up with a list of ladies who can go toe-to-toe with the best of male action heroes.  In no particular order:

Alice, star of the Resident Evil franchise; this movie series is now six strong and while the films have not always received the best critical acclaim, there is just something about a female hero capable of killing zombie butts that always cheers me up.  Alice has been used, manipulated, kidnapped, and experimented on.  She has witnessed horrible misdeeds in the name of science, namely the development of genocidal weapons, and the deaths of friends.  Despite all this, she endures, she fights, and she continues to win battles against hordes of undead.  How many could withstand the pressure?

Leia Organa; once again a major player in this new trilogy of the Star Wars universe, we have watched Leia grow over the course of five films thus far, becoming the ultimate leader of the forces of good.  As a Princess, rebel leader, and General, Leia has devoted her life to undoing the wrongs wrecked on the galaxy by an evil organization that enthralled her own father.  She has kept the faith when her own family has fallen to the dark side, and when her personal life has suffered.  She has even (spoiler alert!) learned over the years to draw on the force in moments of danger.

Ellen Ripley: this reluctant hero of Alien fame has proven that nature favors survival of the fittest.  Through four movies her determination has allowed her to endure against an almost unopposable foe, an alien lifeform that parasitically draws on other species and embodies their best traits, making each successive generation that much tougher to kill.  Facing opposition not only from hordes of creatures but also self-interested humans, Ripley fights uphill battles to prevent humanity from becoming extinct.

 

Natasha Romanova, aka The Black Widow: a former Russian assassin, this feisty lady regularly faces battles on an equal footing with the mostly male members of The Avengers, making appearances in five movies to date and at least two more on the horizon, including a solo Black Widow film.  She uses her martial arts and weaponry finesse against aliens, demi-gods, and enhanced human threats to the safety and freedom of the world, all while flinging out quips and manipulating her targets with ploys that would put Mata Hari to shame.

Katniss Everdeen: this young woman from the dystopian society of The Hunger Games quadrilogy stood up to a totalitarian government and took her younger sister’s place in a cruel, gladiator-inspired competition to the death.  From the very beginning, she refused to bow to political pressure, eventually gaining the public’s support and becoming an icon for rebellion.  She fought for her life, and those of family and friends, in battles both physical and social.  Even when betrayed, she fought for what she believed was right, eventually defeating not one but two dictators.

Sarah Connor: the mother of the man who will save the world from computer control.  She finds herself in the unlikely situation of being hunted by a robot from the future, which has come back in time for the sole reason of preventing her son from ever being born.  Featured in three of the movies in The Terminator series, Sarah transforms herself into a warrior princess for the sole purpose of training her son John for the destiny she knows he must face.  She devotes everything she has to making sure he will survive so he can save the world, even going so far as to attempt to change time itself to save John from his fate.

Lara Croft: from the pixels of a computer game to the large screen, this female version of Indiana Jones is on a quest to save the world.  A member of English nobility, the beautiful Lara combines the brains of a scientist with the bravery and the bullets of a true swash-buckling hero.  She fights off treasure hunters and would-be evil overlords bent on world domination, all while trying to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance.  She will not let anyone stop her from doing what she knows is right, not even a former lover or the promise of eternal life.

Female action heroes, while getting often receiving less accolades than their male counterparts, are no less worthy of honor for their deeds.  This is only a small sample of the notable characters we can find on the big screen and beyond.  Perhaps it’s time to take advantage of the cold weather, and plan a movie night with your loved ones.  I’m sure you can make a list of your own favorite stars.

Till next time,

Amy