Category Archives: Blog Posts

Asking for and Accepting Help

When was the last time you truly felt overwhelmed by some crisis or obstacle you had to face, but you did not want to admit, even to yourself, that the problem existed, or that you would be unable to resolve it on your own?  I’m not talking about something simple, like lifting a 50-pound bag of dogfood; I have no trouble at all asking my husband or son for help with that.  I’m talking about something much more serious, like accidentally forgetting to back up a critical file on a computer, or dealing with injuries caused in a car accident.

07.01.2012 - His Hand
We all need a little help from time to time.  Photo by Jlhopgood on Foter.com / CC BY-ND

The truth is no one is perfect; we all have shortcomings we struggle with on a regular basis.  There will always be situations where we need advice, support, and/or assistance from others, even if the last thing we want to do is ask for help.

There is a commonly held myth that accepting ourselves as we are, flaws and all, and asking for help when we need it, becomes easier as we grow more mature.  This is not necessarily the case; completely accepting our whole selves as we truly are is something we all struggle with from time to time.

  • Often pride gets in the way of admitting when we need help, both to ourselves and others. It is natural to want to feel that we are capable, to present an image that is confident and competent.  Unfortunately we may sometimes tend to use others’ perceptions of us as a mirror to bolster our self-confidence, without admitting that the image perceived by others doesn’t necessarily match what we feel inside.
  • Our own insecurities don’t always allow us to ask for the help we truly need. We may worry that our requests will meet with rejection, belittlement, or that others will think we are lacking in some way.
  • Sometimes we fear that those we would ask for help will think less of us for being weak. Weaknesses can be exploited by individuals or groups that prey on our feelings, that seek to make themselves look better at our expense.  To ask for help requires that we open up, and allow others to see our vulnerabilities.  To do so, even with people we trust, means facing our fears.

No one who truly cares about us is going to intentionally take advantage of our needs, insecurities, and weaknesses, but the irrational parts of our minds can’t always believe this to be true.  Perhaps we have been hurt before, by someone who used us to express their own weakness, their own insecurities, in a bid to make themselves feel better.  Perhaps we aren’t sure who we can trust.

When we are truly in crisis, ignoring the problem won’t bring the resolution we need; we must find a solution even if that means asking for help.  I know from personal experience it can be a scary thing to do, but if you go to a loved one or a true friend, have faith they will understand.  Someone who is worthy of your attention and your help in turn, will not judge, but do their best to assist you.

My advice is this: learn to accept counsel and assistance from others.  Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, even if it is uncomfortable to do so.  Listen to opinions others may offer, but make your own choices.  When in turn someone comes to you for help, put yourself in their place, and remember how it felt when you were the one in need.  It truly is okay to ask and receive help; after all, we are all only human.

Amy

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Hitting the Road (and Life’s Journey)

July always seems to meander along in the Midwest, with swells of heat and lazy days where the afternoon sun sparks a desire to nap in the shade.  This is a time when many of us turn our thoughts to vacations from the daily grind, and very often, this means road trips.  These motor excursions come in all forms and styles, can be long or short in duration, and can lead to anywhere the highway can reach.

Retour en Arizona / Back to Arizona
What summer is complete without a road trip?  Photo by OliBac on Foter.com / CC BY

Just gather the family or your best friend, pack a bag and some snacks, fill up the tank (or charge the battery) and head out.  And if you need food for thought on your odyssey as interludes to car games, here are some big questions to ponder:

Which type of traveler are you?  Are you a plotter or a freewheeler?  Do you prefer your route to be charted out to the last rest stop, or would you rather simply jump in your vehicle and see where the road takes you?  I think most of us lie somewhere in between these extremes.

While both of the above approaches to travel have their own merits, how you choose to plan, or not plan, your adventure can have an impact on your life.  Do you have a 5, 10, or longer year-goal for your life carefully plotted, or are you guided only by impulse?  Do you have expectations for your future, or do you prefer to live in the moment, embracing life as it comes your way?

While life is definitely a journey, and the destination is not always the main purpose, there is something to be said for planning ahead.  There are benefits to spontaneity, don’t get me wrong, but having at least a few plans made can make a trip go much more smoothly.  No one wants to arrive at a motel after a long drive and find there are no vacancies, or even worse, that you forgot to bring a toothbrush or a change of underwear.

In the same vein, while being spontaneous can lead to unexpected opportunities, a few life plans prepares you for the journey that lasts a lifetime, and can lead to the fulfillment of dreams and goals more lofty than visiting every diner mentioned on Food Network in the last year (that one’s from my husband.)  It’s really hard to purchase a house, or save for retirement, for example, without making plans.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost.

One of my all-time favorite poets is Robert Frost, and I am forever fond of his poem we had to memorize for seventh-grade English class, “The Road Not Taken.” How many of us, at the end of the day, wonder if we have chosen the correct path for us?  Sometimes we can turn back, and try the other route, but other times we decide we’ve already gone too far to begin the journey again.  So while it is easy to plan or not, a vacation, take your time when planning your life’s excursion; after all, it will hopefully last far longer.

As you cruise along the highway this summer, take time to think about the path you’ve chosen.  Be it a quick trip to the nearest city, or an epic journey across country, only you can determine if you have picked the road that is right for you.

May all your travels be happy ones!

 

A Mixture of Values

As I rush about making preparations for another Independence Day barbeque, I find myself considering all the various meanings that so many people attach to this most American of holidays.  July 4th is not just a red letter day on the calendar, a day many of us are granted a paid holiday, or an excuse to display our national flag on the front of homes, offices, and lampposts in public areas.  This is officially the day we celebrate our declaration of independence from our colonial roots.  As with most holidays, though, the ways and reasons we “party” has grown and taken on new life as the day holds a variety of meanings as divergent as the individuals that make up this country.

D is for....320/365
Each individual may have a different favorite aspect of today.  Photo by AndYaDontStop on Foter.com / CC BY

Food, Fun and Family.

For many, the Fourth of July is all about spending time with loved ones-outdoors in someone’s backyard or at a nearby park, or even in a pool as the sun reaches its zenith; and of course, the food.  Anything and everything that can be cooked on a grill, accompanied by salads, watermelon, and desserts served ala mode to beat the heat.  While the food settles in over-full stomachs, the kids may run around with sparklers (have parental supervision, please!) and grownups rouse to challenge each other to games like corn hole and baseball.  The perfect ending to a perfect Fourth is fireworks, either set off in backyards or a nearby professional show.

Entertainment.

Many citizens will take advantage of their community celebrations today.  A mass of parades, fireworks shows and concerts, many free, are available throughout this week, easy to locate from local listings online or in newspapers.   Participants should be prepared for sitting in traffic, and expect to share grassy areas with plenty of others seeking the best spots for viewing.

Concerts in the park are a welcome venue, often accompanied by local food vendors who compete for space to have patrons sample their wares.  For those who do not wish to venture out, there are always televised events that showcase the beauty of the lights without the need to weather sweltering temperatures and the loud “boom” of the displays.

4th of July San Francisco Fireworks 2013
A fitting tribute to the day.  Photo by davidyuweb on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Celebration and Remembrance.

This is a day to honor and remember servicemen and women who have, and continue to, fight and work to ensure our safety and freedoms.  Today we honor the values our nation was built on, and the belief that despite our differences and issues, we still have a strong future ahead.  Today, above all days, we stand up and demonstrate our national pride and the certainty that, no matter our politics, religion, or ethnicity, we are all citizens of a free country.

God Bless America!

Amy

Coming Home

A home is more than a house.  /www.dreamstime.com

Dorothy said it best when she repeated the mantra, “There’s no place like home.”  I could ask one hundred people and probably get one hundred different definitions of the word “home.”

For some the term invokes images of a physical building, for others it’s a person or group of people, and for still others the word implies a concept.  Most of us equate “home” with feelings of warmth, safety, and belonging.  We all desire a safe place, where we will not be judged for being ourselves, where we can find acceptance and love.

Sometimes home is not so much a location that we go or occupy, but an ideal, a dream of what can be, or what we aspire to.  What we call “home” in our heads or hearts could be a  memory from childhood, even if the physical site no longer exists.  (If your home fits into this category, then you can say you carry it with you wherever you go.)

Over the past few months, I’ve spent a lot of time working on projects around my personal nest.  I’ve decluttered, painted, planted, and visited every home improvement store within a fifty mile radius. I’ve helped my husband assemble a video doorbell system, and watched technicians install new appliances.  Why all the fuss?  For the sole purpose of breathing fresh life into the space my family and I have called ours for fourteen years.

I work from my home, so it’s even more important to me that the place I live is comfortable, attractive, and neat.  Separating my work and other activities is not always possible, but at least I can create a space where I don’t mind spending my time.

At the end of a long day, I am more than ready for some quiet time to unwind, to read a book or watch TV with my husband, and just enjoy being home.  Does this make me a homebody?  I don’t really mind the label.  As nice as it can be sometimes to get out, or go away, I always look forward to returning to the place we call home.

 

 

 

 

In Memoriam

Memorial Day......
This cemetary has been in use for perhaps generations.  Photo by Astrid Photography. on Foter.com / CC BY-NC

One of my earliest reminisces of this May holiday, before I even understood its real meaning, is of riding in the back of a pickup truck with my family down winding country roads to reach the old family cemeteries.   Once there, we would disembark and make our way up a hilly path, to a fenced-in area of carefully tended lawn bordered by shady trees.  Laden with plastic tulips and daisies, we would seek the markers for ancestors whose names I only recognized from stories, and place our bounty in careful clusters and rows.

This is one way my family honored those who had gone before, ancestors whose faces were etched in the memories of the older generation, and introduced to the children by way of books and boxes of old sepia-toned photos.  My parents had relatives who had never come home from war, and others who didn’t survive childhood.  There were aunts, uncles, siblings, and generations of grandparents, grouped in couples and families; bound forever to memory by icons of marble and metal, of small flags and larger angels, of loving epitaphs and last words.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to honor the dead.  Each culture across the globe has developed its own customs of remembrance; for instance, the Day of the Dead celebrated by families of Mexico and the southwestern part of the United States, and All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, Catholic holidays celebrated in many countries.

There are books and television channels devoted to history and software that traces genealogies as far back as written records exist.  What all of these have in common is that they are a way to remember our roots, and those who have given their lives for us, that we may continue to live and hopefully honor them in the paths we choose.

Memorial Day
Today is a day to honor our veterans, and all those who have gone before.  Photo by CraigInDaVille on Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Today is the official Memorial Day celebrated in the United States.  Today, especially, we celebrate the lives of our family members who are no longer with us, and the veterans who gave their lives in service to our nation.  Today we honor their sacrifices, their accomplishments, and their legacy.  However and whenever you choose to honor, celebrate, and mourn lost family and our national heroes, let today be a day of commemoration, and celebration.

Happy Memorial Day!

Amy

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?

 

 

 

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