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Recently my boyfriend and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary awkward-style: by going to a B&B.

For those of you not in the know, B&B’s stand for Bed and Breakfast, and are the perfect culmination of everything you could find terrifying about going on a vacation. That, instead of going to a nice, private, secluded hotel where no one bothers you unless you ask them to, you go to stay with one of your relatives. A relative so distant that you don’t know them at all, and you pad around their house and sleep in one of their beds and have them wait on you and serve you breakfast. Any small talk you manage to make is extremely forced, and you can’t help but notice that each night they are sleeping under the same roof as you. Shoes must be worn at all times, especially when venturing out of your room (terrifying) in the middle of the night to get a glass of water or (horrors!) use the bathroom. Yes, you are paying to feel uncomfortable in someone else’s home.

I’ve managed to survive many years of B&B’s with just this simple mantra: Bring on the awkward. My parents introduced my brother and I to B&B’s by throwing us headfirst into a series of them while we were vacationing in Scotland. I was 19, my brother was 22. We were completely foreign to the concept of inviting ourselves over to another family’s house and forcing them to make room for us. In Scotland we experienced the full range – from a big B&B complete with unlimited, hotel-esque breakfast … to the one place you could stay on a tiny island where “my mother’s ancestors came from” and based on the icy welcome we received, my brother and I stayed up the whole night waiting to be stabbed. Luckily all the B&B’s in between (we were there for a while and my parents liked to jump to a new place every night) were amazing, and the Scots proved to be incredibly warm, generous hosts.

But I digress. Here’s why I’ve come to love B&B’s:

  • It’s just fun to get away. Yes, even if sometimes it’s weird sneaking around someone else’s house, it’s fun to be a part of that house’s history for a blip in time. Most B&B’s I prefer are older and creekier, which adds to the fun.
  • I like thinking of them as haunted, as long as they’re not actually being haunted. If there are more than a specific number of dolls around (i.e. one) you should probably rethink your stay. Just saying. Wood carved cherubs are okay though.
  • Some of them are suprisingly gorgeous, and worth any amount of time you feel obligated to hang out in the hallway and make small talk with your host. We once stayed at the 1890 Caroline House in Fredericksburg, VA and got our own private suite – complete with a HUGE tub, a fireplace spanning two rooms, and a comfy sitting room. Although, I have to admit, my favorite part was each morning when the hostess brought out a series of elaborate, lovely meals full of food my boyfriend didn’t eat. Every time she left the room he’d hiss “TAKE THESE STRAWBERRIES!!”, all panicky. Good times.
  • Embracing the local history of the place you’re in, even if it’s just up the road, is part of the point. And you get to be as cheesy exploring that place as you want – strap on the fanny pack, attach a cell phone to your belt.
  • Chatting with other couples/not making new friends. Remember when you’re B&B’ing it, you have permission to not be yourself, and to say things you’d never normally say. “This crepe is divine!” “I can honestly say I love this wicker!” “Where did you find that statue of a boy peeing?” And by all means, be pleasant with the locals/hosts/other guests. Just … y’know, remember when you get back home you might realize you really don’t like talking about golf, and that was the one thing you had in common with that couple.

If I had to stress out about whether or not I’d feel comfortable at a particular B&B or naturally click with the host/ess, I’d never go! And I would’ve missed out on waking up one fine autumn morning, in the attic bedroom of a large old house, heading downstairs expecting breakfast and encountering instead … PILES OF DOLLS.

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I mean, it’s Pixar.

So I knew no matter what, Brave would have me amazed, entertained, snort with laughter at some point, and possibly be crying by the end. But because everybody lately is PRINCESS CRAZY, either Team Princess or Team Grow Up, I was interested to see what their take on a Scottish princess would be. I went in with only a vague idea of what it was about – Scotland, princess, big gorgeous hair, archery, PIXAR.

(Spoilers from this point on! Stop reading lest ye be spoiled!)

(Seriously! It was fun not having the plot ruined for me ahead of time!)

At first, the movie seemed to follow a familiar flow:

  • Young princess is a tomboy
  • Young princess likes shooting arrows and riding around on her horse
  • Young princess does not like dresses, lessons, manners, or anything having to do with her mother (the Queen’s) work.

Already, though, Pixar was beginning to weave its unique magic: Despite a horrifying big bear encounter in the opening scene, BOTH parents of the princess lived (if this had been Disney, Queen Mom so would’ve had a big fat target on her head). The princess grows up with a good relationship to both her parents and her younger mischievous triplet brothers. She escapes off into the woods whatever chance she gets, AND … there is no singing. I mean, there’s a soundtrack, we need some feel good Scottish music getting our blood pumping, but the princess herself doesn’t utter a word of song. Incredible! At first I couldn’t place my finger on what was missing, but then I got it. No forced song about how unfortunate her position is and how her destiny is oppressing her. Just Princess Merida, romping through the forest, nailing every archery target she sees, and then casually scaling a dangerous cliff in a dress. Y’know, princess stuff.

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After Merida is confronted with the fate of being a princess – i.e. picking a suitor from a neighboring clan to marry and solidify the kingdom’s relationship with its clans, yadda yadda, the story takes a really incredible turn. Not only does Merida put herself into the archery contest (to win her own hand at marriage), but when that doesn’t work she seeks out some witchy aid to help her parents see clearly. I thought it was telling of the strong relationship she had with her parents that she didn’t want the witch to help her run away from home, or create some suitor she would actually like, or turn her into a boy so she didn’t have to go through this. No, she simply wanted the witch to magically knock some sense into her mom so she would let her live her life the way she wanted to.

Well of course, that backfires (even I know better than to eat something a witch magicked up for me). And instead of getting her mom to walk in her shoes, she gets her mom to walk in bear shoes. Er, bear feet. Bear claws? The point is she turns her mom into a bear!!  Or, to quote Spike:

For the rest of the movie, mother and daughter have to work as a team to get her mom back to normal (and keep the bear-killing kingdom unaware of the sitch), everything hinging on how well they can get along. Such a brilliant twist – using a mother/daughter relationship as the main driving force behind a story. Brilliant! (And terrifying, knowing the temper my mom and I share.)

I’m ashamed to admit at one point I really expected a guy to come along and turn Merida’s head, and be the suitor she was hoping for. Why? I guess because that’s what I’m ALWAYS used to seeing when there’s a princess involved. Unhappy princess, supposed to be wed to some ugly suitor? Well just go off singing in the forest, I’m sure the perfect guy will show up!

I hate that somewhere that plotline is still ingrained in my head. Grr! Oh well, maybe if I see enough non-true love bear movies, I’ll be cured of this affliction. Yay Brave! And three cheers for Scotland!

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… Aaaaand I’m back! My website’s up and running again. Whew!

So, a couple of weeks ago, while my boyfriend and I were wending our way through the exciting mountains of West Virginia on our way to TriCon, we decided to listen to the audiobook version of The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

In the book, Gladwell analyzes the path to success for different people in different professions. What makes certain hockey players better than others? How did Steve Jobs and Bill Gates manage to skyrocket to personal computer stardom within the same timeframe? What kinds of work ethics are passed along through different immigrant ethnic groups?

At first I thought this would be a boring assembly of “what makes successful people super awesome that I could never aspire to”. Birthright, opportunity, ingrained talent. Ho hum.

When I was in roller derby, I grappled with the issue of natural born vs. hardworking athlete. I figured that there were just some people who were born knowing how to skate and the best way to hit people. No matter how hard I tried, that would always be out of my reach. I didn’t have it, and others clearly did.

Luckily, Gladwell wasn’t satisfied with the explanation of what some had and others didn’t. And upon deeper analysis, he discovered something that I find fascinating – all of the successful people he researched had to WORK at what they accomplished. Even those who were considered to have been born with something the rest of us weren’t – an eye, an ear, a brain function – those same people could never rest back on their elbows and rely on their “natural” talents to get them through. In every single case, they had to work harder than everyone else in order to achieve their level of higher greatness. The talented cello player practiced more than the next highest talented cello players. The gifted athlete trained harder and longer than the other athletes. The phenomenally successful band practiced together every night in dive bars in Germany.

In each case, even though opportunity, place, year, and hell, even the MONTH you were born in could play an important part in how skilled you became at a given thing – it still had to be cultivated through hard work and years of practice.

And since I myself am a lifelong Hufflepuff, currently putting in the hours to try to achieve my dream of making comics for a living … I find this encouraging.

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Because I like being behind the times, I’m currently obsessing over 2 shows that everyone else is so over – Friday Night Lights (season 1) and True Blood (season 2). I like to enjoy things at my own pace, awright?

I’d heard FNL was an amazing show despite the football, and my one friend highly recommended the show mainly because of the hotness factor of Tim Riggins. Honestly, I’m more of a Coach Taylor fan myself – I like myself a guy with big eyebrows and a perpetually furrowed brow. ANYWAY. One thing I love about the show so far is the relationship between Coach Taylor and his wife Tami. She puts up with all the football crap and manages to find a place for herself within the insane Texas town football culture without becoming a stereotypical Republican wife. She retains all her spark, sense, and her husband actually values and listens to her opinion on his job. I know I’m only on Season 1, so hopefully this doesn’t change …

Connie/Tami is one of those women I have a crush on/want to absorb their powers. I think she’ll be a good influence. (Except for the fact that she makes me think that I can wear dresses and boots and my hair down and look fabulous in the summer heat.)

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I LOVED Gilmore Girls.

Ever since my friend Amanda turned me on to it a few years ago, about 4 seasons into it already being on, I was hooked. Sure, at first I was put off by all the fast-talkin’ (only because it reminded me of Dawson’s Creek era teen dramas). And I was still holding a grudge from when a woman I worked with at my college’s art office told me I looked like Lorelei Senior (“I look like a MOM??” I had no idea she was a really hot mom). But I was soon overcome with admiration for the cleverness of the script, the individuality of the characters, and above all an engrossing tv show that didn’t have to center around nonstop drama. I mean, there was drama. But there was also lots of storylines involving junk food and movie marathons.

After Gilmore Girls slogged through it’s last season (I say slogged because the network kicked off its chief writer and creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino for the last one and BOY could you tell the difference), I wondered what, if anything, could fill the GG void. Then I heard rumors of The Return of Jezebel James and got excited — Parker Posey AND Claire from Six Feet Under AND the creator of Gilmore Girls?? Match made in amazeville! . . . So of course, Fox cancelled it.

In the meantime, it’s been a bit depressing watching Lauren Graham on Parenthood, trying to pretend her character Sarah could ever be as powerful and independent as Lorelei. Of course she can’t. She has to be weak and indecisive. Ho hum. Not to mention Rory being all shades of crazy on Mad Men. Ugh.

But now this week – exciting news that a NEW Amy S-P show had landed – Bunheads!

It premiered Monday night on ABC Family, but even though I don’t have cable anymore ($200/month bills are not my bag), there’s a free preview up at the ABC Fam site. I had one friend tell me they loved it, and one hated it, so I felt I had the right attitude going into it. Sutton Foster plays the lead character Michelle – a Vegas showgirl who, tired after having her latest dream crushed, decides on a whim to run off with the sweet man who’s had a crush on her and brought her flowers on a consistent basis. She winds up in a quiet small town and discovers the town’s only attraction, and a place where she might make a new life – a tiny dance studio.

I was warned going in that it could be considered Gilmore Girls Lite, featuring a lot of holdovers – small cute town, strong witty female lead, Kelly Bishop, Gypsy from the repair shop … but honestly none of those similarities to GG bothered me. For one, this isn’t a mother-daughter thing. Michelle is very much on her own and not looking to be a mother to any of the dance studio girls. Also, Kelly Bishop’s role in this is far from Emily Gilmore, the wealthy WASPish Grandmother – in this she’s probably truer to her real self – a boozy, sassy older woman who used to be a killer dancer. The only thing that I found repellant in the GG comparisons was … the MUSIC. The “la la la” theme worked fine with GG, I got used to it. But for it to be in this too? Uh-uh, that’s where I draw the line.

So anyway, I loved the pilot. I super loved Sutton Foster (and the fact that I recognized her from Flight of the Conchords) and I’m so thrilled Amy S-P is back on the scene, we need more media creators like her out there.

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I know this was supposed to be a WEEK of Kick-Ass Women, but I’ve been a little busy this week prepping for Spring Bada Bing, so I think I’m going to turn this into an ongoing series on them instead. Because, let’s face it – I will never get tired of talking about them.

The next Kick-Ass Woman is actually THREE women who all impacted my view of what at a kick-ass woman could be. And they all happen to be named Michelle!

No, not Michelle Obama, even though she has charmed the entire country with her guns:

The three Michelles I want to talk about are Pfeiffer, Rodriguez, and Yeoh.

MICHELLE #1: Michelle Pfeiffer

After I saw Tim Burton’s Batman, I wanted to be Vicki Vale. I don’t know what it was about her I admired so much – the blond hair, the big red lips, the awkward way she handled herself around The Joker? I would draw her face over and over again, I suppose thinking I could transfer some of her power into my own body.  I couldn’t see her being surpassed in my mind as a memorable female character in Batmanverse until, of course, Batman Returns rolled around.

Michelle Pfeiffer was amazing as the pitiable, weak “administrative assistant” who, at the beginning of the film, lets people walk all over her. So great, that even when she transforms into the whirligig force that is Catwoman, we don’t have to squint too hard to see Selina still in there, calling the shots. Catwoman is incredibly sexy, but she wields her sexiness as an accessory. Her motivation and her appeal is her craziness, her craftiness. (After all, she did whip up her whole black vinyl outfit on her cute little pink sewing machine she had tucked away amid her stuffed animal collection.)

One of my favorite scenes is when Catwoman stops a mugger attacking a woman in a lone alleyway – the stereotypical set-up for a hero to save a damsel in distress. Catwoman instantly recognizes the opportunity for what it is, and DOES save the woman, but she also takes a dig at the woman for letting herself be vulnerable. It’s an interesting parallel to her past, having been manipulated and abused at the hands of her boss, Max Shreck. Catwoman abhors the part of herself that was victimized but luckily doesn’t use that as a weapon against other victims. She still has her humanity left.

MICHELLE #2: Michelle Rodriguez

I don’t pretend to know anything about Michelle other than in her role as Anna Lucia on LOST (Although my 17-year-old cousin thinks the only movies are the Fast & The Furious movies). Anna Lucia was a damaged ex-cop who wound up amongst the unlucky pack of Tailies on the island TV show. Before the island, Anna Lucia had brought vigilante justice down on the guy who had shot her and unwittingly killed her unborn child. As soon as craziness starts happening to her little group on the island, Anna Lucia defaults into protector mode the only way she knows how — by blurring the lines between necessary force and an excuse to shoot everything that moves. And yet, even though she lost her confidence in herself as a police officer, she’s still damn good enough to recognize Goodwin for being the lying murderer that he is.

I really wish they hadn’t cut short her character on the show and had allowed her more time to develop. And, I also wish I looked as buff as her in a tank top.

MICHELLE #3: Michelle Yeoh

Michelle Yeoh is the only honest-to-god action star I’ve mentioned so far. She doesn’t just play one onscreen, she IS one. She’s in it, doing the action, fighting the fights, falling the falls.

I first saw her alongside Jackie in Supercop, and then in the regrettable Tomorrow Never Dies, playing probably the most competent and bad-ass of the Bond Girls in any of the movies.

But in the graceful, beautiful Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, you get to see how incredible she is in every single scene. LONG, continuous scenes that show you the range of her skills and talent and don’t try to hobble it together with cuts and fancy angles.

She’s the real deal.

I’ll admit it’s been several years since I’ve seen CTHD, so I won’t discuss the aspects of that particular character in terms of an action star. Michelle Yeoh is an action star that WAYYY supercedes any single role.

Those are your Michelle’s for the day. Anyone else got a Michelle who’s particularly bad-ass that they want to bring up?

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I consider myself to be someone heavily influenced by story. When I read something, I want to believe it. When I watch something, I feel like I still linger in that world a little bit, long after the credits role. And with characters onscreen, there’s always a piece or two of them that I want to absorb.

Since I announced that this is Kick-Ass Women Week, I’m going to celebrate just a few of the female characters I consider to have been the most inspirational on me growing up. Why? Because, just like when I watched the male action heroes onscreen, I wanted to fill those shoes for a moment and be them. Without crushing fear, doubt, hesitation, or (let’s face it) puny muscles. I wanted to be running, jumping, punching things. Sort of the reverse of Eddie Izzard’s desire as a young lad to be an action transvestite. Instead of dressing up in feminine clothes and running around, I wanted to mimic the male counterparts, put on a tank top, show off my guns. Until I finally found some females I could drool over.

Inspiration #1 – LINDA HAMILTON

Linda Hamilton is pretty much the pinnacle of what women interested in female action heroines look up to. Although she only really existed in the form of Sarah Connor in Terminator 1 and 2, and was pretty average in Terminator 1. In Terminator 2, however, she brought it.

Terminator 2 was when Sarah Connor realized, after being tormented by a robot in the first movie, that this shit had gotten real and she was going to have to learn how to defend herself, her son, and her human race. From the MACHINES. So, naturally, she got herself locked up in a mental institution for telling the truth.

Luckily for us, being locked in a mental institution means Sarah gets to do loads and loads of chin-ups. Otherwise known as the bane of my existence when I was 11 and this movie came out. Hang on – women can DO those? And be casual about it?? After the chin-ups, Sarah treats us to some pretty sweet bad-assery as she breaks out of her cell and nearly the whole institution before her son and Arnold Schwarzenegger come along and ruin everything.

So what if she’s a little nutty, and it takes her a while to remember that her son is not old enough to be a good soldier yet? Look at those arms and look at the fear she instills in those guards. Later on in the movie she gets some guns and grenades and stuff, but this is where I fell in awe with Linda Hamilton. Just a woman, all by her lonesome, cooking up ways to be prepared for the Robot Apocalypse.

Now, don’t you feel like running around barefoot and shoving people who get in your way?

How about you guys? Did Terminator 2 similarly change your life?

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