Just Google It, Grammie

I miss the days of finding information in my family’s World Book Encyclopedia. Using these reference books to complete a homework assignment took much longer than it should have. Why? Because I’d continue reading about whatever subject I’d accidently run across while looking for the information I needed to complete my report.


As an adult, I wanted a more up-to-date set of encyclopedias and purchased the Encyclopedia Americana © 1986. For years I’d make time to grab one of the books at random, open any page, and read. I learned about a variety of plants, researched foreign leaders, and studied the solar system.


To research a topic now, I simply google it as my granddaughter suggested. There’s no longer the strong possibility of inadvertently discovering something quite different from my original topic of interest. Now my concern is what to do with my old set of encyclopedias. The libraries don’t need them. Used bookstores won’t take them. Modern families have the internet at their fingertips, and I hate to send them to the landfill.


What do you suggest I do with my encyclopedias?

My Top 10 Video Games with Variant Stories

As a child, I was a huge fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure book series. There was something about the notion of getting a different story with each read that guaranteed I would keep coming back to these books. Most story-based video games can also be considered as choose-your-own-adventure. Especially those that allow you to personally decide how the story will play out.

Below is my top ten list of video games that offer a lot of versatility with each playthrough.

10) Phantasmagoria (spoiler alert) – An interactive horror game released in the mid-90s, Phantasmagoria tells the story of Adrienne Delaney and her husband Don after they’ve moved into a haunted century-old mansion. The house was previously owned by a 19th Century illusionist who was married five times and whose wives either went missing or died under mysterious circumstances. The game features hours worth of content. There is much to explore to uncover the truth and discover what’s happening to Don when he gets possessed. It’s easy to miss an aspect of the story if you don’t thoroughly examine everything in each chapter. What keeps Phantasmagoria from a higher rank is the fixed singular ending – Adrienne is forced to kill her husband to keep him from killing her.

9) Life Is Strange (spoiler alert) – Life is Strange is a coming-of-age drama game that centers around teenager Max Caulfield and her discovery that she can rewind time–an ability she uses largely for selfish gain. Life is Strange gives you the option to look at both choices of decisions to make throughout the game before locking one of them in. While this game offers two conclusions, the bad ending doesn’t really delve into the repercussions of Max’s decision to sacrifice the townsfolk to an f5 tornado to save her dearest friend. I still love Life is Strange in spite of the lackluster ending for its many different paths over the course of the game.

8) Resident Evil 2 – The first Resident Evil game may have launched the survival horror franchise, but it is the second title that really breathed life into the series. Resident Evil 2 introduced players to Leon Kennedy– a rookie cop on his first day on the force–and Claire Redfield–a college student in search of her missing brother. What sets Resident Evil 2 apart from the rest of the series is that one character’s actions impact how the other’s story plays out. For instance, starting with Leon’s campaign dictates the path taken by Claire through the police station and vice versa. The game’s developers gave players two differing narratives–Leon A\Claire B or Claire A\Leon B–to offer a unique experience with each playthrough. What makes Resident Evil 2 even better is that you can also assume the role of one of the antagonists in a separate scenario or play as a block of tofu armed with a knife–a joke character thrown in by the developers. But like Phantasmagoria, Resident Evil 2 always ends the same no matter which character you start with.

7) the Mass Effect trilogy – Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3 earn top marks for having the most variance in their narrative, but fall flat due to a disappointing penultimate ending. To get the most out of the trilogy, you’d have to play through all three games. Saved data can be imported from one title to the next to keep track of the choices you’ve made, such as whether you saved or sacrificed a given character. I love the trilogy for letting you decide whether your main character will be male or female, peacemaker or badass, or monogamous or field-player. I just wish Mass Effect 3 had featured multiple endings as well.

6) Marvel: Ultimate Alliance – Well before the ongoing series of films featuring Marvel Comics superheroes were on the horizon, the video game Marvel: Ultimate Alliance was the definitive guide to the comic book characters. The game takes you on an epic journey from the bottom of the ocean to the far reaches of space, from the depths of Hell to Asgard, home of the Norse Gods. The basic storyline of the game sees members of the X-Men, Avengers, and the Fantastic Four–as well as other superheroes that operate solo–band together to combat a massive team comprised of their respective arch-enemies. In between missions, you have the option of learning all sorts of trivia about every character–and then some–featured in Ultimate Alliance. What makes the game even more interesting is that you can customize your team at the start of each mission. Even better–each time a hero and antagonist who have a history come face to face, it will trigger a unique bit of dialogue. I would definitely recommend giving this game a look if you’re a big fan of Marvel Comics–you won’t be disappointed.

5) Dragon Age: OriginsDragon Age: Origins is a game that I have yet to play through to the end, but what little I’ve seen has earned it a spot on this list. The fantasy fighting game starts with you selecting one of six characters to join a warrior faction called the Grey Wardens for the purpose of combating an ancient evil. Each character has their own unique background and origin story–the game gives you a glimpse into their lives prior to their arrival at the academy. I don’t know a whole lot about Dragon Age, but I’ve heard that your character’s gender also has an impact on how the narrative plays out.

4) Beyond: Two Souls (spoiler alert) – Beyond: Two Souls is a game that tells its story in a non-linear format, jumping back and forth to different points in the life of heroine Jodie. She is a character who has lived with a spirit guide named Aiden her entire life, and she has the unique ability to see the world through his perspective. Unfortunately for Jodie, she is taken from her mother at birth and is exploited as a spy by the government due to her ability to obtain information from a distance. The game largely revolves around Jodie’s journey to find where she belongs in an unforgiving world. Beyond: Two Souls is a great game not only for its variant story, but also for its multiple endings. There is even an outcome where Jodie dies and herself becomes a spirit guide to a young girl born during the course of the game.

3) Until Dawn (spoiler alert) – A survival horror game where even the slightest miscalculation can get a character killed, Until Dawn is definitely a nerve-wracking experience. The story follows eight friends vacationing at a mountain lodge owned by one of them, where they are besieged by a group of violent supernatural creatures. Until Dawn is not a perfect game–the story is chock full of plot holes and a few characters are downright annoying–but it does offer a lot of variance. It can end in any number of ways–ranging from everyone making it through the night to zero survivors.

2) King’s Quest VI – The Kings Quest games as a whole chronicle the story of a knight who earned the title of king and his family. The sixth game in the series follows the king’s son, Alexander, on his quest to rescue his true love, Cassima, upon receiving word that she and her kingdom are in danger. What’s most unique about Kings Quest VI is that you can either speed your way through it or take a longer path through the narrative to obtain the best possible ending. While the game ultimately concludes with Alexander and Cassima’s wedding, the ceremony can either have a sparse amount of guests or be a large, joyous event attended by both their families.

1) Heavy Rain (spoiler alert) – Heavy Rain is a dramatic mystery game that largely revolves around Ethan Mars, a father desperately racing against time after his son is abducted by a serial murderer known as the Origami Killer. The game also follows three other characters–journalist Madison, FBI agent Nathan, and P.I. Scott–investigating the killer and their crimes. What I like most about Heavy Rain is that there are dozens of ways in which it can end based on the actions of its four leading characters. There is even a scenario where the killer survives and escapes justice. Heavy Rain offers so much variety with each playthrough that I wish there were more video games like it.

While I love video games in general, the ones that offer flexibility in their story-telling definitely make me want to play through them multiple times. I do wish there were more games out there that let you choose your own adventure, but I am satisfied with what’s out there for now.


This Is Us Has Returned

The television show, The Paley Center Salutes This Is Us, debuted with much fanfare one week prior to the return of my favorite TV show, This Is Us. The Paley show discussed the many layers of the characters’ lives including the birth of triplets, one of whom was stillborn. The Caucasian parents adoption of an abandoned African American baby who was born the same day makes for many awkward moments in their upbringing.

The time-tripping story takes you throughout their lives, often in the same episode. Viewers must watch carefully for clues to which era is being portrayed. The Paley Center program introduced the creators, writers, directors, and actors of this popular dramatic, multigenerational series. The program revealed insight into how they were able to portray the intertwining of the characters’ complicated lives from childhood to adulthood.

The writers worked diligently to create a believable family drama and allowed the actors to have some input into how their characters evolved. One heart wrenching example involved one actor’s disclosure that his father died when he was ten years old. This allowed the actor to use the impact of his loss in a compelling reaction to the death of his actor father during a significant scene.

The popularity of this series prompted People Magazine to publish an entire issue devoted to the complete guide to the show. Each character is described and featured with beautiful color pictures. Snippets of storylines are explained and hints of scenes to come are revealed. For devoted fans of This Is Us, this magazine is a keeper.

Some fans of the show go online after each episode to discuss the numerous story lines and how they are affected by them. Many people have said they relate to the characters’ problems and are touched by the way characters handle each situation.  

To understand this compelling, multigenerational, multiracial story, watch the series from the beginning. Get a copy of the magazine. Have your tissue handy. If you are already a fan, please tell me how this show affects you.

Video Game Monsters That Scare Me

I am someone who’s grown up watching horror films and I would say I don’t scare easy. I tend to look at movies with a filmmaker’s perspective and appreciate the work it took to bring them to life.

Horror video games are a completely different story, particularly the ones that completely immerse the player within a life-like environment. The atmosphere aside, I get especially terrified when coming face to face with certain video game creatures. Below is my list of monsters I’d rather run from or avoid encounters with than engage in combat.

1) Banshees (Mass Effect 3) – Long-limbed mutant aliens with a distinctive scream, Banshees are one of the most formidable adversaries present in Mass Effect 3. They are capable of teleporting toward you in short bursts and will kill you instantly if they catch you. The downside of Mass Effect 3 is that it is impossible to completely avoid encounters with these creatures. You are forced into a close-quarters fight with one near the end of the game. Even more scary is facing both Banshees and Phantoms – human adversaries who are equally deadly at close range – in the hardest difficulty of multiplayer skirmishes.

2) Deathclaws (Fallout series) – A creature that I had zero knowledge of until very late into my first playthrough of Fallout 3, Deathclaws are large reptilian demonic-looking monsters with long talons. I was too scared to move for several minutes when I first saw one. I have since tried to avoid encounters with the creatures when possible. I am even too chicken to venture into most areas where large groups of Deathclaws can be found.

3) Revenants (Resident Evil: Revelations 2) – Most genetically-engineered monsters in the Resident Evil series are the stuff of nightmares. But those created by a sadistic scientist in Revelations 2 are in a league of their own. For starters, there are the Revenants – creatures comprised of two or more humans that have been stitched together to create a downright terrifying monstrosity. Even more disturbing than their appearance is the way they move – slow jerky movements when standing upright or insanely fast when on all fours. Revenants are so scary that I’m glad they only exist in a video game.

4) Glasps (Resident Evil: Revelations 2) – Like Revenants, Glasps are insect-like monsters that I wouldn’t want to see in the real world. What makes them so scary is that they’re virtually invisible to the naked eye. The only way you can tell they’re close is that they emit a chemical that causes distorted vision in their intended victim. The closer they are, the worse the distortion is. There have been times where I’ve gotten turned around and mistaken where the creature is coming from, which resulted in me running straight at it. Suffice to say, the way they kill you if you let them get too close is not pretty.

5) Mirelurk Queens (Fallout 4) – When I played Fallout 4 for the first time, I did so with very little inkling on what to expect. This game differed from the previous titles in the series in many ways – updated graphics, a central character who actually spoke rather than mutely engaged in conversations, and brand new monsters to combat. The latter worked against me when I encountered an enormous creature known as the Mirelurk Queen. I had gotten used to human-sized Mirelurks – mutant crab-like creatures — in previous Fallout games and didn’t view them as much of a threat anymore. The Queen, however, is ten times bigger and can spit acid at you. During my first battle against said creature, I hid in a stairwell where the Queen couldn’t easily get at me and just sporadically poked my head out to take shots at it.

6) Wendigos (Until Dawn) – It should be noted that I’ve never actually played Until Dawn, but simply watching YouTube videos of someone else’s playthrough got me terrified of Wendigos. The monsters featured in Until Dawn are former humans who fell victim to a curse centered around a remote area in the mountains and turned into banshee-like monsters. Wendigos are particularly vicious and scary. The means to dealing with them is to stand perfectly still – which can be achieved by holding the console controller steady — so they can’t see you. Funny side note – I made the mistake of watching Until Dawn on YouTube one night before bed. When one of the Wendigos unexpectedly jumped out through a trapdoor, I went from barely being able to keep my eyes open to being wide awake.

7) Rams (Dead Island) – Dead Island is a very intense game where you’re trapped on an isle largely populated by zombies. The majority of these zombies are quite deadly and you encounter variants of the creature that possess their own unique forms of attack. The zombies that scare me the most in Dead Island are the Rams – hulking brutes wrapped in strait-jackets that will charge at you and kick you to death if they catch you out in the open. My general tactic is to climb on something – such as a car – to stay out of their reach. During the final segment of the game, however, you are forced to venture through a prison compound where the Rams are out in droves. Extreme caution or running past them is highly advised.

There are many other video game monsters I’d prefer not to tangle with, but the ones on this list really stand out. If you want to share about a game-specific creature you’ve found terrifying, please share in the comments below.

Brett Kavanaugh?

The thoughts expressed in this article are solely those of the author.


Sometime this month the Senate is going to vote on whether or not to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. The Republican Party, in general, thinks he’ll be the fifth vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and abortion will no longer be legal in the United States. The Democratic Party is fighting this. But what about the people, the citizens of the United States? How do most of them feel?


This issue is complex. For one thing, abortion only affects women. I can’t imagine a man having one. I think of Kamala Harris’ question last week asking Judge Kavanaugh if he knew of any laws that let the government regulate the male body? He had to stop and think. And, after a very long pause, he said he didn’t.


I remember a time when abortion was illegal in the United States. What did girls, and yes, they were girls—16, 17, 18 or older, do when they found out they were pregnant, unmarried and couldn’t or wouldn’t marry the father? They had what was called a “back alley” abortion or went down to Mexico or used a coat hanger.


Most of these abortions didn’t go well. Usually the person performing the abortion was not a doctor, or if they were, they were not performing the abortion with the latest equipment in a sterile environment. Frequently, later that night or the next day, the girls had to be rushed to the hospital because they were infected or hemorrhaging. Many died, and of those who didn’t, many could no longer have children because of the damage the procedure had done to their internal organs.


Then along came Roe v. Wade. Women and girls could now have safe, legal abortions. Almost everyone lived. There were few infections, few hemorrhages and almost no one died.


So then, did all women, or most women, go out and have abortions? No. Most women don’t want abortions. They want to have children. But they want the option of abortion available for those who do.


Do most women believe abortion should be a nine month choice? Of course not. They want a time limited option available in which a woman can have a safe and legal abortion. After that time is up, unless there are extraordinary circumstances, like the life of the mother is at stake, abortion would no longer be a possibility.


I’ve participated in many conversations between women who are very liberal, very conservative and in between. After a while, we were always able to come up with reasonable limits, while at the same time keeping the option of abortion available for those who need it.


In recent surveys, 35% of Republicans, 60% of Independents and 75% of Democrats* want limited, legal abortions available to everyone. Almost no one wants to go back to the old days of “back alley” abortions and all the dangers they entailed.


Where do you stand on this issue? What do you think? How does your position on this issue affect how you feel about Brett Kavanaugh being nominated to the Supreme Court? Are you in favor or against his nomination and why?