I Believe in Sherlock

2 Jul

Back in Bismarck, Dad’s body is slowly failing.  Now we can add congestive heart failure and another liter-sized fluid draw from his lungs.  I don’t feel like blogging about that here.  I think that I said enough about that in this post.  I have plans to make two consecutive trips there; one next week, by myself, and the other with the Mister.  Though we know it’s just a matter of time, we don’t know what speed this particular clock is moving at so it’s hard to know what to do.

My answer to this to this question, for this week anyway, is to numb myself with Netflix.  Namely, the sugary TV show “Glee”.  It’s popular enough that I don’t have to share what it’s about but suffice to say, it’s hard to get too damn emotional when there is a saccharine duet about to break out any moment.  On Monday I watched until 3 a.m.  Last night was a repeat of the same.  I only broke up this serial binging with a trip to Target to get healthy snacks so that I’d at least have something to eat while I chose to engage with the world via musical numbers performed by 30 year-olds playing teens and used my iPad as a security blanket and endlessly played Hay Day.  Yes, it’s a farming game.  And you can’t “win” it so you simply keep going and going and going with the knowledge that you are wasting time.

I’ve specifically avoided watching the final episode of season three of “Sherlock”.  I’ve been saving this.  I absolutely adore the recent portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes by Benedict Cumberbatch.  Or as I call him “Cumberbunny”.  I’d hate to watch it and not quite pay full attention to it.  Each season of “Sherlock” is but four episodes long.  Granted, they are longer episodes of 90 minutes but that still isn’t much to watch.  “Glee”, while being less delightful is certainly far more prolific with something like 50 minutes treacle a show and 22 of those suckers a season.  No, you cannot truly glut on “Sherlock”.  You have to sip it.  And if you made the mistake of gulping it, like I did with the first season, years ago, you would be rewarded with regret.  I’d imagine it would be similar to spending hundreds of dollars on extraordinary champagne for a special occasion, only to wake up after a hard night of karaoke to find that you glugged that sucker down with a plate of Pizza Rolls.

“Sherlock” should not be squandered.  Martin Freeman as Watson, Rupert Graves as Lestrade, Una Stubbs as Mrs. Hudson and Mark Gatiss as Mycroft are perfectly cast.  And Cumberbunny is spot on.  Now, the nickname isn’t because I think that he’s gorgeous.  I just think he’s fantastic.  It’s something akin to me thinking that Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady is dead sexy but not finding him handsome at all.  It can be done.

The writing here is superb.  And whole production seems like a love letter to London.  After seeing it, how could you stop yourself from dreaming of rides in black cabs or seeing the changing of the guard?  Even the fonts used in the titling looks like that of the Underground.  Brilliant!

Sherlock Holmes is really my favorite fictional character.  I do have some misgivings about this because he isn’t female and he’s not someone that I’d want to meet in person.  Still, I can’t stop myself loving almost every incarnation of this misanthrope.  Well, except for “Elementary”.  I don’t know what kind of emotional turmoil I’d have to be in before I found myself queueing up that bit of poo.  Probably best not to start imagining the details.  I’ll leave that to my favorite highly-functioning sociopath – Sherlock.

[Editor’s note: Ah, sod it!  I just re-watched that Graham Norton clip and forget what I said about Cumberbunny not being handsome.  He’s sponge-worthy, folks!]

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (2002)

30 Jun

GoodbyeMrChipsI’ll admit it.  Sometimes my “research” comes down to me doing quite silly things.  I’m not sure how much you’ll really learn about England by watching the Exxon-Mobil presentation of Goodbye, Mr. Chips but I certainly loved it.  It features Martin Clunes, the chap who plays Doc Martin in the show of the same name.  I don’t know why I like Clunes so much in both his role in this movie and as the good doctor in “Doc Martin”.  If he was my co-worker I don’t know if I’d even notice the fellow.  But somehow he wins hearts just by being genuine.

The story told in this movie has been told many a time.  It started as a book and I know that there is another movie and a movie musical based on that book.  I just happened to watch this version because that’s what the Hennepin County Library system had available.  The tale is that of a Mr. Chipping, an earnest Latin teacher with his own flair for teaching and interacting with boys in a British boarding school.  We watch as Mr. Chips protests capital punishment, values individuality and rewards moral courage.  We see him take an interest in the students as individuals and how WWII impacts the not-so-insulated world of a British institution.Though boarding schools seem to change very little over time, the film tells us, they cannot help the men they help create.  The challenges of life find us all.

Though I’d still like to see the film from 1939, I wasn’t disappointed here.  I enjoyed watching the awkward Mr. Chips fall in love with an independent and exuberant woman.  I was touched by the handling of the wounded students who returned to visit their stalwart teacher.  I’m not sure how much I learned about the boarding school experience that I hadn’t already known by reading up on Oscar Wilde.  I will continue to find ways to research aspects of Britain that are a bit on the bizarre end of the spectrum.  That’s the nice part of making your own curriculum, add anything that you like and change your mind along the way, too.  It is in this spirit that I have it in mind to binge on Monty Python as soon as possible.

Below Stairs: Margaret Powell

29 Jun

BelowStairsMargaretPowellThe full title of this book is actually “Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey“.  Didn’t want you to miss out on anything but that’s a bit much for a blog title, even for me.

Margaret Powell writes up a detailed account of life in service.  And though it sounds like miserable, back-breaking work there is still so much charm in this book.  Isn’t it true that we often envy the lives of others just because they are so very different from our own?  As my job requires my sitting in front of a computer for ten hours or more a day, the vigorous efforts that are required of Margaret sound like a welcome change.  It’s as if I expect to feel that welcome sense of fulfillment we all have after accomplishing a day chock full of chores.  After pulling weeds, scrubbing the tub, taking out the garbage, washing the dishes and folding the laundry I feel like Champion of the World.  So naturally, through this lens, Powell’s time in service seems a bit more tantalizing than it should.

However, it’s hard to fully appreciate the long hours of tasks that filled her days starting at 5:30 every morning unless you were actually the one holding the dustpan, the mop, the blacking brush, etc.  And no matter how romantic a time seems there always the things that we forget.  To be a woman in service is to be seen as a separate grade of people.  There are servants and then there are those who serve.

As someone who grew up thinking that I could do anything that a man could do it would be hard to suffer popular opinions about what is or isn’t proper for a woman to do.  It would also gall me to no end to allow others to think that they are better than me because they employ me.  I also think that there has been a cultural shift over the years in how we view work.  There was a time when it was “beneath” people to get their hands dirty.  Now we are surrounded by DIY-ers and kickstarters.  Not only do we believe that we can do anything, we’re overwhelmed with options.  I feel, as a woman, the pressure to bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, constantly remind the Mister that he’s a man and also be able to create a seasonally-appropriate table scape and garnish our meal with fresh rosemary that I personally grew in our window garden.

Perhaps I can look at Margaret Powell’s story with envy because she was limited to certain roles and certain tasks.  That today it’s easy to feel that we’re not doing enough simply because we can do so much more.  Somehow the Kelly Ripas and Martha Stewarts of the world have ruined our perception of just how wonderful it is to be a woman right now.  We still have so much further to go and the last few years have been steps backwards in many ways.  However, viewed through the lens of a woman born in 1907, we’ve come a long way, baby.

I have yet to watch Downton Abbey but it’s on my list.  I plan on making myself stupid amounts of tea and buying scones to have with marmalade and clotted cream.  I will binge on the series, don’t you worry.  In the meantime, this book was a welcome tale from a woman I would have loved to share my scones with.  Not my tea though.  You know for certain that I couldn’t make an Englishwoman tea.  Let’s not be silly.


That’s All?

27 Jun

When a dear friend dropped us at the airport for our giant tour of Europe he couldn’t help but comment on our luggage.  Or rather the lack of it.  We both had a bag that converted from a cross-body duffle bag into a backpack.  I also had a purse that could hold an iPad, if needed.  That was it.  The Mister had been badgered into this plan after months of enthusiastic encouraging from me.  I had packed this way when visiting in 1992 with my parents and sister.  I knew that we could get by easily with what we were bringing.

It helps if you arEuropeDeparturee sharing toiletry items with someone.  One tube of toothpaste, one bar of soap, etc.  It also helps if you make a trip to a post office during your trip and send extra stuff home via slow boat.  It’s not expensive unless you have a language barrier and use express by accident.  I was able to send all the bits of paper and souvenirs and clothes home instead of carrying them.  This was especially handy since I brought clothes that were perfect for the trip but made me feel as stylish as a nun.

My favorite quote about packing light is from my travel guru, Rick Steves: “You’ll never meet a traveler who, after five trips, brags: ‘Every year I pack heavier.’ ”  When we were in Hawaii we rented a car and that meant we could take rolling bags.  I’m not opposed to rolling bags, I promise.  But getting them up and down stairs, into and out of boats, train cars, taxis and buses takes the spontaneity out of pretty much everything.  You can check them or hope to slug them in a locker but these options aren’t always available.  I also find that with a rolling bag I pack too much because I can.

At the end of our Hawaii trip, the Mister realized that we would never make our connection in LA.  I had made the flight arrangements believing that we would be carrying on, like we always did.  What saved us was a last-minute (as in they were literally locking the doors after we arrived) trip to the post office.  There we put the majority of our crap into two boxes.  Every liquid, every sharp thing, every questionable thing – they all went in the boxes and were shipped home.  We enjoyed a luau and the last night of our trip knowing that we would only have to get our bags and our butts to another plane.  Baggage claim can ruin a connection and, in doing so, ruin the end of a good trip.

As we prepare for our British trip we are still planning on bringing one bag.  There may be a car rental as part of our travel plans but there will also be planes, trains and a whole bunch of tiny staircases.  If you can travel with less you won’t regret it.  I converted the Mister, after all.  There’s hope for us all.


Now Hear This

25 Jun

I closed down this blog because I felt like people got the wrong impression.  And I’m going to leave “people” very vague here so forgive me for that.  I was writing Trip Ahoy posts to save all the research I did for our trip to Europe.  When our Mom passed away, Kristin and I lost our trip planner.  We lost the woman who had brought places to life for us.  I always attributed this to her being a frustrated History/English teacher.  But I think it’s that there were never enough knowledge for Mom.  The more she learned, the more she wanted to know.

So faced with creating a European trip for me and my now husband, I realized that I was doing it in her honor.  And a bit for Kristin and Dad, too.  We’d been there 20 years ago, all four of us.  When I would see some of the cities on our itinerary, I would be lucky enough to say that I remembered being there, with them.  I lit a candle in Notre Dame and in St Peter’s in Munich for her.  I talked to her and thanked her for everything from the top of the Duomo in Florence.  And in Paris, I forced the Mister into more museums than he’ll ever forgive me for because I couldn’t imagine skipping the magic of seeing that art again, in person.

Before we traveled I did extensive reading in books, on the internet, in magazines and in anything Rick Steves put in print.  I listened to podcasts on French history, rented “Triumph of the Will” from the library and got my hands on as many documentaries and travel shows as the internet would allow.  I listened to music (mostly Edith Piaf and Django Reinhardt, to be honest) from the cultures and sampled their food, which is always a fun task.  I tried to immerse myself in the topic as deeply as I could for two mains reasons: 1) my mom would not be there to know all these things for me and 2) I was mourning her loss.

Trip Ahoy was an obsession I picked up to cope with the loss of our Mom.  Some interpreted it as me being excited about a trip and not giving a hoot about the two people left reeling in Bismarck.  When we lost Mom, Kristin and Dad had to shore each other up.  Dad had advanced Parkinson’s disease which had quickly gotten worse under the strain of watching the love of his life die in their living room.  Kristin had the twin nightmares of mourning her mother while caring for her ill father.  And she did this while she was deep in the bowels of alcoholism.

So while I cannot blame some for assuming that my chirpy banter on this site was completely opposite to that of a caring daughter and sister, I can say that what I was doing was exactly the opposite.  I was keeping myself afloat while I fought with my own demons of depression, anxiety, loss and the physical distance from those who I couldn’t truly help.  I chose not to sound that way on my blog because having that tone here didn’t make anything better.  It still doesn’t.  This is honestly not the kind of post I like to write but I’m tired of worrying how I’m being perceived.  I can only be the person I am and sometimes that person isn’t enough.

Dad is now in the hospital.  His second stay this month.  He has C Diff and colitis.  He had (and may still have) pleurisy, pneumonia and a hematoma on his liver.  He’s fallen in the last week at the nursing home.  A speech therapist had to feed him his meals because he is a choking risk.  None of us would wish this life for anyone they love.  Though his care will be better in the hospital where an IV drip and perhaps a new and better cocktail of antibiotics will help, he’s still not “home”.  And after three surgeries of my own this year, shuttling back and forth every weekend isn’t something that I can really do and that feels like another cruel twist.  That my own body is preventing me from being there for Dad is hard to choke down.  I don’t feel I’m managing it all that well.

Please know, then, that when I start writing chirpy posts about a trip to Britain that may happen in 2015 that I am doing so for two reasons: 1) because it is how I cope and 2) because Dad would want to go.  If you know Doug Sande then you know that nothing brings a smile to his face quite like saying “we were there”.  I’m going, Dad.  And instead of lighting candles I’m going to talk up people in the pubs and I’m going buy souvenirs that will decorate our house.  I will get my picture taken with a Beefeater and I will learn some new swear words. And you will be with me the whole time like I you are with me here.


Sad Pandas Should Eat Tofu

19 Dec

Where have I been?  Well, mostly Minneapolis with a side trip to Boston and a visit home to Bismarck.  Oh, but you meant where have I been since September when I last posted.  That’s a bit longer of an answer but here I go…

‘Round about August I started to feel my depression kicking in.  I spent a lot of time wondering if we should even bother with this trip.  It was a long way to go to feel blue.  And I felt like I was starting to scrape the bottom of my particular barrel.  Then one day I was home and I watched a random documentary about juice fasting (Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead).  I reacted pretty strongly.  When I watch It’s a Wonderful Life I need to hug my loved ones, when I watched Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead I apparently needed to launch out of the house, buy two books on juicing, buy a cart full of veg and fruit and then head to Target to buy a juicer.

This has very little to do with travel but it has a whole lot to do with my mood which has made me feel like I want to travel again.  I juiced for ten days and felt reallly great afterwards.  Then about four or five weeks later the Mister and I both did another fast (on his encouragement).  The big thing was that between those fasts and since, I’ve stuck to a mostly vegan diet and it’s kind spectactular how much better I’ve been feeling.

So I want to start writing in this blog again because we are going on the trip and I do want to share all of the research and planning I’ve been doing.  I have to remind myself that this blog is more about a scrapbook for me than about anyone else reading it because I worry that I’m boring the pants of y’all.  I really want to look back and have a record of the time leading up to our European adventure because finally making it overseas is something that I’ve been meaning to do for years and I’m proud that I’ve stuck with this.

[Hi, Mom!]

Anyway, I’ll start writing my one post a day starting after the new year.  Until then I hope you are all safe and sound.  Here’s best wishes to you this holiday season whatever it is you’re eating!

Skivvies Not Required

6 Sep

I’ve taken some really long baths in my time.  I’ll finish a book there or just slowly turn into a prune.  I love it.  So the prospect of taking a 3.5 hour bath has me anxious for our trip to get here already.

In Baden-Baden, so named as it is the city of Baden in the district of Baden, we will be getting squeaky clean.  We will also, apparently, be getting naked.  At the Roman-Irish Baths in Freiderichsbad mud doesn’t stand a chance and neither does that good old American-bred modesty.  All clothes are left behind for 3.5 hours of different baths, showers, steam rooms and pools.  My thought is that if everyone else is going to be starkers then who cares?  I know the rest of the world doesn’t think this way but a wise man by the name of Ollie gave me a really good piece of advice once.  He said that no one thinks about you even a fraction as much as you think they do.  So if you believe that, and I do, then is naked guy #2 really going to spend the next half hour thinking about how white my behind is?  Doubtful.  So on with the fun!

There are a number of steps involved in the bathing, as I mentioned before.  They are as follows:

  1. Shower
  2. Warm air bath 129.2° F
  3. Hot air bath 154.4° F
  4. Shower
  5. Soap & brush massage (additional cost)
  6. Shower
  7. Thermal steam bath 113° F
  8. Themal steam bath 118.4° F
  9. Thermal full bath 96.8° F
  10. Themal whirlpool bath
  11. Thermal kinotherapeutic bath (did research on what kinotherapeutic is but it’s all in German)
  12. Shower
  13. Cold water bath (immersion bath) 64.4° F
  14. Drying off (warm towels)
  15. Application of moisturizing cream
  16. Resting area

The baths alternate from completely mixed to mostly separated from day to day.  On the day the sexes are seperated they can still meet up in the baths under the domed roof.  I think it would be fun to share this with the Mister.  Mark Twain is quoted as saying “In Freiderichsbad you lose track of time within 10 minutes and track of the world in 20 minutes”.

Towels, slippers and moisturizing cream all come with the price of admission (€29 with the soap massage and €21 without).  All the different rooms have assigned time limits as some German scientist spent a very long time figuring out the exact amount of time you would need to be wrapped up in a blanket.  Times are somewhat flexible from what I read and the staff is roughly multilingual.  I plan on just following the delighted sighs.

Medieval Travellers: The Rich and the Restless – Margaret Wade Labarge

4 Sep

I really want to tell you about this book but there are two things getting in my way: the writer’s name and the keywords people are using to find my blog. 

First, Labarge.  Every single time I picked up this book I kept thinking of the 80s pop song “Rhythm of the Night” which you can see lyp synced here.  The urge to dance until the morning light kept coming over me.  Sometimes that’s exactly what you need to do and other times you have to lay in bed and read about rich people in the 1400s, know what I mean?  Two chapters in and I just stuck a Post-It™ over the cover to make. it. stop.

Secondly, you keyword searchers.  I know that you’re trying to get out of writing a book report by reading my take.  You know how I know?  Because you type in things like “summary” and “synopsis” after the book title.  Listen, if desperation has brought you to the point of counting on me for helpful advice then keep on being desperate, kids.  Oh, and thanks for stopping by.  I seriously do appreciate it.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the book.  Basically during the medieval period leaders had to get out and show everybody that they were still the boss.  They didn’t do this by diamonds on their grills or firing people on national TV.  What they did was gather a bunch of their staff, friends and the dark ages version of Kato Kaelin and stomped all over their kingdom.  Doing this took a bunch of money and a bunch of time.  First off, the size and splendor of your particular wagon train had to be equal to how much of a rock star you were.  Kings are traveling with 40-60 people as a general rule.  Lords, priests, bishops, queens and other celebs didn’t have as large of a posse but they also didn’t gather their frequent flier miles alone.

So large groups of people traveling together, what does this sound like?  Oh, a tour.  And on a tour, you are with a bunch of your countrymen so this kind of prevents you from having to talk to outsiders which is exactly what happened.  They had one or two guys who were responsible for translating and guiding.  No guidebooks and no phrasebooks for these guys.  They didn’t even have to worry about changing money which was a huge concern back then as going from Paris to Rome could cause you to change through over a dozen different currencies.

Though you didn’t need a passport during these times (or a horridly unfortunate passport photo) you would need a letter of introduction or a go sign from the leader of the country that you would be passing through.  This was back in the day when a lot of the land was city states.  Meaning, if I left Minneapolis today and headed to Eau Claire, I’d have to get someone to sign off on me in St Paul, too. 

And I’d have to bring the guy sweet presents.  In the book Lab… let’s just call her Maggie, describes all these crazy presents that people were giving each other.  Poor servants are tasked with moving leopards, falcons, giraffes and all other wackadoo gifts across the Alps and the sea and plenty of other places.  The leaders of the known world at that time became super hard to shop for because everyone was trying to outdo each other.  You laugh but I better not see you in a stretch Hummer.

Anyway, this book was a fun read and I learned a lot, more than I’m sharing here.  The main point is that people always travelled.  I’m not the first white person to head over to Europe.  In fact, us crackers like to get over there quite a bit, according to Stuff White People Like.  I’m happy to continue the tradition.  While I’m at, remind me I need a falcon.

Rick Steves Labor Day Travel Sale

3 Sep

I think that the Mister are just about done gear shopping but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share the We Can Do It Rick Steves image.   So head on over and get your savings now. 

Trip Ahoy! is in no way affiliated with Rick Steves (but gosh darn it, we wish we were).

Slightly Apologetic in Salzburg

3 Sep

I’m from North Dakota, a land populated by Lutherans.  If you don’t know any Lutherans (they aren’t very vocal about it, typically) let me describe them.  They are kind people but they frequently beat themselves up for not being kinder.  If someone gives a Lutheran a compliment on their shirt such as “I like your shirt, that’s a great color on you” they are likely to get an earful.  “This?  Oh, this is old.  And I think it makes me look kind of washed out.  I shouldn’t even be wearing it because it’s too warm out today but it was clean.  It’s not as nice as the shirt you’re wearing.”  After saying something of this sort they will find a way to compliment you a couple of times or leave the room in abject horror.

Typical Salzburger fare - not sure what it is, not sure I care. Let's eat!

Lutherans are also embarassed of their food.  They don’t want it to be too flashy so they typically cover it in some kind of Cream of Something soup.  The Holy Trinity to a Lutheran is Campbell’s Cream of Something, Cool Whip and Miracle Whip.  Let not a potluck be had without them.  I am glad of this.  When Lutherans have a potluck they delight in dishing out whatever is there and knowing that it will taste like what they had at the last gathering.  You know, except for that new fangled ramen salad that just showed up.  What was she thinking?

I joke but I love these people, which is good, because I am one.  I like to tell people that a North Dakotan Girl Scout’s cookie sales pitch is something like “You wouldn’t want to buy cookies, would you?”  Kind of assuming failure and wishing that this moment in the spotlight was over already.  Heck, I bought more than half of the band candy I “sold” and gave it to friends to spare myself this shame.  (Random aside, I just realized my band teacher’s name was Mr. Salzburg.  My life is not unlike a poorly written episode of the new Twilight Zone that no one watched.)

Durrrrr…  maybe I should get to the point about the Austrians here?  Well, I was reading a site today about Salzburg written by real live Austrians.  The Off the Beaten Path section appealed to me and I started to feel at home when I read phrases such as: “If you are in Salzburg as a tourist, you probably won’t be interested in any of the city’s sports facilities” or “Alas, since it is still in Salzburg, it effectively became a nice, but rather tame mix of a theater and bar”. 

I’ll be darned if their lukewarm enthusiasm hasn’t won me over.  I even read that Austrians are really uncomfortable with compliments.  They either are somewhat suspicious or embarassed.  These are my people.  I can’t wait to try their hotdish!

Oh and please read the wonderfully titled post they wrote called “Crappy 10: Things Not to Do in Salzburg“.  My favorite quote “Don’t wear Canada flags on all parts of your body if you are American.  It is ridiculous and doesn’t work.  Don’t worry: we know that not everyone of you guys voted for George W., and since Austria doesn’t have any oil, we can still love you without fear, no matter if you are Texan or Ontarian.”