Tuesday, May 10, 2016

West Wing Weekly Love

It's finals week, which means I'm counting down the days until I've given all the government exams, assigned grades, and get to enjoy a few weeks off until Summer school starts.  I saw this yesterday, and would have shared it with my students if I thought they could appreciate the West Wing humor.

Who wouldn't love a good luck message from Josh and Sam?

If you know me, then you probably know I love The West Wing more than any other show that has ever existed.  And I do mean L-O-V-E!  I watched every single episode when it aired, and I have all the seasons on DVD (I'm no johnny come netflix lately).  I've watched each and every episode at least 15 times, and some way more than that.  

In today's times, everyone is clamoring for a reboot of their favorite shows, and I'm no exception.  I've loved that Sex and the City gave us a couple of movies, and I'm pleased as punch that Gilmore Girls has been filming new episodes.  I could easily get on board with an updated West Wing, I guess, but I'm perfectly satisfied with what's been trickling out over the past couple of months.

Did you see Allison Janney reprise her "role" as the press secretary at the actual White House briefing room?

And did you see Allison Janney and Bradley Whitford doing an walk and talk on James Cordon?

Finally, do you know about my newest obsession, The West Wing Weekly podcast?
You can find it on iTunes or listen on their website.  Here's the deal:  The podcast is run by Joshua Malina and Hrishikesh Hirwa.  They started with the pilot episode, and each week they are discussing a new episode (in order).  There are no spoilers, so if you have never watched, you could start now.  They release a new podcast each Wednesday (because TWW originally aired on Wednesdays).  Some weeks it is just JM and HH discussing the episode.  Some weeks they have writers, directors, costume designers, stars, etc., on to discuss the episode and their experience as well.  When appropriate, they tie the episode or events to current day political topics.  (They have only done a few episodes, so there is still plenty of time to catch up.)

As I said, it is my new favorite thing!  I'm watching the episode once a week (rather than the binging and marathoning I've been inclined to do for the past 10+ years), and then listening to the podcast, and it has brought about a new enjoyment of the show that I can't say enough about.  I'm a total geek for admitting that, but my LOVE for this show is deep, and I adore JM and HH for doing this.  It's a real public service, in my opinion.  

Monday, April 18, 2016

Travel Products I Love

Traveling is one of my favorite hobbies, but then shopping is too.  So when I can combine the two, and purchase travel products, it is a win-win.

My must haves for travel include:

A Good Tote Bag

I carry my tote as a purse for most of my vacationing.  I will usually take a small purse for going out at night, or a small cross-body if I think I might need that, but my tote is the workhorse of my vacation. It carries everything: all my "purse things", my big camera, a jacket, umbrella, purchases made, etc.  So yeah, I like a big tote.  My favorite is and will always be my Louis Neverfull.  As the name says, it is never full!

The new ones, have that extra little detachable bag which I love, but mine does not.  I've carried this baby to London, to Brussels, to Seattle, to Victoria, B.C., to Washington, D.C. a couple of times, to Maine, and to Boston.  It is a winner.

When I set out for my Christmas in Europe tour this past December, I didn't want to take my Louis.  Psychologically, I didn't mind carrying it to London, but I thought that carrying it to Eastern Europe was like painting a target on myself saying "rob me!".  So I purchased a Longchamp large nylon le pliage.  These come in so many colors that it's hard to choose, but I went with a good basic black.

It didn't hold quite as much as the Neverfull, but I was very pleased with it.  It has also become my bad weather bag.  So when I'm at home and it's raining and I don't want to risk damage to my expensive bags, it is my go-to bag.  It folds so small, I can't imagine not traveling with it always.  Even when I carry my Neverfull, it will be a great back-up in case the weather turns wet.

A Good Carry-On Bag

I've long carried a Vera Bradley for my carry-on.  From the large duffle to the Grand Traveler.  The Grand Traveler is a great bag that will hold lots, and always will fit in the overhead compartment.  I even managed to convince the airports in Europe that it worked as a carry-on (they have very different ideas about what constitutes a carry-on and suffice it to say that all of the ones you see on US flights are about twice to large).
The only trouble I've had with my Grand Traveler is that I fill it too full, and if I have to do much transporting of it, then it starts to really wear out my shoulder.

I recently ordered a wheeled carry-on.  Again, this wouldn't qualify if you are going to fly within Europe, but if you were just flying in and out of Europe it would work fine.  I did a big search because I wanted a hard-sided carryon that was cute and would match my hot pink hard sided large suitcase.  I found it at, of all places, Sears.
Now I thought it needed a little pizzaz when it came in, so I had a monogram done for it, so now it has a little more spunk.

I can't vouch for this one, but Vera Bradley has a new expandable tote that I've been intrigued by.
It seems like a decent size...
but then it expands even more!

A Luggage Identifier

There are so many to choose from out there, and to be honest, I've used ribbon and tulle as well, but I just love a great luggage tag that will help you easily identify your luggage at the baggage claim area.

Here are some super cute Kate Spade versions I found...

I have this Lilly Pulitzer version
It came in a set with a passport cover.  I think there are people who love passport covers and then there are those of us who don't.  I love the IDEA of a passport cover because I love the idea of accessorizing every inch of my life.  But practically speaking, I just get annoyed by them and think that they are in the way.  But if they are your thing, there are tons of cute ones.  From Lilly to this Kate Spade to Vera Bradley...
A Good Wallet

I prefer a good wallet to a passport holder.  I have always traveled with my trusty Kate Spade Lacey wallet, but always wished it was a little bigger.  Kate Spade makes a travel wallet, but they want a pretty penny for it.  I finally decided to take the plunge when they had a sale last month and I was able to get one for about 65% off.  I will try it for the first time this summer when I go to Quebec, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to love it.  

Of course I got pink...

The inside of mine looks like this...
The inside of the newer ones looks like this...

I think I actually like mine better than the newer one Kate is selling, so I'm happy I decided to buy one when I did.  I think it is more versatile to use whenever, and I discovered this weekend that it totally doubles as a clutch.  I carried it to my cousin's wedding with my ID, debit card, and it also held my iPhone 6 (though I think it would hold a 6 plus too) and a lipstick.  I love multifunctional things!

Money Stash

Prior to my trip in December I decided I needed a money stash.  I bought a money belt, and returned it.  I bought one of the around your neck kinds, and returned it.  I didn't feel like I needed to store everything I owned, but wanted just to stash a little cash and a credit card somewhere besides my wallet when I was traveling on trains.  I finally ran across the Braza Secret Stash on Amazon.  I ordered a couple and I loved them.
I didn't really use them how they show to use them, but instead I put them on my bra strap right where it meets the cup.  It was comfortable and I forgot it was even there.  They aren't huge, but are big enough for a credit card or two and some cash.

Those are some of my favorite items that I always take with me when I travel!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Why I can crack a crab leg like a pro, and other things I learned from my Papa....

A friend complained about my lack of blogging the other day.  She said I was falling down on my duty of giving her something to do at work besides actually working.  I had plans to blog again this week, but life got in the way of those plans, for this week at least.

Late on Easter Sunday, my Papa passed away at the age of 85.  We had his burial on Tuesday morning and I've been playing catch up since....catching up on work, catching up on sleep, catching up on not feeling completely drained.

Since Tuesday I've been thinking about the things that family pass on to you.  The things that my Papa passed on to me. Not just the color of his eyes, or the curl in his hair, or bits of DNA, but other things that you don't always think about.  Things you like, things you do...

Here's the list of some things I've come up with:

(1) My love for New Orleans. Papa gave me a set of Mardi Gras beads, and a complete set of doubloons way back when I was in elementary school.  He always talked about racing horses there and eating all that great seafood as well.  I couldn't wait to visit such a place, and when I finally did, it was everything I imagined it to be when I heard him talk about it.  I still have those beads and doubloons by the way.

(2) I can crack crab legs like nobody's business.  That's because he taught me how.  Last year at my friends annual crawfish boil, they threw in some crab legs.  Everyone was very impressed with my skills.

(3) I prefer malts to milk shakes.  He always made me a malt because he was making himself a malt. I don't order one often, but when I do, people will say "you sure you want a malt and not a shake?"  Yes, I'm sure.

(4) I almost never miss watching any of the big horse races. I enjoy watching the Preakness, Belmont, and Kentucky Derby because it was must see viewing at my Papa's house.

(5) The State Fair of Texas means Food, Cars, & Animals. Those are the 3 things I always want to do at the fair because that's what we always did when I went with my Papa.   To me, that's just what you go to the fair to do.  Friends will say "we don't need to go look at the cars do we?", and I always insist.  He loved cars, and boy do I wish I had that 1955 red Corvette convertible he had back in the day!  

Here are a series of photos that I found in an album.  I think this was Christmas of 1980.  I was at my grandparent's for Christmas and Santa Clause came to deliver presents that Christmas Eve.  Darn the luck... wouldn't you know that my Papa missed Santa Clause that night ;-)  He didn't come in until Santa had already left.  I'm certain that I'm the only kid that Papa ever donned a Santa suit for! 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Saying Goodbye to Downton Abbey {no spoilers}

It's no secret that I love Downton Abbey, and my visit to Highclere Castle is one of my favorite days ever.  Each year, I watch the first few episodes as we get them aired to us on PBS, but as soon as the DVD comes out, I buy it and binge watch the remainder as soon as possible.

This year, I thought I would try to savor the last season, and watch as they aired.  Well, I managed to hold off for one week, and then on Monday, I purchased the DVD.  
I watched episodes 6-8 on Monday afternoon/evening, and then watched the final Christmas episode tonight.  I wanted to share some of my thoughts about the final episodes {but with NO SPOILERS}.
First, I think that they showed us all that is Downton in all of it's glory.  By that I mean, each character seemed to take us on along a path that is quintessentially "them"...We saw them each at a low, but also at a high.  From Daisy to Thomas, to Lady Crawley to the Dowager Countess, to Lady Mary to Lady Edith...each character took us on a journey over those last 4 episodes.
In addition to the characters, I also thought that the house and property itself is especially highlighted as we said goodbye in those 4 episodes.  They showed us vantage points they had never shown us before.  You get to see what it is like to drive up to the house.  Where you get a glimpse as you round a corner and look through the trees.  You get to see what the house looks like as you walk around the property.  You get to see what the vantage point is from the wildflower fields in the back of the house.

It's a magical place, and they bring that to the viewer in a way I've not noticed before.  I also thought that they did a similar job of showcasing the inside.  There are sweeping views of the staircase, there are up close shots of details in the great hall, they let the camera linger on the library, etc.

Episode 6, as you probably saw in the previews at the end of Sunday night's episode, involves the family opening Downton up for tours for a day.  It is a super funny episode.  You will love it.  This also gave them a great opportunity to really show the viewer the house in greater detail than before.

So again, without any spoilers, I will say that I found the ending to be quite satisfying, and I can't wait for everyone to watch so that I can discuss it with someone other than Lola dog!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Europe at Christmas {Budapest ~ Day Two}

Sunday, December 20th was my second day in Budapest, and the last day of my vacation.  I sat down on Saturday night to plot and plan my Sunday so I could maximize time on my last day.  I woke up on Sunday morning, and once again, Mother Nature had put a big old kink in my plans... it was the foggiest foggy day you could imagine.  I was pretty ticked off because weather has killed some of my vacation plans this year (cancelled boat trip around Acadia, Red Sox game...).

I regrouped and decided to go ride the tour bus around the second half.  I had a schedule and hurried down, skipping breakfast, so I could catch the correct bus.  Turns out the bus schedules are not really schedules at all I guess, so I ended up doing the full round on the bus.  I got to see lots, and almost froze to death sitting up on the upper (open) level of the bus for over 2 hours.

Gellert Hill and Statue of St. Gellert
Budapest Castle Hill Funicular
Buda Castle
Fisherman's Bastion

Matthias Church

A lot of the squares we drove by had Christmas Tree vendors

Hungarian Parliament from the Buda side of the Danube

This is Budapest-Nyugati Railway Terminal.  It just was a pretty building.
St. Stephen's Basilica (again)
Hungarian State Opera House
I liked the tree out front...

Hósök tere (Hero's Square)

This is the Keleti train station where I arrived the day before
I didn't take any pics the day I arrived, but shot a couple from the bus as we drove by
Somewhere around this point, I decided I was too cold to take pictures.  Which isn't really helpful now, but I saw some additional sights before hopping off at the Chain Bridge stop and walking back to the hotel.

I decided to go to have Sunday brunch at the hotel, but apparently you needed reservations, so I went to the hotel bar area and ordered lunch instead.  I just couldn't go back outside until I warmed up!

I had a yummy burger...
and a pretty great view of the hotel and the Christmas market.  Gresham Palace is actually on the "things to see in Budapest" lists you will find because of the Art Nouveau Architecture.
After lunch, I went back up to my room to get sufficiently attired to go back out in the cold.  It was the coldest day of the trip by far.
I headed out on foot toward Parliament

They had the guards posted around a flag pole
They started doing a little march around. 

From Parliament, I walked to Freedom Square or Liberty Square.  They have a Ronald Reagan statue...
and Soviet monument.  It is one of the only Soviet monuments that remain in Budapest.  The rest have been transferred outside of the city to Momento Park (which sadly, I didn't have time to go to).

I walked back toward the hotel since it was starting to get dark by that point (3:30 sunset is a bummer).  You can see that the fog really just hung around all day long.

I walked from the hotel toward Vörösmarty Square and the Christmas market there.

This is at another square before Vörösmarty.  This is called the Charity Tree.  It's made of wood logs, and you can pay to go inside the tree.  Once it is dismantled, they give the firewood to the needy.

This is Fashion Street in Budapest, and the Christmas lights there were shoes, purses, and other accessories.

Market stalls lined the whole center of fashion street too as it leads to Vörösmarty Square.
Vörösmarty market was quite pretty, but apparently I found it difficult to get great pics.  There was this big tree...

and decorative lights hung from all of the trees in the square

Large Advent Wreath

From Vörösmarty I walked back toward St. Stephens Basilica

Lots of interesting food and drink.  I'll be honest, at some point on the first day, I saw a sign that was translated to read "Horse Meat Sausage", and I was out.  I was scared I would be fed something I didn't want to eat, plus cold, so I decided to opt for room service for dinner.  I did get a hot drink to enjoy as I walked around.

There is a small ice skating rink around the tree...
Once I got back to the hotel, I was arranging my transport to the airport and realized that my flight had been bumped up an hour since I had booked my ticket.  So instead of an 8:20 a.m. flight on the 21st, I had a 7:15 flight.  Hello 5:00 checkout time!  UGH!  So I ordered room service and packed my bags....
Pretty fancy room service though.  They wheeled a whole table in for me, and it even had a decoration on it.
I had purchased some strudel at the market that I brought back for desert.
The Four Seasons does a nightly turndown service.  In addition to removing the throw pillows, turning down the bed, etc., they fill your ice bucket with ice and leave bottles of water on the bedside tables.  On the last night, they left these cookies too.
Here are some of my purchases from Budapest.  I got this felt heart ornament for myself and got my mom a similar star.
I also got this painted egg ornament
These are secret boxes that they make and sell in Hungary.  You have to know the secret to opening it, or you'd never get it open.  
I really wanted to buy a Herend teapot, but wasn't really sure I should be spending $400 on a teapot.  And I sure didn't want to be responsible for carrying that kind of item home.  When I got to the store on Sunday, they were already closed, so I took that as a sign.  

I really wanted to go to the Great Market Hall to shop, but had a big planning fail when I didn't notice until Saturday night that they were closed on Sunday.

Budapest was a great place to visit.  I really loved it.  I think the Four Seasons and my room balcony made it more special and was a great way to wrap up the trip.  

The next morning I left the hotel at 5:00 and made my way to the airport.  I had to fly from Budapest to London, where I had a super long layover (over 5 hours).  Here is the pic I took as we flew over Central London.  You can see the Shard sticking up there and then to the right and slightly down, Tower Bridge crossing the Thames.

I had to go through more security than you can imagine at Heathrow, which seemed odd because I flew into the exact same terminal that I was flying out of, but once I had done that, I had plenty of time to check out all the airport had to offer.  All things considered, Heathrow isn't a bad place to be stuck for a long time.  Lots of shopping and even carolers....
The weather was an issue for the flight home, so we had to go up through Scotland, across Iceland, Greenland, way up into Canada, down Hudson Bay, Wisconsin, South Dakota, etc...  There was a lot of frozen "Titanic looking" water along the way...

Thanks for following along as I recapped my trip!  It was a lot of fun and I saw some amazing places.


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