Monday, February 12, 2018

The Last Bit of Scotland

After two days on the Isle of Skye it was time to head back to Edinburgh.  Before driving off the island, our tour guide told me that there was a head teacher position in one of the little villages on the island.  It was actually a teacher/principal position that paid about $55,000, and there was only ONE student.  I wanted him to leave me there!
Anyhow, it was a long trip back, but we did stop here and there to stretch our legs and even look for a monster...
Lobster creels
The town of Dornie 
The "old" bridge of Invermoriston
We did send a couple of hours in Fort Augustus which sits along the shore of Loch Ness.  
We took the obligatory cruise to search for "Nessie"
 Well, would you look at that!  We spotted her!
Fort Augustus is a small (pop. +/- 600) village with an interesting series of locks right through the middle of town.  The locks are part of the Caledonian Canal which was designed in the 1800s as a way to connect the east coast of Scotland to the west coast.  

Our last stop before returning to Edinburgh was a darling little town called Pitlochry.  We had time to stretch our legs with a quick wander around town, and I had the best latte and millionaire bar  (shortbread, caramel, and chocolate) of the entire trip here.  
Once we arrived back in Edinburgh, we packed it in for the night as we had to say goodbye to Scotland the next morning.  

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Movie Reviews

The Oscar Nominations were release last week and I had been waiting to see one more movie that was in contention before posting this past year's movie reviews.  It seems weird that the Academy Awards aren't until March this year.  That seems late to me.  But at least that gave me some time for this post.  Anyhow, here we go...
Hidden Figures - What an outstanding film!  Based on the true story about the African America women who worked for NASA.  They were highly contributive to the space work and the first moon landing.  I found it fascinating, and sad that, even though I'd consider myself well educated for the most part, it was the first time I was hearing about it.
Logan - Not really a fan of super hero/comic book films, the X-Men are kind of my guilty pleasure.  I've seen them all, and of course Hugh Jackman's Wolverine/Logan is my favorite character.  Wolverine is charged with helping the new generation of mutants find a safe place.  While he was successful in that regard, I'm not quite sure Wolverine will be starring in anymore X-Men films.  His fate looked like it was sealed by the end of the movie.
The Big Sick - Based on the true story of how comedian Kumail Nanjiani met his life.  As a Pakistani-American, Kumail's family had their sights on his arranged marriage, but when he met and fell for a white girl at one of his comedy gigs those plans were put on hold.  Shortly after meeting, the girl gets very sick and falls into a coma in the hospital.  The film is mostly about how he and the girl's parents form a bond while she is sick.  A cute, quirky movie.  Despite the illness, it is light and funny.
Atomic Blonde - If there was ever a film about my alter ego as a super spy, this would be it.  MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is tasked to travel to 1989 Berlin to track down a double agent.  While there, her plans have to change after the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.  The action was thrilling, the 80s music was fun, and the clothes were fantastic.  One of my favorites of the year!
The Hitman's Bodyguard - Samuel L Jackson and Ryan Reynolds star in this action/comedy about a security professional (Reynolds) who has been tasked to get a former hitman (Jackson) to The Hague in order to testify against an Eastern European dictator.  Another action packed fun film.  Both actors are quite funny with a dry sense of humor - lots of laughter.
Logan Lucky - Billed as a Hillbilly Heist film, Logan Lucky tells the story of some down and out characters from the Carolinas who come up with a get rich heist by robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway during a NASCAR race.  This was directed by Steven Soderbergh who also did the Ocean 11 movies.  Funnily enough, the "breaking news" about the heist in the film called it a "Southern Fried Oceans 11".  It was quirky and fun.  This is one of those films that would be good to watch again to see all the slight of hands that happened, plus the cast is packed with all starts.
Home Again - Hmmmm, I like Reese Witherspoon, but this film with her as a newly single mom in Hollywood who takes in three young film makers/friends who become part of the family was just meh.  It's a cute/nice film, but it left me wanting more even for a chick flick.  Until I looked at my list I had actually forgotten I had seen it.  However, Candice Bergen plays Witherspoon's mom, and she is always great.
American Assassin - The film was based on the Vince Flynn book series about Mitch Rapp who is a skilled counter-terrorism operative.  I read/listen to this series when I walk the dog and LOVE them.  They are super exciting and very interesting, so I anticipated this film (the first in the series) greatly.  It was a disappointment to say the least.  I'm not sure if I would have felt that way if my expectations weren't so high, but they were so I was.  It's hard to reduce 500 or so pages down to 2 hours of film and I feel this one was done poorly.  Plus, the actors who were cast didn't do the book characters justice.  Another meh.
Suburbicon - I had not realized this was a Coen Brothers film (No Country For Old Men, The Big Labowski, Fargo) until after it was over and the credits ran.  No wonder it was crazy!  Matt Damon and Juliann Moore star as a 60's suburban family who are not at all what they seem.  Lots of surprises and antics.  I don't really know if I liked it or not because I'm still recovering from it.
Lady Bird - A cute film about a teenager (self-proclaimed Lady Bird) during her senior year of high school.  She tries to navigate school, boys, applying to college while constantly arguing with her mom.  It has gotten fantastic reviews and recognized with nominations and awards.  While I found it a sweet film, I don't know if it is award worthy.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - A grieving mother grows frustrated with the lack of progress police are making on solving her daughter's murder.  She decides to call them out by renting 3 billboards along a local road.  The billboards create mayhem in the town.  Quirky and FANTASTIC.  Nominations and awards are well deserved.  Both Francis McDermott and Sam Rockwell deserve awards as well.
The Darkest Hour - a long film about Winston Churchill's take over as PM during World War II.  It takes place while England has to decide whether to keep fighting agains the Nazi forces or to enter into a peace treaty with the Germans.  It is not an action packed/fast paced film at all.  It is a thinking film.  Gary Oldman's portrayal/transformation is wonderful and any awards well deserved.
Father Figures - Ed Helms and Owen Wilson are twin brothers who find out their father isn't who they thought he was.  So they go on a road trip adventure to find their biological father.  It was a good comedy with a couple of twists and turns.  Not an award winner, but fun nonetheless.
Molly's Game - Based on the true story of Olympic skier turned high roller poker madam, Molly Bloom.  The story is told in flashbacks after she is arrested by the FBI.  It is based on Bloom's book.  It was a fun "tell all" type film.
All the Money in the World - Even though the Getty family name is quite well known in Los Angeles due to their philanthropic contribution to the arts, I really didn't have much knowledge of the family beyond that.  While this movie was for entertainment purposes, it also gave me some insight (and reasons to look) into how wacky the family actually was.  This film tells the story about JP Getty III's kidnapping in Italy and how the Getty family (grandfather, father, and mother) responded to it.  Michelle Williams, who played Gail (Harris) Getty, his mother, was relentless and instrumental in his return.  According to the movie, after Getty's death he left his art in a trust to Gail Harris, which she then was influential in setting up the museum(s) here in LA.  I haven't read anything to confirm or dispute that claim.  From what I have found is that while JP Getty was incredibly stingy with his wealth, his family was much more philanthropic with it.  The role of the patriarch is the infamous role that Christopher Plummer stepped into after the sexual harassment allegations against Kevin Spacey.
The Greatest Showman - While I am a Hugh Jackman fan, the previews of this film were lost on me as it didn't look like my cup of tea.  After  SEVERAL friends saw the film multiple times I was told to I "just had to go see it".  So I did and, while I don't need to see it 5 more times, I did really enjoy it.  It tells the story of the creation of the Barnum (and Bailey) Circus.  It was told in musical form and the music and dancing were really wonderful.  I don't usually care for musicals in the movies, but this one was catchy and well done.  I'd highly recommend it.
The Post - The trailer for this movie had been playing for months before it actually came out nationwide.  It opened in late December (to be considered for awards season) in just one or two theaters in LA, but didn't come out everywhere until the middle of January.  I had been waiting to post this year end review until then because I knew I wanted to see it AND I knew it would be nominated for awards.  Anyhow, I don't know if it was the hype, but it wasn't as good as I was expecting it.  I feel like it was billed as a newspaper's investigation into a scandal involving the Vietnam War and the fight it had to publish it.  However, it turned out to be more about the newspaper (Washington Post) fighting to publish the information that another paper had been forbidden to publish by a court of law.  The owner of the Post at the time was Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) who had inherited it after her husband died.  She was the first female newspaper publisher and, of course, that made the hurdles she had to jump much larger than her male counterparts at the time.  The film was mostly about how she and her editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) got the story published despite the challenges and threats. I don't know if it were my high expectations but I was slightly disappointed.  I was expecting it to be another "Spotlight", but it wasn't.  Because of that I found that it fell on the duller side.
Awards season has just about come to an end with the Oscars still remaining.  I would predict "Three Billboards..." to do well as so far it's been a pretty steady winner.  The others are kind of a toss up.  What do you think?

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Netflix and Chill

Television show watching has changed quite a bit with the "invention" of DVRs and OnDemand and even more so with online "television" like Netflix and Amazon Prime.  Back in the day, we waited all week (or even weeks) to find out who shot J.R. or if Ross and Rachel would get together/break up/get together again or who was voted off Survivor.   At work the next day, there was the obligatory water-cooler talk about last night's show.  It was kind of fun to gasp, laugh, or shake your head over what went down the night before.
Nowadays, there are so many ways to watch television and most of us don't actually watch it on the day/time that it first airs.  Watching TV during my work week is a challenge as I always have work I have to do after school.  I might have the TV on while I'm working, but it's more for noise. Intellectual shows that need attention are saved on the DVR until at least the weekend, but usually not watched until a school break.  By break, there are multiple shows saved so it could turn into binge watching.  Regardless, I no longer contribute to the water-cooler talk.  Water-cooler talk seems to be about other things these days as most aren't watching shows they day they air.
Even more sporadically watched seems to be the shows created by and aired on the online streaming media companies like Netflix and Amazon Prime.  They create their own shows and release an entire season at a time.  Someone coming in on a show late can catch up with an episode a day or binge watch several seasons over a weekend.  But being able to talk about these shows with others is kind of over.  Between the binge watching and the NUMBER of shows they offer, it is rare that anyone you know is watching the same thing you are.
I do have both Netflix (streaming) and Amazon Prime, which is kind of silly, as I have plenty of things to watch on the DVR and don't even have time for that.  The streaming shows aren't shows you can have in the background and just listen to.  You've got to pay attention, and I have so little time to do that.  But I've found about 20 minutes a day in the morning when I'm getting ready for work that I can set the iPad on the bathroom sink and watch something on one of these sites.  I started this in late summer because a friend of mine did the graphic work on a new Netflix series called "Mindhunter".  I wanted to watch it so carved out this little bit of time, and got through the season in about a month.  It was a FANTASTIC show, but no one else I know watched it while I was.  Since then, several people have recommended "The Crown" to me.  I was a bit hesitant to start it since it's already in Season 2, but I did start and now I'm OBSESSED with it.  There have been so many, "Oh my gosh!" moments!  Yet again, those who recommended have already watched it, so my discussion over it has been limited.
Watching TV has gotten so easy and the options are endless anymore, but the social aspect has all but disappeared.  While I like being able to watch TV when I have the time, I do miss the discussion about it the next day.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Tense Saturday

I don't believe there's been a tenser 30+ minutes.  

Even after it was announced as a false alarm, adrenaline still pumped, hearts still raced.  It was a surreal day.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Skye Shenanigans

My friend Marcie and I just booked travel to Iceland during one week of our spring break.  It has been on my bucket list for some time so I am really looking forward to it.  I'd better hurry up with Scotland already!
So when I last left you, we were at Neist Point.  The wind was just too much for me to make it down to the lighthouse, so I was left with about an hour to get myself into trouble.  
First off, our guide told me that there were some good views of the lighthouse if I could make my way around the cliffs and get myself far enough around to see them.  I started my trek off to the right and got about 50 feet when I ran into a very muddy spot where the rain accumulated making a little stream down the hill.  I tried my hardest to find my way around it, but pretty much wherever I went I found deep muddy patches.  With all my work trying to keep out of the mud, I walked myself right into one that was so deep it covered my whole foot, up to my ankle.  It wasn't just mud either it was BLACK mucky mud. I tried to wipe the mud off my shoe by dragging it around in the grass but it didn't help.  One shoe was blue and the other was black.   It took me weeks (after getting home) to get them clean and even still one is slightly grayer than the other.   
 With not much else to do other than deal with it, I decided to leave the lighthouse behind and head off in the other direction, back on the road we had come in on.  It was a nice stable road.  We had passed quite a few sheep while driving in and I could see them on the road out.  After a ways, I looked up to the rocks above me and there was a very large sheep looking down at me.  
 I took its picture and it starting coming down the hill.
 It got closer and then started to "baaa"at me,
 And then all of a sudden, it jogged down the hill right at me.  At first I chuckled, and then  I realized it was coming after me.  The sheep chased me down the road for a bit.  Finally, it stopped, turned around and headed off in the other direction.  I've never been chased by a sheep before!
I continued on my walk for a ways.
It started to get very dark and cloudy again.
 But I managed to see some sheep that didn't want to attack me.
 This baby was just darling.
I turned around to walk back to the van and the rest of tour.  And that's when the rain started.  At first it was just big drops and within minutes it was coming down in sheets, and the wind whipped.  I was maybe 15 minutes from the group.  By the time I made it back, everyone was waiting warm and dry on the van and I was sopping wet...with a black foot.  Mike hadn't even realized I hadn't made the trek down the lighthouse.  "What happened to you?" he asked when I sat down next to  him in the van.  
We drove for a bit and stopped in Dunvegan for lunch.  We walked in to this little cafe, me looking like the creature from the black lagoon and freezing, and ordered warm soup.  While we waited I tried to ring myself out in the bathroom.  
 We found a cute bakery across the street that had the most amazing desserts.
 Mike got a chocolate cupcake
 and I got one of these truffle balls that was the size of my fist.  That made me feel better!
By the time we left, I was mostly dry and enjoyed the remainder of the day.  We continued our drive around the Island stopping for some quick photo ops every so often.
 Skye Museum of Island Life in Kilmuir - some restored, some built new to show a common township of thatched cottages.
 We also made stops at Staffin and Trotternish for some pretty views AND some sun!
 Kilt Rock in Trotternish.
 Phew, that was a whirlwind first day on Skye!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Schnell! Schnell!

Vince's post about his German language progress awhile back had me reminiscing about my foray into foreign language learning.  Like most public school kids in the US, my quest to learn a new language didn't start until my freshmen year of high school.  At that time I was given the option of taking Spanish or French, and I choose Spanish as I thought that would serve me better in Southern California.  The first semester was vocabulary building/memorizing and I did quite well, earning an A in the class.  The second trimester did not go as well, the teacher I had went out on maternity leave AND verb conjugation started both didn't bode well for my language learning performance and I ended the year with a D...and the requirement to take it over again in order for the language class to count.  I had to wait until semester 2 of my sophomore year to retake the class.  Again, I did well with the vocabulary but the verb conjugation still threw me for a loop.  I think I got by on the teachers sympathy and earned a C by the skin of my teeth.  I spent my junior year in Spanish 2 never really getting over the verb conjugation hurdle and ended the course with a C and the (wise?) decision not to continue to Spanish 3 in my senior year.
Once in college, the foreign language requirement reared its ugly head again.  Shying away from Spanish due to my previous difficulty, I registered for German 1.  Again, the first semester I had a fabulous professor, a great group of classmates, and was able to build up a large repertoire of German vocabulary.  When semester 2 came along, there was again a new professor.  The one I had was substituting for the tenured professor who had been on a leave.   And once again, we had to conjugate verbs.  That's where things fell apart.  German 1 was as far as I got in college and I left it at that, filling the requirement.
During the first semester, we learned the German word for "hurry up" - Schnell!  We spent most of that semester shouting "Schnell!  Schnell!" at each other because we found it so amusing.  That habit flowed into my life outside of the classroom and after some time, my friends found it annoying and thought for sure I was making up that silly word.  Then over winter break, we went to see the movie Shining Through, which takes place during Nazi Germany.  At one point, while running through the streets of Berlin, Melanie Griffith shouts, "Schnell!  Schnell!" to Michael Douglas.  We all looked at each other with wide eyes and giggled right there in the theater.  I showed them!
Anyhow, I started up a Spanish class again at the start of the year as it is something I'd really like to learn.  I'm just not sure languages are my "thing", but we shall see.  It's hard to speak to my students' parents in memorized vocabulary words and not-conjugated verbs.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Lost and Found

    When traveling abroad, I try very hard not to shop too much.  Between baggage fees when flying and lugging bags around from place to place, I hate to add weight to the bags by shopping too much.  What I do like to find is something the place is known for, and if that is too big (or expensive) I find a little something that will simply be a good reminder of my trip.  When I traveled to Portugal I really wanted to come home with tile and pottery, but talk about weighing things down.  Instead I bought a handbag made of cork AND a Portuguese rooster.  The bag made it home safely, but the rooster somehow didn't.  I had packed it inside the zipper pouch of this neck pillow I had brought on the plane.  I brought the pillow for the flight to/from, but ended up never using it because the seats I sat in had adjustable headrests and were more comfortable without the pillow.  I found a some space inside the pillow to keep the little statue safe before tossing it in my suitcase. But upon returning home, unpacking, and returning to work it occurred to me about a month later that I didn't remember unpacking the pillow or the little rooster.  I figured the pillow never actually got packed, and must have been left in the room.  That was 2013.
   Flash forward to 2017 in Kona, Hawaii.  A couple of days into visiting my mom, I had taken her car for some last minute gift shopping after dropping her off at her physical therapy appointment (she had knee replacement surgery on her other knee this November and is on the mend).  I got done a bit early, so went back to the house to put things away.  As I was driving into the garage I noticed a yellow neck pillow sitting on the workbench area in the garage.  When my mom drives the car, whoever is in the passenger seat has to get out of the car before she drives in because she has to get too close to the workbench which is why I hadn't noticed it before.  It took me a moment, but then I did a double take.  "That looks just like my pillow," I said out loud as I got out of the car.
   Sure enough, my "lost in Portugal" pillow was sitting on a workbench in Hawaii.  And still inside the zipper pouch was the Portuguese rooster wrapped in tissue.  When I asked my mom about it she said that I had left it at her house the last time I had been there.  She had bought it for me for Christmas just before going to Portugal and had assumed I didn't like/want it after leaving it there. I'm not quite sure how it made it's way from Portugal to Hawaii without me knowing about it...maybe it fell out of a pocket I hadn't checked.  Who knows!  But now my rooster of luck and happiness is sitting on a bookshelf in California.