Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

I'll post all the (mind-numbing) details of today's travels sometime tomorrow.  For now, I'll just say that I'm somewhat inebri-  intoxi- pissed, and I smell a little of vodka.  (It's not what you think; Sasha couldn't pour very well near the bottom of the bottle.)

Am pleased to report that neither underground car I travelled home in tonight had vomit in it; am even more pleased to report that I was not a part of the problem.  

I'm staying awake just long enough to drink this here cup of tea -- because it is criminal that a place would serve unlimited wine and champagne on New Year's Eve, but be incapable of supplying a tea (or coffee) chaser.  Seriously, people, I was getting on a train with all those lights and fast-moving signs and stuff, you'd think a little stomach-settler would be a good idea.

I digress.  My point:  It's about an hour and half into 2014 from where I sit and I want to wish everyone who reads me a happy new year full of only good things.

Monday, December 30, 2013

I regret the hat

When packing, I couldn't find my hat.  I have plenty of hats, but only one actual rain hat.  It's a good outdoorsy hat, with a nice wide brim that manages to keep the rain off me without me needing to carry an umbrella.  I couldn't find the damn thing.  This meant I was left with the hood on my jacket and a small little easy-to-pack umbrella I'd bought at Sharper Image.

The Sharper Image umbrella is great if you want a tiny little umbrella that fits in your purse, so's you can whip it out in the unlikely event of a little drizzle.  It is totally inadequate for an actual London rain, especially when accompanied by wind.  I walked down the street aiming it into the wind ahead of me, which was just fine except when I wanted to see what I was walking into.  Later in the day, the wind was coming from a less convenient angle, and easily flipped the damn thing inside-out.  I managed to fold it back into shape, but things were actual better when I ignored it and just stuck with the hood.

Oh, I do miss my hat.

Today's activity was pretty much comprised of walking in the rain, seeing two shows, and being very happy to walk in the not-rain.  Somewhere in there, I had a good lunch in the little bar at the first theatre, and a really crappy dinner at an Italian restaurant across the street from the second.  (Seriously, all I was looking for was some decent food and free wi-fi.  There was no damn wi-fi, and the food and I have, er, continued our disagreement for the past several hours.)

The first play in question was the new musical of American Psycho.  (I'll just let you chew on that for a second.  I certainly did.)  Starring Matt (don't call me Eleven) Smith.  A musical of American Psycho seemed like such a bizarre idea, I was mildly curious to begin with.  Having Matt Smith play Patrick Bateman moved the idea from the "bizarre" column to the "so inconceivable I have to check it out" column.  To be honest, I had a hard time not being a theatre critic on this show.  I mean, I REALLY wanted to point out some mistakes in costumes, a particularly annoying choice of prop, a place where some of the lyrics really blew ... that sort of thing.  I also found myself evaluating Matt Smith's performance more than just experiencing it.  (Evaluation:  Not the world's best (or even the play's best) singing voice, but it worked for the part.  Generally believable as Bateman, although the American accent failed from time to time when talking about American businesses (when he mentioned "Dean & DeLuca," all of a sudden he was from Brooklyn).)  Honestly, though, I have to admit having never read the book or seen the movie -- I just had a general passing pop culture knowledge of the piece.  And while there was a lot about the show I would have tinkered with, the final scenes and number just knocked me the hell out, and the person I most wanted to tip my (non-existent) hat to was Bret Easton Ellis.  Because damn.  (And props to Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who wrote the book for the musical, and did it so successfully, I am willing to overlook the fact that he was involved in writing Spider-Man:  Turn off the Dark.)

The second play was a piece called Mojo, a play about ... hmm, what was it about exactly?  Sort of about the gangs that controlled and manipulated the early days of the British rock 'n' roll scene.  Basically, a club finds itself with a real star on its hands, and some, er, ethically-challenged businesspeople would rather be in charge of the fellow's career.  (And full marks, really, full marks to the actor who plays the singer.  He has something like three lines in the whole play, but may end up working harder that everyone else.  (Not to give it away, but the program credits both a Hanging Consultant and an Osteopath.)

There's six guys in this thing, and they've all got some level of fame from film or TV -- ranging from a dude on Downton Abbey to the dude what starred in Merlin, to that Rupert Grint fellow.  And they were all really good.  The play is written/directed to give each of the actors a moment to really shine, and they all take solid advantage.  I have to admit, though, that Ben Whishaw stole this thing.  I generally tend to think of him as a very precise, delicate actor, and he so disappeared into the role of a sadistic bully, I didn't recognize him.  (I seriously did not recognize him.  I was sitting in the fourth row, and just before intermission, I thought, "Wait a minute, isn't Ben Whishaw in this thing?"  Then I started examining faces and realized, "Holy crap! He's playing that asshole!" -- who was neither delicate nor precise.  Dude got range, he does.)

People behind me during Mojo were discussing their plans for New Year's Eve.  One of them commented that people party so hearty out here, she'll be going home tomorrow night "on an underground train full of vomit."  I made a point of downloading two different hail-me-a-damn-taxi apps to my phone for the occasion.  I expect taxis to be pretty busy shortly after midnight tomorrow, and I like the idea of being able to request one with my cell phone (even if I may have to wait a while).  Because, I mean, Wait for Taxi vs. Underground Train Full of Vomit is a pretty easy call.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Late-Night Addenda

Three in the morning and I am awake.  This time, it is most certainly related to it being cold in the bedroom, and I am willing to concede a certain amount of jet-lag because my mind is annoyingly racing.  Part of this is because I forced myself to go to bed around 11:30, which is difficult for me to do even in LA, as I generally stay up until 2:00ish (when I'm pretty much too tired to think, come to think of it).  But, anyway, I forced myself to bed at 11:30 and, time and climate being what they are, I'm quite awake now, so I figured I'd make the best of it and write some stuff down -- and apologies now if it makes no damn sense because 3:30 blogging is probably about as stupid as drunk tweeting.

ANYWAY, I need to add a bit to the story about the Privy Council chamber at Hampton Court, because (while asleep) I managed to put together a few random puzzle pieces of the day and conclude that we probably weren't supposed to be in the Privy Council chamber at all.  The audio guide had said to go in through the door to the chamber, "listen to a debate" in there, and then leave.  The problem with this was a guard was standing outside the closed door.  I was about to ask the guard what was up, when he approached me and asked the time.  I told him the time and, about a minute later, he made an announcement to the room that the King was going to appear to head off into the Great Hall to do something important and we should all go if we wanted to hear.  (Sorry for the lack of detail.  At the time he was making the speech, my mental translating circuits instantly changed it to:  "The reenactor playing the King is going to go into the Great Hall and do something to entertain all the kids who were being prepared for his visit back when I was in the Great Hall.  Hopefully, this will siphon off a bunch of the tourists from the line to get into the Royal Pew, and make the reproduction-crown-viewing easier for me.")  The point:  Guard announced the King; a curtain right next to the door he was guarding opened and the King appeared from the room.  Guard and King went off to the Great Hall to be re-enacty.  Curtain to Privy Council chamber (which, I'm guessing, had been used as the reenactor's Green Room) was now invitingly open, and nobody was there to tell me to stay out.  So I peeked in.  I noted the displays which were supposed to be an exhibit of some sort, but they were clearly off (I now realize they were where the debate was going to come from) and overheard another tourist say the Privy Council chamber was closed today.  (It ain't that closed, lady, we're standing in it.)  So, in retrospect, we probably weren't even supposed to be in there, but I kind of led the charge and opened the place up.  Heh.

Not only did my sleep-deprived-yet-racing brain put together the events of the day (as it is supposed to), it also fixed my dream.  Seriously.  I woke up having had a dream, and (as per standard operating procedure) I was forgetting it, so couldn't tell you about it if I tried.  But I remembered being disappointed in how someone acted in it, so I thought myself an epilogue to explain away the bad behavior and make everything OK.  Yes, I know, it was a dream; none of it was real -- but, for some reason, it seemed important enough for me to actually think up a way to end it in order to feel better about the people in it.  This is apparently how I work.


So, I woke up around 5:15 this morning.  I can't blame this on jet-lag or the bedroom being cold.  I woke up because I was thirsty, which would require getting out of the warm bed into the cold room.  I delayed the process by checking my email, and discovered a message from the apartment owner, as to the location of the fuse box (right up there near the ceiling) and the location of the step-ladder to get to it.  While part of me thought it was probably not a good idea to get on a ladder in the (relative) dark of 5:15 in the morning, my curiosity as to whether I could actually solve the overhead light issue by flicking a switch was enough to get me out of bed.

And, indeed, I could solve the issue by flicking a switch.  Let there be light!

Went back to sleep to a more reasonable hour (about 8:30) and (after another quick email to the flat owner re: hey, is there a thermostat in the bedroom I'm missing?) I got a start on the morning.  It was a bit of a slower start than I'd intended -- mostly because I'd forgotten how long it takes to blow dry my hair (I usually just let it air dry in L.A., but that's not an option when it's, like, 40 degrees and I'm walking around outside), and because I couldn't decide exactly what to carry for my adventures for the day.  See, I was going to do a lot of walking, but I also was going to have a lot of down time, so I wanted to bring a book.  And while I'm in the middle of an awesome book ("S." -- which, once I finish it, will warrant a whole post on its own), said awesome book happens to be hardcover, a bit weighty, and too big to fit in my purse.  So I considered carrying my backpack today -- only to carry the book, mind -- but it's pretty heavy and after lugging the damn thing around all through airports and train stations the other day, my shoulders were killing me.  So, no backpack, no book.  Onward!

With a decent day of weather, I decided to go out to Hampton Court Palace and play tourist.  I'm not entirely certain if I've been to Hampton Court before -- if I did, it was back in the '90s, and I've forgotten it completely.  (I was supposed to go kayaking out there this past summer, but I pulled something in my back the night before, so that was totally out.)  So, boring bookless train ride out to Hampton Court.

(Note to future travellers:  You can buy your admission ticket to Hampton Court when you buy your train ticket.  This turned out to be a really smart move -- not only for the few pound discount, but because it enabled me to skip what turned out to be a very long ticket-buying line at Hampton Court.)

Hampton Court is associated with several British rulers, but probably most strongly with Henry VIII.  (He of "divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived" fame.)  So, of all the tours you can take at Hampton Court, I cranked up the audio guide to "Henry VIII Royal Apartments," and went for a wander.

I saw the Great Hall where he had dinner parties (and where the walls still hold tapestries which were there 500 years ago!), and the waiting room for folks who hoped for an audience with him.  I saw the Royal Pew (sort of a private box at church) and a recreation of his crown.  I saw a bunch of portraits (in which he really wasn't all that attractive, and, hey, when is "Dracula" coming back on TV?) and the room where the visitors used the toilet (if there's no one around, go for it -- if people are within earshot, the rule was to cough to cover the sound).  It was all very interesting, but I damn near missed the best room of all.

The best room of all is a little room off to the side, with royal blue curtains, in which sit two concentric circles of chairs (with one very big one at the best spot) -- this was the Privy Council chamber, wherein the Privy Council (memorably described by one of my law school professors as "The King and his cronies") sat around and generally made the decisions that ran the country.  And while every other room I went into at Hampton Court felt historical and educational and all that, this room felt like POWER.  You could still feel it.  Shit happened in this room, is what I'm saying.

After I finished the rest of the tour, I went back (against the tide of everyone else going the other way) to stand in there a bit longer and just, y'know, feel it.  (Because it isn't often that I get any sort of emotional vibe from a historical site, so I wanted to enjoy it a bit more.)  At which time some tourist was plopping her son in the seat o' power (the reproduction seat o' power) and taking a picture of him posing regally.  I couldn't stop myself from glaring disapprovingly, even though it was (apparently) totally permissible.  It made me think that every stupid photo like that sucked one tiny bit of the remaining power out of the room.  (It also made me think that there must have been a hell of a lot of power in there for decades of tourists not to have depleted it completely.)

After the tour, I found myself at the back of the palace, where the gardens are.  Perfectly manicured, and gorgeously sunny -- like, palpably warmer than the other side of the palace, where the guests entered.  I actually murmured aloud, "It's good to be King."  I had a stroll around the gardens, found the maze (which is the UK's Oldest Surviving Hedge Maze), found my way through the maze (with a little bonus help from kids yelling out directions to their lost father), and then headed back to London.

Because I had reservations for tea.  (I had originally thought to schedule tea on New Year's Day, but that wasn't to be.  I was, however, able to make a reservation at a spiffy hotel for tea this afternoon.  Really nice place for tea -- I'd been there with my parents this past summer, and thought I'd return, especially now that I knew the right way to find the door in.)  Here's the thing about having tea by yourself:  you want to bring a book, as the experience calls for a certain amount of lingering.  As previously noted, I was bookless.

I had upwards of an hour and a half to kill, so initially thought I'd go back to the flat and pick up my book.  While on the train, I had the rather better idea of going to the Forbidden Planet Megastore (aka Geek Central) to just buy some (paperback) reading material.  This was clearly a better idea, as I go there every trip to pick up geeky stuff.  And the place was packed.  As always, I enjoyed listening to the variety of foreign languages saying "[something foreign, something foreign, something foreign] Doctor Who [something foreign]."  I bought myself a couple of small Doctor Who related items myself, and a book in the delightful subgenre of British Comic Sci-Fi.

Went to tea (actually hit the door about 5 minutes before my reservation, which is remarkable, as I'm rarely that accurate in my own city), ate myself silly, and chuckled my way through the first section of the book.  The folks at the tea place actually told me to stay as long as I wanted (dude said he wasn't off duty until 11:00 at night), so I hung out for two hours, until I had safely assured myself that, "no, there is no way I can eat any more food tonight, no matter how long I sit here."  (And they had free wi-fi.)

And that's it.  Came back to the flat (the internet assures me that underfloor heating takes, like, an hour to crank up a single degree, so I confess I left the system on all day so I'd come home to a warm place).  Bedroom is still on the cold side.  If I happen to pass a cheap space heater in my travels tomorrow, I may pick one up -- it would save the flat owner a ton of money in wasted underfloor heat, and (rather more importantly) it would make me much more comfortable.  Then again, it's supposed to rain tomorrow, so I'm not sure how likely I am to shlep a portable heater back to the flat in the rain.

Two plays tomorrow.  YAY!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Hey! Guess where I am!

London again!  Yay!

I was sort of, y'know, just here, but I've come to see some plays (and the fact that it just so happens that the first episode of Season Three of "Sherlock" will air when I'm here is a happy coincidence).  The nice lady at Immigration asked what I intended to do while I'm here, so I said, "See lots of plays."  She surprised me with, "Which ones?" and my answer (of three West End titles that are not likely to transfer to the US) apparently convinced her that I am, indeed, a perfectly good American theatre geek who is not planning any sort of terrorist activities.

The flight was uneventful, although this is (at least) the second trip when I have been unable to fall asleep when (slightly) reclining in an airplane seat, wearing earplugs and eye shades, bundled up with pillow, blanket, and non-binding clothing, yet I found it amazingly difficult to keep my eyes open during a play that night -- sitting, bolt upright, and actually trying to pay attention to the play.  Normally, the first night I get in, I go to the half-price ticket booth and get a ticket for the loudest, most obnoxious musical I can find.  But, tonight, I thought, screw it, I kinda want to see this stage adaptation of "Strangers on a Train."  Yeah.  Maybe a live version of film noir is not the best choice for wakey-wakey.

I'm staying in a different flat than the one I've rented the last couple times I've been here.  The jury is still out on this one.  It's a few blocks farther away from the underground -- which wasn't that big of a deal today, but let's see if I feel the same way when carrying purchases.  In the rain.  The person who owns the place is in Australia, so sent a friend to meet me.  Who did meet me, although I got here earlier than she did (thanks to a failure to communicate which was kind of my fault, as I'd forgotten a particular quirk of calling London numbers internationally).  The two other reasons the jury is still out are:  (1)  the bedroom seems to be suspiciously colder than the living room (so I may have to crank the heat up super-hot in the living room for it to sufficiently warm the bedroom); and ... wait for it ... (2)  coming home after theatre tonight, I blew a fuse and killed ALL OVERHEAD LIGHTING in the unit.  (I thought I'd killed all power completely, but when I saw blinking lights on the wireless router, I realized all was not lost.)  I emailed the owner in Australia -- I couldn't bring myself to wake up the owner's friend at this hour, and I can't imagine she'd do much about it anyway.  (And, really, I have heat, some lights, TV, fridge, and internet, so I'm (mostly) good.)

Well, the weather is supposed to be nice tomorrow ("nice" here meaning "not raining") so I've got a touristy day trip planned.  (Let's see if I actually feel like doing it in the morning.  Let's also see how I survive showering in the dark.)

Oh, and I had a literal "brush with fame" today.  Tom Hiddleston brushed my shoulder on his way into the theatre.  (It was only after the fact that I realized I should have immediately dropped to the ground, writhing in pain, in the hopes it would earn me house seats to his otherwise sold-out show.  Damn.  Moment lost.)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

An Open Letter

I recently received a letter (a real live USPS-delivers-it letter) from Ouidad, a company that makes shampoos, informing me that my credit card data had been hacked.  I respended by sending the following the Customer Service:


Please remove me from your database immediately.

I just received, by mail, your security alert, which is dated October 24.  Today is November 4.

In between those dates, you have sent me no less than FIVE promotional emails, but never bothered to email me that my account (including credit card information) had been compromised.  Did you think I would not want to know this immediately?

I want to be clear here -- I am not angry because you got hacked.  It happens.  I assume you had relatively decent security and that was an accident.  I am angry because you didn't let me know immediately.  No email.  No banner ad across your website.  Just a piece of snail mail.  And here I note that you indicate that upon learning of the incident you "engaged leading security experts" and worked some deal with Equifax for a deal on credit monitoring.  That's all well and good, but the VERY FIRST THING you should have done was inform your customers.

This is phenomenally irresponsible.  Remove me from your database.  I want you to have ABSOLUTELY NO RECORD of my personal information in your system.  You are an incredibly irresponsible company and I intend to never purchase anything from you ever again.  Your apology is worthless and I cannot begin to stress how annoyed I am at the lack of immediate notice to your customers.

Too harsh?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Photo Dump!

Yes, pictures have now magically appeared in my cruise entries.  They start in this post right here (Cornwall) and continue through Wales. (Oh crap, I have some to add for Dublin, too, but they're still in my phone.)

I've got a few other shots, which, for some reason or another, didn't fit with the blog posts.  Here they are:

My folks in Cornwall.

Someplace in Cornwall -- possibly the Scilly Islands, but I can't be certain.

Yet another angle on the really picturesque rest stop (near the really awful toilets).

View from the wall around Caernarfon castle.

A bird in Wales that really wanted its photo taken.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Late for Dinner

I was late for dinner.  I stopped for a shower.  It was better for everyone this way.

I attended a class which was supposed to help us work on balance.  This went pretty well (although my dad got dizzy in there, and all of sudden, both instructors were surrounding him and giving him water and stuff).  From my point of view, it was something of a refresher of some of the positions I'd learned in skating.  Which is to say, we were instructed to hold several one-foot awkward balancey things, and -- much of the time -- making myself get into that position resulted in a good deal of bobbing and weaving, until such time as I sort of rebalanced myself, and it felt familiar as a skating pose.

(Also:  one foot balance secret I learned skating -- when you lift one foot, it's harder to balance it tucked neatly at your ankle than it is to hold the knee up in front of you.  If you've got your knee up high enough that you can balance a pizza box on your thigh, you can hold that position easy.  And it looks more impressive, too.  Go on, try it.  I'll wait.)

After that, we attended a class called "Desert Drumming."  I envisioned us all sitting in a circle, drumming on drums.  In reality, we were planted fairly close to each other, in a formation where we were each behind a physioball on a plastic stand, about two steps away from the people on either side.  We have drumsticks.  Music is played (it sounds like the super-duper-extended version of "The Rhythm is Gonna Get You") and our teacher directs us to tap both drumsticks on the ball at every beat.  So far so good.  Then alternate drumsticks -- but each time, sort of sway to the side, and hold the stick straight up the air before smacking the ball.  Next thing you know, she's got us doing dance steps over to the sides, and hitting our neighbors' balls (that doesn't sound right), shaking our butts, swinging the drumsticks around our heads (sometimes dangerously), and hitting the sticks on the drum stands and floor.  And it never fucking stops.  (This is why I'm not entirely sure if it was the same song.  It might've gone off into something else, but it just kept going.)  For about 40 minutes, we're doing a high energy dance/drumming routine, and whenever we think we're going to stop, the Evil Taskmistress directs us to drum on the drum as hard and as fast as we can, for what was first 10 seconds, and ultimately worked its way up to 30 seconds.  And then we'd start the routine again from the top.  Once or twice, I wondered how many people in the room were imagining her head in place of the physioballs we were whacking on.  I finished that course drenched.  I could've freaking wrung out the scrunchie from my hair.

I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I (rather annoyingly) looked pretty good.  It was all that healthy glow business.  Sweating like a pig, face flushed from exertion, hair all curly from the moisture... and I thought I looked healthier than I have in years.  

I followed up with a stretch class -- and, even an hour after the drumming class was over, there was no escaping the conclusion that I was well and truly spent (and in no condition to be around civilized people for mealtime).

I had every intention of stopping by the gym to work out for what would be the fourth day in a row before I leave tomorrow, but I've run out of clothes.  Which is to say, it would be terribly wrong for me to inflict my-post-exercise clothing on people sitting next to me on an aircraft, and all I've got left is one set of clean clothes.  (I hadn't really thought it through when packing -- that I'd need both exercise clothes and vaguely presentable clean clothes for each day.  As it is, my dinner ensemble tonight consisted of the free T-shirt the resort gave me, paired with the other side of a reversible skirt I wore two days ago.  And, yeah, that looks as bad as you'd imagine.  Worse, probably.  But, ohmygod, clean.)

Saturday, August 24, 2013


After a lovely afternoon in which I sat by a pool and almost finished the book I'm reading, I went off to the Yoga Room for a freebie Meditation class.

I've had a few Meditation classes -- most of them at my previous visit here, one a really misguided session I attended at a State Bar Convention which actually counted for our mandatory continuing education hours.  Mostly, I just use them to sort of zone out for a bit.  You know, to take a moment and not do anything.

Today's meditation class was different in that I think I might have learned something.  Nothing particularly revelatory, but I was actually surprised at how it went.

We did two meditations -- in one, we were supposed to focus on our breathing, and I have to say that I failed miserably at this.  The teacher suggested that we count up to 5 on each inhale and exhale, and that sent me totally off the focus-on-my-breathing rails, as it was way more interesting to focus on the numbers than it was to focus on my respiratory system.  So it seemed to take forever for that particular 7 minutes to end.

The second one involved a mantra.  She described this as actually giving yourself something to think about.  Said we were to ask ourselves what we wanted out of mediation, put that in a word or three, and then mentally repeat this over and over.  That was pretty much it in the way of direction -- other than to sort of see where it goes, but keep coming back to the words.

OK, I figured I was interested in meditation for a moment or two of calm.  Calm wasn't enough of a mantra to really get my brain around, so I also threw in Stillness and Steadiness.  "Calm, Stillness, Steadiness," I mentally repeated, for about a zillion times.  During the following seven minutes, I went off on three different little ... I called 'em vignettes.  Never lost track of consciousness or where I was or anything, but I did let the words take my imagination where they wanted to take it.

First stop (Calm, Stillness, Steadiness) was a tightrope walker.  Didn't take very long, in fact, for me to get the mental tightrope walker going along the tightrope to the rhythm of the words.  Then I did two things.  First, I mentally put myself into the position of the tightrope walker.  Second, I remembered the one time I'd actually tried tightrope walking.  (I sucked at it.) But what I'd learned from that experience is that, to walk the tightrope, you need Determination and Confidence.  I decided that was all I could learn from that particular vignette, so I returned my focus to the mantra which was running in the background, to see where it would next take me.  What does Calm, Stillness, Steadiness look like?

A wizard, standing in the center of a tempest of evil spells.  As the whirlwind spins around him, the wizard calmly, steadily uses his wand to slurp up individual evil spells.  Again, I put myself where the wizard is and see what I can learn here.  And what I learn is that there are just too many evil spells -- I'll never be able to get them all.  But if I just accept that, I can remain calm and keep them from overwhelming me.  OK then, Acceptance.  What else can I pick up in this meditation?

Calm, Stillness, Steadiness... Calm, Stillness, Steadiness.  A leaf on a tree in the wind.  This one was problematic, because the leaf wasn't staying calm or still.  Wanted to (apparently) but couldn't.  So, I try to figure myself as the leaf (that one's a stretch, but I'm pretty new at this meditation thing, so I go with it) and ask what I can do to be still when I'm buffeted by the wind.  And then (and I think this may have been the only actual revelation of this meditation), I realize that I just have to wait until the sun comes out.  Patience, I reckon, is the lesson from this one.

I'm looking around for another vignette the mantra can give me when the meditation ends.  I damn near want a pen and paper to write this down:  To achieve calm, stillness, and steadiness, you need determination, confidence, acceptance, and patience.  I think that works for me.

I'm not entirely sure I was actually looking for this lesson.  I think I just wanted to meditate to get a little peace in the middle of a sometimes hectic life.  But I was genuinely pleased at the results.

Also (while meditating on the meditation), I realized that the three vignettes got progressively more distant from myself.  I mean, the first was a person doing something I'd actually attempted; the second was a person doing something fantastical; the third wasn't even a person.  (And it was from nature.  Where the hell did that come from?  Probably the wind blowing earlier today when I was outside reading my book.)  Interesting.

Can't say I'm going to run out and start meditating regularly now, but the experience did give me a little peek into the value of just sort of focusing on what you're aiming for, and letting your brain off the leash a little bit to see it what solutions it could come up with.

You can buy what now?

Got up bright and early -- my alarm went off at 7:00 and I wasn't really angry at it or anything.  I guess that's what happens when you actually have 8 hours of sleep.  Had breakfast (a cranberry/pecan french toast) and met with today's nutritionist -- who turned out to be last night's nutritionist.  She now has the challenge of coming up with a variety of healthy meals designed for someone who doesn't cook much and hates most vegetables.  (I have been directed to (1) get my body composition tested, so she knows how many calories to aim for; and (2) try quinoa, and let her know if I consider it an acceptable grain.)  Both of these things will be accomplished by the end of the weekend.

Did the same workout I did yesterday, although I kicked the cardio up a few more minutes.  Do not yet appear to be dead, so, y'know, that's a good sign.

On my way back to the room, I thought I'd stop at the shop.  It's one of those places that smells like patchouli and has geodes all over the room.  They sell all sorts of products branded with the resort's name, lots of stuff to keep you cool, lots of stuff to exercise with (including videos which I assume won't even get out the box when most people get them home), and lots of crystals that are labelled with various healing powers.

They have said crystals on leather cords to wear around your neck, or as jewelry, or as stones to hold....

.... or on clips to put on your pet's collar.

That's right.  You can give Fluffy a little tinkly crystal charm on her collar, which will (depending) shower her with love, or health, or relaxation, or whatever.

Now, see, this here has me stumped.  I imagine that whatever value there actually is to this whole healing crystal business is something of a placebo effect.  It comes from knowing you're wearing the healing crystal, which gives you some sort of positive sense of well-being.  The damn things aren't going to cure cancer or anything, but they can give you comfort and change your outlook.  One of those "if you believe in it, it'll work" types of things.

Which is where this whole Pet thing loses me.  Because Fluffy there has no idea of the mystical powers of the crystal.  Fluffy may, conceivably, enjoy its presence -- as some of them are shiny and may even make a pleasing sound when she runs around -- but if the pet doesn't really know what the crystal is supposed to do, how will it possibly have any effect on the pet?

Or will the pet somehow feel the healthy vibes because the person who is the food in the bowl believes in it?

(All that said, if they had one for Not Peeing Inappropriately, I would have bought it in a heartbeat.)

Friday, August 23, 2013


Yes, I know, it isn't like me to start on a new vacation when I haven't posted the pictures from the last one yet.  In my defense, I've gone through the photos, selected the good ones, and uploaded them to picasa.  What I haven't yet done is put them in the appropriate posts (and, for convenience, one big post as well).  I thought perhaps I'd do that before posting about this trip, but there's only so much you can do on a 7-inch tablet screen.  So, the pics will wait yet again, as I give you a short rundown of this weekend.

This weekend lands me in Arizona, at one of them snooty healthy living resorts.  (Can't really call it a "fat farm," -- they don't limit what you eat, although it's all quite healthy; none of the program attendance is mandatory; and they also do a variety of mind/body stuff that's supposed to put your spirit right with the universe.)  You basically give them a big pile of money to stay there -- and that lets you attend a bunch of classes, use the facilities, and eat all your meals -- and then that ALSO gives you an allowance to spend on specialists and spa services.  (I'm using mine on a nutritionist tomorrow morning, who will then go off and create a week's worth of menus especially for me.  I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with, given that the list of vegetables I don't eat is, like, two pages long.)

I've been here before -- about 20 pounds heavier.  And it really is because of this place that those 20 pounds are no longer on me.  On the plus side, that was, like 6 years ago, and the 20 pounds are still gone.  On the minus side, it was initially closer to 30 pounds.  So, I'm hoping that a little refresher around here will get me back to healthy eating, exercising, and living (which, in my case, means sleeping).

Longtime readers may recall that, on my first visit, I took my big fat ass to a class entitled "Fit Strip," in which we were each assigned a chair, directed to imagine the appropriate object of our affection in said chair, and were then taught something halfway between a fitness routine and a lap dance, to be performed with (and upon) the chair.  I'm not sure how much of my ass I sweated off in that class, but I surely laughed it down in size.  Not at my classmates, I might add -- at myself (the imaginary dude in my chair kept rolling his eyes) and at the only man in the room -- the DJ -- who was studiously staring down at his music equipment and trying desperately not to make eye contact with any of us.

I am happy to report that there are no Fit Strip classes this weekend.  Chairs everywhere rejoice.

My flight got in around 11.  The dude from the resort picked me up at the airport, and cheerfully reported that it was "only" 100 degrees outside.  That's Tucson for you.  I asked him how hot it has to get before he stops saying "only."  Somewhere in the hundred-and-teens.  I believe it was at this point that he offered me a bottle of water.  

There's a certain sense in putting your fitness resorty place in the middle of the desert.  They give everyone a water bottle and encourage vast amounts of fluid consumption.  Which we're all only too happy to do because, well, ... because it's so fucking hot, obviously.  The result, though, is that you both (1) eat less, because you already feel full from all that water; and (2) pee out all the toxins.  (Sorry, that's the more touchy-feely side of this endeavor coming out.)  Bottom line, though, you sorta start getting results when you're here, simply because you drink all that water, because you're in the damn desert.

After getting oriented (which involved me taking a small walk around a small fraction of the resort-- had planned on walking more but, hello, 100 degrees), I went to the gym and worked out some.  I haven't worked out in some time, but I'm still a pretty good judge of what's a safe amount of cardio for me to do at any given time.  Not so much the stuff on the machines.  I did myself 3 sets of reps on 4 different machines (intentionally setting the weights really low), all the while thinking that this was either a really good, solid basis to work on for the rest of the weekend or way too much, and I'll be unable to move tomorrow.  Was beginning to think it was the latter, but then I took an hour-long stretch class, which made everything feel better.  (Of course, now, 3 hours later, I'm again thinking I'll be back in Unable To Move land.)

After dinner (tasty), there was a free lecture on Eating for Energy, which was really, really useful.  It sort of confirmed that what I thought I've been doing wrong, I have indeed been doing wrong.  Also suggested a few other things I should look into doing right.

Particularly funny was that, this morning, at the airport, I'd stopped at the Starbucks and got myself a muffin.  They had a "reduced fat" muffin which had, like, 430 calories, and a nice big, fatty fat muffin for, like, 480 calories.  Now, OK, I shouldn't have been looking at muffins anyway.  But set that aside for a second.  I thought that a 50 calorie savings on a 450(ish) calorie muffin didn't seem worth the low-fatitude.  Again, the 450 calorie muffin is probably not the best example, but what I did learn tonight is that I basically had the right attitude here.  What the nutritionist said is that (1) the "reduced fat" stuff is more processed, and therefore, not as good for you as the more natural stuff (as the nutrition is processed out in exchange for chemicals) and (2) fat makes you feel full.  So you can eat a ton of processed reduced-fat stuff and not feel satiated, but a smaller about of real stuff will make you feel full and will be better in the long run.  Obviously, portion control is a big part of this, but I'm certainly seeing the appeal of, say, an occasional indulgence in a small scoop of real ice cream, over my nightly 100-calorie low-fat Skinny Cow "frozen treat."

There was more (I took notes!) but I'm feeling sleepy and, since I have to meet the nutritionist pretty early tomorrow, I want to go with that feeling.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Cats: Pretty Damn Smart

So, I take the cat to the vet yesterday, for the follow-up urine sample.  The vet cannot take said sample because the well is dry.  Says I have a choice between leaving the cat there all day and bringing her in on another day.  If I choose the latter course, I am advised to not let her use the litter box in the morning, so she'll have a full bladder when I bring her in.

I point out that if I don't let her use the box, she'll just pee on my bed again.  Using the box is something to be encouraged with this cat.  So, I agree to leave the cat all day.

In the afternoon, I go to pick up my "cat carrier full of angry."  And she is.  Growls at me all the way home.  "Left me at the freakin' vet all day," she seems to say, "I'll get my revenge on you."

I get home and, in the interests of family harmony, open her carrier just as soon as I'm inside the door.  Cat scampers out and makes a beeline down the hall and comes up short right outside my bedroom door (which I'd had the foresight to close, in anticipation of this very moment).  Cat stalks off.

Now, you can tell me that she was heading for the bedroom in order to hide in the closet or one of her other places of safety, but there is no way I'll believe she was planning to do anything other than jump up on my bed and urinate in retaliation.  No. Way.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Going Home

Yeah, as per usual, things kinda got ahead of me once I got home.  Tons to do at work; a $2000 estimate to get rid of my termites; and my cat peed on my bed.  A lot.  We will skip over the bit where I didn't notice it until after I'd slept in a pee-soaked bed, and go right on over to how expensive new comforters and featherbeds are.  (And, once I got the cat to the vet, the fun of chasing her around the house with antibiotics.)

I'm not usually depressed when I get back from vacations -- usually I'm pretty invigorated and ready to get right back into things.  It's a bit different this time.  I'm going to work, coming home, watching TV, doing nothing else, and noticing that I'm doing nothing else.  (OK, sure I'm seeing plays and reviewing them, but that's kind of an obligation as well.)  There's a level of dissatisfication with my day to day existence which has nothing at all to do with sleeping in cat pee.  Part of me wants to do something drastic (for me, anyway) and, I don't know, turn off the damn TV and see if I can't get a little more free time in which to get stuff done.  And the other part of me is the one writing this from the couch, with a bottle of water on one side and the remote on the other.  Guess which part is winning.

ANYWAY, I did want to tell you about the flight home, because it was memorable.  We started early at the Dublin airport and ... honestly, I have no freakin' recollection of flying to London.  We did that -- I know we did that because we somehow ended up in Heathrow.  Our flight to Chicago was delayed, so we spent a bit of time in Heathrow.  There was a DVD I wanted to buy, so I wandered the shops in Terminal 5, but they'd closed the HMV that used to be in there.  On the plus side, they had a Doctor Who exhibit, with a TARDIS and a dalek and totally uninterested employees manning it.  (I walked by about 4 times and couldn't figure out if we were allowed to take pictures or if we had to, y'know, pay them or something.)  Insert here jokes about security being pretty crappy if daleks could get in.

So eventually we get on the big flight to Chicago.  I'm in Business class (gotta dig those points) in the aisle seat on the right-hand side of the center seats.  I come down the aisle to my seat and find someone in it.  Not just any someone, but a baby in a baby seat.  There was a family which had the other three center seats and somehow thought they had mine instead.  I agreed to switch to the aisle on the other side, and got myself organized for the flight.  I'm next to their son; then comes the mom; then the baby.  Dad had a seat across the aisle from the baby.  Across the aisle from me is an older couple.

We get ready to take off.  The baby, who is strapped to her dad, facing forward (as flight regs require) is unhappy about this.  She's screaming and crying.  The flight attendant comes down the aisle, picks up the kid and hugs her (which quiets her somewhat) and then tries handing her to mom.  But, again, neither parent can hug the kid -- they each just have to strap the kid in their lap, facing away, which provides absolutely no comfort the child at all.

I am oddly not annoyed.  I am so not annoyed, it actually surprises me.  (Because, y'know, I am no good with kids.)  It's completely obvious why the child is crying -- the plane is speeding down the runway, it's noisy, it's bright, there are all these people around, and nobody can hug her and bounce her and do that standard comforting thing.  The kid that's sitting next to me is actually pretty well behaved.  The mom is both playful with him and explaining things.  It's working well.  When mom isn't trying to calm the baby, she's mouthing, "I'm sorry" in my direction.  I make a "no problem" face at her.

The problem is the older couple across the aisle from me, who are ten times more annoying than the crying baby -- because they should know better.  Loud enough for me (and, clearly, the parents) to hear, they are treating the rest of the plane to an endless stream of annoyed sighs.  They then decide to comment on the parenting of the couple with the baby.  Saying things like, "It's the parents' fault."  And then, my two favorite comments:  "They should just slap that kid!"  (because, yes, slapping a crying one-year-old is the perfect way to get her to stop crying); followed by a stage-whispered "Low class!"

Look, I'm clearly not Miss Manners over here, but I'm pretty fucking sure loudly calling someone "Low class" is, well, classless.

Of course, the kid stopped crying as soon as we got airborne and they turned off the seatbelt sign, so the parents could do their thing and calm her down.  Didn't cry for the rest of the flight.  

.... but we had been late leaving London and ultimately ended up late in Chicago.  I did not have a ton of time to clear Immigration and Customs and make my connecting flight.  That is an understatement.  They gave little "Fast Connection" passes to people who had tight connections to make, but they apparently did not think I had a very tight connection.  This is how tight my connection actually was:  I have a "Global Entry" card which qualifies me for a shorter line at Immigration; I used that.  I was also travelling First Class, so was able to use the First Class line for security (and bag re-check).  Had I not had either of those things, I wouldn't have made it.  No idea why they didn't give people on my flight "Fast Connection" cards, but I'm glad I made it anyway.

Oh, also, I may have flashed everyone in baggage claim in O'Hare.  I was standing around the baggage carousel when I saw my bags coming and realized I hadn't put my elastic back brace back on.  I'd been doing ok with my back, but, knowing the rule for back injuries (it takes twice as long to heal as you think it does), I wasn't lifting anything heavy without wearing the brace.  Well, my bags are coming and I certainly can't wait -- I just lifted my shirt and wrapped the brace around myself (from, say, ribs on down), not really caring that I was giving everyone a nice view of my bra.  Don't care.  Made the flight!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Day in Dublin

Windstar was glad to see the back of us.  The all-ashore (aka "get the hell off my boat") was at 8:30 this morning.  They dropped us in Dublin, which was a bit of a concern for a lot of the guests, as there are actually two ports in Dublin, which we'll call "the one all the travel agents thought they used" and "the one they actually used."  Having been told by our travel agent that we'd be at the one all the travel agents thought they used, she assured us that it would be a ten minute cab-ride to the airport.  When we discovered the other day that they were really using the one they actually used, and that the ride would be 45 minutes and you'd better pre-book a car, we made arrangements.  It did not look like everyone else did -- as, when we were driving out of the port, we saw a lot of people standing around looking for those ten-minute taxis to the airport, which were nowhere to be found.

We got dropped off at the Dublin Airport Hilton, but it was way too early for the rooms to be ready, so we got a taxi into the city proper.  My parents and I had both been to Dublin before, and had both missed out on the Book of Kells, in a library exhibition in Trinity College.  This time, we planned to see it, no matter how long the line.

The line was not all that long, and we got in after a reasonable wait.  I'll be honest with you:  the Book of Kells was nifty and interesting, but not all that exciting as a tourist attraction (it's faded and kept under low light).  The really fun bit was after the Book of Kells, where you get into the Long Room (I got pictures!) 

which is, y'know, a long room.  Trinity College's library is one of them official state libraries (kinda like the Library of Congress) in that it's entitled to a copy of every book printed in the country -- and Ireland has been around a bit longer than the U.S. -- so they've got a lot of books and, indeed, a lot of old books.  And you know how my favorite kind of  museum is a manuscript room, so I was an extremely happy camper.

(Me, at Trinity College, being a happy camper.)

We then, on the recommendation of the driver (who took us from they port they actually used), visited a placed called Dublinia, which is an interactive exhibit about how people lived in Ireland in the Medieval times (with a bonus exhibit on the Viking Era).  It was good for what it was -- but what it was was 90% exhibit for school children (and/or tourists) made up of recreations and maybe 10% actual artifacts (the only things you weren't allowed to actually photograph).  It was fun -- although my mother refused to try on both the Viking helmet and the medieval chain mail -- but I would have preferred more artifacts and less "Smell this herb and guess what medieval doctors thought it would cure."

And that's about it.  We came back to the hotel and got our rooms.  I hooked up to wi-fi and commenced posting.  We're going to go out for an early dinner as we have to leave for the airport at the inhuman hour of 5:30 tomorrow (and I still have repacking to do).  The journey home will consist of shuttle bus; three flights; and a car ride.  I will be wiped out, but am looking forward to seeing my cat.

(The Dublinia exhibit had a cat skull, confirming that Vikings had them.  Although they noted that dogs were kept as pets while cats were "prized for their fur."  I'm just going to assume they sheared the cats, like sheep.  Yes, I am.)

Last Day in Wales

My parents claim their favorite parts of this cruise were the shore excursions I arranged.  I am not entirely certain they aren't just being nice when they say they liked the archeologist-guided walk on the Scilly Islands.  (I think my father had his fill of prehistoric stuff.  And neither one of them really enjoyed that walk up to one last bronze age standing stone -- as they each independently referred to it as a Death March.)  But when they say they enjoyed the tour today -- a BusyBus tour through North Wales (called "North Wales Adventure"), I genuinely believe them.  Heck, about five minutes into this tour, I wanted my Windstar comment card back, as I'd said some of our tour guides were "excellent."  This is wrong; I'd simply forgotten what an excellent tour guide is like.

Peter from BusyBus picked us up at the Holyhead terminal as promised.  The van was packed totally full, as not promised.  Hell, the BusyBus website makes a big deal of saying they don't overpack their tour busses like other companies, but our bus was packed pretty full.  (Indeed, a bit somewhat fuller than full.)  But Peter was really cool about it -- there had been a booking problem (well, an overbooking problem), and he made sure everyone on the bus was down with the plan to get everyone on the bus.  And he made the whole thing fun -- we didn't feel all grumpy because we were crammed in there; we felt like we were all taking part in making sure everyone had a good tour experience.  

And we were off.  On the road, we were told some very important statistics (the population of Wales; the population of Welsh sheep; the rarity of black sheep) and then put on a black sheep hunt -- anyone who spotted a black sheep out the window was eligible for a special prize at the end of the tour.  And it worked -- rather than being bored while the bus was tearing down the road from place to place, we all had our eyes peeled, checking out every field for a black sheep.  (Two were spotted!)

Nor were we on the road for particularly long.  We covered a lot of ground, but only in 20 or 30 minute shifts.  First stop was Caernarfon Castle, the traditional place where the Prince of Wales in invested.  We all took pictures standing outside the door to the Eagle tower, where the next Prince of Wales (William, one assumes), will appear when he finally gets the title. 

Back on the bus to Snowdonia National Park, the second largest national park in Great Britain.  Beautiful scenery ... and holy crap!  beautiful weather! ... I think our tour guide was genuinely surprised at how gorgeous it was, as he's usually visiting the place in rain.

Those who wanted to were permitted to get out of the bus about a kilometer from the actual rest stop and walk the distance.  A group of us got out and went for the walk.  As per my own standard operating procedure, I ended up at one end of the pack (as per non-standard procedure, I was at the front, as opposed to the rear, of said pack).  I got far enough in front that I couldn't hear any of the footsteps (or talking) behind me.  I could only hear the soft rush of a distant waterfall, and nearby sheep doing their sheep thing.  (I kept being reminded of that line from Arcadia about the sheep being picturesquely placed around the landscape.  I'll look it up for when I post the photos.  Ed. Note:  "The slopes are green and gentle.  The trees are companionably grouped at intervals that show them to advantage.  The rill is a serpentine ribbon unwound from the lake peaceably contained by meadows on which the right amount of sheep are tastefully arranged."

Lovely, lovely walk, and I really liked the opportunity to get out of the bus and enjoy the landscape, rather than just stop for a photo.  (I'm also pleased that the bus followed a bit later, and picked up the walkers who had some issues with the fact that it was a bit steeper than it initially looked.)

There was some construction going on at the rest stop, so, after the walk, we drove off to our next rest stop.  This one really was just for a quick picture and/or stop at the restroom.  (High quality bano.  Clean -- and it had some of them newfangled stations where you hold your hands out and a machine dribbles soap on them, then showers them in water, then blows warm air.  Substantially better than the john the other day where the toilet paper was chained to the wall.)

Oh, and we drove by the ugliest house in Britain.  (Which was a nice companion to our later brief visit to the smallest house in Britain.  

And I don't think it was as ugly as the smallest house was small.  But I quite enjoyed the street sign that genuinely pointed the way to "Ugly House.")

THEN, we went to Conwy, were we had, like, an hour and a half for lunch (at Peter's recommendation, we got fish, chips, and mushy peas, and ate them down by the seaside -- against his recommendation, however, we wussed out and used them little forks) and an optional visit to Conwy castle.  

This was the most castley castle we've seen all trip.  It's got something like eight turrets, and some of the turrets had turrets.  And none of that stately home crap -- this was a castle, where you parked the King and occasionally parked the army, and there was a portcullis and murder holes, and lots of ways to kill you if you decided to invade.  There wasn't much in the way of interior -- a lot of the inside was just walls, or even ruins -- but the turrets were in good shape, and you could climb up a winding staircase in any of them, and then walk all along the top of the wall.  Or walk even higher up to the top of the turrets.  Once I made it to the top of the wall, I was so impressed with the view and Wales in general, I saluted the Welsh flag flying at the top of one of the turrets.

 I then figured I'd walk up to the top of a turret, and decided to pick the one with the flagpole.  Continued up to the top of the turret, and it was great up there (and an easier walk than the bit in Snowdonia).  Nobody had bothered to rope off the "windows" up there, so I was able to step up and sort of lean in one.  Wedged in there, I got myself a decent signal on my cell phone, and looked up the answer to a question Peter had posed while we were on the road.

On the way back the ship, we stopped off for a bit of shopping at a massive souvenir shop right next to the town with the longest railway station name in the world.  (Photo of same to come.)

The whole thing was great fun (and way cheaper than what Windstar would have charged us for a lesser shore excursion) and the only thing that was missing was that William and Kate's baby wasn't born today, as it would've been really cool to be in Wales when (perhaps) the future Prince of Wales was born.

Oh My God, They've Kilkenny!

Yeah, like I'm the first person to make that joke.

But first, the Windstar update:  Day of week -- Tuesday.  Journal access -- none.  Number gross stains on new duvet -- none.  As I'd mentioned before, they are responsive.  I just wish they'd be a bit more proactive, so these issues wouldn't arise in the first place.

Also, I'm sitting in the Library -- about a half deck away from the lounge -- and I can hear a lounge singer singing "Like a Virgin."  This is on a par with a Bat-Mitzvah band playing "Gangnam Style."  Credit where it's due, though, at least she knows the words.  Which is more than I could say for her rendition of "The Rose," the other day.  (No.  Wait.  I spoke too fast.  She's moved on to "Material Girl" (good Lord, it's a Madonna medley) and she screwed up a verse so badly, she ended up singing the same line twice.  Quick, let me sign up for tomorrow's talent show.  I won't subject anyone to my singing; I'll just recite accurate Madonna lyrics.)

ANYWAY, this is the second-to-last night of this cruise, and since it's obvious that my journal is still blocked, I'm now trying to burn up the internet time they've given me.  Which is harder than it sounds, because they weren't kidding when they said the connection was (a) slow; and (b) unreliable.  (They say that watching videos would eat up my megabytes quickly, but if they think this connection could support actual streaming, bwah!)  

(See, I am writing this post while checking my mail.  Because I'm writing in an offline app, while every new screen on AOL takes its own sweet time to load.)

So, OK, Kilkenny.  We took a shore excursion called "A Day in Medieval Kilkenny."  It was somewhat misnamed as we didn't spend a whole lot of our time on Medieval things.  The highlight was a castle (it's always a castle), which did, in fact, have Medieval roots -- and some of the preserved exterior and excavated lower levels were on display.

But the bulk of the castle was restored to its Victorian era glory.  Which is all well and good, but I could see Victorian restorations in (and around) London -- I don't need to cruise to Ireland and take an hour on a tourbus to get out to a Victorian restoration.  Our tour guide pointed out that the family that had lived here picked up and got the hell out around the time that Ireland voted itself an independent republic.  Seeing as the family were loyalists (who made all their money from taxing imports to Ireland by grace of the royalty) and seeing how well they were living behind their high castle walls, well, if I were them, I would've grabbed the art and hit the road, too.

Our tour then took us to a local pub lunch at a pub which allegedly won a "pub of the year" award a number of times.  Now, I realize that a certain percentage of my posts here could be read as complaints, but that's mostly because whenever I sit down to write, I get grumpy about the whole journal situation.  This is actually a pretty enjoyable trip.  Also, the food has been quite tasty.  So, please, believe me when a tell you:  If the restaurant in the Langam hotel at Kilkenny is pub of the year, I have monkeys flying out of my ass.  Perhaps, sometime in the past, it was pub of the year.  I assume that was before their cook left and their servers quit -- because the food we ate was ... well, I could honestly call it food ... and the service was slow and not entirely competent.  Slow was a real problem here, as we were on a strict timetable -- and, indeed, we ended up getting back to our ship a 1/2 hour late, to the serious pissed-off-ness of our captain, our tender crew, and the other passengers that were waiting on the dock for a half hour (while they held the tender waiting for us).  The food we were all served (no menu options -- we were all given the same meal, so there really was no excuse for not having it ready for us) was allegedly Irish stew.  There were potatoes and carrots and random other vegetables, and small bits of (fatty) meat we were told was lamb, all boiled until there was no taste left in them.  Served in a clear(ish) broth which was very likely the water it was boiled in.  (Irish?  Yes.  Stew?  Not so much.)  The best thing I could say for it was that it was inoffensive -- although it likely caused offense to real Irish stew, which was diminished by the fact that tourists coming to this pub may actually believe that this stuff is good Irish cooking.  Somewhere, someone's Irish grandmother is weeping.

The tour then went to a Cathedral, which was pretty impressive (the second longest in Ireland) even though a lot of it was also restored, as Cromwell and his cronies didn't take much to religious art, so destroyed what were some very beautiful stained-glass windows.  We also learned about the town witch, who, although "convicted" of witchcraft, managed to skip town, leaving her maid (who was also implicated) to have the dubious honor of being the first person burned at the stake for witchcraft in Europe.  Interesting to see how the cathedral handled this, as both the Bishop who prosecuted her and the alleged witch herself are memorialized in the same building.  Don't get me wrong, the cathedral clearly takes the position that the Bishop was in the wrong on this one, but he still has a place of honor.  At the same time, they've got a memorial to the convicted witch in there, and a line of exclusive jewelry based on a cross design associated with her.  (Then again, it's all about the witch herself, not the maid, who was the one who really suffered for all of this.)

You get no pictures of the castle or the Cathedral.  (I think I got one of the castle exterior, but that's about it.)  No pictures of the interior of the castle, because they were forbidden.  No pictures of the cathedral because it feels totally disrespectful to walk around a house of worship snapping pics.  I've done it on occasion, when they've been very clear about photos being allowed and encouraged; and I'm more likely to do it when the church is more of a tourist attraction than a functioning house of God.  Here, the place was somewhere in between -- the Cathedral's administrator took us around on a tour, but the little brochure she gave us talked about the building's holiness and peaceful serenity and such, and I thought I spotted a couple people in there actually trying to pray, so I kept my camera to myself.

did get some pictures at our final stop, which was, in fact, a photo stop, at a little town which didn't have much going for it except a couple shops and a very beautiful river, complete with picturesque bridge and some horses delicately placed in the landscape on the other side.  I tried it from a few different angles to the get the best shot, and I have hopes that at least one of those pictures will work.

(The little town also had some public toilets (to which our tour guide directed me), and I so wanted to take a picture in there -- except for the whole problem of wanting to douse my camera in anti-bacterial gel if I took it out of my purse in there.  You walk in and there are three stalls.  One stall has a bunch of toilet paper jammed in the toilet.  Stall number two has a relatively clean toilet, although I discovered that the lock on the door wasn't functioning.  I didn't even check the third stall -- I figured I'd found a clean toilet, so I just pushed the door shut and hoped.  One could see the toilet had been replaced -- because on the floor, you could still see the yucko-encrusted outline of where the old toilet used to be.  On the wall next to the toilet is a chain -- an actual, made-of-big-heavy-links chain -- and hanging on the chain are two rolls of toilet paper.  One roll has paper falling in a cascade to the floor.  Clearly, I'd use the other roll -- and in using it, I understood the cause of the situation with the second roll.  See, both rolls were next to each other in the center of the chain, and their edges were touching.  Pulling paper off one roll turned it.  Turning the first roll turned the second, like gears in a clock, resulting in the second roll spilling more paper to the floor.  (Move the rolls apart and gravity pushes them back to the center of the chain.)  You finish your business in there and turn to flush, discovering that, over the toilet, someone has scrawled "Push Three Times" over the flushing button.  Do as you're told and everything works.  Go to wash your hands and there are two sinks, each with a single tap.  One is blue; the other is red.  Both are rusty.  There is no soap.  I used my anti-bacterial hand gel and got the heck out of there, declining to stay any longer to snap a picture.  My father reported that he used the toidy in a nearby coffee shop -- he'd had to buy a cup of coffee for the privilege.  In retrospect, given that we'd each paid over $200 for this tour, the tour company should have slipped the coffee shop a twenty and obtained permission for us all to use their facilities.)

I should really find another picture of the pretty bridge to put here.

(OK, not the bridge -- that's Kilkenny out the window of a moving tourbus.  Not bad, eh?)