Saturday, August 6, 2016

Thursday, February 4, 2016

After Downton Abbey: Some fun shows and documentaries you might enjoy as much as I did...

Bye, bye Crawley family! It's been a blast!
And just like that, my beloved Downton Abbey has ended! On TV it is still airing in the US once a week. But, since we do not pay for TV channels anymore and only watch what we can stream, I pre-ordered Season 7 after Christmas and binge-watched it in 3 days upon its arrival. It ended very satisfactorily, but I'm also sorry to say goodbye to these characters.

What then for entertainment? We're still in the middle of very overcast, cold, rainy days here in the Pacific Northwest. Time to search for fun backups.

I will admit that none of them, sadly, have measured up to Downton, in my opinion. But there are some very fun documentaries out there that make you feel as if you're still in that world, or even centuries before it.  Here are some fun shows and documentaries I've discovered over the last few months to make me miss Downton Abbey (only slighty) less. All are available for streaming on Netflix or Amazon Prime. None of them are boring, I promise.  At least, I didn't think so...

While waiting for Downton season 7 to arrive I began watching Agatha Christie's Poirot, a show I've had in my Netflix queue for ages. David Suchet excellently plays Christie's fastidious Belgian sleuth. This is a show I don't normally binge-watch, but it is a fun show with a slower pace. This show has been running since 1989, with about 8 episodes per season. I'm only on Season 2.

(Amazon Prime)
Once Downton Abbey concluded, I watched the special features included on the DVDs, and then this one hour documentary about the manners and etiquette of the time. It is hosted by Alastair Bruce, consultant on all things Edwardian to Downton Abbey. From gloves to posture, nothing is overlooked. 

(Amazon Prime)
I love fashion and its history. Dr. Lucy Worsley takes you on a tour in this documentary of the evolution of British fashion in the monarchy. It affected more than you think. It also made me appreciate the comfortable clothes of today!

 (Amazon Prime)
Although I liked the doc on fashion better, this one is also interesting. I saw this one many months ago and understand the importance of the "royal bedchamber" more in an historical context. Producing a male heir was everything!

(Amazon Prime)
Speaking of male heirs, there's the story of Henry VIII--the spoiled, fearsome, played-by-his-own-rules king who was a spectacular failure when it came to fathering a healthy male heir. (His son, Edward VI died at 15.) Despite his 6 wives, 2 of which he beheaded, he did father Elizabeth I, one of the most memorable monarchs in British history. 

After getting a thorough knowledge of Henry VIII, Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett in her first starring role, made a lot more sense.  She's fabulous in this movie, holding her own with such presence while sharing screen time with Geoffrey Rush and Richard Attenborough. This movie does have an R rating, but it was also made in 1998, more like today's PG-13.
(Amazon Prime)
The silent character in Downton Abbey is, of course, the house itself, 
which is actually Highclere Castle. This documentary (which can also be found on YouTube) is a lot of fun, and hosted by the house's current owners, Lord and Lady Carnarvan. Yes, those Carnarvans, descendants of the Lord Carnarvan who funded the excavation of King Tut's tomb in 1922. That fabulous green wallpaper in the drawing room? A wedding present to the couple by the bride's father. You also learn about the monumental task of maintaining a huge country estate.

(Amazon Prime)
Another country house that has survived for over 500 years is Althorp, the childhood home of Princess Diana and her final resting place after her death in 1997. In this documentary Diana's younger brother, Charles, current owner of the house and it's earldom, shares the history of the estate and the Spencer family. Very interesting and fun.

(Amazon Prime)
The most surprising documentary I saw on England's country houses was about Lord Montagu of Beaulieu (pronounced "bew-lee.") Like Highclere and Althorp, Lord Montagu tried to come up with innovative ways to fund his estate's upkeep. The lengths he went to are amazing. I had never heard of Beaulieu until I saw this documentary. Nor did I know that over 1500 country houses were torn down after WWII because they were too expensive to run, making the remaining homes very special indeed. 

(Amazon Prime)
If you like shows that are a bit more intense, you might enjoy this 3-part mini-series. Be forewarned, there is a bloody scene in the first episode, but overall, it is pretty good with a satisfying ending. I've seen David Tennant in 4 different movies and he is one of those chameleon actors who is very good in every role. 

(Amazon Prime)
Currently I'm in the middle of episode 5 of BBC's Poldark, based on the book series by Winston Graham. I had never heard of the books until recently and the reviews say that the show is pretty faithful to them. It's about Ross Poldark, who, upon returning to Cornwall after fighting for Britain in the War of Independence, must reorder his life, his home, and business.  There are 8 episodes in Season 1 and they've kept my attention so far. 

Other British shows I've enjoyed over the last few years:
(Netflix or

(Amazon Prime)
(Amazon Prime)

I have NOT enjoyed, for various reasons:
Mr. Selfridge
Last Tango in Halifax

I enjoy shows that keep a good pace, have interesting characters and storylines and are not intense. Favorite current American show? Undoubtedly, The Good Wife. That's for another blog post. 

Happy watching!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Branson, the Holidays, and the Skin Saga!

What's this? It's almost February 2016! I've been promising myself for weeks that I'll write an updated blog post and time has continued to skip on by.

My excuse for being so neglectful of my blog can only be described as "The Skin Saga."

For some unknown reason, shortly after Thanksgiving, my chronic eczema went into high gear. My arms and legs were covered in painful, itchy, red blotches. My face, neck and hairline were extremely dry. All of this was inexplicable, as my habits and diet hadn't changed. After a couple of weeks with no improvement I desperately went to the dermatologist and left with no answers and little compassion. That night I sobbed. My sweet hubby made an appointment for me with a doctor in Portland he'd heard good things about, but that was still weeks away.

I decided to try a new tactic and go to the local health food store. The manager pointed me in the direction of some herbal supplements which I've been taking faithfully, twice a day, since then. My skin has improved greatly since then. I'm still dealing with dryness and some flareups on my arms, but my legs, which were painful, discolored, and sensitive to warm water, are back to normal. Thank goodness. I was suffering.

Days before my appointment in Portland I printed up the (gulp) seventeen pages of forms I was required to fill out ahead of time. There were pages of personal and psychological questions, a week's food diary, and multiple wavers. I try to give all physicians the benefit of the doubt, but the wavers raised some red flags. As a person who believes you should "go with your gut," I cancelled the appointment. One week later I have no regrets.

When the time comes to see a dermatologist again, I will go to someone else. In the meantime, I'm careful about what I eat, I take my herbal supplements and continue to try to stay one step ahead of the problems. Sometimes I'm more successful that others, but the saga did make a hermit out of me for the last 2 months. Quite a change after months of travels and adventures.

Speaking of adventures, let's back up a bit to early November. After giving Eric "carte blanc" on the Branson decision, he went ahead with the plans. After four trips in the year, what's one more, right?

I won't say the trip was without its bumps. We endured some delayed flights, severe air turbulence, and had to change hotel rooms because of some game room noise down the hall, but the vacation itself was wonderful.

We are lucky to have generous friends who recommended shows they thought we would enjoy and accompanied us to many of them. That was invaluable, because there are so many choices!

Friday afternoon we went to our first Branson show and saw The Duttons, a family of fiddlers, singers, dancers, and jokesters. They have their own theater on the city's main street (think of a smaller version of the Vegas Strip) and their own hotel behind it. Here's a quick promo video I found on YouTube:

They were a lot of fun and extremely talented.

That night we saw Jim Stafford.  I must admit, I had never heard of Jim Stafford, but Eric had and he was pretty excited to be able to see him in person. Jim Stafford also has his own theater. It was a silly show with silly songs and Eric was thrilled he got to meet Jim and take a picture with him:
(REMEMBER: You can click on any photo and see it full-sized. Click the "X" in the top right corner to return to the post."
Jim was a very nice man and we were happy to get a collection of his songs for Eric's dad as a Christmas gift. He loved it.

The next morning, Saturday, we finally got to see the famous Andy Williams Moon River Theater! There is much significance to this theater and it was the one we were excited to see the most. Andy Williams owned it and performed there for many years until the end of his life. Jimmy Osmond runs it now and has maintained it beautifully.

Eric and I spent the morning and evening there. In the morning there was a "Breakfast At Tiffany's" event, with breakfast in the gift shop and a fun meet-and-greet with the Osmond Brothers. We also went to a show of Jimmy Osmond's, with much music dedicated to Andy Williams. A very talented young man from the UK named Charlie Green also performed as well as a silly comedian/magician named Chipper Lowell. As usual, Eric was the lucky volunteer who was called up on stage!

Jimmy Osmond, me, Merrill, Eric, and Jay

That evening we saw the Osmond Brothers perform their Christmas show, along with the lovely Lennon Sisters, Janet Lennon's granddaughters, and magician Rick Thomas. It was fabulous!

Selfie of me and my adorable hubby that evening.

The Lennon Sisters are darling! L-R Mimi, Janet, and Kathy with me in the back. And in the wayyyy back is Merrill Osmond, filling up his Diet Dr. Pepper. LOL

Sunday was church and that evening we saw Clay Cooper's country show. It was fun and rowdy!

Monday morning we were back at the Duttons' theater, this time to see a morning show with singer, George Dyer. He was very good and sang a lot of showtunes from Broadway and films. Love me some showtunes!

 Monday we saw The Hughes Brothers' Christmas show. We had been hearing incredible things about this show and when we saw it, we knew why. It was SO good!  The five Hughes brothers, their wives and children comprise the largest performing family in the entire world!

But it wasn't just about quantity, but quality. Words do not do this show justice, but if you're ever in Branson during the holidays, don't miss it!  Below is a 6-minute look at the Hughes Family.

Monday night selfie at The Hughes Brothers Theater

A collage of some of my photos during this incredible show.

My photo of the finale. What an amazing, talented, admirable family!

So are you noticing a trend?  All of these performers are up there on stage with their families. Many of them run theaters together as families, even bringing their kids into show business at a young age. The kids are often home-schooled and learn an amazing work ethic, cooperation, and other life skills, all in a family setting.

Guess what we got to do on Tuesday morning? We got to sleep in! The one and only show we attended that day was at 2pm, when we saw the group SIX. Six (out of ten) performing brothers. They were great! We bought their CD of spiritual songs and it is beautiful. Here's their promo video:

Eric and me at the post-show meet-and-greet with SIX, including their proud papa, 2nd from right. A funny tidbit, Curtis, the youngest brother, at far left, was sitting in front of Eric at church the previous Sunday and they were chatting before the service. We had no idea we would be seeing him perform in two days. LOL

We had Tuesday night open and we kept it open. It was time to rest and recharge a bit. I think I was in bed by 7pm!

Wednesday was our last full day in Branson. We went to a morning show of the Bretts, another wonderfully talented performing family.
Like all of the other performances, half of the Bretts' show was dedicated to Christmas music. What made theirs unique was that it was set in the 1940s, with songs especially from that time period. This was much appreciated by the veterans in the audience, as it was Veterans Day weekend which had just passed.

Eric and I were so impressed with the continuing themes of "God and Country" that permeated throughout every show. Veterans were recognized at each performance, too, and thanked for their service. Everything we saw was very family oriented and wholesome--all good things that are lacking so much in today's entertainment.

On Wednesday night we saw the Osmond Brothers' Christmas show one last time, said farewell to our friends, and stayed up late packing and winding down from an unforgettable week. Thankfully, our return trip home was much smoother than the one a week before.

Thanksgiving and Christmas were quiet. My skin problems kept me from decorating much this year and presents were kept to a minimum, most of which we bought during our travels.

Eric worked on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. We spent Christmas Eve with his family, eating a yummy dinner at a local hotel and had a quick gift exchange at his parents' house.


We have so much to be grateful for in our lives. Our "wall of fame" in the family room is a fun reminder of 2015's adventures (plus a few adventures from previous years.)

Recognize some of these? In addition, there's my autographed Gene Kelly pic, a signed photo of me and lovely Linda Eder, more Osmond photos, including Donny & Marie.
As we look forward into this new year, we already know it will be a little quieter than the one before, which is very much OK.  Not every year will bring 5-6 trips, but they can bring love, growth, gratitude and fun. I am so very grateful for my sweet hubby, Eric! With him, there's never a shortage of those things.

We wish a Happy New Year to our family, friends, and anyone stopping by here to visit.