Goodbye 2020

Ending this endless downer of year on a good note with watching Uncle Vanya again on BBC Four last night…

As I’ve already seen this twice in the theatre and once in the cinema not long ago, I admit to now and again simultaneously also reading on my new e-reader that I’ve fallen in love with. I’m reading the Bridgerton series right now and late last night finished book 3, book 4 is up next.

I did record Uncle Vanya so that I can view it again and again if I choose to. 🙂

I’m not feeling particularly reflective today, so just looking ahead to the new year and a promise for better times. We’re ready here for the evening with the traditional Dutch ‘oliebollen‘ and ‘appelbeignets‘…

I hope you all have a nice New Year’s Eve!

Recent enjoyments

As usual I’ve been watching quite a lot of things over the past two months or so and some of that I have really enjoyed. I always mean to blog about what I enjoyed but somehow other things come up and I don’t write about as much as I could have done, mostly because I’m too lazy to go into more lengthy critiques. So, now I am summing up some things I’ve been enjoying entertainment wise recently, with shorter comments instead of lengthy reviews.

Let me start with Hallmark, which are basically mindless movies that I can enjoy after intense periods such as closely following elections in the USA or dealing with work stuff that frustrates me. I needed to take my mind off things for a bit, so after a bit of a Hallmark hiatus, I dove back into it to watch some of the Christmas Hallmark movies these past two months. Although most of them were fast forward worthy (I was again reminded of my Hallmark Christmas movie nightmare I once had), there were a few that I did quite enjoy. My fave (of the ones I have seen) is a movie with Warren Christie and Candace Cameron Bure with the very uninspiring title If I Only Had Christmas. It’s about a cheerful publicist teaming up with a cynical undercover rich business owner as they help a charity in need at Christmastime. I found especially the performance of Warren Christie to be quite soulful, which gave the not too surprising story (no Hallmark story ever is) an extra dimension.

I also liked the Paul Campbell and Kimberley Sustad movie, which they also co-wrote together, called Christmas By Starlight. The story is about a lawyer who makes a deal with the heir to a development firm to spare her family’s restaurant from demolition. She spends the week with him posing as the legal counsel his father is demanding he hire in the wake of some costly mistakes. I’ve blogged about Paul Campbell before, I always enjoy watching him, and Kimberley Sustad really is a perfect partner for him and he for her, this is their third film (I think) together. Again, the story isn’t too surprising but there are some fun scenes and there’s some amusing easy banter that goes along well with their easy rapport with each other; I enjoyed watching this.

Last month I already mentioned the Lucas Bryant movie (The Angel Tree) that I also enjoyed, so those were the end of year Hallmark highlights for me.

Putting Hallmark aside (it needs to be enjoyed in not too large doses) I also watched a German movie called Der Vorname (thank you Herba for the suggestion!) about a family dinner where a family member, who is an expectant father, announces that he wants to name his baby son Adolf. Not only the controversy over the name makes this movie good, it’s also very funny at times and the family dynamics and annoyances are very real and relatable. I know not all my German readers will agree, but German movies can be really good and usually tend to be way better than Dutch ones, this is another example of that. I really enjoyed it and actually ended up watching this twice to make sure I caught all the nuances.

I watched the second season of The Alienist (8 sepisodes) at the beginning of November which I really enjoyed, just as I had enjoyed the first season when I first saw it last year or so. Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) now has her own detective agency and teams up again with Dr. Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) and reporter John Moore (Luke Evans) to find a serial kidnapper and killer of babies. I didn’t like the ending between Sara and John very much, so I hope a third season will come to correct that.

The Alienist lead me to another period drama detective series which I finally got around to watching about two weeks ago. It’s called Miss Scarlet and the Duke, starring Kate Philips as Eliza Scarlet and Stuart Martin as the duke/inspector William Wellington. It’s set in Victorian London and is about the headstrong Eliza Scarlet who is left penniless when her father dies and decides to continue her father’s detective agency, to the annoyance of her childhood friend and also Scotland Yard detective inspector William Wellington. She becomes the first-ever female detective in Victorian London and is soon solving murders. Of course there is some sexual tension between the two but this series isn’t only about that. There is only one season (consisting of 6 episodes) of this show and I especially liked the last two episodes, which left me wanting more. Apparently filming for a second season was halted due to the Covid 19 epidemic but I really hope that second season will come.

I also watched some more serious stuff that I enjoyed, mostly US political stuff around the time of the US presidential elections. I saw The Way I See It, a documentary about White House photographer Pete Souza, who closely documented the 8 years of Barack Obama’s presidency and also did some photography of Ronald Reagan. It’s a fascinating portrait of the Obama presidency as seen through his lense and from a human standpoint shows such a stark contrast with the current US president. Pete Souza is a soft-spoken, almost shy man, who likes to blend into the background, but for this documentary takes up a bit more of the stage as he presents his work.

In more politics, I also finally got around to watching the four part documentary series Hillary last month, which is an intimate portrait of former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and how she became one of the most admired and also vilified women in the world. It was a fascinating watch and though, yes, she may have her faults, she still would have made a far better president than Donald Trump.

Recently I also watched The Long Song, a three part BBC series from 2018 that I had meant to watch but never got around to until now. It’s about the end of slavery in 19th century Jamaica and follows the life of slave girl July (Tamara Lawrance). The tone of the drama is a bit mixed, in parts trying to be humorous in its voiceover and that feels off, but the story is very compelling nonetheless and I was fascinated throughout. I don’t know how truthful the narrative is, but it really is worth a watch. Tamara Lawrance is awesome as the feisty and rebellious July and so were Hayley Atwell who played her spoiled owner and Jack Lowden as the idealistic overseer who loses himself.

The only book on this list of things I enjoyed these past two months or so, is the only book I actually got around to reading during this time (yeah, too little reading going on here!). Over Christmas I read Michelle Obama’s Becoming. It was a great read and helped me understand more about who she is, her background, and also gave me a little insight into the dynamics of her marriage to Barack. The telling of her years before she became First Lady is almost more compelling than the last part of the book set during the presidency, as the formative years are very much the foundation of who she came to be and those stories were (to me) less known. The book was a very thoughtful telling of her life and was a bit of an analysis of her character as well. I’d already seen (and enjoyed) the documentary of her book tour a while back, I was glad to now finally read the book itself, giving me more insight in the woman behind the icon.

The book reminded me that I had once read about a movie that had been made about the young Obamas love story. It turned out to be a 2016 film that was made about the Obama’s first date back in 1989 called Southside With You. The film is of course speculative in its dialogue but, knowing a bit more about that first date and about the Obamas through the Becoming book, it really felt true to Barack and Michelle to me. It’s got a very calm and thoughtful feel to it (I really liked Parker Sawyers as Barack Obama) and although I wouldn’t give it the 4 stars it gets on this promo picture, I still thought it was very nicely done. Over time I’ve watched a couple of Harry and Meghan love story adaptations, a TV film about the Danish crown princess Mary (who was born Australian) and her prince’s love story; way back I once saw an awful adaptation of William and Kate’s love story and not long ago I saw bits and pieces of the latest season of The Crown. Of all these true story adaptations that I’ve seen, I thought Southside With You was way better than any of them.

Last but not least, and on a completely different note, just after Christmas I binge-watched the new costume drama Bridgerton on Netflix. It’s set in Jane Austen times at the beginning of the 19th century and centers around the Bridgerton family (a widowed mother and her 4 sons and 4 daughters), the eldest daughter Daphne ‘coming out’ during the London season and falling in love with a duke. It’s apparently an adaptation of a romance novel, and while it looks and is set in Regency times, it has some modern twists, with most notably a truly wonderful diverse cast that I love. The characters are all fun and it has quite a lot of sexy times in it too (which I really didn’t need to see that much of but was fine). It’s filled with clichés but boy, is it a fun watch!

This adaptation is made after the Bridgerton romance novel series written by Julia Quinn, aparently there is a book each for each of the siblings. I found them online, dipped through the first book and the story looks to be pretty much like the Netflix series. Instead of reading that, I went on to actually read all of the second book (The Viscount Who Loved Me) yesterday afternoon/evening (it’s a quick and fun read), which centers on the love story of oldest brother Anthony. Yes, I will be reading more because I want to know what becomes of all these Bridgerton siblings and Penelope (from a neighbouring family). I hope Netflix will renew Bridgerton for a second series. For all it’s love story clichés, it’s very well done, it has a light touch, good characters, some nice thoughts on how society became so diverse (which is a series thing and not in the books, by the way) and also dives into the roles of women, their status, conforming where they don’t necessarily want to conform and showing how keeping genteel women in the dark about sex really disenfranchises them. It really is a fun and sometimes even thought provoking world to get lost in for a while. I’m already waiting for more.

That’s it, my recent enjoyments (off the top of my head). This afternoon my new Kobo e-reader that I ordered yesterday should be arriving (the old Sony one I had had its issues and with the Christmas bonus I got from work I figured it was time for a new one). I think I may be ensconced in the Bridgerton books for a while on my new e-reader before I delve into Barack Obama’s biography, so there’s a chance there may be less blogging going on for a while. Two more days till the New Year and I intend to spend it reading a lot. 🙂

A quieter Christmas

Christmas this year was quite lovely albeit a little more low key than usual due to Covid 19 restrictions. Thankfully everyone I know is in good health, so we actually could still have a nice Christmas and see a few people.

This year we didn’t get to go to a Christmas market in Germany with two good friends of ours from college, like we do every year. At the Christmas markets we sometimes keep the commemorative mug from the Glühwein (mulled wine) that we usually drink then. This year there would be no Glühwein in mugs at markets like we’d been having for more than 20 years. So, I had our own commemorative mugs made with selfies from Christmas markets past, for Mr Esther, myself and for our two friends.

The text translates to “Due to Covid 19, a mug instead of a Christmas market. Merry Christmas 2020!”

We were going to try a socially distanced get together instead of a market at one of our friends’ houses about a week before Christmas but then the other friend canceled because she had some cold symptoms. Good thing she did too as she tested positive for Covid 19 a day later! She and her husband both had it, although luckily only mildly. I still wanted to get my mugs to our friends, so last Monday mini me and I drove to the healthy friend, handed her her mug and spent half an hour drinking tea with her at a distance. On Christmas Eve Mr Esther, mini me and I drove over an hour north and dropped off the other mug. We set it down infront of our other friend’s door and then, keeping a good distance outside despite her not having any symptoms anymore, we chatted across her front garden with her for about 15 minutes. It was good to bring a little Christmas cheer that way.

We had a nice drive back home coming through some typical Dutch landscapes and the picturesque town of Volendam, which was quite deserted due to the lockdown we’re now having…

Back at home again, we had a quiet Christmas Eve dinner with Junior’s girlfriend also present and we unwrapped a few small gifts with her as he wouldn’t be seeing her for the rest of Christmas. Afterwards I dedicated myself to finally reading the rest of my Michelle Obama “Becoming” book that I had bought second hand a while back and had started reading the first 3 or 4 chapters of but still needed to finish. The cats seized that opportunity to lie on and next to me.

One of my favourite things that day was my brother sending us a video of my mother reading the Christmas story from our old family bible. On Second Christmas Day (or Boxing Day, December 26th) we usually have a big family get together where she does that but, as the whole family get together wasn’t happening this year, I loved that my brother (who’s temporarily living with her) made that little video and sent it out. It’s one to cherish for the ages.

On Christmas morning, Mr Esther made us a nice brunch, we then unwrapped our gifts. I got lovely cat socks that I adore and chocolates from mini me, Junior got me Barack Obama’s “Promised Land” that I had wanted and Mr Esther got me a Audrey Hepburn calendar and a portable record player, so that I could play my old Bowie records. My fave thing that I got for Mr Esther was a “Blessed are the cheesemakers” t-shirt (a line from the brilliant Monty Python’s The Life of Brian). As Mr Esther is a cheese nerd, it felt like a very fitting gift for him.

Mr Esther has no siblings so we could adhere the ‘no more than 3 guests’ rule easily by inviting our in laws (whom we hadn’t seen in months) over for dinner. We table grilled. On Second Christmas Day in the afternoon we went to my mother and my brother and had a low key delicious turkey buffet dinner at her house.

In between these social activities we played a game or two and I read and read and read, really enjoying the Michelle Obama book. Today is a lazing around day, I finished the book a few hours ago but, even though I love the Obamas (even made a video once as they left office in January 2017), I need a little Obama break before I start Barack’s book.

Anyway, I hope all of you who celebrate in one way or another had a nice Christmas too. Now it’s back to the real world again, I guess. For me that means that from tomorrow I should become productive again (we have some storage clearing out to do). For now I’m loving the down time, though, so we’ll see if that happens.

Feierabend

The German word above, literally meaning “celebration evening”, is a good word. It’s what you call the end of the working day in Germany. Busy work week again for me and especially today was filled with lots of video meetings. Those really do get quite exhausting. Mr Esther must be even more exhausted, because he’s been at it with the video chats even longer than I have today and is now (at 6.45 pm as I type this) still working.

I worked some on my day off yesterday as well, so I stopped an hour early today, did the weekend grocery shop (supermarket gets much quieter here at the end of the afternoon) and now finally my Feierabend has come. I’m ready for the weekend…

… but, unlike Mr Esther, I still have work to do tomorrow. Maybe wait with the wine until Feierabend tomorrow?

Decided to enjoy my cats outside for a few moments (OK, picture of my black cat was taken yesterday but it sure is a really pretty picture of her!)…

… and I’m gearing up for a new book on my e-reader…

I’d gotten pretty worked up about that Audrey Hepburn book I read recently and I get very upset by the news (even though I’m not looking at social media so very much nowadays) and work is busy, so I want and need something calming now. My e-reader houses a whole collection of Georgette Heyer books that I’ve never read, to be accessed on just such an occasion when I need something light. I’ve only ever read one or two Heyers, I think now might be a good time to try a third.

Of course, just as Feierabend hits and I finally sit in our garden, the first drops of rain are starting to fall. Well, time for getting dinner ready anyway. Looks like my e-book needs to wait until this evening…

Fictional crush challenge addendum

I just finished my 10 days, 10 fictional crushes challenge yesterday but as I am someone who develops crushes all the time, I decided on a bonus edition. So, here are some images of other fictional crushes that I’ve had that didn’t make it into the 10 days. This time I’m sticking to few or no explanations, as was originally intended.

Let me start with a daddy crush on Charles Ingalls/Pa (Michael Landon) in Little House on the Prairie

Gilbert Blythe (Jonathan Crombie) from Anne of Green Gables from when I was a teen.

I also really like Anne with an E‘s Gilbert (Lucas Zumann)…

…but he’s the age of my son, so it’s more like a mommy-crush. I keep on wanting to take care of him because he is an orphan and I keep on wanting him to be happy with his girl. I made a ton of Anne with an E (and Gilbert) videos, viewable here.

Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) in Roman Holiday…

James McKay (also Gregory Peck) in The Big Country...

Captain Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck) in The Guns of Navarone

Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews) in Brideshead Revisited

Sir Percy Blakeney (also Anthony Andrews) in The Scarlet Pimpernel

Don Pedro (Denzel Washington) in Much Ado About Nothing. Beatrice should have accepted him…

Harry Kennedy (Richard Armitage) in The Vicar of Dibley

John Porter (Richard Armitage) in Strike Back….

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) in The Hobbit

Neo (Keanu Reeves) in The Matrix

Alex Wyler (also Keanu Reeves) in The Lake House

Remington Steele (baby Pierce Brosnan) in the 1980s tv show of the same name…

Daniel Rafferty (Pierce Brosnan) in Laws of Attraction. For me, sexier than James Bond…

I made a couple of Pierce Brosnan videos for Remington Steele, Laws of Attraction and Love is all you need, to be seen here if you’re so inclined.

Not normally a Mr. Bingley fan but I love this Mr. Bingley (Naveen Andrews) for this scene in Bride and Prejudice. I can’t tell you how often I have seen this clip. This is the sexiest Bingley I know.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) from the Thor Avengers movies.

Doctor Lucien Blake (Craig McLachlan) from The Doctor Blake Mysteries. This is the only one on the list where I’m not so fond of the actor himself but I do really like the character and he does a great job bringing that character to life.

And finally, Sebastian Lacroix, or Bash, (Dalmar Abuzeid) from Anne with an E


OK, now this really is it and I am finally, truly ending this challenge. These were the honorary mentions; I’m probably missing a few more but it should still be enough.