Posted by: mdmusingsie | March 2, 2018

Emma and the Beast from the East

We interrupt this regularly scheduled trip through sunny Los Angeles with breaking news of a blizzard in Dublin, Ireland.

Yes, you heard that right, a blizzard in Ireland.  There’s a foot of snow in my back yard, accumulated over the last 3 days.

The first few flakes started falling on Tuesday.  I opened the door to head to work and snow was blowing around the courtyard.  I went back inside and was prepared to work from home when it stopped as quickly as it began.  According to the weather folks, who we know are always right, the snow wasn’t due until well into the evening.  A few more flakes fell and melted during the day and just as I was leaving work an ominous black cloud spread across the sky and the snow started falling in earnest.

Most people had gone home already, thankfully, so I encountered only a handful of vehicles on my 2 km (1.2 mile) drive home; which was a good thing as I was being quite slow and cautious and didn’t want to encounter some renegade thinking they could stop on a dime.  It stopped again not long after I arrived home.

Wednesday morning came and during the night a good 3 inches had fallen.  Luckily I can work from home as I wasn’t about to play chicken with a bunch of people who can count on one hand how many times they’ve driven in snow.  About 80% of my company worked from home that day.

On Thursday I’m pretty sure it had risen to 100% working from home as the back garden had accumulations closer to 6-8 inches and the blizzard was due to arrive around 4 pm.  Warnings were all over the news to go home and stay home – it was going to be a doozy.  That hour came and went and only a few flakes had fallen during the day.  The heavy hitter came overnight.

Up until now, the south and west of the country had escaped largely unscathed.  Dublin had been hit the hardest by this Beast from the East as they were calling it.  (For those who haven’t yet been convinced of global warming, the polar vortex had risen 50 degrees which caused the jet stream to flow from east to west instead of the other way around.  That just ain’t normal, folks.)

But storm Emma came charging up from the south and ran smack dab into the Beast from the East and dumped a load of snow all over Ireland and the United Kingdom.

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Dublin buses haven’t run for 2 days.  The train service stopped running at mid-day on Thursday, and flights from all the airports have been cancelled since Thursday morning.  Some people have been sleeping in Dublin airport because they either can’t find, afford, or get to a hotel.

A kindly neighbor has been shoveling the walkway in the cul-de-sac (I don’t own a shovel at the moment). A few have braved the elements to get out to work or to try and pick up a few groceries.


Neighborhood kids built a snowman

Supposedly, the great thaw will begin sometime on Saturday with things returning to semi-normal on Sunday.  As much as I love the weather people, I’m not holding my breath.


(P.S. Don’t you think the title of this blog post would make a great novel.  Although, maybe it’s too similar to another popular beast who meets an enchanting woman.)

Posted by: mdmusingsie | February 24, 2018

California Dreamin’ (Part 3)

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been to an observatory.  You know, the kind with the telescopes that look up into the night sky?

I’ve been to several in my lifetime, and there were seldom more than a dozen or so people on the premises.

When we reached Griffith Observatory, up a very winding road, high into the Hollywood Hills, I was shocked at the number of people there.  There had to be several hundred, at least.

The lawn was full of amateur astronomers with their telescopes pointed at the sky. They allowed visitors to peek through the lenses to observe the moon (it was daylight), for free.  Inside the triple domed building are plenty of free exhibits, but if you want to go to the planetarium, there is a charge and the line was long.

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The views up there are amazing.  You can see almost all the way to Santa Monica. Looking at downtown LA from there, the number of skyscrapers appear far fewer than when you in the middle of them.

Once the sun sets you can stick around and view the heavens through the big telescopes in the observatory. People were already queuing an hour before sunset, so the astronomers let people in and gave a little talk about the observatory.  It included an amusing story about a woodpecker who came to visit and stayed around until the nuts it kept bringing in began to jam the mechanism that opens the aperture of the dome.

While we didn’t stay for nightfall, we did get to see an amazing sunset over LA and the surrounding areas.


Sunset over LA


Well worth checking out if you’re ever in the area.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | February 17, 2018

California Dreamin’ (part 2)

Next stop, Hollywood itself.  Hollywood Boulevard, anyway.  Grauman’s then Mann’s, then Grauman’s again, and most recently TCL Chinese Theater.  Still the icon it was back in the 1920’s.  Now it’s crawling with tourists gazing up at the structure as well as down at the hand and foot prints of some of the famous names in Hollywood.  Fred Astaire, Shirley Temple, and Marilyn Monroe, right up to Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp and other modern actors.

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The walkways of Hollywood Boulevard or Walk of Fame, contain stars of the best and brightest in Film, Music, Television, Radio, and Comedy.


Sadly, the terrazzo stars are the only bright thing on Hollywood Boulevard.  Many of the shops are drab or full of cheesy souvenirs. There’s a Hard Rock Café and a few other well kept businesses, but for the most part, the area looked rundown and in need of a major facelift.

That didn’t stop hundreds of tourists, like us, from checking out the stars and the concrete hand and footprints.


Posted by: mdmusingsie | February 10, 2018

California Dreamin’ – Part 1

In late January I was on a part-business, part-leisure trip to Los Angeles.  Having flown all that way from Dublin, a few days of sight-seeing were on the cards.

A colleague suggested the Warner Brothers’ Studio Tour.  I remember going on the Universal Studio tour years back, but didn’t remember having ever done Warner Brothers’, so I was game.

The studio and grounds are sandwiched inside a residential area, and if you didn’t know it was there it would be easy to miss.

After a short film featuring Ellen DeGeneres, we were assigned guides and loaded into carts.  Our first stop was at the Prop Shop – a building several football fields long contained props from both TV and Movie shows.  There was one section that had shelves upon shelves of different style phones.  They actually have an app where anyone making a film can search for and reserve props (for a price).

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Our next stop was a view of vehicles used in the Batman films and also featured a Batman statue.

Warner Brothers’ studio is open for rental to any filmmaker, however large or small.  If you just need a street scene and a few props, that’s available for rent.  Even the trees can be re-located to fit the scene. Want to get married in a studio?  That’s an option, too.

We drove through the streets of several “towns”, some of which were mere façades, while others were complete houses.  Our guide mentioned the name of a number of TV shows that were filmed in these areas, including Friends, Little Sheldon, and Mom.

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Meandering around the sound stages, we noticed designated parking for different high profile directors, writers, and specific TV shows.  Each soundstage has a plaque showing which shows or movies were made, at least in part, inside, and if the TV show had enough longevity, a separate plaque showed the name of the show.

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As it was a Saturday and no filming was happening, we were allowed to view The Ellen DeGeneres set.  If you go during the week you may not get this opportunity, depending on filming schedules.

One of the last stops was an exhibit featuring costumes and props from The Wonder Woman movies as well as Harry Potter.

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The last stop is another exhibition hall where you can sit on the sofas from Friends, pretend you’re a Hobbit, ride a broom, and explore some of the myriad of movies and films.


Costumes from My Fair Lady

It was an interesting look at a little of the behind-the-scenes workings of Hollywood.

Oh, and lest I forget to mention, the temperatures were in the mid-upper 80’s F (30-35 C)!  A far cry from the 33F (1C) when I arrived back in Dublin.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | December 25, 2017

Happy Holidays!


Traditionally, I’ve gone “window” shopping in Dublin during the holidays to see what festive scenes the stores created.  This year, however, early December was bitterly cold and I couldn’t get a day off during the week (weekends are just thronged with people walking in front of the camera).

So here’s a few other sites (stick with this one until the end where the Arnotts windows are) that will give you a glimpse into the 2017 collection (I’m glad I’m not the only who has issues with glare).

For my part, I give you a peek at a wonderful Christmas dessert I discovered at Tesco. It’s a tree (well really an upside down ice cream cone) made of Belgian chocolate, with a silvery shimmer on the outside and nothing but yummy goodness on the inside. The tree rests atop a gooey brownie, topped with chocolate mousse wrapped around a dollop of soft caramel and sprinkled with honeycomb and shortcake pieces.  Pure decadence!

Beannachtaí an tSéasúir agus athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh! Hope you have a Happy Holiday Season and best wishes for 2018!

Posted by: mdmusingsie | December 10, 2017

This Was Not My Mother’s Bingo

A friend of mine at work invited me to play bingo at one of the local bingo parlors.  I’ve played bingo plenty of times in the past, particularly in Las Vegas with my Mother as she enjoys the game.  However, when the games started, I realized I wasn’t in Kansas (or anywhere else in the US) anymore.

We arrived just as the early bird session was starting and were handed our paper booklets. In the bingo sessions I’ve played in the US, you normally get a sheet explaining which games had which pattern.  There was no such cheat sheet.  My friend had played in Scotland before so she wasn’t nearly as confused as I was when I looked at the sheets we were marking.

Firstly, there is no B-I-N-G-O across the top, and secondly the numbers go from 1 to 90.  This was a whole new ball-game. To add to the confusion, the numbers are called very quickly – much more quickly than I was used to. Throw in the different accent of the caller along with the funny names they had for some numbers, I was way out of my comfort zone.

Anything ending in a 0 is called a blind – e.g. 30 they call as 3-0, blind thirty.  Others included ‘half way’ for 45, ‘top of the shelf’ for 90, double N’s for 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77, 88 (11 was something to do with legs), and the one it took me a long time to interpret 9 – call the doctor.  I had to remember that to call emergency services in Ireland you dial 999 and not 911 like the US.

To win on this new form of bingo, all games start with one line, so you have to get all numbers on one line on any grouping on the page.  Once someone had one line we played for 2 lines on the same page, and then 3 lines or full house.



It took me a number of games/pages to not only figure out that putting a slash through a number (we used plain markers instead of daubers) didn’t give enough visibility to the pattern, and also to recognize when I had a full line (or 2).

Just when I started getting the hang of it, we began playing some bonus pages and instead of going 1-line, 2-line, full house, they skipped the 2 line game. Of course they did this the one and only time I actually had the required patters – 2 lines.  So there I go, embarrassing myself in my first game of Euro (or at least UK and Ireland) bingo, by calling out when I had 2 lines but needed a full house.

Oh, and by the way – you don’t call BINGO! when you win – you shout “check”, which I’m assuming means check my numbers.  A few veterans would call “thank you” in appreciation of the win.

In this bingo you’re not allowed to savor your one- or two-line win because as soon as they verify your page they are calling numbers again until the page is complete.  It certainly cuts down on the chatter, as people, especially new players like me, have to concentrate on the rapid fire of numbers.

Neither my friend nor I won anything, but it certainly was entertaining and I’ll definitely give it a try again.  But this time I’ll be prepared for this new-fangled way of playing Bingo.


Another, less radically modified game I came across was McDonald’s Monopoly (I don’t frequent there that often but sometimes it’s the only fast food restaurant around and they do have lovely strawberry lemonade).  The board, railroad, and colors are the same, but the name of the properties have been changed to Irish places – O’Connell Street, Henry Street, Talbot Street, and other well known places in Ireland.


So as they say, when in Rome….

Posted by: mdmusingsie | November 25, 2017

Colonial Williamsburg

The last in my Virginia 2017 series is for Colonial Williamsburg – a town that is part residence, part tourist attraction.   The shopkeepers, innkeepers, and guides are all dressed in period costume.   Some of the homes on the main street, and more on the side streets, are actually inhabited by “normal” people – people who aren’t participating in the 18th century experience.  As I listened to some fellow tourists questioning re-enactors in one of the shops, I found out that some of the workers have the opportunity to stay in the houses in the town.  Whilst it may be entertaining to take part in the colonial experience, I’m not sure I’d want thousands of strangers walking past my windows every day.  There are several hotels within walking distance if you would like to spend more than a day exploring the town and assorted events that happen each day.

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We began our exploration in the Governor’s Palace.   The entry hall has a myriad of weapons mounted artfully but no less menacingly from floor to ceiling.  As a Governor’s residence, it was grand for its time; a point when most of the common people lived in one or two room homes with bathrooms and kitchens in out-buildings.  In one of the rooms was a corner chair that also served as a chamberpot – giving a new meaning to potty-chair.

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A stroll from the mansion down the Palace Green took us to the main street, known as Duke of Gloucester Street. The street contains everything from a tin shop, blacksmith, post office, grocer, apothecary, and milliner, along with a handful of taverns. There was also a market square where open-air merchants plied their wares.

We took a ride in a horse drawn carriage and drew the long straw by getting to ride in the Governor’s carriage.  Despite the outer grandeur, it’s not the most comfortable ride, as shock-absorbers hadn’t been invented yet, but we did have a pleasant, brief tour of town.


Governor’s Coach – available for hire for a jaunt around town – Colonial Williamsburg

At the far end of the street stood the impressive, four turreted Capitol building.  This is actually the third building on the site, the first two having burnt down.  This is where the two branches of government would draft their laws.  The upper floor was split into the House of Burgesses, or elected officials’ side, and the Governor’s Council side.  The elected officials met in a sparse room with plain tables and chairs or benches whilst the Governor’s council had fancy paneling, comfy chairs, and elegant desks.  Between the two chambers was a modest room where the two sides would meet to discuss their proposals.   On the ground floor was a courtroom where serious crimes were debated.  A narrow balcony, accessible from the stairway to the upper floor, was where law students would gather to watch the proceedings and learn the tricks of their trade.

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We also had a private (there was no one else around) tour of the Thomas Everard House which is catty-corner from the Governor’s mansion.  It’s one of the oldest surviving homes in Colonial Williamsburg.  The main bedroom is on the ground floor behind the sitting room. On the other side are the dining room and an office.  Upstairs are two bedrooms where the children and/or servants would have slept.  Behind the house is the original brick kitchen along with a smoke house.  This house contained another corner chair (this one wasn’t a potty chair) which I’ve come to admire for their architectural creativity.

Colonial Williamsburg is a very interesting place to visit and you can easily spend more than a day exploring all the houses and taking part in the activities.  You can fire a musket for a whopping, 2017 rate of $119 (it’s an hour long event) or take the less expensive aggression relief activity option of throwing an ax for $20 (20 minutes).  Maybe take part in some of the more modestly priced extras like a ghost tour, pub crawl, pig roast, or ox-wagon ride.  Even if you don’t partake of the extras there are plenty of places to explore and things to do with the basic entry fee.  A worthwhile place to visit and plenty of fun for adults and kids.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | November 7, 2017

Founding Fathers’ Foundations (Part 3 of 3)

The last estate we visited was James Madison’s Montpelier. George Washington also has estates in the Virginia, but I ran out of time and didn’t get to visit Mount Vernon – hopefully next time.

Montpelier was built by Madison’s father as the family home and was later enlarged by James and Dolley after their marriage. It is similar in size to main structure of Monticello

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James Madison was the 4th President of the US, the architect of the Constitution, and author of the Bill of Rights. His plan formed the three branches of government to provide checks and balances – the very same checks and balances that show signs of erosion in recent times.  Initially opposed to a bill of rights that might exclude important rights, Madison saw that the Constitution wouldn’t be ratified by the states without one.

Madison’s wife, Dolley worked behind the scenes both as hostess in the White House during Jefferson’s presidency (he was a widower at the time) as well as during her husband’s tenure as president.

In the cellars a new exhibit called The Mere Distinction of Colour depicts the life and time of slaves.  It includes accounts from descendants of slaves recounting events as told to them by those who lived and worked in the plantations.

James Madison didn’t quite make it to July 4th, passing away on June 28th, 1836.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | November 6, 2017

Founding Fathers’ Foundations (Part 2 of 3)

Next up and very close to Monroe’s Highland is Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.  A more striking residence, anyone familiar with US currency will recognize the building as it is depicted on the flip side of the nickel (5 cent) coin.  Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence and the 3rd President of the United States.



The dome we are so familiar with is actually not part of the original house.  After being inspired by European architecture, Jefferson remodeled Monticello to add the now famous feature.  Although the public rooms are well proportioned, Jefferson made spectacular use of space.  His own bed was in an alcove between his office and bedchamber. The guest room where James and Dolley Madison stayed when they visited had the bed inset into an alcove with cupboards above for storage.  Dolley Madison was said to not favor the room as cupboards above the bed made it claustrophobic.


Monticello dumbwaiter

Jefferson was a keen observer of the weather and would have known about the sweltering summers and freezing winters in Virginia. Kitchens were seldom in the same building as the house in those days, due to the risk of fire. To avoid having to transport food and supplies to the house during inclement weather, there is a passageway that runs from one wing through the cellars of the house to the other wing.  In one of the cellars is a dumbwaiter so that wine or port could be sent to Jefferson in his study without the intrusion of servants.

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A firm believer in the power of education, Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819.  He made sure that he had a view of the campus from his home in Monticello.


View of University of Virginia from Monticello

Something of a visionary, he employed the technology of his day including a polygraph.  Not the kind used to tell truth from fiction when a person is questioned, but a writing implement that has two pens such that moving one in the act of writing moves the other in the same manner to make an exact copy of any letter or document – an 18th century copy machine.  It’s because of his foresight we are able to have a deeper glimpse into the life and times of one of the most iconic men in US history.

Like the other estates, Monticello was a working plantation. The street adjacent to the house called Mulberry Row is where the slaves as well as free or indentured craftspeople lived and worked.


Monticello slave quarters


Monticello slave quarters

Jefferson struggled with slavery like many of his compatriots, but acknowledged they were necessary at that time in order to fund the ventures that led to the founding of the United States. He is known to have fathered six children with slave Sally Hemmings after his wife’s death.  Whether the relationship was more than slave and master is lost to history.

Thomas Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826 – wanting to make it once more to that revered date when he and his fellow founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence.  John Quincy Adams died the same day, just a few hours later. Coincidentally (or not), James Monroe also died on July 4th, but five years later in 1821.  These men felt passionately about the country they helped to establish.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | November 5, 2017

Founding Fathers’ Foundations (Part 1 of 3)

Virginia is a hotbed for US history buffs.  Most of the founding fathers had residences in the state and several, quite impressive ones survive today.

Our first stop was at the smallest of the three estates I visited – James Monroe’s (5th President) Highland (aka knows as Ash Lawn which is a name given by owners after Monroe).  The house that exists today is not Monroe’s original house which burned down not longer after he sold the property.  Initially it was thought the present house stood on the same foundations as the original home, but recent excavations have shown Monroe’s house was actually larger.  Stone marking in the garden show some of the original, extended foundations.


Highland – Flat stones mark where the original foundations once were

The guest house is considered to be original and is attached to the main house.  As it may take a day or more to travel from places like Williamsburg or Jamestown to the plantations of James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, they all required quest quarters to house the travelers who would stay for upwards of a month at a time.


Highland – Guest quarters

Viewable from the guest quarters are reconstructions of some of the slave housings along with the original smoke house. All of these estates were working plantations – that’s how these men made their living. There were no hefty salaries or lifelong pensions for our founding fathers. They even paid their own travel expenses which included visits to foreign countries.


Highland – reconstructed slave quarters (L) and original smoke house (R)

Similar to the other two estates I visited, Monroe struggled with slavery – on one hand considering it evil and on the other hand fearing the consequences of immediate emancipation. He participated in a venture in Liberia to attempt to repatriate freed slaves.

Monroe may be best known for the Monroe Doctrine, essentially stating that any interference by foreign governments in the administration of the US could be considered a hostile act.  With recent questions regarding the electoral process, history has a way of coming full circle, though sometimes with different players.

In the garden is a life-sized statue of Monroe that was commissioned by Argentina in honor of the Monroe Doctrine, but subsequent unrest in the country meant the statue was never delivered.


James Monroe

Lesser known about Monroe is that as a young lieutenant he crossed the Delaware during George Washington’s famous campaign. Additionally, he was the one to actually negotiate the Louisiana Purchase with France. Jefferson tends to get the credit for this endeavor because he was President at the time, but it was Monroe in France who did the actual negotiations.

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