Category Archives: Around the World

7 Life Lessons From My Summer Vacation

by Kassandra Lamb

Remember those essays we had to write in school…What I Did on My Summer Vacation?

Well, I went to Europe on mine.

It’s a trip that hubs and I had begun to plan multiple times (starting in 2015), and something always happened to derail the plan. So this year, we were determined.

The trip was all about seeing some sights we’d been wanting to see for years—which we did—but I also picked up a few life lessons along the way.

Lesson #1 — People can be family even if they don’t speak the same language.
Our friend Nathalie, with the baguette for dinner, in the town nearest her home.

The first week of our trip was spent in Brittany, France, visiting a friend of twenty some years now. My husband, the linguist, speaks fluent French, but me, not so much. He sees this friend and her family every couple of years, when he’s overseas doing what linguists do (after 43 years of marriage, I’m still trying to figure out what that is). I’ve been over there four or five times now.

Dessert our second evening in France.

The French are fairly reserved with strangers, but once they get to know you—and if they decide they like you—then you’re family. We were welcomed with open arms, bised (kissed on the cheeks) by every man, woman and child in the extended family, and then fed until we almost exploded!

And every meal was accompanied by lively conversation (most of which washed right over my head) and lots of laughter.

It was a wonderful, joyful time and a great way to start our adventure!

Lesson #2 — Our lives today would be radically changed, if a few things had happened a bit differently in the past.

Our second stop was Brest, France, the city where our friend’s eldest daughter lives and works.

View of Brest from our Airbnb’s window.

Brest is a major French naval port. During a visit to the naval museum there, we discovered that the French Navy, and this port in particular, played a pivotal role in our War of Independence.

Four-hundred and fifty ships of the Royal Navy were dispatched from Brest to intercept and blockade the British Navy near Yorktown in 1781. They kept supplies and reinforcements from reaching land, a turning point in the war that eventually led to the signing of the peace treaty.

The tip of the iceberg. Underground are several stories of the German installation, now a museum.

On a more somber note, a visit to a World War II museum, in a former Nazi artillery bunker on the coastline near Brest, poignantly reminded us of how much France and Europe had suffered during that war.

The artifacts of the war included possessions, drawings and photos of specific, real people—military from both sides and French civilians—accompanied by audio recordings of actors playing those people and telling us about their experiences (based on diaries, journals and letters). The hair stood up on the back of my neck a few times.

A profound sight: the juxtaposition of these remnants of a devastating war against the tranquil countryside and the sea beyond.

Brest was a very strategic port for the Germans, and therefore it was bombed regularly by the Allied Forces. Most of the city was destroyed and had to be rebuilt.

It was quite an experience, looking out over the cityscape of modern buildings from our Airbnb’s window, and suddenly having one’s eye stopped by a surviving church spire, a castle tower or an ancient house—the only reminders left that this city was founded before the Middle Ages.

Can you spot the castle? (No, it’s not the tall tower slightly to the left; look a bit to the right instead.)
Lesson #3 — Online friends can be just as wonderful as IRL friends.

Next up was a visit with a friend in Glasgow, Scotland, and a trip to her “wee cottage” on the Isle of Arran.

The side wall of my friend’s “wee” cottage and the view from her front window.
I discovered when I got home that I hadn’t taken any pics of my friend. 🙁 But I did get this one of her wee dog, and my friend’s shoes.

This friend is someone I’ve “known” online for several years now, and I was so excited to finally meet her in person.

She showed us a delightful time!

And I am now proud to call her an in-real-life friend.

Lesson #4 — Some things resist being checked off the bucket list.
No, it’s not Hogwarts, it’s the University of Glasgow on a typical Scottish cloudy day.

We felt like we “did” Glasgow sufficiently (plus a day trip to Edinburgh).

But the Isle of Arran gave us a taste of the beauty of the highlands that left us wanting more. So we’re hoping we can spend some time again on the island, soaking up that beauty at a more leisurely pace.

Maybe we’ll rent one of the lovely holiday cottages that are so plentiful on the island.

Lesson #5 — Sacred spaces come in all shapes and sizes.

High on my bucket list was Stonehenge, and hubs and I are also cathedral junkies. So a trip to Salisbury was the centerpiece of our week in England. After a stop-over in Stratford-upon-Avon for a Shakespeare fix, our train chugged into Salisbury on one of the few sunny afternoons during this leg of the journey.

We dumped our bags in our room and walked the few blocks to get a look at the outside of the cathedral. And stood with our mouths hanging open for a while.

Salisbury Cathedral, built between 1220 and 1238, is one of the biggest and most magnificent cathedrals we’ve ever seen (and that’s saying something).

The next morning we attended the 10:30 mass before shifting into our tourist roles. It was a lovely service, especially in such an awe-inspiring space.

And we visited with the local parishioners for a while afterwards, during the “coffee hour” that is part of almost every Episcopalian/Anglican service in the world (I’m Episcopalian).

Then we wandered around the cathedral’s interior for quite some time (with more mouth-hanging-open moments), before having tea and scones for lunch in the refectory.

The next day, we went to Stonehenge, and we weren’t nearly so lucky with the weather there. It was rainy and dreary the whole time.

We kept asking ourselves why we were walking around in the rain just to look at a bunch of rocks. And yet, we kept walking, and staring.

And stopping to take “one last photo” of those stones that were obviously intentionally placed in that field, in some particular arrangement for some sacred reason, many centuries ago.

Indeed, some of the stones have a blue cast to them that identifies them as a type of rock NOT naturally found in that area. The constructors of Stonehenge had dragged those huge rocks on sledges across many miles to that spot.

Archeologists are still piecing together the whys and wherefores of the phenomenon that is Stonehenge.

Lesson #6 — The justice we take for granted in the West is not universal.

Salisbury Cathedral houses one of the few remaining original copies of the Magna Carta. I hadn’t given much thought to that part of the visit beforehand, assuming that this would just be another historical memento I would glance at and think, “That’s interesting.”

But the Cathedral folks have done a really good job of pointing out the significance of this document, signed begrudgingly by King John of England in 1215.

With various displays around the room, they remind visitors that rights we take for granted in “Western” countries—such as the right to not be arrested without due process and being considered innocent until proven guilty—all stemmed from this incident in British history.

And these concepts are not universal in other countries.

Lesson #7 — Nobody’s getting any younger, so go where you really want to go sooner instead of later.

We were really sorry we’d waited so long to make this trip, especially since we found the lugging of suitcases, the climbing of steps and the many miles of walking much more challenging then in the past.

So our next big adventure will be happening a lot sooner. Before our old bodies give out on us completely.

How about you? What did you do on your summer vacation? And what’s still on your bucket list?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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Santa Cruz Weird

by Vinnie Hansen

Even though we’re not a large city, people across the country know of Santa Cruz, California. Huntington Beach may think it’s “Surf City,” but everyone here knows we claim the title.

After all, we’re the ones with a statue of a surfer who wears a pumpkin head on Halloween. And Jack O’Neill, inventor of the wetsuit, lived here until his death last year. Santa Cruz has  a lighthouse converted to a Surfing Museum and even a hanger for Lost Souls.

This pole is right beside Jack O’Neill’s home.

Others recognize Santa Cruz as a tourist destination featuring a beautiful coastline and The Boardwalk, with its historic, wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster. But there’s so much more here!

Santa Cruz overflows with artists and musicians. The Doobie Brothers and Neil Young  lived here. Santa Cruz produced James Durbin (who should have won American Idol). My own orchestra leader used to play with Eddie Money. For visual artists, we have a long-running Open Studios event, and we offer first-rate theater via Santa Cruz Shakespeare.

Here I am with The Great Morgani.

Music, visual art, and theater collide in local legend, The Great Morgani. The Great Morgani is a real musician with over 1,000 songs in his repertoire. His costumes (over 50) are all hand-crafted masterpieces that cover even his accordion. And he has his patter down—artist, musician, and thespian—rolled into one. And, just a little weird—a perfect representative for Santa Cruz.

Where else but Santa Cruz can you find Sons of the Beach—as many as 200 ukulele players congregating every Saturday morning to play music? And that’s separate from the Santa Cruz Ukulele Club, which boasts it’s the largest ukulele club in the world!

Not convinced yet that we’re any quirkier than, say, Austin, Texas?

In our Santa Cruz Mountains, we have a museum dedicated to Bigfoot and a physics defying Mystery Spot.

We’re literally fishy. Fish were vital to the native Ohlone. Commercial and sport fishing remain integral to our community.

Santa Cruz is a city where you go for a walk and encounter magic. It’s part of our everyday life. We expect nothing less.

And now to celebrate the wonder and weirdness of Santa Cruz, Nancy Lynn Jarvis has put together SANTA CRUZ WEIRD, an anthology where all the stories are set in this wacky place. The collection includes my story, “Critical Mass.” Order your copy now and let the fun begin. 

What is the strangest story associated with the place where you live?

Vinnie Hansen fled the howling winds of South Dakota and headed for the California coast the day after high school graduation.

She’s now the author of the Carol Sabala Mystery series, and LOSTART STREET, a cross-genre novel of mystery, murder, and moonbeams. Her short fiction has appeared in Transfer, Alchemy, Porter Gulch Review, Lake Region Review, Crime & Suspense, Web Mystery Magazine, Santa Cruz Noir, Destination:Mystery!, Fish or Cut Bait, Santa Cruz Spectacle, phren-Z on-line literary magazine, and Mysterical-E. 

Still sane(ish) after 27 years of teaching high school English, Vinnie has retired. She plays keyboards with ukulele bands in Santa Cruz, California, where she lives with her husband and the requisite cat.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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Oh, Another Thing… (And Hawaii Pics!)

by Kassandra Lamb

I love that famous line of Colombo’s: “Oh, one more thing…”

Actually today I have two things to mention.

One, I’m over at Barb Taub’s place today, talking about the psychology of travel, and finally sharing some pics from our big bucket-list trip to Hawaii.

South of Kailua Kaiwi Overlook 6 Oahu

 

(Including this one; I call it my Medusa look.)

Come on over and join the fun. Barb’s a hoot!!

 

 

Two, please check out our Halloween post from Saturday for some trick-or-treat nostalgia.

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Aww, he’s soooo cute!!!!

 

Can We Go Home Again?

by Kassandra Lamb

“You can’t go home again.” That phrase has become iconic. (It’s actually the title of a 1940’s novel by Thomas Wolfe, published posthumously by his editor — I looked it up.)

The question of whether or not we can “go home again” has been on my mind lately, ever since we returned from our annual summer sojourn to my native Maryland.

Leaving the harbor at Rock Hall, Maryland

The harbor in Rock Hall, Maryland

It was a good vacation. Unlike some previous visits, nothing drastic went wrong (if you don’t count the broken crown on my tooth the day before we were to return to Florida). Nobody got sick, no vehicles broke down or had flat tires, and all scheduled get-togethers with friends and family went off without a hitch.

We even survived babysitting our two rambunctious grandsons so our son and daughter-in-law could have a mini-getaway to celebrate their tenth anniversary (OMG, I’m old!)

Nonetheless we came home feeling like we might not be doing this quite the same in the future–not in the same way nor for quite so long. Until two summers ago, we owned a summer home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. We sold it because it became a maintenance headache. The last two summers, we’ve rented a house there. It’s a very nice house and we’ve enjoyed our stays in it.

IMG_7910_tn

Our home away from home is the one with the van in the driveway.

But still, it’s expensive, and, well, you can’t completely go home again.

Things change over time.

The landscape is different. Houses have sprung up where cows used to graze. Businesses you frequented in the past have moved or gone bankrupt.

And people change too. Some friendships have waned, not able to survive long-distance status.

Others have, interestingly enough, become stronger. We savor our time together, knowing it is limited now.

We still enjoyed our authentic Maryland crab cakes (those produced elsewhere are never quite the same) and the mouth-watering sweetness of Silver Queen corn. But sadly the ice cream parlor on the corner of Sharp and Main Streets has lost a lot of business to the young upstart down the street with the clever title of “Get The Scoop” (they promise “from the cow to you in 48 hours”). We must confess that we probably added to the old ice cream parlor’s demise by “getting the scoop” quite a few times while in town; their ice cream really is delicious.

And we had two lovely sunset sails on the Chesapeake Bay with charter boat captain, Mark and his first mate (and wife), Suzanne. They were a delight as always.

But even they are talking about retiring in another couple of years.

Captain Mark

Captain Mark

 

 

 

 

 

My sister-in-law enjoying a complimentary margarita.

My sister-in-law enjoying a complimentary margarita.

Still, the drive on I-95 has become more challenging every year.

And really the bottom line is that WE have changed. We’ve pulled up our roots that were planted in Maryland for so long and have sunk them into the sandy soil of Florida.

(photo by Geoff Gallice CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(photo by Geoff Gallice CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

The Sunshine State is home now.

And while it’s good to visit the people we care about in Maryland, can we really go home again?

Probably not, because after a while, it’s just not home anymore.

But we can still enjoy visiting.

How about you? Where do you call home? How successful have you been at “going home again” to your childhood home?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington mystery series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Danakil Depression

by Kirsten Weiss (with intro by Kass Lamb, who will also be replying to comments)

Kirsten, in her day job, sometimes ends up traveling to some pretty exotic places. When I put out a plea for some blog posts for February, this is what she sent in from Ethiopia (feels almost like she is our foreign correspondent 😉 )

Kirsten Weiss

 

Drop the words “Danakil Depression” at a cocktail party, and most people will think you’ve got an exotic mental ailment. But the Danakil isn’t a state of mind, it’s a place. One of the harshest environments in the world, it lies in Ethiopia, near the Eritrean border.

I wasn’t supposed to go there.

There are bandits. Eritreans (the Ethiopians are in a hot/cold war with them). And like Death Valley, it’s below sea level and hot enough to kill.

But it also has some of the most fantastic geology on the planet. Sulfur fields blazing orange and green and yellow. Salt mountains striped purple and white. A boiling lava lake. Salt flats.

I traveled there as part of a tour, because this is one place where do-it-yourself won’t cut it. It’s too hot. Too dangerous. And you need special permission to trek to certain places.

When I read the tour itinerary, I thought the salt flats would be the least interesting part of the adventure. Blah, blah, get me to the boiling lava lake! But the salt flats were the most memorable. Camel caravans laden with salt swayed across their sparkling whiteness. We reached the salt lake at sunset. One-inch deep, my fellow travelers appeared to be walking on water, the sun turning the world into a shimmering blue and pink haze.

But this is one of those times when words won’t cut it. So enter the Danakil Depression photo essay:

Danakil Collage

No, I probably won’t be writing a mystery novel set there, although my martial arts instructor is convinced I need a fight scene on camelback. However, since I write paranormal mysteries, some of these otherworldly aspects might make it into a book, somewhere. You never know where you’ll find inspiration.

Posted by Kirsten Weiss. Kirsten is the author of The Hoodoo Detective, book six in the Riga Hayworth series of paranormal mysteries: the urban fantasies, The Metaphysical Detective, The Alchemical Detective, The Shamanic Detective, The Infernal Detective and The Elemental Detective. She’s also the author of Steam and Sensibility, a steampunk novel of suspense.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Do You Experience More Ennui or Joie de Vivre?

This is the second installment in our Just for Fun Friday series on Emotion Words Around the World. And we have hit on what we think is a great prize for the best comment. Whoever comes up with the best story about our emotion word or words of the day will get a free e-book.

Yay! Who’s gonna turn down a free book, right?

Today we explore the deeper meanings of two French terms, ennui and joie de vivre. These may very well be words you’ve heard before, since they are often used in English as well. But just as often something gets lost in their translation.

Ennui is defined in English dictionaries as boredom and listlessness. Well, yeah, but in French it means a bit more than that. It often connotes a certain level of dissatisfaction with life, and maybe even an unwillingness to do anything about being bored. When someone is suffering from ennui they are mired down in a weariness and discontent that may be hard to shake. Indeed, the root of the word, from old French, means annoyance. So there’s a certain amount of low-grade irritability involved. The word is not synonymous with depression, but it is describing the feelings that we often experience when we are mildly depressed.

(photo by Jessica Mullen, CC 2.0 license, Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s contrast ennui with bored:

American teenager (with slouched shoulders and glazed-over look on face): “Mother, I am sooo bored!”

French teenager (with head thrown back, eyes closed, back of hand against forehead): “Maman, j’ai ennui!

American teenager isn’t annoyed so much as she is annoying–to her mother. French teenager, you’re starting to worry she’ll become suicidal. Either that or you want to enroll her in drama school.

Now joie de vivre on the other hand, does translate more directly into English–joy of living. And yet we Americans never say that. We don’t walk around saying, “I’m feeling joy of living today.” But it is okay to say, “I’m full of joie de vivre today.” Why is that?

My best guess is that because we’re not too comfortable with public displays of intense emotions in this country, it is somehow more acceptable to express feeling crazy happy with life via a French expression. That’s okay, because you know those French, they’re an emotional lot.

I’m a fairly intense person (just ask my husband; he’ll be happy to tell you all about my mood swings), so I feel both ennui and joie de vivre a good bit.

For me, ennui is definitely not simple boredom. I rarely experience boredom, except in doctors’ waiting rooms when I forget my kindle. But some days I do have ennui. Not because I have nothing to do; au contraire, I usually have too much to do on those days. And yet I don’t feel like doing any of the things I should be doing. For me, ennui is a vague, itchy-in-my-own-skin restlessness combined with a not-quite-depressed-but-definitely-less-than-happy feeling.

Needless to say, I’m not fond of ennui.

Joie de vivre, on the other hand, is wonderful. It’s chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a cherry on top!

(photo by Zachariah Judy, CC 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

(And nuts. I forgot to mention the nuts! Because what would life be without a few nuts in it, right?)

Even though I’m not a morning person, I most often feel joie de vivre early in the day (maybe because I’m not all that tired yet). And it’s not usually associated with something spectacularly wonderful that’s happening in my life. I most often feel it when I’m driving somewhere in the morning or early afternoon–usually to someplace relatively mundane, like the grocery store or Zumba class. I’ll get this light, bubbly feeling in my chest and I’ll just feel happy to be alive!

How about you? When do you tend to feel either ennui or joie de vivre, and how would you describe your experience of those feelings?

Remember the most interesting (or funniest) comment will get you a free e-book. And you get to choose from any of the books put out by our misterio press authors. So make something up it good!

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

A Rose By Any Other Name, Does It Feel the Same?

I’m thinking about making this a regular Just for Fun Friday series, fashioned after the very funny Renee Schuls-Jacobson’s Tingo Tuesdays, and I’m starting it on a Wednesday. (If you’re thinking I’m a little confused about what day it is, you could be right.)

Renee takes some unusual word from some language other than English (she gets them from a book called The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod) and then she invites people to tell stories from their lives around the idea/concept that word refers to. Okay, it’s actually a lot more fun than I just made it sound.

Here’s my variation. Many other languages have emotion words that are far more descriptive than their English counterparts. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the English language. After all, it is my bread and butter, so to speak, as a writer.

But let’s face reality here, English is not always strong on emotional nuances. So I thought it would be fun to look at some emotion words from other languages.

Now, my first thought was that English is not so great at describing emotions because of it’s Germanic roots, because, I’m ashamed to say, I was stereotyping Germans as rather all-work-and-no-play, unemotional types.

Boy, was I wrong. I went looking for some German emotion words and immediately found two that are pretty cool.

The first one you all might remember from the Volkswagen commercials quite a few years ago. Das Fahrvergnügen is pleasure in driving–that combination of mild excitement and relaxation that someone like me, who loves to drive, may often feel behind the wheel.

The other great German word I found was die Gemütlichkeit. Now someone translating a sentence with that word in it would probably use the English word ‘contentment.’ But die Gemütlichkeit is so much more than just contentment. It’s a comfy, cozy, often more sociable kind of contentment.

When we say, “I am content,” that can mean anything from “I, your boss, have decided not to fire you just yet, because you did okay today” to “I’m pretty happy right now, in a low key kinda way.”

When a German says, “Ich bin gemütlich,” s/he is saying “Boy, it really, really feels good to hang out with friends and have a few drinks, after a long day,” or maybe “I am so happy to be curled up here by the fire with a good book and a glass of wine.”

three hands clinking glasses together

(photo by Lynn Kelley Author, WANA Commons)

When do I feel  die Gemütlichkeit? Hmm. Definitely when I give myself a whole afternoon off to just stretch out on my screened-in porch with a good book. Another element in the gemütlich-ness of this scene is the tall privacy fence around our backyard. It’s a little oasis, tucked away from the world. Just me, a glass of iced tea and my kindle. *sigh*

Way past just content.

me on my porch

Yeah, I know my lawn is pathetic. Florida soil just does not grow grass well!

Another gemütlich moment is Friday date nights with the hubs. He started this over two decades ago and it is still one of his best ideas ever. He stops on his way home on Fridays and gets something extra nice to fix for dinner (he’s chief cook at our house), plus a good bottle of wine. The rest of the week we chat a little while wolfing down our dinner, then go back to our separate activities afterward. But on date night, we linger over dinner, focused on each other. Then we have another glass of wine while watching a video. We pick a TV show we like and rent or buy the DVDs so we can watch the series from beginning to end, one or two episodes each Friday night. (Currently we’re watching Criminal Minds; I know, only a mystery writer could find CM gemütlich.)

Now is the point where Renee asks folks to comment, and the comment she likes best she rewards by featuring that person, with a link to their blog/website, in the sidebar of her website for a month. Well, that’s not gonna work for me, because that would require that I actually know how to add things to the sidebar of this site. I’m a techno-idiot. It’s all I can manage to put up a post.

So I will have to forego a ‘prize’ to reward commenters. Unless you all can think of one that doesn’t cost anything (and keeping in mind that whole techno-idiot thing)?

So when do you feel gemütlich rather than just content?

 

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!