First Moderna shot down…

We had truly weird weather yesterday. It’s early May, but yesterday, it was downright cold and windy, with scattered showers and even a brief hailstorm. In the United States, hailstorms are kind of unusual; or, at least they were unusual in the areas where I lived. Here in Germany, we seem to get them a lot, especially in the spring, when the weather gets really bipolar. As you can see from the featured photo, we had some ominous skies yesterday. It made for some dramatic landscapes, though none as dramatic as down near Stuttgart. I do miss it down there sometimes, but mainly because parts of it really are stunningly beautiful. I could probably get some of the same views by heading west.

When I was a child, I remember the temperatures were noticeably cooler for most of the year. Hell… even when we were in Germany the first time, from 07-09, I remember the winters were longer and snowier. But the weather is different now… I couldn’t complain about global warming yesterday, though, as I stood in line for my first Moderna shot. As you can see from the photos, people were bundled up. I think the post in Wiesbaden is windier and chillier anyway, since it’s on a hill. It’s weird wearing a jacket in May when you come from the southern United States.

Bill thought my appointment was at 1:30pm, but it was actually at 1:45. I got a reminder email yesterday, but I must have missed the time on it, which figures, since Bill is the one who booked them. No matter… things were moving along pretty well when we got there. I checked in, stood in line at what used to be the “strip mall” on post in Wiesbaden before the latest PX was built, and through a very well orchestrated system, got my injection. It was surprisingly easy. The shot didn’t hurt at all. In fact, I barely felt it. After I got the shot, I easily made an appointment for the the next one by using my phone. Today, there’s a very mild soreness, minor swelling, and an oval of redness around my injection site, but so far, other than that, I have had no ill effects.

I have an appointment to get the second shot on June 9th, which is just before my next birthday. I won’t be quite at two weeks post inoculation on the day itself, but a few days after I turn 49, I should be considered fully vaccinated. Maybe that means a big trip down to Stuttgart, so we can finally see the dentist again. While I’d rather go somewhere more interesting and exciting, we do need to do a quick trip so Noyzi can get acquainted with the lady who takes care of the boys when we travel. I don’t think Noyzi will have any problems. He spent most of his first two years in boarding down in Kosovo. Still, it’s good to do a quick test run, just to make sure there won’t be any serious issues. We need to get him a European Pet Passport, too. We have one for him, but it’s from Kosovo, and Kosovo is not in the European Union. I don’t think we’ll be traveling much with him, since he’s so big, but it’s always good to have the passports. It makes things easier for the Tierpensions, too.

I feel kind of privileged to have my first shot. The vaccines are still kind of slowly rolling out here, and a lot of Germans are languishing without access to the shots. I’ve read that a lot of what is available is the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is worrisome for some people due to its association with blood clots. But the risk is probably minimal in the grand scheme of things.

Anyway… I’m glad to finally be on the road to being vaccinated against COVID-19. The shot may not prevent me from getting sick, but it will probably help make things safer and more normal. I have really had my fill of being locked down, even if I have gotten pretty good at playing “Redemption Song” on my guitar. It’s time to enjoy living again, and the more people who get the vaccine, the sooner that can happen.

Of course… for now, I get to sit here alone and ponder things. Bill is on yet another long ass TDY and will be gone for most of May. He left yesterday, after we got my first shot, and will not be home until May 22nd. A few days after that, he’ll get his second shot. Hopefully, the TDY schedule will ease up… because he hasn’t had a break in ages and is a bit burned out. And both of us could use a change of scenery that doesn’t involve work. It’s bad enough that seriously, I would welcome a visit to Stuttgart so we can see Dr. Blair. We’ll go stay at our favorite Stuttgart area hotel… or maybe we’ll try another property. At least it will be a break from the neighborhood! I never thought I’d wish for a dental cleaning for my birthday!

Edited to add: A couple of days ago, I saw something very German while I was walking the dogs. A guy who looked like Barry Manilow circa 1978 was roller blading down the main drag of our village while pushing a baby carriage. He was really moving out, too. I was impressed by his blading AND parenting skills, getting his kid out for some fresh air. It reminded me of when we lived in Pf√§ffingen, during our first Germany experience. There was a guy there who I would see every day in a reclining bike/wheelchair, using his arms to haul ass down the street. It was a most inspirational sight, because I don’t think the guy had use of his legs, yet I could tell he was very fit. I wish I were as active as some of my German neighbors are.


Repost: Choucroute Garnie… one last tenuous connection with Anthony Bourdain…

Today is Easter, and we are going to be getting takeout from a favorite restaurant. I hope to write about that meal later today or tomorrow. But, for right now, I would like to repost this essay I wrote about the late Anthony Bourdain, just after he died in June 2018. It originally appeared on the Blogspot version of my Overeducated Housewife blog, when I was living in the Stuttgart area. I don’t have a specific reason for sharing this today, other than I think it’s a good post. Actually, it reminds me a bit of what we’ve lost since COVID-19 came along. I am so ready for another day trip somewhere… and new photos, especially for this blog. I miss travel and eating in restaurants.

Edited to add: Looking back at my original piece, I see it was preceded by another post I wrote just after Bourdain’s death. I had just discovered his show, Parts Unknown, about three weeks before he committed suicide. I had watched it because he visited Armenia, which is where I spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1990s. I was enthralled by Bourdain’s show and was looking forward to watching more episodes. But then, seemingly out of the blue, he killed himself. So did famed handbag designer Kate Spade. The post that preceded this one was about how depression really isn’t the “common cold” of mental illness. It can be very serious and even fatal.

A couple of weeks ago, Bill and I went to Ribeauville, France for Memorial Day weekend.  Since January 2017, Bill and I have visited Ribeauville, in Alsace, four times.  We’ve found a sympathetic apartment owner who doesn’t have a problem welcoming Zane and Arran.  Aside from that, Alsace is a very beautiful area that isn’t too far from where we live.  It makes for a convenient place to get a weekend away.

Last Friday, Anthony Bourdain killed himself in Alsace.  He was staying in Kaysersberg, a town Bill and I had been hoping to see during our last visit.  We never got around to going to Kaysersberg on our last trip, but it’s definitely a must see the next time we’re in Alsace.  Especially since last night, Bill showed me Anthony Bourdain’s final Instagram post…

This is a screenshot of Anthony Bourdain’s last Instagram post.  He put it up exactly one week ago.

I know a lot of people who read this blog regularly might not necessarily read my travel blog (although this is being reposted on my travel blog in 2021).  Those who haven’t read the travel blog probably missed my recent tale about the dish pictured above, Choucroute Garnie.  

Choucroute Garnie is a very popular dish in Alsace that includes Alsatian style sauerkraut, sausages, charcuterie, other salted meats, and potatoes.  Many restaurants in Alsace serve it, and my husband, Bill, happily enjoys it.  In fact, below is a picture of Choucroute Garnie he ate when we visited the quaint town of Eguisheim, France in February 2017.

Bill enjoyed Choucroute Garnie at Caveau Heuhaus in Eguisheim.

Although a lot of people like this particular dish, it’s not something I would voluntarily order.  I don’t like sauerkraut very much.  Actually, I don’t really like cabbage because it upsets my stomach and makes me fart a lot.  I will eat cabbage to be polite, but I don’t care for it and would avoid ordering it in a restaurant.  While I do like sausage and other pork products fine, I also wouldn’t necessarily order a big pile of them as pictured above.  One sausage is fine for me.  I don’t need to eat a big plate of pork.

On the first night of our most recent trip to Ribeauville, Bill and I decided to have dinner at a restaurant we had not yet tried.  Our experience at this establishment was disappointing from the get go and continued to get worse.  I had decided on an entrec√īte (rib eye steak) for dinner, but our waiter somehow heard “choucroute” instead.  I was a bit suspicious when he didn’t ask me what sauce I wanted or how I preferred the steak cooked.  However, he took off before I’d had the chance to say anything and we didn’t see him again until his colleague tried to deliver the dish pictured below…

The Choucroute Garnie I didn’t order.  Bill says it wasn’t as good as the one he had in Eguisheim.

Unfortunately for our waiter, I was tired, hungry, and way over the bumbling service we had already experienced at that point.  He came over to argue with me about what I’d ordered and actually had the nerve to say, “You couldn’t have ordered entrec√īte.  If you had, I would have asked you what sauce you wanted and the temperature.”

My acid reply was, “That’s right.  You didn’t ask and I wondered why.”

He scurried off with the choucroute, but then came back and tried to get me to take it, since cooking what I’d ordered would take time.  I really didn’t want the choucroute, but I was especially exasperated that the waiter had accused me of lying about my order and was trying to sell me something I didn’t want.  

Bill, prince of a man that he is, took the choucroute and I took his dish, which was potato pancakes with smoked salmon.  I had actually been eyeing the potato pancakes anyway, so it was initially no big deal.  But then I realized that one of the potato pancakes was very scorched.  I didn’t bother to complain because, at that point, I just wanted to get the hell out of there.  But I did turn the experience into a snarky blog post and a few people in my local food and wine group thought it was funny.  When I saw Bourdain’s final Instagram post last night, I was reminded of my own recent experience with Choucroute Garnie.  It was just something else, besides depression, I’ve had in common with the late chef.

People who read this blog and those who know me personally may know that I have suffered from depression for years.  It’s not nearly as bad now as it once was.  I no longer take medications for it and I don’t have the same distressing symptoms I used to have.  However, I do sometimes get very pessimistic and “down”.  I think about suicide often, although never to the point of making plans or carrying them out.  It’s more like fleeting thoughts of how life is kind of wasted on me, since I don’t really enjoy it much.  I see people with warm, loving families who are dealing with life threatening illnesses or injuries and they just want to live.  Here I am feeling kind of apathetic about my existence.  Although I do enjoy many aspects of living, I don’t necessarily have a zest for life.

A lot of people probably think I have a pretty charmed life.  If I were looking at me, I might think the same thing.  I have a wonderful, patient, indulgent husband; I’m basically healthy; and I get to travel a lot.  While I don’t really make money, I do have a vocation that I’m free to pursue with no hassles with editors or people paying me to create content.  I don’t know if anyone cares about my writing or music, particularly on this blog, which doesn’t bring the hits it used to.  However, writing it gives me something to do with my mind and a reason to get up in the morning.  It gives me reasons to read books so I can review them.  Believe me, although I’m frequently bored and sometimes depressed and anxious, it’s not lost on me that some people might envy my freedom and ability to see the world.  I agree, those are wonderful things.

I really don’t know why I have these deep seated feelings of shittiness.  I think there are probably a lot of factors, some of which are hereditary and some that are situational.  I usually feel worse when I express something negative and someone tries to be “helpful” by telling me how wonderful my life is.  I probably ought to keep my negativity to myself, but that’s not necessarily helpful, either.  Whenever someone, especially a person like Anthony Bourdain, takes his or her life, people are shocked and wonder why they never “reached out”.  I have found that reaching out often annoys other people, most of whom would prefer it if you’d just get over yourself and didn’t involve them in your problems. 

I do want to express one thing that I’ve recently realized.  Despite feeling insignificant most of the time, I know I have made a difference to a few folks.  When we moved here in 2014, I decided to promote my travel blog in the local community.  I’ve gotten some negative feedback from a few people, but for the most part, my posts are well tolerated or even outright appreciated.  I notice the ones I write about things to do locally and/or local restaurants are especially popular.  I recently wrote one post about places to go to “beat the heat” in Stuttgart.  That one has really taken off.  I’ve seen a number of people come back to it repeatedly, since it offers enough suggestions to last a good portion of the summer.  It makes me feel productive when I see that people are inspired by my experiences.

It occurred to me the other day that while I may never know who has been affected by my writing, in a way, I will have helped some people make priceless memories of their time in Europe.  The people who read my posts about obscure places like Ruine Mandelberg, Glaswaldsee, or the Burgbach Wasserfall, especially if they take the time to see them for themselves, will have memories that, in a small way, I helped them make.  I know that may sound like an egotistical statement to some people, especially since I have also been affected by other people’s writing.  However, knowing that a few people are taking my suggestions and making memories of their own does give me another reason to keep writing and going to new places on the weekends.  It gives me a purpose for being here, other than just to wash Bill’s underwear and make him laugh.  I’m always looking for new things to see and write about.  In the process of visiting and writing about different places, my own experiences in Europe are also enhanced.  I’m never sorry after having explored somewhere, even when something goes wrong.

When I lived in Armenia in the mid 1990s, I often felt like I was wasting my time.  I got a lot of negative feedback from my Peace Corps bosses as well as my local counterpart, who felt I wasn’t doing enough.  I was in my early 20s, hampered by depression, and kind of overwhelmed by what I was supposed to be doing.  I didn’t feel assertive enough to start, say, an English club or hang out with the kids.  I remember the summer of 1997, as I was planning to finish my assignment, going through some rough times all around.  I couldn’t wait to leave Armenia, and yet the prospect of going home was very scary.  When I did finally get home, the homecoming I had eagerly anticipated was pretty much ruined by my dad’s entrance into rehab.  As bad as I felt in Armenia, I felt even worse in the year after I returned home.  I felt like such a burden to my parents, especially since I wasn’t even sure my time in Armenia had been productive.  I started becoming very despondent and hopeless.  That was when I finally got treatment for depression.  
Things gradually got better.  I learned how to wait tables and about fine dining.  I studied voice and attended to my depression for the first time.  I made some friends.  Finally, I landed in graduate school at the University of South Carolina, which was fulfilling, although it didn’t lead where I thought it would.  I earned a MPH, MSW, and ultimately an Mrs….  

Before I decided to go to USC, I remember interviewing at Western Illinois University and telling the director of a Peace Corps Fellows program that I knew that I’d made a difference simply by going to Armenia.  He visibly recoiled at that statement.  I think he thought it was an arrogant thing to say.  Actually, it was a statement of fact.  I was in Armenia at a time when there were few Americans there.  There were people I met there who had never seen an American in person before.  I know a lot of them still remember me and always will.  Even knowing that, though, didn’t erase my feelings that I hadn’t done enough and that my time in Armenia didn’t amount to much.

It wasn’t until almost twenty years after I left Armenia that I found out that– for real– I actually had made a difference.  Facebook put me in touch with my very first Armenian teacher, who still works for the Peace Corps, as well as one of my best former students, who is now a high ranking director in the Peace Corps Armenia office.  I didn’t have anything to do with his decision to work for the Peace Corps, but the fact that my former student remembered me and I didn’t permanently turn him off of Americans means that my time in Armenia was well spent.  Maybe I wasn’t the most hardworking or dedicated Volunteer, but I still made a difference.  And maybe people in Stuttgart think I’m annoying, obnoxious, and arrogant, but there are people who like what I do and it’s affected their experience here in a good way.  So that keeps me going… at least for now.

If you’ve managed to read this whole post… which is a lot longer than I’d intended it to be… I want to thank you.  Thanks for giving me a reason to get up in the morning.  Thanks for reading about how Anthony Bourdain and I tenuously have a couple of things in common, even if it’s just being served Choucroute Garnie in Alsace and visiting a few of the same places, like Alsace and Armenia.  Knowing that even a few people like what I’m doing means a lot more to me than you’ll ever know.  And maybe someday, in Bourdain’s honor, I’ll order the Choucroute Garnie in Kaysersberg…  But I’ll be sure to take Gas-X, too.

book reviews

Want to know what it’s like to work at a hotel? Read Heads in Beds…

It’s time for my first new book review of 2018.  If you follow this blog, you probably already know that I am a follower of certain pages on Facebook.  I like to read The Bitchy Waiter (who also has a book that I haven’t yet read) and The Angry Bartender.  I read Sanctimommy and STFU Parents, too.  In fact, all of those pages have served as inspiration for some of my blog posts.  It only stands to reason that I like to read books about people who work in the service industry.  When you work in service, you work with people.  People are interesting in so many ways.I’m not exactly sure how I found Jacob Tomsky’s 2012 book Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality.  I think I saw the book mentioned in a news article about hotels.  I have to admit I was attracted by the title, too.  I love a good salacious tell all.  I bought Tomsky’s book in November, but didn’t start reading it until last month, when we were in a hotel in Berlin.  Because I’ve been busy with holiday stuff, another book, and frankly too much wine at dinner, it’s taken me awhile to get through Heads in Beds.  Honestly, I think reading on an iPad also slows me down.  There was a time when I would have zipped right through this, had I only not been distracted by Facebook.

Author Jacob Tomsky, who calls himself “Thomas” in his book, never intended to get into the hotel industry. He grew up a military brat and endured its nomadic lifestyle.  Perhaps the chaos of being a child of a servicemember left him with an attraction to more chaos.  Tomsky got his start in the hospitality business in valet parking, but soon moved onward and upward.  He had a degree in philosophy and a lack of direction… and apparently, lots of people like that end up working for hotels.   Starting at a large establishment in New Orleans, Tomsky learned all of the tricks of the trade.  He’s done everything from supervising housekeeping to parking your car.  Along the way, he’s picked up a lot of colorful stories about co-workers and customers.

Tomsky’s writing has a bit of a smart-assed edge that works well as he describes being berated by hotel guests and “trained” by doormen and bellhops who survive on tips.  From New Orleans, Tomsky worked his way north to New York City, where apparently being called obscene nicknames by a co-worker is a term of endearment.

I have to admit I enjoyed Tomsky’s irreverent tone, especially as he passes along tips on how to get more out of a hotel stay.  I can’t say I’ll be employing many of his tips, mainly because I’m not that shameless or demanding.  But I did find his suggestions interesting.  For instance, I never knew that minibar charges are among the most disputed on a hotel bill.  Apparently, all you have to do is ask and many hotels will remove the charges, even if you did succumb to temptation.  Same thing goes for movie charges.  Just claim you made a mistake or the movie quit halfway through.  According to Tomsky, you’ll probably be watching for free.

I was intrigued by Tomsky’s housekeeping tips.  I never knew that furniture polish does a great job cleaning mirrors.  I suppose next time I visit a hotel, I’ll check to see if there’s a lemony fresh essence in the bathroom.  Also, people who bring their own pillows to a hotel, which I have done on more than one occasion, are apparently frowned upon.  Good thing I mostly grew out of that habit.

Tips are everything in the hotel biz.  A well-timed tip can help you get whatever you want.  Need a late checkout?  Fork over some cash.  Ever wonder why the bellman grabs your bags even if you don’t need help?  They work for tips.  According to Tomsky, there’s even a special cue to summon them.  A lot of people don’t carry cash anymore, which is a real bummer for elevator operators, doormen, and bellmen.  Tomsky reminds readers that those guys are supporting families on their tips. Don’t have cash for a tip?  Just be really nice.  Being pleasant can pay dividends when you’re dealing with hotel workers, although cash is definitely preferable.  Personally, I don’t like the tipping system, but that’s simply the way things are in America.  Money talks, and when you’re dealing with people who are in the service industry, it’s often the best way to make a statement.

Tomsky liberally swears in his writing, which is okay with me as long as the swearing doesn’t make the writing boring.  Like, if every other word is an “f” bomb, I would consider that bad writing.  In Tomsky’s case, the “f” bomb works.  If you’ve ever spent any time working in the service industry, you know that a lot of those jobs really can drive a person to some bad habits like smoking, drinking, snorting cocaine, and yes, swearing.  I figure a few well-placed “fucks” lend some authenticity to Tomsky’s stories.  Let’s face it.  A lot of people are assholes.  That’s why I no longer work in the service industry and won’t unless I have to do it to survive.  And even then, I might consider something drastic before I’d willingly wait tables again.

Now that I’ve read Tomsky’s book, any illusions I had that hotel clerks have an easy job have all but dissipated.  However, Tomsky reveals that there are some nice rewards that come with the job.  For instance, Tomsky got to meet Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys.  He was a regular guest at the New York City hotel where Tomsky worked.  Tomsky also ran into his fair share of prostitutes and sleazy businessmen cheating on their wives.  The job gave Tomsky, clearly a natural storyteller, a huge trove of entertaining stories for his book.  Those stories have propelled Tomsky into a vocation for which he is clearly suited.

I really enjoyed Heads in Beds.  Jacob Tomsky is funny and I appreciated how he humanizes the hard working folks in the hotel biz.  Tomsky seems like the kind of person I’d enjoy knowing.  And so, because I like Tomsky and his book, I will recommend it with a solid five out of five star rating.  However, if liberal swearing offends you, I would recommend proceeding with caution.

book reviews

Ever wondered what it would be like to be a doctor who travels?

For about eleven years, I wrote reviews on a Web site called Epinions.  It was a great place to write.  I made a lot of friends who are still friends today, some of whom I actually met at Epinions hosted parties.  I also made some money.  Unfortunately, Epinions croaked a few years ago.  Every once in awhile, when I look on Facebook’s On This Day feature, I run across links to some of my old reviews.  Although I saved my old reviews, they are on my old computer which has a broken hard drive.

Anyway, I try to preserve the book reviews on my blogs if I am able to access them.  Sometimes I click the link and don’t find the review.  Sometimes, I get lucky and it’s still there.  I put most of my old reviews on my main blog, but I put my reviews about travel subjects on this one.  So, if you need a break from politics and want to do some light reading, have a look at the reviews I am reposting today.  British physician Ben MacFarlane was a doctor on a cruise ship and has also worked for insurance companies, traveling to people who have gotten sick or injured while on vacation.  He arranges for their care as they transit back home (to England).

I found both of MacFarlane’s books very entertaining.  In fact, I may need to re-read them.  They may be just what the doctor ordered to chase away the winter blues.

  • Being a doctor on a cruise ship…

    Review by knotheadusc
     in Books, Music, Hotels & Travel
      January, 16 2012
  • Pros: Very entertaining book.  Makes being a cruise doctor seem glamourous and fun.
    Cons: Perhaps a little too upbeat?  Doesn’t tackle issues like burnout.
    Over the past couple of years, I have become a fan of cruising.  My husband Bill and I have so far cruised three times, once on a large Royal Caribbean ship and twice on the comparatively tiny SeaDream I.  We had a great time on all three of our cruises and every time we’ve cruised, we’ve met some amazing people.  Many of those friendly people were working on the ships.  Knowing so many fine folks work for cruise lines has made me want to learn more about the cruising business.  I have been doing a lot of Amazon searches, looking for tell-all books from former cruiseline employees.  I have found several titles, all written by people who once worked for Carnival Cruise Lines.  My most recent find is Ben MacFarlane’s (a pseudonym) 2010 book, Cruise Ship SOS: The Life-Saving Adventures of a Doctor at Sea.  I just spent a very entertaining few days reading Dr. MacFarlane’s story of being a cruise ship doctor on a world cruise.

    It’s interesting that I picked this past week to read Dr. MacFarlane’s story.  If you’ve been watching the news over this holiday weekend, you probably know that the Costa Concordia, a mega cruise ship, ran aground off the coast of Italy, resulting in at least six deaths and twenty injuries.  The Costa Concordia was carrying thousands of people when it hit the rocky coast of Italy’s tiny island of Giglio.  I was shocked when I saw the dramatic photos on Saturday morning. I wondered if the ship’s doctors had sprung into action to help people.  By the media’s account, it doesn’t seem so.  However, having read Ben MacFarlane’s book, I know that huge cruise ships are typically staffed with medical personnel who must always be ready to tend to the vast array of medical ailments and injuries that can strike cruise passengers, crew, and officers at any given time.

    Ben MacFarlane hails from the United Kingdom and his writing definitely reflects that origin.  In conversational prose peppered with lots of dialogue, Dr. MacFarlane describes how he came to land a job tending to people on cruise ships.  It was a natural fit for the author.  Before he sailed the high seas, Ben MacFarlane was an emergency doctor whose job it was to escort Britons who had medical emergencies abroad back to the U.K.  His job had required him to jet off to exotic locations around the world at a moment’s notice.  He loved the work, though he also longed for a job in London, where his girlfriend, Cassie, was living.  It seems Dr. MacFarlane took the cruise ship gig as a means of filling a brief amount of time between two major career defining jobs.  Like all cruise ship employees, he worked on a contract that only lasted several months.  But those months were filled with drama, adventure, friendship, and amazing travel opportunities.  By the time I had finished his book, I was almost wishing I could be a cruise ship doctor or nurse.  Too bad I hate the sight of blood!

    Dr. MacFarlane is careful to mention that he must protect the privacy of his patients; consequently, has has obscured the identifying details of the people who inspired his stories.  He has also fictionalized some accounts.  This book is offered in both electronic and print formats.

    My thoughts

    Cruise Ship SOS is a very entertaining and educational read.  Dr. MacFarlane is a gifted storyteller who has a knack for giving life to his characters.  He makes the medical center on his cruise ship sound like a good place to be, even if you happen to be a patient.  Not all of his stories have happy endings, but they are all uniformly touching and memorable in some way.  He really makes the medical staff on his ship sound wonderful, even as they deal with challenging medical issues and occasionally difficult or eccentric patients.

    It is important to remember that these stories are somewhat fabricated for privacy reasons.  Moreover, Dr. MacFarlane keeps his stories overwhelmingly upbeat, even the ones involving death.  By his account, everyone in his job got along beautifully and never once suffered burnout.  Maybe that’s how it really was on his ship, but somehow I doubt it.  Also, Dr. MacFarlane really sticks to medical and human stories.  He doesn’t dish too much about some of the places he got to see, except to mention them a bit in passing.  You also won’t read about how much those onboard medical treatments cost, which is one area that I know some readers would find interesting.

    Despite those minor criticisms, I really did enjoy Cruise Ship SOS and even found myself wanting to meet the good doctor in person.  His writing made him seem very personable and charming.  He comes off as a great doctor and gives his co-workers equally flattering descriptions.  Again, I’m not sure Dr. MacFarlane’s somewhat rosy account is entirely accurate, but it was fun to read in a Love Boat kind of way.


    If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a cruise ship doctor, Ben MacFarlane’s Cruise Ship SOS is worth reading.  I’m not a big fan of mega cruise ships, but this book makes me appreciate all medical staffers do on those floating hotels.

The second book is about MacFarlane’s experiences traveling to people who have become sick while on vacation.  He accompanies them back to their home and arranges for their care.

  • Ben MacFarlane’s adventures of a traveling doctor…

    Review by knotheadusc
     in Books, Music, Hotels & Travel
      January, 19 2012
  • Pros: Fascinating stories about a traveling doctor.
    Cons: Sometimes incongruously chipper.
    Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were on vacation and suddenly had a serious accident?  How about if, while visiting an exotic location somewhere, you suddenly became deathly ill.  If you’re smart, you have travel insurance.  If you’re lucky, there is someone who knows to call someone at home on your behalf.  And if you’re even more fortunate, you’ll have a medical professional like Dr. Ben MacFarlane (a pseudonym) travel to your location to bring you home, safe and sound.

    A couple of days ago, I read and reviewed Dr. Ben MacFarlane’s book, Cruise Ship SOS: The Life-Saving Adventures of a Doctor at Sea.  I liked Dr. MacFarlane’s writing style and traveling medical stories so much that I decided to read and review his earlier book, Holiday SOS: The Life-Saving Adventures of a Travelling Doctor.  This book, offered in print and e-book forms, was published in 2009.  This earlier book consists of Ben MacFarlane’s fascinating and entertaining stories about his adventures as a traveling doctor who repatriates people who have gotten hurt or sick on vacation.

    Dr. MacFarlane is British and his company, which mostly does a lot of work with insurance companies, is based in London.  It’s MacFarlane’s job to travel the world in search of Britons who have had mishaps while on holiday.  MacFarlane explains that most of the jobs are relatively easy and involve “hand-holding”.  Sometimes, however, Dr. MacFarlane runs into challenging medical situations that test his abilities as a physician.  Occasionally, MacFarlane and his colleagues become ensnared in the typical red tape that can develop in the course of traveling abroad.  And from what I read in his book, Dr. MacFarlane often gets to know his patients, whose stories touch and enrich him.

    This is not a job for the faint of heart or the committed homebody.  Dr. MacFarlane and his colleagues often have to travel at a moment’s notice, jetting off to any of the corners of the world.  But the rewards can be amazing, especially for those who love travel and adventure.  And if you’re not qualified to be a medical professional, Holiday SOS might give you just a glimpse of what it’s like to rescue people abroad.

    My thoughts

    This book excited me on several levels.  First of all, I love to travel and I love reading about other peoples’ travels.  Secondly, I have a professional background in public health and social work.  I’m not qualified to do what MacFarlane does, but I am interested in the medical aspects of his stories.  And finally, I am very intrigued by the concept of medical care abroad.  Dr. MacFarlane’s adventures put in contact with plenty of medical facilities abroad.

    Interspersed withing MacFarlane’s travel tales are anecdotes about his personal life.  For instance, he explains how he met his girlfriend, Cassie, who is herself working in an occupation that requires her to travel a lot.  He also writes about his colleagues, whom he makes sound absolutely wonderful to work with.  We should all enjoy work environments as positive and rewarding as the one described in this book.  Of course, MacFarlane also had to deal with doubts.  As a doctor, he has been trained to want to have a “proper” job in a hospital, where he can build prestige and a pension fund.  And, as it turns out, MacFarlane did eventually quit working as a traveling doctor full-time, though as of 2009, he was still doing freelance gigs.

    Naturally, the job isn’t always rosy.  Sometimes he has to deal with very difficult cases under challenging conditions.  Occasionally, his patients are unpleasant people who are demanding or ungrateful.  He’s dealt with his share of dirty airports, inedible airline food, and bad airport coffee.  He’s experienced chronic jetlag.  But consider this.  MacFarlane’s travel expenses are all paid.  He usually flies in business class or better, so he can properly attend to his patients.  He usually stays in decent hotels.  He gets plenty of time off to see the sights, too.  In exchange, he deals with sick or injured patients, the vast majority of whom are happy to see him.

    I really enjoyed reading this book, though I did notice that just as he did in his other book, MacFarlane keeps his tone very chipper.  He writes of one time flying in a private Lear jet to pick up a patient who had broken his neck.  MacFarlane and a colleague snacked on scones and champagne and very much enjoyed themselves.  Though I could hardly blame them for doing so, I also wondered about the poor chap with the broken neck.  I think MacFarlane is mostly very empathetic,  though sometimes his stories about catastrophic injuries and illnesses don’t mesh with his upbeat attitude.


    If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to travel the world for a living, this is a good book to read.  If you’re a medical professional with wanderlust in need of ideas for places to visit, Holiday SOS is right up your alley.  If you are inclined to read both of Dr. MacFarlane’s books, I recommend reading Holiday SOS first.


Travel privileges…

I made choices that led me to this rainbow in Scotland…

This morning, while prowling Facebook mere minutes after I opened my eyes for the first time today, I read an article entitled Let’s Stop Pretending Travel is Accessible to Everyone. ¬†Written by Sian Ferguson for the Matador Network, the article was intended to remind people of the reasons why travel is not feasible for everyone. ¬†Ferguson’s lead paragraph is one that many people have heard from their well-traveled friends:

‚ÄúJUST QUIT YOUR JOB and go traveling. You have nothing to be scared of,‚ÄĚ a friend posted on Facebook on returning from a year abroad. Another traveler friend shared a popular quote from St Augustine: ‚ÄúThe world is a book and those who don‚Äôt travel only read one page.‚ÄĚ


Ferguson’s initial response to this comment is annoyance. ¬†There was a time in my life when I would wholeheartedly agree that assuming people can just pick up and travel is crazy. ¬†I was working hard to pay my bills and stay afloat and it was hard to conceive of being able to go anywhere exotic. ¬†As I’ve later found out, though, time has a way of changing things. ¬†I’ve traveled a lot more than the average American has.

Although there have been times in my life when I have been too broke to even consider traveling across town, I have been extraordinarily lucky in my life. ¬†I’ve lived abroad four times so far, mostly at government expense. ¬†Maybe I should take the hint and just stay abroad.

On the other hand, there have been times when I couldn’t conceive of being able to go anywhere. ¬†And I realize I write this as someone who comes from a place of relative privilege.

My ability to travel was hampered mainly by a lack of money and time off from a job, not because I feared for my personal safety or mental health. ¬†I am also lucky enough to be reasonably healthy and, while I would love to lose lots of weight, my size doesn’t prevent me from going places.

Ferguson makes some interesting points in her article that I had not really considered. ¬†For instance, while I can certainly see why someone who identifies as gay, lesbian, or transgendered might not feel comfortable traveling to certain areas, it’s not something I thought about before I read Ferguson’s article. ¬†While I have suffered from anxiety and depression, I’ve never been in a situation where I felt like I couldn’t travel due to my mental health. ¬†On the contrary, I was experiencing those conditions in full force during my big train trip in 1997, which I took on the way home from my Peace Corps assignment. ¬†I spent a month traveling by Eurail through eight countries, not enjoying myself as much as I should have because I was a bit mental at the time… and broke.

But what do I know about the plight of someone who struggles to earn enough money keep the lights on and the kids fed? ¬†There have been a couple of times when I’ve actually gone hungry and sat in the dark, but those times were when I was in the Peace Corps. ¬†The lights were out because they were out for everyone. ¬†I was hungry because I ran out of money, but it was only for a couple of days… and I had ways of getting food if I really needed it. ¬†I was also only feeding myself, rather than a family.

Even as I write these things, though, there was something about Ferguson’s article that kind of set me off a bit. ¬†I’m not generally a fan of people who preach and I think that article came across as a bit preachy to me. ¬†Yes, it’s nice to be aware of other people’s situations. ¬†Empathy is a good thing and more people should stop and think before they open their mouths or type on their keyboards. ¬†But I like to think that most people don’t communicate strictly to be offensive. ¬†It’s nice to have a broad perspective, but that goes both ways. ¬†Moreover, I have found that in many (but not all) cases, where there is a serious will, there really is a way. ¬†Sometimes making the choice to do what you want means making difficult choices that not everyone will appreciate or understand.

For instance, had I not married Bill, I probably would not be writing about my travels. ¬†In fact, if I were writing anything, it would probably be grant proposals or process recordings. ¬†When Bill and I met, I was planning to become a public health social worker. ¬†I meant to put down roots somewhere, probably in the southern United States, and become gainfully employed to the point at which I could finally pay all of my own bills. ¬†I can’t be sure that would have worked out for me, but I was well on the way to that goal when Bill proposed.

Having been the daughter of an Air Force retiree, I must have known on some level that being married to a guy in the military would mean frequent moves. ¬†But since my dad retired when I was really young, I didn’t actually experience that globe trotting lifestyle when I was a child. ¬†My sisters moved a lot because they were born closer to the beginning of my dad’s career. ¬†I, on the other hand, mostly grew up in one place, albeit one that is saturated with military folks. ¬†So when Bill proposed, I figured I’d still be able to do what I’d gone to graduate school to do. ¬†Reality kicked in when I realized that even if I did find work related to my training, I would constantly be moving to other places and starting over.

It was hard to accept that I pretty much went to graduate school for nothing, but that realization led to something else. ¬†I eventually decided to do what I’d always wanted to do, which is write. ¬†I have actually made money as a writer. ¬†In fact, every cent I’ve earned since I finished school has been from writing. ¬†However, if I weren’t Bill’s wife, I probably wouldn’t have the privilege of simply writing blogs for money. ¬†I would have to have a more lucrative job or move to a place where life is cheaper.

I don’t have children. ¬†Bill’s children are grown and haven’t spoken to him since 2004. ¬†I do have a mother, but she’s fiercely independent and takes care of herself. ¬†My dad died two years ago and Bill’s parents are also self-sufficient at this point. ¬†I do have dogs, but they are good travelers and get along fine when we take them to the pet resort. ¬†I realize that not everyone is in a position of having no one depend on them. ¬†I’m lucky in that respect, although I always did want to have kids and wouldn’t mind assisting family if they needed my help. ¬†But I don’t have to worry about having a child with medical problems or saving up for college tuition. ¬†If I did, I probably wouldn’t travel much because other things would take a higher priority.

So yes, I get that I’m privileged and extremely fortunate and not everyone has it as good as I do. ¬†However, I also think that most people who truly want to travel can take steps to make it happen. ¬†The choices may not be easy, but many times, they can be made if it really comes down to it. ¬†Maybe it will mean not having children or not helping family and friends in need. ¬†Maybe it will mean a change in careers. ¬†Maybe it will mean changing priorities so that financial security takes a backseat to having money to go places. ¬†Maybe it means always renting rather than buying a home.

It could even mean screwing over a supposed loved one… ¬†Bill’s ex stepson pretended to be interested in staying in touch with Bill solely so Bill would pay him child support and he could save up for a trip to China. ¬†Fortunately, we figured out what he was doing, but not before he’d stockpiled a pile of cash (that he didn’t use to pay his personal debts). ¬†He got his trip to China, but it cost him a lot more than he probably realizes. ¬†But that’s a story for my other blog. ¬†ūüėČ

I made choices that led me to this view in Charlotte St. Amalie in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

anecdotes, Belgium

Too bad I’m camera shy…

Props to my casual Facebook acquaintance, Nathan, who introduced me to the video below…

Watch this woman try to drink Belgian beer…

I don’t actually know Nathan personally, but having interacted with him on Facebook, I realize he’s snarky…  kind of like me.  He posted this video to make a point about how some people use Internet search engines and fail.  While I got Nathan’s point, I saw something else in the video.  You see, I love beer very much.  I am especially fond of Belgian beers.  When I see someone who clearly knows nothing about Belgian beer trying to drink it when they don’t even know how to use a bottle opener, I get frustrated.  Initially, intense frustration is what I was feeling when I watched this.  But then the woman tasted the beer and made some rather hilarious facial expressions that made me laugh.  It made me want to know more about her.

I went to the woman’s YouTube channel to see if she had other videos.  Indeed, she does!  The user’s name is heyannalise, aka Annalise Hill.

Here she is talking about Brussels, one of my favorite cities…  I love Belgium! 


What strikes me most about this YouTuber is that she seems very comfortable on camera.  I, on the other hand, hate being on camera.  I get very nervous and flustered when I’m on film, start to stammer, and then when I watch the film, I get all embarrassed.  That’s why when I make YouTube videos, I just use pictures of pretty places or videos of the weather or my dogs…

Any city with this as its mascot is alright with me…


And look!  Potty parity with Jeanneke Pis, a female version…  She’s located right outside the Delirium Cafe, which is probably why she’s behind bars.  Imagine what might happen as drunken revelers pass her as she’s pissing…

Here’s a picture of Bill enjoying Belgian beer properly…  I included him in this post because it apparently makes Nathan happy.


Annalise’s next video is about her day trip to Amsterdam… I haven’t actually been to the city of Amsterdam yet, but it’s currently an entry in my champagne bucket.

I feel like Annalise is sitting here chatting with me.  Her male friend seems pretty game, too.


I kind of like these travel blog videos.  I like Annalise’s jaunty background music, which sounds like it came from a CD full of generic music used for commercials.  I like the way a lot of her statements have the cadence of a question.  She’s goofy and quirky and makes me laugh.  She has a unique fashion sense, too.  Check out her cute little thrift store frocks.

On the other hand, I notice that Annalise’s videos get a lot of thumbs down.  I know the first one I watch might have merited some down votes simply due to the fact that she can’t freakin’ open a bottle of beer by herself.  And never mind that she can’t open beer… she’s trying a Belgian beer.  And she has chosen one that is definitely not for beginners.  Of course, every beer lover has to open a bottle of beer for the first time.  There’s a first time for everything!  Maybe her tastebuds will evolve.  Or maybe she won’t ever like beer and there will be more left for me.  Anyway, I thought her struggles with the bottle openers were kind of endearing, though others may disagree.

I’d be afraid to try video blogging myself because I think I have a face and body for radio.  Kudos to Annalise for putting herself out there and not being afraid to be goofy and human.  Maybe someday I’ll work up the nerve to do a video actually showing myself on camera.  But I have a feeling I would be more inclined to visit a textile free sauna before I tried that…  For now, I have subscribed to Annalise’s YouTube channel.  We’ll see what other cute videos she posts.  I hope she makes some money to fund her next trip.


Our big trip to Virginia… part two!

In case you weren’t paying attention last week, we had quite a bit of rare weather. ¬†Bill and I got caught in the middle of a Nor’easter, which started as we were getting out of the DC area on Wednesday. ¬†We left early in the morning hoping to avoid traffic hell, but by the time we got to the outskirts of the DC metropolitan area, there were big fat snowflakes falling. ¬†The snow wasn’t too bad, though. ¬†It made everything pretty. ¬†There were a few accidents, including a jackknifed tractor trailer, on the way south to Natural Bridge. ¬†Most people, by and large, were safe though. ¬†And I didn’t see a whole lot of people braving the storm anyway.

We stopped in a convenience store so I could have a potty break.  While we were in there, I noticed someone wiped a huge booger on the door of the bathroom stall.  I was almost tempted to photograph it for posterity, but I decided it was better to be a grown up.

I decided to photograph this sign instead.

I don’t remember the last time I saw snow in Virginia during November.

We went straight to the Kroger once we got to Lexington and picked up some snacks and drinks for the festivities at my aunt’s and uncle’s house. ¬†I picked up chips, cookies, beer, wine, water, and soda. ¬†Evidently, I picked up one too few soda packs, since the cashier told us we could use a Kroger card to get a deal. ¬†I pissed off a woman behind us when I dashed off to get another 12 pack of soda. ¬†Doing that saved us $11.

The Kroger parking lot…

We were among the first to arrive for the festivities and were greeted by my cousin, Brad. ¬†Brad and I used to live in the same neighborhood when we were very young. ¬†We fought like cats and dogs, too. ¬†But he was hard at work at Granny’s house and even helped Bill when he got stuck trying to get out of the driveway. ¬†One nice thing about getting older is getting past all the stupid childhood fights. ¬†I can say that now, Brad and I get along just fine!

My late Granny’s house is a very homey place. ¬†There’s a creek that runs in front of the house where generations of kids have played, including yours truly. ¬†There’s another creek that runs perpendicular to the one that goes in front of the house. ¬†Most of us have fallen in either creek at least once or twice in a lifetime. ¬†I have many great memories of visiting. ¬†I love to leave the window open at night and listen to the creek rush by. ¬†And I love to remember all the many times my cousins and I vandalized the closet under the stairs when we used it as an impromptu clubhouse. ¬†I bet there aren’t too many homes as well loved as my Granny’s house has been.

Me and Granny at her house in August 1972. ¬†I was maybe 6 weeks old…

Someone in my family has lived in that house since 1937. ¬†It started out as a rental and was later purchased by my grandfather, who ended up selling off most of the 55 acres he’d bought with the house. ¬†Later, my Uncle Brownlee and his wife, Gayle, bought the house. ¬†I hope it will pass on to someone in the family when it comes time for them to pass the torch. ¬†It’s a very special place.

There was good attendance this year at the reunion. ¬†Only a few folks were missing. ¬†Consequently, things got very crowded in the house as people piled in for dinner and football watching. ¬†I didn’t see a lot of game playing going on. ¬†Usually, someone starts a card game or a horseshoe match. ¬†This year, I think the weather was too crappy and bitterly cold. ¬†By the time it cleared up a bit, people were on their way home.

Thanksgiving dinner was a huge affair with plenty of food brought by relatives. ¬†My favorite part was the corn casserole, which I think my cousin Clark’s wife, Chris, made. ¬†That stuff is like crack! ¬†Someone else made a killer batch of macaroni and cheese. ¬†It’s not quite as good as mine, but it was pretty damn good.

We didn’t stay too long for Thanksgiving because the house was really crowded and I had to sing the next day. ¬†We had our memorial for my dad and I was determined not to screw it up.

Granny on a motorcycle… ¬†

rants, USA

I can’t help being American…

A couple of days ago, I got into an interesting conversation with a couple of German women who married soldiers.  One of the women is 24 years old and very opinionated.  She was complaining about America and Americans.  Frankly, given where she lives, I’d probably complain too…   The area around Fort Bragg is not exactly the most picturesque place in the country.

Anyway, she and this other lady, who must live near Fort Carson out in Colorado, were bitching about our country.  They went on and on about how so many Americans never travel, are uneducated, uncultured, and generally inferior.  I interjected that many Americans don’t travel for any number of reasons.  It takes a lot of time, money, and frankly, effort, for Americans to travel.  A lot of Americans don’t own a passport because they take time, money, and effort to get.  And America is such a vast country that just about any climate or scenery you could ever want, you can find it without going abroad.

I am the last person to say that people shouldn’t travel.  I love to travel and will do it as long as I can afford airfare and fit in the airplane seat.  But… I can see why so many Americans don’t travel.  It’s a big hassle.  Just getting through security at the airport is a grueling and potentially humiliating exercise.  It’s expensive, uncomfortable, and then once you get to where you’re going, you run the risk of being treated badly by the locals, who may have anti-American attitudes.  Who wants to pay thousands of dollars for that?

The two women backpedaled when I wrote that I hoped they didn’t think all Americans were the way they were painting us.  They quickly excepted me from their generalizing!  I reminded them that if they really thought Americans ought to travel more, they should do their part by being welcoming and kind.  Yes, I understand that there are a lot of “ugly Americans” who make no effort to understand the local mores or be culturally sensitive.  But assuming that all Americans are like that is not the answer.

Honestly, I think a lot of people like to insult America and its citizens, but few of them ever take the time to look at things from the other perspective.  I know that every time I’ve gone abroad, except for when we moved to England (because I was a toddler at the time), it was beaten in my head to be culturally sensitive.  “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, right?  But rarely do I see that same attitude being practiced among people who come to the United States from abroad.

My German friends were complaining about how in America, they have fewer personal freedoms than they do in Germany.  I thought that was an interesting comment, since when I was in Germany, I noticed a lot of rules and regulations.  They were reasonable rules, but there were a lot of them.  For example, it’s forbidden to own Nazi era paraphernalia, especially if you mean to promote war or hatred.  My neighbor wanted to add on to her parents’ house, but the local government denied her and her husband the right to do so.  If you get pulled over by a police officer who suspects you of driving drunk, your blood will be tested.  You can’t opt out, like you could in America.  If you are found guilty of driving drunk, you will lose your license and you will have a hell of a hard time getting it back.  For more on this, check out this article.

If you do something unorthodox, on the whole, Germans are quick to speak up about it.  Yes, America has its share of freedom erosion, but I don’t know that it’s any worse or better than other places.  And I don’t know that Germany is “free-er” than the USA is.  I think we have freedoms the Germans don’t have… and Germans have freedoms that we don’t have.  Whether one is more free than the other is depends on your perspective.

I think what may be going on with these women is what happens to a lot of people when they move far away from home.  After the cultural high, there’s sort of a depression, which happens when you start to miss home and being with people who are like you are.  It happened to me in Armenia and Germany.  It didn’t happen when I was in England because I was too young to know the difference.  For all I knew, England was home… and frankly, it could have been had my ancestors not moved to the USA.

I refuse to apologize for being American.  I am American because I was born here and my parents were born here… and their parents were born here.  People in our ancestry made the decision to come to America for whatever reason.  Otherwise, I’d be European like they are.

Anyway… those are my thoughts.  I can’t help being an American.  It doesn’t make me an inferior or bad person.  Moreover, we’re not all assholes.  Pass it on!


One last "month on a train" post…

I wish I’d been blogging when I took my train trip to Europe.  It really was a great experience and I feel like fifteen years later, it’s hard to do it justice.  I also didn’t have a digital camera back then– no one did, really.  So all my photos are printed and my scanner is all jacked up.  My iPhone is full of photos of the dogs, so I can’t really take pictures of the pictures..  I also have a tendency not to be frugal with taking pictures and often end up taking the same photo several times, then not deleting them.  In the course of fifteen years, some of my photos got misplaced.

Still, when I think back on that trip, it was kind of remarkable.  I was so fortunate to be able to do the trip… to take a month out of my life and just go where the wind took me.  Everyone should be able to take a month to just wander and if you’re able to do it in Europe, so much the better.  I have a feeling that trip was a once in a lifetime thing, but I think it would be great fun to do it again sometime… especially if I can take my husband with me.

The year prior to my train trip, a Peace Corps friend and I spent three weeks traveling through Turkey and Bulgaria.  We went by bus from Armenia, which involved a long stop at the hellish border with Turkey and Georgia.  That trip was far less comfortable than my trip through Europe was… It involved a lot of riding on rickety buses, sleeping on floors, and eating street food.  Maybe that should be my next topic.

I wish Americans had more chances to travel.  I wish they had more inclination to go places, try new things, and get out of their comfort zones every once in awhile.  Granted, I pretty much live as a shut in, owing to my status as an Overeducated Housewife.  But I always have a desire to go places and see new things– not so much in the United States, though there are places in this country I’d like to see.  What I’d really like to do is travel around the world… as long as I can do it with someone I love and with whom I am very compatible.  I would imagine that would be my husband, Bill.

Not that there isn’t something to be said for traveling alone…  When you travel alone, you can end up meeting interesting people.  But when you travel with someone you love, you end up with more courage to do incredible things… Like hike up to the top of a castle and see the view below…

The view from Hohenzollern Castle in Germany


About four years ago, my husband drove that point home to me when we were sitting in a beer spa in the Czech Republic.  We had been soaking in pewter tubs full of beer while sipping beer from a glass.  My husband looked at me with love in his eyes and said, “You know, I would never be able to do this if I hadn’t met you.”

I count that moment as one of the best bonding moments of our ten year marriage.  I hope we can have many more.