Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 157

The weekly roundup of internet gems:

  1. I’m not saying this made me cry, but: Downton Abbey Final Season Trailer.
  2. Interesting: The Top Tennis Player in the World Started Here.
  3. Yasssss: I’m 23 and Dressed as Royal Baby Prince George for a Week.
  4. An important national issue: Petition to Add the Flamingo and Taco Emojis.
  5. What ever became of Maureen from Center Stage? An interesting read: The Curious Case of Susan May Pratt.
  6. Another good “where are they now?” feature: Meet the Countess of Baywatch: How A.J. Langer Became a British Aristocrat.
  7. Adorable: Look How Bloody Excited This Stolen Pug Is to be Reunited with Her Owner.
  8. Hah: #wallsforbloggers.
  9. The Martian was one of the best books I have read in a long while, and I am so excited to see the movie version this fall. Here’s a good sneak peek: Why NASA Helped Ridley Scott Create The Martian Film.
  10. I got really into reading about the War of the Roses a few years ago, so naturally this intrigues me: The Princes in the Tower: Will the Ultimate Cold Case Finally Be Solved After More Than 500 Years?

(Image via)

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 154

The weekly roundup of internet awesome:

  1. These pictures give me ALL THE FEELS. Even though Downton has had its ups and downs, I’m gonna miss it: Last Days of Downton.
  2. She’s cool: 23 Times Anna Kendrick Said Everything You Were Thinking.
  3. Interesting: French Fry Toppings of the World.
  4. Pretty on point, though I have more love for the Jug than this: If UM Bars Were Parks and Recs Characters.
  5. Food for thought: Teenage Girls Have Led Language Innovation for Centuries.
  6. I meant to post this a few months ago, but it remains just as cute: Pups Running for Dinner, Timelapse Style.
  7. So beautiful: An Illustrated Catalog of Beautiful Untranslatable Words from Around the World.
  8. I’d like them all to be my friends, and also I’d like to be in Ireland: See Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow Serenade a Wedding in Dublin.
  9. And more awesome word-related things: 19 Amazing English Words We’ve Totally Forgotten About and 14 Perfect French Words and Phrases We Need in English.
  10. Fun idea: Classic Novels Pitched in 140 Characters.

(Image via Buzzfeed)

A Visit to Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey)

Ah, Downton Abbey. I think it’s safe to say that I am not alone in being slightly obsessed with this show (despite the fact that season three was rather lackluster). Given my love of the Crawley family, I decided to look into visiting Highclere Castle, the estate where much of the show is filmed. And when I learned that it was located only about an hour or so from London, that settled things: we were definitely going to have to pay a visit to Downton.

As we walked up the gravel path from the visitors’ entrance to the manor, we were greeted with this familiar site:

1524 -Highclere Castle

Yep, it looks just as gorgeous in person as it does on television! We arrived first thing in the morning, so we were able to wander around the grounds for a bit while it was relatively quiet and uncrowded. The estate was peaceful and so beautiful!

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Since we hadn’t gotten the chance to eat a proper breakfast before leaving London, we grabbed some snacks at a little cafe tucked away in the back of the house. Even the sandwich boxes were emblazoned with the Castle’s image!

1532 -Highclere Castle

Next, it was time to tour the house’s interior (of which, sadly, no photographs were allowed). As we made our way through the ornate, elegant rooms, signs indicated what each room was used for on the show. It was interesting to see the familiar sets up close and in person, but my mom and I both shared the same thought: many of the rooms were tiny! While the house is obviously quite nice, everything looks grander on television. We couldn’t help but feel the tiniest bit disappointed that reality didn’t exactly match up to the TV fantasy.

After exploring the house, we strolled down to the gardens, which were fascinating to poke around in. They contained a wide array of flowers, and many of them were unique varieties I hadn’t seen before.

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We left the garden, making our way through the wildflower meadow. As we climbed up the hill of the meadow, the splendid castle came back into view:

1573 -Highclere Castle

1575 -Highclere Castle

After grabbing a quick lunch, we said goodbye to Highclere and made our way back to London town. While the castle’s interior hadn’t been quite as luxurious as I would have imagined, overall, I was happy to have visited the inspiration for one of my favorite shows. And when I watch the next season on TV, you can bet I will exclaim in excitement, at least once or twice, “I’ve been there!”

Practical Information:

  • If your heart is set on a visit Highclere, make sure to purchase your tickets well in advance, as some days will sell out. I checked the website regularly and snapped up tickets for our date as soon as they went on sale.
  • Unless you’re a huge fan of ancient Egypt, I wouldn’t shell out the extra pounds to include the Egyptian Exhibit, located in the castle’s basement, in your ticket package. We did, and we ultimately found the exhibit rather lackluster (there are a few genuine artifacts, but large portions of the exhibit are replicas).
  • Getting there: If you don’t have a rental car, don’t fear; it’s still an easy trip from London. From Paddington Station, grab a train to Newbury (the ride is about an hour long). From the Newbury train station, hop in a cab to Highclere (which will take about 15 minutes).
  • If you take a cab to Highclere, make sure to arrange a return trip with your cab driver when he drops you off. We gave ourselves about four hours before having our cabbie pick us up, which was probably more time than we needed – but make sure to budget ample time for touring the house, visiting the gardens, browsing the gift shop, and grabbing food, if you visit around lunch time.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 88

The weekly(ish) roundup of internet awesomeness:

  1. A little bit of Mitten state pride: 27 Reasons the Great Lakes Are Actually the Greatest.
  2. I try not to get too political on here, and I’m honestly not sure what my opinion of the implications of these statistics is, but this is interesting to ponder: Here Is Every Foreign Country That Gets More Federal Aid Than Detroit.
  3. I know I’ve mentioned my love for RBG before, but it continues with this article. Sample quote: “I don’t water-ski anymore,” Justice Ginsburg said. “I haven’t gone horseback riding in four years. I haven’t ruled that out entirely. But water-skiing, those days are over.”
  4. Neat: Uncanny Aerial and Fashion Photography Mashups.
  5. A scary number of these apply to me: 22 Signs You’re Still Addicted to Friends.
  6. This Delia Ephron article has been making the rounds lately and, as it turns out, I love it too: You Can’t Have It All, but You Can Have Cake.
  7. A good article for tennis enthusiasts: Why Do Tennis Players Say “Come On” So Much? (and, I agree that this started with Lleyton Hewitt. How is that even a question??)
  8. Overwhelming and fascinating: Real Time Emoji Use on Twitter.
  9. Pretty sure I need to forward this article to all my uncles, aunts, and grandparents before the next family gathering: 26, Unmarried, and Childless. Money line: “So please, my dear friends, don’t ask me what’s next. Ask me what’s now.”
  10. Even after the awfulness that was season three, I’m still excited for season four of Downton Abbey. I don’t know how to quit you, Downton.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 63

leslie and ben

The weekly roundup of internet fabulosity:

  1. After watching the Top Chef finale, I almost felt compelled to write something about it, but then I read this and realized there was no need: he sums up everything I felt perfectly. Love Kristen and Brooke, hate that they didn’t get a final challenge that really allowed them to shine.
  2. I’ve been feeling way too attached to my iPhone lately, so this post resonated: Are You Really as Busy as You Think You Are?
  3. I’ve never understood my generation’s obsession with The Notebook, so naturally I love its Honest Trailer. Best line: “It’s basically the Olive Garden of love stories.”
  4. Amazing piano mash-up: Game of Downton Abbey.
  5. If last season’s MVP of New Girl was Schmidt (by a mile), this year’s is Nick Miller. Here’s why.
  6. This kills me because I was a sophomore circa 2006 and so many things about this are accurate: A Typical Night Studying in 2006. For instance: lofted beds, listening to the Fray, the Dell laptop, and AOL instant messaging.
  7. Leslie and Ben’s wedding on Parks and Rec was one of the most adorable things ever televised. Here’s the story of her unique wedding dress, which could not have been more perfect. And I love that someone at NBC made a Pinterest board of the wedding.
  8. I can’t get over how cool Michelle Obama is: Evolution of Mom Dancing.
  9. This is a cool concept for a photography project: 14 photographers take one picture of their kids, every week for a year. Some great images here.
  10. Because I love Jennifer Lawrence and don’t enjoy Anne Hathaway so much, I thought this was pretty on point: Why Do Women Hate Anne Hathaway (and Love Jennifer Lawrence)?.

(Image via Vulture)

Why Can’t Television Shows Just Die Gracefully?

(Stop reading if you haven’t seen last night’s episode of Downton Abbey. Seriously. Stop.)

Back when I wrote this post about Arrested Development, it occurred to me that basically every single TV show I’ve ever loved has declined in quality over the years (the exception being Arrested Development itself, likely because it only lasted three short seasons – and even then, it had the debatable Charlize Theron arc). It seems all shows follow a familiar pattern: they tend to hit their creative peak around the second season, and then it’s just one long decline into mediocrity.

By way of illustration, let’s conduct a brief survey of the trajectory of some shows I have loved over the years:

  • Friends: For sentimental reasons, this is probably my all-time favorite show, but even I can concede that running ten seasons was excessive. The peak years were seasons 2-4 (season 4, in particular, stands out because of the trivia game and Chandler in a box). After that, the show became a never-ending series of increasingly implausible contrivances to keep Ross and Rachel apart. Sure, it was nice to see them finally get together at the end, but it would’ve been nicer still if I hadn’t had to wait ten damn years for that moment.
  • Alias: Seasons 1 & 2 were brilliant: the show was smart, fast-paced, exciting, and super-addictive. Then Alias went off the deep end by having Sydney “die” and Vaughn remarry the evil Lauren. I’m actually still not fully over that one. Vaughn, how could you?!?
  • The Office: Season 2 of The Office is, quite possibly, my all time favorite season of any TV show, ever. But the show declined in quality quickly, and I quit watching altogether sometime shortly after Pam and Jim got married. Now, the show is a shell of its former self, and I’m still baffled that they thought it was a good idea to continue after Steve Carrell left.
  • Lost: Much like Alias, this had a brilliant first two seasons. Then it delved into crazy mythology and became largely incomprehensible. I watched this through until the end, but by the time everyone reunited in that damn church, I had no freaking clue how we got there or what it all meant.
  • Grey’s Anatomy: Remember when this show was a perfect blend of medical ridiculousness and gut-wrenching melodrama? Those halcyon days when Izzie cut Denny’s LVAD wire, when Christina ran out on her wedding to Burke, and when Meredith did her “pick me, choose me, love me” speech? Then do you remember the days after that, when Izzie had sex with Denny’s ghost, Izzie and George “fell in love” (as if), and Izzie performed surgery on a deer in the Seattle Grace parking lot? Come to think of it, maybe we can blame this one entirely on Katherine Heigl.

Anyway, these are just a few examples – I can think of more (Gilmore Girls, The West Wing, Weeds, etc.). But all this is to say that it’s an obvious trend, and one that I know I’m not the first to point out. I get why it happens – if you’ve got a successful, money making show, I suppose any good TV executive would want to keep the money train rolling. I just wish it didn’t work that way. I wish TV shows were allowed to live out their natural creative lifespan and then die gracefully, well before we were treated to ridiculous spectacles like ghost sex on Grey’s and time jumping on Lost. Quite simply, I wish creativity trumped money. I mean, sure, I’d be bummed when an awesome show went off the air after just a few seasons, but in the long run, isn’t having a few great seasons more satisfying than watching something you once loved slowly devolve into really, really crappy television?

So, why am I talking about all this now? Well, recent developments on Downton Abbey have reinforced the idea to me. Namely, last night (or last December, if you watched it in the UK) Mary and Matthew had a baby, Matthew sped off in his fancy car to share the news with the family, and then you can guess what happened next: oopsies, he got in a car wreck, and before you know it, you’re watching the fake blood dripping down Dan Stevens’s face as a legion of Downton Abbey fans across the nation weeps. Womp womp:

dead matthew crawley

But here’s the thing: it didn’t have to play out this way. I remember, back when Downton first premiered, that there was talk of Julian Fellowes doing three seasons. Then the show’s popularity skyrocketed, and suddenly that plan went out the window. But what if it hadn’t? What if we had been treated to three well-plotted seasons, all working toward an endgame? The show might have been truly brilliant, but we’ll never know. Instead, the last two seasons have grown increasingly sloppy and haphazard, and now we have season four to look forward to, where we’ll watch the show cope with the loss of one-half of its defining couple. Plus, who knows how many more seasons we’ll have after that, and what crazy twists they’ll bring with them. (Note: This is not to say I’m above watching all of this unfold. I’m too invested now, so I’ll stick with the show to the end. Plus, even at its worst, I love Downton more than most things on TV).

I’ve read criticisms from outraged fans who actually blame Dan Stevens for leaving the show. This makes zero sense to me. In fact, I think he’s figured out something that most of the other folks involved with the production have not: that sometimes, it’s best just to call it a day. Maybe Stevens is the smart one for getting out now, while the show is still culturally relevant, as opposed to several years from now, when the magic will have worn off.

Did you watch last night’s episode of Downton? If so, what did you think of the loss of Matthew Crawley? And do you agree that it’s about time to wrap this show up?

(Image via The Daily Mirror)

Downton Abbey: S3, E2

edith & anthony

Last week on Downton Abbey, we saw the Crawley house abuzz with preparations for Matthew and Mary’s wedding. This week, Lady Edith finally got her turn as the staff prepared for her wedding with Sir Anthony Strallan. Further reminding us that all she wants is to be loved (by somebody, anybody, for the love of God!), Edith said, “Something happening in this house is actually about me.” Pathetic, to be sure, but you can’t deny that the girl is self-aware.

Everyone in the family – but particularly Lord Grantham and the Dowager – was down on the planned marriage. Funnily enough, however, they didn’t seem to have any qualms about Sir Anthony when they invited him over for dinner in Season 1 and encouraged Lady Mary to get friendly with him. Is this a sign of the fickle nature of the Crawley family? Naw, I’m going to go with the hypothesis that it’s some sloppy writing on the part of Julian Fellowes. In any case, the wedding day arrived and nobody except Edith – not even Sir Anthony – seemed very pumped about it. Edith got ready, donning a sweeter gown than Mary wore (a rare victory for Edith). Speaking of Mary, she made one of the meanest “nice” statements ever, telling Edith that she was very happy for her today – but that she knew they’d probably go back to hating each other tomorrow. Sisterly love!

Edith made it to the church and down the aisle but, alas, no further. Anthony got cold feet, telling her that he wanted more for her than to be chained to an old man like himself for the rest of her life. Noble, perhaps, but wouldn’t it have been more gallant of him to come to this realization before she got all dressed up and was humiliated in front of her family and friends? In any case, Edith (understandably devastated) returned home and ran up the stairs with her gown’s train trailing behind her, pausing to dramatically throw her veil over the balcony (symbolism, guys!). And the next day, while refusing Anna’s offer to bring her breakfast in bed, Edith delivered one of the saddest lines of the series: “Spinsters have to go down to breakfast.” Womp, womp.

In other upstairs news, the Crawley family also had to deal with their impending poverty. For them, this meant donning their spiffiest picnic wear (seriously, they all looked damn good) and heading to one of their smaller estates, which Mary dubbed “cramped” (of course she did). To me, it looked like they’d simply be settling for living in a mansion instead of the mega-mansion they currently live in, but for the Crawleys, this was clearly devastating. I mean, they would have to downsize to only eight servants! Oh, the shame.

picnic time!

However, due to one of the show’s most contrived plot contrivances ever (and, though I love this show, that’s really saying something), the family was saved from the simple life. Matthew conveniently received a letter from the late Mr. Swire, indicating that he wanted Matthew to have his fortune even though he knew Matthew wasn’t going to marry Lavinia. Matthew, being Matthew and therefore infuriatingly noble, refused to read the letter. After some sneakiness by Mary, however, he finally came to terms with his new windfall and decided to save Downton. Hurrah!

Meanwhile, downstairs, the Thomas/O’Brien war was in full force. As I mentioned last week, I still don’t understand why these two are mad at each other, but their feud is pretty fun to watch. This week, they continued plotting against each other, dragging poor, hapless Molesly into the battle for this round.

And in other downstairs news, Daisy appeared to have quite the developing crush on Alfred, the super tall butler. Also, Anna continued to play detective and something happened to Mr. Bates in prison but, honestly, I’m so bored with this storyline that I can’t even bring myself to care about what exactly went down.

And, finally, after months of waiting for her test results, Mrs. Hughes went to the doctor, who (apparently) told her she’s cancer free. She looked understandably happy about this development, but it was good old Carson who seemed the most elated, cheerfully singing as he polished the silver. Seriously, when are those two crazy kids going to get together?!

Dowager Countess Quip of the Night:


Fashion Moment of the Night: The Crawley sisters at Edith’s wedding & Mary at the Downton Place “picnic”:

crawley sisters

As mentioned above, I thought Edith’s wedding dress was prettier than Mary’s wedding dress – the train in back and the veil/headband were especially nice. However, Mary and Sybil also looked great for Edith’s wedding, getting their pastel on to fabulous effect. Their dresses were lovely, but I’m super obsessed with their hats.

Downton Abbey Series 3

Mary’s picnic wear was also awesome – I loved the brown dress and, once again, the hat totally made the outfit. I want to picnic with the Crawleys!

Acting MVP of the Night: Laura Carmichael as Edith. Girl totally sold Edith’s despair and made (yet another) cheesy plot twist into something poignant.

Best Moment: Cora’s Awesomeness


Is it just me, or has Cora become one of the – if not the – most likeable characters on this show by far? From the way she immediately promised to take care of Mrs. Hughes to her comforting Edith, Cora provided two of the sweetest moments last night.

Worst Moment: Look, we all know Downton’s bread and butter is ridiculous plot turns and twists and improbable contrivances. But Matthew receiving a letter from the beyond has got to be the all time most ridiculous of ridiculous coincidences on this show. Plus, his never-ending sanctimonious attitude toward not taking Lavinia’s “tainted” money is just so old. Yes, Matthew, we know – you have such noble principles and ideals. Vom.

Burning Questions for Next Week: Would life really have been so bad at “tiny” Downton Place? Will Edith stay a “spinster” forever? And are we sure Mrs. Hughes doesn’t have cancer? Something about the way she had Mrs. Pattmore deliver the news to Mr. Carson makes me suspect she’s not out of the woods yet.

(Images via Huffington Post UK, Radio Times, and Rickey)