Category Archives: family

NYC3 – One cupcake at a time………..

You might remember that I recently went to New York City with my hubby. We were celebrating our anniversary.

Neither one of us can completely believe that someone else has put up with either one of us for two decades. So, we decided to celebrate – and celebrations require cake. No, really, it’s written on page 1 of the celebration bible. – right after “find a reason to celebrate”. Next, “find cake”.

Sweets aren’t really my thing and I have not gotten caught up in the whole cupcake craze – at least not until I found out there were carrot cake cupcakes being made in the cupcake wars. I love me some carrot cake. But, can everyone please stop putting raisins in them? Walnuts, yes please. Raisins, oh hell no. Not even the cute little white ones.

Anycake, we didn’t really seek any places out. We just stopped along our way at any place that had a picture of icing on its sign.

The first place was Melissa’s. She apparently can’t be bothered with an entire cupcake and just sells you bites of cupcakes with a tinee, tiny little dab of icing. And she, my cupcake-loving friends, is brilliant. They are delish….

They are so good, in fact, that if you drop one on the street, you seriously might be tempted to pick it up. Not that I would recommend that – but some people might do it. Not me. Other people.

I highly recommend the chocolate chip cookie dough and cinnamon varieties. Melissa’s is near Times Square. Lots of people were buzzing in and out with pre-orders. Large pre-orders. That tells me something. The natives even like them.

The next place was the Magnolia Bakery. It’s around the corner from the Today Show studio and Rockefeller Center. Please don’t ask me which corner – it’s just around the corner. Walk a block each way and you’ll (eventually) find it. Promise.

Their cupcakes look like this….

They are very pretty but this one was a wee bit dry. The shop is adorable and the staff is lovely, so that’s good. But, uhm, it is all about the cupcake.

Then we stopped at Juniors. It’s near the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. I loved the name and the feel of the place. These are the vanilla and reeses cupcakes. They were not so good. Sorry Junior, but the competition is stiff. You gotta step it up. I didn’t like these because they were just so dense and the icing was crisco-y. Not fluffy. I discovered I prefer fluffy. In fact, I roll best with cream cheese fluffiness.

Apparently, Juniors is famous for it’s cheesecake so it might not have been entirely fair to hold them to such a high cupcake standard.

And, just in case, you have never been schooled in the proper way to eat a cupcake. Take notes. Break it in half in the middle and stick the bottom on the top – like a sandwich. Then you can call it lunch. πŸ˜‰ You will thank me later.

Next was Crumbs. Drum roll please. It’s the the creme-DE-la-creme of cupcakes. Angels might have been singing when we walked in. Maybe it was my stomach growling. I am not entirely sure. But there was line – that’s aΒ  good sign, right?

And those wicked smarties had carrot cake cupcakes. Finally. And YUM!

Okay, these guys rocked the cupcake competition. They are fabulouso and awesomesauce. Each one was better than the next. Well, except for the mocha caramel one – I don’t do coffee, so mocha anything is a no-go for me. But the rest were so yummy. These were vanilla with chocolate icing, mocha caramel, carrot cake (the grand supreme winner of all things cupcake in New York City), coconut, vanilla with vanilla, and chocolate chip cookie dough.

Even the elevator guy at the hotel recommended Crumbs. And, thank God, they had an elevator operator at our hotel because pushing my own elevator buttons might just have put me over the edge. Seriously, that is a lot of work. πŸ˜‰

Now I understand that you might be concerned that we ate cupcakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and that cupcakes might not have been the healthiest of choices for all three meals. But have no fear, we ate real meals – the cupcakes were snacks. Tee hee.

If you go to NYC and have a hankering for a cupcake, go to Crumbs or Melissa’s. And if you want to bring back a little something for the blogger who pointed you in the right cupcake direction, carrot cake please.Oh, and, if you don’t mind, ask them to hold the raisins. Thanks.

Holy Cow, Macao………..

I still have so much writing to do about our time in India and it’s time to get moving – so here we go….

You might remember that right before we left India, we made a jaunt over to China – you can read about the Great Wall here and Olympic Park/Panda Bears here and Bicycles here.We also stopped in Hong Kong. Sadly, we picked to go to Hong Kong mainly because there is a DisneyWorld there. However, when we arrived in Hong Kong and checked into our hotel, I was looking through the hotel’s information and saw that Cirque Du Soleil was performing in Macao (which is also apparently spelled Macau). Bonus!

Hubby: I am pretty tired. It’s good to sit down.
Me: Look, Cirque Du Soleil is in Macao.
Hubby: Is that the Macao that is across the ocean?
Me: How far is that from here?
Hubby: No idea – but I am sure we are about to find out.
Me: The kids l.o.v.e. Cirque Du Soleil, we should totally go.
Hubby: Or we could relax and order room service.
Me: Hmmmm.
Hubby: I will go the the conceirge and see what we need to do
Me: Only if you really want to dear. πŸ˜‰

We found out that yes, Macao, is not exactly around the corner from Hong Kong – but is a lot closer to Hong Kong than it is to the U.S. 😎

So, my dear sweet husband went down to the front desk and found out that there were tickets still available for that night’s show. They were not exactly free – but they were available. What we needed to do was rent a car to take us to the ferry station, then take the ferry over to Macao, then take a bus to the Venetian Hotel, and then watch the show. And then rinse and repeat backwards. It turns out that renting a car and riding the ferry – not so much free either. But the bus ride to the Venetian. Totally free. See we are saving money dear!

The whole adventure was going to take us about 5 hours and we needed to leave about 5 minutes ago.

Off we go. One crazy thing about China is that even though Beijing and Macao and Hong Kong are all in China, you still have to go through Customs and Immigration each time you leave one and enter another. So, in one day, we went through Immigration 4 times. Yikes. And we were pretty much always in a hurry. Adding Macao and the Cirque Du Soleil in at the last minute was a tad stressful – but it made for a great night.

We rushed down to the lobby to meet the driver and then stopped by 7-11 for a slurpee – ahhhhh – and headed off to the ferry.

We had absolutely no idea what we were doing. Thankfully Hong Kongers (yes, that is the technical term) speak English and we could at least understand where they were telling us to go. We got to the ferry counter and there was a big sign for helicopter rides to Macao. Now, I have my husband’s attention. That sounded cool. He asked about tickets and when he found out it would be about $2,000 USD, he bought ferry tickets.

The ferry was pretty neat. And we got to see a bit of Hong Kong. If you’ve never been, just imagine tall building after taller building after even taller building. New York has nothing on Hong Kong.

At the ferry station, there were all these fun tugboats. Not sure why I love me some tug boats, but I do. I don’t necessarily want to ride on them – but I love taking pictures of them.

Once we got into Macao and on the bus, we started breathing a little easier. We had a good chance of being on time.

For those of you not familiar with Macao, it is simply Las Vegas incarnate. Flashy splashy hotel with big honkin’ casino right beside flashy splashy hotel with big honkin’ casino. Endless roads of hotels and casinos, all lit up real sparkly. Part of Macao is over this bridge. And I learned an important lesson about photography – fast moving bus + city with tons of lights + children asking a gagillion questions + amateur photographer taking flash pictures through window = stinky pictures. So sorry! I’d like to pretend that I was trying some new fangled photography and was getting all artistic with a simple bridge – but, alas, blurry is blurry.

Here is my best Macao picture. Yeah, don’t worry those National Geographic photographers won’t be in danger of losing their jobs anytime soon.

This is the Venetian – where the magic of Cirque Du Soleil takes place.

And here is what the Venetian looks like if you actually know how to use your camera – Thanks Wiki!

It turned out that we got to the hotel about 45 minutes before the show was scheduled to start. And it turns out that we did not get my brother a Hard Rock Cafe hat in Beijing – long story that did not end well – and that we passed a Hard Rock Cafe hotel in Macao that was literally a block away from the Venetian. So, number one hubby literally ran over to the Hard Rock Cafe and got my brother a Macao Hard Rock hat while the kids and I nestled into the Blue Frog Bar and Grill. Where we enjoyed some yummy American food – chicken nuggets and french fries and potato skins with sour cream. That equalled instant smiles…

 

What I did not realize about the Blue Frog and Grill was that they have a running contest – if you drink 100 shots of alcohol, you get your name posted in big arse letters on a big arse billboard in the bar. My kids wanted to figure out how they could get their names on that board. Well, let’s see….

Then on to the show. The name of the show is ZAIA which apparently translates into “life” and the show is about a girl who imagines a world beyond earth. You don’t really need to know any of that – what you do need to know is that it’s awesome with tons of acrobatics and lively music and surprises behind every curtain.

You aren’t allowed to take pictures during the show – so you get to see the posters. Apparently, I am also not so great at taking pictures while standing still in a well lit lobby with no children asking questions. Note to self – photography lessons.

We told the kids before we even left Hong Kong that we would most likely have to leave the show early because we had to catch the ferry back in order to take advantage of the hotel room we had already paid for in Hong Kong. So, as time got close to leave, we gave them the requisite 5-minute warning. Then we said, “time to go.” You can imagine that they quickly got up and departed the theater in a safe and orderly manner so as not to disturb the other audience members.

Yeah, not exactly – so hubby laid down the parent law – not kidding, I said now. Then they departed in a somewhat quiet and orderly manner while only mildly disturbing a few fellow audience members.

We made it back on the bus and back to the ferry and back to the driver all in one piece. And then back to our hotel.


Whew. It actually was possible to get there in back. I thought so. 😎 However, if you plan to visit Macao while in Hong Kong, might I suggest a little advance planning?

And then today – (almost) all the right answers ………

If you read this first, you will understand today’s post better….

So this morning my daughter asks me this question –

“Mom, why does a mom’s food always taste better than anyone else’s?”

Yes, that thud you heard was me falling over.

After I picked myself off the floor, I said, “I don’t know honey, it’s probably just what you are used to.”

To which she replied, “but Mom, your food is sooooo good.”

Yes, she is going to go far in life.

Her brother called her a “suck up” and then asked me if I had lost weight.

Very smart those two. πŸ˜‰

Their sister on the other hand complained that I had made her biscuits instead of cereal.

I guess two out of three ain’t bad.

What does it all mean……………….

Yesterday, I wrote about a man taking my shopping cart in the parking lot for me. You can read about it here.

I have been thinking about why that had such an impact on me and this is what I came up with. I think I will ramble a little – so please stick with this one – I promise there is a point at the end.

Living in India was an absolutely amazing experience that took me way out of my comfort zone. It jumbled up my routines and took me away from my favorite people. Living there gave me opportunities I would never, ever have here and it made me question a lot of what I thought I knew to be true.

I mostly think of myself as a kind and even generous person. It’s true that I can be cranky and selfish just like anyone else but I truly do enjoy giving other people a reason to smile and (mostly) don’t mind helping out.

But here comes India full force – where people really need – and not just a hug or a dinner brought over or a carpool for their over-scheduled kid or someone to take their shopping cart in the parking lot – they need food and water and a way out of horrible, horrible situations. And please know that I understand people in America need too – I know that – and I understand that the needs in America can be very real and can be overwhelming too. People are sick and people are hungry and people are hurting. I get that. But not in the same magnitude as in India – not so many people all at once and not so desperately and not without options. Right now, I live in a bubble – a green, lush, over-fed bubble with people who do not hesitate to help each other out. We are getting by just fine. Sure we endure struggles – but it is really not theΒ  same.

I will show you what I mean – this man is taking a bath outside in a busy market area. The water is not clean and he is in public and I am taking his picture.

The streets are dirty and there is human and animal waste all over the place. That means that you have very good chances of getting pretty sick at some point. Especially if you do not have a nutritious diet and clean drinking water. And this is the road outside the entrance to the neighborhood we lived in – an upscale area. This is not a slum.

It is not only not uncommon – it is actually quite common – to see children unattended on the streets.

We have been having some pretty significant storms in our area and many people have been without electricity for several days. News reporters were interviewing several people affected by the outages and one councilman said, “people here feel like they are living in a third world country.” Dear heavens. Really? I understand he was going for the dramatic effect – but please.

Again, I appreciate that the people who lost power probably lost the food in their fridge and were hot as heck in their houses and were certainly inconvenienced. It probably is a hardship for some of them to replace their food. And of course, the elderly and young children and anyone who is sick could be in real danger. But it is temporary. And it will be fixed. Welcome to America baby where there are churches and libraries and friends houses to go to. There are options. The temporary pain of a power outage is certainly not like living in a third world country. I promise you, it is not.

I miss that about India – that the people of India don’t let bumps in the road slow them down. And I think I learned to calm down a little bit myself. I learned that if it will end up as a funny story one day, you can get through it. That the Indian people as a whole don’t take so much for granted. I would like to believe that clean water is a right and not a privilege but that is just not a reality – and electricity – well, that is icing on the cake. It really, really is.

Anyway, back to why I appreciated the man taking my cart.

Like I said, I used to think I was fairly generous and kind. India really made me question if that is true. I volunteered, sure – but I never fully committed to any one group. I gave myself a pass because I was still pretty involved in my kids classrooms which took up some time – and moving to India was a huge adjustment for me so I gave myself time to settle in before raising my hand too much – but you know what that sounds like – the excuses that they are. I know I contributed in many ways to help out people, but frankly it wasn’t enough. I truly could have done more. And why did I let myself get too overwhelmed to dive fully in. Because I knew I would eventually get to escape and move home to the land of temporary problems.

The hardest thing to accept about my time in India is how many times I turned my head away from a young child knocking at my window. If I remembered to bring crackers or cookies I would share those every time. But honestly putting food in the car wasn’t top on the list in my routine of getting out the door. I tried to remember – but I could have done better about it – and I should have. I regret that I simply did not do better.

Begging in India is a tricky thing. And helping beggars is even trickier.

Most people will tell you absolutely not to give to anyone begging for several reasons. Any money you give them usually goes to some sort of ring leader (read gang leader), if you give to one person you could end up with a flock of people around you and the mob mentality in India is not safe, giving to beggars encourages begging, it’s illegal, if you teach a man to fish, blah blah blah.

And it did happen to me more than once that I gave to one person and more people surrounded me. It was certainly uncomfortable. I even saw a woman have her change purse stolen. It was snatched right out of her hands. She was trying to give every child in front of her some change and one child said, “uh-uh lady – that is going to be all mine.” And we said, “see why you don’t do that?” And she said, “what difference does it make if he has all my change, I really don’t need it. It’s just my change.” And that was the right attitude. But it’s hard to get there.

When you see a small child knocking on your window, you let all these reminders run through your head. Why it is not a good idea to encourage begging – there is real danger in it – but how do you end it. You know that you cannot – it is much bigger than one person. And when the car, thankfully and finally, pulls away, you are still left with a pit the size of Texas in your stomach.

And then, when you have to explain all of this to your own children -augh.

The one thing my children never asked me was why they got to ride in an air conditioned car with a driver while so many children barely had enough to eat. They understood so much about our experience there and I am very proud of the way they took so much of the whole experience in and made it a part of who they are. But this is the one question that never escaped me. Why them and not me? I counted a lot of blessings in India – but that didn’t do the kid knocking at my door a whole lot of good.

And then you get back to your little oasis called home and you close the door and you want to shut it all out. In India it is particularly important to have a “home”. With familiar things and pictures of family that you miss and just some good old macaroni and cheese. But you cannot get away from the need that others experience.

At first, I would even say I was even proud of how we treated our staff who worked in our house. Pride goeth before a fall, no doubt. We paid more than most people, we gave lots of time off, we gave frequent bonuses, we gave them the things we did not “need”, we didn’t ask them to do things we would not do ourselves, we shook our heads at those who haggled too tightly over what was a reasonable salary to hold on to a few more pennies, blah blah blah.

But it was never enough. Our cleaner wanted help with tuition for his son and housing. Our cook and his wife just took what they wanted – no matter how much we gave, they always took more, and our driver started off his first day by telling me he had made a bad investment and lost all of his savings and tuition was due for his kids school. How do you balance that? When is enough enough? What is enough? What is not enough.

I know we made their lives easier – or at least we tried to. I feel good that we were reasonable enough to work for. But the problem for staff that works with expat families is that eventually those families leave and nothing is permanent. We have been paying our housekeeper for the past few months and we haven’t been living there. We have told him it is time to get another job and I did a lot to put him in touch with the right people. But he doesn’t seem to believe it. Eventually we are going to stop paying him but, but , but…………

So, when the guy in the parking smiled because I had done something nice – even though it was really insignificant – it made me smile. I said in my original post that being so happy about the whole event was over-reacting. And that is true. The world is not going to change because someone put away someone’s shopping cart – but maybe if we all are a little nicer to each other we will at least make it through the days a little easier. Especially in a country where most people don’t need much – maybe we all need kindness. Maybe that is the best start of all.

Unfortunately, today, I am right back where I was before. I want to be really helpful to people who really need it. Hopefully I will figure out a way to do that.

Time to Write………

We have been home for 2 months now and it has been great. But I have gotten some grief from my readers about not writing enough anymore – and no, they are not all related to me and no, money did not exchange hands. It’s just now that I am once again doing all the shopping, cleaning, cooking, laundry, driving, etc, I have not found/made the time to write.

Today is the perfect example of why I am short on time. My son had plans to head out to a sleep away camp this morning. He needed to meet the camp bus at 9:30am packed and ready to go – and apparently healthy. Oh. Yeah that would be good.

Healthy. I will have to remember that next time I am packing socks and snacks and bug spray.

Luckily, we were smart enough to pack last night. And don’t kid yourself into thinking that packing was super fun. Apparently, what a mom thinks a 13 year old boy needs on a 5-day trek into the wilderness and what that young man thinks he will need are two very different things – even if they both speak English and are reading from the same sheet. He thought it would all fit in a backpack because he didn’t want to be the only one with a suitcase. Really? I did not realize that teenagers have become suitcase phobic. I still have so much to learn. But okay, try it. Knock yourself out.

Famous last words: “Mom, this isn’t all going to fit – I need a bigger bag. Maybe even a suitcase.”

Really? That is simply shocking. I so did not see that coming. πŸ˜‰

So we transferred everything from the backpack with so much potential to the more realistically sized suitcase. And it even zipped up. But when we tried to put a second bathing suit in, we realized the zipper was actually broken on the suitcase. We were both tired so we decided to address the great zipper incident in the a.m. He wanted to wake up at 7:30am so we were going to have p.l.e.n.t.y. o’ t.i.m.e.

Or so I thought. He woke up this morning and says, “Mom, my ear really hurts. I am pretty sure I have an ear infection or swimmers ear.”

Me: That’s great honey. Are you sure? Because you have to be on a bus in an hour and a half. And if you miss the bus – well, that means I am spending the day in the car. The entire day. In the car.

And, by the by, I know good and damn well he is sure because he has never told me this and been wrong. Arrrgggh. However, I did have the clarity of gratitude to be very, very thankful that he is old enough to tell me where it hurts and maybe even why it hurts. I do not (for even one second) miss the days of trying to translate tears and screams in to one of six possible problem categories – hungry, my sister took my truck, tired, dirty diaper, sick, and/or absolutely undeterminable and therefore unsolvable. I was also very thankful that he actually told me about it, even though he might have understood that it could have totally meant that he might not get to go on this five-day, fun-in -the-sun, week-without-parents and/or siblings, eat-all-the-junk-food-you-want, stay-up-way-too-late, no-summer-homework extravaganza.

Well, at least I thought he understood that until I had a mommy realization moment. I thanked him for telling me and not just pretending to be okay even though it really could mean that he might not be able to go at all or that I might end up driving him the f.o.u.r. and a h.a.l.f. hours to camp and then back again (another four and a half hours) – and he looked at me with absolute disbelief that him not getting on that bus in merely an hour and half was at all a possibility. He clearly had complete confidence that I could make this all happen quickly and magically. That I am surely capable of diagnosing then healing an ear infection while finding the chapstick and simultaneously growing enough money on a tree so that he could buy unlimited snacks and milkshakes and possibly even an extra camp t-shirt. That is when I fully understood that it isn’t quite yet time to put my super hero mommy cape away. At least not yet. Even at 13, I am still a rock star. Yes, that pretty much made it all worth it.

The rest of the very long story short is that we have a fantabulous doctor who squeezed us in and diagnosed my little Bear with – guess what – an ear infection. Our wonderful, wonderful nurse faxed the prescription to the pharmacy and I diligently obeyed all traffic guidelines (which is important because my drivers license happens to be in my husband’s wallet that just happens to be in New York City – oh yes, that means I am single parenting at the moment – even better, right) and then we rolled in safely to the Giant Pharmacy. Where the pharmacist knew nothing of our prescription. Perfecto. But I had the hard copy – yeah me still earning that super hero cape – and begged for a quick fill of our prescription. We had just enough time to obey all traffic guidelines once again and rush drive carefully home and change out the problem suitcase for a new suitcase with a functioning zipper so that Bear’s underwear wouldn’t fall out all over the ground in front of the very cute 8th grade girls on the bus. (And by the by, parents of 8th grade girls – could you buy your daughters longer shorts? Not necessarily the girls on this bus but just in general. That would be great. Thanks.)

In the end, Bear even had time to take a quick and very hot last civilized shower before camp. Then it was right back to the pharmacy to get both of his prescriptions and a doughnut – any mom with a super hero cape certainly knows that antibiotics can upset an empty tummy and a doughnut has been scientifically proven to be a comfort food. And yes, I got myself one too – I earned it after all.

We made it to the bus stop with exactly two minutes to spare. That is where Bear decided he did not exactly need me anymore and I got a shoulder bump and a quick hug goodbye. Oh yeah, and a “mom, I’m fine.” My cape dropped a little with that one. But I perked up when I saw the plethora of suitcases under the bus. Who knew that other teenagers might actually use real luggage to get their camp belongings from one place to another? All is truly right with the world.

And, yes, the bus was at least a half an hour late leaving. And no, I don’t think 10am is too early to start drinking. πŸ˜‰

P.S. My dear blog buddy Loco tagged me as one of his favorite women bloggers in Asia – that was awesome too. Thanks Loco!

Back on Track – Hong Kong Disney……

It’s been too long since I have shared more of our India adventures with you – and there is so much left to tell – so I am trying to get back on track.

On our way back from our recent trip to China, we made a pit stop in Hong Kong. To be very, very honest, we mostly stopped in Hong Kong because there is a Disney park there. I know, I know – I can hear the collective gasps throughout the web – so much history – so much culture – and you stopped to see the mouse? But we figured – why not!

And it turns out there is not a ton to see in Hong Kong anyway. It is mostly known for its shopping and we knew were returning to America so we did not need to do a lot of shopping. So Disney it was.

Hong Kong Disney is not as large as its sister park in Florida, especially because it is just the Disney park – there is no Epcot or Safari or water park. I would say it was really good for my youngest but there are not many bigger kid rides – we did all thoroughly enjoy it though. But one day is plenty.

If you go and plan to watch any of the shows, be careful to check which language they will be presented in. English is the main language but the shows are done in a few others also – better to understand what they are actually saying than not.

You also have to be careful in Disney because some of those women are sneaky. This chick thought she could steal my man. She was such a bimbo. Honestly. And he is smiling because he is afraid I am going to take down the mouse – not because he is the least little bit flattered.

She is apparently also part cougar.

While the men in my family were being flirted with by the tart star of the show, I was getting kisses from the grumpy donkey who can’t keep a home to save his life.

And, I completely understand that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – but really? There were several women dressed like Minnie Mouse. And when I say several – I mean, s.e.v.e.r.a.l.

And, witchy wonders,Β  I got to ride my broom. tee hee.

This park had a lot of the old favorites – It’s a Small World

The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

And Angel is a h.u.g.e. Winnie the Pooh fan. So, when he squished her with those big ole honey bear arms she literally melted. That was the moment that we knew going to Disney was the right thing to do – history shmistory.

Those dreaded fantastic teacups – which my children LOVE and I don’t LOVE so much at all. So I volunteered to take pictures. Very generous of me, I know. It’s just one of those sacrifices I am willing to make as a parent.

And the line got cut off for the picture with Alice in Wonderland before we were able to get in it – so no, we did not adopt a child in Disney – I just could not get a picture of her with my own child. If I learn to Photoshop, you will never know the difference. I really wanted to stomp my foot and scream “not fair” because clearly this little Chesire Cat has no idea how lucky he is to have his picture taken with the “real” Alice but that mean old Queen of Hearts was watching and she scares me a little bit.

And yes, I appreciate how much my husband must love me to take this picture with me – but please do not discount the fact that he might just have done it because it was w.a.y. easier to smile and be done with it than it would have been to not do it and hear about it all day long. πŸ˜‰ Okay, he didn’t officially smile but he didn’t not smile either. Win. Win.

There was also the Buzz Lightyear ride, the Tarzan treehouse, the Lion King Show, and a few other recognizable Disney favorites.

And of course, there was a parade. So fun!

And I would not buy my children actual balloons but I was willing to take a picture of some that another parent found purchase worthy so that my own kids have hard evidence that I really am the meanest mom on the planet and denied them the thrill of a helium high later that night.


We also did a character meal where even the pancakes matched the whole mouse theme. They were almost too cute to eat – almost.

We did hit a few snafus – one being that the fire alarm went off in the middle of the night in the hotel. Great to know that my children can sleep through an alarm screeching warnings at full volume. Yikes. Luckily it was a false alarm and we did not have to leave our rooms.

The other snafu was at the character meal where the fine folks at Disney thought it might be okay to make us wait for over 30 minutes to sit down at the meal (that we had reservations for and spent a good chunk of college savings on) just to tell us when we finally sat down that the characters needed a break and would be back in an hour.

I will let you figure out for yourself how that worked out for the fine folks at Disney. tee hee.

And don’t think for one second that I didn’t whisper in that mouse’s big arse ear that his little girlfriend better check herself! πŸ˜‰

The Great Wall of China……………

This past weekend we hopped over to Beijing to see the Great Wall of China. That sounds crazy, right? Well it was, kind of. I truly never imagined that I would “hop” over to China. But it was fantastic.

The Great Wall is certainly great. Construction of the wall began in 221 BC under the direction of the first Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. Further construction was accomplished during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). It is now 4,000 miles long. Urban legend holds that the Great Wall is the only structure on earth that you can see from outer space – but the actual astronauts who have been in outer space seem to dispute that. I’ll go with what they said.

So the Great Wall is up, up, up on top of the mountain – that means if you want to climb it, you must go up a lot of stairs – and by a lot, I mean A LOT. We climbed stairs for about an hour and a half. That was mostly because I way dumbed us down and took a long time getting to the top. My kids probably could have done it in an hour no problem. But, did I mention, it’s a lot of stairs? And stairs that were built a very long time ago – so some are really tall and some are not so much tall and some are crooked. And the handrail was meant for people with not very long arms. So, it is not like stairmaster stairs or escalator stairs. It’s more like Dr. Seuss stairs. Tall stairs, small stairs, and crooked stairs too. Up some, down some, and over some too.

And I learned this about China. Most of the doorways in the older structures have a step within them. I was told this is because they believe that evil spirits are short and cannot enter a doorway with a step in it. Okay – I am not one to point out minor details – but if an evil spirit has to climb, let’s just say 1,000 steps to even get to the doorway, it seems a wee bit redundant to put one more obstacle before him. But, hey, better safe than sorry on the “keeping evil spirits out” philosophy!

We did not have time to go see the terra cotta warriors while we were in China – so it was fun that these guys were there. Too bad he wasn’t available to carry me up the stairs.

And I think you should heed this warning.

We saw these locks lining the walls. I wish I had known that they were the “locks of love”. Couples come and add their lock to the chain, then throw the key over the side of the wall. I would have totally done this with hubby!

There are a few pit stops along the way – a couple of places to buy a drink or an ice cream or souvenirs. But there is only one “bathroom”. So go before you go. Or you will be squatting for all the world to see. This picture will surely totally confuse some of my western readers. So, I will answer a few questions – yes, this is the women’s restroom. No, there are no doors. No, there is not toilet paper. Yes, it is at least inside a room – a room with windows – but a room. Yes, be thankful this is not a scratch and sniff blog.

The girls and I went in thinking it would be a good idea to take advantage of the facilities and then we decided that we could wait for a better option. But on the way back down, I wanted to get a picture for you dear blog readers. So, armed with my camera, I turned the corner to take a picture and a woman was – let’s just say busy – so, I quickly stepped back out. It was really hysterical when she came out and tried to explain to me what the “bathroom” was. I just said, “yes, I understand, bathroom. Just wanted a picture – not willing to actually use it.”

This is me – totally ready for the adventure…

And this is me about half-way up thinking “how much further?”.

Just a few tips. You don’t need to carry your purse. You won’t really need a lipstick at the top of the wall. A water bottle is a good idea though. And I did start off wearing a sweatshirt with a light sweater underneath with a t-shirt under that. I was glad to have the layers. We were there in early April and it was chilly starting off. But as we walked up more and more steps, we were glad to shed the sweatshirts. I was also happy to have my sweater to put back on as we went back down the stairs. It turns out going down is much, much easier than going up.

This sign either says “Great Wall” or “do you have any idea how many steps that is?”

It was interesting also to see that there were no first aid stations or anything like that. So, really be careful if you decide to take this hike. I am sure most people are fine – but take breaks when you need them – and do eat a good breakfast. Truly, just when I thought we were getting close, we turned around another guard tower just to find more steps. Steps that were going up.

The views were spectacular.

And if you do make it all the way to the top, cartwheels are absolutely in order!

And going down is much easier when you “slide” down. πŸ˜‰

Wall in Wall it was a “great” trip.

Zip it…………

Many expats will tell you that they key to surviving Delhi is occasionally leaving Delhi. And one of the first places they will tell you about is Neemrana Fort. It is about a 2-hour drive from Delhi (of course, that is depending on traffic, so that is a give or take 5 hours guesstimate.). The Fort was built in 1464 AD and it still feels pretty authentic. That sounded kind of silly, huh? How would I know if it was authentic, right? So, maybe I should say it seems like it feels like a fort might have felt a trillion years ago.

The fort boasts 10 levels of the best hide-and-go-seek land in India and is really just a lot of fun. But just so you know, ten levels means lots and lots of stairs! Comfy shoes ladies! Neemrana claims to have all the accommodations of a 5-star hotel – I am not completely sure about that. It has a absolutely different feel than a Ritz or Oberoi – but it is magnificent in its own right. It is certainly clean enough and the food is safe to eat – but it’s not really what I would call fancy schmancy. Of course, to be fair, it’s no Motel 6 either.

The rooms have a nostalgic air about them – with the added benefit of a/c and lights. But the windows are not sealed perfectly. Windows are surely not part of the authentic atmosphere of the fort – but if you are going to claim 5-star status, you might want to add a window here and there. Because the windows are not super air tight, mosquitoes do sneak in – so bring bug spray.

The rooms all have names rather than room numbers and padlocks instead of key cards. Super, super charming. Most of the rooms have patios or balconies with spectacular views of quaint “downtown” Neemrana.

There are also a few activities you can enjoy during your stay.

Every afternoon at 5p, there is a tea/biscuits serving on one of the rooftops. Immediately following the tea, they open a cash bar and this guy performs with his wife. At least, I think it was his wife, she kept her face covered the whole time so I don’t really know for sure who was under there.

You can also ride a camel down to a 9-story step well. This is a pretty cool thing to do. It takes about an hour. If it’s hot, I would recommend not doing this in the middle of the day. Two people can ride each camel and I believe they can get up to 3 camels at a time. So, if this is something you are interested in doing, definitely make reservations at the hotel office. And if remember correctly, the cost of this was 200 rupees per person. Seriously, how can you pass that up?

This guy hangs out near the camels. While he might be their BFF, you can absolutely take my word for it that he is not on the welcoming committee. He apparently had not had his cup of coffee yet and was none too happy to see us. So, if you see him near the camels – steer clear – tee hee – get it? Steer clear! Isn’t he charming? I couldn’t swear to it, but I think this guy was giving me the horn. πŸ˜‰

This step well is where they dug and dug and dug some more for water. It goes down deep – nine stories – hence the very clever name – 9-story step well. And if you go down, just remember, what goes down must come up. Have a good breakfast first! You are gonna burn some calories!

Coming back up the 9 stories of steps.

You will pass by these villagers on your way to the fort. Some of the children called out for candy. If I did this again, I would definitely put a few lollipops in my pocket.

And then there is the flying fox zip line. This is uber fun and you won’t want to miss it. Kids have to be 10 years old to do it (unless your parents are willing to fib a little). And think twice about doing this if you are pregnant or really, really out of shape. I did it – so that sets the physical fitness bar pretty way down low but it is a good 20 minutes of hiking up a (very) steep hill. You get a resting break every 10 minutes or whenever you need it. But the reward is well worth the trek! And the early morning suggestion absolutely applies here too. This is not something you want to do in the middle of the day heat. They do give you (safe) drinking water to take with you.

This is me bringing up the rear making sure my kids safely make it up ahead of me and that no child gets left behind.

First you get a little training session. How to start, stop, and not fall off the zip line – all the things you’ll want to know before you jump off the side of a very big hill attached to a wire and absolutely nothing else.

And then you zip through the air like a flying fox. And you get to do it 5 times on 5 different lines. And if you anything like me, you are now thinking – “holy zip, batman, does that mean I have to hike up that hill 5 times?” Luckily, one climb up one big arse hill does equal 5 zips. You go up once and zig zag back down.

And the view is great from the top.

And, as with everywhere I go, there were gorgeous flowers every time I turned around.

And this guy jogging his donkeys round and round and round made me feel like I was walking through a National Geographic movie.

If you have been following this blog for awhile, you might remember that sometimes I add a “girlfriend’s guide” to the places we visit. Well here are some tips that might prove helpful…..

All of the meals are served as buffets (kind of expensive especially if your kids prefer plain pasta). Ask for the menu. They do not offer it to you and do not advertise the fact that there is one. But I have heard the french fries are yummy.

The rooms do not have tv, which is absolutely wonderful – unless you your kids are expecting a tv. Bring a deck of cards or a few board games. You won’t miss the tv a bit.

Bring a bathing suit – there is a pool and it’s likely to be hot.

Bring bug spray.

Bring some candles so you can experience what it would have been like at night in the rooms of the fort. Just remember to blow them out before you go to bed. If you actually want to light the candles, bring matches.

When you check out, check your bill carefully. We had a couple of charges that were not ours – that could have totally been an accidental one-time thing – but just in case.

When you check out and leave the entrance with suitcases, they will ask to see your receipt that you have paid the bill. Just have it handy.

Don’t miss the gift shop on the way out. It’s got lots of fun and different stuff in it that isn’t outrageously overpriced.

The literature tells you that you are not allowed to bring your own wine/alcohol into the property. This is where my philosophy of asking forgiveness rather than permission works very well. I didn’t find the wine list to be fantastic or reasonably priced at all – if I remember correctly, your only option is to buy the entire bottle of expensive, not yummy wine. So, do with that info what you will.

Wear comfortable shoes – there is a lot of walking up and down narrow stair cases – which is very fun – but not exactly conducive to high heeled shoes.

Have fun!

True love…….

How do you know your dear friend from across oceans really, really loves you? She sends you this…………

If you don’t understand why this would be so special, please read this.

It’s funny how a little smell or taste of home can whisk you across oceans. We totally get it that part of this adventure is quickly learning you can do without the familiar – in fact, it is being without your creature comforts to fall back on that will help you enjoy the unfamiliar – but a little downy or even a single peanut butter m&m or a bowl of Lucky Charms goes a long way on the tougher days.

And nothing says love like Downy in the mailbox. πŸ˜‰ So, thank you to those of you who have sent us some of our favorites! You really have no idea how much it has meant to us!

Easter in India……..

Did you know that there are nearly 30 million Christians in India? Me either. Well, make that 30 million and five.

I just assumed that Christianity came to India with the British – but that does not seem to be the case. Apparently, one of the Apostles – St. Judas Thomas – was brought to India around 52 AD to build a temple. While he was there, he converted a few people.

French missionaries began arriving in the 1300s. And then around 1500, the Portuguese arrived in India and started trying to convert Indians to Christianity under the Pope’s edict to baptize people all around the world.

The British surely had their own influences too when they arrived in the 1600s but really did not begin their missionary work until the 1800s.

I got a few emails from friends asking me how in the heck we celebrated Easter in India.

Let me start by saying, if you are moving to India and you plan to celebrate Easter in India, bring some of those plastic eggs with you. Bring extra in case you have a friend or two who did not bring them. You’ll be the belle of the ball, I promise.

The hardest thing about Easter in Delhi is that there is no family in Delhi – that and the fact that they simply do not sell those little plastic eggs here. But the rest is pretty much the same.

We woke up delighted that the Easter Bunny found us so far away from home. And we got dressed for church – there is a lovely international church that is Christian but non-demoninational. And someone – I cannot imagine who – thought it would be best to attend the 9:30am service so that the rest of the day was pretty wide open – only that someone – again, I cannot imagine who – got the times messed up. It seems that there was a breakfast at 9:30am and the service actually did not begin until 11am. Ooops.

So, the hubby and the kids were dressed in their most uncomfortable finest shoes and clothes for an extra hour and a half. Ooops.

It turned out okay though because we just hopped over to the American club and enjoyed a very quiet early brunch. We literally had the whole restaurant to ourselves – because everyone else checked the schedule and knew just what time the Easter service started. Ooops.

Then we came home and lazed around. We ended the day with a proper Easter meal at the Hard Rock Cafe and a call to our families.