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July 22, 2014
3:20pm EDT

Rated: 13+ | Book | Experience | #1890134
I'm all about travel and books and I'm having a whale of a time writing about it!
  Hello and welcome!

I have two great passions in life.

The first one is travel. After a series of life-changing events, my husband and I decided to spend the kids’ inheritance and see as much of the world as possible (I’m still bitter about Damascus). Our bible? A Thousand Places to See Before You Die. Please join us on our adventures seeing new places, meeting fascinating people and trying new, exciting, and sometimes just plain weird, food.

My second great passion is books. Reading expands my interior world in the same way travel expands my external one. And, books are a great way to armchair travel - not only through distance but through time as well. My tastes are eclectic, so we’ll be looking at a wide range of writing in a possibly haphazard fashion. Come along for the ride!

My best,
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June 11, 2014 at 11:34am
June 11, 2014 at 11:34am
You're Kidding, Right? Please tell me you're kidding ...
People come to veganism for many reasons: ethical, health and environmental are the main ones. Then, there are those who have veganism thrust upon them, which is what happened to Caren Albers when her husband embarked upon Dr. Neal Barnard’s 21-Day Kickstart Program.

“Wasn’t settling into early retirement together enough of a stressor for us? Now, bam, he announces he’s turning vegan? I wasn’t looking for a 24/7 buddy or a new vegan diet (which my husband never tires of reminding me is a lifestyle choice, not a diet). But somehow, they both came looking for me.”
That was when life as she knew it shattered into a million pieces. You can read the rest of the review, and my interview with Caren, here  
June 3, 2014 at 5:33pm
June 3, 2014 at 5:33pm
Smart and Sizzling
This week’s blog is a review of two books, written by a husband and wife! I met Frank at a writer’s retreat a few years ago and it was a thrill to see his book finished and published.

“We can think of life as a series of steps leading towards our dreams and goals. We start at point A and wish to proceed to point B but end at point S (stupid).” writes Dr. Stass.

Have you ever had a forehead smacking moment and said, “How could I have been so stupid?” My guess is yes since, according to Dr. Stass, stupidity is part of the human condition. Stupidities range from the innocuous (walking into a glass door because you’re not paying attention) to heartbreaking (affairs or abuses that end relationships) to life-threatening (like taking an unknown mountain road at night, in the dead of winter, before cell phones, thinking it was s shortcut and getting stuck in the snow when the road ended … yep, that one was me).

Why do we do these things? Dr. Stass draws on thirty-five years as a psychiatrist working in both inpatient and outpatient settings to explain the fundamental mechanics governing stupid actions. He identifies the most common types of stupidity and then breaks stupidity down into its component parts. Most importantly, he give tools and techniques to prevent, minimize and learn more effectively from our mistakes. Continued here  .
May 24, 2014 at 9:11am
May 24, 2014 at 9:11am
A Passion For Dance
Her name is Jorani* and she is seven years old. When she was five, she decided there was nothing more in the world that she wanted to be than an Apsara dancer (celestial dancer). For this she would need to be trained in Classical Dance (or Royal Ballet), one of Cambodia’s most sacred art forms (dating back to c.1 - 6 centuries CE). Fat chance in the small village where she lived. Her parents were rice farmers of modest means and there was nary a dance school in sight.

Jorani was determined to study dance and her parents longed for a better life for their daughter. After lengthy inquiry, they found a dance school in Siem Reap where she could board, continue in school, and pursue her dream of becoming a dancer.
At age six, Jorani went for an audition at the School of Arts. Her parents knew her heart would be broken – out of the 1,500 or so children who audition each year, 50 are accepted into the program – but they also knew she wouldn't rest until she tried. However, it wasn’t that that kept her out. She was deemed to be hugely talented, but alas, the earliest children were accepted was age 10.

This seemed a truly formidable obstacle. Jorani wept and wept and wept. In desperation, her parents contacted the school again. Couldn’t they, just this once, make an exception? Read the rest and see the photos and videos here  
May 12, 2014 at 7:51am
May 12, 2014 at 7:51am
A Question of Balance - Part II
We entered the Chi Lin Nunnery (left).
“Confucius sought order and social harmony, he believed the answers to maintaining both lay in understanding the lessons of history, learning and study. He wasn’t at all big on introspection or trusting intuition. But study would help us to understand how the past affects the present and help us to plan for the future.”
“Very left brain,” I said.
She shook her head and corrected me. “Very yang. Learning – both knowledge and the proper way of doing things - is the way to develop one’s character, to become a cultivated person, an asset to society and to bind family ties and communities.”
She pointed to the inscription under one of the, what I can only assume to be meditation, stones. (below)
“There are many virtues discussed in Confucianism, but the most important is the virtue of ren, it’s more than just benevolence, it’s oh –“ She waved her hands in the air as if trying to shape her thoughts like dough.

“It’s not only wanting to be the best you can be but to help others be the best they can be, too.” See the rest of the post and the photos here  .
May 5, 2014 at 11:43am
May 5, 2014 at 11:43am
A Question of Balance - Part I
“The Chinese view of the universe has influenced all of East Asia and possibly the rest of the world.” My guide turned and waved an arm to encompass Hong Kong and the greater world beyond it. We resumed trudging up the staircase leading up to the Temple of the 10,000 Buddhas. My husband had taken one look at the staircase, muttered ‘400 bloody steps’, and then bounded ahead, gazelle-like, leaving my guide and me in his dust.
“The universe has rules and patterns with the most basic pattern being the interplay of forces between yin and yang.”
I nodded. This was a common enough notion.
“Within yin and yang are the Five Processes or Stages with certain attributes. We tend to think of them as fiery, watery, earthy, woody and metallic. These Stages go in cycles. When we understand the cycles, how each stage will either be in its ascendancy or decline, we understand the changeability of life because they affect everything – the human body, animals, nature, colors, and even music.” She checked to see if I was still following. I was.
“If we understand the pattern that is being formed between all these forces, we understand how the universe is working and why it is affecting us the way it is at any particular time. When these forces are out of balance we are out of balance.” Hm. Lately I’ve been feeling off-kilter. The universe seems to be conspiring to keep me tilted at about 45 degrees. Mostly at 3 a.m. when thoughts race around my brain like a demented squirrel.
Read the rest and see the photos here  
April 30, 2014 at 8:56am
April 30, 2014 at 8:56am
Four Wats and a Found Emerald
Nearly 95% of Thais are Buddhists of the Theravada school. Theravada (meaning ‘doctrine of the elders’) Buddhism sees itself as the most original, authentic preserver of the teachings of the historical Buddha. The other two major forms of Buddhism, Mahayana and Vajrayana, don’t reject the teachings of the Theravada school but instead build upon and expand them. One key difference between Theravada and Mahayana is that the Theravada school views the Buddha as a historical figure, a man, not a cosmic being.

As I understand it (and please correct me if you know I'm wrong!), Buddhism isn't strictly a religion - its philosophy doesn't contain or promote a belief in an external God. Nor does it insist on replacing existing religious beliefs. Following the precepts of Buddhist philosophy is an add-on to whatever current belief system one has. Buddhism provides a profound way of viewing and coping with life events in order to increase our chances for happiness in this lifetime. In fact, many SE Asians adhere to several philosophies, rituals and practices depending on the life situation.
A Buddhist temple is a place of contemplation and learning. Read the rest and see the photos here  
April 25, 2014 at 8:35am
April 25, 2014 at 8:35am
The Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai is vast, located on the Chan Klan Road and stretching between Tha Pae and Sri Donchai (some three city blocks in all directions). While it’s famous for jewelry and portrait painting you can buy a wide variety of handicrafts (including lovely hand-woven silk pieces). The market was originally started by Chinese merchants but, over time, as the market expanded, more and more ethnicities became involved and the majority are now Thai.
You won’t go hungry either. Food stalls abound, there’s a German restaurant and the ubiquitous McDonald’s. There are several British pubs and at least one Irish pub (more on that later).

And, interspersed throughout are Fish Spas. This was the main reason I’d dragged my husband here, I was determined to try one. This is where my husband gets the Brilliant Husband of the Year Award. How many husbands would ride an elephant bareback when they detest heights (because their wife loved elephants), or get into a tiger’s cage with their clearly certifiable wife just to take her picture? And now he was about to plunge his tootsies into a tank of flesh eating fish. Read the rest here  .
April 21, 2014 at 3:28pm
April 21, 2014 at 3:28pm
The Lady and the Tiger
“Don’t put your face near the tiger’s, stay behind it,” we were instructed just before entering the tiger’s cage. My last thought, before the white noise of panic filled my brain was, “What if the tiger is putting its face near mine!”

Sure, these tigers are hand reared from birth. Sure, they are used to people, need people to survive and thrive on affection. But, knowing that the fine beast was not drugged or tranquilized in any way, and faced with the business end of a tiger not three feet from my face, I devolved into a state of blithering incompetence. What the hell was I thinking!

Read the rest here.  
April 14, 2014 at 9:54am
April 14, 2014 at 9:54am
I Own an Elephant! (AKA Best Day Ever!!)
I have always wanted an elephant. But, with condo living as it is, it seemed a bit, well, impractical. So, I leapt at the opportunity to have my very own elephant for a day at the Patara Elephant Farm. Located within the beautiful Hang Dong Valley, and surrounded by mountains, the farm is a mere 30 minute drive south of Chaing Mai, Thailand.

“The purpose of the farm is to Rescue, Rehabilitate and Reproduce,” said Pat Trungprkan at our orientation meeting. Pat and his family own the farm and run it entirely on the proceeds of the ‘Elephant Owner for a Day’ program. No donations are solicited or taken and there are no kitchy souvenir stands or food hawkers. All visitors are welcome, including children and the disabled, but limited to perhaps 16 per day. The rest (and videos) here  .
March 31, 2014 at 4:56pm
March 31, 2014 at 4:56pm
It Happened in Bangkok
“Well, who knew!?” I looked up at my husband as I prodded the wine list with a finger. “Thailand has a wine industry. Look, honey there’s a Monsoon Valley Shiraz. We like shiraz.”

“There’s also a nice Chianti from Italy,” he countered, looking a little nervous.

“But don’t you think … you know – when in Rome and all that?”
I like to try local wines. I’m no expert but I do know what I like and so far I haven’t met a shiraz I didn’t like.
We were at the China House restaurant. Located at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, it provided a superb meal of traditional Chinese dishes in a stunning environment with a red and black, art-deco interior. We had a private booth with carved and latticed wooden doors. The staff were friendly, attentive and provided excellent advice. "You've ordered too much food," our waiter cautioned us. He was perfectly correct, but who could resist such dishes as their signature hot and sour soup with huge chunks of lobster, or Peking duck with crispy, fragrant skin and meltingly tender meat? We didn't stop there, of course, we had to have the sautéed scallops and prawns with artfully arranged vegetables. All washed down with, tonight, Chianti.
But I wasn’t going to give up. Read the rest here  

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