Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Perfect Cup of Tea - Indian Style

In the south we grow up on tea, usually iced. And sweet, VERY sweet.  I'm really lucky to have grown up on "milk" tea, which is hot tea with milk. I've never been one to enjoy all the "chai" offerings in the US but after having my first cup of Masala tea in India, I'm hooked.
Just look at all the ginger, cardamon and other spices floating in the tea.
Chai, (the "ch" is pronounced like "church) as it is pronounced in India, or Shai (pronounced like "shy") as it is pronounced in the Middle East, is simply the word for tea.  

Masala tea is a tea with amazing spices added to black tea, turning it in to an incredible cup of tea. To make the perfect cup of tea, make a cup of tea using assam tea, add hot milk, a small amount of Masala, some sugar, if you must, and you've got a perfect cup of tea. 
Adding the Masala
I was amazed to see the "disposable" teacups used in India.  Each are handmade pottery cups that once used are thrown to the ground to be busted into a million small pieces, so they quickly return to dust (making them biodegradable).  But busting up a handmade piece of pottery just sent me over the edge!
At the potter's house
One of our guides took us by the home of one of the local potters.  He was busy making other dishes that day but it was amazing to see his little shop.  
We then stopped by the best tea stand in Varanasi and were lucky enough to get drive in service. 







Thursday, April 3, 2014

Indian Miniature Paintings

First let me start by saying I knew nothing about Indian art before going to India so when I saw some of the Indian miniature pieces and understood that these paintings were painted with the "hair of a squirrel"  I couldn't believe it.  It is absolutely amazing that one single small bristle was used to create large and detailed beautiful pieces of art.

Our guide shared that you will never see an artist's name on any of these pieces because multiple artists worked to create each masterpiece.  Let's be honest. It would take more than one painter when using a tiny hair to paint each scene.

Please enjoy a sampling of some of the many beautiful pieces of Indian miniature art.






Sunday, March 30, 2014

"The Only Way You Will Ever Get There Is To Buy A Ticket" - Nicole Leffer

Namaste.

Last August as I sat with my vision group sharing some of my short-term and long-term goals I shared my dream of going to India.  One of the group members responded to me reminding me that we can make all sorts of dreams and plans but the only way to accomplish anything is to start taking steps to accomplish our goals.  In this case, buy a ticket. Nicole was right.  I first needed to buy a ticket.  Nicole shared with the group some of her travel experiences.  Her travel bravery was inspiring.  She has made some very extraordinary trips traveling alone.  That's right, solo.  I was particularly inspired by her trip to Nepal where she celebrated Holi.  As Nicole described her trip, and in particular, the Holi celebration, she described something I'd long wanted to experience and celebrate.  .
Nicole throwing colors with the children
After that August gathering, Nicole's words kept re-playing in my mind and I would wake up hearing "the only way you will ever get there is to buy a ticket."  So I got on Kayak and started looking at prices for tickets to India.  I'd read that the best travel times were October - February. Usually by March things start heating up and by May it is too hot and humid.  Monsoon season begins in June so I started trying to figure out a date that might work for my family schedule.  I then checked the calendar for Holi.  March 17.  That did it for me.  I wanted to celebrate Holi  - a festival celebrating spring and color.  Yes, color!


So I bought my ticket, hoping that a girlfriend would travel with me but was prepared to travel solo.  It was interesting that as I began to share my travel intentions with friends and family, most often the response was, "why are you going to to India, of all places?"   The opposite happened in only a few instances.  But then I discovered several very close friends had been and they surprised me with their travel stories.  It was so inspiring to learn that some of my friends had spent considerable amounts of time in India or made multiple trips and they shared their stories with great enthusiasm, passion and in some instances, reverence.  For me all I could think about was being able to see the Taj Mahal and being able to celebrate this incredible event called Holi.  

Even the cows received some color - Holi Cow!
Travel is very important to me and anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy planning trips and I put a lot of work into planning this trip but ultimately, I needed help.  After spending hours on my own and with my friend, trying to figure out a a manageable itinerary, hotels, transportation, etc., we finally gave in to getting assistance from trustworthy travel advisers.  What a relief! (One of our funniest, now that we lived to tell the story, and scariest moments stems from one of the bookings I made on my own.  If anyone ever tells you "don't worry, chicken curry," start panicking!)  The travel company we used is SITA World Tours and our contact was Narendra Rathore.  He took care of connecting all the dots between what I wanted to do and see, and made it all manageable. He also secured highly educated tour guides with diverse backgrounds.  Another one of the wonderful things he did was to find a "home stay" for us for Holika (bon fires the night before Holi) and Holi.  It was wonderful to be able to celebrate the holiday with a family! Enjoy the photos. Happy Holi!
Our host family

Starting the day with prayers and blessings


Bells to ward of evil and a reminder to start and end the day with joy and blessings

The host family's garden

Bonfire is ready with a green stick and a ring of water around it. Prayers are said and we wait.

Blessings are completed and the green stick is removed 
Women put on their cover as a symbol of the veil of protection offered to Holika
And finally the full moon peeks out from behind the tree

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mark Twain Was an Indophile!

Who knew?

What an unbelievable trip and incredible experience the past couple of weeks have been!  I've had the chance to see and learn so much about an amazing country.  Our flight got in late last night after nearly 30 hours of travel.  I'm still trying to adjust to the time and will be back to work tomorrow.  
Having taken over 1500 photos, I'm looking forward to sharing highlights from Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Varanasi.
Before I left for India I kept reading and hearing from friends to prepare for sensory overload (and "Delhi Belly")!  The sights, sounds, flavors, culture and the people found a way to massage all the senses and totally captivate me (and, I feel really lucky to have escaped any digestive challenges).   Over the next few posts I hope you will follow along to enjoy as I share some of my travel highlights.  I learned many things, including learning about others who've been equally as mesmerized by INCREDIBLE INDIA.
With our unbelievable guide, Dushyant Singh.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Blessing or Privilege

Over the past few years as friends and family have shared a life update or happening, many have ended the conversation with the thought that they are blessed.  I have to be honest. I've struggled with the use of the word "blessed" and in many instances I've wondered to myself if the word "privileged" might be a more appropriate word.

Tuesday I leave for India (one of the countries on my bucket list) and I'm both nervous and excited.  There are amazing blogs like My India Travel that have been a huge inspiration to help me finally muster up the courage to buy a ticket for this trip.  As I've read about this incredible country and studied so many of the places I hope to visit, I've been reminded of the many privileges we enjoy in America.  I will continue to give thought to the use of the word "blessed" but I welcome your thoughts.  Are those born into a caste system, or born a woman in a country where women are not respected less blessed or are we simply privileged?

To help inspire me, I woke up this morning and watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Over the next several days as your sun sets, I will be starting my day's adventure and I can't wait to share the experiences with you.   I leave you with this wonderful quote from the movie.
Can there be anywhere else in the world that is such an assault on the senses?  Those who know the country of old just go about their business.  But nothing can prepare the uninitiated for this riot of noise and color.  For the heat, the motion, the perpetual teeming crowd.  - Evelyn, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Valentine From the Heart

Nothing is as special as going to the mailbox, opening the box, reaching inside expecting to find the usual bundle of bills and ads, only to be surprised with a package! 
This week I was so happy to find such a package in my mailbox and I've had it on display in my living room all this week.  

Lady Sue, of Rue Mouffetard blog, made this special gift for attendees of the recent Downton Abbey luncheon hosted by the lovely Lady Joyce (formerly known as Flour Power Joyce).  Not only did Sue spend hours making this beautiful Valentine pin cushion, she took time to mail one to me. 
Love the sweetheart pins Sue added to the gift.
Handmade gifts mean so much.  My husband and I don't really celebrate Valentine's Day so this gift is especially nice.

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Atlanta, Kindness and Ron Clark Academy

The laughter around the country may be dying down about how Atlanta copes with snow, but I’m guessing that locally the conversations about “snow-mageddon” will continue for years to come. (Did you see The Daily Show?)  The day the ice and snow hit the city, most of us were at work or school and suddenly during the lunch hour the metro Atlanta area was scrambling for home.  Unfortunately for thousands getting home took time, a lot of time.

I was lucky.  Instead of driving that day I took the train but even that was a challenge the day of the winter storm.  There was a fire on the platform at one of the main stations so train lines were single-tracking which created a severe back up.  My normal 20 minute ride turned into an overcrowded, one and a half hour ride, which was not bad compared to the many horror stories I’ve heard.
So during the storm something incredible happened.  Stories of incredible acts of kindness began surfacing in the news, on Facebook and in local neighborhood email discussion groups.  Given that people were stranded – on roads, in cars, at work, in schools, etc., people everywhere in the city began to extend a helping hand to those who needed it.   At our house we took in a young mother with a two-year-old.  These two headed out of the city trying to make a 27 mile ride south.  After SEVEN MILES AND SEVEN HOURS in the car, my friend had to stop and bed down for the night.  With no diapers or provisions for a little one in our house, we sent out an email to our neighborhood.  Within minutes several neighbors called with suggestions and offers and one neighbor brought us diapers, wipes, toys and more.  One of my colleagues was featured on national news.  She and her family loaded up their son’s wagon, filling it with water, food and blankets and hauled everything to a freeway near their house offering relief and refuge to stranded motorists.  We quickly learned of a website that was set up to help people stranded with individuals willing to help located in the same area.  It was amazing.  When I first signed up there were a few thousand people online.  Within hours 29,000 people had joined in the group and by the end of the first 24 hours of need, 54,000 people had joined the Facebook group and were helping connect needs with help.  
On Friday as I got back on the train to head back to work my mind kept wandering back to all the wonderful stories of kindness and helpfulness that I’d heard over the past few days.  But suddenly it was as if everyone had shed the cloak of kindness and put back on their old uniform of apathy.  What if we could extend the spirit of kindness all the time, every day?

One of the events that was scheduled to take place at my workplace the week of the storm was the Ron Clark Academy’s, Amazing Shake.  The event was rescheduled for this week and I almost skipped it because of meeting conflicts but WOW, was I glad that I participated.   It is almost impossible to describe how impressive, confident, engaged, enthusiastic, interesting, effervescent and eager these young people are.  I’ve worked with kids my entire life and never have I seen 30 kids with such attitudes and spirit.   The Amazing Shake is an all-day networking competition for Ron Clark Academy kids in grades 5-8.   Watching these kids easily walk into a room filled with business leaders, making introductions, shaking hands and getting to know the participants was a jaw-dropping experience.  Our role was to serve as judges but I felt like I spent more time observing and learning.  It was a powerful sight to see.  
So what does this have to do with kindness?   The Amazing Shake is a competition and throughout the day business leaders judge the kids, selecting the best and eventually naming one champion and one runner up.  As the day continued we continued to get updates on the kids, keeping up with those in the lead.  The night the event ended we got an email that was an affirmation that kindness and goodness continues.  The next generation is already passing it on.  Here is the email we received from one of our attorneys who leads volunteer work for youth:

Here is the reason that I fell in love with the kids at RCA and I'm such an advocate for the school.  Ron Clark, faculty and staff are not only creating geniuses and making incredible people out of those kids.

After Mariah won the Amazing Shake, her competitor Jacob was heartbroken.  She went through her gift basket and found an iPad Mini.  She turned around and gave the iPad Mini to Jacob for being such a valiant competitor.  What an incredible gesture.  See the attached picture.

I'm confident in our future with kids like those are RCA in the next generation.

What would the world be like if we all went out of our way to share a kindness or do something to help someone in need every day?   Today, I'm joining The Tablescaper for Seasonal Sundays.  

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mykonos

Last summer our family was so incredibly lucky to be able to celebrate my brother-in-law's wedding in Mykonos.  I know I posted a few pictures when we got home from the trip but I remember thinking to myself at the time, save the best for later.  So I did.  During the winter months there are days when we all need a little summer and the time is now.  Summer in Mykonos is perfect, really perfect.  So I'm sharing a few pictures of a perfect place,  and some Mykonos warmth - it's more than sun. 













Today I'm linking up with The Tablescaper, sharing a warm and sunny place for Oh, the Places I Have Been!


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Alexa Hampton, Jennifer Boles, Paint and Happiness

What a terrific week.  The week began with a special treat.  Alexa Hampton was in Atlanta and what a treat it was to meet her, all because of a blog!

I follow Jennifer Boles blog, The Peak of Chic and she was so kind to invite her followers to a private reception, book signing event and the opportunity to meet Alexa Hampton. The event was hosted by Hickory Chair and was open to the trade only so  I was beyond excited to be included as a guest.

It was a wonderful event and Alexa was such a captivating personality, not to mention an amazingly talented designer.  You have to read about her "decorating by Sharpie" advice.  I'm loving her new book Decorating in Detail.  Let's be honest here.  Sometimes these big coffee table books are pretty to look at but not necessarily interesting to read but I'm really enjoying reading Alexa's book. And not only is Alexa beautiful and talented, she's funny!  Thank you Jennifer for including your readers in a great event.

So the week continued with a decorating theme. 

We are so lucky and excited that my son and daughter-in-law have been relocated to a military installation in our state!!!!   It's so exciting that my son, DIL and the grands are now less that 2 hours away after living overseas for the past four years!  Now comes the paint.  This weekend we all met up at their new home and everyone painted.  We painted yard sale finds, walls and old pieces of furniture.  We are all so excited! Here are a few pictures highlighting the "masterpieces."

Lots more to come y'all!!!