Saturday, August 16, 2014

Closing the generation gap .... with cookies

I was taught to respect our elders. It's just how we were raised in my generation. In fact, I've always really liked being around seniors, because they represent such a wealth of knowledge, experience, wisdom and history. 

I worked as a candy striper for four years in the skilled nursing care wing of a hospital, was a highly involved volunteer for the Senior Olympics, and generally just like spending time with my elders. 

Despite irritation and discouragement from my observations of the lack of respect and consideration our elders receive, sometimes a brilliant ray of sunshine breaks through and renews hope. This time, it was in the form of two adorable little boys - ages 4 and 6. 

The doorbell rang at my parents' house the other day. Mom was greeted by a young family who introduced themselves as neighbors from a few streets over. The parents, both school teachers, explained that they take their two sons by my folks' house nearly every day on the way to the swimming pool, and they often see Dad working in the yard. The little boys were so impressed with how dedicated he is to making the yard nice that they wanted to do something for him. 

And so, little Finn and Jack each wrote Dad a note which was delivered along with a bag of delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies. Upon learning that Dad had just celebrated a birthday, the boys were even more excited. 

Mom didn't mention that he just turned 99. I don't know if the kids could even fathom that. Mom didn't mention that he doesn't keep track of the fact that he's outside 25-plus times a day. The kids might like this, but they cannot fathom that it's because his dementia makes him forget how often he's out there. 

But bless that family, the parents who instill great values in their children, and the big hearts of those two boys. If I ever get to meet them myself, hugs all around! THANK YOU.
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Monday, June 9, 2014

Headed to the World Cup? Here's how to not get robbed in foreign cities.

Everyone’s seen the video in which a Brazilian woman being interviewed on live TV is rumbled by a thief who brazenly steals her gold necklace on-air.

Having experienced Sao Paulo, which admittedly is not a particularly safe city, I'd like to share a few tips to increase your odds of not getting robbed. Especially if you're headed there for the World Cup.

  • The general rule of thumb: don’t be stupid! You know all the usual stuff like never carrying your passport, always having ID, respecting laws and customs, not leaving a drink unattended, etc.
  • Constantly scan your environment. Know what/who is in front of/behind/next to you. Don’t walk so close to the street or doorways that you or your belongings can easily disappear. Narrow streets are a dream for thieves on motorcycles. Notice buildings, landmarks and small details: they help keep you safe and alert and could be important if it becomes a crime scene.
  • Separate your things. Put a ‘steal’ wallet in your pocket with stuff that you don’t really mind having lifted, including a modest amount of cash. Put your other money in your hidden pocket. If held up, offer the aggressor your fake wallet and your phone if you must.
  • Related to the above, take only one credit card with you at a time, leaving others in the safe. Use an ATM during the dayt, return directly to the hotel and put it in the safe. Ensure you’re not being followed. Get the bell captain or concierge to have an employee accompany you to your room if you're nervous.
  • In a taxi, it’s best to put your laptop bag in the trunk. Road-based thieves are often on motorcycles and just want you to open the window and hand over your wallet. They won’t take the time to examine the contents of the trunk.
  • Walk confidently and don’t look clumsy or foggy. Head high, good alert posture, purposeful gait. Thieves read body language.
  • Leave your bling home. Don’t look expensive. If you have a ‘more money than sense’ air about you, you’re an accident waiting to happen.
  • Don’t wear silly heels. Carry them in a bag if you must, but you’ll be thankful for comfortable flat shoes if you have to run.
  • Only take the public transportation known to be safe for visitors. In Sao Paulo, the metro is generally okay for anyone to take, but buses are never okay for tourists.
  • Malls are generally pretty safe – as long as they have security guards, nice stores and restaurants, video surveillance and families.
  • Study up on the place you’re going so you know the usual MO for thieves in that region (e.g., gypsy girls in Rome, young fit men preying upon middle-aged cruise passengers in the Baltics, tandem motorcycle riders in Sao Paulo, thieves who target the Metro in Paris).
  • Register with STEP – the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. You’ll receive alerts about the countries/region(s) where you’re traveling, and can receive assistance more quickly from the State Department if you run into trouble.

This isn't a foolproof formula. But in a few decades of travel, I’ve never been robbed (thankfully!). Some of it is sheer luck; most of it is just being alert and practical. And I’ve been to some seriously dodgy places.

Don't let paranoia ruin your trip though - enjoy the travel, and don't be stoopid!

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Sao Paulo: first impressions

Olá, Brasil! Arriving in Sao Paulo, Brazil as a trailing spouse to Greggles provided the excitement of adding another continent to the list, and for me the first time I've been below the equator in 16 years. 

I've been reading up on this sprawling city (3,090 square miles!) with 20 million residents, and the major thread running through it all is ... crime. Oh well - you just cannot openly carry anything of value and you should be okay. And avoid motorcycles, especially those with two riders.

My impressions from our first few hours here ... 

Lots of serious poverty - we're talking desperately poor.

Graffiti everywhere, even in posh neighborhoods.

Traffic. All the time. What do you expect with 20 million residents plus visitors?

Amazing, amazing espresso - thank goodness for our access to the executive lounge at the hotel, with constant access. Coffee helped create this city.

Very meaty culture ... everything is about meat and I'm guessing that vegetarians have to look for options. Churrasco flavored potato chips, even. And what's up with the abundance of white bread? Weird...

And we really need to figure out a few words of Portuguese ... even with the World Cup coming here in a few weeks, signage is not in multiple languages and English is not something you hear a lot.

Portuguese is an interesting language - it sounds like what happens when you put Spanish, Japanese and French in a blender.

We will be venturing out a bit tomorrow, so I look forward to exploring more of local culture and maybe finding a good caipirinha!

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Filling passport pages in Houston

As the most ethnically diverse city in the nation, you can imagine that Houston always has something happening which is influenced by well-known and sometimes obscure cultures. We especially embrace this, since it's part of what makes Houston so special. The art, food, dance, religions, and cultural customs which converge upon HTX daily, distinguished from one another yet threaded together by the 90-plus languages spoken here on any day.

The Japan Festival is a decades-long tradition in our city to celebrate the 'Way of Japan' - from both ancient and current perspectives. Since the Asian population in Houston continues to grow and have a larger hand in shaping our city, its popularity also grows. Here are some scenes from the event...

the warriors ...

 the anime ...

of course Capri knew every character ...

Can't wait for the International Festival - this year Australia is a theme! G'day, mate.
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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Welcoming our new granddaughter

Hard to imagine it at my young age (cough, cough), but we now have three granddaughters. Actually, I did none of the hard work - like giving birth or raising kids to get to this point. But it's so nice to reap the rewards of being a grandparent. 

Hard to imagine that Louanne and Mike went to China to adopt Nadia almost seven years ago, and that Amelie is already four. Now there is Dani, who just turned two, and has been living in this country for just a few short weeks. To say the least, she's adorable. And she's learning English at an astonishing rate. And she has her own distinct personality, different from her two sisters. 

Greg and I were able to meet her, finally. We had waffles for dinner (apparently for Nadia and Amelie, the concepts of 'Papa' and 'waffles' are forever inextricably linked), and got in some fun playtime with all three. 

And we even got Dani to give us huge smiles and giggles for pictures (she usually wears a pouty face in group photos). I especially loved watching Nadia and Amelie play.  

The only slight disappointment is that there wasn't a spare superhero cape in my size. 

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Trail Mix, Remixed = Granola on the Cheap

I like granola every now and then - it's great on yogurt and fruit, and makes a nice little breakfast when paired with almond milk. But it's kind of expensive. 

Upon discovering the forgotten remnants of five bags of trail mix intended for Greg, I figured there's a way to make something good out of these leftovers instead of tossing them. So, I picked through them all and saved the best stuff for a stellar batch of granola. Voila! - trail mix, remixed! 

I made this recipe from about 15 recipes - switch up your ingredients however you like. The basics are oats, nuts, seeds, fruits and a binding ingredient. Spices are up to you.

You'll need:

3 cups of old-fashioned oats
1 cup (approx.) of raw almonds/cashews/hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1 cup (approx.) of seeds - pumpkin (green ones), flax, chia, sunflower, etc. 
1/3 cup (approx.) of shaved coconut
1 cup (approx.) of dried fruits - raisins, cranberries, dates
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup or honey 
1/4 cup vegetable oil 
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
pinch of nutmeg

To make:

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In large bowl, mix together oats, nuts, seeds and coconut. In small bowl, mix sugar, syrup/honey, oil, vanilla, salt and spices. 

Drizzle over dry ingredients and mix well. Place on large cookie sheet lined with nonstick baking pad or parchment. 

Bake for about 45 minutes, stirring gently a few times, until it's golden and smells incredible. 

Remove from oven, cool for a few minutes and then put in a big bowl. Add fruits and mix gently. Let it cool completely before putting it in a container (I just throw it in a large zipper bag). 


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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I could give you my word as a Spaniard

"I could give you my word as a Spaniard."

"No good. I've known too many Spaniards."

Greg and I love to quote this from our fave flick The Princess Bride, since he is of Spanish heritage. Plus, it's funny to say it in public because you find out who else is in the Princess Bride Club. 

I was fortunate enough to tag along with Greg to Spain (business for him). We've been to Barcelona previously, and we're fans. 

There's something magical about standing in front of any building or park designed by Antoni Gaudi. 

Or wandering through ancient Roman architecture, losing yourself in the mazed passageways of Barri Gotic, allowing yourself to succumb to the wafting smells of tiny restaurants and dimly lit antique shops. 

Spaniards are fascinating to me anyway, but the barcelonians are a little different and hard to just group with the rest of the country. This happens with other regions too, of course. 

What I like about barcelonians ...

  • they tend to be friendlier than other European cultures
  • they're social people and enjoy all kinds of interactions, whether it's chatting over a coffee or sharing tapas
  • they're very culturally inclined, surrounding themselves with great design
  • they love their dogs - a bunch
  • they speak both Catalan and Spanish, in most cases
  • they don't get a lot of sleep (seeing as dinner time starts around 10 pm...)
  • they love to eat!

Yep, Barcelona is a pretty enjoyable place to hang out. And I think if a resident there gave me their word as a Spaniard, I'd be inclined to believe them!

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