December 1, 2014

Denver and Crop Circles

Crossing over Kearney, Nebraska on our way from
Illinois to Colorado.  We see such weird beauty from the air.
The Rocky Mountains with a new coat of snow!

Our Denver family enjoying the sunshine!
Ben sporting a new sleeve tattoo, self
designed - of different kinds of crop circles.
(He would have really liked Kearney, NE)
Vanessa bravely trying out today's special
at the Polish restaurant - cream of pickle soup.
Brett introduced us (talked us into?) paczki, a Polish
pastries similar to doughnuts, but with less sugar.
Well, maybe...

November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving in Moline, IL

Cookie directing Thanksgiving buffet traffic.  A big
 thank you to our local family who pot-lucked dinner,
 including Vicki's great broccoli salad.  
We brought our appetites.
Did you know that pretty close to 100% of the 40 million
 turkeys that Americans eat each year are artificially
 inseminated?  The broad breasted turkey is bred to have
 very large breasts, which physically get in the way
 when the male and female try to, uh, "create offspring".

Amy and Rosemary bluffing their way through some
impossible words.  Rosemary won the match by
guessing the exact definition of "plumarole", 
which turns out to be a small feather.
Mr. Rogers proudly posing in his neighborhood collection
of outboard motors.  And yes, he has a subscription
to "Antique Outboard Motor" magazine.

Woke up to 20 degrees, 20 mph wind and snow.
Brrrrrr!  We're not used to this!

We rented a Walleyball court at the YMCA for
a couple of hours.  It's a crazy game of volleyball,
where the walls represent the court lines and it's
legal to do stuff like serve it into the wall, or bounce

it into your opponent's head.  No major injuries. 

We'd better check his sleeves for extra cards.
Mike learning Euchre from Dennis and Tori. "Hey,
wait a minute!  You never told me THAT rule!"  

Midwest cousins catching (and cracking) up.
Tori was on kid patrol, here with
Katie - the kids spent hours
 climbing up and down the stairs.

The early stages of Round Robin ping pong, where
 everyone has a paddle and you take turns returning
 a serve from the other side while you revolve in
 a circle.  If you miss 3 times, you're out.  
Late stage Round Robin is where the speed picks up.
This game was down to only Dennis, Tim and Nick.
 Dennis won - must have been the moonshine!

October 25, 2014

Riding elephants in India

We were the first (OK, the only...)
ones in our group to volunteer for
the elephant ride up to the Amber
Palace in Jaipur.  Asian elephants
are a little smaller than their
African cousins, but still strong!
Our tour group for India - colorful in more ways than one!

We tried on the traditional turban and
sari, to see what it felt like to be the
Maharaja and Maharani (king and queen).
In India, red is the color of weddings,
symbolizing purity, beauty and fertility.

October 23, 2014

Diwali, Hindu Festival of LIghts in India

A typically stunning display of hand arranged flowers
 for Diwali.  Celebrated in autumn each year, it was
 originally an agricultural festival, where people would
 finish up accounting for their annual crops and
 pray to Lakshmi, goddess of wealth for a successful year.
Wow - we're not used to seeing fireworks like this
anymore!  These were the ones that they let us set off for Diwali.

Roman candles ready to light up the night.
Diwali gets its name from the row (avali) of clay
lamps (deepa) that Indians light up outside their
homes to symbolize the inner light that protects
us from spiritual darkness.  This festival is as
important to Hindus as Christmas is to christians.

Sparklers!  They let us have sparklers!!!
This is what you call a BIG entrance to a Diwali party.

Nothing like fireworks to bring
out the boy inside the man. 
Yes, that is a real elephant walking
 by - better watch my step!

Launching a good fortune lantern.  Like a mini hot
air balloon, you have to light it and wait for about
5 minutes until it gets hot enough to create lift.
Which gives you time to think up a really good wish!

Indian Women and other delights

Isn't she wicked looking with that one tooth?
A common sight - her teeth are stained red from
chewing betel nuts, which are cheap, addictive
and cancer causing. 

Learning a lesson from a wise man.  The moral of
this story is don't be the one picked from the crowd
for the demonstration unless you want to be scared
spitless by a large plastic snake.
Gorgeous saris!  We felt so drab
by comparison to Indian women.

Jaipur is called the "Pink City" for the rose colored
wall, built in 1727, that surrounds the city.

Judging by the white scarves, these guys
have just returned from a religious
 ceremony, probably a cremation.
We loved our stays at the magnificent Oberoi hotels.
Especially after the rudimentary accommodations
 and pit toilets in Tibet! 

Oberoi Hotel in Udaipur, one of the most romantic
hotels in the world!
Ready to get our pedi cab on!

October 19, 2014

Taj Mahal

Grace, scale, power and beauty.
Walking through the entryway
to our first view of the Taj Mahal,
which means Crown Palace.
And you'll walk across any territory,
and any darkness, however fluid,
and however dangerous to take
the one hand, and the one life
you know belongs in yours.
(from True Love, by David Whyte)
Sunrise framed by the mosque on the side of Taj Mahal.
  According to Islam, all tombs need to have an adjoining
 place of prayer.  The Taj Mahal is closed every Friday,
 the traditional holy day for Muslims to pray.

It took 20,000 workers and 1,000 elephants 22 years
to complete the Taj Mahal.  Built on a river bank,
without solid ground, the architect started with a series
 of wells, which he filled with rock and mortar.  The
foundation of the Taj Mahal and its grand expanse of
 white marble is built on top of those rock wells,

a method still used today.     

Buddies on our Tauck tour group.  From all corners
of the US, we became good friends by the end
of our 12 day journey.  This is a good view of the

symmetry of the minarets, the four towers surrounding
the main tomb.  They appear straight, but actually
lean slightly outward.  In case of an earthquake,
they would fall outward, instead of inward, to 
avoid damaging the tomb.

The polished sandstone floor of the
 adjoining mosque is elegantly
 designed in the shape of clearly
 defined prayer mats.  The walls
 have delicate calligraphy quoting
the holy book of Qur'an. 

Just part of the jewel encrusted exterior, which includes
jade, crystal, lapis, carnelian, amethyst and turquoise. 
Shah Jahan, emperor of India during the dominant
Mughal empire, suffered deeply when his wife died
during the birth of their 14th child in 1631.

 tomb (on the right) is exactly in the center of the
 Taj Mahal.  He died 35 years later.  After
 building the Taj Mahal, he was overthrown by
 one of his sons, and spent his last eight years in
 captivity, with a remote view of the Taj Mahal
 from his prison window, 4 miles away from his love.

Closeup of the exquisite marble lattice inside the Taj Mahal.
"The Taj Mahal rises above the banks of the river like a solitary tear suspended on the cheek of time."
- Rabindranath Tagore (winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913)