Friday, March 27, 2009

India Blog - Day 11 (last day)

We didn't really have much we wanted to see this day and were planning to spend most of it shopping for stuff to take home to our families. We ate breakfast and Randy and I checked out of our room. Gail and Kurt kept their room for late checkout, so Randy and I moved 0ur stuff into their room.

The driver took us first to the India Gate, which is like the tomb of the unknown soldier. There is an "eternal" flame there and flags for the different branches of the Indian armed services, and the monument is dedicated to the Indian soldiers who fell during WWI.

After that we tried to get the driver to take us to some open-air shopping to get some deals, but he didn't understand and took us to another high-priced kickback store. We came out immediately and finally got him to understand where we wanted to go and he took us to a place with lots of shops with decent prices and open-air market. I bought a bunch of glass bracelets, some t-shirts, a drum, and a chess set. I was starting to get the hang of the whole haggling thing, but it really starts to give you a headache after a while and is a lot of work. I was at the point where it was almost worth it just to pay more to avoid the work of haggling. But I did get some good deals.

After shopping there, we asked the driver to take us to Humayun's tomb. He took us to some shopping center instead where we paid 15 rupees (30 cents) to get in to the street. I guess they just do that to keep the riff-raff out? All the shops there were pretty much the same, but I did get a cute shirt for Rosalie.

After shopping, we finally got the driver to take us to Humayun's tomb. We went to one tomb first that we thought was it, before we got to the real one.

There are ancient tombs and ruins everywhere in India. At this point I think we were getting a little burned out and were ready to be done with ancient buildings. Especially since it was pretty hot.

The driver took us to one final place for shopping which was a mall. This mall was totally westernized with stores like in a western mall selling jewelry, high-fashion clothes, etc. The prices were western too, with everything as much or more than in the states. We didn't stick around very long. They did have a McDonalds there as well.

If you look close at the menu, you can see they have no beef or beef products.

We had the driver take us back to the hotel, and Randy and I went shopping in the streets around the hotel. There wasn't really anything we wanted to buy there. I wanted to get some candy for the kids, but couldn't find anything that wasn't either really expensive or looked like it might make them sick. We ate fries and a shake (too timid to try the veg burgers) at McDonalds. The guy looked at Randy funny when he asked for a spoon. We soon realized why, as the shake was like slightly lumpy chocolate milk. No spoon necessary. The fries were pretty much the same as in the states.

We went to the shops downstairs and spent all the rest of our rupees, except for the tips for the driver and sundry porters etc. Then Randy and I showered and called home one last time and then stuffed everything in the suitcases. Luckily I had a fair amount of space on the trip there so everything fit in the one suitecase.

The driver drove us to the airport and after only getting turned around once, we made it there. After we tipped him and went into the airport, Randy realized he had handed the driver his wad of US cash ($90 worth) instead of the 400 rupees ($8 worth) he had meant to hand him. Luckily he was able to get the driver on the cell phone and get him to come back and make a switch. Kurt and I both thought the driver would be long gone with the cash, but I guess he was worried about the feedback through our company.

Anyway, there isn't much more to tell about the India trip. The trip home started at 1:00 AM in India on Tuesday and arrived in SLC at 7:30 that same day, including a 3 hour layover in Paris and a 4 hour layover in NYC. It was a seriously long day. I slept off and on through the flight to Paris and to NYC. I had a hamburger in NYC and went with Edith to Costa Vida in SLC. One of those two places caused me to wake up that night and puke my guts out. Ironic, isn't it, that after 12 days of being careful and avoiding sickness in India, I get tagged by food poisoning the minute I get back in the States?

I gave Edith a bunch of stuff I bought for her in India the night I got home, and presented the kids with all their loot the next morning. They were quite excited.

I don't think Edith's presents come anywhere close to making up for ditching her with 5 kids for 12 days, but I guess it's a start.

Monday, March 23, 2009

At Home--Day 11

The kids were out of school today. Which meant we were all here together, except for Casey, all day long.
I don't know why I always want to get some project done whenever Casey is gone. I can't remember if it was my sister Kate or Victoria who said she would be especially sure NOT to work on projects when her husband was gone. Taking care of the kids alone is enough. I agree with that, but I just couldn't help myself, soooo--I deep cleaned the downstairs bathroom! Call me crazy. . . (Here is a sample of what I thought I might try to do--build storage shelves, build matching headboards for girls' room, build closet doors for girls' room, varnish basement door, refurbish bedside table and add tile top, make pillows for windowseat. . .)

The best part of the day was Grandma and Grandpa Songer coming for (and bringing) dinner. I pretty much dangled the carrot of their arrival (with pizza) over my kids for hours to get them to behave. And I tried a new recipe out on our guests: Oven Roasted Asparagus ala Pioneer Woman Cooks. I knew they would appreciate it. It was yummy. Lissa and Anderson liked it, too. Anderson probably liked it because asparagus comes in spears.

Casey called three separate times since it dawned Monday where he is. So we got to wish him Happy Birthday three different times. The last time was from the airport before he boarded. It was an hour from Tuesday there and he will arrive here Tuesday (tommorrow!) evening around eight pm. He gets to travel for around thirty hours and still have four hours left of Tuesday. It's time travel!

He's almost here, he's just about here! (repeat!)
(This is based on the Grover final approach song that we kids used to torment my parents with after a 7 hour drive.)

Do you think pilots would go any faster if they could hear their passengers asking "Are we there yet?"?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

At Home Day 10

I already did my blogging today--I hung over the sink and went "blahg, blahg!"

Seriously, I am sick.

It was such bad timing. Luckily there are good and talented people all around me to fill in when I go down with the stomach flu. I was told that the choir number went well, directed by a woman in our ward who graduated in Performance Arts. (I was assured that it didn't go as well as it would have if I had been there. But I didn't believe it.)

And Casey's parents took the older kids to church with them. And fed them afterwards. Here's Grandma Songer's account:
With Casey in India and Edith sick with the flu, we took their kids to Church and brought them home for crepes. Dad was mixing the batter. I set an unmarked container of salt on the counter, which he mistook for sugar. Four tablespoons of salt :o Yuk! We mixed up another batch and ate lunch. Afterward, as we're cleaning up, I was thinking out loud, "I wonder if there is anything I can do with this salty batter"
Ani had the best idea - "Grandma, you could melt the snow!"

Rosalie was remarkably patient with me as I continued to fall asleep on the couch or the bed while she played with hair elastics and talked to herself. She did stay awake calling from her crib during her whole naptime, but that didn't stop me from sleeping, either.

Then Wendy took Anderson and Meredith to the Hale family farewell to Jon party. And Ani and Lissa went to the Stake Center with Grandma and Grandpa Songer to watch the Draper Temple dedication. I hope they remember it and are glad they went there instead of the Hale party. There are always Hale parties. Not so often a Temple dedication.

We talked to Casey and wished him "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" It is already his birthday in India. He'll be catching the plane in about 15 hours after a very long day. We probably won't hear from him again until he is stateside.

Casey, can't wait til you're here.

India Blog - Day 10

We ate breakfast this morning, changed some money, and met our guide in the lobby. He first took us past the red fort (just driving by) and through some of the bazaar streets, most of them looking like a flea market. Finally we came to Jama Masjid (the Friday Mosque) which is the largest mosque in India, which has room for tons of people to pray. Seems like it was 25,000 people, but I don't remember for sure. The mosque itself isn't all that big, but the courtyard is very large and that's where they put most of the people.

Here's me in some kind of little box on the front steps of the mosque:

We were required to remove our shoes, and Gail had to wear an interesting cover. I guess all the western women were required to wear it, and any men wearing shorts had to wear something to cover themselves as well. You can see the covers and skirts on these guys below:

After the mosque, we drove to the Gandhi memorial. This is the place where Gandhi was cremated and some of his ashes still are. We didn't actually go into the memorial area so we didn't have to take our shoes off. We just took a picture from a place overlooking the site. The guide was making sure we hurried to each spot.

After that we went to the craft museum, which is where Gail wanted to go to see the different crafts that they make across India. I don't know if it was because it was Sunday or what, but there wasn't really anybody there doing crafts. They had examples of the different housing styles across India, and lots of artisans selling clothing and art. It was sort of a disappointment, but I did buy a couple of art sketches there.

After that the driver told us he was taking us to a place to learn about Kashmir. We soon arrived and detected it was actually a kickback stop. He told us that the people there would let us try some Kashmir tea but we told him we didn't drink tea. The man was very nice, but it was a sales job. We learned how they make the rugs and how each takes 6 months to 2 years of tying knots and packing the threads down on the loom. He showed us that the rug wouldn't scratch or burn. It was kind of like the cutco knives guy or some other sales pitch. Anyway, the rugs were very beautiful but they were also very expensive, so we didn't get any.

Then the driver took us to a cool archaeological site called Qutab Minar. It has several examples of Hindu architecture, and some Muslim architecture. The Muslims came in and destroyed all the carvings of the Hindu temple, because they don't believe in idol worship. Then the Muslim leader erected this huge 250 foot tower. It is really cool.

Here is the base so you can get a perspective for how big it really is.

There is also this really strange iron post in the courtyard that is about 1600 years old, but has never rusted. Supposedly NASA or somebody is trying to figure out what it is made of and why it doesn't rust.

While we were checking all this stuff out, this little kid came up and asked if he could have a picture with me. Then his sisters (I assume) came up and posed as well. Very interesting.

The guide to leave to go to lunch after about 20 minutes, but there was too much to see. Also the Indian lunch he wanted to take us to was 600 rupees ($12) and we were thinking he probably got a kickback for it and we weren't really hungry for more Indian food. So we told him we wanted to stay for a while and not go to lunch. He said he was pretty much done for the day (it was only 1:00) and the driver could take us to the next temple and so we tipped him and he left. We spent another 30-40 minutes in Qutab Minar and it was really cool.

Since our guide was gone, we communicated to the driver that we wanted to go to the Akshardhan temple. He asked about lunch and we said we were going to skip it. He said he wanted lunch so he brought us to another kickback store. I think maybe they feed the drivers for free if they leave the passengers at the mercy of the salespeople. Randy didn't feel like hanging out in the store so he went down the street half a block and joined a cricket game. They let him hit the ball a couple times. Too bad nobody was there to take his picture.

Finally the driver was done scarfing his (free?) meal and he took us on the long drive across town to the Akshardhan temple.

You can kind of see the temple in the background here. This place was like Disneyland, with huge lines of cars to get in to the parking, lines to get in to, major security, boat rides, animatronics, and tons of people. They had a huge list of things that were not allowed inside, including cameras, phones, food, pens, paper, and about 100 other things. We got the frisking and finally made it in. The temple was over the top ornate with gold statues and levels on levels of carving everywhere. Since we weren't allowed a camera, I don't have any pictures of the inside, but if you're interested they have a website here.

We grabbed some water at the food court and tried to go see if we could get on the boat ride, but the wait was 2.5 hours, so we bailed. A very interesting place.

We were hoping to see one more place that day, the Lotus Temple (Bahai), but it was closed by that time and not open on Mondays. Oh well. We did more this day than we were expecting, I think.

We went back to the hotel and ate at the fancy Chinese restaurant on the top floor. We had to roam around and shop for a while because the restaurant didn't open until 7:30. I got a couple silk scarves in the shops downstairs. After dinner it was back to skype the family and blog. Here is Randy talking to his wife.

India Blog - Day 9

We woke up at 5:00 so we could be down in the lobby by 5:45. Not sure if I mentioned that Randy and I were sharing a room to lower costs. We have to pay for these last few days where we are extending.

Anyway, the guide took took us to the east gate of the Taj Mahal and we bought our tickets to go in. The $15 tickets included a bottle of water and little booties to put over our shoes so we wouldn't have to take our shoes off. We waiting in line for security, the men and women in separate lines. The security people confiscated Randy's granola bars and Gail had to put her ipod in a locker, but eventually we all made it inside the gate.

Inside there is a large outer courtyard where you can see the three external gates and the main gate here:

The main gate has 22 domes on top of it, one for every year it took to build it. You can only see 11 of them from this angle. The Taj took 22 years to build, and there were 20,000 workers working day and night that whole time. That's a lot of work.

The guide took us to various spots to get some good photographs of the Taj. Here is one of all 4 of us that the guide took.

And of course, the obligatory trick shot:

We put our booties on and of course right when I sat down an old guy came over and helped himself to helping me on with my booties. So I had to tip him 10 rupees. I hate that.

We got up close to the Taj and I took some shots of the detail work. All the colors are made with inlaid stones (coral, lapis lazuli, mother of pearl, etc.) and there is no painting anywhere on it. The carvings are amazing too.

The inside was very cool, with marble lattice work and lots more inlaid stones. However it was dark and you couldn't take pictures in there. I took a lot more pictures outside, but I'm not going to bore everyone with them. I will, however, post this picture of cute chipmunks for the kids:

After we had our fill of the Taj, we went back to the car. We had to take a small auto (natural gas) to and from the parking lot because they don't allow any gas vehicles withing 2 km of the Taj. Here is a shot of everyone trying to sell stuff to Randy. They follow you and are pretty relentless in trying to get you to buy.

After we got back from the Taj, we gave tips to the guide and went to eat breakfast. While we were eating breakfast, our "other" guide showed up and we gave him a few tips. After that we went to hang out in our rooms, call home, and blog.

Around 11:00 we left for another 5 hours of driving back to Delhi. I mostly read to keep my eyes off the death-defying action going on outside. We made one pit stop where the driver disappeared for 15 minutes and we were forced to wander around looking at overpriced goods and listen to pushy salespeople. Randy noticed that the guys sitting by the door wrote a '4' down in his notebook and we figure that is the kickback credit that the driver gets for delivering 4 tourist to the trap. Eventually he returned and we got back on the road and finally made it to Delhi.

We checked in to our hotel there, a pretty nice one. I'm staying with Randy again. After getting settled, we went to the hotel restaurant to get something to eat But we didn't really like anything on the menu so we all left. We had seen a McDonalds on the way in, so we thought we would go there. But when we go there, they didn't have anything except Chicken and Fish sandwiches, and lots of strange Indian sandwiches. We then walked around until we found a Pizza Hut and ate there. It was good to have mostly familiar food, and the meal only cost $5 for a personal pizza, garlic bread, bottle of soda, and ice cream.

After dinner we wandered around the local neighborhood and looked at all the shops. Lots of interesting odors. I bought some batteries, since my camera is chewing through them like crazy.

After that we went back to the hotel, and I paid $18 for a day of internet access and did some actual work for 2-3 hours and also some skype and blogging. It was the first day we had had time to relax in a long time.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

At Home--Day 9

I don't really have a lot to report for today. Except we pigged out!

Whole wheat muffins for breakfast (some with chocolate chips--I made them for the choir practice and only 11 people showed.)
Then, after a futile housecleaning (futile in that it's messy again already) we had strawberry crepes for lunch. Hooray! Strawberry time!

And then we had Navajo tacos for dinner. Victoria and Mike walked in just as I was beginning the fry up, so they stayed to dinner with their kids. It was nice to have company. I miss adult conversation.
And, in spite of a lot of freshly ground whole wheat in the above items, I don't think it was very healthy. There was too much oil involved. And sugar. (nummy)

Don't tell me you don't wish you were here. I know you do.

Friday, March 20, 2009

India Blog - Day 8

Friday, I had to get up at 6:00 so I could get ready in time to eat breakfast and check out before we had to leave for the airport. We checked out and left before 7:00.

Hyderabad has a pretty new airport, so the roads to it are under construction, but the airport looks pretty nice. We ended up getting there in plenty of time so we didn't have to rush through like we did the last time. There are always a ton of guys trying to grab your bags and carry them for you to earn a tip. I usually try to avoid them.

One thing that was interesting is that they always have a separate line for the women and the men for security. The women's line has a screen so they have more privacy. I assume this is for the Muslim women that have to keep covered in public. The security people pretty much pat you down every time. I'm a little tired of being touched so much by people I don't know.

We got our bags out to the van and tipped the guys who brought the bags. The driver started the long drive down to Agra. It was an interesting trip, but definitely the cause of lots of anxiety. Tons of close calls. The driver spent a lot of time talking on his cell phone with one hand, while honking with the other and weaving around oncoming tour buses. Here are some shots from the drive, representing a small portion of the different types of vehicles we encountered:

Tons of bicycle rickshaws

Sometimes they fit as many as 15 people in the 4-person auto-taxi.

There were a few camels on the road in Agra

Motorcycles are the most common vehicles on the road. I blogged before about how the guys usually drive and the girls sit on the back. Doesn't seem very comfortable.

Whole families on bicycles too. I bet this guy has a hard time on hills.

Anyway, after 5 brutal hours, with one quick rest stop, we arrived in Agra. We glimpsed a few monkeys running around on the roof of the place we stopped for a bathroom break. Gail took a picture of a monkey that a guy had on a leash while we were stopped for a toll, and the guy made her pay money for taking the picture. People starting gathering around the car and banging on the windows trying to sell stuff. Luckily we took off pretty soon after that.

Right before we got to our hotel, the driver stopped by the side of the road and picked up our guide. We didn't know we were getting guide, but figured it would be good. We checked in to the hotel and then met the guide and driver downstairs.

The first place we went was the Red Fort of Agra, which is all made out of marble and very beautiful. We spent a couple hours there, and took tons of pictures.

The fort was red marble on the outside, but most of the inside was made out of white marble. Tons of really cool engraving and carving on the walls and ceilings. There were also lots of monkeys and parrots inside and climbing all around.

After the fort, the guide took us to a marble place where they showed us how they do the inlay work. I'm sure the guide gets kickbacks from these guys, because they then took us into a shop room to show us stuff for sale. I was a little worried when they shut the door and drew the curtains, but it was just so they could show us how the marble is translucent. The marble was beautiful, and the inlay work is amazing, but no way I was going fork out that much dough for something so impractical.

The guide wanted to take us to some more shops, but we were having none of it and asked to be taken back to the hotel. He had the driver drop us back at the hotel and said he would meet us at 6:15 the next day to go to the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. When we got in the hotel, there was another guy in the lobby that said he was our real guide and had been waiting for us for 3 hours. He showed a UHG business card and had us call our contact there. It was quite an uncomfortable situation. He said he would meet us at 5:45 and take us through the Taj. He looked legit, so we decided to meet him the next day. We finally went to sleep late at around 11:00.

At Home--Day 8

This morning I had to run to town to do some errands. Lissa stayed home sick for the second day so she was there to answer Casey's Skype calls at 9 and again at 11. I was sad to miss them. But I got to talk to him at 10 tonight. Sounds like he's having a wild day.

Meredith went to a birthday party today for a girl from her preschool. Does it happen to you that your child comes home from a birthday party with more stuff, and worth more, than they took as a present? This keeps happening to me. But I know how my kids are with toys--the more they have the less they value them. So at least I don't spend a lot on these gifts that are destined for the D. I. Also, my kids only get friend parties at ages 5, 8, and 12. Teenage parties are something I don't even want to think about.

Today the neighbor kid came to clean the outsides of my windows. He is raising money for Prom, I think. Anyway, it was pretty embarrassing how messy my house was. I paid him a little extra to keep his mouth shut.
Rosalie and Meredith thought it was the funnest thing ever to follow him around outside while he worked. Somewhere along the way Rosalie ditched her pants and smeared her face with dirt. Did you ever see two kids who look more like nobody loves them? My mom used to say "You look like nobody loves you," when we got really dirty. When I say it, it means "You're making your mother look bad, go change and/or brush your hair and/or wash your face." My kids think it means "You are quite an individual, aren't you? I can see you like to make your own fashion choices and I applaud your avant garde appearance."
Then again, maybe they think it means nobody loves them. Maybe I shouldn't say that anymore.

And since it's Friday night, we did Fort Night again. This time they all get to share one big fort so we don't have any whining about whose fort is better.

Wish you could be here for Fort Night, Casey. We could make the best fort of all and not share it with anyone else.

India Blog - Day 7

We got up in the morning and went to the Cognizant offices in Hyderabad. We just spent the morning there, since Randy, Kurt and I don't have a lot of contacts there. The team there presented us with flowers when we arrived. Since I couldn't really take them with me to give them to Edith, I took a picture so I could give that to her. Here you go:

They also gave us a very cool plate with Indian painting on it.

After lunch in the office (more Indian food), we took off to go to a museum. It was a huge museum with all kinds of stuff: paintings, clothes, sculptures, glass, toys, swords, guns, etc.). It was pretty cool, but started to all blur together after the first hour.

After that we drove into town and took a conference call in the car that was really hard to hear.

We went to a Mosque/Monument that Hyderabad is famous for called Charminar. It looked cool during the day and even cooler lit up at night.

We went into some shops and stuff. Gail got sucked into a pearl shop (Hyderabad is famous for them) and we ended up spending a long time there waiting for her. And some of the others decided to buy some as well.

We didn't get back to the hotel and done with dinner until after 11:00, but I went to sleep as early as I could after that, because we had to wake up early and get to the airport for our flight.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

At Home--Day 7

Whoohoo! I'm finished with my fabulous Relief Society presentation! I finished writing it about 4:30 this afternoon, picked up a spare reader during dinner, and it was all over in a matter of minutes. It was all about how to simplify your life. And if they ask me to do another skit any time soon, I will simplify my life by saying "No." Or maybe "No, thank you."
Actually, I thought I would feel a little more relief than this. But it just cleared room for all the other things that I have to do to press in on me. (recycling tomorrow, must buy birthday present for party, need groceries, doctor's appointment, pick up recital music, call everyone for choir practice Saturday morning, make muffins for choir members, buy non-staining juice to go with muffins, lead song on Sunday (don't mess up), make jello-salad for farewell dinner for Jon, make or buy bread for same, don't forget to buy ingredients for jello salad, no school on Monday, early out tomorrow, arrange play date for Anderson, find overdue library books, return projector to Stake Center)
I hope you didn't read all that.

Here are a couple of links I used in my presentation--you've probably seen them. But they are fun.
Mom My Ride
The Meanest Mom

And here's something else you've already seen: Rosalie outside. She's so bossy. She makes me take her outside two or three times a day! But she doesn't throw hissy fits if she gets her outside time. Maybe it's the vitamin D.

Casey, thank you for buying me tons of stuff, I mean stuffs, in India. I hope when you go to the Taj Mahal and think about how it is a big tomb a man built as a monument for his beloved wife, you will think of your beloved wife and wish that I was there. With you. Not in the tomb.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

At Home--Day 6

Things that happened today:

Andrew came to play with Meredith

Rosalie threw only one tantrum

Lissa lost a tooth

I learned how to connect the projector to the laptop and make it show the PC's screen

We played outside

Things that didn't happen today:

Anderson did not go to his friend's house as arranged--Branson was sick

I did not find, nor inspire Anderson to find his missing library book that is due today

I did not finish my "skit" for the Relief Society Birthday party tomorrow--my techie is out of town and my brain feels like this:

Miss you, techie. Wish you were here.