February 26, 2010

Ganesha is in the house, now what?

A dear friend gave me this small statue recently of Ganesha, the Lord of Success. She had her sister bring him all the way from India for me. Maybe she knew that I would appreciate his help. Manali and I met for lunch and she told me all him and his importance. As a non-Hindu, I found his story fascinating and intriguing. As a storyteller, I found his significance mesmerizing and compelling.

The story of how he got his elephant head goes something like this:

Once goddess Parvati, while bathing, created a boy out of the dirt of her body and assigned him the task of guarding the entrance to her bathroom. When Shiva, her husband returned, he was surprised to find a stranger denying him access, and struck off the boy's head in rage. Parvati broke down in utter grief and to soothe her, Shiva sent out his squad (gana) to fetch the head of any sleeping being who was facing the north. The company found a sleeping elephant and brought back its severed head, which was then attached to the body of the boy. Shiva restored its life and made him the leader (pati) of his troops. Hence his name 'Ganapati'.

Now you may wonder what's next? I have read that Ganesha is not only the destroyer of evils and obstacles, some write that Ganesha is also the destroyer of vanity, selfishness and pride. It is said that he may also put obstacles in your way, to prevent you from going down the wrong path. I like that and hope that is true.

If you decide to get your own Ganesha statue, two tips I got were to be sure and not put him near any shoes or the bathroom. Those were big no-no's.

I'll tell you this little statue already is sitting in my office, gazing at me while I write this. Hopefully he is busy helping behind the scenes of my life already as I undertake this venture of writing for a living. Also I hope he helps my dream of going to India to visit my friend Manali and her family a reality in the near future.

February 16, 2010

Top 5 Travel Tips For Your Elderly Mother

My mother is finally getting her passport and going to Europe! She has lived on the west coast her whole life and has traveled as far as Hawaii to the east, to Victoria Island in Canada and across the border to Mexico in a small plane back in the 1950s. None of these adventures required a passport at the time.

Getting her passport was an adventure by itself. She had only one original birth certificate, all hand written and on a huge piece of paper. She said it came from the hospital itself back in the day and before they made certified copies. I think she had to guess on her father's place of birth because he wasn't in her life much past the age of five. Then the question of passport photos, and whether you had your glasses on or off became a big question mark. She had people telling her different stories but in the end it didn't matter because none of the photos were her favorite.

This trip is very exciting because for her first overseas excursion, my oldest brother is taking her not me – which is why this is exciting for me.

My brother has it all set up so that she and my sister will be kept busy, while he and his wife, both seasoned travelers, along with her older father enjoy themselves as well – for two weeks. They will be in London, Scotland and Paris. If it goes well, I will take her somewhere else, like Italy in the springtime, before her passport expires.

Though this is my sister’s first time across the Atlantic as well, it is more exciting for my mother because she is unique. She is in her late 70s and comes from a family background where she didn’t travel anywhere, except by cable car or trolley. She never learned to ride a bike. The irony was that her mother’s family grew up traveling by steamer ship and train, on a regular basis.

I must admit that I didn’t think my mother would be able to out aside her routines to make the trip. She is quite capable but I don’t get the impression she likes to be out of her comfort zone for long anymore. However this trip is great news and hopefully she will have an amazing time, returning home with lots of stories and pleasurable experiences.

Until she leaves, my plan is to keep touching base with her and giving her tips and tricks learned from all of my travels. You can’t really say what she will remember or actually use but here are my top five recommendations for any elderly lady traveling in June to the UK:

  1. Comfortable walking shoes that fit well, include orthotics if necessary
  2. Bring warm layers, include a hat and gloves
  3. Zippered flat bottom tote
  4. Scented bar of soap to wash out undies and socks
  5. Favorite reading material

My mother already says she does not get the British sense of humor, so unless they are showing a Jane Austen movie, she won’t be watching the television or “telly” in the evening. She lives in Arizona for a reason, so she knows to plan for cold temperatures. Having a sturdy tote, that can sit flat on the ground by her feet and zips close for security will make her relax and enjoy the people around her. Otherwise she will be distracted from the sight of the Tower of London by the man sitting on the bus across from her. Suggesting she bring reading material is important because she gets up at the crack of dawn, even on vacation, thinks most airport magazines are trashy and needs something to read while my brother and the rest go on the whisky tasting tour.

February 13, 2010

Amazing Race 16 Starts on Valentine's Day

The Amazing Race 16 - Premiere Sneak Peek is here! I'm so excited to see this new season. This television show is such a fun way to see the world and get a sense of new places, and of how you might travel in new environments and with your closest companion.

Sundays on CBS starting Feb 14 at 8:00 pm PST

February 11, 2010

Celebrating Lunar New Year with cookies

There is nothing more exciting in San Francisco this time of year, except perhaps for the Cherry Blossoms, than the big celebrations around the lunar New Year. All the populations that follow the Asian Zodiac have wonderful ways to highlight the changing year, and this year is no exception with our own Chinatown throwing the largest parties and parade around!

This is the time to gather with family, honor ancestors and celebrate with a big banquet that symbolizes prosperity in the New Year. So far I have only experienced the parties vicariously, through my friends telling me stories of their family gatherings. From their stories however, it sounds like every culture including Asian families, has that drunk uncle, wild cousin and unpredictable in-law. All the ingredients for great childhood memories and good times!

I love eating dim sum and all sorts of other dishes year round, but this time of year is special because the symbolism associated with each dish is about everything positive and hopeful. This year I learned more about the foods and their meanings. Did you know that:

  • Chicken and fish, for example, symbolize happiness and prosperity--especially when served whole.
  • Dishes made with oranges represent wealth and good fortune because they are China's most plentiful fruit.
  • Noodles represent longevity: therefore, they should never be cut!
  • Duck symbolizes fidelity, while eggs signify fertility.
  • Bean curd or tofu, however, is avoided because its white color suggests death and misfortune.
This explains a lot. This past week I had noticed lots of Asian people at Costco (the big warehouse chain) buying whole fish, and looking really happy while they waited. Normally myself and most others are a bit cranky waiting, as our blood sugar drops and we see the line at the cashier deepen by the minute. At this same store and some nurseries, they have been selling dwarf orange or kumquat trees.

While cruising through Chinatown this year, what surprised me was the number of ladies buying tins of cookies. They looked liked cookies or biscuits served at high tea rather than around a Lazy Susan or living room coffee table. Are fortune cookies just for restaurants? The cookies they were buying were not cheap either, most were $12 a pop.

The cookies did look tempting, and I for one hope they are for eating rather than an offering on a shelf. While I appreciate the sentiment and importance of tradition, my sweet tooth would get the better of me. And did you know this lunar New Year is on Valentine's Day? What a nice sweet coincidence. Since the Winter Olympics in Vancouver are starting now as well, and the city has a very large Chinese population, I bet a lot of excitement and extra special celebrations are going on there.

We are moving into the Year of the Tiger, and its motto is "I win", which I think is perfect. So much to celebrate this time of year and what better way, than with a cookie!
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