Friday, June 9, 2017

Magnificent Moscow!

Russia has been on my bucket list for a long time!  It’s a place packed with the history of the world and we had never been there!  When we emailed Charity and Ian to tell them that we were going to stop and see them in London on our way around the world, she said they weren’t going to be there. They were going to be in Russia that week. Serendipity! They would be in St. Petersburg while we were in Dubai and so we headed for Moscow on a day that fit perfectly with our plan to follow the sun west, and in this case about 8 hours of flying north as well. 

Ian is a guru on miles for flying and points for hotels after their extensive travels. He had free nights for their little family at the Ritz in Moscow already booked. It is a wonderful hotel located exactly two blocks one way to Red Square and  the Kremlin and two blocks the other way to the Bolshoi Ballet. He arranged for a room for us right next to them, which was definetly not free, but was certainly worth it considering all our other accommodations along the way were with our kids or free. Good deal! 

What we saw during our taxi ride from the airport was just what we had expected…lots of gray cement block housing built during a gray time in the history of Russia! 

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With an occasional magnificent building here and there:

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Our first view of Red Square as we walked through the gates far exceeded our expectations! We had a splendid reunion with the little Wright family and were completely dazzled by St. Basil’s Cathedral straight ahead. It was AWEsome to actually be there after seeing pictures of this place my whole life! 


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Is this baby about as cute as they come or what? He’s a keeper!  As you can see, it was cold. Really cold! In the 30’s but we were warmed by our wonderful adventure! 





Charity, Ian and Moses had arrived a day earlier and were filled with glee to see this spectacular sight! Thanks to Charity for a lot of these beautiful pictures. iPhones just don’t cut it very well in subway halls. When you see a picture with great light (like the one below), It’s from Charity’s camera.  Check her blog posted on posted on May 2, 2017  for a plethora of beautiful photos. 




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Here’s a glimpse of the astonishing of this grand old Cathedral taken by Charity:



Here is that magical place at night! On the left is "The Gum", Moscow’s famous shopping/extremely high end shopping mall, right across  the pavement of Red Square from Lenin’s Mausoleum which you can barely see..This is an ironic and fascinating twist in history as the idea of that giant shopping mall is exactly what Lenin abhorred!  The large clock tower on the right is part of the Kremlin on the other side of the wall. 



There’s Charity hanging out the window of our hotel with the Four Season’s hotel on the left and Red Square in the background



The next morning Charity had arranged for a delightful guide to take us to the two most important tourist destinations in Moscow.The first will surprise you but was highly recommended by friends who had just returned from living in Russia for three years. It was the Moscow City Metro System!

Our guide was astonishing!  She knew everything about everything and was a young mother who was also enchanted by Moses! 

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Nobody can explain this amazing Metro system better than Charity. Here is a quote from her blog at  “We learned before our trip that moscow’s metro stations are actually a super impressive museum of art and history! forty four of the stations are listed as world heritage sites and are ornately decorated and almost palatial. the moscow metro, constructed in the 1930s, was one of the ussr’s most extravagant architectural projects, meant to show off russia’s prominence and power as luxurious “palaces for the people.” stations are brightly lit with high ceilings and include marble and bronze statues, stained glass, and scenes of industry, agriculture, warfare and leadership in frescoes and mosaics. it’s all pretty amazing and fascinating and we loved seeing this wild underground world – especially at rush hour! the crowds made it all even more dynamic and cool to experience."

We saw only four of the stops but each was a museum in it’s own right!  The concourses were enormous!  People hid here during the war and 217 babies were born in these halls! Now millions of people use this metro system every day! 



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We saw only four stops, this one with gorgeous brass statues on each of the four sides of many arches just like this….


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Another stop displayed gorgeous stained glass, another mosaics of Russian History and one stop was dedicated to the folk history of the Ukraine. As you might have noticed, there was not one trash bin anywhere, and also not one scrap of trash anywhere. When we thought of what this beautiful place might look like in NYC, our guide explained that the Russian people are very proud of the beauty of their Metro system. Each stop looked like a museum and each was treated like one. 

My iPhone just couldn’t do justice to these amazing pictures but you’ll get the idea! 


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I have to say that it was an absolutely incredible sight! 


From the Metro, Ian and Richard went back to the hotel to borrow a wheelchair for our tour through the Kremlin!  Richard  can play tennis for hours and jog forever, but his back hurts really bad when he has to stand or walk slowly for a long time. SO we headed out for our tour with a wheelchair, a baby stroller and a pretty excited bunch to see the famous Kremlin. 


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I was stunned by he number of churches on the Kremlin. I thought it was just going to be a massive bunch of political buildings. But no! The history behind what we saw is far too complicated to attempt here, but who we learned was amazing! 






We were not allowed to take pictures in the National Armory Museum which is sad because it was filled with historical carriages, crowns, the clothing of queens and kings and even their collection of Faberge’ eggs! But we did get to take pictures of the biggest bell in the world which rests on the grounds. Sadly, it never rang and actually cracked and broke before they could use it! 


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There were cannons everywhere and a memorial to the destruction that occurred in the Kremlin during the war! 


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After exactly four hours we bid goodbye to our perfectly lovely guide. Ian and charity had a car waiting to wisk them off to the airport for home. These two are so fun to be with! Ian faked a kiss to thank Richard for our few hours together and this was the result: 

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Wow, did we have fun with those three. A couple of days that we’ll never forget!  

After they left we had dinner at a well-lovedl place called Dr. Zhivago a few doors down from the hotel and then we headed for the famous Bolshoi Ballet. It was an incredible Russia Ballet that kept us charmed for 3 1/2 hours in that historic building that is the home of probably the best ballet company in the world! 

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The next morning we enjoyed the lobby of our hotel before heading out for another very special hotel lobby nearby….


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Destination: the Metropol Hotel which was only a few blocks away. It was the. setting for a novel that Richard just happened to find before we left and had been enjoying immensely along the way.  It was about a Count who was imprisoned there during the Russian Revolution. After being isolated n an attic room for a long time, he was promoted to being the head waiter. Since it was the headquarters for party meetings during that time he garnered a wealth of information about the politics of what was going on during that time. It was a fascinating story that Richard had been continually updating for me on those long flights while I was working on my own book. It was a special pleasure to have breakfast there on our last morning. 


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…..and find the ceiling described in the book...

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From there we walked back to Red Square to walk through Lenin’s Mausoleum. No pictures allowed of course. We were not even allowed to put our hands in our pockets. But I have to say that he looked excellent for being dead for 146 years! (Cute photo bomber…) 


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Before we left we took a quick tour of the inside of St. Basil’s Cathedral which was truly amazing! I even got to hear a men’s quartet echoing their hymns thoughout the  many-cubilcled spaces!  Chills! 

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There is so much more to learn about icons and Russian history in general that I was committed to learn when we get home. I sigh when I say “History is wasted on the young.”  I used to think history was so boring. Now I just can’t get enough! 

What a country! My bucket was filled with the wonders of this incredible city.  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Around the World in Twenty Days. First Hawaii, Shanghai and Dubai

If you asked me what would be on my bucket list of favorite things to do, it would be to take an adventurous trip around the world, stopping to give a couple of speeches to some terrific families and  see some of our favorite people, namely our children on the way and not get jet lagged! During April, I got to check that off my list!  We circled the globe in twenty days with six stops, three days in each place and got to see four of our our Eyrealm families on the way. It was a wild idea but we already had commitments to give speeches in Shanghai and Dubai and we realized that we just as well include those in our chance to see our kids and grandkids and make it a party! :) 

So away we went on April 6th! Our first stop was Maui, where we reveled in that unique Eyre family. Their kids are growing up so fast and we love every chance we get to immerse ourselves in their lives! Jonah, who a champion worker trimmed all the banana trees on their property and we did what we could to hand him the tools and drag limbs to a pickup place. 

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I love having a little Grammie Dates with their adorable children! Po is precocious and no end of entertainment! I loved soaking in her personality and interesting reflections on life during out walk through the town to get her favorite  yummy doughnuts.  

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Elsie is an artist. The things she creates are astonishing! When she’s not buried in a book, she’s always coming up with the next creative idea. We had so much fun taking a walking tour of the numerous art galleries in her sweet little upcountry town. 

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                    And this Grammie Date with Superman was magical!  This child is pure delight! 

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This teenager below is one of the most proactive teens you would every want to meet!  She is a champion swimmer, a brilliant student and has taken self-reliance to a whole new level!  When she was nine she earned the money to buy and take care of her own horse. When our grandkids want to participate in special programs that are expensive, we invite them to write a grant for Richard and I explaining why they want to participate in the experience and what they think they will learn from it. Ana has written some pretty remarkable grant proposals through the years but she outdid her self on this one. She had a power point presentation ready to show us. It included info about a summer program that involved a one-week educational and activity session for teenagers this summer. It knocked our socks off and she was grated matching funds which means that if she could come up with half the funds, we would provide the other half.  And she will. Such a fun girl!

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Jonah was born four days after my birthday while we were living in England in 1977. He was born by emergency C-section because of a placenta previa with a 50/50 chance to live so we've always had a special bond! Since a big birthday was coming up for both us we went to our favorite place to eat in  Maui called Mama’s Fish House. It was an evening we won’t forget with these two beautiful people. How we love them and admire the life they have created together. As you can tell they still really like each other, five children and lots of wild adventures later!  This is two remarkable people. I love this picture!

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This food is about as good as it gets!  This was my meal which consisted of lobster bisque and a couple of crab cakes. Mmmmm!

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We found some time to enjoy the beach and what is under the water. Jonah owns the equipment so they can go anytime, anywhere. They saw some amazing things, as usual.

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Then we were off the Shanghai. This was about our 4th visit there but each visit has been short and since there are endless things to see and do, we tried to cram in as much as possible in our three days there. It is such an astonishing city….a credit to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Chinese people. A mecca for business and a thriving metropolis! Our 72 hours there included a  speech to a Young President’s Group at the Coal Harbor Club in Shanghai. Here we are on the deck with a beautiful yacht behind us as well as the incredible skyline/. There are fascinating stories about those two tall buildings behind us that I’ll have to relate later. Interestingly the backstory has to do with the combative relationship between China and Japan.

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Our gourmet lunch with our host before our presentation that night provided some incredible food!  And some pretty “interesting" food too….i.e.  Sheep’s Lung Soup which had bits of cauliflower- looking items floating in the broth among other strange looking items. I did my best to get it down before our host told me that it wasn’t necessary to eat the solid particles. The Chinese just believe that the broth from those sheep's lungs is very nutritious for their lungs!  Should have taken a picture! Here is one of the courses:

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The food just kept coming! I thought that we ere done after the first three courses but it went on to about twelve.. What a meal!

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                                                        These are still the most effective brooms!

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The Langdon Hotel in Shanghai is to die for! The rooms, food, decor, service, breakfast buffet were all spectacular! One of my favorite things were these massive statues outside the Hotel. The title of this delightful creation is O My Balloon!  It just makes me smile!

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And here are four lovely Chinese ladies having a sweet reunion at this beautiful fountain at an open air mall across the street from the hotel.

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                                      And some fun advertising outside a lady’s clothing store.

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Well… some issues are the same worldwide!  Kids get together to hang out and end up staring at their phones Who knows maybe they’re texting teach other! :) I have never seen such an amazing collection of high-end stores anywhere in the world. There I a lot of money in Shanghai… a LOT!

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We somehow managed to get to this lovely park only one subway stop away from our hotel. With not one word in English anywhere in sight, we were lucky to find our way,  thanks to a very helpful person who spoke pretty good English and was good at pointing the direction we should go.

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What a city of glass and steel! This metropolis houses 27 million people! We went to the top of the building on the lower left and saw an amazing city scape and enormous housing projects as far as you can see!


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And on to Dubai!  We had been invited to come there by a woman named Gina who has become a great friend. About three years ago she heard us give a talk in Dubai while we were on a speaking tour there, When we got to the part about creating a Family Mission Statement and How to Avoid the Entitlement Trap in our speech, she got a great idea. She happened to be in Tal’s church congregation in Switzerland and we got reconnected. Even though she has since moved to South Africa with her family, she is always anxious to get back to her home in Dubai and asked us to come back and help her do a presentation to a large group of friends who are part of  the Young  President’s group. How serendipity is that?

She thought it would e so fun to go into depth about specific ways to teach some family systems. She arranged for a working art gallery in Dubai for the event, where parents came with their kids to learn more about what it takes to create  a strong family. One of the projects for the day was a hands-on project to create their own Family Vision Statement on canvas!  A terrific collection of families came to enjoy the day.. The majority of the families were Muslims but there was also a fascinating variety of Jewish families, Christian families and Sikh families.

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Gina created a terrific questionnaire to help families interact in a fun way. Here’s a little closer look:

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 Richard created this diagram on canvas to create a visual for our message. It was such a fun day with some wonderful families!

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And here are some of the Family Vision Statement creations. Pretty good thinking after families put their heads together!

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                                                       And some of the cute kids that created them!

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The city of Dubai is DAZZLING!  Sort of Las Vegas on steroids with a lot of class. This is a three story fountain with sculpted divers everywhere “falling” down the massive wall. A dazzling sight accompanied by the sound of a gigantic waterfall.

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And here we are standing at the base of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, twinkling in the night. We’ve already been to the top so we enjoyed the dancing fountains which are about four times more elaborate than the ones at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. A fun night in Dubai. 
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One of the participants in the workshop who was there with his family is a man who is essentially one of the “Giants of the City.’ !  He and his family were the force behind creating a Sihk Temple in Dubai. He invited us to tour the temple the next morning which just happened to be Easter Sunday. We were delighted! Our new friend sent a car to pick us up at the hotel. There was a huge traffic jam on the way there, mostly cars returning from Christian churches which were also in the area had been unexpectedly been closed because of the horrific bombing at the coptic Christian church I Egypt recently and made authorities think that terrorist might choose another Christin church to bomb on Easter Sunday. When we walked in the door of the Sikh Temple this crowd was anxiously awaiting a special wedding ceremony. 
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It was hard getting around the crowd to the manager of the Temple who was waiting for us in his office. They dressed us appropriately and we were thrilled to observe that fascinating day at the Sihk Temple. We have always loved the beliefs of the Sihks and have grown to admire many fine Sikh families in our travels. 
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As we were being escorted through the rooms, we were led through a tiny room where, to our surprise, the beautiful bride sat in silence in her spectacular dress. Her hands are places on some sort of mat so that the gorgeous henna on her hands wouldn’t be smudged. We were a bit embarrassed to stumble on to her sitting but she welcomed us with a smile and was proud to sho off her beautiful hands. Actually I think it released a little of her tension surrounding her big day!

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The Sikhs have a strong tradition of love and kindness for everyone…any religion and any belief, including non-believers . Their temples are prepared to feed thousands of people every day at no charge. Usually this temple feeds about 2000 every weekday The previous weekend, they had served 17,000 people. The beautiful Golden Temple run by the Sikhs in Northern India feeds 70,000 people a day. People from all walks of life, sit on the floor and enjoy a simple meal together. We enjoyed some great Indian food and loved what we learned from our guide about these generous, gentle and unique people. It was a memorable Easter Sunday!

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                                    This is the size of the pots that are used to prepare the food…..

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And this is food that is simply dropped off every day by anonymous benefactors to add to the supplies to feed the crowds. It’s mind-blowing!

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Although there must be some, I’ve never talked to anyone in Dubai who didn’t really admire, appreciate and support the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed, the King of Dubai. He is such a grand example what a difference a just and compassionate ruler can make. The Dictator Assad comes to mind. He is the force behind all the amazing  robust economy of Dubai. Our driver told us that he drives his own car and doesn’t get mad at people who honk at him for going too slow. :) This plaque hangs in the hall of the Sikh Temple.

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The architecture is beyond description!  This is just.a tiny drop in the bucket of the thousands of buildings, all with creative architecture that abounds on every side in Dubai. Every time we go, there are a hundred more buildings finished or in process.

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There is not only one, but two “Chrysler-like” buildings in Dubai which are almost lost among the buildings that crowd the sky. 
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We drove out to The Palm Jumerirah which is a pretty unbelievable gigantic area of reclaimed land that juts out into the oceanin the shape of a Palm Tree. It was a monumental project created by the government, started in 2001 and opened in May 2009. It is actually earth moved to this space in the shape of a Palm. Go figure because I can’t. We drove up that “palm trunk” to the tip of the fronds and there we found Atlantis…the Hotel and Mall. Who imagined that how did they make it happen? Her it is on Google Earth. 
We walked through the Mega Mall there, which is beyond amazing! When we saw this shop in the mall, we knew that we were definitely in the land of DATES!

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One of the big attractions other than the Hotel and Mall itself, is a gigantic aquarium!  Richard found this nice chair where he could watch the wonders of the occupants of the beautiful blue water in comfort! 
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This is about as big a window to the underwater world as you could find in all the world although the one in the Singapore Aquarium rivals it.

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                                            This cute sting ray stopped by to give us a smile:  
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                                         This glass creation by Chihuli stands in the central lobby.
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There’s almost nothing that you can’t find here in this dazzling mall including one of our favorite restaurants.

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Needless to say we had a pretty exciting 72 hours here, The vast variety of cultures create a dazzling melting pot!  At the malls we were fascinated to see fully covered Muslim women with eyes peering out from slits in their black headscarves, with a couple of sun-bronzed Australian guys in T shirts and cargo shorts a few feet behind. I love it! 
We left this space-age looking airport excited to fly on to meet Charity and Ian and Moses in Moscow….coming next!  Congratulations if you made it to the end of this one. So much to record for this exciting trip!

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