Greetings from Delhi, India!

When I was leaving Boston’s Logan Airport at the beginning of my travel to India, an overly friendly TSA agent chatted me up, curious about my destination. When I mentioned I was going to India, he started with a litany of advice: “You’re going to get sick, so just accept it. The pickpockets are rampant; be careful.” The negative comments continued as I passed through the first checkpoint and moved to the conveyer belt, removing my shoes, scarf, and sweater. I nodded politely, wondering how I could get rid of him without delaying my transition through security. Yet as I took my laptop out of my bag, he said one thing that resonated: “Write down everything you hear, smell, and see, so you can remember it later.” Ah ha, I thought; now that’s good advice.

I’ve been thinking about that TSA agent since I arrived in Delhi on Sunday. This city is more alive for me than Mumbai. Most of my time in Mumbai was spent in a hotel, attending a conference and going to meetings. I met many committed, smart, welcoming Indian citizens who could not have been more gracious and enthusiastic. Since I am, after all, here on business, it was good to have time to connect with new colleagues and begin discussions about the possibility of my organization working in India. But I didn’t really get to know Mumbai at all. In Delhi, however, I had only a day of meetings, with a few other days open for sightseeing and exploring. I’m staying here a bit longer than my colleagues, in fact, just to see a bit of India.

Back to that TSA agent’s advice. What has been some of the sights and sounds of India that I hope to hold onto? Many of my observations, I’ve noted, have been steeped in contrast (the rich versus the poor here) and difference (that which is so not like home). To share a few…

*At lunch and dusk in Mumbai, when I was outside speaking with colleagues, I could hear the Muslim call to prayer echoing through the city streets. The sound was profound, moving, and clearly woven into the fabric of day to day life, regardless of religious beliefs.

*Yesterday, in an auto rickshaw—essentially a small green and yellow souped up moped with seats for the driver and passengers—traveling from one market to another, two small children approached. As one played a drum, the other danced, doing back flip after back flip, in the middle of traffic, until our driver shooed them away. The children, rail thin and bedraggled, were performing for money. They didn’t look more than nine and six years old. They—two of the thousands of such children in India—broke my heart.

*I learned to negotiate my way through the street markets. It’s exhausting, mind you; I don’t ever haggle when I go to the grocery or mall at home, but here it’s the way things are done. I got some good deals (I think) and many holiday gifts.

redshuttersinindia*Delhi feels different than Mumbai. While Mumbai is hot, chaotic, and intense, Delhi, India’s capital, is replete with bright green trees, purple bougainvillea, and sweet bushes of yellow flowers. The air is crisper here, a bit more breathable than Mumbai.

*Today, a small girl—five years old perhaps?—followed me down the street, trying to persuade me to purchase a ball-point pen. Her hair was messy, and her clothes were dirty. She looked to be the same age as my daughter—my daughter who is back home in the US. My daughter’s day will be very different than that little street girl’s: she will go to school, take a bath, and eat a healthy dinner. I will hug her tightly when I get home, feeling very grateful for the luck of fate that has given her a safer and healthier childhood.

*The hotel at which I am staying—The Imperial—is something out of the British Empire. With mahogany and brass everywhere, shiny marble floors, and artwork that captures the waning days of Great Britain’s rule here, I have felt that all I need is a long white dress and parasol, and I will fit right in.

*This week is Diwali, the Indian festival of lights “which signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair” (thanks Wikipedia). People celebrate by buying one another gifts, eating special foods, and decorating their homes and businesses. The traffic—already intense here—is a bit epic as a result, causing extra long commutes, according to locals.

*I indulged myself yesterday, getting an Ayurvedic massage at the hotel spa after my meetings. The treatment consisted of a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor who, after asking a series of questions and taking my pulse, adjusted my massage slightly and made food and drink recommendations (no melon or cold liquids, add leafy green vegetables and bitter foods, including chocolate, to my diet). The massage used special oils that were selected to help me relax and get in balance. It was decadent.

*As my colleague and I were driven to a business meeting today, we passed a rickshaw, piled high with children—about eight of them—in navy blue and white uniforms, going home from school. The rickshaw driver pedaled his way carefully through traffic, taking the children and their backpacks, which hung off hooks on either side, past honking cars and overcrowded vans. A very different kind of school bus.

*Lunch today was a crisp, delicious dosa, a meal I have had at home but never, ever this good. Dinner last night was Palak “Imperial,” a rich spinachy sauce over cheese, peas, and mushrooms served with rice. I will miss the food; it is so delectable.

This trip is a bit like an appetizer for an amazing meal that I won’t be able to eat all of now; I’ll have to come back at another time to finish up (i.e., see the rest of India).

As this post goes online I will be, fingers crossed, visiting the Taj Mahal and other sites in Agra. I can’t wait to tell you all about it!


Follow along here on Red Shutters and via social media (Twitter and Instagram) as I share my visit to India. Look for #redshuttersinindia to find news of my trip!

Conquering Your Kitchen Review

Annemarie Rossi, the blogger behind Real Food Real Deals, recently achieved one of the “holy grails” of blogging: she published a book! I was excited to receive a complimentary copy of her book — “Conquering Your Kitchen: How to plan meals, shop, and cook real food with confidence and purpose!” — to review. After reading it, though, I would have been just as pleased to have purchased it for myself — a high compliment.

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Namaste from Mumbai, India!

I’m happy to report that I arrived safely in Mumbai, India early Wednesday, around 12:30 AM India time. It was a 30-hour trip, starting from when my husband dropped me off at Logan Airport in Boston to when the flight touched down in India. I’ve had little sleep the past two days and I caught my daughter’s cold the day before I left, so I am not feeling like my best self. Regardless, I am thrilled to be here.

The trip was, despite its distance, surprisingly easy. I flew on British Airways from Boston to London, changing for a second flight to Mumbai. The flights were on time—early even in the case of the Boston to London flight. My luggage arrived with me. The driver arranged by the conference organizers was waiting for me outside the arrivals door at the airport, and he brought me to my hotel safely. While I’m not sure what time I got to my room, I fell asleep around 2:30 AM.

I woke up to a hazy day; the sky is overcast in Mumbai, a phenomenon that can be attributed to the pollution here. More than 20 million people live in Mumbai, which is nearly the same amount as live in all of Australia. Mumbai is the financial capital of India and home to Bollywood, India’s very own version of Hollywood.

I’m reading a great book about India while on this trip: “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found” by Suketu Mehta, an Indian expat living in the US. It’s all about modern-day Mumbai, from politics and crime to sanitation and poverty. Heartbreaking and disturbing, it’s giving me a better understanding of this metropolis than I would have gleaned from my guidebook and the quick forays I’ll be taking around the city. I highly recommend reading a book or books about the place you’re visiting while there.

This morning, I grabbed a quick breakfast at my hotel and then set off in a taxi through the city and down Marine Drive (passing by a cricket game in progress!) to check out the Gateway of India, a monument in South Mumbai built by the British to commemorate a 1911 visit to India by King George V and Queen Mary. The Gateway, an arch that overlooks the Arabian Sea, is a busy spot for tourists. It was very crowded when I arrived, and I was approached many times by people selling ferry rides, postcards, tours, and blessings. I didn’t stay very long but managed to grab some quick pictures before heading into the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel across the street for tea.


The Taj Hotel in Mumbai

My guidebook advised not missing out on tea at the Taj, and I’ll agree it was well worth it. I sat in the quiet and serene Sea Lounge, overlooking the Arabian Sea, drinking a truly delicious pot of the hotel’s special blend of tea. I might have stayed all day if given the chance. But the urge to explore beckoned so off I went!

My destination was Kala Ghoda, the arts district of the city. The map indicated (or so I thought) it was about four or five blocks away. Well, I got turned around and ended up someplace else, a residential area. Thanks to my trusty Google maps app (yes, my iPhone works here!), I found my way to Kala Ghoda. I didn’t mind getting lost – it seemed like a right of passage for this traveler – and I did not feel unsafe. When I finally arrived at Kala Ghoda, however, I was in for a surprise: I hadn’t realized that, since it was Election Day, all of the museums were closed. By this time, I was fairly worn out, so I grabbed a taxi to return to my hotel. There I took a swim in the pool, and did some work in my hotel room before turning in for the night, jet lag having set in something fierce.

It was a fairly low-key day for me; normally, I like to explore and see many things when I am in a new place. But Mumbai is intense – and I needed to take care of me. Today, the conference I am here to attend begins, and I need to have to be able to engage and participate.

Other observations from my first day in India:

  1. It is hot here. Hot. Hot like Florida in August when the humidity is 250%. When I returned to my hotel after being outside for several hours, I looked like I had been in a rainstorm I was so flushed and sweaty from the weather. The residents of Mumbai, however, didn’t look like they were sweating at all, despite being in long pants and shirts or saris (people don’t wear shorts here unless they are in the gym).
  1. The extremes of Mumbai are unsettling. My hotel is attached to a swanky shopping mall where you can pick up a Chanel suit or a $1,000 handbag. Yet, around the corner and along my taxi rides, I saw the decrepit places people live. When my taxi stopped at a red light, a pretty little girl in a pink dress ran up to the window, begging for money and chocolate. I gave her 10 rupees, which is about 16 cents in the US. And then I felt bad all the way back that I hadn’t given her more. The discrepancy between wealth and poverty here is, in some ways, unbelievable.
  1. The women are dressed in the most beautiful saris! It really is such a pleasure to see their brightly colored textiles. And they looked much cooler than me in my cotton t-shirts and jeans!
  1. People have been friendly, welcoming, and helpful. I haven’t felt unsafe, though I wouldn’t walk around by myself at night, especially since I so easily got turned about today.

Mumbai, so far, feels familiar and yet completely unknown. Familiar in that it reminds me of other developing countries I’ve visited, with their unnerving juxtaposition of explosive growth and desperate inequity. And, yet, the language, customs, and geography are unfamiliar and I am so clearly not of this place.

I am always awed in new places – especially this one – by how vast the world is beyond me, how I can fly 7600 miles away and be someplace so different from where I am from. There’s a responsibility in that, too. A responsibility to honor that which is unique about this place and take that knowledge with me, so I might be a better global citizen, a better steward of the resources I so abundantly have, and a better parent to the children I hope to raise to be kind and open to others.

Ah, I’m philosophical in the midst of my jet lag! More soon, I hope, about the rest of my trip.


Follow along here on Red Shutters and via social media (Twitter and Instagram) as I share my visit to India. Look for #redshuttersinindia to find news of my trip!

Sticking it with Kidecals

The other day as I emptied the dishwasher (one of my most favorite household chores ever), I pulled out my daughter’s water bottle, the one she uses for school each day, from the top rack. I noticed the name tag I had placed along the bottom, made with my label maker at the start of the school year, had started to peel off after only eight weeks of use.

This was an annoyance, of course, as those water bottles—the cost of which always surprises me—have a habit of going missing (and usually it’s the brand-new ones that are hardest to keep track of). Those labels are my insurance against the water bottle’s permanent exile to the bottom of the lost and found closet at my kids’ elementary school.

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3 Tips to Help Kids when Parents Travel

business_travel_and_family.jpgI’m leaving today for India!

As I have been preparing for this trip, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my family will do in my absence. My husband is a capable, hands-on parent and will do fine. Plus, my mom, thankfully, arrived yesterday to stay for two weeks to help out, and my mother-in-law has offered to pitch in, so I am confident everyone will eat, wear clean clothes, and get to school on time. But that doesn’t mean my being away will go unnoticed. Having a change in the routine—and having mom or dad far away—can be unsettling to little ones.

For my family, the 10 days of my trip will the longest we’ve ever been separated, and I know I will miss them a lot. I know they’ll miss me. When I went on a business trip this past summer, my kids had a hard time. There were lots of tears. There was clinginess. There was sadness. So, this time, I resolved to handle everyone’s emotions and worries better, implementing three techniques to make my business travel smooth and (hopefully) stress-free:

  1. Prepare – This was my lesson from my summer business trip: I didn’t prepare the kids enough; I sort of sprung the trip on them a few days before I left in an effort to not cause any upset. This unexpectedness led to confusion and upset, so, this time, my husband and I have been talking about “Mommy’s trip” for a few weeks. We’ve been answering a lot of questions (Where is India? How far away is it? What will you do there? When do you go?). I even practiced the presentation I’ll be delivering at a conference in Mumbai in front of them, though it was sort of disastrous (little kids don’t want to sit through a PowerPoint presentation). I may have taken the preparations a bit too far with that one.
  1. Track – I turned our family calendar into a “Mommy’s trip countdown.” I noted when I’m leaving, when I will be away, and when I will return. I reviewed the dates with the kids and let them draw pictures on the calendar (witches, for Halloween, were popular). We’ve reviewed the calendar frequently together, crossing off the days as they slip past, and it’s been a good way to address any questions they have about our separation. I also placed the calendar at their eye-level, and I’ve observed the two of them reviewing it together, counting the days I will be away.
  1. Surprise – The other night I packed 20 small gifts for the kids, one for each child for each day I’m away. They are small items – stickers, lollipops, crayons, blank notebooks for drawing and writing stories, a “coupon” for me to take them out for frozen yogurt when I get home, and the like – designed to distract them from being sad about my being away and to remind them that, no matter, the distance, I am always thinking of them.

So far, so good. The kids seem fine with my trip. In fact, I’ve been the one who has been the most stressed out (I had so much to do before I left!), and that’s how I’d prefer it.

Follow along here on Red Shutters and via social media (Twitter and Instagram) as I share my visit to India. Look for #redshuttersinindia to find news of my trip!

What vaccines do I need to travel to India?

I’ve traveled a fair bit in my life, most especially in the days before kids, and each adventure I’ve had has required advance preparations. For my upcoming trip to India, that preparation included a visit to the travel clinic to figure out what vaccines (and other medications) I would need to travel to India.

Boston, fortunately, has a number of helpful travel clinics, which are specialized medical offices that are staffed with infectious disease professionals. These doctors and nurses are well versed in the steps that need to be taken to stay healthy when traveling in countries with different infrastructure, climates, and endemic diseases.

medicineUpon my arrival to the clinic, which was located in one of Boston’s many teaching hospitals, I completed a questionnaire that asked about destination, travel dates, and duration of stay. The doctor also needed to know what environment I’d be in (rural versus urban) and the purpose of my trip. After a brief wait (there is always a wait at the doctor’s office!), I met with the doctor who, based upon the information I provided and my answers to additional questions, recommended a number of medicines and vaccines, including the typhoid vaccine and malaria prophylaxis. He also gave me a tetanus booster since I couldn’t remember the last time I had received one, though I was confident it hadn’t been within the last 10 years, and a flu shot. He wrote me a prescription for two different antibiotics in case I get a GI bug while in India, and he sent me off with tips for eating and drinking while in country (e.g., avoid ice and raw food and don’t drink the water, among other tips).

The travel clinic appointment was fairly straightforward. What was trickier was the health insurance related to the appointment and prescriptions. My health insurance doesn’t cover travel-related vaccinations, so whether or not any of my clinic visit, since it related to the vaccinations, will be covered is uncertain. The guidelines were unclear, so I’m crossing my fingers that it means it’s covered. The typhoid vaccine was not covered, and, for that, I paid the $71 cost out-of-pocket (with reimbursement pending from my employer since this is a work trip). I explained to my health insurance company’s representative that the cost of hospitalizing me if I contracted typhoid would far exceed the costs of the vaccine, but there wasn’t anything they could do. The plan guidelines are not flexible. Surprisingly, even though there’s no malaria in New England, that prescription was covered, along with the antibiotics. Each plan is different, of course, so if you’re planning to visit a travel clinic, it’s best to contact your health insurance company with coverage inquiries.

What’s more amazing—and heart wrenching—is that for the poor and uninsured, such expenses—any medical expenses—are burdensome. I take for granted that I can pay these costs and not think twice about the money: it’s more important to stay healthy than it is to worry about the lack of coverage. I imagine I’d feel differently if the vaccine had been more than $71. Perhaps. I did read up on typhoid, and after doing so, I would have forked over even more money to avoid contracting it.

I felt similarly about the malaria medicine. When the doctor showed me a map of India to illustrate how extensive malaria was, the entire country was highlighted. His solution was to write me a prescription and provide instructions for taking the drug so I’d stay healthy. How many people in India can afford the same medications? And, have such easy access? I hope to learn more about these inequities during my trip.

Follow along here on Red Shutters and via social media (Twitter and Instagram) as I share my visit to India. Look for #redshuttersinindia to find news of my trip!

Photo credit: psyberartist via photopin cc

Visiting King Richard’s Faire

“This is awesome.”

So said my son as he turned around from the jousting show at King Richard’s Faire this weekend. He was dazzled by the knights on horseback re-enacting a competition for King Richard and his court. The knights raced back and forth across the field, brandishing swords and charging at one another. My son’s favorite was the knight clad in yellow and gold; he looked bold and tough, he explained. “He’s the coolest, Mom.”

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Red Shutters in India

What’s on your to do list this week?

Mine looks a little like this:

  1. Take last dose of typhoid vaccine.
  2. Finish book club book (we’re reading “The Dress Lodger”).
  3. Add reminder to take malaria prophylaxis to calendar.
  4. Purchase 230 Volts/50 Hz electrical adapter.
  5. Backup phone.
  6. Purchase tickets for Halloween carnival at kids’ school.
  7. Backup laptop.
  8. Charge camera.
  9. Laundry.
  10. Practice PowerPoint presentation.
  11. Make sure international calling plan is set up correctly.
  12. Update family calendar for the next three weeks.
  13. Clean out email.
  14. Buy new black pants.
  15. Pack.

Was it the mention of typhoid and malaria that tipped you off? If so, perhaps you guessed—correctly, I might add!—that I’m soon to be off on a trip. A BIG TRIP.

This time next week, I’ll be on the plane to India, traveling more than 7,600 miles from home.


Fingers crossed that I will make it to the Taj Mahal next week!

My trip will be a total of 10 days, including travel time. I’ll be in Mumbai and Delhi, with, hopefully, a side trip to the Taj Mahal. I’m going for work, speaking at a conference and meeting with colleagues about possible collaborations.

I’ve traveled a fair bit, but I have never been to India. I am VERY excited, as it’s always been on my travel wish list. I’m also a little apprehensive, though: this trip will be the longest I’ll have been separated from my husband and kids. That will be hard. But the trip is a great opportunity for me to stretch out of my professional comfort zone, so off I’m going.

Verizon Wireless tells me my phone will work in India, so look for updates via social media, and, if I am lucky, a blog post here and there. I’m starting a hashtag for the trip, #redshuttersinindia. Keep an eye out for me!

Photo credit: Norma Desmond via photopin cc

A Trip to the Zoo

A few weeks ago, a package arrived at my house filled with, according to my kids, the coolest back-to-school items ever: new sneakers. And, not just any new sneakers: the Trip to the Zoo sneakers, a new collection from New Balance. The kids were thrilled! They loved the bright colors, and the way the sneakers made them run faster (that’s what they said at least).

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I believe in magic

“Mama, today is the day that Sonia is going to show me the way to the magic portal.”

R and I were walking to school last week, days before my small boy celebrated his seventh birthday, when he brought up an event he was anxiously awaiting. His classmate, an adorable little redheaded girl, had promised she would show him this portal. He had mentioned it several times over the previous few days—a clear sign of his excitement.

“What’s through the portal?” I inquired.

“A magical world,” he replied confidently.

“I hope you won’t stay there for too long,” I said. “I’ll miss you.”

“I won’t,” he answered. “You can get stuck if you go when there’s a tornado, but I won’t do that.”

I nodded and squeezed his hand, even though I had no idea what the tornado meant.

“Mama,” he said, looking up at me. “Mama, I believe in magic.”

It’s moments like this that I understand the phrase “my heart swelled.” Because it did. Truly. I thought it might burst through my chest, in fact. The expression on his face was a mix of hope, excitement, and innocence. In other words, all of the beautiful qualities that parents want their children to have at this age.

“That’s good,” I said. “There are many things in life that are magical and wonderful.”

We arrived at school. He let go of my hand and ran onto the playground, looking for an empty swing, the prize for early arrivals. I helped G, his sister, get settled on her swing, and then I noticed him back on the path, hopping from foot to foot.

“Mama, do you see Sonia?”

“No, honey, maybe she’s not here yet.”

His face scrunched up with anticipation.

More children arrived on the playground, but R didn’t spy Sonia. Soon the bell rang, and the school day began. I kissed R and G good-bye, wondering about the magical world Sonia had in store for my son. I concluded that, for my first grader, the magical world was unlikely to be a euphemism for that anything that would cause me to worry. (Had he been a teenager, I may have though differently.)


He may be a seven-year-old now, but once upon a time, he was my baby.

“I believe in magic.”

I thought about his statement all day. How powerful his belief was. And, how fragile. When would he no longer believe? Or, would he hold onto that feeling for many years to come? Perhaps, as we age, we see magic differently. No longer do we pine for the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus, choosing to find wonder differently: in a loved one or in a stunning sunset, in a chance meeting or in unexpected good news, in a sparkling waterfall or in a baby’s first steps.

Later that day, when we reunited after full days of school and work, I asked R how the trip through the magic portal had gone.

“Oh, it was nothing,” he explained, his eyes downcast. “She just had me walk around a tree 22 times. And nothing happened!”

I bit my lip from laughing. This was likely not the last time he’d misunderstand a girl.

“Sorry, love.”

He shrugged and went off to play with his Legos, not mentioning it again.

For him, magic may be around the tree, but for me, R and his sister are my magic, my wonder. It’s times like the passing of their birthdays when I am struck by that realization and try to pause to remember it, keeping in mind that I, too, believe in magic.