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I didn’t expect to be able to do this week’s Zentangle Diva challenge because Mr. and Mrs. Excitement are traveling in Ecuador this week. It turned out I had more free time than I thought. More about that later.

The Diva challenged us to do a tile acknowledging Moebius Syndrome Awareness Day. Her seven year old son was born with this very rare congenital syndrome. He has faced many challenges in his young life, but is thriving.

I have done the Moebius Syndrome challenge in other years when I had a printer available. Thus, I was able to print myself a template for the Moebius symbol which is beyond my power to deconstruct.

Purple is the color chosen by the Foundation working to support those affected by a Moebius Syndrome diagnosis. This was my tile for last year’s Moebius Syndrome challenge:
For this year’s Moebius Syndrome Awareness Day challenge, I found myself in the Quito, Ecuador airport with a lot of time on my hands.

I had a purple pen, so I decided to “write” on my Moebius Syndrome Awareness tile. The tangle Sand Swirl on this tile is supposed to represent the Andes mountains visible from the Quito Airport, but if you want to think it represents the sea—hey, it’s a free country or something like that.

Mr. Excitement’s perennial New Year’s resolution is to be more patient. His first test came at the Quito International Airport.

As we set out on our three week trip to Ecuador and Colombia which involves nine airplane flights, I mentioned to Mr. E. that after two years of staggeringly good flying juju, we were “due” for one of “those days”.

Our first 12 hour travel day which included flights from Philadelphia to Miami and from Miami to Quito, Ecuador went off without a hitch.

We spent the night at the Wyndham hotel at the Quito airport so we would be close by for our 12:30 pm flight the following day. When we checked into the Wyndham, the desk clerk asked me about our itinerary for the following day. I told her we we would be flying to Cuenca, Ecuador on TAME Airlines, Ecuador’s national carrier. She rolled her eyes. I didn’t interpret that as a good sign, but my anxiety was washed away when we turned on the TV in our room and found the Philadelphia Eagles vs. Minnesota Vikings championship game. It was the third quarter. Amazingly, the score was 31 t0 7 and the Eagles were winning! (They won 38-7, in case you’re interested in American football.)

Not something I expected to see on TV in our Quito Airport hotel room. Eagles Quarterback Nick Foles, looking at the crib sheet on his wrist to know what play to call next. #FlyEaglesFly

That night, I tried to check in online for our flight. The message was that I could not sign in. Hmmmm. I rechecked the itinerary I received from the airline: right day, and a record locator code. We decided to we would give ourselves some extra time to check in at the airport – just in case.

When we arrived at the airport, I tried to sign in at the TAME kiosk and received the message, “No tenemos esta reserva.” Translation: We do not have this reservation. Not good.

We found our way to the TAME Airlines check in counter. I speak Spanish. The following is a translation of what happened:

ME: [Handing the desk agent a copy of the email confirming our flight information with our record locator code]. We were unable to sign in at the kiosk. It said our reservation couldn’t be located.

DESK AGENT: [Punching some information into her computer terminal. Frowning. Yelling over to her supervisor]. We have another one.  Same situation as those other people.

DESK AGENT TO ME: This is wrong. Your flight is for 7:30 tonight.

ME: But, but, but it says 12:30. We never received any notification from the airline about a change. The flight is still listed as on time on Flight Tracker.

DESK AGENT AND SUPERVISOR: How did you make this reservation?

ME: On the airline’s internet site.

SUPERVISOR:  Were you in the United States when you made the reservation?

ME: Yes.

SUPERVISOR: [Shrugging his shoulders, but at least looking a little embarrassed.] It seems the airline didn’t notify any passengers who reserved the flight from the website in the United States about the cancellation of the 12:30 flight and the change to 7:30 PM.

I looked at my watch. It was 11:20 AM. We only had to wait for 8 hours.

At least there’s a nice view from the Quito Airport.

Of course, I bemoaned our fate on Facebook. Our son posted that there were 3 lounges we could use in the Quito, Ecuador Airport thanks to our Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card. I was concerned embarrassed I had forgotten about this perk even though I published a post extolling the credit card’s virtues less than 2 weeks ago.

We found the lounge in our terminal. Good wifi. Coffee. Tea. Snacks. Time to write. Time to tangle. Did I mention snacks?

The good news: Our flight left on time. It was only a 40 minute flight. Our suitcases weren’t lost. It was a short taxi ride from the Cuenca Airport to our hotel. And, there was this outside my plane window as we descended through the clouds into Cuenca.

Why I always choose the window seat.

But, if you ask me about TAME Airlines…….I will roll my eyes.

How’s your flying karma?
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I still remember when I applied for my first credit card, definitely not a Chase Sapphire Reserve card. It was from the now defunct Strawbridges department store in Philadelphia. I was a newly minted lawyer and needed to purchase a lawyerly winter coat. I was still using the one I had from the frozen tundra of Williams College in the Berkshire Mountains of northwestern Massachusetts. I didn’t think I should show up at court looking like Nanook of the North. As a 26 year old “girl” lawyer in 1980, I figured I needed all the gravitas I could muster.

Williams College before the first snow of winter.

The coat I had my eye on cost $60.00, a not inconsequential amount when one’s yearly salary was $16,000. I had the money, but I didn’t want to walk around Philadelphia with $60 of cash in my wallet. I filled out the application and was rejected!! Although I had dutifully paid off a college loan of $500 at $25 per month, the reason for the rejection was that I didn’t have a credit history.

That was then. Now I receive entreaties to apply for credit cards every day—by snail mail, by email, by social media and by phone. Now we even receive credit card advice from our 30 year old travel blogger son. We’ve been very happy with his latest suggestion, the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card.

If you don’t do a fair amount of travel every year, you should stop reading here (but you might enjoy reading about how we adopted our dog, Dino.) If you do use a credit card for travel, enjoy the cute photo and then scroll down.

Gratuitous photo of my loves, Dino and Mr. Excitement. (Not necessarily in that order).

The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card has a hefty annual fee of $450.00 for the primary card holder and $75 for an authorized associate card holder. I admit, my first reaction was — no thanks. But, after getting more into the weeds, I realized the card was perfect for us for the following reasons:

  • If you use the card to spend $4,000 in the first three months (on any type of purchases), 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points are credited to your account. 50,000 points are worth $750 for travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards travel services.
  • Each year, you receive a credit of $300 as reimbursement for travel related expenses.
  • You will be reimbursed for the $100 Global Entry application fee or $85 for the TSA Precheck application fee.
  • You earn 3x as many points as the dollar amount spent on travel or dining expenses. Even something like parking is considered a “travel” expense.
  • Chase points are transferable one to one for various travel loyalty programs.
  • For travel purchased using the card, there is decent travel cancellation and interruption insurance.
  • Coverage for car rental collision damage waiver.
  • You get a Priority Pass membership card which grants you and a guest entry to lounges in over 1,000 airports. (We were able to use this recently to wait for our flight in comfort with complimentary food, beverages and wifi in Mexico City’s international airport.); and,
  • No conversion or transaction fees for purchases in international currencies.
  • Travel and Emergency Assistance Services.
  • Extended Warranty coverage for purchases.
  • Purchase Protection in cases where services or products are not received or are deficient.

So, why am I giving a megabank like Chase, free “ink”? First, I can recommend this product from personal experience. Second, enlightened personal interest. If you apply for, are approved for, and open a Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card account using our link, Mr. and Mrs. Excitement are credited with 10,000 Chase reward points which will prove to Mr. Excitement that I can help earn my keep.

Note: At the risk of sounding parental, IMHO credit cards should be treated as convenience cards and paid off each month.

Any questions? What has been your experience with “travel” credit cards?
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Disclosure: My Context Travel Philadelphia walking tour was complimentary with the understanding that I am free to base my report on my own honest observations and opinions.

Having enjoyed Context Travel walking tours in Rome, Italy; Edinburgh, Scotland; and Mexico City, I jumped at the chance to do my fourth Context Travel walking tour in Philadelphia, my home city, even on a cold December day.

I was happy to learn that the tour, Colonial City in Context, would include a stop at Benjamin Franklin’s grave which I first visited in 1963. I’ve been a Philadelphia history geek, nerd, devotee ever since I was assigned to do a school report about Benjamin Franklin in fourth grade. My father took me to visit many historical sites associated with Philadelphia’s most famous “Renaissance man”. (We prefer not to mention the pesky factoid that he was actually born in Boston as he had the good sense to flee leave there at the age of 17 in 1723).

Context Travel’s (Very) Small Group Walking Tours

Our Context Travel docent, John Bright, explaining the colonial era box pews in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia.

Context Travel’s small group walking tours are designed for the “intellectually curious”. In my experience, most “small group” tours limit participation to 12-15 participants. Context Travel walking tour groups are limited to only six which greatly enhances the opportunity for interaction with the masters and Ph.D. level docents (guides), and with other group members.

The chemistry of every tour group is different and can contribute or detract from a tour experience. I have enjoyed interacting with the other participants on my Context Travel tours. They have their own interesting backgrounds, are engaged, and ask good questions.

Our docent, John Bright, was uniquely qualified to guide us in our “Colonial City in Context” tour through Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood. John holds a masters degree in religion. For his “day job”, he works for the Christ Church Preservation Trust, the group charged with preserving and conserving the historic Christ Church where many of the Founding Fathers of the United States worshiped and are buried.

William Penn’s Philadelphia

We met John in front of City Tavern, a reconstruction of the original 1773 tavern. City Tavern was frequented by many of the Founding Fathers of the United States who were far from their home colonies when they met in Philadelphia for the first Continental Congress in 1774. John Adams of Massachusetts called it “the most genteel tavern in America”.

Directly across the street from City Tavern is Welcome Park, an open air museum mostly dedicated to telling the story of Pennsylvania and  Philadelphia’s founding by William Penn in 1682.

Welcome Park has a detailed explanatory time line chronicling William Penn’s somewhat unlikely life path given that he was the son of a wealthy British admiral. He was expelled from Oxford University for “religious non-conformity” when he became devoted to the Quaker religion and spent time in an English prison for his beliefs.

John explained that Penn was unique among the founders of other British North American colonies. Although the other colonies were also formed by groups fleeing religious persecution in Britain, once they were in charge, they brooked no dissension from their religious beliefs. Those who didn’t conform were subject to expulsion and worse. In contrast, Penn set forth in Pennsylvania’s founding documents that all monotheists would be welcome in Pennsylvania regardless of their manner of worship and specific beliefs.

William Penn’s 1683 Plan for Philadelphia (Arrow points to what is now Rittenhouse Square)

Penn intended Philadelphia to be a planned community. Having witnessed London’s 1665 bubonic plague outbreak and the Great London Fire of 1666, he wanted Philadelphia to be a “greene country towne” rather than a crowded, fetid city like the London of his day. In 1683, he produced a plan, laying out a grid of streets and parks between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. Building lots were to have garden spaces. Penn’s plan can be viewed laid out on the ground of Welcome Park.

Today, as the fifth largest city in the United States, Center City Philadelphia has the cheek to jowl skyscrapers common in most United States’ cities. However, Penn’s plan can still be appreciated in the many blocks of low-rise residences on leafy Center City streets. Indeed, four of Penn’s designated parks survive, including the one where I live, Rittenhouse Square.

Colonial Philadelphia and Religious Tolerance

As far as I can determine from my travels and from my study of history, human beings seem hard wired  to revert to tribalism, often with tragic results.

Many of the American colonies were founded by people fleeing religious persecution in their home countries. However, once they were in charge, they also imposed strict doctrinal orthodoxy on anyone wanting to live among them. (I’m looking at you Puritans of Massachusetts). Therefore, it is truly a testament to William Penn’s vision and leadership that a degree of tolerance for religious differences survived in Pennsylvania (and Philadelphia) throughout the colonial era from 1683 until the American colonies declared independence from Great Britain in 1776.

The Continental Congresses that debated, wrote and adopted the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the United States’ Constitution (1787), met in Penn’s City of Brotherly Love. His principles of “religious freedom” and the separation of the “state” from the religious beliefs and practices of the governed were enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights amendments to the United States Constitution.

Colonial Philadelphia’s Houses of Worship

John took us to visit non-Quaker colonial era churches of different denominations still standing and in use today in Philadelphia’s Old City. These are bricks and mortar evidence that William Penn, and those Penn left in charge of colonial Philadelphia, did for the most part, actually practice what they preached about religious tolerance.

Old Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church on Willings Alley (1733)

Leaving Welcome Park, we walked south a few blocks on 2nd Street to Willings Alley, an unassuming, narrow cobblestone street. The entrance to the church is a narrow passageway off the street. John explained that notwithstanding the promise of religious freedom in William Penn’s Charter of Privileges for Pennsylvania, it was thought better not to advertise the presence of a Popish place of worship in largely Protestant colonial Philadelphia.

Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church (1761)

The colonial era burial ground outside Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia.

We continued to walk south to Pine Street where the colonial era Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church stands at the corner of 3rd and Pine Streets. Although Penn’s Quakers fled to Pennsylvania to escape the tyranny of the Anglican Church of England, members of that denomination were free to build their houses of worship in colonial Philadelphia. (The Anglican Church in America became Episcopalian in 1789).

Saint Peter’s has retained the box pews that were in vogue when the church was built. Surrounded by its graveyard with 18th century graves, Saint Peter’s remains a very active church known today for its forward thinking, inclusive congregation.

Physick and Powel Houses

Unfortunately, we were unable to visit the Physick and Powel Houses in Society Hill Philadelphia which were closed the day of our tour. However, John walked us by them and took a few minutes to explain their architectural styles. and the lives of their significant owners. (Physick House – a Federal Style free-standing city mansion owned by a prominent physician.  Powell House: a Georgian row house, formerly the home of Philadelphia’s last colonial mayor and first mayor after independence. It was used by the British during their occupation of Philadelphia in 1778).

Carpenters’ Hall

As we walked back to the area that is today part of Independence National Historical Park, John had us duck into Carpenters’ Hall, the site of the First Continental Congress in 1774. We appreciated the chance to warm up as we learned that Carpenters’ Hall was still under construction in 1774 as the home of the Carpenters’ Company. Founded in 1724, the Carpenters’ Company is the oldest still operating trade guild in the United States.

John explained that in colonial times, “carpenters” encompassed all the building trades, including architects. The building, constructed in the popular symmetrical Georgian style, served as an advertisement for the trades that built it.

The front of Carpenter’s Hall, Independence National Historical Park. (Photo credit: Beyond My Ken, CC Lic. 4.0 Internat’l).

Colonial Philadelphia “Downtown”

We left Carpenters’ Hall and continued north to Christ Church, walking through what was then the commercial and governmental hub of colonial era Philadelphia.

John pointed out the Museum of the American Revolution, opened in April of 2017. I have already visited the Museum, but I need a return visit as mine was interrupted by a power failure.

We walked through the land on which Benjamin Franklin’s House once stood. Instead of a reconstruction, just the outline of the home’s superstructure is there. The site houses a relatively new museum about Benjamin Franklin, still revered as one of Philadelphia’s most influential residents.

Franklin Court contains an operating U.S. post office. Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster general in the American colonies. As we stood outside the Post Office, on what is today Market Street, between 3rd and 4th Streets, John explained that during colonial times, the official name was High Street. However, even in colonial times, it was popularly known as Market Street because it was a major market area.

The original Philadelphia City Hall was located there. Philadelphia was an important international port during the colonial era and the area was also convenient to the docks along the Delaware River. While today a view of the Delaware River at that location is obscured by buildings and Interstate 95, John pointed out that in colonial times one would have walked right onto High Street from the busy Delaware River docks as did Benjamin Franklin when he first arrived in Philadelphia by ship from Boston (via New York) in 1723.

Christ Church and Burial Ground

Given his position with the Christ Church Preservation Trust, John was understandably most animated as we approached Christ Church.

Cbrist Church in Old City Philadelphia. Its 1754 wooden steeple was the tallest structure in the British American colonies for 56 years.

John explained that though technically founded in 1695, the current Christ Church building was mainly constructed between 1727 and 1744. Rising to a height of 196 feet, the Christ Church steeple was constructed in 1754. For 56 years, it was the tallest construction in the colonial America and then the United States.

Although Christ Church doesn’t have as many remaining box pews as Saint Peter’s Church, John ushered us into the preserved Presidential box occupied by George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. This is a goose bump producing experience for history geeks. As I sat there in a history induced reverie, John explained more about the church’s Georgian architecture and pointed out the baptismal font where William Penn was christened which is on loan to the Church.

John explained that the graves under the floor of the church and around the church are people important to the church rather than necessarily to the nation although several founding fathers and generals are buried there.

John then walked us over to the Christ Church Burial Ground. As is often the case with old churches, at the time the burial ground was opened up, it was on the outskirts of the city. Today, it is on the edge of the National Independence Historical Park.

The Christ Church Burial Ground at 5th and Arch Streets in colonial Philadelphia. Over 4,000 people are buried in this small area in stacked graves, including 5 signers of the Declaration of Independence.

The marble used for gravestones in colonial Philadelphia has not withstood the test of time and most of the graves in the Christ Church Burial Ground have unreadable headstones. However, John explained that thanks to a 19th century survey and historical research, many of those buried there have been identified. John was able to walk us around and point out the graves of leading historical figures, including 5 signers of the Declaration of Independence. Given the size of the Burial Ground, it is hard to believe that over 4,000 people are buried there. John explained the method of stacked burials during the colonial era which allowed for highly efficient use of the space.

We ended our visit to the historical Christ Church Burial Ground next to the unassuming grave of Benjamin Franklin and his wife, Deborah. The flat slab gravestone is covered with pennies, like the one my father gave me to place there in 1963.

The simple grave of Benjamin and Deborah Franklin covered with pennies left by visitors.

Arch Street Meeting House of the Society of Friends

Close by to the Christ Church Burial Ground is the Arch Street Meeting House of the Society of Friends. The main part of the Meeting House on the site was constructed between 1803 and 1805 on land that William Penn deeded to the Society of Friends in 1701. John explained the lack of gravestones by the fact that Quakers do not believe in ostentatious displays even in death. I admit to a bit of a shiver beyond that caused by the cold as I thought about what lay under our feet.

Should You Take the Context Travel Walking Tour: Colonial City in Context?

Our Colonial City in Context tour ended an hour later than scheduled as John was determined that we be able to visit and learn about Philadelphia colonial era landmarks. As a Philadelphia native, some of the history we covered was familiar to me, but I still had a learning experience. Over lunch after the tour, two other tour participants from Houston and Atlanta told me they were glad they had taken the tour as it really added to their appreciation of Philadelphia’s place in the history of the United States.

If you are interested in colonial American history and architecture, you will appreciate this tour. You should be able to stand and walk for at least 3 hours. The walking was mostly over city streets and the tour should be considered handicapped accessible.

Although the tour is half a day, you will be introduced to historical venues to which you might want to return on your own, e.g., the Powel and Physick houses, the Franklin Court Museum and the Museum of the American Revolution.

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An early December snow on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia is helping me get in a holiday mood.

This holiday gift guide is a little self indulgent in that I’ve chosen three of my own “favorite things” as areas in which to recommend gifts for you. So, if you were wondering what present to give me…… Nah, seriously I have pretty much everything I need — and then some.

Children’s Books

My younger sisters Some people think I was a geeky child. My favorite type of gift to receive was books. To be sure, we weren’t talking high brow literature. A book from the Nancy Drew mystery series would be devoured and then promptly traded with friends for another in the series.

Snuggling with our sons for bedtime reading was one of my favorite parenting memories, even reading Goodnight Moon for the gadzillionth time.

Most Baby Boomers no longer have offspring who are bedtime story reading age, but many of us have grandchildren or borrow other people’s grandchildren to read to. The following children’s books are definitely bedtime snuggling reads:

I recently received a review copy of I have a Grandma who… . Receiving this book just after returning to Philly from Mexico helped catapult me out of my post trip funk to write about holiday gift ideas. This  charming book is a perfect gift for grandmothers to buy to read with their grandchildren. 

This book, written for children ages 2 to 10, is an inspired vehicle for grandma-grandchild bonding. (I’ll be holding onto my copy for the day either of our sons who aren’t getting any younger bless us with a grandchild no pressure. ) 

As one might imagine, the author, Rosemary Zibart, and illustrator, Valori Herzlich, are grandmothers. However, I’m pretty sure they’re not little old lady, rocking chair grandmothers. The lively grandmothers portrayed in their book paint, cook, bike, sing, dance, swim, explore, and repair things, just to mention a few of the activities done by the grandmas in this 29 page paperback.

The illustrations are artful and lively, and the text will no doubt inspire intergenerational conversations and ideas for future joint activities.

Ten year olds will probably be able to read the text to their grandmas, but they might have to ask: “Grandma, who is Julia Child?” Who is Picasso? What’s a diva?” I used to love sneaking in a little “education” into our fun reading time.

The grandmothers portrayed in the book are rightly multi-ethnic, conveying the universality of grandma love.

There is a blank page at the end of the book. It would be fun for a grandchild to use that as a prompt to think about their own grandmothers and tell them how they would complete the sentence, “I have a Grandma who….”

To order this book from Amazon, click here.

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 I wrote a full review of  Montecristo Travels to Pisa when it was first published in 2015, but I’m still charmed by this book authored by my little travel blogging, long haired chihuahua friend, Montecristo, with some help from his biped mama, Sonja Lishchynski.

i We had the chance to visit with Montecristo in Ottawa, Canada when his people were married this summer.

Montecristo and his biped mama, on her wedding day. She lends him a hand (with an opposable thumb) for his writing. (Photo credit: Eva Hadhazy)

Montecristo’s paperback is perfect for stoking a little one’s interest in travel and the world. 

You can order Montecristo Travels to Pisa from Amazon by clicking HERE.

Adult Books

One of my New Year’s resolutions will be to read more books. Despite my initial Baby Boomer insistence that I only wanted to read real books, I usually read  ebooks on my smart phone these days — not even on a tablet.

The following books are available in multiple formats—paper for the traditionalists, ebooks for travelers with weight restrictions, and even audio books. I haven’t tried that format yet. As soon as I learned how to read, I no  longer wanted to be read to. Perhaps I should give that another try.

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The Spoon from Minkowitz, by travel writer Judith Fein, isn’t a new book. It was published in 2014. It’s about the author’s journey to find her grandmother’s shtetl in Ukraine, a journey informed only by six clues to the place provided by her grandmother before she died.

The physical trip takes Fein and her husband to Russia and then to Ukraine. It is a journey over distance in the usual sense, but Fein also takes us on her emotional journey, and a journey through horrific modern history where witnesses are still alive, but not for long. She is a fine story teller such that the book is an engaging and satisfying read.

It could be I found the book particularly compelling because my mother’s family also immigrated to the United States from a shtetl.  Shtetls were Jewish villages in Eastern Europe — think Fiddler on the Roof. With the multiple redrawings of the map of Europe after various wars and upheavals, we’re not even sure in what country their shtetl was. Reading The Spoon from Minkowitz made me wish I had some clues to where my people came from like Judith Fein did.

You can order this book from Amazon by clicking here.

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In my holiday shopping guide for 2016, I recommended some other fine books for travelers and normal people others on your gift list. To avoid reinventing the wheel, you can find those books HERE.

TRAVEL GIFTS Suitcase

Even though I usually check my suitcase for flying these days, thanks to some hinky shoulder rotator cuffs that got that way from hoisting my suitcase into overhead bins on planes and high luggage racks on trains, I still swear by my lightweight Lucas, 20 inch expandable suitcase with four spinner wheels and a telescoping handle. I bought mine in 2015. It has been to three continents with me and been pulled along many a rough surface. If I remember correctly not a sure thing, I paid about $100 US for mine and it’s black.

Their new version weighs less than 6 pounds, comes in royal blue and currently costs only $79.99 on Amazon. I prefer tie down straps to packing cubes and in this suitcase, I can easily pack for a week without doing laundry, including two pairs of shoes.

The suitcase expands an additional 2 inches and has 2 outside pockets that I use for an umbrella, and eventually, for dirty laundry.

You can order this Lucas suitcase from Amazon by clicking HERE.

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Packing Cubes

Just because I’m a Luddite when it comes to using packing cubes doesn’t mean you should be. Some of my best friends, and most travel bloggers, swear by them. My travel blogger son describes them as “life changing”. The lad always was a tad hyperbolic. Really? Life changing?

If I were going to switch to packing cubes, which I’m not because I like my life just the way it is, this set looks comprehensive and comes with two see through waterproof toiletry bags that will make Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents happy less grumpy.

You can order these packing cubes from Amazon and see others HERE.

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Backpack – Briefcase Carry On

Back in some hazy time when I was a more than full time lawyer, there was a long public transportation strike in Philadelphia – no more hopping on a bus to get to court. So, I started walking everywhere and carrying my old fashioned briefcase started to be painful.

One day I ran into a lawyer friend (yes, lawyers an have friends) who was carrying an Eagle Creek briefcase like a back pack. I swooned and went to a luggage store to buy one. (This was before on line shopping was even a thing.)

I still have it. I still use it on every trip, and even if I’m only walking a block to a coffee shop for a change of scene. It was very “modern” at the time with a padded lap top compartment. My beloved, Mr. Excitement, soon started coveting my backpack briefcase. At his next birthday I returned to the store only to find that Eagle Creek had discontinued the product. I was devastated disappointed and finally bought him a much  more expensive iteration by another manufacturer.

Lo and behold, I now see that Eagle Creek is again selling something called a Convertibrief. It looks different than my ancient model, but if something untoward were to happen to my briefcase backpack, I would certainly give this one a try. Other real life reviewers sing its praises. It also seems to have more modern bells and whistles. RFID wasn’t something we were worrying about back in the day.

You can check out and order Eagle Creek’s Convertibrief, HERE.

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ZENTANGLE® SUPPLIES

If you’re sitting there, saying “Zentangle? Who? What?”, don’t worry. I have you covered. You can read my What is Zentangle and is It Habit Forming? blog post.

The short answer is that it is a meditative art form. In my opinion, it’s more satisfying than coloring someone else’s drawing or design. Best of all, one need not possess any artistic talent to use the Zentangle method. I can very personally attest to this. It is also an excellent way to work on your lawyer (or other) recovery program and to never be bored in waiting situations, you know, like a 4 hour airport layover 

To get started, you should probably refer to the Zentangle bible published by the couple who developed the Zentangle method, Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts. You can purchase your copy of the Zentangle Primer, Volume One, here.

There are a raft of Zentangle books for sale on Amazon, but I’ll just mention the two I used when I first became interested in the Zentangle method before Maria and Rick published their Primer—which, of course, I also now own. You can click on the name of each one to find the Amazon listing:  The Joy of Zentangle and One Zentangle a Day – A 6 Week Course

With rueful recognition, I can state categorically that if you fall under the Zentangle spell as I did, it will not be safe to leave you in an art supply store with a credit card. You will need SUPPLIES. Here are links to the basics:

Zentangle micron pen set

Zentangle Tool set

And when you’re ready to go all in for the best colored pencils:

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils

I envisioned this shopping list to help you pick out your gifts for others, but when it comes to the Zentangle method, you could buy the books and supplies for yourself and give your loved ones the gift of a Zen version of you.

How are you doing with your holiday gift shopping?
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Disclosure: We enjoyed this tour as guests of Context Travel. I made no promise regarding the type of coverage I would provide. The opinions and observations expressed below are my own. 

Our well traveled digital nomad son decided to put down roots in Mexico City. This was all the excuse Mr. Excitement and I needed for a repeat visit to this energetic megopolis. Our last visit to Mexico City was in 2012 when we wandered around by ourselves, including a visit to Mexico City’s historic center.

In reviewing our Mexico City tour options for our most recent visit, I was happy to learn that Context Travel expanded its tour offerings to include Mexico City. We’ve enjoyed prior positive experiences with Context Travel docents (guides) in Rome, and in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2016, so I was anxious to see how we would feel about a Context travel tour experience in Mexico City.

Context Travel Tour Hallmarks

Context Travel distinguishes itself from the tour provider pack by providing “deep travel for the culturally and intellectually curious.” Their walking tours are for groups no larger than six. Customized private tours can also be arranged. The tours are led by docents who are masters or doctorate level experts in a field relevant to the particular tour.

Because of our travel schedule, the only Context Travel tour available to us was the three hour “The Making of Mexico” tour which includes some venues we had previously visited. We decided it would be interesting to see if the Context Travel Tour enhanced our appreciation of what we had experienced on our own.

“The Making of Mexico” Context Travel Walking Tour

The historic center of Mexico City is a complex, bustling place. Via an email from Context Travel, we received very detailed instructions about where to meet our docent, Ignacio Reyes Solis, in front of Mexico City’s main colonial era cathedral, including which cathedral gate to enter to look for a particular potted tree. 

One thing every visitor to Mexico needs to understand is that the unanticipated is to be anticipated. Our first challenge was to figure out how to get to the appointed meeting place when the entrance we were to use was cordoned off for some type of maintenance. This is where speaking Spanish came in very handy. We found an alternative entrance to the massive cathedral and I was able to explain our predicament to the guard. He helpfully told us we could walk through the large cathedral to the appointed meeting place. He even agreed to be on the look-out for Ignacio and others on the tour so he could direct them.

The massive Metropolitan Cathedral on the Zócalo (Constitution Plaza) in the historic Spanish colonial center of Mexico CIty. The facade on the far right best illustrates the Baroque features of the architecture. The cathedral was constructed between 1573 and 1813 in place of a church built at the order of Hernan Cortez in 1522.

By 9:05 a.m., we had all gathered at the appropriate place. There were six participants in our group for the tour, a young couple from London, a middle aged couple from Denver, and us who can only be considered middle aged if people start living to be over 120.

Ignacio is a young, personable architect who honed his competent English by doing a year of his program in Australia. His expertise in architecture was helpful, but what was most engaging for me was his command of the often fraught history of Mexico and the resultant struggle to define a national identity. He was also happy to supply those who asked with suggestions for local eating and nightlife.

El Templo Mayor

My first visit to Mexico City was in 1963 when I was nine. Feel free to do the math. At that time we visited the obviously sinking cathedral and were told that it had been built on unstable soil atop the main pyramid in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. Wrong. Ignacio explained that in 1978, workers digging trenches for electricity cables found what archaeologists determined to be the remains of the Templo Mayor (principal temple) of the Aztecs next to, not under, the cathedral. There has been extensive archaeological excavation of the site even though it meant houses had to be destroyed.

In this photo, one can see 3 distinct aspects of the cultures that make up Mexico City. In the foreground are the ruins of the Aztec Templo Mayor site. Behind that is the Metropolitan Cathedral, built with stone from the Temple destroyed by the Spaniards in the 16th Century. In the distance, is one of the first 20th century sky scrapers built in Mexico City.

Ignacio bought our tickets to enter the site. Walkways around the ruins allow visitors to look down on the remains of what has been determined to have been a seven layered pyramid topped by temples to the Aztec gods of war and water. Adjacent to the Templo Mayor was a building used to house warriors while they studied religious matters. Paint is still visible in protected places in the ruins and Ignacio explained that the structures had been brilliantly painted.

Because of the early hour, we pretty much had the museum portion of the Templo Mayor site to ourselves. We walked through the museum with Ignacio as he explained the context and meaning of various artifacts, including legends surrounding large carved stone representations of Aztec gods. Ignacio also explained the lay out and methods of construction of Tenochtitlan and adjacent towns, and the rigid class hierarchy in Aztec society.

A chacmool found next to the Aztec Templo Mayor in Mexico City. It is thought that human hearts from sacrifices might have been placed in the bowl. The chacmool still retains some of the pigments from when it was brightly painted during the Aztec era.

Based on the written reports of the Spaniards who arrived with Cortez in 1519, it is thought that Tenochtitlan was then a city with a population of between 200,000 and 300,000, rivaling the size of Paris at that time. Ignacio explained that Cortez was able to augment his small Spanish force with warriors from other indigenous groups who had been conquered by the Aztecs and were being forced to pay tribute to the them. Smallpox also played its typically ugly role in assisting Europeans to defeat indigenous peoples.

After Ignacio managed to herd us out of the Museum of the Templo Mayor (remember, we were a group of intellectually and culturally curious people), the plan was for us to then visit the nearby National Palace, especially to see the murals of Diego Rivera covering the history of Mexico. Consistent with the national proclivity for the unanticipated, the building was closed to the public for the day due to a private event.

The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven 

The altar of the so-called “Black Jesus” in the Metropolitan Cathedral. of Mexico City.

We returned to visit the interior of the main metropolitan cathedral of Mexico City. Construction of a first church at the site started soon after Cortez’ conquered and destroyed the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, in 1521. Ignacio explained that it is the largest cathedral in the Americas.  The cathedral has been sinking for centuries as it was constructed on waterlogged sandy and muddy land in the former lake that covered the center of what is now Mexico City. Ignacio explained the steps engineers and architects have taken to try to keep it from collapsing. He also pointed out the Baroque Churrigueresque and Plateresque styling of the ornate facade. We could not go on an extensive tour of the interior because a mass was in session, but we were able to see one of the impressive organs dating from the 18th century.

Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico

I don’t know if it’s a usual part of the Making of Mexico tour, but we stopped for beverages at a cafe near the historic Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico. Ignacio pointed out the Art Nouveau features on the facade of the 1899 building. The hotel permitted us to enter two at a time to view the ornate interior. The stained glass of the ceiling of the hotel atrium demanded a photo.

The stained glass ceiling of the atrium in the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico in  the historic center of Mexico City.

Small group tours can be heavily influenced by the chemistry of the group. Our coffee stop provided an opportunity for us to learn more about each other and for Ignacio to show us some pictorial representations of how the area where were sitting looked in 1519, before it was destroyed by the conquering Spaniards.

Our tour group surrounds docent Ignacio Reyes Solis during our coffee stop.

Palacio de las Bellas Artes

Ignacio then led us several blocks to the Palacio de las Bellas Artes, an opulent building completed in 1934 and used to host music, theater and exhibitions showcasing Mexico’s artistic traditions. Ignacio explained that the outside of the building showcases Neoclassical and Art Nouveau styling, while the interior exhibits Art Deco features.

The opulent exterior of the Palacio de Bellas Artes in the center of Mexico City can’t be missed, especially when one is caught in a traffic jam right there as is often the case.

Along the way, Ignacio pointed out some of the earliest skyscrapers built in earthquake prone Mexico City. He explained the stricter building codes enforced after a deadly quake in 1985 that killed over 10,000 people and injured 30,000.

We were there soon after the serious 2017 earthquake. The wisdom of the stricter building codes was revealed by the fact that this time, far fewer lives were lost, 369 in a city with a population of close to 9 million. (The population of the Greater Mexico City economic area was  reportedly 21,339,781 in 1915.)

The central portion of the 1947 Diego Rivera mural, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park. Ignacio explained who many of the figures from Mexican history were in this extensive mural.

Ignacio paid a fee for us to be able to view a mural, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park, by the famed Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera. I believe this mural may have been there for a special exhibition, borrowed from the Museo Mural de Diego Rivera. The mural spans the history of Mexico from the Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards, through the fight for independence from Spain, the presidency of Porfirio Diaz, and the Mexican revolution of 1910. Ignacio explained the significance of many of the figures included in the mural. (Note: It was an additional 5 pesos if you wanted to be able to take photos or a video.)

Our tour ended after we viewed the mural. I wish Ignacio had suggested that we see some of the other murals in the building on our own. It’s possible that he did, but that I had wandered off, as other family members often unfairly accuse me of doing.

Conclusion

With the exception of the Templo Mayor Museum which we’ve now visited twice, I hope to return to study the other venues introduced by Ignacio more extensively. My only suggestion for this tour would be to expand it to four hours, so the various stops could be visited in greater depth. Ignacio’s narrative did add value to our appreciation and understanding and he patiently answered our many  questions.

You Should Go on Context Travel’s “The Making of Mexico” Tour If:

  • You are, in fact, culturally and intellectually curious. This tour is for people who prefer a more in depth explanation and analysis of what they are seeing. It would be helpful to do a little reading about the history of Mexico on one’s own before taking the tour.
  • You can be on your feet standing and walking for three hours. There were at least some stairs involved in each venue except the Metropolitan Cathedral. I do not know if all the buildings were accessible for those with mobility problems. If that is an issue, I would recommend contacting Context Travel to inquire before booking this tour.

Travel Tip: Mexico City’s traffic is, in a word, loco. We used Uber to travel from our son’s condo in the Roma Norte section of Mexico City to the Metropolitan Cathedral where the tour started. However, we walked back (about an hour) because traffic seemed to be at a standstill. This tour is very convenient if you are staying in the center colonial district of Mexico City. Otherwise, ask someone where you are staying how they recommend you travel to the start of this tour and how long it will take to be there at 9:00 a.m.

We relied extensively on Uber for travel around Mexico City during our stay. We found it far more reliable than taxi service. It is also quite a bit less expensive than it is in our home city, Philadelphia.

Have you visited Mexico City? Do you think you would enjoy they type of tours provided by Context travel?
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I did last week’s Zentangle Diva challenge in Oaxaca, Mexico. We’ve now moved onto Mexico City where we are staying with our digital nomad son, Jeremy. It turns out that at a certain point, even wanderlusters feel the need to have a home base.

Jeremy has visited many of the great cities of the world on four continents and chose Mexico City as the place to put down some roots. The high school student who I had to beg to pay attention in Spanish class now speaks Spanish better than I do and my Spanish is pretty good. Locals sometimes think I’m from a Spanish speaking country, but not theirs.

Jeremy found himself a 3 bedroom condo in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City, one of the “hip” up and coming neighborhoods. In fact, if you want to follow along to see how he did that, you can tune in to watch him on HGTV’s Househunters International next month. I’m sad to say that I have condo envy. I refer to the condo Mr. Excitement and I purchased in Center City as “The Cave”. In contrast, Jeremy’s condo is light and airy.

We’ll come back to Mexico in a moment, but first, here’s my take on this week’s Zentangle Diva challenge to do a “duotangle” using the tangles Bunzo and Paradox. These are two of my “go to” tangles. I stayed strictly to the true Zentangle method, using an “official” 3.5 x 3.5 inch tile, a 01 Sakura pigma micron pen, a pencil and a tortillon. (If the Zentangle lingo has you scratching your head, you can read my explanation of it here.) I’ve been working with color a lot lately, so my result seems somewhat austere to me. Zentangle peeps feel free to chime in with your opinion and constructive criticism.

Back to Mexico City

Mexico City is a massive, vibrant, overwhelming, cosmopolitan city. It has a 16th century colonial Spanish center, surrounded by sky scrapers and neighborhoods ranging from crumbling to elegant, often on the same block. This evening, Jeremy took us to see a park with a Moorish architecture inspired bandstand. The locals were enjoying some after work time with their families and on the large bandstand were: a group of women in a belly dancing class, a couple doing swing dancing, and a music teacher conducting a circle of young violinists.

Jeremy then walked us over to a public library with an interesting interior, and we ended up in a small neighborhood Russian restaurant, eating borscht and chicken stroganoff while watching 1980’s Russian music videos. We took an Uber ride back to Jeremy’s condo in traffic so insane that we finally got out and walked the last half mile.

Here are some photos from the evening:

The “Moorish Kiosk” was constructed in the late 19th century to be the Mexico Pavilion at the World’s Fair of 1884 in New Orleans and at the Saint Louis Exposition of 1902. It was eventually moved to the Alameda Santa Maria la Ribera (Park) in Mexico City and restored.

Looking up at the interior of the dome.

The Vasconcelos Library is a massive public library opened in 2006. It is known for its suspended bookshelves. This photo includes the suspended skeleton of a large whale.

And what better way to end a day in Mexico City than by eating at a Russian restaurant. The truth is I’m a Mexican food weenie because I can’t eat chile.

My bowl of warm borscht soup with a dollop of sour cream because everyone goes to Mexico for Russian Food. Da?

Buenas noches.

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This week the Zentangle Diva challenged us to “go big, or go home”. Mr. Excitement and I are on day two of a ten day trip to Mexico, so I’m definitely not ready to go home.

I’m also finding it difficult to find time to tangle. Last night I was exhausted from a 13 hour travel day, starting with a two hour drive from Philadelphia to Newark International Airport (please remind me to just fly from Philly from now on), a flight to Houston, Texas, and another from there to Oaxaca, Mexico. So, despite being a night owl and in a strange bed, I pretty much collapsed and slept well – well, for me anyway.

All that is the back story for why I’m sharing a “big” project, already undertaken before this week’s challenge. I was inspired by some of the tile mosaics I’ve seen in various Facebook groups. I also wanted to simulate a quilt.

My “quilt” mosaic is 6 Zentangle tiles by 7 tiles. (21 x 24 inches).

I think I’m officially in a mosaic phase because I’ve started another one of mandalas alternating on cream and Renaissance tiles.

This one isn’t glued down yet and I’m planning to add more tiles.

Oaxaca city is about 230 air miles south of Mexico City, located in mountain valleys. It was founded by the conquering Spaniards in 1522 when construction of its cathedral commenced. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its preserved colonial center.

The Basilica of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca, Mexico.

The Basilica of Santo Domingo is enough to make any tangler swoon — think tangles in gold leaf.  Here are some of my photos from today:

The interior of the Basilica of Santo Domingo, Oaxaca Mexico.

I got a crick in my neck gazing up at the various ornate ceilings.

Some of the ornate ceilings in the Basilica of Santo Domingo, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Tomorrow we’ll be heading out into the countryside to visit some of the Zapotecan ruins and some of the small towns in the area.

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Today is Halloween. Bah Humbug (oh wait, wrong holiday).

We live in an apartment and both our sons are grown and flown so Halloween is basically a “nothing burger” around here. However, the Zentangle Diva challenge this week is to compose something to represent fall or Halloween. In order to avoid having to make a decision (it’s that kind of a day), I did a little of both.

Yes, I know it’s still October. My composition says “November” at the top of the page because it’s a fronts-piece for the month of November in my “bullet journal”.

I’m sharing both the black and white and the color versions. I didn’t shade the black and white because I decided it would look better in color. What do you think? You notice the pumpkin peeking out in the top tile? That’s my shout out to Halloween. Weak. I know.

What (You May be Thinking) Is a Bullet Journal?

PS: If you’re not thinking “What is a Bullet Journal?”, you can just skip to the end. 

A “Bullet” journal has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. It’s an analog (pen and paper) system for keeping track of one’s life. The concept was developed by Ryder Carroll, a digital product developer of all things.

Don’t get me wrong. I am truly devoted to my smart phone and I still use my digital calendar religiously, partly because it’s a way for Mr. Excitement and I to keep track of each other’s schedules in real time. However, for everything else, I found I had little scraps of paper laying about with my things to do, things to remember, planning notes, lists, and musings. So, when I came across CZT Charlotte Carpentier’s Bullet Journal referenced in one of her blog posts, I researched the topic and decided to give the system a try.

A Bullet Journal isn’t really a specific “thing”. You can have a Bullet Journal in any type of notebook and you can set it up in a way that works for your particular life. For example, I’m intent on losing some pounds I gained over the summer, so I’ve put myself on a Weight Watchers’® point counting diet which requires recording what I consume. Therefore, I have a food journal section in my Bullet Journal. Someone who didn’t consume as much as ice cream as I did over the summer probably wouldn’t have a food record section in their Bullet Journal.

As you can see on my Bullet Journal Pinterest board, Bullet Journal’s can be a place to express one’s creativity, so mine is interspersed with free floating tangles and some Zentangle Inspired Art.

I started my Bullet Journal in September. I find it has a calming effect. I don’t go to bed trying to remember what I have to do and where I wrote something down.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a photo of how one Philadelphia phamily deals with witches. (Any similarity to the way Philadelphia Eagles’ fans treat visitors walking around in Dallas Cowboy regalia is probably purely coincidental.) 

How do you celebrate Halloween? Do you keep any type of paper journal?
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