Wander Women

 

Our happiest moments as tourists

always seem to come when we stumble

upon one thing while in pursuit

of something else.

Lawrence Block

 

 

In planning a holiday, do you ever feel torn between your inner gym rat and spa goddess? I am definitely neither. I don’t see the point of giving up an hour of a good night’s sleep to workout before the start of what is already called a work day. I am confident sunsets are just as lovely as a sunrise. I do not have patience for enclosed chambers with scents or recycled air when my lungs are involved in aerobic exercise. My skin crawls at the thought of spandex, sneakers and extended lounging in bathrobes in public spaces. I question the regimen of standing (or even sitting) upright when the laptop has been ingeniously designed for a comfortable recline on the sofa.  And hard as I try, I simply can’t think of one good reason why I should be running when no one’s chasing me.

This December, I shall explore where I belong in the spectrum in between. I will give up my usual seat on an air-conditioned tour bus to join a National Geographic Expedition where the itinerary includes days of two to four hours on the kayak or hiking and six to eight miles of biking in 90 degree heat. Even without the physical strains, their recommended list of what to pack already tests the religion of my closet:  a hat with a chin strap, a rain jacket that blends with the crowd, sneakers, a backpack and a 44 lb. baggage weight limit for a two week trip. Holy Mother of Glam!

If you’d rather not be seen this underdressed in male company, Travel & Leisure recommends adventure companies that cater to female travelers only. Why not consider a new spin on the bachelorette party, the mother daughter weekend, the sisters bonding holiday, the stocking stuffer?

 

Adventures in Good Company  Specializes in expeditions in the U.S., like dog-sledding and snowshoeing on the shores of Lake Superior

Balanced Rock  This nonprofit’s yearly Women of Color Wilderness Retreats in Yosemite combine survival-skill building, yoga, and mindfulness exercises.

Wild Women Expeditions  Leads intimate journeys, like a horseback ride across Mongolia, designed to foster inclusivity.

Adventure Women  Books luxe trips, most lasting at least a week, to 26 destinations — like hiking, biking, and whitewater rafting in Colombia.

Explorer Chick  The company arranges backpacking trips in the American West and Appalachia, including a trek in the Great Smoky Mountains.

WHOA Travel   Climbing Kilimanjaro and other destinations like Bavaria, Peru, Nepal, Russia, and India.

REI Women’s Adventures  This outdoor-gear co-op leads ambitious expeditions, like a South Africa safari, and three-day Outessa retreats in California, Oregon, and New Hampshire.  Outessa is another REI brand.

Fit & Fly Girl   Daily workouts anchor retreats to party-friendly locales like Ibiza, Spain.

FP Escapes  The Free People clothing brand’s itineraries in places like Nicaragua’s Playa Maderas emphasize mind-body connection

Damesly  Hosts self-discovery workshops in Arizona, Hawaii, and Iceland.

One more that’s personally recommended by a friend who travels the globe year round:  Private Journeys  for small group luxury and exotic destinations.

Intimidated or not, I love National Geographic Expeditions for their commitment to environment conservation through sustainable travel and donating 27% of proceeds to the National Geographic Society, whose explorers and researchers are furthering our understanding of the planet.

A challenge is a good thing when you begin to think you have clearly delineated fences around your ways of being. Even if I don’t discover the Iron Woman in me, at least, the hotels will be fabulous and I’ll have a few laughs to share when I get back in January.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share your most memorable, albeit unlikely, adventure.

xoxox

 

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© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Sharon@PowerfulGoddess.com

www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

 

Myanmar Meander (Part II: Mandalay, Kalaw and Inle Lake)

Travel far enough,

you meet yourself.

David Mitchell

Too many fun things keep popping up that kept me from getting to this sequel sooner.  I’m off on another trip this week, always compelled to follow where joy leads me.  This summer has been particularly full of fun firsts. This year literally started on the right elephant’s foot!

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In the mountains of Kalaw, all is green, peace and quiet except for my occasional shrieks while on a  bareback elephant ride at Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp. Green Hill is a sanctuary for retired elephants (even their vet is a retiree) that also promotes reforestation with its tourism program. You get to feed and pet the elephants at their hut then scrub their thick hide as they soak in the river. And don’t you worry, riding them bareback is optional–only for the brave or the reckless. 😉

Selfie or not? Even the monks do it. At the U-Bein Bridge, the longest teakwood bridge in the world built in 1850 and still holding up to foot traffic.

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Mandalay, the last royal capital of the former Burma, has a romantic name that sounds infinitely more beautiful than its downtown area. The best parts of it are the hills dotted with stupas and temples and the sight of monks–men in burgundy robes, women in pink, all with shaved heads.

Mandalay is known as Motorcycle City among locals. I’ll remember it more for vans with passenger doors that open to oncoming traffic.

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The Shwenandaw Monastery, a glorious example of traditional 19th century wooden monasteries, is made of intricately carved teak.  Originally part of the Royal Palace in Amarapura, this building is also a fine example of recycling, dismantled and transported to Mandalay as the King’s living quarters when the capital city was moved in 1857, then moved a second time outside the Royal Palace grounds when his son succeeded the throne.

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In remote villages, life seems to have gone on largely unchanged for the past 2,500 years: peasants, oxcarts, the same kinds of food and clothes. The same pagodas covered in gold in the richer towns or merely painted in the poor ones. Cellphones are quickly becoming ubiquitous though.

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I bought a farmer’s umbrella not quite the size of this red giant, but ingeniously made completely of handmade paper and bamboo moving parts.

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There are 500,000 monks and 150,000 nuns in Myanmar—which is to say that a significant percent of the country aspire to follow the Buddha’s path. Most boys spend some years as monks before returning to their families. I met a couple of women who chose to join an order after they had already finished college and had worked on a career.

Busloads of tourists certainly don’t make studying easy for this little monk.

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As a tourist, you pick up some Buddhism along the way, getting a better understanding of the variety in religious structures. The pagoda or stupa (or zedi) is a solid structure with no interior that often contains a relic. A temple is a hollow square building. A cave serves as a meditation center for monks. The ordination hall is for exactly that. The monastery is the monks’ residence. The library is where scriptures of the Buddha are kept.

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Mornings in Myanmar often find bewitching mists hovering in the valleys and lakes.

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Inle Lake, in central Myanmar, is the region where locals  live on wooden houses on stilts, farm on floating patches of soil, bathe, brush their teeth,, do their laundry, commute, etc… all in the same water.  My fellow travelers asked our guide, “Where does the sewage go?” She doesn’t look us in the eye when she answered, “Septic tanks.”

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Aside from farming on floating patches of muck that are held in place by bamboo poles, industry in the lake includes boat making, weaving silk and lotus fiber, tobacco rolling, silver making, iron work, religious traffic, etc. A big gash in the mountainsides for new hotels represents the government’s ambition for a stronger surge of tourism. How will the lake’s ecosystem support such deluge? Beats me!

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Stay at a lake front room of the Inle Resort or catch the sunset from their boat landing. The spa is absolutely stunning here!

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Inle Lake fishermen are an iconic sight standing at one end of their boats, gracefully paddling with just one leg to keep one hand free for the net and the other for the spear.

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The beauty of Myanmar is in considerable part a consequence of its inaccessibility. Get there before it becomes more mainstream and lose its unique charms. Best month to catch a tour group is February.

Moi in their traditional wrap.

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Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to add your exotic travel tips.

xoxox

Give the women you love the most unique gift of elegant and timeless portraits

with a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

 Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Sharon@PowerfulGoddess.com

www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother

Myanmar Meander (Part I: Yangon and Bagan)

This is Burma

and it is unlike any land

you may know about…

Rudyard Kipling

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Catch a fiery sunset at the golden Shwedagon Pagoda

A place uniquely preserved in culture with people still true to their native traditions, Myanmar (aka Burma) stays mostly untouched by modernity–except for cellphones and the quickly thickening deluge of tourists.  Go see this country sooner than later, while golden arches are still made of wood and gold leaf at sacred pagodas with no McDonald’s in sight! I loved traveling to this country where markets abound with fresh produce and natural herbal remedies, shoppers who carry their own reusable baskets, where people know only to cook and eat real food–a reminder of our almost forgotten connection to nature’s divine wisdom and benevolence.

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Helpful and kind despite economic hardships, locals still proudly wear their traditional longhis (i.e., long skirt wraps for men and women) in cotton or silk, as well as their native thanaka skin cream which also doubles as makeup and sunscreen.

As smitten with technology as we are

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Their legendary political heroine Aung San Suu Kyi

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Primarily Buddhist, alms giving is a daily ritual in this country.

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Monks at work

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Monks at play

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Someone’s not too thrilled by this makeup business… His mother’s market basket doubles as baby swing.

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When traveling to exotic locales, I prefer to head out of the big cities to get the real pulse of the country.  Bagan is an hour’s flight Northwest of Yangon. Morning flights make a clockwise circle of Yangon-Bagan-Mandalay-Inle Lake.  It’s always best to take the first flights out in case of delays.

To imagine small town Bagan, picture the entire stretch of Manhattan with nothing but stupas of all sizes. Early bird or not, rise for a ride with Balloons Over Bagan. At the bottom of this photo is the outer edge of one of the prettiest hotels in Bagan, the Aureum Palace.

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Grandma in tribal headdress, fierce as the dragon it is supposed to conjure

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Horse and buggy ride

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Sunset over Bagan

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Welcome to Myanmar!

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This series is inspired by the revival of “The King and I” on Broadway. While waiting for Part II of this travel guide, click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to share what you’re curious to learn about other cultures.

xoxox

Give the women you love the most unique gift of elegant and timeless portraits

with a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

 Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Sharon@PowerfulGoddess.com

www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother

Enough Coffee, Tea and Milk!

Why is Santa so jolly?

He knows where

all the bad girls live.

George Carlin

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What could happen if we all decided to be naughty and leave Santa champagne instead of the usual milk and cookies?  He’d probably lose his love handles, run Rudolph ragged on a wild joyride, and mix up the addresses of our chimneys. Nothing wrong with any of that–worst case, we just might end up finding better gifts under the tree!

Whether you’re traveling (with reindeers) or not, enjoy nibbling on these happy holiday travel treats:

Quick research. If you need an urgent answer or information re your destination, use Twitter as a de facto customer service line for travel companies and hotels.

Get a room upgrade. Be a loyal brand customer, be nice to front desk agents at check in and say “Thank you!” via social media after a great stay.

Tip generously.  At a crowded bar, get attentive service the rest of the evening by tipping generously with your first round of drinks.

Pack these Apps. Viber to call/text globally where there’s Wi-Fi and avoid roaming charges.  Lonely Planet Fast Talk to search by situation or look up local words/phrases. XE Currency for international exchange rates. MPassport to find accredited doctors near you.

Volunteer vacations. Give back while on holiday with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, Globe Aware Volunteers, Habitat for Humanity, or Earthwatch.

For a comprehensive list of volunteer opportunities for  your teens: Transitions Abroad

Travel insured. Tip the scales in your favor with Berkshire Hathaway’s Aircare.  At a fixed rate of $25 purchased 24 hours before your departure. this travel insurance offers generous compensation for flight/bag delays and missed connections.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to add your travel tips for Santa and have the merriest Ho-Ho-Ho’s wherever you go!

xoxox

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© Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Sharon@PowerfulGoddess.com

www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother

Best of India Movies

There’s a big difference between race and culture.

Because racially, I’m an Indian man.

Culturally, not at all.

Russell Peters

Happy Diwali to you!  I love festivities of all kinds and more so when it’s rich with the brave flavors and colors of India.  To add your spice to your celebration of the Festival of Lights, click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) and  list your favorite India inspired films here:

Water

A widow forced into poverty at a temple in the holy city of Varanasi tries to escape the social restrictions imposed on her station with a man who is from the highest caste. Directed by Deepa Mehta

Slumdog Millionaire

An uneducated orphan from the slums of Mumbai gives the correct answers to all the questions on the game show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” But How? Directed by Danny Boyle

The Namesake

American-born Gogol, the son of Indian immigrants, wants to fit in among his fellow New Yorkers, despite his family’s unwillingness to let go of their traditional ways. Directed by Mira Nair.

 

Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Sharon@PowerfulGoddess.com

www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother

Almost French

In Paris, I really do like to try and do nothing…

but that’s impossible.

Christian Louboutin

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Aussie Sarah Turnbull’s memoir “Almost French” tells of her adventures in moving to the other side of the planet with the Frenchman she married.  Reading her story was reminiscent of my own even as it transported me to the minutiae of Parisian life I may never experience as a tourist.

This Powerful Goddess also shares our story of braving a new life where love led her.  I recognize the courage it took for her to trust her choices from the first moment she decided to follow destiny, and then over and over again through life’s baths and dry spells over the years. Who can really know the strength it takes to face the challenges of solitude and personal reinvention far from supportive family and friends?  Here’s to the brave!

Click on “Leave a Comment” to share where else you’d like to live and why.

xoxox

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© Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Sharon@PowerfulGoddess.com

www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother

Warm Memories in Dishes

If it’s so beautifully arranged on the plate,

you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.

Julia Child

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Today I’m thinking of a dear friend whom I have not seen in a long while.   We met almost two decades ago as wives of expats in Tokyo.  She was the dedicated mother of two young children with a Cordon Bleu degree tucked under her apron. I was a new bride who was a virgin in the kitchen. Motherhood has since led me to settle in suburbia, to give my children the roots I never had.  She continues to live the free life of a very stylish gypsy, moving to a new country every couple of years when she and her husband feel like it.

Like sunbeams in cupboards and closets, gifts and mementos around my home bring warm memories of our friendship.  When I cook, I’m grateful she tipped me off on All Clad stainless steel cookwarethey last forever and have spared me the clueless journey through aisles of the cheap and the non-stick.  Pretty dishes remind me of our foray into Kappabashi Dori, Tokyo’s restaurant supply district, where she helped me bring home heavy blue and white ceramics up and down the subway stairs.  When it came time for my family to move on from Japan, she hosted a sayonara lunch with the international group of ladies we had gotten to know in our brief time together.

In my closet is a bouquet of colorful pashmina shawls from her stint in Singapore. In my memory are recipes she taught me like the sweet sticky rice dessert when I visited her in Florida.  Her favorite classic A Well-Seasoned Appetite by New York Magazine‘s Molly O’Neill is the only photo-less cookbook allowed on my bookshelf. She would casually toss quick recipes into our conversation then I’d report with dismay that my results turned out far from hers.  She immediately knew to ask “Did you add salt and pepper?” because sure enough, the newbie needed every little ingredient specified.

Her invitation to visit them in Monaco was what opened my eyes to the joys of solo travel, a more life affirming version of gambling and living dangerously I say!  It gave me the “Aha!  I can do this every year…” revelation, and since then maybe twice a year and why not more?!

Countless more adventures to us, Powerful Goddess Ana!  And count me among those who have been very blessed by your loving kindness and generosity.  Anyone who can soothe her nerves by whipping up a multi-course gourmet meal for the person who annoys her is worthy of a custom pedestal at every city she lives in. Domo Aregato for the many happy and delicious memories, the wisdom of adding salt and pepper to my life no matter what–without having to be told.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to share your appetite.

xoxox

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xoxox

© Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Sharon@PowerfulGoddess.com

www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother

 

 

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