Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Color Run- Milwaukee

I once did a 5K run when I was a student at Air Force Officer school, but that was a long time ago in a place far away.  On my list of 50 was a 'fun run' and my daughter thought we could all do the Color Run together.

She created a team which included her, my son Jake, and son-in-law Luke.  We arrived at Miller Park, the baseball stadium in Milwaukee on a Friday night about 5:30, found parking and made our way to the starting line which seemed about a mile away!  We had t-shirts to wear, and they also gave us tattoos, headbands, and a wristband.  I think the fee to participate was about $35, and they had 10,000 runners so it was sold out!
We got to the head of the line so we were with the first group to start at 7 pm.  They advised wearing glasses or goggles because we would be sprayed with powdered paint at intervals along the route.  I also brought a bandana to cover my hair.  We look so clean in this photo above!  But then the run got started.  It was more like a fast walk.  You just can't move that many people quickly.
A cloud of yellow dust met us

And then the blue- even kids joined in the fun

Melissa and Jake getting some orange

It took us just under an hour to complete the course- no record breaking going on here!  It was super fun.  We were indeed a mess!  My daughter Melissa said it took her 3 shampoos to get the color out of her hair.  They say this is the happiest 5K on the planet.  It comes to cities all over the USA, so be looking for it if you want a unique way to run/walk and be happy!
Our team at the finish line

Milwaukee Segway Tour

On my list of 50, I had a segway tour.  I've never done this but have seen groups around Milwaukee trying them and it looked fun.  We had guests visiting from London, and they are young and adventurous so they were ready for the tour!  There are 2 different tours in Milwaukee so we did the Lakefront tour.  Here's the link.  It's $45 for 90 minutes, which includes a short video and lesson in riding a segway, plus a tour guide to accompany the group.

Me and all the young people who joined me on the Segway tour
It takes a little time to figure out the operation of the segway.  There is a power button, but the rest of the movement is done by balancing your body in a certain way.  You lean forward to go, lean back to stop.  If you want to turn, you lean in the direction of the turn.  Speed is dictated by leaning forward.  We cruised through the park for about 10 minutes on the grassy area before we took off along the concrete lakefront trail.  There were several stops enroute where the tour guide told us about the sights.

There were 2 of us that fell down, and when you fall, it's a hard fall and the segway falls over.  I ended up with a bruised elbow while my segway fell into a shallow fountain when I hit a curb surrounding it. I was more embarrassed than hurt, but the guide assured me that he'd taken falls many times.  And then someone brought up the fact that the segway company owner actually died when he took a fall off a cliff.  Somehow that didn't make me feel better when we still had half the tour to do!
Milwaukee Art Museum from the back

Sculpture and art museum
lighthouse on lakefront
We all had a great time and saw a nice portion of the Lake Michigan lakefront in Milwaukee.  I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a way to entertain out of town guests.

A Political Rally with first lady Michelle Obama

I've never really been that fired up about politics so I wasn't one to look for political rallies, but this week I had a chance to attend one in Milwaukee when the first lady, Michelle Obama, came to town for a grassroots effort.  It was exciting, but also a lot of work just to get in the door.  I heard about the tickets via a text because I had recently received an e-mail to give just $5 to support the campaign, and so I did.  I was in IL at Six Flags amusement park at the time I got the text, so I sent it to my husband, who had to go pick up the tickets to the event before 9 pm, which was just a couple of hours.  Fortunately, he did this and came home with 2 tickets.

I invited my neighbor, Michelle, who has long supported the Obamas and the democratic party.  The tickets said you couldn't bring umbrellas, large bags, dangerous objects, etc and that the doors would open at noon.  My son dropped us off because we heard there would be street closures and limitied parking.  We arrived at 1130 and got into the line which was already around the corner and 2 blocks long!  There were news vans outside and all the local news personalities on hand.  It was about 90 degrees and sunny.  Very hot to stand and wait.  At least they had water on hand.

We got through the doors about 1:00 and had to go through airport like security.  Then we were ushered into a small gym which was already half full.  They said they cut off tickets at the max capacity, but this was so full by the end.  I don't know how they ever got it past the fire marshal- standing room only!  We were entertained by local politicians, Tom Barrett, Tammy Baldwin, and Gwen Moore for the first hour.  You weren't allowed to bring your own signs, but signs were passed out.  I always wondered who came up with those logos and sayings.  Now I know they aren't made by the people holding them.  We were also instructed to chant certain things- probably for the benefit of the cameras that were televising the rally.  What a diverse crowd!  Even the Sikhs were present.  Fun to people watch, for sure!  
Tammy Baldwin, running for senate

Sikhs from Milwaukee

FINALLY secret service agents came out and seemed to be briefing those in the first rows.  Then the first lady entered about 2:00.  The roar of the crowd was overwhelming!  She spoke about passionate issues her husband embraces- college tuition being attainable and affordable, healthcare for all, lower taxes for small business owners, and opportunities for ALL children, regardless of where their parents were born.  She's such a great speaker.  Applause broke out so frequently.  I was so impressed!  And just when you thought it was over, she went around the front of the audience shaking hands and talking to people. Overall a great experience.  I can see why people get fired up after attending one of these rallies!
First Lady Michelle Obama

See the guy in a suit behind her- secret service agent for sure

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Finally a guest room

We've had this room that was largely a depository for anything that didn't belong anywhere else.  We remodeled our home in 2004 and hadn't done much with the decor, especially with this bedroom.  As part of my list of 50 things to do this summer for turning 50, I wanted to do something with it.  First off, let me say I have no flair for decorating.  I just wanted something functional and 'inspiring', if that isn't asking too much.

Most of the items in the room are either found or made.  The dresser was a giveaway on the street near my sister.  It's crazy that it's mahogany and someone painted it like this.  Still, it's hard to find a hardwood dresser and this one has a lot of years left.  On the wall, is my own personal inspiration, the Holstee manifesto.  You can read it or get your own at  I found a window on the way to Omar's school one day and turned it into a simple photo frame.  In it are photos I took here in Wisconsin.  There's a cool painting that was a gift from my husband's business partner when he took a trip to Italy.  The butterfly alphabet has been around a long time, a remnant of my older kids childhood.

I added some new bedding, a lamp, and a few nightstands that have been used for years and are still functional.  The prints on the wall are photos we took in the Galapagos and were made using a Groupon.  You gotta love Groupon for deals.  Thanks to it, I have tried so many new things.  Lastly, a new mirror from a website where you can support artisans in various places abroad, Novica. 

Now all we need are some guests, and they are coming on Monday from London.  Maybe you'll visit us one day and this can be your home away from home!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Serendipitous London vacation

How does one end up in the place where millions long to be?  Just dumb luck or serendipity brought us here.  We were on our way home through France and England, and happened to have a not long enough connection through Paris' airport so our bags didn't make it to the aircraft before takeoff time.  In this time of supposed terrorists, there are rules about bags and travel.  You need to travel with your bags.  Because we missed the Paris flight, we were unable to arrive in London with time enough to check bags and fly home.

As I stood at London Heathrow with a very tired Omar in hand and heard that there were absolutely no seats until Wednesday (4 days later), I was a bit panic stricken, but it didn't take long to find my bearings and make a plan.  We went to the information desk and had a hotel booked for one night at the Grange City Hotel, right near the Tower of London.  Because all the cheap rooms had been booked by those with a real plan, we were lucky to get an executive suite at 409 British pounds, plus another 89 pounds transportation to the hotel.  The room was really nice, complete with a tub shower, and a stand alone shower, office, queen bed, flat screen TV, and even a tea closet where one could find everything for a good "cuppa".  There was a basement pool that was gorgeous, and had I not had Omar with me, I might have indulged in the free aromatherapy sauna.  The doorman was in crisp uniform.  A young man delivered our bags using a separate elevator.  We were in the lap of British luxury.

After a swim, we went for a walk along the Thames.  We could see the Tower of London from our window, so we walked around it for a closer look.  The bridge was all decorated for the Olympics.  Throngs of tourists and Olympians filled the streets and sidewalks.  We were looking for a place to eat and Omar stumbled right into the Denmark camp- that is, the place where all the TV interviews are done, Danish fans and family gather to greet Olympians with drinks and food.  It was a pizza place!  Imagine our luck to find a foreign gathering I could understand and pizza for Omar!  We met about a dozen young athletes and enjoyed the festive atmosphere.
This is what Olympic athletes look like
Tower of London

The next morning we had the restaurant breakfast (included in the price, thanks very much) and ventured out to see what all the crowds were about.  We happened to be 1 block from the men's Olympic marathon course!  Omar was much less thrilled than I was so we watched for a short while, played in the park, ate some fish (me) and chips (Omar) and awaited our saving grace of a friend-  a classmate of Abdul's living in London. She accepted us into her home for the remaining 3 nights and offered a couple of amazing tour guides while we were there- her nephew and daughter.  I used to live in England while I was in the Air Force in the early 1980s, but had not seen as much of London as we did in these couple of days.  We rode double decker buses, rode the newish London Eye ferris wheel, visited exhibits in the British museum, saw all the traditional landmarks including parks, palaces, squares, Big Ben, and the Queen's guard.  This was certainly a trip to remember.  How very fortunate we were to be at the right place at the right time!
mens' marathon

street performer in Covent Garden
Tour guides Fathia and Ali with Omar
Amazing pods hold 25 people and travel 30 minutes around a wheel that is 443 feet tall

view from the London Eye
One of the Olympic mascots
Lots of things to see at British Museum

This was a hand wash outside the museum

A few days with the happiest people on earth

It has long been said, Denmark is the place where people are the happiest in the world.  20/20 did a show on it way back in 2007, and even in 2012 they still hold the title.
Omar at Legoland

I was an exchange student in Denmark way back in 1978-79 and stayed with a host family that has become as much a part of my life as any blood relatives.  I go back often and enjoy being there.  Because we had just been to Dubai, and were flying through London, my husband booked a ticket there for me to visit them for a few short days.  It was the first time I was visiting since my best friend of more than 30 years had died, and I thought it might be a sad occasion, but it was warm and I felt welcome.  We stayed with my Danish mom in a house that has been built where their old farm used to be.  An entire subdivision replaced the fields where the pony grazed.

Crabbing on Vejle Fjord
The weather was predictable for a Danish summer, cool with intermittent sunshine.  We went crabbing the first day.  Omar thought this was a blast!  You have a stick with a clothespin tied to the end.  Insert a piece of salami and dunk it in the fjord, and a few minutes later...voila!  A crab!  This is strictly catch and release.  We take our kids to fast food outlets for birthday parties.  The Danes bring their kids to the fjord for a picnic and crabbing.  No wonder they are so happy!
We followed up by having an ice cream from the beach kiosk.

We managed a trip to Legoland one day with my Danish mom, Danish sister-in-law and her girls.  Omar called them "beautiful girls" because it's true and it was easier than calling out names all the time.  It was extremely crowded and the lines were long.  This was the last week of summer vacation and all the kids were getting in a little fun before school started on Monday. Still the rides were fun and Omar had a blast celebrating his 7th birthday at a theme park.  He got a special badge and everyone wished him happy birthday in Danish.  Too bad he didn't realize they were saying it!  At the end of the day, we came back to Michael's house where my talented Danish brother had made home made pizza.  It was indeed the perfect day for Omar!
Who doesn't love an ice cream at the beach kiosk?
one of the many crabs caught

My Danish Dad Henry
Lis and Omar at our picnic
The final day was sunshine and warmer.  My Danish Dad and his wife planned a day of outdoor activities that included a picnic.  There's a grocery store that has the most amazing "smoerrebroed" sandwiches on Fridays.  We picked up some with fish and other toppings and enjoyed eating in the outdoors and hiking along the fjord.  His wife has loads of energy and was great about chasing Omar and doing all the playgrounds with him.  Afterwards we met her sister Lone at her house and had coffee and "hygge", which is a Danish term that really can't be translated.  It just means having a great time with friends, enjoying yourself, being cozy. Lone's husband, Vagn, broke out into spontaneous song for Omar to wish him a very happy birthday.  We felt happier just for being here a few days.  I am indeed so fortunate to have such an amazing family on the other side of the world that I can call my own.

"Happy Birthday Omar", Vagn sings

Dubai during Ramadan

When I met my husband, I thought our theme song should have been "A Whole New World" from the movie Aladdin.  You know...Prince Ali takes her off to see all kinds of new things that she never imagined.  Well, that is still how it seems to be 9 years later.

My husband took Omar and I to Dubai during Ramadan.  He has always talked about how different it is to be fasting in a country where the entire population celebrates.  And it was really different.  None of the restaurants or smaller food joints in the downtown were open during daylight.  The construction workers and those who work outdoors had hours from 5:30 to 11:30.  Office workers could work until 1 pm.  Only those in the retail or hospitality industry seemed to be working what we'd consider 'normal' hours.  

We stayed at Dar Al Masyaf, which is part of group of hotels owned by Jumeira.  In the cluster is the famous sail shaped Burj al Arab hotel.  It has luxury suites and you can travel by golf cart or gondola to get around.  The temperature was at least 100f/38c, even after dark, so you didn't really have the walking option.  As soon as you step out you melt.  We pretty much adopted the Arab ramadan schedule where we'd stay up all night, eat breakfast with my husband (who was fasting) at around 3:00 and then go to bed until noon.  We hit the pool for several hours while he had meetings, and then met for dinner at 7:00 pm.  We would have loved to try out all the watercraft on the beach, but frankly, it was just too hot.  Omar's tennis shoes melted just from walking around the resort.  You had to be in air conditioning or cool water.

One of many windows at the gold souk
The first night we visited the gold souk (market) which is just an area of the city dedicated to jewelry shops. There are price tags on some of the items, but really you have to barter with the store salespeople to get the best price.  We didn't buy anything, but it was interesting to see the variety of gold and diamonds they had on display.  Much of it is made in Italy and is quite expensive, heavy, and large.  

We also went to the Dubai Mall.  It was filled with signs of wealth.  Outside there were doormen helping with packages from Gucci and Prada.  Ferraris and Lamborghini sports cars pulled up with drivers that looked to be teenagers.  Women were clad in black with just a face or eyes showing, but underneath they had designer shoes and fancy handbags.  The mall itself is huge.  It has a waterfall that is several floors high, an ice rink, multiple food courts, and every New York designer shop one could wish for.

They have a huge fountain- more like a lake- out in front and every night they do a light show.  We went up to the observation platform at Burj Khalifa, the tallest building which is located next to the mall, on the night there was a full moon and were not disappointed.  We could see the city lights and the fountain display below.  It was amazing to fly up 124 floors in no time at all.  The only indication you had that you were moving was the ears popping.

me looking down at the city
Burj Khalifa

Ramadan decorations

multi story waterfall in Dubai Mall

ice rink at Dubai mall
Burj al Arab hotel and our beach

One night we booked a table at Burj al Arab's Skyview bar.  This is the hotel where celebrities like Madonna go to get away.  There was an actor having dinner on one of the floors and they cordoned it off so he could have privacy with his family.  There is a heliport on the rooftop.  If you have enough money, this is the place to go.  We had to agree to spend about $150 just to get a table.  In the end, we just couldn't eat/drink that much and they allowed it.  Remember we had already eaten dinner at our hotel and just wanted to see the bar, so we ordered a snack plate, coffee, and some fruity drinks.  I think the tab was just under $100.  The whole bar has this Star Trek feel to it.  Flashing neon lights, windows to the outside which looks like space at night.  Quite the experience.

The last day we were there, we hired a driver for a couple of hours and put Omar in the kids' club at the hotel.  We saw the downtown, spice market, and a whole residential area they have built on manmade islands in the shape of a palm.

Stepping into the sky view bar at burj al arab- kind of 'star trek' meets 'Saturday night fever' motif
The pool water was cool and wonderful.  We bought a waterproof camera for Omar and this is what it can do

spices at the souk
Overall it was a fantastic opportunity to see an Arab country not being depicted on TV as a place for terrorists or war torn.  I wouldn't mind going back...but maybe when it's a bit cooler!