Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Bishop Goes to Camp -- Chickens, Farms, Bracelets and Candles

Walking to breakfast this morning I was treated to the sight of many rabbits and wild turkeys on the Dining Hall lawn. The rabbits were scurrying about, and the turkeys were pecking at the grass. I have so loved these sights each morning! Immediately after breakfast Kay Sylvester, Beth Bojarski and I got in Beth's car and started out to the farm that's on the other side of the camp property. As with many trips on the camp grounds wild life abounds. As we were walking to Beth's car, I spotted lots of squirrels and various kinds of birds, including magpies. Driving down the driveway we stopped as a mother deer and her babies were ahead of us on the road, staring at us. Here they are for you to see. As they walked away, we continued on our way over to the farm.

One of the plots at the farm had lettuce which ended up getting scorched in the heat wave the area had a few weeks back, according to Beth. In its place Ryan Wanamaker planted broccoli, cabbage and other things which grew quickly. Ryan had been growing cilantro in one area, and when it was "done", he let it continue to grow and flower. This attracted the bees who keep things nicely pollinated. Ryan is particularly astute at using what is there ecologically to enhance the garden and the produce in the garden. Here is a picture of Beth and Kay in that part of the garden.

Next stop -- the chicks! I posted earlier today on Facebook a video I took of the chicks -- they are SO cute! John Horton told me that when they arrived (via special mail) the local post office called over to the camp and said, "come and get your chicks!" They did, and put them in a special covered pen/house. While I posted at the beginning of my time at camp a few pictures of the area the 70+ chickens live beside the dining hall, there are a few dozen more chickens in a fenced in area at this farm, right beside the area where the new chicks are being housed. The difference between the mature chickens and the chicks we encountered today is this: the mature chickens are used for egg production for the camp. The new chicks are being raised for meat production. As with the pigs, these new chicks will make their way to tables in the future. This is part of the work of the camp -- and it is interesting to see the reaction people have to this "news". Knowing how and where your food is coming from is powerful -- it is not unlike the "farm to fork" initiative in Ireland, for example, where animals and vegetables are identified so you know exactly where your food is coming from. At any rate, the chicks were too cute! Here is a picture of Beth in the pen with a handful of chicks.

Next stop -- feeding the chickens in the pen next to the chicks. I did this a few years ago and really loved it. The chickens peck at your hands when you hold scratch in it for them -- two chickens said, "forget the scratch, I want your watch!" They were trying to eat my watch! They have different varieties of chickens in the pen, which lay different colored eggs -- brown, white and green. The hens are fed a special food which helps harden the shell a bit. While we were in the pen, the minute Beth started to head over to the bin where the scratch is kept, she was immediately joined by virtually all the chickens! Here's a picture of me feeding the chickens. I noticed some were missing some of their back feathers. When I asked Beth she told me that "there is a literal pecking order." Enough said. Visual image permanently engrained in my mind!

We then walked over the very short distance to the area where campers can come for an overnight -- right here at the farm. There are large wooden platforms for them to sleep on, an outdoor sink, a portable stove to cook on. The campers can go into the garden and pick vegetables for a stir fry dinner, and have the experience of being out in nature yet so near an incredible source of food! I think this is my new favorite overnight spot! After this we walked through the rows and rows of tomato plants Ryan has growing in another area of the garden. Needless to say, nothing tastes better than a freshly picked, warm tomato!

Back in the car and back to camp. After lunch I headed up to the Arts and Crafts center with a white pair of capris that got stained in India to tie dye them. Beth is an expert tie dyer, and she made a special batch of blue purple dye for me. She taught the 20+ campers the basics of tie dyeing, and we were off and running. I tried to do the swirl pattern up the legs of my pants. I'll post a picture of them when they are done "cooking". Kay tie dyed a t-shirt, and when we were both done we headed back down to the picnic table by the Dining Hall. Kay had her beads out, and campers were already hard at work. I finished a bead bracelet I was making for a friend of the family (a young girl). I REALLY wanted to learn to make a friendship bracelet to give to Steve--he wears those. Andrea, one of the campers who was with us yesterday (and who is a great teacher) taught me how to make one. She is a master! Kay held the end for me, and I was on my way! One of the strings broke, but Andrea made a quick repair Voila! Here is a picture of Kay holding the finished project -- just don't tell my husband Steve!

After dinner Kay and I joined David's group outside the Dining Hall to make candles and talk about the Eucharist on Friday. It was a very lively event! The campers were split into two groups -- while one group went to look for sticks to secure the wicks of the candles to and to find cool things (such as leaves, acorn or bark) to put in their candles, the other group was trimming down the size of the cups the candles were going to be made in. David, who I found out tonight is from Irvine (graduated for University High) melted wax and added crayons for color. He had a blue wax and a red wax, and campers got to choose which color. By mixing the two he made purple! Some campers let their candles cool then added another color on top -- some multi-tiered their candles. Kay offered a wonderful reflection on the Eucharist -- likening it to Thanksgiving Dinner. The campers understood -- David made a candle that the campers would offer for use in the Eucharist on Friday! Here is a picture of David pouring wax into the cup to make a candle.

Community Gathering was fun as always! Lots of great songs. As the group gathered tonight was different from the group we had last night, Trevor asked them about their experiences -- what was new for them. Many of the campers had never slept out under the stars. Everyone mentioned seeing shooting stars, cooking outdoors, and the games they played. Mike Stone, the Transitional Deacon from the Diocese of San Diego and Chaplain with Kay this week offered the reflection tonight. He told a "Holy Fish" story. I'm not going to ruin it by outlining it here, because hopefully someone will tape him telling it and put it on YouTube! Here he is telling the story.

I leave you with more pictures from today's adventure at Camp Stevens.

Location:Camp Stevens, Julian, CA United States

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Bishop Goes to Camp -- Pigs and Hiking and Beads

I LOVE Camp Stevens! The staff -- both program staff and support staff are wonderful! Kind to the campers, committed to the work of the camp, committed to ensuring the campers grow in this experience but also have a lot of FUN. You can't ask for more.

This morning I was introduced to the pigs. Four pigs are Black and Tan, one is just Tan (really pink). Although the camp choses not to name the pigs, I couldn't help naming the pink pig BABE. It was interesting -- after they came over to check us out and see if we had any food, they went back and laid down. The multicolored pigs slept together, and the pink pig (aka Babe) went over and slept by himself. It made me wonder if this is normal for this little group of pigs. I'll be checking that out later.

Kay Sylvester and I hiked to Cow Pond -- I've always wondered about Cow Pond. There really isn't much water in it, and I've never seen a cow there. I'll have to ask about that. Regardless, it was a very nice hike!

Hanging out with campers is always a joy for me, and today was no different. "I loved sleeping out under the stars" was the typical response from the campers I spoke with who were back from their overnights. Everyone is having a great time! My camper who was homesick yesterday is out playing and laughing, participating fully in her group today. That's the miracle of Camp Stevens!

Beading this afternoon during free time was courtesy of Kay. It was amazing to see the campers gather around Kay and start creating pieces of jewelry. Key rings, necklaces, bracelets -- you name it. They made them! Some of the boys made bracelets too and/or helped hold the end of the string for some of their friends who were making friendship bracelets. It was so much fun watching them make the bracelets. For over two hours we sat and talked with the campers. We heard about their schools, their teachers, their friends. We heard about their adventure groups. I decided finally to try my hand at friendship bracelets. Let's just say, it didn't work out too well.

Spark the Hark Lark campers last night showed me their "talking stick" last night at Community Gathering. They wanted to show me the "magic stone" in the sack hanging from the talking stick. Before they could open the pouch to show me, we started Community Gathering. I saw Emily, the girl's counselor for this group and noticed the talking stick poking out of the top of her back pack. Here it is -- I did get a chance to look in the pouch -- the magic stone is a tiger's eye agate!

After we cleaned up from our beading project Kay decided a trip to the bead store was in order. The three clergy (Kay, Mike from San Diego and myself) headed towards the parking lot and got into Kay's car. "God squad leaving the campus." Kay bought the beads she needed to add to the mix for tomorrow. We all then got either iced coffee drinks or soda. It is a bit hotter today, so we needed them.

Kay and I managed to get sun burned. It may have to do with the fact that we both forgot to put sunscreen on. Not, at least on my part, my smartest move of the week.

I forgot to mention that my time at camp has involved going and visiting the gardens here. The food that is grown is not only grown in a sustainable way, but it is healthy and delicious. I pulled a ripe peach off the tree, brushed the fuzz off on my shirt and bit in to one of the juiciest pieces of fruit I've had in a long time! In the kitchen there is a board that lists all the foods that are currently ready to be harvested. Here's the current list from today.

I have been meaning to take and post a picture of McKenzie, a member of Church of the Epiphany in Agoura. She is on support staff this week -- her brother John is a counsellor here this week as well. It is so nice to see young people from our congregations in Los Angeles here -- in addition to McKenzie and John from Epiphany in Agoura there are people from St. Mark's Los Olivos, St. Andrew's Ojai, Holy Faith Inglewood, St. Wilfrid's Huntington Beach, St. John's Rancho Santa Margarita, St. Michael and All Angeles Studio City and St. Mary's Mariposa. I think I have everyone -- I may have missed one or two. These are campers and staff members. So nice to see them here at camp enjoying the wonders of God's creation.

Community Gathering was wonderful again tonight -- I love singing all the songs! Kay offered the same reflection she did yesterday as the older groups was gone last night on overnights, and the younger groups are gone tonight.
We sang great songs! Trevor asked the campers how many slept outdoors for the first time last night -- there were a good number of hands. He also asked them what they saw or did for the first time -- among the answers he received were: saw shooting stars, cooked dinner over an open fire, hiked up Vulcan Mountain in the very early hours to see the sun rise. They were excited to share!

A Program Group meeting followed. I so enjoy listening to the reflections from senior staff on the day -- offering kudos and suggestions. This is a group of people who take their work -- this camp and the campers -- very seriously, and they work together so well.

I wonder what I will find tomorrow as I wander up to the Dining Hall -- more wild turkeys? More deer? Rabbits perhaps? We'll see.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Camp Stevens, Julian, CA United States

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Bishop Goes to Camp -- first full day for the campers

Woke to another beautiful morning here at Camp Stevens! The air was very cool last night, which helped with sleeping. I awoke at 5:00 and enjoyed listening to -- nothing! As the sun started to rise, the birds and squirrels woke up and started their days with chirping and running around the trees. I went to take a walk and again saw the wild turkeys on the Dining Hall lawn. More impressive and awe inspiriting to me this morning was the deer that crossed in front of the entrance to the Lax Sadler lodge I'm staying in -- It was so close! This picture doesn't do justice to the distance or the beauty of this animal.

The campers started to wake up at about 7:00 -- at least that is when I started to hear them. I spent time speaking with the Rev. Kay Sylvester, Rector at St. Paul's in Tustin -- what a gifted, talented, spirit-filled priest! It was good to catch up with her and hear about all the good things happening at St. Paul's.

Breakfast was delicious! I sat with many members of the same group that joined me last night. A very spirit-filled bunch of campers! One camper was missing her family, so I spent some time speaking with her. Home sickness is natural at camp -- but once they get into the swing of things, that dissipates.

This morning we had a fire drill -- I always love to see how well that is orchestrated, and the positive response of the campers. After that they went off to their adventure groups this morning. Chaplains (and a Bishop) normally don't participate in groups the first morning -- this is their time to form together as a group.

My day ended up being spent mostly talking with campers and with staff members. I'm so impressed by the caliber of staff here at the camp -- they care about the children here and the camp. They are enthusiastic about building strong groups and incorporating everyone into their groups. More on that later.

During free time I went to my room to get my journal and discovered that there was archery going on below my window. It was wonderful to see the campers practicing this sport (I did archery in High School). Evan, whom I met two years ago when he was a camper (and he is a camper in this group) shot a bullseye at the target -- and I saw him do it! Awesome!

You may wonder why I don't publish more pictures of the children. Some parents do not want their children photographed, which is understandable. So if children are in a group, I can't be comfortable publishing any picture.

I sat at a table working on my journal outside and had all kinds of "visitors" -- staff and campers come and talk with me. I asked them about their days -- and everyone is having fun, and excited by their groups and what they are doing.

At dinner I sat next to two young ladies who had so much fun explaining to me all the activities they did at free time -- If you could do it, I think they did! Swimming, making friendship bracelets, making lip balm, and taking a shower -- in two hours! Dinner was less crowded tonight than last night -- many of the groups are on "overnights" -- sleeping out under the stars. I can't wait to ask them about their experience when I see them tomorrow!

After dinner I had a long talk with a staff member about Bishop Bruno's Seeds of Hope initiative. Camp Stevens is such a wonderful resource for congregations and/or families that want to start this good work and participate in Bishop Bruno's dream.

At Community Gathering this evening the campers were asked what they saw today that surprised or delighted them. Frogs, bugs, birds, the garden, the pigs -- were among the many answers offered. our own Kay Sylvester offered the reflection and wrote a song which she taught the campers. She was masterful (as she always is), and the kids were quite engaged with what she had to share -- "tune in" -- she talked about her guitar and how she has to tune it -- for it to be "in tune" -- she then asked the campers what they thought they needed to be "in tune". It was beautiful to watch, to participate in and to hear the responses offered by the campers.

It is such a joy and privilege to be part of this community this week.

I wonder as I wander over to breakfast in the morning what bird or animal I may encounter? Will the campers see them as well?
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Camp Stevens, Julian, CA United States

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bishop Goes to Camp -- Preparing for the Campers!

I slept a bit better last night -- it is so quiet here in the evening. With the windows open in my room (I'm staying in the Lax-Sadler Lodge) there was a cool breeze all night -- perfect to sleep in. Thanks to jet lag, I did awake frequently, but unlike the last few nights, I didn't get out of bed until 5. Prayers and shower done by 6:30, then a short walk. I was walking towards the Dining Hall when I spotted a group of wild turkeys on the Dining Hall lawn. That included a Mom and her baby -- so cute! Here's a picture of them. I know it's a little dark, but I think you can make them out. As I got closer, they moved into the underbrush, so I had to hurry to take this shot.

I found Kate up in the Dining Hall kitchen getting ready to cook breakfast. I asked her if I could be of help -- the next thing I knew I had an apron on and was cutting up tofu and vegetables for the tofu stir fry for breakfast. I also plated scones, cut and plated butter, put the turkey sausage and the veggie sausage into bowls (separate bowls, of course!), dished out salsa, and put the fruit salad Kate cut up in bowls. It was great to talk with her! She is a member at St. Wilfrid's in Huntington Beach -- her family goes there too. Kate will be making bread and pizza dough in a bit, and I'll be down there to help her. Here's a picture of Kate and me in the kitchen right before I dished out the fruit salad into serving bowls.

After breakfast I went in to help with the bread making and the pizza dough. Turned out she had already set the dough up and was almost ready to put it in the proofing oven. Kate asked me if I could bake -- as that is one thing I can do, I said, "sure". Next thing I knew I had my apron back on and was working on a recipe for sugar cookies. As we didn't have quite enough eggs for everything we needed to do, Kate asked if I'd mind making vegan sugar cookies -- "of course!" So there I was trying to figure out butter (vegan butter, that is) measurements. Kate introduced me to vegan eggs, which is dry powder you mix with warm water. Westin from North Carolina (Bishop Curry confirmed her!) whipped up the vegan eggs for me. Here's a picture of Chris, Westin and me with the batter - I mixed the batter by hand (meaning I creamed the sugar and butter -- I hadn't creamed anything by hand in YEARS -- and with the volume I was cooking, let's just say I got a workout.

While I was preparing the "balls" of sugar cookies by scooping them out and
rolling them in sugar, there was all kind of hustle and bustle happening in the kitchen. The Kate I was working with today is not Kate the interim Chef -- that Kate (the interim chef) left instructions for things that needed to be done for tonight's dinner. While there was some activity to get that going, it was more to clean out the refrigerator and create "left over extravaganza" for lunch, and an extravaganza it was! DELICIOUS foods from the last few days were heated and put out for us -- the staff for this week. As leftovers is one of my favorite meals, it was so fun to "taste" my way through the offerings -- one dish was more delicious than the other. It's so great that very little is wasted here. While all the activity was going on I was finishing getting the cookies ready. We wanted to make sure there were enough, and didn't know if we'd be freezing them for use another day, so I put them in tight rows, as seen in this picture. Afterwards I separated them out and they went into the oven -- so they were baking at the same time lunch was trying to get served. The staff working in the kitchen were AMAZING -- like an orchestra playing a piece well together -- it was fun to watch. I helped plate a few things and then -- lunch!

After lunch I decided I needed a break. My legs were aching from being on them from about 6 to 11:30 -- I'm not used to standing in one place like that -- that's hard work! At any rate I went to my room and rested a bit.

At 2:00 I went down to the lawn and started to wait for the parents and campers to come for registration. Some were early (registration actually starts at 3:00) so I was able to talk with some. One family came from Ojai! I was so happy to talk with some of the campers and their families. The campers who came via the Camp Bus were guided by staff to where they needed to go. Joy, our nurse for the week is kind. Manny, the nurse from last session was here to help Joy get set up. What great team work!

After the campers found out what group they were in, a counselor from that group came to greet them and give them their name tags. The counselor then brought them to where members of the group were hanging out or showed them the different games that were going on. This week's session is packed with campers! We are at max capacity, which is wonderful.

The theme for the week is TUNE IN. I love the names of the adventure groups:
Operation Enchanted Forest
The Nomads of Ursa Mother
Spark the Hark Lark
Broadcasting Buccaneering Beatles
The Buzz
24/7 ZITN
Channel 5

After lawn games or swimming, at 4:30 all the campers were able to go up to where they would be sleeping when they are in camp (overnights are excursions to sleeping under the stars). Next came a wonderful dinner, where "how things work" at the camp was explained.

After dinner there was adventure group time, and then came Community Gathering. I love singing all the songs! The staff put on a skit, and Beth (the Executive Director) shared a reflection.

I can hear the sound of boys getting settled on the boys hill, as I myself am settling in for the evening. There was a Program meeting -- I didn't attend. I wanted to finish this up quickly (it was almost done) and get to sleep. Hopefully the jet lag will settle down.

I leave you with pictures of some of our Diocese of Los Angeles campers and scenes of the staff from Community Gathering tonight.

I can't wait to see and hear how "tuned in" the groups become this week.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Camp Stevens, Julian, CA ,United States

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Bishop Goes to Camp -- DAY BEFORE CAMPERS

You may be thinking to yourself, "Didn't she just get back from India?" The answer is -- yes, I did -- this past Tuesday. It is Saturday afternoon and I am at Camp Stevens as "Bishop in Residence" for this -- Adventure Session IV. Staff meet tonight and go over the theme for the week and staff will find out who are in their triads after dinner. Tonight and tomorrow I will be joined by Mike Stone (of the Diocese of San Diego) and our own Kay Sylvester (St. Paul's in Tustin) -- Mike and Kay will serve as chaplains for the week. My job? Well, let's say, there is no job description for "Bishop in Residence" -- and my hope is that it will involve LOTS of time in the Arts and Crafts area.

Among the MANY things I love about Camp Stevens is their use of land to produce food, and their food philosophy. I took a picture of their food philosophy info board -- it really makes good sense health and planet-wise. In many ways, it was what we were eating in India the last few weeks, with the addition of LOTS of fresh veggies, which we couldn't eat while in India. I'm looking forward to continuing the healthy eating I began in India -- I lost some weight there, and look forward to keeping up the good work here. Plus, let's be honest, the food here is DELICIOUS!!!

I had to take a peek at ONE of the gardens (didn't go to the one down the road). Fresh fruit, veggies, flowers, herbs -- all growing. Beautiful! The other wonderful addition to the area behind the Dining Hall is the chickens -- maybe 70? -- the chickens provide the bulk of the eggs used during the summer sessions -- lots of eggs being used here! How fresh can you get?

I hope you'll spend the week with me -- check out the blog. I'll fill you in on my camping adventures -- who knows -- there may be a tie dye shirt in my future! I won't spoil the fun by revealing the theme for the week or which staff members are doing what duties -- all shall be revealed in the days to come!

I wonder how many of the campers I'll know from my travels around the Diocese when they arrive tomorrow?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Camp Stevens, Julian, CA United States

Monday, July 22, 2013

Last Full Day in Hyderabad -- and some reflections.

We woke early and went down to our last breakfast -- we will have to leave the hotel tomorrow morning before 4 to get to our flight. Today's agenda is simple -- pack, rest, and have High Tea and a Tour at the Taj Falaknuma Palace Hotel. I will miss Animesh and Azam, our two waiters every morning who were so kind. They were wonderful to us!

We spent the morning packing -- it is very humid here, and even with the air conditioning on everything feels damp. It's very bizarre, but that's what it is. We ended up having to buy another suitcase, a large one, and it is filled with saris we were given and the other clothing items we bought. All our suitcases when we weighed them are just at the weight limit for the plane -- yikes!

We got everything into the suitcases that we needed to, and then came the big "weigh in" downstairs to see how we did. The final score: TBD! Wait till the blog tomorrow to learn "did they go over!"

Aditya and Kalpana, Devika's parents, came to say goodbye to us at the hotel. It won't be the same to not see them until October! We are looking forward to the 2nd wedding (and reception) in Pasadena.

The Taj Falaknuma Palace hotel did NOT disappoint. You have to have reservations in advance to go to High Tea -- you cannot just show up. If you have a cab take you, you have to call in advance with the license plate of the cab. They look under the hood and in the trunk, and look all around the car (underneath, too). Security is tight everywhere (see my observations below). We were driven to a place where the driver could leave the car and, actually, stay with the car! We were then taken in a golf cart that had plastic coverings on the sides -- it is raining heavily in Hyderabad today. Normally I understand they take the guests up to the main entrance in a horse drawn carriage -- it was too wet for that today. Too bad! At any rate, here was our "carriage" for today!

We were taken to a side entrance as the rain was falling heavily. We were escorted through a beautiful covered portico to where we would be having high tea. The room was amazing, as were the grounds. This palace was designed in a European style -- although we could not take pictures during our tour of the palace after we had High Tea, we took pictures during the tea. It was a beautiful location, and the food was delicious! I thought that I'd chance raw vegetables and other things I wouldn't normally eat in India -- if you can't eat them there, where can you eat them? Time will obviously tell. Here's a picture of Max and Devika at our table.

When we were seated there was a group from some foreign country there for a company meeting. There was also an Anglo couple sitting at one window. There was an Indian couple seated at another window. Then a group of 4 women and their 5 children came and sat down. During the time we were there, the Anglo man got down on one knee and opened a box -- the woman said yes, and all those in the room, hearing the gasp of the woman and seeing the man and woman embrace, burst into applause! His name is Duncan, her name is Kelly. They are from Manchester, England. He is here on business and brought her along. Here they are waiting for the High Tea food.

The High Tea food was "amazing" as Max would say. Cucumber sandwich, smoked salmon, ham sandwich (tasted like serrano ham from Spain), chicken salad sandwich, smoked chicken, fruit tart, lemon tart, tiramisu and two other sweets -- and then the scones, cookies, homemade fig preserves, pineapple preserves, lemon curd and whipped cream. Unbelievable! We started with a limeade that was the tastiest drink I've ever had. The service was wonderful, and the tea delicious. Who could ask for more?

On the tour of the palace, the guide was the current Nizam's body guard when the Nizam is in Hyderabad. You could understand why in seeing him. He was kind -- but I can imagine that he can be formidable. "You will please be joining me" was his invitation to us to follow him where he wanted us to go.

Among the most important rooms we were in was the dining room -- which can seat 101 people at one VERY long table. The acoustics were such that some of us went to one end of this VERY long room, and the others stayed on the other side. When we spoke in normal voice, we could hear each other clearly totally across the room -- unbelievable!

At the Taj Banjara is a picture of a state dinner at the Falaknuma palace. The walls are not looking quite the same -- they are painted. The Taj group has a 30 year lease and has turned the palace into a very high end hotel. They spent 5 years studying the property, then 10 years restoring it. To say it is breathtakingly beautiful is an understatement. You can look out over the city -- see Char Minar, hear the call to prayer at the Mosque. Yet, you are so far away from everything, yet so very close. On our way out we saw peacocks -- the theme for this wedding, and we felt truly blessed. Here is a picture of the peacocks.

We got a snack at the hotel -- delicious kebabs from downstairs -- and the chef came and talked with us, even though we were in the coffee shop area, not the Kebab restaurant downstairs. This chef is a master -- if you are ever in Hyderabad, please come and eat his food -- you will NOT be disappointed! Here is a picture of him with Max -- you may have seen one a few days ago from our dinner downstairs -- here's one upstairs at the Taj Banjara. Please make sure you look to the end for other pictures of the Palace -- the few we were able to take.

My last blog post for this trip will be after we land in Los Angeles with a blow by blow of the trip back home -- hopefully it will not be as crazy as the trip to get here! Before I sign off from India, I leave with with a few observations and at the end more pictures from what we could take at the Palace.

1. Mosquitos are a way of life here, most especially during Monsoon season, which Hyderabad is in right now. We were delayed getting down to where we needed to be the evening of the wedding because people didn't take into account that every night right before 7 pm the hotel fumigates the lower restaurant (where we ate the other day) and there is a cloud of insecticide that is unleashed which causes the hotel to lock the front door until it dissipates. There is also a "plug in" in the hotel room that looks like a glade plug in, but it is an insecticide that is slowly dispersed to keep the mosquitos away. I fell in love with the "zapper" -- it looks like a tennis racquet, and when the person wielding it touches a bug you hear "bzzzzt" -- it's zapped and dead. There weren't massive amounts of mosquitos that we encountered -- really, between 6 and 8 in the evening is "high time" for mosquitos -- while we worse repellent at that time, we were never bothered.

2. Being here during Ramadan gave a unique perspective to the reality of living in a predominately Muslim community. You can hear in certain parts of the city the call to prayer from the Mosques -- beautiful! When the fast is broken at night, people are lined up to eat a fig or two and to eat Haleem. Haleem signs are everywhere, and from what I understand this happens just at this time of year, although I'm sure you can buy it in restaurants all during the year. This is a very rich dish which is full of protein -- a traditional fast breaker, and delicious to boot! The traditional haleem is made of mutton, but there are signs for chicken and, apparently a recent addition -- fish haleem. The chai shops are also open late for the same reason. According to the locals, the best Haleem is at Sarvi's right up the street from the hotel. We walked by there one night at about the time the fast was to be broken -- and people were packed out into the street waiting! Here's a picture of the people outside of Sarvi's.

3. I love the hustle and bustle of the streets and shops, but I will not miss the exhaust smells, nor the smell of the lake in front of the hotel. While we can't smell any of these smells in our room or in the hotel (even the outside restaurant has massive amounts of incense it burns to keep the smell away from diners), on the street the smell is overwhelming in places.

4. The service at this hotel (Taj Banjara) has been superb. If you call down and ask for anything, within seconds (really) someone is at your door. They knew our names after the first day, and our likes and dislikes at the breakfast buffet.

5. Being here with Max is always a wonder for us -- I can't imagine navigating the area without him (although I did do so on my own once -- traveling just a few blocks) -- not only does he speak the language so well, he understands the culture and traditions. He was such a kind and considerate guide for us!

6. Honking horns is a way of life here. It is how drivers communicate with one another -- even if it's one of those old fashioned squeeze ball horns we used to have on bicycles that is now attached to an auto rickshaw! It is a signal to move out of the way. There is no time, day or night, when you can't hear a horn blowing, although during the day it is MUCH worse as the traffic is very congested in the city.

7. Crossing the streets here is a lesson in patience and bravery. "Mom, don't worry -- keep moving, they see you -- they won't hit you." Max was right -- you just step off, and as auto rickshaws, cars and motorcycles are aimed right at you, they do stop or move -- of course, they honk as well.

8. Beggars, especially beggars with babies would knock on our car windows as we stopped at a light, pushing the baby right up to the window and alternating pointing to the baby and signaling they wanted money. Only once when we were walking did I get pulled (literally) by someone to give them money, otherwise I was left alone.

9. Removing your shoes is a must to enter some shops.

10. Our whole time here we may have seen 3 people smoking -- apparently smoking isn't allowed in public places.

11. We didn't see many Anglos at the tourist locations.

12. Security is tight everywhere. My bag was xrayed more than it has ever been! And I've stepped through more metal detectors and frisked than I ever was before!

13. In our hotel room we noticed when we opened the desk drawer that there was a decal. We asked Max what it meant. "It's pointing to Mecca" -- wow. We checked the desk in Max and Devika's room -- it's pointing in the same direction, even though the desk in their room is on a different wall. This was unbelievable to me. How very cool! Here is a picture of the desk drawer in our room.

14. We are blessed to have the most wonderful daughter-in-law and now in laws! Please keep looking below for more pictures from the Taj Falaknuma.