The many facial expressions of Flat Martini!


When I went to BlogHer for the first time a few years ago, I was amazed by the kindness of the fellow bloggers I met. It was where I first learned that we are all part of this crazy insane world and need to work together, rather than against. And no one understood that better than the amazing women behind Science of Parenthood – Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler. I instantly formed a friendship with them that has only grown and made me appreciate all their kindness and talent.

And so I was THRILLED when Jessica wanted to take Flat Martini, our little cocktail of love, out for an adventure. And my oh my, did she ever! Jessica and Norine just published the second in their hilarious series of books. It’s called The Bigger Book of Parenting Tweets and it’s getting awesome reviews. I also love it because I was in the original book, The Big Book of Parenting Tweets.

And so Jessica brought Flat Martini along on one of her press stops. (You can see the finished taped segment by clicking HERE.)  I should add, Jessica is an illustrator so these pictures are just freakin’ awesome.

So without further ado, here’s Jessica and my laminated lover. And be sure to stop by Science of Parenthood on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and tell them that Martinis and Minivans sent ya!

Jessica Sign

“Hey Flatty, can I call you Flatty? Cool.

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So Flatty, what say we take a little trip this weekend? Where to? Why, fabulous Kansas, of course! We’re going to the KU graduation, doesn’t that sound exciting?

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No? Well, how about this–while we’re there we are going to have our three-to-four minutes of fame on the Kansas City Live’s morning show to promote The Big Book and the Bigger Book of Parenting Tweets. Pretty cool, right?

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Limo? Ah, no, there won’t be a limo. Nope, no private jet … Actually, you’re going to have to ride with the luggage.

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I know. I’m sorry.

I’ve got to tell you, Flatty, I’m a little nervous about this interview. Will I remember what I should say? Become tongue-tied? Ack! I changed my mind, I don’t want to do this …

It will probably be fine. It’s just talking to a person, like you’re sitting in a restaurant, right? I can do that, maybe be a little funny. Right, Flatty?

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Flatty??

The next morning on the road to the studio an hour away

Oooooh, shit, Flatty, look at all this traffic!

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All right, all right … let’s just calm down. CALM DOWN, MAN. Let’s take a deep breath. Hooooooooooooo. Ok. It’ll be fine.

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IT WILL BE FINE.

20 minutes later

Phew! We made it with time to spare. See, Flatty? Leaving two-and-a-half hours early doesn’t seem so crazy NOW, does it?

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Ok, get changed, check the makeup, crap! These nylons are making me slip right out of my shoes. Whatever. Just scuff-shuffle out to the studio, that doesn’t look stupid AT ALL. Ok, sit up straight, try to find a position for your legs that doesn’t look super weird, fix hair, position book … LET’S DO THIS THING.

Four minutes later

Well Flatty, I’ve got to be honest. I’m not really sure how that went. I think my hair was in my face, and I was afraid to move it. I kept thinking DON’T MOVE YOUR HANDS AROUND! Eventually I just did it.  Also? I think I said “abbreviations” when I meant “acronyms”, then I think I might have corrected myself mid-stream. That’s bound to be awkward. And I know I was holding the book in such a way that the cover would be visible while I was sitting there. That probably looked odd, too.

It was all so fast that I forgot to take a picture, not just in the studio, but, more importantly, of my outfit. Goddamn it, Flatty! You were supposed to remind me! Oh well, whatever. At least I remembered to get this shot of us in the dressing room:

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Can you see the panic in my eyes? And I haven’t even had coffee yet!

Let’s remedy that RIGHT NOW.

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Whew. I’m glad that’s over. Now I have a whole week to obsess about how it turned out before it airs on the 26th. So that will be fun…

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The perfect way to celebrate her life…


I looked out at her and felt the tears start to fill my eyes. I’m not one to cry over small little details in life, but this was one I couldn’t resist. It wasn’t the first time my daughter rode a bike. But it was the first time we rode together. We went together on a family bike ride around a local lake and the girl who cried going down a miniature hill in our driveway just weeks before was now without fear zipping around turns and speeding down slopes.

It wasn’t just pride that made me tear up. It was the fact that today marks the 3-year anniversary of the death of my grandmother. The woman who lived in my house my entire life. The woman who taught me that tea really does heal wounds. And the woman who never leaves my mind. Every single day I think of her.

She would have beamed seeing my daughter peddling around that lake. She would have been amazed at her courage, at her determination. And because she was a nervous little Italian Catholic grandmother, she probably would have asked if her helmet was on properly and if we should make her wear knee pads.

So today my daughter made this day happy for me. She made me smile, she made me laugh and she made me happy. Just like my grandmother did.

 

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Flat Martini visits the Windy City!


I truly love folks that comment on my Facebook page or here on the blog. It’s so fun to interact with readers and laugh at some of their awesome observations and stories. One of my favorite’s is Micki Ansted. She’s always been so supportive – she “likes” my ridiculous pictures I share or just offers a kind word when I post something hard to write about. I’m grateful for readers like her.

So I was thrilled when she wanted to take Flat Martini out for an adventure. And to tell you the truth, I’m pretty sure our little cocktail of love didn’t want to come home after this visit! Come read their awesome week together…

micki ansted flat martini

Flat Martini arrived in the Chicagoland area just in time for a girls’ night from the 70’s! We loaded up on snacks and wine and wine and did I mention wine (?) to spend the night watching old shows and movies and talk and laugh about old times and future plans. We have known each other since 1st grade and although we lost touch we connected again after many years through the magic of Facebook. We lived in a triangle in the Back of the Yards neighborhood back in the day and now we live in what we call the Tinley Triangle. Still just steps away from each other’s houses. Love my girlfriends.

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One of the best things love about my girlfriends is that appreciate my inner beauty. And they also know that my outer beauty needs attention. A true friend will dye your hair and your eyebrows and not laugh in your face. Well, honestly, yes, we laughed… a lot. But I’m ok with that.

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Flat Martini wasted no time getting comfortable at my house. He really liked hanging out with the regulars. Those corks may or may not be from wine that I drank. And the sale sticker? Don’t judge me…

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White Sox Opening Day is a National Holiday as far as me and my pal Tracy are concerned. It’s a great excuse to behave badly and make memories – some of which are fuzzy. This was definitely our 13th or 14th or 15th year attending together. We had to sneak Flat Martini into the game – they check bags and contraband is confiscated. We really wanted him to join us but we couldn’t take the chance of bringing him in even with his own ticket.

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Flat Martini was very flattered that we asked him to pose in our 3.99 generation photo at my daughter’s baby shower. My beautiful mother is 91, I will be celebrating the 27th anniversary of my 29th birthday next week, and my baby girl is expecting her first child (a girl) any day now. Strong woman run in the family. God bless my son-in-law!

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At the shower, as chance would have it, three lovely ladies had one of those “this is awkward” moments when both great grandmother’s and a dear friend all coordinated their outfits. As young women this would have been horrific, but these ladies celebrated their good taste. Flat Martini on the other hand was a bit embarrassed so he stayed out of this picture.

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I recently graduated from college (yay me!) and we had our first alumni event at the Mid America Club on the 80th floor of the Aon Centre in wonderful downtown Chicago. Once again, our purses (and cars!) were searched and we were not allowed to bring in any of our own alcohol, so I sneaked Flat Martini in again. He enjoyed the networking and the view. I worked in this same building 37 years ago as a young girl right out of high school. It was amazing to me that so much time could go by and I could still navigate the concourse.

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My adventures with Flat Martini showed me that the passage of time is a strange thing. It goes by so fast and yet it feels like no time at all. My kids are grown up. I’m about to become a grandma. Life constantly changes yet so many things stay the same. Thank you for allowing me to share my small piece of time with you.

And Flat Martini is looking forward to his next adventure – and so am I!

 

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That time I got stuck with my hands in the air in a Target dressing room…


If you listened very closely on Sunday afternoon, if you paused around 2:30 pm and noticed that a shrieking sound was coming from the Midwest part of the country, well then you probably heard the sounds of my boobs being manipulated, squished and stuck in a tankini bathing suit in the dressing room of Target.

It is that dreaded time of year where women across the country scream uncontrollably as they attempt to try on bathing suits for the upcoming swimming season.

We grab that size 6 when we know we are really an 8. Or a 10. Or maybe even a 12. And we dig our hands in the top of the bathing suit to shift our breasts left, right, up and down in an attempt to make them fit into the suit.

And in the end, we are left with a suit that is half-way on our body, boobs hanging down below it and an ego that requires a pint of ice cream to recover.

And the worst part – yes, the very worst part, is that we are literally stuck there. Stuck with our hands over our heads, trying to desperately wiggle our muffin tops and droopy parts out of the sucking fabric from hell.

When we do finally remove ourselves from the spandex sausage wrap, we are exhausted. Absolutely exhausted.

Which, in the end, means that we are too tired to ever want to swim. Thus, not needing the damn bathing suit in the first place.

 

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Flat Martini goes on Spring Break! Martinis gone… uhm…not-so-WILD!


First of all, I knew Dana from Kiss my List was funny. However, I had no idea how funny until she wrote her post from the perspective of Flat Martini. That’s right. This week, we are hearing directly from Flat Martini himself. And he’s got a lot to say about his hilarious not-so-wild spring break adventures…

Check it out and be sure to head over to Kiss my List and say hi! Besides the blog, you can find Dana on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter!

martini kiss my list

It’s Flat Martini here, hanging out with Dana and her family for the most awesome Spring Break ever.

I’m dreaming of pristine beaches, sitting poolside with an overpriced plate of nachos and being sipped in paradise. Imagine my disappointment when Dana finally pulled me out of her carry on, and I discovered that I was in a car, driving north. We’re both smiling, but I’m confused.

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After driving for hours, we checked into a hotel and headed to dinner at Hairy Tony’s. I still had no idea where we were, but I questioned the wisdom in naming an eating establishment “hairy” anything. Tony turned out to be a lovely guy, although Dana did not let me meet him for fear of embarrassing her children. She did let me out for this photo opp, where my standard grin is actually more of a horrified grimace as I stand next to a huge golden statue of Hairy Tony:

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The following morning, our Spring Break destination became clear. I was venturing into unknown territory: COLLEGE. Universities are typically the stomping grounds of my cousins Beer and Wine Cooler, although I have been to the occasional faculty party. Yet here I was, on a college campus, for what I would soon discover was Spring Break College Road Trip.

Stop #1 was a far cry from that pristine beach. Syracuse University, home of the Orangemen and colder than a frozen olive. I was not allowed on the campus tour; the high school junior would have been mortified. Dana did manage to sneak me out in the bookstore, though:

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The next day we drove from Syracuse to Williamsburg – did no one look at a map while planning this road trip? The temperature went up at least forty degrees, though, and I was able to stretch out in the hotel after a long day in the car.

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Stop #2 was the College of William and Mary. It’s a beautiful school, even in the drabness that is late March. Once again I was banned from the tour, but the high school junior did let me get in a photo with her after most of the crowd had dispersed. We happen to be standing in front of the Sir Christopher Wren Building, which is the oldest college building still in use in the United States. Two American icons, the Wren Building and me.

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Dana let me shop in the bookstore again, and she giggled as she posed me with a hat and some sweatshirts. I was starting to enjoy embarrassing her kids as much as she was!

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The family headed to Busch Gardens the next morning, and I couldn’t wait to ride all the coasters. Unfortunately, no one wanted to carry me around all day, so this was as close as I got:

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I drowned my sorrows in myself all day, and tried to hide my bitterness when they finally came back to the car. But there is no use crying over spilled gin, and I was happy to visit our third and final college, the University of Richmond. It was a beautiful campus:

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I know this road trip had to happen, but why didn’t I visit Dana’s family on a year they went to Disney instead? It did end well, though; I was lucky enough to be lying on the kitchen table when high school junior got her hair cut for Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths. She came home with her 9+ inches of hair, and Dana thought it would be hilarious to give me a ‘stache. What do you think?

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Although we didn’t go anywhere glamorous, I enjoyed hanging with Dana and her family. Her kids were good sports; it can’t be easy to have a blogging mom who will do anything for a good guest post.

As for which college the high school junior should choose? After learning the cost of college, I now know why college kids drink cheap beer. I’m going to encourage Dana’s daughter to apply for lots of scholarships, and seriously consider a state school.

Cheers!

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Looking for women going through a divorce right now…


divorceAlmost ten years ago, I went through a divorce.

As I sat, slumped over the chair in the waiting room of the divorce attorney’s office, my face pressed up against my hands tears falling between my fingers, I heard a soft voice speak to me.

“Would you like a tissue?” she asked.

It was the receptionist. She had walked over to me, a box of kleenex in her hand and a reassuring smile on her face.

I graciously accepted and started to look away. She took a deep breath and then she said the words that I will never forget.

“Just wait, dear. You’ll see the difference that a year makes.”

I’ve never forgotten that woman. I can’t remember her face, I can’t even remember the color of her hair. But I do remember those words. They played over and over for me like a favorite record every day of my life that first year.

They were so empowering because they were right. One year after my divorce, life was vastly different.

For many years I have dreamed of writing a book that is a collection of stories from women going through a divorce. The difference between my book and anything in the self-help section, is that I want to chronicle the difference in a year. I want to follow the lives of 25 women as they go through the first year of a divorce. To hear their struggles and applaud their successes. To not only show the world, but also the women themselves, exactly the difference one year makes.

I need your help.

I’m looking for women who are currently going through a divorce. I will only be using first names in the book so their identities can stay private, if they choose. I’m looking to speak with them over the course of the year, probably 4-7 times, to see how their stories unfold.

This is a project that I really believe in. I think it can help those feeling like they are alone in the strange world of divorce. It’s a scary, lonely world and I think people need to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Please pass this along to friends, family, strangers and heck, even that ex-boyfriend from middle school. Give them my email – martinisandminivans@hotmail.com and tell them to email me with the subject line: Divorce project. I want to hear from them. I want to listen.

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A letter to the girls in row 15 at the Garth Brooks concert


Dear Girls Next To Me in Row 15 at the Garth Brooks Concert,

There are many ways people stage an intervention. One is to gather family and loved ones together and approach you with their concerns. Another is to leave pamphlets and flyers about organizations that can help with your problem laying around your living quarters. But a little known one, one I’m going to use today, is to write a letter to strangers on a blog. Strangers that need help.

You two girls are beautiful, twenty-something year old ladies. You looked absolutely adorable in your camisole tops that don’t give you a shelf-looking bust like they do on me. You rocked your denim mini-skirts and cowboy boots in a way that would even make Jessica Simpson stop and go, “Damn, girl.”  And your long, dark locks were perfectly flat-ironed, even in the back where I can’t ever seem to get my miniature T-Rex arms to reach.

So, why, oh why, do you need to both make out with the same douche-baggy guy that you brought down to illegally squeeze between your two seats?

I watched as each of you thought it was entertaining to slip your tongue in and out of the mouth of a guy whose arms slung around each of your shoulders as if he was going to make a boob grab in the movie theater like a 13-year-old at any given moment.

And even though you both laughed and seemed to like the attention, I couldn’t help but notice as the other kissed the boy, you seemed uncomfortable. You both looked as if you were only doing this because the other was.

Now let me say something.

As a 40 year-old woman who has definitely made her fair share of bad decisions, I want to help.

I want to tell you that this guy is a dirt bag. If I were to truly believe that you two were in control, that you were the ones in power here, I would say, “You go girls.” If making out with the same guy makes you both happy, well then heck go for it.

But that’s not what I saw.

What I saw were two girls thinking they needed to do this to get the stupid not-even-hot guy’s attention. Two girls who thought it would be better to put this guy before themselves. Two girls that didn’t realize how beautiful they really were and how they would never need to share a man.

You two don’t want to do stupid things like this, it’s not worth it. Because decisions like this come pictures on Facebook, videos on Vine and whatever else stupid social media this guy can snap a picture of you both on and post it to his jerkwad friends. And then BAM, in an instant your reputation changes.

But like I said, if you really were the ones in control, the ones who wanted to do it, then I apologize. But as someone who has been that girl who cared too much about a stupid boy whose last name you won’t even remember in 10 years, I felt like I was looking at myself from many years ago. And it wasn’t pretty.

So, let me leave you with this, girls in row 15.

You can’t just be beautiful on the outside. Find it within and then don’t settle for anything less than someone seeing that as well.

And also, invest in a good bra. The way your boobs were jiggling all over the place will make them start hanging down to your knees before you even have children. I’m trying to save you on many fronts here.

Best,

The old lady sitting next to you at Garth Brooks (with the amazing husband next to her that respects, loves and thinks she’s beautiful inside and out.)

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A naughty fun read! My review of How To Punish Your Playboy by Mina Vaughn


mina blogOkay, so I’m going to share something here that I’ve never shared before. Naughty books make me blush, feel uncomfortable and immediately cause me to shove them back on the library or bookstore shelf. I read about 5 pages of Fifty Shades of Gray and felt like I was watching porn back in the 11th grade and Jeanine Laslo’s mom was going to bust us watching it in her basement. If I remember correctly, I actually spent most of the time in the bathroom pretending to have menstrual cramps just to get out of watching Edward Penishands. Yep, that movie really does exist.

But I decided for once, just this once, to step out of my comfort zone and read something a little on the naughty side. I did it because I really like Mina Vaughn. She and I are agency sisters at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. We both have the same amazing agent – Jessica Sinsheimer. And I was tired of wondering what all the hype over her books was about. It was time to see for myself.

Her latest book is called How to Punish Your Playboy. And if you are wondering about the “punish” part – yes, it is about a dominatrix. However, she’s a pretty entertaining dominatrix because she’s never actually done it before. The story follows Veronika’s first time as a “domme” and how she’s pretending to know what the heck she is doing. And of course, she surprises herself along the way, as well as her handsome new love interest, Aston.

Let me say this – it’s the perfect read for when you are away with your man and need to get the spark going. Or on a Wednesday night when the kids are asleep and you dare to get out of your yoga pants. It’s not so naughty that I feel like I need a shower and to go to confession. But it’s just naughty enough to talk about a world I would never actually participate in but am entertained to read about.

Did it make me want to become a dominatrix? No. But it did make me smile, relate to the main character’s insecurities, and just enjoy a fun “kink with a wink”, as Mina describes her books. It’s a book that is fun. All kinds of fun!

So I decided to ask Ms. Mina a few questions after reading it. Here’s her answers. They seriously just make me love her more…

What is the most embarrassing thing someone has said to you, or situation you have been in, with a reader of one of your books?

Oh, I’ve had people tell me that she and her husband dressed as my characters for Halloween and nobody knew them, but she didn’t care. I loved that a mom got dressed up as a Domme and her hubs was a submissive vampire and they just didn’t give a damn. :)

Why write naughty or dominatrix-style? What drew you to that style of writing?

Well, I was tired of alpha males. I didn’t want my heroines to be growled at or possessed; I wanted THEM to do the possessing. I loved the idea of girl-on-top fun, and that’s what I pursued. I wanted to empower and give fantasies that were really different from the norm.

What is something very normal, domesticated and perhaps even boring someone wouldn’t guess about you?

I cried when my bread machine broke. I loved that thing, and seriously, there is no better smell in your house than baked bread.

Describe your perfect date.

Lots of food, good food. Gourmet preferably. I love the experience of ordering, tasting, sharing. Then maybe we’d go do something cultural, like a museum or music. Then I’d beat the shit out of him. Kidding. I’d go shopping.

If you could step into the life of any of your characters for just one week, who would it be and why?

I’d probably be my original heroine, Cerise, because of all the fun dress up and role play she partakes in. Although I think it would be awesome to be a pin up model for a day, so maybe Veronika!

Word associations – what comes to your head first when I say the following words:

whip: thank you

smile: mysterious

manners: fuck em

vodka: cranberry juice

rain: nice smell.

What is the one book you have to have on your bookshelf no matter where you live?

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder– best book ever on writing! So simple, yet really helpful.

Many of my readers are writers – what has the book publishing process looked like for you? Tell us your story.

It was so random! I was querying with another book when a wonderful agent (Jessica Sinsheimer) asked if I had anything else. I reluctantly showed her my smut. I was mortified, but she was crazy about it! A VERY short time later she offered rep, I happily accepted, and we had a deal with Simon and Schuster within three weeks. It was a wonderful whirlwind!

 

So go check it out, folks. How to Punish Your Playboy is available as an ebook on Amazon for just $1.99 right now. I’m pretty sure the significant other in your life will HIGHLY appreciate it!

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The Breakfast Club – My China Wrap Up


They were five strangers picked to spend an entire day getting to know each other. Five different personalities from five different backgrounds. And by the end of their long day of confessions and experiences, they were bonded forever.

This isn’t just the plot of The Breakfast Club, that  also exactly what happened to me in China.

Five writers picked to go on this amazing adventure. None of us had really met before – only in passing and a few words spoken, if even that. Yet, one vacation later, we are bonded in a way that we’ll never be able to truly explain.

My stomach hurt often from laughing so hard with these women. From the long bus rides of stories we shared, to the grabbing on to each other for dear life while walking down dark Chinese alleys at 10 pm, we never stopped looking out for each other.

And on the last day, when we raised our glasses at our last meal together, we didn’t toast the adventure. We didn’t toast all the things we saw. We toasted to “family.” Because that’s what we became.

I saw such amazing things in China. Tea fields, temples, views from the top of Shanghai, acrobats, hikes that caused me to question my ability to move, foods that I never knew existed, gardens that make you breath lighter. I had an opportunity to do Tai Chi with actual Tai Chi masters. To create pottery with a woman who can create magical art with her hands. And to make and enjoy way too many dumplings.

And as much as I’ll take those things with me in life, it’s not any of those that will be my greatest memory.

My greatest memory is the people. The guides that nurtured us, the people who took care of us, and most importantly, the five women who became my family.

When I left on this trip, I wondered if I would find a peace from the chaos of my life. The stress of writing a book, the balance of work and family, the feeling that I was trying to juggle too much. Would I be able to truly unplug and breath in this experience wholly? What would I learn?

I’ll tell you what I learned.

Yes, you can unplug. When the places you go to have no internet. When you have no phone that works. You have no choice but to stop, focus on the people around you and live completely in the moment.

And I’m so grateful I did. Because that’s how I got to know the people.

And as for finding peace from the chaos of my life. I realized that I actually love the chaos. That I thrive on it. That it’s okay to juggling things, and it’s even okay to drop a few balls from time to time. It’s all part of the journey.

So as I wrap up this amazing trip to China with Mandarin Journeys, I want to say this.

Seize the moment. Don’t put off that trip you dream about taking “someday.” Don’t wait for perfect moments. Don’t go into experiences with everything perfectly laid out. Because the most incredible part of this trip was that everything was unknown. Every person, every moment, was unexpected.

And in the end, I walked away with much more than just memories and experiences. I walked away with Vera, Sue, Diana and Dana – I walked away with family.

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Flat Martini Goes to Disney World!


Oh, Flat Martini. You are the flooziest cocktail the world has ever met. You’ll just up and go with anyone who promises you a good time. And before I left for China, you headed to the happiest place on earth. Walt Disney World! Okay, well when you are a mother like me of two sweaty, whiny kids who are always asking for snacks sometimes it isn’t the happiest place on earth, but heck, when you are a cocktail, it’s a dream!

Kirsten Maxwell, from the incredibly fun and informative blog Kids are a Trip, hosted our little martini of love this week and I’m not gonna lie, I was a bit jealous. Check out their adventures. And be sure you stop by her blog and visit her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – it’s an awesome site for traveling with kids – especially those who have children with food allergies.

kids are a trip

My three children were quite envious of Flat Martini’s latest adventure and even offered to take his place on multiple occasions. My 8 year old may have even used bribery and the words “toys”, “money”, and “anything you want” may have crossed his lips when trying to convince Flat Martini to give up his spot in my carry-on bag. Why did my kids want to go on my Flat Martini adventure? Well, I was headed to Disney World, sans children and hubby, and my only sidekick was my trusty Flat Martini. The kids may never forgive me for this one.

Flat Martini was super excited as we explored Chicago’s O’Hare airport on our way to Orlando. We sipped on some Starbucks and perused the magazine rack, while we anxiously awaited our flight. The flight was uneventful, but once we arrived, Flat Martini couldn’t wait to enjoy some Florida sunshine!

In chicago

After slathering on the sunscreen, our first stop was the amazing pool at Disney’s Coronado Springs resort, where we played volleyball, splashed on the waterslide, and enjoyed some refreshing beverages (well I did at least). We had quite a day watching crazy kids wreak havoc on the staff, their parents, and one another, while we lounged poolside. The intense sun wiped Flat Martini flat out, so we called it a day. He stayed in the room to sleep it off while I headed out for dinner.

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The next day was the best of our trip. Flat Martini and myself went out to explore the parks and boy did we have a blast! The first stop was Animal Kingdom, one of my kids’ favorite Disney parks (sorry kids). It kind of felt wrong to be there without them, but Flat Martini turned out to be a fantastic partner in crime. We rode Expedition Everest (Flat Martini screamed the entire time and almost shattered his glass), pretended to be explorers on the Kilimanjaro Safari (where Flat Martini almost lost his lunch the ride was so bumpy), and enjoyed the Birds of Prey show (even though Flat Martini almost got carried away by one of the birds)! Flat Martini also tried his first Dole Whip treat, which he proclaimed was: “Delicious, a bit too sweet, and in desperate need of vodka.” I’m inclined to agree.

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Our day wasn’t over yet, so we headed to Epcot to check out the World Showcase. Flat Martini felt like he had died and gone to heaven! There was food and drink from all over the world, and Flat Martini even met up with some of his long lost cousins, including the Italian Margarita (who wasn’t flat by the way, go figure). After an evening of globe trotting and grazing, we found ourselves front and center for Epcot’s “Illuminations” fireworks show. Flat Martini couldn’t believe the heat coming off the water from the show and kept mentioning a fear of catching fire. Thankfully, he made it through in one piece and proclaimed the show a spectacular success.

France

The following morning, Flat Martini accompanied me to meetings and was able to meet some of my fellow travel writers. Little did I know, this little guy already had his own fan club, several of the writers in attendance knew about Flat Martini and his adventures. Dana Zucker from TriWivesClub and myself snuck off to get some pictures in the lounge during one of the presentations (shhh). We wish the bar had been open, so we could have shared a toast with Flat Martini, but hopefully you can see the dismay at our lack of beverages in this shot. Thanks Flat Martini for being a good sport!

need a drink

A big thank you to Flat Martini for being the easiest travel partner ever. No clothes to carry, no toiletries to pack, even security was a breeze. My kids still don’t understand why a martini got to take their place on a fabulous Disney World vacation, and they probably never will.

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Flat Martini went to Canada!


Before Flat Martini joined me for my Chinese adventure, he took a trip to Canada to visit the awesome Melissa Charles from Not a Stepford Life. She was nervous about having our little cocktail of love cross the border and enter the land of “Eh” but I reassured her that she was perfect for the job.

And she was!

Come read how Flat Martini took his passport over the border and had a hilarious adventure! And be sure to stop by Not a Stepford Life on their blog, Facebook, or Twitter and tell them that Martinis and Minivans sent ya!

martini with melissa

 

I was a wee bit apprehensive, to be squiring Flat Martini around. I mean, so far he’s been to a freaking OSCAR PARTY. What could I, a humble Canadian, possibly have to offer?

Then I thought, “Play to your strengths.”

So, I did.

First stop was taking Flat Martini to Tim Hortons. Some people call it a coffee shop, others refer to it as one of the Holy Trinity of Canada. (The other two being hockey and duct tape)

First thing that greeted us was Stanley Cup NHL doughnuts. See what I mean about the Trinity?

flat martini 1

The smell of coffee was glorious, and Flat Martini started to consider his life after the blogging travels were done, and thought about applying for a job.

Flat martini 2

For the ride home, Flat Martini snuggled up to my double double and enjoyed the scenery.

Flat Martini 3

Flat Martini 4

We stopped to pick up a lottery ticket, and Flat Martini helped pick some numbers (no, we didn’t win).

Flat Martini 6

“You’re all very polite,” Flat Martini commented, “But what happens if a Canadian turns bad?”

I assured him that we did have a police force, even a national police force, but he didn’t believe me until we took him to the local RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) station.

Flat martini 5

Finally, we got home, and introduced Flat Martini to the wonder that is Red Green. Granted, it was on DVD, but if you’re going to do Canada, you gotta know Red Green.

Problem with this is, it introduced Flat Martini to the third of the Trinity. Handyman’s secret weapon. Duct tape. He went a little nuts, frankly.

Flat martini 8

I’m not exactly sure how it all happened. It was during one of the hockey games, that I discovered that Flat Martini was also sipping on some Canadian beer. I shrugged, figuring that hey, he’s a martini, what could go wrong?

Then I found this.

flat martini 7

I’m not sure it qualifies as an orgy, but I’m not sure it doesn’t either. Canadian beer, Smarties, four rolls of duct tape, I Love Canada bumper magnet, a hockey puck, and a freaking moose. I don’t even know where the moose came from.

What a hoser, eh?

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My last two days visiting China…

I apologize for not being able to journal the past two days here on the blog. We are now at a retreat center in Tai Hu and the internet service is very spotty. Also, we don’t have access to social media so I hope there isn’t another “Is the dress blue or gold?” epidemic I’ve missed on Facebook. That was be a catastrophe.

Because I’m a day behind, I’m going to talk about two days not just one. The first day being our trip here to Tai Hu. Before I explain this next picture, let me tell ya something. When I tell you that the driving here in China is nothing you have ever seen before, you will probably shake your head and say, “Sure, sure.” But it is like you are constantly that crazy roadrunner who has to worry about getting an anvil dropped on their head. It’s bat sh!t crazy.

On our ride here, our driver just stops right in the middle of the road and gets out of the bus and starts running. Where you ask? Damn if we know. He never said a word, just out he went. So I climbed into the driver’s seat and imagined what it must be like to be a driver in China. Here’s what it would look like:

dani driving bus

You would also have to avoid all the motorcycles and motorbikes. Not just because they are driving like drunk race car drivers, but because they carry stuff like this around that is 50 times what the acceptable weight to carry should be.

stuff on bike

However, once we did reach our destination, it was amazing. (And yes, the driver returned without a word or any mention of his random departure.) We are staying our last two nights at the Tai Hu Retreat Center. It’s a hidden gem in the countryside. A place to leave the bustle of the city and find your inner peace.

First stop to inner peace: The Tang Dynasty Royal Tea Factory. It’s about an hour from our retreat center and the trip is absolutely worth it. Lu Yu was the “father of tea” here in China. He was a man who when he found this field of tea, he then dedicated his life to manifesting it and mastering the art of tea-making. It’s kind of how I feel when I see a Little Debbie Snack Cake, I like to dedicate myself completely to it.

We had the absolute joy of seeing a traditional tea ceremony which mesmerizes you with its delicate and very deliberate movements. It’s a dance that is slow but powerful. You feel like you are transported back in time and when you sip the tea, it has that taste of homemade food cooked with love.

tea temple

traditional tea ceremony

One of my favorite things about this day was when our group gathered for more tea after the ceremony and talked about Buddhism. It was one of those discussions where you learn and appreciate someone’s way of life. Their message is beautiful and truly made me admire the history even more.

Speaking of Buddhism, we had the opportunity to visit an active Buddist temple later that day. The Shousheng Temple with a tree that’s over 1,000 years old and bamboo sprinkled all along the pavement to dry out for eating. Of course, certain members of our team (Vera Sweeney, cough cough) didn’t realize the bamboo was drying and might have added a bit of New York pavement from her shoes to the flavor of the bamboo, but never mind about that.

Amazing day, right?

But then came day 2. The day that might just have been my favorite of them all.

It wasn’t spent seeing temples, or admiring gardens over 1,000 years old. And as much as I loved those experiences, what we did today was lessons I will take back to my home.

The day began with learning Tai Chi in an ancient courtyard on the retreat property. Magical doesn’t even begin to describe it. I can’t wait to share the video with you all when I return and am not cursing at the internet every 15 minutes. Our Tai Chi master showed us how to work on finding your Chi, to feel its strength flowing through you.

Now listen, I’m not one to be all for exercise or that kind of stuff, but this was different. This was like learning a dance of strength. Each movement very intentional and powerful. The slowness does not equal weakness. It’s quite the opposite. You actually find yourself sweating yet you have only done 10 minutes of poses. Or maybe I’m completely out of shape and still bouncing back from killing myself on the tea mountain.

Either way, I truly loved it. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

learning tai chi

Tai Chi

Following Tai Chi was where I found my peace.

Pottery making class.

I was an Art minor in college with a focus on sculpture. I love this stuff. I love Play Doh. I love that part in Cranium where you get to make something out of the miniature blue clay they give you. I love it. All of it.  So this was totally up my aisle.

And it was awesome.

That’s not saying that I was awesome at it. Actually, our teacher from the Hu pottery family, at one point told me, “Oh no” when she saw what I was doing. She also handed me a mound of clay and told me to play with it while she made my tea cup look pretty. But hell, I didn’t care. I loved every minute of it. I was completely enthralled in her ability to take a mound of what is essentially the rock from a local mountain and turn it into something so beautiful.

I also admired her because she successfully wore an amazingly stylish white jacket and never got a piece of anything on it. I was there 5 minutes and I knocked over a coke can and had clay in my hair.  But look, I did make this snail al by myself…

making pottery

cup and snail

And to end my favorite day, the icing on the cake.

We had a dumpling making cooking class.

Those little suckers are damn hard to make, I tell ya. There’s dough to make, balls to roll out, shells to shape, filling to fill and then the hardest part – the funky little pinching design to seal it all.

And they do this EVERY day. Every single day they are making dumplings. Unreal. I now will also look at them and now that they take a crazy amount of work. I’ll also probably just buy them from Trader Joe’s and call it a day. But I’m quite sure that nothing will ever taste as good as when they were cooked and we popped about fourteen of them into our mouths.

dumpling

 

And now we are here – the night before I leave. The last night in China.

I can’t believe it. So much we’ve seen. So much we’ve done. And I’m still in awe.

I can’t write a wrap-up post yet. I can’t say what this experience meant to me because I’m still processing all of that. I promise I will when I return. I have practical and funny things I’m going to share.

But what I can say right now is that China is a land like no other.

And I’m a better person for having come.

Thank you, Mandarin Journeys.

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Music, bonsai and tea – oh my! What an amazing day in Suzhou…

When you hear the word “garden” in the United States, you immediately picture colorful blooming flowers filling up an area like a rainbow growing from the ground. You picture fountains and bird baths and maybe a quarter of an acre, right? But do you picture pagodas and temples and sitting rooms? Because the Chinese kick that stuff up a notch. A “garden” here in China is an entire collection of little temples, structures, buildings, flowers and rock structures that leave you constantly in awe.

We are now in the city of Suzhou, a few hours away from Shanghai and it has a completely different feel from the insanity and congestion of the booming city of Shanghai. Don’t get me wrong, I love the hustle and bustle of a busy city, but it was time to spread our wings and see another type of living. Suzhou is a water town with canals going in and out of parts of the neighborhoods. Imagine Venice but different architecture.

And it is home to gardens so amazing that I filled an entire memory card on my camera.

Our first stop was Humble Administrative Garden. Let me tell you guys what happened here back in history in the 1500’s. You’ll be shaking your head when I’m done and yelling, “NO!!!!!!” So here’s this 13 acres of gardens. Absolutely stunning with all these pagados and ponds and trees. And one night gambling with good-for-nothing friends, the owner’s son gambles it all away. NOT the owner – his damn stupid son. ALL OF IT! He loses the garden because of his dumb-ass son. How insane is that??? I’m mad when my kid eats my hidden snacks without me knowing, imagine the fury you’d feel if your son sold your gardens on a lousy pair of jacks.

dani at dragon

vera and I

That’s Vera (from Lady and the Blog) and I – though I have no idea why we look like we are on our honeymoon. Must be my hat – all the ladies love it…

And thanks to Dana Zucker (from Tri Wives Club for this pic) – you can see the Tiger Hill temple in the far distance.

humble garden

Oh wait, here’s another crazy thing about the garden. And this was true for many of the gardens during this time period. See these beautiful mahogany chairs?

women chairs

Okay, so this chair was in the “women’s section” of the resting room structure. By the way, the men’s side had a beautiful view of the gardens. The women’s section had a view of a white wall. You see where I’m going with this one. Well anyway, when the women sat down, they weren’t allowed to put their elbows on the arms of the chair – that was reserved for men. They had to put their hands folded in their laps. As you can guess, I’m not loving those chairs…

One of the things about the garden that makes it so amazing and took my breath away was that it had over 500 bonsai trees. And get this, bonsai is actually originally from China, not Japan. It’s now always associated with Japan but it originally came from Bonsai.  And I felt freakishly giddy when we learned how to cut them and I got to try. As many of you know, I basically kill any living creature that isn’t human so this was highly entertaining for me.

bonsai

cutting bonsai

However, the entertainment really didn’t kick into gear until we made our way to a private tea house where we got to sit, sip tea and listen to a woman play the pipa and a man play the sanxian. The sound lulls you right to a calm place where you don’t notice the differences between you and the people around you. You just see a sea of neighbors enjoying the music together.

But I had to kick it up a notch. So when it was Sue (from the blog Field Trips with Sue) and I’s turn to sit and hold the instruments, we sat ourselves right down and got to singing. Yeah, I’m not kidding. We actually sang, “Miss American Pie” and “Take Me Home, Country Road” and had the people on their feet singing along. We brought down that tea house like it has never been brought down before.

us singing

After that dynamic performance, we were off to lunch. And by lunch, I mean that you sit around the largest round table with a lazy susan you have ever seen and try to wrap your head around the constant influx of food that is being brought to the table and shared. From duck to pork to vegetables to soup, eat dish dropped gets you one step closer to heaven. And then this arrived.

fish

The fish presentation to rival any fish presentation. We cheered, we laughed. And my god, we ate. If you are nervous about the food in China, let me reassure you. There is something for everyone. They embrace vegetarians, but they also have incredible meat dishes. You can go adventurous or keep it closer to your norm – those options are here. But I will say this – everyone on this trip was a bit nervous to try some of the unknown dishes and the most commonly heard phrase is, “Wow, that’s actually really good.” So my view here is to go for it.

From lunch we took a boat trip on one of the canals and were amazed by the beauty of a city so rich with history.  But when later in the night came and it was time for dinner, it was a new kind of history we saw. We were guests at the Lamborghini Hotel – yep, you read that right. It’s the hotel owned by the famous car-making family. And parked right out front, begging for me to be its car model was a crazy Fast and the Furious lamborghini.

sexy car

But the thing I loved most about this stunning hotel on the water was this. Every door number is a set of books. And also, there’s quotes to The Beatles songs on the carpet. How damn cool is that?

door at hotel 2

And just when we felt our feet might fall off and our eyes might close completely on their own, we hit one final garden. The only garden open at night – The Fisherman’s Garden. With eight different performances throughout the garden, we saw Chinese opera, theater, musical performances, and my favorite – the two old men dancing out a story about all of us becoming wealthy.

dancing performance

When my head hit the pillow, I felt as if I lived the entire day in a dream. I didn’t have time to miss my children or think about what works waits for me at home. I didn’t have one moment to give in to stress or worry. I was too busy smiling and breathing in all the culture the country was giving me with open arms.

Beautiful day with Mandarin Journeys. Tomorrow, off to another town, another adventure… Stay tuned!

 

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Zhujiajiao and Suzhou – My third day in China…

My third day in Shanghai with Mandarin Journeys started a bit differently than the others. Instead of waking up early and bussling off for an adventure, we had time to explore on our own. Some worked, some slept, and I decided to brave the city by myself and attempt to go shopping.

Now let me explain why I say “brave.”  When you are an American in China and go to the marketplaces, you basically are wearing a sign that says, “Come up to me and try to sell me a bunch of crap.” Don’t get me wrong, I get it. It’s their job and they want to sell this stuff. But, it’s a bit intimidating if you aren’t prepared for it. There will be a crowd of people gathered around you at a freakishly close range trying to get you to come to their store front. I went from being polite to showing them invisible force fields around me that they weren’t to cross. But hell, if you are looking for a purse, holy cow all mighty, these markets are the place to go. Wow.

After successfully completing my mission of purchasing souvenirs and returned to the hotel, it was off to the town of Zhujiajiao for us. However, what should have been a 1.5 hours trip turned into 3 hours because of the endless traffic in China. I seriously have never seen anything like it. I’m going to do an entire post on the automobile tendencies and traffic insanities of China.

However, when we finally go to Zhujiajio, it was well worth it. It’s one of the original water towns built on the Grand Canal in China. The Grand Canal was a waterway hand made over 1,700 years ago as a means to connect Beijing and Shanghai. And the town was so cool to tour. It reminds you of Venice with homes built around tiny canals and restaurants and businesses weaving in and around the water.

water town

The town of Zhujiajiao

 

And unlike the hike that almost made me puke on Chinese tea leaves yesterday, today was a day to stroll, drink beer on the waterfront and say no to the street vendor attempting to sell you baby turtles.

baby turtles2

Would one of these get through customs??

 

Though, I did really want to say yes to this 3D ice cream. How fun looking are these ice cream bars??

3d ice cream

They are serious about their ice cream here, folks.

 

And then, we ended the day with a bang. A private dinner for us at the Suzhou Marriott Hotel. Great food, great people and a night of relaxing and taking in the amazing world around me right now. And I especially love this hotel right now because the room is absolutely gorgeous (it has a claw foot tub, people!!!) and get this – IT HAS FAST INTERNET!!! Woo hoo!!

dinner at marriot

Almond ice cream. I have no words.

 

But I can’t get too comfortable. We might have had a bit of relaxing and traveling today but tomorrow we hit the ground running. Rumor has it that we are doing some things that will definitely lead to some hilarious stories… Stay tuned.

#bucketlistChina

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Mind over body – My second day in China…

When your body tells you that it can’t go anymore, I’ve always listened. I’ve never dared to challenge its authority or attempt to overthrow its decree.

Until today.

Until I was staring up to hike a mountain in Hangzhou surrounded by the most beautiful tea fields your mind could possibly imagine.

Thousands of stone steps, jagged, rough and bulging up to the top. With each step, I said that I couldn’t take another. The incline was too much. I didn’t say the words, “I can’t” aloud, I simply panted and tried not to concentrate on how each stone caused a pain to shoot up my stomach and back.

But I climbed.

Until I felt that rush from my stomach, the gurgling and discomfort, make its way closer to my  mouth. It wanted me to vomit. It wanted me to give up. It warned me that China would soon experience parts of me I’d rather not share with this new, exciting country.

I told the group that I needed to stop for a minute. The group of fit travelers – ones who have hiked in Thailand, ran marathons and traveled to mountains far higher than this “hill”.

But I didn’t vomit. Dry heaved – yes. But vomit – no.

I told myself that I was in freakin’ China. I told my body that I needed it to be the best version of itself possible.

And it listened.

Until four steep sections later and the feeling of nausea returned.

One of the travelers, Dana, with a backpack full of cures for any ailment, offered every item she could possible think of. Ginger candy drops. Bananas. More water. Back to ginger candy drops. Granola bars. More ginger candy drops.

Over and over again I said no, but every few feet she would turn around and offer again.

Finally, I had to make my answer a bit stronger.

“I fuckin’ love you Dana but if you offer me another damn ginger drop I’m going to puss you over this freakin’ cliff.”

Lucky for me, a bit of rage was just what I needed. (And a friend who knew I was mostly joking and wasn’t offended by my harshness.)

And at the top of the mountain covered with fields of tea, I told my body, “ya did good.”

Standing there, I realized what a gift it was to be on the other side of the world. In this body, in this place, and in this country.

Tomorrow might not be another mountain to climb, but it will surely take me to a view I have never seen before. A view of a place, and I’m guessing of myself. And isn’t that what the journey is truly all about?

Hangzou fields

See the houses down below? That’s the start of the hike…

 

bamboo trees

Breathing in the bamboo

 
 Mandarin Journeys – you are kickin’ my ass and I love it.

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