The Best Part



In an effort to engage my children in conversation from an early age, I’d often go around the dinner table at night and ask my people what the best part of their day and the worst part of the day were. The “highs” and the “lows,” you might say. Generally, I’d get a lot of shoulder shrugs and eye rolls from my baby dolls, but this never deterred me. I’d press, “What was the best thing that happened to you today, buddy?” and maybe I’d get a, “Playing kickball at recess,” or, “Lunch,” and that was when they were still in grammar school.

Forget high school.

Usually though, the real conversations would come at night, in the dark, maybe after the millionth reading of Tikki Tikki Tembo when my child — softened by a tummy full of chicken nuggets and a long, hot shower — would start to open up and share some of the events of his day. Usually the worsts.

I miss those moments.

Nowadays I’ll get a call when someone has something sad to report and a text to share good news. But it’s just not the same.

I played the “Best Part/Worst Part” game a lot when I visited Hong Kong with my two younger kids last month. But honestly, there were really no “Worst Parts” on that trip. The challenge was sifting through all the cool stuff we did to pick the best “Best Part.”


We took the tram up to the top of Victoria’s Peak.


We ate delicious dim sum.


We pretended we were Buddhists.


We swam in the pools of a waterfall.


We had cocktails overlooking the lights of the city.

I think the “Best Part” of the trip for me was that of all the really cool things we did — jumping off a junk boat, riding waves on the South China Sea, swimming in the pools of a waterfall, spinning on a rollercoaster at an amusement park — my 12yo son’s “Best Part” of the trip was our visit to see the Big Buddha on Lantau Island.


Tian Tan Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, Hong Kong.

It’s actually called Tian Tan Buddha and was built a little over 20 years old. The 200-foot-tall bronze statue sits high atop 268 steps and is part of the Po Lin Monastery. Around 20 percent of Hong Kong people are Buddhists so even though it’s a tourist destination, we got to see the reverence the site inspires among those who practice that religion.

Luckily the day was overcast making the 200+ step-ascent a little less terrible.

Luckily the day was overcast making the 200+ step-ascent a little less terrible.

Approaching the Big Buddha.

Approaching the Big Buddha.

The kids carefully watched monks walking around the grounds and Buddhists lighting incense using long, wooden sticks, placing offerings of fruit at temple altars or kneeling with heads bowed in prayer. As we walked up the long staircase to see the buddha up close, my son had a lot of questions about Buddhism.

Burning the long sticks of incense.

Burning the long sticks of incense.

Offerings in one of the temples.

Offerings in one of the temples.

Feeling it at Big Buddha.

Feeling it at Big Buddha.

“Mom, didn’t you used to be a Buddhist?” he asked.

“Did you say Buddhist or nudist?” I joked, as I’ve been neither and since I really don’t like taking off my clothes, would only consider the former.

I had offered to get each of the kids a souvenir from the trip and while my 17yo daughter chose a midnight blue silk robe festooned with colorful flowers and birds, my son chose a mini Buddha to bring home. Given there was a fair amount of weaponry — wooden swords and daggers — to have selected as his Hong Kong keepsake, I was pleased that my baby chose something so peaceful. It speaks to who the kid is.

Sampling souvenir options.

Sampling souvenir options.

While we were on Lantau Island that day, we had two other adventures. First, we hopped back on the bus — the same buses that took us to the Buddha from the ferry we took from Honk Kong Island — to check out Tai O fishing village. We careened along the windy road across the mountains to the edge of the island to the bustling tourist destination.

It’s pretty much a narrow alleyway you walk through to be assaulted with the sights, sounds and smells — wow, the smells — of a Chinese fishing village. I felt like we were on a movie set. The path was jammed with predominantly Asian tourists and lined on either side with shops and stalls displaying am impressive array of shit you can do with sea life. It hung dried from lines. It swam in colorful plastic buckets. It got formed into a ball and fried. It was beyond fascinating although some people in our party could not get out of there fast enough.

We hopped in taxis to get back to the monastery because we wanted to take a gondola that would head us back to our friends’ flat in Stanley.

As we approached the ticket counter for the gondolas, we saw that the line divided into regular ticket holders and those who upgraded to the “crystal cabin.” The grown ups looked at each other and I was like, “Crystal. Totally.”

I read that to mean “VIP.” I did that once for a ride on the London Eye. In that case, I think some booze might have been included and the upgrade expedited our trip to the front of the line.

In China, the upgrade brought instead a higher level of terror to our journey over the mountains and briefly over the South China Sea as the floor bottom of the gondola was glass. You could see straight down.

The secret to getting through about 25 terrifying minutes is to let go, which is what I did. Instead of imagining the cable snapping and our car plummeting through the treetops far below; or focusing on the fact that this would all be going down in China and isn’t that where lots of crazy things happen; I sat back and took in the breathtaking scenery we were gliding through.

Obviously, we survived.

It’s been about a month since we’ve returned from this life-changing trip and we’re already talking about where we’d like to go next.

My son came home from his first day back at school after Hong Kong and as he dipped his cookie into a glass of milk asked, “Hey Mom, can we go to England for spring break next year?”

And whether we can swing that or not a year from now, I love that that’s how he’s thinking.


That’s the best part for me.

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My Hong Kong Trip, Part 2


IMG_5352 (1)

When we last left this blogger, she had staggered off a 16-hour flight, spit out an expletive and proceeded to tour Hong Kong with her expat neighbors along with her two youngest children.

The China trip had always seemed so far away because we booked it so far in advance. I am usually pretty last-minute and willy-nilly about everything in my life so making plane reservations for the vacation six months ahead of time was a completely foreign concept (and really, setting the tone for the entire adventure). But we pulled the trigger in October, bought the tickets, and then started counting the days.

It turns out, I am not a great counter because all of a sudden — somewhere around mid-March — I realized we were scheduled to leave about two weeks hence and had done nothing to plan our itinerary. Zippo. I reached out to my girlfriend, who moved to Hong Kong last summer with her family, to ask her if she had any ideas and she messaged back, “Actually, what do you think about this?”

We were just a little busy.

We were just a little busy.

It was like a dream come true. We literally just had to get our asses over to the other side of the world, and our friends had made plans for the rest. It was like being on a tour or something.

The best part about the trip – well, one of the best parts about the trip – was that we had locals as our very own tour guides. And we were their first visitors, so things were still relatively new for them. It wasn’t like, “Oh, there’s that giant Buddha again (*yawn*).” They were as excited as we were.

Because we were with locals who don’t own a car, we not only got to experience the thrill of riding in a Hong Kong taxi, but we got ourselves some Octopus cards (Hong Kong’s equivalent of NYC’s MetroCard) and rode all sorts of public transportation, like the rollercoaster double-decker buses, the crazy little green minibuses and the MTR (or subway) all over the island. We also took a couple of gondola rides, but that’s another story.

We jammed a lot in during our week there, including breathtaking hikes, yummy dim sum, foot rubs, a twisty-turny rollercoaster ride above the South China Sea, a junk boat tour and a visit to the aforementioned Giant Buddha. And we ate at some outstanding restaurants but did manage to have a brush with some of China’s creepier food choices. Never — I repeat — never order a chicken Caesar salad for your lunch at a Chinese beach snack bar. Shiver.

Anyway, here are some of the highlights:

Hiking the Dragon’s Back

Since our friends moved to Hong Kong, they’ve posted lots of pictures on social media of amazing hikes they’ve taken around the island with their three young sons. I had indicated that we’d love to do some as well during our trip. So when I went to my local Athleta store to buy some fresh new tops for sightseeing and hiking (a goodwill gesture towards the Chinese people so that they would not subjected to seeing me in an item pulled from my old pile of stinky, pit-stained workout tops), I told the very enthusiastic sales woman that I didn’t anticipate any serious exertion. “They’ve got young kids,” I told her, “so we’re really just going to be going for walks and not quote-unquote ‘hiking.'”

So, it turns out that those expat friends of mine are fucking hiking with their kids. Like, strenuous stuff. Our first hike was the famous Dragon’s Back – named for the way the mountains the trail traverses resemble one of those fire-breathing creatures — which is part of the Hong Kong Trail. We climbed eight or nine miles of hills and steps, and it was kinda hot and we were kinda tired from the time change and maybe a tad dehydrated but then we looked around at the drop-dead gorgeous scenery and shut the hell up.

 Hitting the Beach at Big Wave Bay

The Dragon’s Back trail ends with about 1,000 steps down (literally) to Big Wave Bay, which is where we crashed (literally again)  for the rest of the afternoon. Who knew China had beaches, much less boogie boarding? Oh, and shark nets. That’s a thing.

Walking Around SoHo

We spent Easter morning in the SoHo section of Central — the big city on Hong Kong Island — and walked around a little after brunch.

Sailing Around the Island on a Junk Boat 

Later that day we walked down to Stanley Pier, right down the road from our friends’ flat, and boarded our very own junk boat. When my girlfriend told me before we left that they had made reservations on a junk boat, I envisioned we’d be on one of those old-fashioned Chinese-y sailboats with the red sails. You know, one of these deals:

Seen from our junk boat.

What I thought was a junk boat, as seen from our junk boat.

But, no. We boarded a lovely two-level sea vessel replete with beanbag chairs for lounging and a crew to make us dinner and sail us around the island. We stopped for a while off Big Wave Bay — outside the shark nets, I might add — to do a little swimming. Beer totally helped get me past the threat of sharks or the very large, red jellyfish we kept an eye on. As my girlfriend would say — and I began to follow suit — about a thousand times while we were there whenever we encountered something not-very-American, “Welcome to Hong Kong.”

Victoria Harbor Light Show

After dinner and a competitive game of Uno, we headed to the north side of the island to see the famous Symphony of Lights show. Asian countries — admirably, in my opinion — have a thing for lights. Like, the more, the better. This holds true in Hong Kong where all the crazy tall skyscrapers lining the harbor light up as the sun goes down and then at 8:00 each night, laser lights stream from the top and sweep across the harbor for the light show.

This is totally not my video. Thank you, YouTube.

Honestly, we had a hard time — sitting there on our junk boat in the middle of the choppy harbor — gauging just when the show started or stopped. We were a little underwhelmed. But we happened to catch the show a few nights later from a restaurant high above the city, and it seemed a lot better. But who cares? It was a spectacular setting.

Oh, and there was a full moon.

But Wait, There’s More …

I think we’re going to need a Part 3. There’s so much more to show and tell you about. We still haven’t even gotten to the Big Buddha, the insane gondola ride over mountains and the South China Sea or all the smelly fishing village we visited. Not to mention all the toilets I took pictures of. No, we’re going to need to do this again.

Stay tuned.

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My Hong Kong Trip, Part One

The kids and I at the top of Victoria Peak.

The kids and me at the top of Victoria Peak overlooking the harbor.

In the ten days or so since I returned from my spring break trip to Hong Kong, I have experienced the following: searing jet lag; a day-long road trip to visit my father who lives a two-hour drive south; lunch and a visit with my mom who lives much closer; the theft of my purse and wallet while walking at a local park with a friend and subsequent scramble to prevent said thief from making any further purchases beyond the $1,500 spent at Target and Lowe’s or from buying, say, a new car in my name; a visit with college friends in Brooklyn that gave me the impression I’d stumbled into an episode of “Girls” cast 25 years in the future in which I played the schlubby pal from New Jersey; and yet another college tour as the big decision day approaches for my 17yo requiring a total of about eight hours of driving, the consumption of two bacon cheeseburgers in 24 hours and lots of smiling.

I’m tired, and I don’t even have a banana in my house at the moment, much less ingredients to produce something for dinner later this evening.

I’ve also had a Jiminy Cricket of a hard time trying to wrap my arms around my Hong Kong experience to tell you about it. It hasn’t been easy summing it all up in 1,000 words. I think it may need to be done in a couple of posts, so I’ll begin with some overall impressions of the trip along with my thoughts on combining drugs and alcohol for air travel (spoiler alert: I’m a fan).

It seems trite, referring to a vacation as a “trip of a lifetime.” Like, until recently, I couldn’t have really told you what that meant. I mean, aren’t vacations — by their very definition — all memorable?

But now I know, some destinations stand head-and-shoulders above the rest. Like Hong Kong.

As we prepared to board our plane departing out of JFK and had our boarding passes scanned one final time, I actually started getting a little hysterical as the kids and I started down the ramp, toting our backpacks, neck pillows and assorted reading and viewing material.

“We’re going to China,” I cackled and proceeded to laugh uncontrollably as we neared the plane door until my 17yo told me to calm down. “You’re gonna get us arrested or something,” she hissed. Ever the alarmist.

But in the days leading up to our departure, I had begun feeling a little unhinged about flying half way around the world with my two youngest children. It had just seemed so – I don’t know – BIG. I mean, who goes to China for spring break?

Not a lot of people in my neck of the woods.

I know this because the nearby Billabong store was keeping track of where all of its customers were traveling over their various school breaks. The store had propped a piece of poster board behind the register divided into boxes bearing the names of the different destinations, and they used tally marks to keep track of how many customers were headed in each direction. We’d stopped in the store a few times before our own trip – to pick up a bathing suit and some shorts for the 12yo – and had mentioned on the first visit that we were flying to Hong Kong, which the Billabong folks happily included on their getaway chart. It seemed the majority of spring breakers were headed to Florida, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico but there were some other pretty exotic destinations listed on that poster board – like Ireland, Ecuador and Fiji.

As of the day before we departed, there remained only one check mark under Hong Kong.

But we made our way towards the back of the plane and settled in and one Valium and two (or maybe three) free plastic cups of red wine later (pour moi), we were landing in Hong Kong (my strategy for mixing drugs and alcohol to get through the long flight was to keep my intoxication level just under Judy Garland territory, so I refrained from singing).

Upon my return, the Number One Question – other than “How was the food?” – has been “How was the flight?” I’ll be honest, sitting for 16 hours in coach is no picnic, and I’m a lazy person who generally enjoys sitting around and doing nothing. Although I am not a tall person, my legs started freaking out at one point and I had to get up and walk around and perform some light calisthenics while waiting for the lavatory.

But for as kind of shitty as the flight was, I’d do it again in a second just to see our friends’ faces as we made our way out of baggage claim to where the five of them stood anxiously waiting for us.

It was an amazing moment and had I not been so delusional at that point, I might have thought of something more emotional/sentimental to say to them other than the first thing that popped out of my mouth, which was, “We’re in fucking China.”

And that brings us to Hong Kong.

It. Was. So. Worth. It.

(And visiting Asia was never on my bucket list of places to go. Who knew?)

Being cooped up on a plane for 32 hours (look, I’m doing math) is a small price to pay to be able to visit Hong Kong. It’s stunning – lush, green mountains alongside a dazzling skyline and surrounded by the greenish-blue South China Sea. And there is so much to see and do.

For those of you who don’t know — and really, until my friends moved there, I knew not one thing about Hong Kong (other than the whole British relinquishing colonial rule in 1997) — Hong Kong is kinda where East meets West. Everybody speaks a little English (except the Cantonese-speaking taxi drivers). You can find a burger and pizza alongside dim sum and fish balls, sometimes right next door to each other and sometimes on the very same menu. It’s interesting. There’s even a Hong Kong Disneyland.

Here are 10 facts, courtesy of USA Today.

Hong Kong at the bottom of China and is composed of four main territories. My friends live on Hong Kong Island in the southern section near the beach and to the north of the island lies the city and the bustling Victoria Harbor. Across the harbor is the city of Kowloon, which is at the bottom of China’s mainland, but still a part of Hong Kong proper. It’s actually where the tallest building in Hong Kong is located and where you can find markets filled with weird things you never knew people wanted to buy. Or own.

All this shiz is happening at the bottom of China.

All this shiz is happening at the bottom of China. We mostly stayed on the red part, Hong Kong Island.

Traveling to Asia let me experience something so unlike my life here in New Jersey – the sights, the sounds, the smells (and some of you more snarky folks might have thought New Jersey had the ripest odors of all) – that I think made the trip not only a memorable experience but an important one for all of us, especially my kids. I really think the journey will prove to be life changing for them because now they know just how big the world is. And kind of how small it is at the same time.

It was so satisfying seeing my two children — who are in their prime obnoxious teen years — just get it. They totally got how lucky we were and how special it all was.

Over the course of our week-long stay we did lots of amazing things, like jump off a junk boat …

This is how we celebrated Easter, jumping into the South China Sea.

This is how we celebrated Easter, jumping into the South China Sea.

… visit a giant Buddha …

The Big Buddha on Lantau Island.

The Big Buddha on Lantau Island.

… take a terrifying ride in a clear-bottomed gondola …

I shit you not.

“Try not to think you’re in China,” I kept telling myself during the 25-minute ride.

… and walk around a local fishing village.

Fascinating Tai O fishing village.

Fascinating and smelly Tai O fishing village.

I’ll share more pictures and all the details over the next few days.

In the meantime, here’s the bottom line: Do not let fear stand in the way of going to new places and doing new things. There is a whole great big world out there — and things to discover right around the corner, too, not just on the other side of the globe. The experiences and the memories more than make up for any anxiety you may feel bubbling within you.

I know they did for me.


Make this your motto. Credit:

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A Lot Can Happen in a Year

Calendar Image-1524x975About a year ago, I was standing in my TV room with my two neighbors – good girlfriends – lifting weights over our heads when one of my pals started to cry.

For about a year we’d been gathering at my house two mornings a week to exercise under the ever-watchful eye of our Girl Whisperer. He’d sit on my big, red couch and boss us around, telling us to work a little harder, while monitoring the bloat around our middles and asking what we’d been eating. Because while he’s all about working out – he makes us do endless squats and push ups – he’s a firm believer that it really all comes down to what you put in your mouth. So over the course of the almost-two years I worked out with The Whisperer, I eliminated a lot of the naughty things that were part of my daily food triangle – Doritos, CheezIts, and pizza – and replaced all that yumminess with a lot of protein and vegetables.

Boring, I know, but the bloat did subside a bit. I’ll give him that.

And for as annoying as the Girl Whisperer initially was — harping on protein and how sugar was poison ad nauseum — the guy started to grow on me. Over the course of hours and days and weeks and months, I really got to know the man who was sitting on my couch, wearing all black and telling me what to do. I got to know about how he’d overcome so many struggles and sadnesses in his life and how that shaped his incredibly positive attitude.

I mean, this cat was a legit prison guard in his previous life and tells stories involving shanks and grown men’s feces. A lot of other bad things happened to him before he found fitness but he came through it to become one of the most grounded people I know and someone who can always put life’s challenges in the proper perspective any time I tried to whine to him about something, like my job or my love life.

“A bad day is when you find out you have cancer,” he’d tell us while we complained about how heavy the weights were or how much our legs hurt. “Today is not a bad day,” he’d add.

“Now, eat more egg whites, please.”

So, we were exercising when my girlfriend started to cry, which was weird – she’s pretty stable and not prone to random weeping.

“Michael was offered the job,” she cried and we knew what that meant. For months, her husband had been talking about the possibility of moving to Hong Kong for a job opportunity and his wife had been filling us in. It was all okay while the whole thing was in theory, she was kind of open to the idea then. But the reality of uprooting her three young boys from the really nice life they had built on the Jersey Shore kind of had her freaking the fuck out.

My girlfriend is a Jersey Girl. I mean, a real Jersey Girl, not the kind you see on a reality TV show who is really someone who hails from one of New York’s outer boroughs and wound up living somewhere in the Garden State.

She loved her house – filled with her cat and her dog and all those boys. She and her husband taught them to surf in the summer and snowboard in the winter and there is nobody – literally, nobody – who cheers louder from the sidelines during the boys’ lacrosse games than their mom.

And there’s no place she’s happier than sitting on her beach chair with her painted toes dug into the Jersey Shore sand with a margarita in her hand (preferably one she concocted with Trader Joe’s mango juices and the tequila she infuses with jalapeno in a mason jar in her freezer).

Pretty much, she’s, like, the only woman I knew who was thoroughly content with her life.

So the prospect of pulling up stakes to move to China did not thrill her.

“That’s amazing!” we told her. “What an opportunity for the boys!”

We continued to talk her off the ledge as we lunged and squatted and by the end of the hour, she seemed much calmer about the move.

And it turns out, not even six months later, they had cleared every last Lego out of their house and moved the whole kit-and-caboodle to Hong Kong.

And we were really sad. For ourselves.

All of a sudden our neighborhood, that for years had teemed with boys running abound with lacrosse sticks and making skateboard ramps out of crap they found in their parents’ garages, became really, really quiet.

“We are SO coming to visit you,” we had told them a million times before they left and we totally meant it. But we meant it in that “some day” kind of way. Like, in a year, or something. Some day.

But a few months into their relocation, my girlfriend messaged me to say they really wanted visitors. And not “someday,” but “now.”

So I hemmed and I hawed as I figured out how we could do that and how I could eliminate one of my kids from the equation so I wouldn’t have to buy so many plane tickets. But in the end, my 17yo had to come, too, because – man – when do you get the opportunity to go to the other side of the world?

So one year after my girlfriend cried about uprooting her family from the Jersey Shore and moving to China, they have settled into their new life in Hong Kong and seem really happy. The boys love their new schools and they even get to play lacrosse. And they’ve already taken advantage of being in Asia and have visited Thailand and Vietnam as a family and their oldest boy went to Beijing for a few days on a class trip.

And one year after I told my girlfriend that I’d totally come visit them some day, we are making good on our word and taking off this afternoon to spend about a week with them in Hong Kong.

I know. I’m dying.

But I’m also struck by how much things can change in a few short months. How a life that seemed so firmly planted in one place can – with some effort – be plucked out and replanted on the other side of the world. And how you can end up taking a trip you never imagined you’d be taking so soon in your life.

And that brings us back to the Girl Whisperer. While everyone around here’s been moving and traveling, he’s been on a journey of his own. A few months after our friends moved to China, he found out he had cancer. And it’s not been kind to him, which has surprised so many of us with how someone so strong – both physically and mentally – could be shaken to his core by the disease and ensuing treatments.

Like, he just had a feeding tube removed not long ago.

But he tells me in his sporadic texts that he’s getting better. That he’s going to fight it. And I believe him. He’s overcome so many other challenges; he will eventually show cancer who’s the boss. Just like he showed me.

You just don’t know what life has in store for you. There are so many good and terrible things that await us all. And I think the only answer is to live. Really live and love and make the most of all the time we have here. Together.

So I’m getting on a plane today for 16 hours to see the faces of my neighbors that I’ve missed so much and have an adventure. I am going to really live my life and help my kids really live theirs.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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4 Ways to Waste Time on the Internet Today (You’re Welcome)

IMG_4270It’s rainy here in New Jersey today, super wet and dreary outside.

I love it.

It means that soccer is canceled and I can lie in bed and read my copy of Lena Dunham’s new book (reviewed here by my friend Brooke at Carpool Candy) I ran out and bought yesterday afternoon at my favorite book store guilt-free. And I’ve already bought a ticket to see “Gone Girl” later this afternoon (so excited). But don’t let me fool you, I’ll probably end up spending a lot of time trolling the Internet, too. It’s just what I do.

As is the case, I’ve come across a few items of interest — rabbit holes, if you will — that I thought you might like, too.


You’re welcome.

1.  As has been well-documented on this site, our neighbors moved to Hong Kong this summer for a few years. I’ve never thought about Hong Kong, much less China, much before they left and it’s weird now that the U.S. media has non-stop coverage of the protests going on over there, alternated with the whole Ebola thing. Hopefully the latter does not somehow crop up in my life as well. My daughter sent me this Vlog Brothers video this morning that I think does a super job explaining what’s going on in Hong Kong in just about six minutes. Highly educational.

2. I showed this one to my 11-year-old son the other day and now we can’t stop quoting this video.

3. The first time I ever heard Mike Bribiglia I was in my car listening to This American Life and the story he told was so funny and poignant, I ended up sitting in my car in a Marshall’s parking lot for about 10 minutes waiting to hear the end. I saw him perform live in the the town next door last night and it had me thinking about Bribiglia’s need to always be right. Enjoy.

4. And this is just hilarious:

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