A Few of My Favorite Things

Last week, I got to go to the EMS World conference in Nashville, TN.  More on Tennessee later.  But, like every time I have been to an EMS conference, I was left wishing I had my own ambulance service as well as absolutely unlimited funds.  I liked a lot of the things.  I wanted almost all of the things...except those that were totally absurd.  I am sure that my employer will hate that I went because I will only make safety oriented and expensive suggestions at budget time.  Some ideas I saw there filled me with a sense of urgency and the desire to completely change every ambulance I encounter.  I'll give you the top 5, not including the fake blood that actually clots.

1.  Lifts
This thing may look really silly.  But, I believe that it fills a huge void in our care.  We've all been on those calls when an old or overweight or frail person has fallen out of or off of or just fell and can't get up.  Classic, right?  Here's my usual situation.  This patient has fallen, usually behind a door, or between a king sized bed and a wall.  They don't have clothes on.  I mean, do they ever?  They weigh 300 pounds.  We bend down, grab under each arm and heave them into a standing position, pop them on a chair or something just as useless and call the job done.  This, of course potentiates injuries for the patient and ourselves.  And something in the presentation this products representative got to me....our common practice has a complete lack of dignity for the patient.

This device goes under the patient, inflates with the touch of a button and puts them into a chair. Boom.  Done.  From there they can be slid back into bed, onto our cot or wherever they need to be.  I saw them used in the UK, and before I am accused of rampant anglophilia....Well, okay I have it.  But, this thing is awesome and is gaining traction in the US.

2.  Handevy System
I'm kind of hook, line, and sinker here. The real beauty of this, is that we can basically make it at home.  The beauty of that is that the inventor doesn't care!  This pediatric ER doc was tired of being afraid of sick kids.  He decided to help himself, his hospital, and his EMS providers by streamlining a system of pediatric resuscitation.  It looks a lot like the Broselow system...only better.  Only easier to use, customized to your service, and not a hot mess when you begin to tear that bag apart.  I can't explain it all here, so just check it out.

3.  Clean all The Things
One of my biggest problems at work is the one I can't even see.  Germs.  Ambulances are gross.  Tools are gross.  People are gross.  At least one company has come up with a way to solve this problem.  Here is a (ahem $14,000ish) system that sprays your ambulance with decontaminating magic stuff as often as you want!  Every call!  Every day!  Every all the time!  Must clean all the things!  This magic stuff sticks to surfaces without leaving residue or smell, but it does leave one thing...peace of mind.

4.  Safety Nerds Unite!
This wasn't exactly a product, but a mindset.  Why did I find virtually every ambulance manufacturer at this expo boring?  Because they all looked the same and they all looked dangerous.  Just one bloggers opinion.  If one of them could tell me how sitting sideways on a bench seat with a lap belt on is safe...I'd love to hear it.  The EMS Safety Foundation is trying to make headway in ambulance design safety.  They promote crazy ideas such as: forward facing captains chair instead of a bench seat!  No cabinets!  A desk!  Properly fitted seatbelts!  Not getting up while in a moving vehicle!  Supplies within arm's reach!  I know this all sounds crazy, but they gave me candy so whatever.

5.  This Australian stretcher. Thanks to the safety nerds, I saw this stretcher.  The only thing wrong with it is that it's Australian.  Just kidding.  Not really because I'm not sure we can get it here.  It can be loaded by one provider...without lifting...without batteries.  I also saw this amazing fancy-pants stretcher available on the US market.  I mean...wow.  I actually has a light bar on it.  What's not to like?  The thing is.  This Aussie one I found online starting around $3,000.  This American one costs upwards of $30,000.  What?  They both can be loaded by one provider...without lifting.  One uses batteries, the other uses physics.  One has a light bar.  You decide.  

Step 2 of 1 Million

Last week I stayed up until midnight, on a day when I really didn't want to, in order to register for spring classes.  I have a vague memory of the first time I went to community college of waiting in line and hoping that the class you wanted and fit perfectly into your schedule would be open.  Now, I just have to remember a password (or let google remember it for me) and register in the comfort of my living room.  I am probably wearing the same outfit.

I've been taking medical terminology online.  This is my first and hopefully last foray into online class-taking.  From the beginning I felt very old.  It took me way too long to figure out how to get to the class, find assignments, and just figure out what the hell was going on.  Oh, my I felt old.  I did figure it out and I am just going to assume that every student in an online class is cheating.  Basically, especially in a class based on memorization, everything is open book.

Once I figured everything out, I learned why everyone likes online classes. I'm practically finished with the whole thing and it's only the second week.  Self paced, for the win!  Hopefully it will serve as a good review of A&P, which I'll be taking in the spring.  That class in itself should be a review, though I last took it (gasp!) 10 years ago.  I did not realized that sciences expire.  I think that I've figured out what to do to be ready to apply to the PA program in April (2016!).  There's an information session later this month that will hopefully confirm my suspicions and solidify my plan.

Until then, work, work, work.  

New Wild-Ass Plan

The trouble with this plan is that it has so many fail points that I am afraid to advertise it.  It is also a very long-game type of plan (at least four years to completion).  I also don't want to build it up too much because I think I did for my parents whom almost deemed it not wild-ass enough.  Though I'm sure left to come up with one, had me feeding penguins in the Antarctic, or taking a trip to the international space station.

Basically this plan has me going back to school.  Shocking, I know.  Firstly, going back to my good old community college to take (and retake) prerequisites.  Retake because my Anatomy and Physiology classes were over 10 years ago.  How did that happen?  And we've arrived already to the first of many fail points.  I need to take five prerequisites and maintain basically straight A's.  This includes microbiology and organic/biochemistry.  I barely made it through basic chemistry, so I am justifiably worried about trying again.  B average is probably possible, but...you know, may be difficult.

So, get those classes done, borrow some money, write a winning essay, win over some killer references and apply to PA school in 2 years.  That's the plan.  I can't even tell you why at the moment (wait for the winning essay), but I was suddenly struck with a desire, and epiphany of sorts.

I've been a paramedic (my life dream) for eight years.  If all goes according to plan, I will have a solid 10 years in.  I will have moved on academically, but not to nursing school (because if I did, I'd really have to put my foot in it), and I may have something to retire on in 35 years.  That's an important one.  I can then better advocate for a paramedic masters program, or the use of PA's in the field in their stead to carry out wellness checks and the like.  You can take the girl out of the ambulance, but not the ambulance out of the girl...as they say.

Quiet goals fail.  Blogged goals cause me to succeed just so I don't have to look back at this post in 10 years and regret not trying.  So, here's to the next wild ass plan...may it succeed within the next decade.

So, I'm afraid of bats.

I just finished brushing my teeth when I heard a weird noise down the hall in my bedroom.  Noises themselves are not unusual, bedtime is a typical period for the cats to decide to run amock around the house.  But there was something about this noise.  Ready to yell at the cats, I peeked in my room to see a bat, alive and well, on the floor surrounded by two curious cats.  "Oh, **** there's a bat in here." was all I had to say as I did an immediate aboutface and went dowstairs. 
Now, I am no stranger to domestic crises, but this was different.  Realizing that this bat was now between myself and my phone, and on the floor, I grabbed a sheet and bravely headed back upstairs.  But the bat, being a winged creature, afterall, had regained altitude and was now clinging to the wall somewhere where my cats could see it, but I could not.  They were beside themselves, presented with a moving, alive toy, I could barely get their attention.  Before I made my attempt to 'get' the bat or whatever the hell I thought I was going to do, I did grab my recently liberated phone and called the boyfriend.  I crept toward the bat with the phone propped on my shoulder, sheet between my hands when suddenly the bat remembered again that it was a winged creature and it flew toward me.  I also grew wings, dropped all of my armor and flew down the stairs screaming in a most unlady-like fashion.  Leaving the boyfriend perplexed and amused, I am sure. 
Somehow I managed to lure the cats away and into the bathroom with treats and promises.  I opened the front door, and 'Bruce Wayne' was at it again circling the hallway, sneaking down the stairs, then he might have detoured but I'm not sure as I was running all the way into the street.  I watched as it found it's way out of the door, though I was far from declaring the house safe.  Flashlight in hand, I inspected every nook and cranny before being able to go to sleep.  A ritual I kept up for the next week.  I worry that now that security as relaxed, I may meet Bruce again.

Presentation

There's been some of discussion lately around work about wearing shorts on scenes in the summer.  Some providers argue that 'if they are truly sick, patients won't care what I look like when I show up.'  But let's be honest, how many patients are truly sick?  Sick enough to not look at you with even a slightly critical eye.  Let's not forget that our patients are rarely alone, accompanied by friends, family members, or staff of a medical facility.  They can see us to. Our immediate appearance must build trust with them as well. 

When you walk into the home of someone whom called for your help, everything matters.  They are the ones about to put their lives ino the hands of strangers.  Appearing professional can come down to having your boots tied and your shirt tucked in.  No, these things do not directly affect patient care.  But, they do affect how your patients respond to you.  Trust must be built from the first moment you walk in the door, mostly because they invited you in. 

Professionalism is a compilation of a ton of things on an EMS call, but right from the start it is measured by your greeting, demeanor, and interactions with colleagues.  All of this has, even if it is subconscious, an affect on how much your patient trusts you, and, indirectly, how well your care will help them.  I've seen anxieties melt away from a patient with a professional greeting, introduction, and warm handshake.  I've seen patient trust fall incrementally as providers enter a home with their shirts untucked, fail to greet the patient, and immediately ask which hospital they want to go to. 

Whether I agree that shorts or appropriate attire, or if tattoos should be covered, the conclusion is the same:  professional appearance matters.  It puts us in a position of authority, builds trust and rapport, and ultimately facilitates quality patient care.  

Dream Job

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a paramedic.  Almost every year in my school books I said I wanted to be a firefighter, EMT, or paramedic. The evolution was easy.  Once I realized that I was afraid of things that were on fire, paramedic was it. 

There is little I am more passionate about than a good education.  "Think education is expensive? Try ignorance."  As those elitist say.

I went to college, followed the path I was 'supposed to', and no one ever talked about money.  How much money will you make in your career of choice?  Everyone knows the careers that would technically make a lot of money, and it's all but guaranteed that without a college education you will have no hope (so the guidance counselors would have you believe).  Equally passionate about education, my parents saved and scrimped to send me to college.  Other paramedic students have long term loans, crippling debt, or second mortgages.  No matter how they arrived at being a medic, it was hard fought.

Like you do in college, we discussed the ideals of our profession.  Typical collegiate musings of perfect world scenarios.  We're going to save the world one person at a time and love it every day.  How to make the best better, to be the most professional, to do the best job possible.  Maybe we weren't that idealistic, but you get the idea, and I loved it.  Making and keeping EMS a profession is also one of my passions.  But I digress.  In all this talk, in all the raised standards of eight point grading scales, quality assurance, and over-the-top prerequisites, no one ever mentioned how much money we could make.  I guess it's tacky.  But the general idea of college is to get this wonderful education, and the rewards will be 100 fold. 


That may be true, but not as a paramedic.  We were set up for management, education, and administrative jobs, under the awesome guise of saving lives. 

I am having a constant crisis because I think I need to decide what to do with my life.  But my problem has never been what to do when I grow up.  I have always known.  I have my dream job, and the only problem is that it is letting me down financially. 
What I'm doing now brings me so much satisfaction, but does not bring me enough money to live comfortably.  No paramedic should have to sit and wonder what to do with their lives because we are already members of an honorable profession.  I followed my dream, and somehow, despite being a tangible, useful dream, I find myself struggling.

I've always said that no one gets into this business for the money, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't expect to make a fair living wage, and I guess I've arrived at my real problem.  That is that I don't know what to do about this.  Unionize, picket, starvation protest, none of it will get action.

I am sad to realize that in 10 years, I'm not really going to make anymore money than I do now.  I will not have a fancy pension, and I cannot do this career until I am 65.  Or 60, or 55, for that matter.  Every paramedic I know has more than one job.  So what is my contingency plan?  Why do I even need one?

Four years of education and preparation for real life, and eight years later I don't have enough money to donate to the alumni association.  Something isn't right here.

I'm sorry, rant over and searching for suggestions.  And not suggestions like 'go to med school or go to nursing school'.  If I wanted to be a doctor or a nurse, I would be a doctor or a nurse.  I was led to believe that this was a worthwhile career, (which it is and and nothing compares to it).  But I feel fooled into thinking I could live off of it.  Disillusioned into thinking that I could work just one job, just 40 hours a week, and buy a car, pay a mortgage, and raise a family. 

Not an Alien

It was a necklace.  A necklace of tiny plastic purple beads. Yes, those are definitely tiny plastic purple beads, or maybe not.  Is that a sex toy?  No, that is more ridiculous than a necklace.  Well, then I guess it's an alien.  I've entered the twilight zone and I am about to witness an alien birth.  I'm not sure. I mean it's late and my first time but there was definitely something weird there, something weird coming out of this woman's vagina.

I composed my 3 am brain, willing out to figure out just what was happening.  She was in labor, at her due date, and assured me that everything was normal.  This may have been my first time, but it was not hers.  They just waited a little too long, that was all. And I was stoked, so excited to get a classic delivery.  A delivery that should go fast and smooth.  I am one of the few paramedics who want to deliver a baby.  We're 15 minutes out and she's ready to push.  This is going to happen, and I enter the mode of this plane is taking off, I'm on it, and I might as well make the most of it. At the very least; fake it 'till I make it. 

It took about two minutes for it to dawn on me.  So sure and ready to see an infant head, the options of toys and necklaces should have been further down on the list.  Certainly lower than the option of tiny purple baby toes.  Doing my best to maintain my patented neutral face of "everything's fine as long as I look indifferent and ask the right questions" I ask when she last saw the doctor in my most calm voice. 
The answer was buried in the next contraction, and from then on I didn't really get any answers at all, other than an exhausted nod.

I made eye contact with my driver and spun my finger in the air.  With a raise of his eyebrows and a jolt backwards, I knew he got the message that the speed limit was now a suggestion.  This seemed better that shouting, "The baby's coming out ******* backwards!!" like I wanted to.  Neutral face, neutral face.  I managed to explain in a potentially calm voice to the mother that her baby didn't get the memo that a dive the easiest way out of this mess, and I think she took it in stride.  What's worse than giving birth in a moving ambulance?  Giving birth to a baby that just might not fit out of the standard issue hole.

My phone rested tightly between my shoulder and my ear as I called the hospital back to explain our evolving situation.  For the next 15 minutes she pushed and I completely revamped my policy on touching patients' bathing suit areas.   Progress was slow and most of the baby didn't make an appearance until we were parked in the hallway of the ER, handing over to the maternity nurses.  I could tell from their faces that they didn't believe this until they saw it.  Like me, their faces changed from confident indifference, quickly to shock, and just as quickly back to what I will call the look of 'strictly business'.

I personally didn't push a breech baby out of me, the true star of this situation was the mom.  Breech delivery is kind of a commitment you can't turn back from.  Once little purple toes are visible, the system becomes irrevocably one way.  With a mighty push, most of the baby was out.  Neutral face, neutral face.  Everything's cool, except now we had to get the head.  For me, this was one of those magical times when a strange instinct takes over and does the right things for me.  Suddenly it was out and as I watched, all of my fears stood on edge, ready to be realized, when the little thing let out a cry.  Neutral face, neutral face.  It was finally okay to relax, to be happy, to show one moment of emotion at work.  It might have been a hideous baby, but for my memory, it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen.

1000th Post!

This lovely orchid plant was my grandmothers, who kept the finicky plant alive for several years. It is now under my care...I give it a week.

This, more importantly, as the title implies, is my 1000th post here on the old blog. Wow! This is also the 248th photo of the day, counting from May of 2008 plus a bonus month of October 2009

I don't have much to say on this occasion, it seems crazy that I've made so many posts.  Granted, a certain percentage of them are complete nonesense, but they still count.

It's funny to read those really old posts.  Some of them make me wonder just who was writing.  It's amazing to have a record of personal and professional changes one can go through in nine years.  My life in 1000 posts.  I do realize there are fewer and fewer posts about EMS.  Certainly there were a lot back in 2006-7.  But that was when it was new.  When I wanted to share every tiny thing I went on.  And I'm not saying I'm jaded now, just that my tastes and standards have changed.  I still love the job, but you don't want to hear about that abdominal pain that was going to the ER for the 3rd time in 18 hours, and I don't want to write about it either. 

It is worth considering though, adding more posts to just skim over what I've done at work.  I've noticed a lot of forgotten calls in the old posts, God knows how many I've forgotten in recent years, and have no record of. 

1000 posts.  Can't wait to say I have 2000, though that may take 18 more years at this rate. 

30 Pearls

I started this post back in last summer. I finally dreamed up the last couple while cleaning out my drafts. I'm cleaning out my draft posts because I am nearing a blogger milestone, so I want to be perfectly clear how many posts I have. Yes, I acknowledge that at least 30 per year for the last 6 years were basically cheating (the photo a day project) But...they count as posts. Anyway. Apparently I was feeling pumped about life and wondering what I might have told my 15 year old self. Here are a few things I've learned in 30 years...at least the things that look good on paper.

As I turn 30, I must say I'm feeling pretty good.  29 had a much more palpable and depressive effect on me.  But this year, I've had such an action packed birthday week, that I haven't had time to contemplate too deeply turning 30.  I've wanted to be an adult my whole life, so I don't really mind.  That and I get to say things like "I've seen Toy Story way too many times for a 30 year old woman."  "I bet those nerds on xbox live can't believe they just got schooled by a 30 year old woman."  "And IIIIII'Mmmm 30!"  a la Molly Shannon.  Something about 'milestone' birthdays can make one introspective and inexplicably terrified. 
In an ambitious thought I wanted to list 30 things I'd learned since birth that I try to live by.  Doing this without getting preachy is difficult, but if you can muddle through the list, I salute you!

1.  As best you can, be fearless.

2.  At the very least, don't let your fears decide anything for you. 

3.  Almost anything can be fun.

4.  All time will pass:  good and bad. 

5.  Be comfortable:  heels are for overachievers. 

6.  Never stop learning.

7.  Don't forget chapstick.

8.  Be prepared.

9.  Stay in touch with the good friends.

10.  Do something that scares you...every once in a while.

11.  Book those tickets

12.  Keep making goals.  Goals are what make the world go 'round.

13.  You know, that dude back in 1999 was right about the sunscreen. 

14.  Do the job you love.  Love it until the drunk people aren't funny anymore.

15.  Don't complain about things that are within your power to change. 

16.  Improvise. 

17.  Floss.  But, like me, you probably won't see the light on this one until it's a little too late. 

18.  Wear clean underwear, but not because you might meet a paramedic.  Trust me, we aren't looking. 

19.  Talk to your elders and write down their stories before they're lost forever.

20.  Travel.  Travel because it inspires you, travel because it scares you.  Travel because the world is waiting.

21.  If you want to be something- go be it.

22.  Nothing beats a trial like a failure. 

23.  Really try to be sure you're doing what's important as opposed to what's selfish. 

24.  But remember that some mundane things are important too.

25.  All advice is contradictory.

26.  You don't need to be in a relationship to be a functioning member of society.  Don't let your friends with spouses convince you otherwise. (they won't on purpose, but still.).

27.  You don't need children to feel self worth.  Don't let your friends with babies convince you otherwise (they won't on purpose, but still.)

28.  Grammar is important, and yes, I know I put the periods in the wrong place on those last two. 

29.  Stolen, but, Live as if this is all there is. 

30.  Fake it 'till you make it.

29 May 14

Remember micro machines?

23 May 14

I'm not sure what's going on here, but these geese were escorting over 30 goslings!

22 May 14

In an effort to not get caught up in the internet and waste a lot of time, I've been keeping the lappy closed.  Turns out, I just waste my time in different ways, and fall behind the picture a day project.  So, maybe these adorable sleeping ducks make up for some of the lateness.  SO CUTE!

10 May 14

My neice and nephew turned 12 today.  Apparently at 12, it's legal to smoke birthday candles. 

5 May 14

First time having Ikea meatballs and lingon juice.  No assembly required.

3 May 14

When you forget stuff at work...you never know what will happen to it. 

1 May 14

It's that magical time of year again and I'm getting the oblicatory cat picture out of the way early.  I give you, a scout in her happy place.

Sunkissed Christmas

When I was a kid, I always wanted Christmas to be exactly the same.  Eat at the same restaurant for Christmas eve, have the same Christmas
morning routine, go to the same church service.  I guess I found comfort in it.  I would be very upset at the very idea of deviation from the plan.  Luckily, people can evolve and this year I had the most unusual Christmas ever. 
To the first timer, every day in India can seem like the most unusual day of the year, but add a few familiar Christmastime items and things will be pushed into the realm of weird.  For Christmas, my companions and I traveled to the India state of Goa and to Palolem Beach (google and swear loudly). 
We flew there on Christmas eve where I got to experience throwing up in an airport.  Good fun, let me tell you.  But all that unpleasantness subsided and I had a lovely dinner of a coke.  We arrived and were picked up and drove about two hours through the jungly (that's a word!) country side to the small town of Palolem.  By our arrival it was dark, but the area was dotted with houses decorated with Christmas lights, large tents beginning to fill for evening Mass and the occasional nativity scene.  Goa was originally settled by the Portuguese and has a large (proportionate to India) Christian population.  Besides, it seems that everyone in India loves Christmas because they love to have fun and have an excuse to get together. 

So we checked into our gorgeous hotel and took a short ride to the beach.  Unlike beaches I know, there was no boardwalk, but a number of restaurants along the beach, all with beach seating and a hut like structure as the actual dining room.  I'm not sure I'm describing this well, but it was awesome!  We sat on the beach and as I sipped my coke, my friends chose from an array of fresh seafood's and curries.  Christmas was celebrated at midnight, like new years eve, with fireworks, lantern releases, and general merriment.  Upon return to the hotel, 'santa' visited us with a special gift (a mug) from the hotel.  It was very sweet, even if it was 2 am. 

The next day, I had a gorgeous breakfast and everyone settled into the beach life.  In full sun, the beach was spectacular, bright, and warm.  Oh, so warm.  It was so glorious and I feel like for the next two days, all I did was relax (as best I can on vacation) and eat.  We took a boat out to see some dolphins, which needs no description and around to a secluded beach where it was hard not to be overcome and jump in the ocean fully clothed. 

In the next two days we also rented kayaks (survived and it was awesome, no pics to preserve the camera)  We also went gambling on a small cruise ship off the coast.  It's illegal to gamble in India, but just off the coast- okay.  It was so campy but fun and the first time I played real blackjack (poorly). 

On the drive back to the airport, I think we were all justifiably morose.  Goa is a place that you promise yourself and your friends that you'll all come back to together.  That vacation place you will catch yourself daydreaming about in the dead of winter.  It's a place where you can truly put your cares away, enjoy nature, and drink a whole lot of Kingfisher beer. 

The Tourist

As I mentioned before (about two months ago), India is a difficult place for me to blend in. I must note now, that in Jaipur, I was never happier to be a tourist.  As you do in India, we had our own car and tour guides for each day here.  This feels like a fancy way to get around for sure.
At Amer fort, I did what felt like the most touristy thing ever:  rode an elephant to the palace gates.  It was uniquely Indian and cheesy and weird and I loved it.  I have a lifelong love affair with Elephants and had certainly never rode one for such a distance.  Lolling from side to side, elephant transport may be fit for kings, but is hard on the back.  These elephants were brightly decorated, well trained, and seemed happy from what (extremely little) I know about elephant behavior.

Built in 1592, this expansive palace was home to many rulers and spans four km.  Each layer yielded interesting Hindu architecture, amazingly detailed paintings, and finally an area decorated with tiny inlaid mirrors, built to reflect the carpets in what must have been dazzling displays of color.

In the city of Jaipur, we also visited Jantar Mantar, home of a collection of astrological instruments.  I don't mean a tiny astrolabe, I mean huge instruments.  A sun dial among the world's largest which can tell time with up to two second accuracy.  Instruments that predict eclipses and seasons.  Ones to help you figure your astrological signs.  Most completely out of my realm of understanding.  But very cool either way.  These are all so young, built in the 18th century.

Right across the street is the City Palace.  Once and current home to the Maharaja of Jaipur, (the royal family has no political power, but still exist) this palace is pretty cool.  My favorite part were two enormous (the world's largest, in fact) sterling silver vessels, made for Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II (take that, boring names!).  He was a devout Hindu who only wanted to drink water from the Ganges river.  These vessels were made to transport water for him on his trip to England in 1901.

The city of Jaipur (population ~4 million) is beautiful to look at.  All of the 'downtown' buildings are a bright terracotta color, painted to welcome visiting British Royalty.  The color stuck, and the city is known as the city of welcome.  And the city is known as the city of welcome. (that's for you!)

The city is in the state of Rajasthan, and well known for its textiles; block printed sheets, clothing, and wool rugs.  In a very out of character and touristy move, I am now the proud owner of one of these rugs.  It's pretty awesome I must say and it's not every day one can buy the genuine article.  

The Taj

Back in 1632ish, the third and most beloved wife of then Emperor, Shah Jahan died due to complications of childbirth.  This most profound and grief worthy death prompted the construction of her tomb, which is now one of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal.  Construction lasted 22 years and called for experts in marble work, inlay, architecture, landscaping, construction, and others I'm sure are beyond my skills to see.

Entering the taj campus is quite a process in itself.  Only animal drawn or electric vehicles are allowed within a certain radius of the building.  This is because white marble gets dirty. (the Taj is closed every Friday for cleaning as it is). Then, the tourist has to stand in line (or not much of one as luck would have it) for a pat down and a look in all of your bags.  From there, it's a bit of a walk to one of three towering gates.  A 90 degree turn frames the center dome so perfectly in the gate that it takes your breath away.  Every step takes you closer to the building itself; through the gate reveals the immensity of the complex, and what become clearly tiny people are dotted around the building, looking miles away.  The dome is reflected in the long pool in front of it, lined with shrubbery.  At all times of the year the place is crawling with tourists, all craning their necks and their cameras for that perfect shot.  All trying to capture what cannot be captured.  I'm not sure I can do the place justice with my words or my photos, but I'll share them anyway.

It's obviously a very surreal place.  It looks exactly as it should, just like the pictures.  The main dome is 180 feet high.  Each piece of marble used was soaked in water for a year and weighed before and after to be sure it was of highest quality.  The exterior is decorated with quotes from the Qur'an, words inlaid into the marble in Jasper.  It was believed by Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan's son, that this was a form of blasphemy, as rain waters would pass over the words, then be stepped on by people. True or not, the words are beautiful to behold up close.
Inside the dome features quite spectacular inlay work with precious and semi-precious gems, marble filigree, and the actual tomb of Shah Jahan and his 3rd wife, Mumtaz Mahal. 
The dome is surrounded by four marble minarets, each offset by about 3 degrees so that if there is an earthquake, they will fall away from the dome instead of tragically into it. 

The building is also surrounded by three massive gates, a mosque, and numerous gardens.  Behind the Taj runs the Yamuna river, and across it, a suspiciously flat area, where Shah Jahan intended to build a second, smaller version of the Taj Mahal in black marble.  It was to be his tomb, but his son, Aurangzeb had other ideas.  Aurangzeb felt that the Taj was such a front to the ideals of dying like a pauper and disrespected the words of Qur'an, that he (after arranging for the deaths of his three brothers to become Emperor) imprisoned his father in Agra Fort where he remained until his death in 1666, preventing the black Taj from ever being built.

Caves of Wonder

When I preface this entry with 'we spent a long weekend looking at caves' you may think that sounds ridiculous.  When I explain that they are ancient man made caves carved between the 400BC and the 10th century, you may think that sounds boring, but to me this was incredible.

Ajanta and Ellora caves are a little off of the beaten tourist track in India, a couple of hour drive day trips from the city of Aurangabad. Ellora caves were carved out of the mountain from the top down. A feat so incredible that some believe that they caves were made by extraterrestrials. How could man be so coordinated, so organized, so artistic over what must have been decades? Well, I think we underestimate ourselves and also underestimate just how much spare time we'd have if we didn't have technology to fill it up.
The crown jewel of Ellora caves is The Kailashnatha, cave 16. Construction began around 756 CE and continued for nearly a century. It served as a temple and meeting place and is covered with Hindu gods and allegories. It's size is incredible, twice that of the Parthenon in Greece. Crossing the threshold I felt overwhelmed by the space, the spirit, and the history of the place. It was the first time that I saw such ancient artifacts in situ, where they belonged and were put so, so long ago. Taking history out of a museum and back to it's native setting really moved me. This cave is surrounded by other caves carved in other centuries by other Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. What is remarkable about this is that all are intact and untouched. This was truly a time of religious harmony in India.

We visited quite a few of these caves, all unique but all with amazing detail and artistry. All made with clear faith and purpose. Most caves here were temples.
 Not so far back, in 1819, a British hunting party (read, tiger hunting) stumbled upon Ajanta Caves. Then covered in jungle and earth, their excavation must have been a mighty task, but well worth the effort. These caves, carved from front to back (unlike Ellora) served as Buddhist monasteries and temples (shoes not optional). Some date back to the 2nd century BCE. (that unfathomable date is over 2000 years ago). Most of these are home to spectacular paintings of Buddha's life as well as daily life of the time.
Photographs, while allowed (riddle me that!) are difficult and much is lost in low light translation. It is best to enjoy these as they strike you. Huge former rocks, covered with such detail as to not be believed. It is hard to imagine it at the time, alive with worship and people, large mirrors reflecting the sun to illuminate the walls, while skilled artists take tiny, tiny brush strokes in the name of religion.

Ajanta and Ellora was touted to me as a "MUST SEE" of India. I would certainly recommend them! Not only did I get a taste of history I can never fully understand, we drove through a lot of surprising countryside, farmlands, and unique city streets.  The whole area around Aurangabad was great, and a slice of Indian life I didn't think I'd get to see.  I also saw the grave of Aurangzeb (a very interesting character), Dulatabad Fort, and a camel drive! Not to mention some delicious roadside food. Also: A monkey!