Lili on the Loose: On Life and Getting Lost 

Travel Missteps: A Smashing Good Time

Travel Missteps is an every-other week series on how sometimes part of the journey is making mistakes and getting lost.


Some travelers are against “All-Inclusives” since the best part of going to a foreign country is to experience the local culture first hand and that’s nearly impossible to do behind the secluded walls of the resort. But even in this type of setting, sometimes you are surprised and can experience the local culture in unexpected ways. At least, that is how we now look at my mother’s birthday while staying in an All Inclusive resort in Rivera Maya, Mexico in 2003.

Relaxing Beach

A relaxing beach in Mexico.

It was a relaxing trip. Full of hanging out at the beach, shopping, lots of swimming, and a visit to Tulum and Xel-Ha. But the main reason why were down there right before Christmas was to celebrate my mother’s birthday. My father had planned out her birthday dinner with the hotel to make sure it was spectacular, including her favorite type of cake. The dinner was going great and our waiter was definitely trying to keep everything exciting and being very attentive to us.

And then came out the cake, and the rest of the wait staff. Instead of placing the cake on the table they held it in front of my mother. It seemed a little odd and as we were singing something dawns on me. I turn to my mother and say “Oh my, it’s just like Sister Cities!” She looked confused and I said again “Just like Sister Cities” in horror at the realization on what is about to occur. I still remember her confused look in her eyes as they finished singing Happy Birthday…and then smashed her head into the cake.

Out of context…that seemed like a really shitty thing to do. And my mother was understandably pissed and confused as she wiped off frosting and cake off her face. My father also had a horrified look on his face as the perfectly planned cake he had prepared was now ruined.

What I had realized was something I had experienced during the Sister Cities program. My city had a sister city in Japan as well as one in Mexico. And I had recalled that one of the Mexican exchange students had a birthday while he was visiting and at the end of singing Happy Birthday they had smashed the cake in his face. He said it was a common tradition in Mexico to do this, and wasn’t a mean prank. It was just something that was always done. I quickly explained this to my shocked parents as the wait staff made themselves scarce after figuring out my mother wasn’t aware of that particular tradition.  So even in our All Inclusive bubble, the local culture snuck up on my family in a very unexpected way! And while they were upset then, this travel memory we can now laugh about!


Travel Missteps: The art of Dim Sum

Travel Missteps is an every-other week series on how sometimes part of the journey is making mistakes and getting lost.


San Francisco is known for its food culture and one type of dining is truly unique: Dim Sum. Dim Sum is a type of Chinese food style, where bite sized portions of foods come to you already cooked and you choose what you want to order. It is fun and a different type of experience to eating. And if you aren’t sure what is going on, you are certainly up for some surprises.

We had Dim Sum twice. The first time was in a fancy restaurant that my sister and I happened upon. We at were the only people there at first, and the waitress came with menus. When we asked for Dim Sum she rolled out a cart of faux food, explained to us what was what, and let us point to what we wanted. Then our food was brought out. This is not a traditional Dim Sum experience, but it was good as our first one to get a feel of how things worked.

Our second experience was not as orderly. We decided to find the local’s Dim Sum, where things weren’t artificial or fancy. And we succeeded in that point. We found a busy restaurant full of locals and where the staff were hard to understand. We waited for a table, the last one in the corner. Let me tell you, you don’t want to be the last table in a Dim Sum restaurant. The key reasons why is that the food isn’t as fresh when it gets to you, and the more popular dishes will have already been snapped up. But we didn’t know this, and couldn’t understand the server when we asked what was in each dish. So we haphazardly just starting to get one or two items from each cart, not knowing what it was. I kept waiting for the main dishes, but we seem to only get the desert and random dishes to us. It was always a surprise when you put in the first bite, not knowing what it was. By the time the main dishes came out we were already stuffed and had to pass on them. It was chaos, but boy was it fun to try out all those new things! I would recommend trying tit out if you ever get the chance!

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Souvenir Saturday: Shot Glasses

Souvenir Saturday is an every-other week series on the items that represent travel memories.


A Brief Un-History of the Shot Glass

Shot Glasses have become a common souvenir staple the world round. It surprised me to learn that there really isn’t any idea on who first created the shot glass and what their initial purpose was for. There are actually so many stories and legends on why they were created and how they got their name, ranging from the plausible to outright legends. What can be said is that in 1940’s the first use of the term “Shot Glass” was printed in the New York Times in reference to a standard measurement of alcohol. Although countries standard definitions of a single or double shot size are not always equal.

Brief Buying Notes on Shot Glasses

A typical shot glass must be a tumbler, meaning it has no type of handle, and no “foot” on the bottom. It is usually short and has thick walls, although a taller version is also found. They are commonly made of transparent glass, although they may also be made of metal, pewter, and ceramic. Many of the cheaper shot glasses are made of ceramics which are more colorful and opaque. However, note that some types of glazes could contain toxic materials and should not be used for drinking. I’ve also noticed that airbrushed style shot glasses, are actually truly airbrushed, and the designs can easily be washed away. A characteristic of novelty shot glasses might include figurines or items within the inside or outside of the glass and these generally should not be used for drinking.

Souvenir Saturday: Daily Reminder

Souvenir Saturday is an every-other week series on the items that represent travel memories.
When purchasing a souvenir an important part of the buying process is what you are going to do with it once you get it back home. Is it just for your collection? A gift for someone else? Are you going to display it? Or is it something you plan on using day to day?

In 2004 when I purchased an expensive silk kimono I planned on using it as a display piece, probably hang it on a wall. But I was a poor college student and couldn’t afford to frame it yet, so it sat in a box in my door room. I would put it on to take in how it looked or show it off to a friend, but that was about it.

While in the dorms I enjoyed all of the usual college dorm life. Making friends, listening to music together, and of course getting pranked by guys in our dorm. One favorite thing they liked to do was to crouch low to the ground around the corner of the showers to try to look up the girl’s shower robe. And unfortunately I had a short towel-like shower robe. I got sick of having to wear full clothes in and out of the showers, but couldn’t afford another robe.

That’s when it struck me…the kimono! It was long and so the guys wouldn’t be able to sneak a peak. However, water is not good for silk, but I had already spilt some water on the kimono. I had been devastated, but now I saw an opportunity. So I started wearing my Japanese kimono to the showers. And I still wore it even after the guys got tired of that particular prank.

It’s been 10 years since I’ve had the kimono, and I still use it daily as my shower robe. Some would be shocked that I would use an expensive kimono in such a manner, but I view it as I’m actually using my souvenir and getting a daily reminder of my time in Japan.

Travel Missteps: Left Over Right

Travel Missteps is an every-other week series on how sometimes part of the journey is making mistakes and getting lost.


In 2004, I was spending a few weeks in Japan as a cultural ambassador with my town’s Sister Cities delegation of two chaperones and 9 other students. Beyond experiencing the sites of Tokyo for a few days, we all wanted to get some souvenir shopping done before we headed to the smaller, non-touristy town which was our sister city. I had read in a guide book that a store in Tokyo called “Oriental Bazaar” had a great selection of many typical Japanese souvenirs at cheaper prices. So I guided the group there. It was perfect, they had so many great options and I got a lot of my gifts there.

One particular item I was after was a silk Kimono. I knew I didn’t want all the pieces of the Kimono outfit, just the pretty outer shell so I could display it. The store had expensive antique kimonos, as well as modern silk and cheaper polyester blends. I opted for a modern silk one in a pale purple with sakura blossoms. It was beautiful! A few of the other students also got a kimono or summer yukata to wear.

Kimono from Tokyo

A close up of the back of my kimono.

After we returned back to the hotel we were left to our own devices for a while. As high schoolers are ept to do, we played pranks on each other and goofed around. One of the other students, Chris, joked that we should put on our kimonos (and only the kimonos) and stroll around Tokyo in them. I opted to wear clothes under mine and carry an oriental umbrella, and so we set out. We got a lot of laughs from the locals and were asked to take photos with some people. It was all great fun going to 7/11 and shopping for snacks in the kimonos.

But suddenly an upset older Japanese woman can running up to us and untied my kimono. Chris was stunned, and I was thankful I was wearing clothes underneath. She re oriented my kimono so the left side was over the right side and re-tied it. My Japanese class skills kicked in and I realized I had tied my kimono wrong. I quickly explained to Chris that Right Over Left is how the dead are buried in their kimonos and it invites bad luck and spirits to tie it that way. He moved to a private area and switched his kimono, coming back to get it approved by the old woman. Satisfied she moved off into the crowd.

To this day, I still don’t know if Chris was wearing anything under his kimono, but I’m so thankful I didn’t cave into peer pressure because that would have been very awkward.  So remember to always position your kimono left over right!

Souvenir Saturday: Its Smaller on the Outside

Souvenir Saturday is an every-other week series on the items that represent travel memories.


I was on my last afternoon in Ireland, and had a lot of euro coins left over. Knowing that my bank won’t exchange coins, was buying random souvenirs as gifts. One of the last items I bought was a small county flag of Dublin, Ireland. I had seen them around while traveling and they reminded me of the flags of the different contrade of Siena. But when I returned home and open the package, I found that this 7 euro flag, was not a small flag.  But it was actually the size of a traditional flag (about the size of a loveseat couch.) It now resides above my TV taking over the entire wall and is a great talking piece with its Dublin coat of arms featuring 3 burning castles.

Dublin Flag

My large Dublin flag.

Travel Missteps: Celebrity Interruption

Travel Missteps is an every-other week series on how sometimes part of the journey is making mistakes and getting lost.
Sometimes your travel plans are foiled by crowds. And sometimes your travel plans are foiled by…Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis.

On a nice July day in 2012 I was in Seattle for a business trip. After my coworker and I settled into our hotel we decided to do a little site-seeing while we got lunch before our first meeting. We headed down to Pike Place Market. After we had lunch, we noticed there were a lot of people…and more people streaming in. It became hard to shop and move about the market, and the sellers at first had no idea why as it wasn’t normally that busy. And it was strange, the people weren’t shopping or eating, they were just standing, as if waiting for something. We gave up, deciding to leave since it was impossible to really experience the market. As we left we heard people cheering and bunching together straining to see something.

But it was good that we left early, as traffic in the downtown area was awful. The client we were meeting was a little late also because of the downtown traffic. After the meeting we learned the cause of the commotion: Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis came to Pike Place Market to serve coffee to promote their upcoming movie “The Campaign”.

Sadly, we only had one day in Seattle. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to return…without any celebrity interruptions.

Crowd in Seattle

The crowd gathering at Pike Place Market.

Souvenir Saturday: Volcano Snow Globe

Souvenir Saturday is an every-other week series on the items that represent travel memories.


My latest snow globe souvenir is a unique find. While on my last full day in Costa Rica, my group asked our tour leader Randy where the best place to buy souvenirs was. He knew that we would be getting into San Jose really late and since most of us had an early flight the next day would not be able to get anything. So on the way back Randy had the van stop at a large and fancy store. He said it was usually frequented by the all-inclusive hotels and so would have the best selection of souvenirs, however it would be higher priced than bartering in the craft markets in San Jose. It was a fair tradeoff, and nearly everyone in the group ran around the store looking for souvenirs and gifts for people back home.

I wasn’t expecting to get a snow globe in Costa Rica. While it had rained (and was the rainy season) it hadn’t been that bad and so a normal snow globe wouldn’t have stirred my interest. But then I saw this one, it is of the Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. And instead of snow it is red glitter to simulate the volcano exploding! It is definitely my most unique snow globe!

Costa Rica Volcano Globe

My volcano globe from Costa Rica.

Read about the History of Snow Globes or view a Buying Guide to find the perfect Snow Globe on your next vacation.

Travel Missteps: Lost in Translation

Travel Missteps is an every-other week series on how sometimes part of the journey is making mistakes and getting lost.



Watching painters in Paris made me want to join them.

Today is my birthday!  And 12 years ago, I was spending my 16th birthday in Paris, France.  After a long day of exploring the city and visiting museums we were just too tired to head out again. And so we decided to put my high school French to the test, to order pizza by phone.

I thought I was pretty well prepared, but when I called I first asked if anyone there spoke English…just in case I could make it easier. They asked me to repeat the question, I could hear that they put me on speakerphone.  I asked again, and could hear laughter in the background as they told me that no one there spoke English. It was a bit insulting to be purposefully laughed at, but oh well.

So I proceeded to order a pizza. I had written out the address, and could easily give it on the phone.  I could only remember the names of the toppings I wanted (pineapple and cheese) but hey it was my birthday so I could choose the toppings anyway. Everything was going smoothly. I was expecting for them to give me a time when the pizza should arrive, but they said a very hurried and long amount of words that I couldn’t understand. After asking them to repeat it about 4 times, I panicked and hung up.

We had forgotten that  I had gave our address, and so gave up on eating that night. Then around midnight, a loud knock was out the door. I asked who it was, but we couldn’t understand the answer. We were a bit frightened and then my dad cracked the door a bit, and it was the pizza guy! We were very hungry so were we happy to see him. When my dad handed him our last 50 Euro note the driver shook his head no. Eventually we figured out he needed exact change, but that was all we had. After a few moments of trying to see if he had change, he just took the 50 and left. We were shocked but we were leaving in the morning, so just gave in to  losing over 30 Euro.

Once done, we went back to bed. A few hours later, we were woken up by a pounding on the door. My dad motioned for us to be quite (it was our first trip abroad and we were a bit paranoid) and we didn’t answer the door. Then we noticed something being pushed under the door. After the footsteps retreated we looked over to see our change for the pizza. The honest pizza guy came to give us change after his shift.

Souvenir Saturday: My First Snow Globe

Souvenir Saturday is an every-other week series on the items that represent travel memories.


As I often travel during the colder, wetter, and snowier months, snow globes make a great souvenir for me to capture the memory of my travel experiences. It was New Year’s Day 2006 and I was standing under the awning of a small little shop right on the edge of Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy. I was with my mother and we were waiting for my father and little sister to return so we could board the vaporetto back to our hotel. It was alternating between rain and snow that day, and so we ducked into the shop to keep dry. While we waited we shopped a bit and I purchased a Venetian mask for myself. Right as I was about to pay, I spied a little snow globe of the Rialto Bridge. Picking it up and shaking it made the little Rialto Bridge look exactly like it looked that very day. My sister had a couple of snow globes back home, so I thought this would be a good gift to surprise her with so I added it to my purchase. Later when I showed it to my sister she said she didn’t want it, so I suddenly had my first snow globe! This has since started a travel tradition when I go to places where the weather is rainy and snowy to keep as a memento.

Venice Snowglobe

My first snowglobe was from Venice, Italy.

Read about the History of Snow Globes or view a Buying Guide to find the perfect Snow Globe on your next vacation.