Travel with Mona, visit the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal–A Story of Eternal Love

Often described as one of the wonders of the world, the stunning 17th Century ivory-white marble Taj Mahal was a mausoleum built between 1632 and 1643 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth, as a proof of his eternal love. The Taj Mahal is located on the right bank of the river Yamuna in the Indian city of Agra. 

Docking in Mumbai

We boarded the Princess Cruise ship in Civitavecchia–two hours away from Rome– and cruised the Mediterranean Sea to Naples where we spent a day, and then stopped in Santorini, Greece, before entering the Suez Canal and reaching Akaba on the Red Sea. Following six days at sea, we docked in Dubai and Oman, and then crossed the Indian Ocean, and arrived in Mumbai, India, where we took a bus tour of the city.

Old Indian-architecture in Mumbai
Modern residential building in Mumbai

Our Hindu guide explained that Mumbai hosted the wealthiest billionaires and the poorest of the poor. He also described the habitants as being the most tolerant on Earth, respecting all religions and granting citizens equal rights. In 2012 when we visited India, high ranking government officials included Hindu, Muslims, Catholics,…When we saw cows ambling on the sidewalk and monkeys jumping between trees, our guide explained that no one in India would ever hurt an animal.

The top floors of this high-rise are the penthouse of the wealthiest man in Mumbai.
A typically crowded street in Mumbai

Traveling to Agra

The next day we boarded an Air India plane and flew to New Delhi. We left our five-star hotel at four in the morning and walked for twenty minutes to reach the train station. In the early morning the streets were almost as crowded as during the day, with homeless roaming around, early workers carrying piles of newspapers on their bicycles, or vegetables on their wooden carts. After a three-hour train ride we arrived in Agra and took a bus that dropped us at the entrance of the Taj Mahal. A heavy fog–which apparently is a daily occurrence–veiled the famous mausoleum, but slowly faded as the sun rose higher.

The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage”. The Taj Mahal is constructed with impeccable symmetry. Minarets flank the domed tomb, and a central pool reflects the main building.

Notice the different colors at different times of the day. The gardens—an earthly representation of paradise—are divided into quadrants, and twin red sandstone buildings (an east-facing mosque and a west-facing guesthouse) give the mausoleum complex a balanced harmony. 
I am standing on the terrace at the entrance of the mausoleum. Notice we had to remove our shoes. The acoustics inside the main dome cause the single note of a flute to reverberate five times.
The main chamber houses the false sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan, as the actual graves are located at a much lower level.The sarcophagi are enclosed in an eight-sided chamber ornamented with pietra dura (an inlay with semi-precious stones) and a marble lattice screen. 

The shopping in India is amazing. Vendors boasting their merchandise– jewelry, silk scarves, incrusted boxes, and others, waited for us at the door of our buses , ready to accept any bargain.

After a fabulous day in Agra, we returned to New Delhi and visited a Maharaja castle, and then flew to Cochin, in the South of India where we caught up with our ship and continued our cruise to Thailand and Singapore–more stories for another time.

What are You Thankful For? #Inspiration #HolidayVibes @jacqbiggar

Thanksgiving is almost here. What are you the most grateful for?

A blogger I follow asked why we show gratitude on Thanksgiving and not the other 364 days of the year.

This made me think. How can we turn Thanksgiving into a year-round celebration?

There are a variety of ways we can make a difference in someone’s life. Anything from donating to a worthwhile charity to knitting scarves for the homeless.

This past week, British Columbia was struck by disaster. We had an ‘atmospheric river’ occurrence, which in essence meant Mother nature turned on the taps and walked out the door. Roads collapsed, homes flooded, cities had to be evacuated, and thousands of animals perished. It will take months, and maybe even years, to recover- if it’s possible at all.

We aren’t the only ones; California faces hellish firestorms, Louisiana flooding, Texas hurricanes- my point is, we need to band together. Help is essential. Without the aid of strangers, many will lose everything.

Climate change is here. It’s a fact. If we want to survive, we need to step up to the plate and help our fellow man.

That’s what Thanksgiving 365 looks like.

I hope you and yours have a safe and thoughtful Thanksgiving. Gratitude is something we earn.

Holidays Decorations

Most of us decorate our houses for Christmas and the holidays. I get my fake tree up the first weekend of December to put myself in the holiday mood.

But do you decorate your house for other holidays?

My daughter has made it a tradition to decorate for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Spiders and pumpkins are set in the front yard, at the door, and in the living room.

Three years ago, when I screamed after hitting my head against a spider dangling from a lamp in the kitchen, the kids squealed in delight, and made sure they multiplied their cute decorations—I call them disgusting.

Two days before Halloween, my grandchildren invite a dozen of friends who arrive in costume and with a pumpkin to carve and decorate in the backyard. Pizza is served to the hard-working artists and at the end of the party, they fill their basket with candies.

On the following weekend, the Halloween decorations disappear in a plastic container and the Thanksgiving ones come out. This time the celebration is a family gathering with adults and children around a big table. During the traditional dinner of turkey, green beans and sweet potatoes, and dessert of pumpkin pies and pecan pies, each guest, grandparents, parents and children take turns telling us what they are most grateful for.

Setting traditions and building memories is important to raise happy children according to my daughter, a pediatrician who knows her business.

Leonardo, My Hero

Leonardo da Vinci: a man of many talents and ambitions. Did he have ADD?


If Leonardo da Vinci was an American child in the 80s, 90s, or maybe even now, it’s a good chance he would have been diagnosed with ADD: Attention Deficit Disorder. Clinically, that means the person has a problem, that he has trouble concentrating and controlling impulses. To me, it just means his brain is working faster and over a wider spectrum than ‘normal’ folks. The standard remedy for this is medication. I don’t believe this lack of focus is a fault, but only a character aspect. And if it’s not broke, don’t (try to) fix it.
Leonardo is my hero. Whenever I get overwhelmed, I think of how much this guy did. And no, I don’t think he was, or needed to be, medicated. So what if he couldn’t/wouldn’t focus on whether he wanted to be a painter, mathematician, inventor, sculptor, cartographer (mapmaker), geologist, musician, engineer, writer… He still accomplished a lot in his short (67 years) lifespan.
Shoot! Sympathize with him? I identify with him! Do I want to be a gardener, author, publisher, photographer, create colorful memes, crochet, cross-breed roses, invent a fool-proof gopher/slug/deer deterrent, design web pages, crochet afghans or sweaters… How about all of them because I can’t/won’t focus, either.
I felt so strongly about the bad press ‘over-stimulated’ folks received that I – while in author mode – made sure some of my characters had the same trait.
Here’s an excerpt from Aye, I am a Fairy:
“You know, it may seem like I’m a bit hyper,” she said suddenly. “I mean, look at me; I’ve got at least five different projects going on here. But it’s okay. When I get bored or stumped with one, I just move on to the next one. Mom told me it was because I was ‘highly intelligent.’ She didn’t believe in all that attention deficit disorder stuff. She had the same thing going on when she was in school. She’d finish her work early, get bored and start doodling or daydreaming, and then miss what the teacher had just said. Her mother told those teachers that they weren’t going fast enough for her daughter, and if they wanted to really help her, they would give her something else to do when she was finished with the assignments. So, they let her go to the music room and play the piano. The music teacher showed her the basics. Mom took off from there with just a stack of music books to guide her. Man, she was motivated. She’d rip right through her schoolwork just so she could go do her thing in the music room. Her grades went up and, even though she never did anything with it, she learned how to play piano pretty well. Me, I just drew and doodled until high school. Then, once I started being home-schooled, I dropped the doodling and blasted through everything so I could go to college early, get my degree, and make enough money that I didn’t have to worry about bills.”
Oh, and I created a time traveler named Leonardo da Vinci the Elder for NAKED IN THE WINTER WIND, the first book I wrote in The Fairies Saga series. He’s not the same as his son, but quite the character, just the same.
Yup, writing novels doesn’t produce new hardy and unusual roses nor warm my lap like an afghan (unless my laptop overheats), but it does let me create a whole universe of people with literally hundreds of different temperaments and body styles. And I can put them in any part of the world or time of creation. My folks may lack social security numbers, but they will still raise a heart rate, bring a tear, or bring a chuckle from the readers.
And I couldn’t have done any of this if I had been able to focus.

Now, over to publisher mode: I (as Chill Out! Books) released two CHRISTMAS box sets this month. If life has settled into a new normal for you, kick back and enjoy eighteen holiday-themed romances. First is a set with NEW stories. Check out UNFORGETTABLE CHRISTMAS PROMISES.

Indulge in Romance!! NEW stories & only 99cents or read for free with KINDLE UNLIMITED

And a Christmas Gift for you from THE AUTHORS’S BILLBOARD: A free box set! Check out FESTIVE CHRISTMAS NIGHTS, the fifth book in the Fabulous Freebies Collection series.

Eight classic holiday love stories by six of THE AUTHORS’ BILLBOARD ladies: FESTIVE CHRISTMAS NIGHTS