Back in the USSR! ...err... I mean USA...

I'm safely back and had a nice nap this afternoon. I tried not to sleep too much though, so that I won't have trouble sleeping tonight.
The cats are very happy to have me back and they seem very happy with their interim caretaker.
I plan to drop by the office for maybe half a day tomorrow so that I can get all the updating jumpstarted without having the expectation that I'll be productive. Sorting through email and hearing the project stories from the last 3 weeks should fill at least half a day, shouldn't it?

I'd like to thank you guys in advance for cleaning up the mess you left at my house while I was gone:

I'll catch up with and to MWT's beautiful posts this weekend. (Getting a jump start like that... not fair! ;)


A Hint of Things to Come

We are fiddling around with various errands, including downloading photos, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to post a lovely photo of the girls who performed in the ceremonies at the Tibetan Wedding we attended. Only four of the five girls are shown, but the most important one (important to us anyway), the first on the left, is the daughter of the kind lady who invited us to the wedding.
This photo is by Bret. He and Cheryl are better photographers than I am (meaning a greater proportion of thier photos turn out exceptionally well). I don't lack artistic talent, just the level of patience and persnicketiness (yes, me!) to achieve any great heights of photographic art. So this is a good, but not great photo, of theirs. It does what most of my photos do, tells a story (another reason my photos lack something is that I don't edit as much - mostly because the picture tells a story for me). When I get back to the States, when I post any of Bret and Cheryl's photos, I will most likely put a watermark on them, because the truly beautiful ones are Art.


The End is Near

This is my last night in India! Tomorrow night, I'll be on a plane and coming home. I look forward to seeing my dad and the cats when I get back. I imagine I'll be napping lots and lots.
More stories and photos to come. :)


Waterfalls and Sarees

The area around Manali is a little like Colorado, with pine forests and gushing streams. The town is a little overrun with Indian tourists (who have a tendency to be somewhat boisterous), but we've managed to enjoy ourselves. Mostly we've spent the day hiking (like yesterday we hiked to two levels of a very tall waterfall and one level you could hike behind! :D ) and then in the evening, going to a restaurant (Mount View is one of the best I've ever been too!) and doing a little shopping. Yesterday I got a lovely wool shawl and a saree. I'll need a couple pieces of undergarments, but I hope to model it for you all, at least in a photo if I don't see you in person.
Today I am taking it easy. I have a little bit of a stomach ache and am feeling under the weather. Bret pointed out that it may not be anything I ate or drank, but my body finally reacting to the different diet. He said he had experienced something similar along those lines right at the two week mark. It's not debilitating -- I'll be able to travel on the bus tomorrow, I'm sure (though the movement of the bus won't be particularly pleasant, I'm sure) -- but it's a good excuse to take a break, stay near civilization (and a bathroom), and catch up on my journalling. I also finally had time to read the book I brought (see link to the right). It's a perfect book to read while in Asia, particularly India, where Buddhism, Hindu, and Muslim are all found.

One funny thing about India that I thought you'd find interesting is that because things written with the Roman alphabet are often written phonetically (so that place names will often vary), English words are often written phonetically as well. It is extremely common to see misspellings on shop fronts and in menus. You might select a breakfast item from a menu subcategory "Eegs" or have "Veg Sup". Certain creative spellers I know would enjoy that!

Tomorrow we leave for Chandigarh. Hope everything is going well for you guys!


We Flew Off a Cliff Into a Two Thousand Foot Gorge

(Title courtesy of Bret and Cheryl)

We are safe and sound in Manali now. We arrived a couple of hours ago. As you might have guessed, we DID end up taking two days to travel. The first day we travelled from about 5 am to 7 ish pm (13 hours). Though we were 75% of the way, we stopped in Keylong for two reasons: we knew it would be tougher to find an affordable room at midnight and we wanted to see that last 1/4 of the trip. We are so glad we did. Not only was Keylong a really nice little town (with a very accommodating restaurant that promised our home-sick Brit an apple custard and then came back and embarrassed said "how about a pineapple custard?") but there were some great sights to see during that last leg. (I wish it were more convenient to download photos!)
First, I'll say that our taxi driver was excellent. He was an intense young guy (mid 20s, probably) who obviously knew all the tricks of the trade in driving on a rough road with passengers. He would take the smoothest and/or safest track through the obstacles as he could. Sometimes that was rocks in the road, sometimes a stream, sometimes a herd of goats, sheep, ponies, or other cars. He drove at a safe pace most of the time and we were all very pleased with his performance.
We left Keylong at 5 am, because the taxi driver was worried about "traffic." At first, that seemed like herds of goats and sheep, then just after we went over the last pass to Manali, we understood. Apparently that pass is also the Indian version of a ski resort. No infrastructure, of course. No lifts, no buildings, no parking lots, only yellow and blue tarp tents, with parking along the dirt road and a lot of packed and dirty snow. All the Indian tourists were dressed in "onesie" style snowsuits or fake fur coats, with rubber boots (we saw the rental shops, about 700 of them, stocked with these items further down the mountain). We navigated through the parked cars, and then had to pass waves of cars travelling in the other direction, often on a 1 1/2 width road, and often with ponies (for pony rides) crossing the road in front of us. Then, if we weren't delighted enough, some large flocks of sheep and goats were herded along the same road. I have some great photos and promise to post them.

In Manali, we had a bit of a row with a hotel keeper, but are now safely ensconced in hotel rooms at New Dharma Guest house (link courtesy of Tania's excellent help in a previous post, but not as close a satellite photo as before).

We are not sure if we're going to Nagar (a small mountain town) tomorrow, or staying here for three days, then continuing to Chandigarh. Either way, the clock is ticking away my last week in India.

Hope everything is going well for you guys. Nathan, I have a special stash of chips and beer under the stair, saved for Armageddon. I guess I can get more.


Leaving for Manali

We are leaving for Manali early tomorrow morning (it's 6 pm here now). We'll either do it in one or two days (we're waiting to see what the conditions are like), but either way we should be in Manali by the afternoon/evening of the 22nd. (That'll be the morning of the 22nd for you guys, I think.) If you don't hear from us by the 23rd, then start to worry. I sent an email to "Grabill Family" (aka my sister) with some contact info for the family of the two friends with whom I'm traveling.
It should be a fantastic drive. Wikipedia has some info (a wee bit alarming) as does India Travelogue (though the description is reversed from the direction we'll be going, Leh to Manali). Actually, a Google search turns up quite a few interesting sites, including one about riding a motorcycle on this route.
We're travelling with a pair of Canadians (good looking brothers!) and a Brit. It should be fun, since we're not doing the packed-to-the-gills shared taxi experience.

See you all in Manali!


Glass Half Full

I just passed the halfway point on my trip yesterday. We were lucky enough to make friends with a very sweet Tibetan lady and she invited us to a Tibetan wedding. My friends had been to a Hindu wedding, but this was (according to them) very different. We drank "salty" chai and never ever want to again. They took four tasty things: tea, milk, salt, and butter and made something [shudder] not so tasty with them. It's a cultural thing, of course, and we did at least *try* it.
We just got back from visiting a Buddhist monastary (in Thiksey) and walking 3 or 4 miles to a ruined palace (in Shey). Tomorrow we will go on an overnight trek. It's something we set up with the cousin of the woman who invited us to the wedding. *Much* cheaper that way.
We've also arranged for a shared Jeep (taxi) to Menali, over one of the highest and most spectacular highways in the world. I'm told motorcyclists travel here to drive over it. It's not officially open yet, so I'll probably post a message saying "ok, we're leaving" and a confirming "ok, we've arrived" so you all can raise hell if something happens to us in between (as we will be travelling at our own risk).

This has been a very interesting experience so far, and I'm very fortunate in my travelling companions. I wish I could post pictures, but I think it would be too complicated and expensive (as I am paying 1.5 rupees for every minute I'm online). So, you'll just have to wait.

Until next time!
Oh, I meant to post something additional:
I've borrowed a friend's GPS receiver and have been wanting to give coordinates and link to an online map, but have yet to find an online resource that uses coordinates (like I think Google Earth does).
Here they are anyway (I'll transcribe them as exactly as I can, but I'm not sure why the E coordinate has a 0 or an O in front of it):
Glacier View Hotel (Leh, India):
N 34deg 10.096'
E077deg 35.007'
Elev. 11574 ft.
(accurate up to 21 feet)
If any of you has any helpful links, post it in the comments. Thanks!


Mountain Retreat

First: For those worried about the news from Jaipur, I am not there, nor are we planning to go there. Interestingly enough, if I had not said "I don't really like cities, could we keep that down to a minimum" we might have been there at the time, and Cheryl says that it did happen in a tourist area where we might have been. Somewhere in a parallel universe, things might have turned out differently.

We arrived in Leh yesterday. It is a wonderful place, especially for someone from Colorado. It's a mountain "city" at 11600 feet above sea level, and has nicer people and less pollution than the cities we've been in. Things have been going well with our travel arrangements and I look forward to telling you guys the stories when I get back.

Hugs to you all!


Another Quickie, Since It's Very Late

Hello all,

Since I wrote last, we went to Gwalior (saw the hilltop fort there) and to Agra, where we saw Agra Fort and The [cue dramatic music] Taj Mahal! It was beautiful, of course.
More later, as someone needs to use this computer after me.
I'm back in Delhi, but very early tomorrow, we fly out to Leh. I will be there for about 6 days, but should be able to get a connection at an Internet cafe.

Hugs to you all and make yourselves at home. ;)


Quick Hello from a Delhi Home

I'm safe and sound in India, staying briefly in the home of the family of one of my freind, Cheryl's, schoolmates. They are, as usual, a lovely and inviting Indian family who are taking good care of us. We are leaving today for Agra, where we will spend a couple days to see the Taj Mahal and a fort or two.
I have successfully managed the jet lag, first by sleeping for a long time (on the plane and then most of the night here) and then by forcing myself to stay active and moving all day yesterday. Not too bad, actually.
Yesterday, we went on a bus tour to see some sites (an anchient observatory, a Hindu temple, a Banai Temple, and Qatb Minar (a beautiful monument tower and the ruins of the first mosque in India). Then, we went shopping and I am now attired in a corta and sawar -- very comfortable in the heat (and it hasn't been as hot as it could have been). The sales style of some of the shop keepers here can be extremely high pressure, which is interesting, if a little frustrating over the long term ("How many times do I have to tell you, lady, that I look horrible in mustard/orange/olive/beige?")
Last night some of the young people with whom we are staying took us to have ice cream at the India Gate, which seems to be a local thing to do. So, we've been doing a good mix of tourist and local things.

I am keeping a journal so I'll be able to remember this all, so I can expand on some of these experiences when I come back.

Hope you all are well!


On a Jet Plane

I'm leaving for my India trip today and (I guess I should have expected it, but) I'm a wee bit nervous. After tutoring my dad about how to take care of The Boys (no, he won't have to make cat food, but he knows how to now), I'm sure they are in good hands. I've also left someone competant in charge of my project, so that'll be fine too.
I came up with a good bag strategy. I don't know how much lugging stuff around we'll be doing, so I'm taking a backpack as my bag. However, with the straps and all, it wouldn't travel well through the baggage handling, so I bought a very large, but compactable bag that will provide the necessary protection during plane travel. I also am taking an extra bag for stuff bought along the way. That sounds like a lot, but all of the extra bags fit handily in the bottom of the backpack, which, when packed, ended up being a little over half full.
I'll be flying into Newark, and from there to New Delhi. My friends, Bret and Cheryl, have promised to meet me at the airport, but gave me the name and address of a lady they know in Delhi, just in case. In a few days, we'll be travelling via bus or train to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. After that, I believe we'll be going into Northern India, where the Himalayas touch India.
I hope to be able to get online and post updates, but I'm not sure. It'll depend on two things: availability of internet and the habits of my travelling companions.

I will miss you all and will come back with lots of pictures and stories to entertain you. Behave in the comments section. Janiece and Nathan are authorized to use the Shovel of Doom and Grill of Retribution respectively.

Bye for now...


Cool Pic of the Day

Writing on a report for work and ran across this photo. Thought you guys would enjoy it.

And another:


After the Hurricane

Today I had an open house, pretty much because I'd wanted to see more friends than could come to the dinner party. I made a yummy Quinoa and Black Bean Salad (if you make that recipe, I highly recommend changing the green pepper to red, just doing fresh jalepenos, and adding edamame and cucumber), some basic brownies, and sangria and put out the leftover appetizers. I also had sun tea, sodas in a cooler, chips, carrots with lime juice and the grill ready to go. I wouldn't call it exactly relaxing, but it was a breeze compared to yesterday.
At 2:00, Holly arrived and we got to catch up (I haven't seen her in ages). Then, Priscilla, Paul, and Susan, followed shortly after by JR & Stacey. At this point, I can't remember the order of the arrivals, but guests included: Janiece, Aileen and Brian, Wendy and Chris, Dee and Deanne w/ Benjamin and Jonathan (who loved the cats and was very gentle with them), Heather and Kevin w/ Connor and Braden, Michelle w/ Liam (a sweet little guy of about 6 mo.), Ginger and Dave w/ Sydney (who loved the cats, but was a little loud for them, so they hid), and Paden. So, that's 25 guests total. Not all were here at the same time. Some came early and left early, some came late and left "late" (everyone was gone by 8:00).
We had a great time laughing and telling stories. I tried to mingle like a good hostess should, introducing people and getting drinks, but by the time there were over 10 guests, they pretty much had to fend for themselves. There was plenty to eat and drink, however, and some guests brought some extra salads in addition to what they brought to grill.
One fun part though, was that when I went to Safeway, they were having a sale on plastic dinnerware. Since I had just been thinking how nice it would be to have that and not have to throw away disposable stuff, I bought a bunch of it, including a fabulous compartmentalized plate (see left). Not only was it great for the kids, but adults found it fun too. At the end of the evening, it was so easy to just toss it in the dishwasher. I also got a lovely vinyl tablecloth, which you see under the other stuff.
The cats were a bit paranoid by the end of it, particularly with inquisitive children about, but they had refuges under the bed or in the basement, so I left them to it.

Tomorrow, my dad arrives to begin his house/catsittership. I'll train him in the daily routines and let him know where all the important stuff is (water shutoff, spare keys, emergency phone numbers, etc.).
And I need to start packing.
Tonight, I want to go to bed early. Which is right about now.

Thanks to all who were able to make it! I really enjoyed myself very much and I hope you did too. :)


Day in the Life of a Madwoman

Today, I'm having a semi-formal dinner party for 8 plus myself. I started cleaning a while back (as you know) and I started making a few things ahead of time:
Thursday I made a brandied chicken liver pate. I'm a little disappointed in the flavor (still tastes like liver, folks) but it's made, so I'll put it out so people can try it and throw the rest away.
Friday I made a Grand Marnier Crepe Cake (see above). Essentially, it's orange-flavored crepes layered with orange-flavored whip cream. It looks so yummy! I also made dough for Spring Onion Flatbread and let it rise overnight.
I thought I might do a play by play of today, so here it goes:

9:00 am -- Got up at 7:00, took a shower, got dressed, cleaned the bathroom, fed the cats, started a load of laundry in the washer, updated blog ;)

10:45 am -- took the cats outside to play and eat grass while I swept the deck, went to Costco for some minor items, bought tulips for the table, "arranged" them (I use the term loosely, since my flower arranging abilities are functional at best.)

1:15 pm -- made the Spring Onion Flatbreads with the panini pan that came with my new pots (it made wonderful grill marks!), made a White Bean Dip and an Artichoke and Cumin Dip, both with the food processor I bought a few months ago. It occurs to me that four of the recipes I'm making for today use the food processor. I didn't intend it that way, but that's the way it turned out. Interesting, eh?

2:30 pm -- made Roasted Almonds with Rosemary and Cayenne and "took a break" to put laundry in the dryer, another load in the washer, make my bed, and dust furniture. Helpful note: light colored wood furniture doesn't show dust as much!

9:40 pm -- my sous chef, Susan, arrived at 3:00 pm, after which I was whirring on all cylinders until the party.
Here's what we did:
- Susan made pasta dough and put it in the fridge while I was putting together the fennel and potato mixture to cook. Susan finished the dough before I was finished and made the Greek Salad (she has an excellent eye for how much salad to make for 9!).
- We were also cleaning up after each recipe, so we finished cleaning around the same time and tackled rolling out pasta together. I had planned to borrow a pasta machine from a friend, but she was out of town and forgot to leave the machine on the porch like she said she would. No matter, I know that pasta can be rolled out with a rolling pin. I just got a silicone baking mat and it was very helpful, by the way.
- So, we figured out how to get the size pieces we needed and got a great upper body workout rolling those suckers out (some were beautifully thin, some only average). That took a while, but we were still doing well for time.
- Susan started pre-cooking the rectangles of pasta (about 4" x 6") and I took on the fennel and potatoes, which had finished cooking some time before and had already been drained. I pureed them together with a little marscapone and mint and it was as yummy as the first time I'd made it.
- Meanwhile, Susan had finished with the pasta and had moved on to the filling, first roasting the spices a little before crushing them with a mortar and pestle (I'd like a spice mill, but they didn't have any and I didn't feel in the mood to make do with a coffee mill). Then, she mixed the spices with the ground lamb, goat's cheese, and cilantro that I had already put in a bowl. The filling mixed, she started the task of putting a line of filling at the short end of the pasta rectangles and rolling them into Cannolli. (did I mention the main dish was Lamb and Goat Cheese filled Cannolli? I forgot to take pictures of them.)
- When I finished the puree, I helped her finish them. They were put in a baking dish, to be finished immediately before dinner.

(Whew! You can see how I didn't have a moment to blog...)

It was shortly after finishing the cannolli, while we were tidying up, that the first guests (besides Susan herself) began to arrive, four minutes early, at 5:26 pm. For those in the know, the guests were Gabe and Krissy, followed immediately by Max, Jenn, and Dave. We cleared the table of any remaining food prep items and put out the appetizers. I think everything was well liked (someone put a small dent in the chicken liver, so even that was liked) and after I got everyone drinks, I was able to stop and chat for a while. Aileen and Brian arrived later, but still significantly before dinner. It really worked out well.

After a good long appetizer period, I started the cannolli baking and Gabe cooked some of his famous pesto ravioli (he had made a huge batch recently and offered to bring some). It was all very tasty, and everyone had exactly enough to fill themselves up. The ravioli were heavenly, as usual. It's so worth Gabe's fascist instructions about how to prepare and eat them ;) The cannolli were yummy. I find lamb to sometimes be overpowering, but in this case, the ratio of lamb to pasta really mellowed out the lamb. Next time I'll put more cheese on top!

After a brief pause, Susan made french-press coffee. Max offered to make it, but when Jenn revealed that Max has questionable coffee making practices, we "pressed" the expert, Susan, into service. I made tea and brought out the cake. It cut beautifully and was deliciously light and airy. Krissy remarked on the texture given by the many layers of crepe. I've only got a 1/4 of the cake left.

Gabe and Dave told some great stories and Brian did a hilarious impression of a girl getting out of a speeding ticket by flashing some cleavage. I think it's safe to say a good time was had by all. Krissy, bless her heart, helped clean up the dessert dishes, so I was able to just turn on the dishwasher and not worry about it.
I've got some suitable leftovers for tomorrow and will probably have to make some brownies or something, since there's so little cake left.

Yes, there's more tomorrow, but much lower key than this. I'll cook a little, bake a little, and hopefully put the finishing touches on cleaning/tidying (there was a little shoving things in drawers -- not much, but some).

Maybe I'll even start packing. :D


You Can't Have It All

I was planning to write a post about an article I found well written (later: cancel that, apparently I did, see the following), but a bit depressing -- this Newsweek article about a book about FDR and his mistress(es). The article writer brings up very good point about physical comparisons between Eleanor and her rival. She wraps up well with a positive note about how much Eleanor was able to accomplish that she might not have been able to had she been the "helpmate" her husband needed. I'm not sure why exactly I found it sad, but it probably had something to do with the fact that Eleanor had to choose between being a do-er and being a supporter. The book seemed to support the old stereotypes, which always affects my mood.

On a lighter note, could someone order me up an extra 24 hours? Thanks.