last post for awhile

We had a great Christmas yesterday! It was fun filled from our early morning webcam with husband's family to the late night one with my family. In between we went to two different places. First we were invited by over for Christmas breakfast by some very close friends who live in our neighborhood. They are pretty much our family away from home. We sang happy birthday, ate a scrumptious breakfast, and opened presents together. And laughed a lot! Then we all went over to a coworker's house for a huge Christmas lunch. After lunch was the most fun part - the White Elephant game! Now, some of your regular White Elephant gifts were present - candles, ornaments, etc. But the hottest items were actually gifts that if you opened in the states, you'd say, Um, thanks? Things like Skittles, Reese's PB Cups, and the hottest item of all, Dr. Pepper! You should have heard the hoots and hollers when that six pack of Dr. Pepper was unwrapped. I was too busy laughing to realize the actual length of the game, but it went on for awhile. One package I opened, mint Hershey's kisses, made me laugh because it was accompanied with a note exclaiming, "Straight from the US!" I ended up with Velveeta and Rotel, and husband ended up with a Nalgene bottle. Not a bad day in our household. Chini received 5 presents! I think she's more popular than we are.

We leave tomorrow night on our Visa run and retreat, and a little vacation tacked on. We'll return in two weeks. Everyone have a happy and safe New Year!

happy Christmas!

As they say here, Happy Christmas!!


mocha caramel cookies

Since they were requested, I will post the recipe for anyone who's interested. I can't remember where I got the recipe from...kraft.com maybe? Oh and if you don't have a cake icer thingy, I would recommend you close this browser right now unless you really want to spend 3 hours in the kitchen decorating these with a spoon like I did last year. If you don't have a mixer, no biggie; I didn't last year and it was fine. I also had no cookie cutters and that isn't too hard to do either. But take my word on the cake icer.

Mocha Caramel Cookies
(makes around 30 cookies)

1 C butter, softened
1/3 C powdered sugar
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 t instant espresso coffee powder or 2 t instant coffee crystals*
1 tbsp vanilla
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 2/3 C flour
Icing Instructions below**

1. In a large mixing bowl beat first 3 ingredients with a electric mixer on med speed until fluffy. Dissolve coffee in vanilla; add to butter mixture. Beat in cocoa powder. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. By hand, stir in any remaining flour. Divide dough in half. Cover; chill about 1 hour or until firm.
2. On a floured surface, roll one half of dough at a time to 1/4"-3/8" thickness. Cut into shapes. Place cookies on greased cookie sheets.
3. Bake in a 325F oven for 12-15 minutes or until set but not over browned. Cool completely before icing.

*I don't know what crystals are. I used that instant chickory stuff (Nestle Gold), and then just ground it a bit smaller.

**To make caramel, just get condensed milk, keep it in the can, and boil it in hot water for about 2 hours. Make sure you keep adding water to keep it covered. Careful, the can will be hot! Afterwards, put the caramel into a cake icer and decorate away. Melt some chocolate chips with a tiny bit of butter or shortening to also use for icing. I've heard the caramel thing can be done with 3 steams to the pressure cooker, but I've never tried that.

If you have access to packaged vanilla caramel candies, you can melt those with butter and milk over low heat on the stove to make the icing as well.


the Christmas Getting to Know the Neighbors Campaign!

Over the next two days (our Saturday and Sunday) we are going to begin our Christmas Getting to Know the Neighbors Campaign. Okay I just made that name up. Catchy, no? Ideally we would've liked to have a Christmas party in some capacity, but since we don't know many people in town, or at least not enough to constitute a good party, we realized we should use Christmas as a good excuse to meet our neighbors and build some relationships so next year we can have a real kickin' party!

Today I bought 3.5 kg of eggless sweets. (that's 1.59lbs!) At first I was going to bake some eggless cookies and fudge and things like that, but husband had the brilliant idea of using South Asian sweets
instead. First of all, that eliminates any stress in the kitchen. And secondly, it will show our neighbors that Christmas doesn't have to be all western with weird treats, or cake, which is what they actually think Christmas is about. This is a bit more contextual to show them they can celebrate Christmas too. So here is what 3.5kg of South Asian sweets look like. The foiled covered things are called barfi, just in different flavors. Don't be fooled by the gag-worthy name; it's actually really tasty. It's like fudge, only without the chocolate. Or the marshmallows. So I'm not sure how it's like fudge, but go with me. And the foil stuff is supposed to be eaten with it. The first time someone gave me barfi, I threw it away because I couldn't get the foil stuff off and all I could think about was getting Alzheimer's later on. But I don't think it's actually foil... (Anyone know?) Anyway the rest of the stuff is...I don't know. The little round things taste like plain sugar in a ball. And the other two are too big for me to try. But I'm sure our neighbors will recognize them, and probably love them more than my mocha caramel cookies anyway.

I'm wrapping them in bags and tying them up with a gold ribbon and a verse explaining very simply what Christmas is all about. And then the door knocking starts! We're not going all white shirt/black tie/bicycle on the neighbors. We're just trying to introduce ourselves, tell them Merry Christmas, and hopefully they will invite us in or at least remember us as gracious people. I like that in Phil 4 - "Let your graciousness be known..." that's our hopes, and we ask you all to send money for this opportunity. We are asking the boss to open homes and to open hearts to us and our message, open doors for us to share with them, and that we can begin some great relationships from this. Thanks for your part in this!


ode to the ambassador

Some of the taxis here are very old rickety Ambassadors. I'm not sure how old these Ambassadors are, but I do know they are well past their prime. But South Asia just wouldn't be the same without the Ambassador, and so, I write a blog applauding the old car. Way to go, Big Guy.

For the Ambassador has a magical expanding interior. Here is a picture proving that the South Asian Ambassadors are a feat of engineering. A driver, his turban, 3 teenage boys, an 11 year old, a 9 year old, and 2 adults (one of whom is hidden beneath the pile of people) can all squeeze comfortably into this sedan.

A certain amount of grace is given to these cars, that cheat the system on the roads any chance they get. 2 lanes? Why not make it 3. A long line at the traffic light? No one will mind if we cut in front! Missed your turn? No problem, just reverse until you get back to it. Everyone is always very happy to see the Ambassador doing these things, and usually many cars will honk their approval as they dodge past.

Also, the Ambassadors are only driven by the most fun people who may not always know their way around the city, but at least they know that FM channel. Take tonight for instance. A traffic jam is not always the most fun place for husband and I to be stuck in. However, thanks to the Ambassador's sound system, a roomy interior, and the fun driver, we were all three able to dance to a lively Bollywood song as we creeped along the road.

And these reasons are why there is nothing like the Ambassador. They just don't make 'em like they used to.


post office experience #47

I've come to realize that the post office is where I experience the most culture shock, whether it be in the Himalayas or in the bustling capital. I know I've written a lot about the post office experience, because every single time I go, it's just weird!

Yesterday was no exception. We had a couple of packages to mail off, and I thought I had the hang of mailing packages by now. I mean, no more white tailored packaging mistakes. I now know the correct post office to mail international parcels and everything! Well just like in the Himalayas, it seems all the impatient people like to go gather at the post office, and it takes a lot to stay in line. This time I had husband with me who can speak up to the men crowding around. Normally at that point I would have to find a strategic way to hold my parcel so I could "bump" and/or elbow into people who were trying to cut in front of me. Husband just told them, "The queue is that way." In a never before seen South Asian moment, there was actually an orderly line at the post office, thanks to husband! Several impatient folks tried to get around waiting in the queue, but husband reminded every one of them where they should go. haha! One man even said, "But I'm in a hurry!" Husband just reminded him that so was everyone else. I think I should petition for him to be the Official Post Office Errand Boy, don't you? Well the MBTC (man behind the counter) was very confused about our package. I'm not sure why, but he didn't like it for some reason. So we had to walk around the post office and go to his desk. When we got back there, we glanced over at the customers who were waiting, and saw that in the short amount of time it took for us to walk around, the line had dissipated. I'm sure they were all thinking, "Yes! Finally, those ruly Americans have left."

The MBTC argued with us for several moments about why our package was incorrect - the items were loose, the box was too flimsy, etc. We tried telling him that no worries, we had done this so many times we knew it would arrive. He finally agreed that it was okay as long as we wrote really big on the white cloth "No Commercial Value." See, every time I go, I learn something new.

So I started thinking, I bet I could really shock these postal workers with statements about the USPS, like:
"In America, the mail man delivers things from a truck! To a person's mailbox!"
"You know, the USPS never rifles through packages and picks out what they want before delivering it."
"On holidays, it is not customary for a mailman to go to people's houses asking for money."
"In the US, you don't need paste to stick on stamps. And, you can buy stamps at places other than the post office!"
And probably the most shocking...
"The postal workers actually don't read every post card that I've written right in front of me!"

I'm pretty sure every one of these statements would be met with a gasp, a shocked look, or a, "No, you must be joking."


giving cheerfully

In this season of giving, I'm learning that I'm not quite the cheerful giver that I'd like to be. Last month, husband and I went with our friend Kyle to the newly opened Papa John's near us. Since it takes 45 minutes to drive there, husband and I decided to order enough to take home for leftovers the next day. We left the restaurant (yes, it's a restaurant here, and quite nice too) with happy tummies, swinging our take-away bags with visions of leftovers dancing in our heads. 3 little beggar children took that moment to approach us asking for money. Since it's illegal to give money to beggars in this country (because most beggars are bogus) we try to give them food, especially if they're young, which most are. Immediately Kyle gave his leftover pizza without a second thought. Husband followed suit, and I looked woefully at my pizza as I gave it to the children as well. Two held the pizzas as the third one continued following, asking for more food or money. At this point I became upset because I realized these kids didn't really care that we had given them a very hot commodity in our eyes; had it been Regular Joe pizza they also wouldn't have cared. All they wanted was our money. As I mentioned this, they guys said something about cheerful giving and I was immediately convicted.

I've been working on this, and thought I was doing good, until last night. Husband and I had a somewhat stressful day yesterday, and so for date night we treated ourselves to Bennigan's. (again, yes, Bennigan's is actually a treat here) After dinner was over, I was once again walking out with the take-away, and two beggar girls approached us. This time they didn't ask, just reached up and grabbed our food. I think it was an innocent action, something that had happened so much that they knew we would be giving them the food, but my first reaction was resentment at their sense of entitlement. I relinquished the food a bit grumpily, and then that still, small voice reminded me about cheerful giving. I turned around, smiled brightly at them, and said, "Merry Christmas!" I was trying to convey that my compassion for them came from the boss, but a lame Merry Christmas was the only way I knew how to say this in a way they'd understand. And sadly, my first reaction is what they'll remember more anyway.

So I'm learning a lesson here about myself. When it comes to rickshaw drivers and shop owners, I don't have a problem being a bit generous. But apparently American food is where I draw the line. This Christmas season, I hope we're all learning how to give generously, and more importantly, give cheerfully, even when it comes to things (or food :) that mean a lot to us. We did, after all, receive an example of this selflessness during the first Christmas season long ago.


yet another Chini blog

Chini had her spaying surgery last Saturday and that morning was one of the saddest of my life! Immediately after the surgery was over, the vet called for us to come pick her up. I realize that in the States, they keep the dogs for at least a couple of hours if not overnight. Husband left to go get her, and called me before reaching the house. "I'm calling just to warn you. Chini isn't in pain, because she's so doped up on pain killers. But the meds are causing her to hallucinate and she's crying, and will cry for the next 2-3 hours." I could hear her over the phone, and I started crying before we hung up the phone. I composed myself, but as soon as they came home, I started crying again because Chini looked so pitiful. She wasn't even conscious, but was just howling with her tongue hanging out sideways and kicking. We tried putting her in her crate, but she flipped out, turning circles, and shaking the crate, so we spread out a couple of towels on the floor and just sat with her for two hours.

The funny thing was, there is one neighborhood dog that is Chini's friend. (picture on right) He sits by our door and front gate a lot, and I guess because he doesn't have his own pack, he's nice to her. Well we had the screen doors open while Chini was howling and crying, and this dog heard her calls of distress. He came to the door and started barking, and Chini got real quiet. Every time he would bark, she would relax, and I thought that was so sweet. I wonder what he said to her.

Finally Chini would try to stand, but was falling over. (picture on left) Then finally the hallucinations stopped, and the drug-induced stupor began. She went to her crate and slept, but every now and then she would sit up then fall back to sleep sitting up. (picture of that on the right)

She's doing much better now. I was worried her personality would be a little different, but she's back to her cute and curious ways. She's even jumping on furniture and wagging her tail again. I should say that yes, I realize I'm quite over the top for blogging about my dog.

quiz time

So a friend of mine took a personality quiz that's a lot like Meyers-Briggs, but more fun. I'm so analytical when I take personality quizzes, because unless it's a universal truth, there are no absolutes with me. For example, if I was asked this question in any sort of quiz, "On any given day, would you rather burn down your house or watch soap operas?" I would hem and haw. Well that depends...what soap opera? Is anyone in my house? How much coffee had I had that morning? You see, I don't like being pinned down to one action. All that to say, I loved this quiz. Thanks BekiB! I got to rate my answers on a little slidy-bar thing instead of having to say true or false (well...there were a few of those, but not many). Here are my results:

If you put the cursor over the block you can see what I am. I'm pretty surprised that my openness wasn't higher. I mean, the fact that I share online the fact that not only am I more masculine than feminine, but I am very authoritative and not at all spontaneous...doesn't that demonstrate my inability to be ashamed? Well anyway it's a good quiz. I liked it, and I recommend it.


Here is a photo-journal of our time with the in-laws. Their time here started off slow and leisurely and seemed like the 9 days would go at a slow enough pace for us to fully enjoy them. But after about the 3rd day, time did what it loves to do when you're having fun - it zoomed by.

They were very adventurous and ready to experience the real South Asia.

Here is husband taking F-i-L to get a shave. Where else but South Asia can you get a shave, nose and ear trim, and head massage for less than a dollar? (the funny thing about that is husband semi-gripes because that's a lot more than he paid in the Himalayas :)

Street food vendor. Can you believe every one of them wanted to try street food?:

Husband is serving us our "fast food breakfast" on our road trip. I guess this is South Asia's version of the Egg McMuffin:

A little dancer boy than entertained us:

Sis-in-Law and I got mehendi (henna tattoos). Hers was on the back of her hands, while mine was on both the back and the palms:
Here's a look at both sides of my hands. We got this done exactly 2 weeks ago, and mine is still on, although it's very very light:

Here's M-i-L doing some shopping in one of my favorite markets. If you know her at all, you know she had the time of her life sorting through all the fabric here:

We took them to monuments, landmarks, and very old ruins. This one had some buildings from the 1100s!:

We also taught them how to eat this entire delicious meal with only their hands:

And finally, we set up the tree together and opened up some presents:
Although the tree is looking even more Charlie Brown-esque than last year, I love it. It's quirky, and more important, having the tree up means it's officially Christmas season and I have license to play as much Christmas music as I want!


pump [clap] you up

As of yesterday, husband and I are members of a gym. In the mountains, we were lucky to have free exercise and aerobics just from walking to the market, although I never thought of it as lucky at the time. Things here in the capital are a lot more Western and modern, so I haven't experienced many funny things like monkeys lately, or noticed myself doing weird stuff like wearing yak wool (my friends up in the mountains are getting quite rugged ;). So I expected my first South Asian gymming experience to be...well, American. And while we were signing up, it was. The woman spoke great English, she showed us around the very nice Precor machines, and she pushed us with her best sales pitch to sign up for a year. All very Bally's or 24 Hour Fitness, except much smaller and with regular power outages. A trainer is even included in the membership fee, and she assured me that mine would be a woman.

So we showed up yesterday for our first workout, extremely excited. They told us when we arrived to change and then we'd meet with our fitness manager to tell us what workout would be best for us. After changing, we were each introduced to who I thought were our fitness managers. Husband and I were separated, and mine spoke no English. And of course my barefoot language learning didn't quite get to exercise related vocabulary, so our conversation went nowhere. I had no clue how this girl was going to be able to tell me what workout I should do, and she looked about as helpless as I felt. Then, out of nowhere, a new girl came in who spoke English and explained that they were actually trainers, and our fitness manager had yet to show up. Then, after only about 2 minutes, without explanation, she passed me on to my third trainer, a man. Dun dun dun! After living in this culture for almost 16 months, let me tell you, I was very uncomfortable at first. Not only would I be talking and making eye contact with a complete stranger of the opposite sex, but he would be directing my workouts? Well I told my cultural instincts to put a lid on it, because he was a professional, and this was his job. Meanwhile husband was working out with his initial trainer, and I realized how difficult of a customer I must be for them to push me onto 3 different trainers in a span of 15 minutes.

It went surprisingly well. Except for one uncomfortable moment that had me scratching my neck and looking everywhere but at the trainer, it was a lot of fun and really helpful. And I feel much more comfortable going there even if I miss the 11-4 women only workout block.

Some pics of our time with the in-laws are coming soon. We've had some computer problems lately, so we're a bit slow with everything right now.