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Category Archives: Learning the ropes

…Naresh asked me early in the morning on my way to the market area in touristy Manali. In the US, when someone on the street asks me the time, I’m leery about pickpocketing. In my experience in India, it’s an icebreaker, quickly followed by “Where you from?” After many long seconds of getting-to-know you questions (i.e. exchanging names,) he pops the question.

“But we just met (literally)…why do you want to be my friend?”

“Well” he pauses, “I don’t have any friends from US.”

Ok, perfectly reasonable right? But I wonder what ‘being friends’ entails.

“We share tea and spend all day together seeing the sights in Manali.” Whoa there, partner. As enticing as you are with your humble, aging-history-teacher vibe and white slacks, I’m not so much interested. However, I’m willing to see where this goes in the interest of story-telling. After many Cheng/husband references we had tea. Then he found me an internet cafe. He tried to pay for that internet. He told me ‘thank you’ was unnecessary and rude between ‘friends.’ I finally found a way to be rid of him by arranging an afternoon time to meet for temple viewing and an evening time to meet for disco dancing. He didn’t want to leave me saying “I am feeling very bad leaving you.” Um, probably because you sense I won’t be keeping either of those meetup times? To be honest, I tried to keep the afternoon time, but lunch with Cheng ran long and when I checked the designated place, Naresh wasn’t there. I wondered if he disco-ed without me?


Practice started off pretty normal with everyone cleating up and throwing around.

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Then Om shared the horrible







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He had a flat tire! Oh no!


Om has been lovely, giving me a ride home when practice ends at 9pm so I don’t have to cab it, so the very least I could do was offer some sage wisdom I learned from my dad. Having never actually changed a tire myself, I really only knew how to do it in theory. But just like that time I learned how to ride the subway in Budapest, this all worked out fine.

First we tried a portable air pump Anand lent us, but that didn’t seem to be working properly. Then I let the three of them stare at the tire for a bit before showing them how to use that funny, flat edged tool to pop off the hubcap. (yes, the tire crowbar.) Although I quickly stopped Om from throwing his back out trying to loosen the lugnut by showing him how to flip the crowbar the other way and stand on it.


Then it was time for these 3 engineers to figure out the jack. I knew it should go on the frame, but I wasn’t sure exactly where. Also, I had never seen this type of jack before so I was all out of advice. After crawling under the car for a while, Om finally went inside and recruited a couple of actual engineers (I just made that up. I’m not sure what their jobs were) to assist in the jack placement.

IMG_3429Eventually, we got the tire changed, did a happy dance, and cheered all around before heading home.

  1. People rarely remember to bring water to outdoor activities, but they’ll all want some of yours.
  2. People drink from water bottles by pouring it into their mouths. No touching.
  3. The gym offers communal water bottles.
  4. When Zumba class is scheduled for M,W,F at 8am. That really means sometimes 8, sometimes 7:30, and occasionally not on Monday.
  5. One person’s only job at the gym is to wipe down the mats after each use.
  6. Green mango has to be the best thing ever. It’s wonderful for cooking with okra and better than lemon juice for topping other dishes.
  7. Don’t expect to get a large cup of coffee anywhere unless you go to a western style place.
  8. You can buy pretty much anything you need as long as you can find a tiny specialty store for it. Google maps is almost useless for finding these specialty stores. You have to ask someone.
  9. Tea and coffee are served with lots of sugar.
  10. When you go into a “wine store” looking for wine, it’s a limited selection hidden in the back corner behind all the prominently displayed hard liquor.
  11. When crossing the street, hold out your hand, palm down,  to magically make all the cars stop for you.
  12. Good chocolate is not a thing here. Everything has a high wax content to survive the heat.
  13. Cloudy egg whites are a sign of freshness. Not all the carbon dioxide has escaped the shell.
  14. Even though the “lemons” are small, round and green, they are still called “lemons.”
  15. If you are a woman and choose to wear local ethnic outfits, people you’ve never met will come up to you and tell you how nice you look in “Indian” clothes.


Given the lack of kitchen items in our current apartment, I’ve had to be extremely creative in my cooking endeavors. Back home, I’m used to having many gadgets and gizmos to make healthy eating fairly easy. Like an oven. And a blender. And a sharp knife.

IMG_3110Today I made almond milk using a mortar and pestle. A small one. I’ve found a little international grocery store nearby that carries the vanilla, sweetened version of Silk Almond milk, but it costs almost $6 for 1 quart. So I thought I’d try my hand at the homemade version where I could significantly cut back on the sugar content and even add a hint of cardamom.  Here is the fun recipe I used, but unlike that author who gave up after 30 seconds and used a food processor, I had no such luxury. Fortunately, I did not have to shell them, but did choose to leave the skins on, missing out on becoming “intimately familiar with each and every almond.” I do admit, that I left the almonds in more of a crumbled state than that of a paste.

Two hours later (after 24 hrs soaking), one cup of almonds netted me just over a quart of milk. I added a bit of honey and salt and it tastes pretty darn good! Then I considered what to do with the cup and a half of leftover pulp. There are many recipes online about how to dry it in an oven (which I don’t have) or a dehydrator (ditto), grind it up in a blender (not one in sight), and bake it (also in my non-existent oven.) Then I stumbled on this recipe for raw cookie dough bites.

My birthday is coming up this week and I’ve been trying to think of what type of dessert I might share with my friends here as something typical of what I’d eat back home. Given that I don’t eat gluten, and I don’t really bake, and the local “chocolate” is a poor, waxy comparison that wouldn’t know the meaning of “dark” if it got stuck in a broom closet during a power outage under a new moon, I’ve been flummoxed. But these cookie dough bites looked incredibly tasty and soooo close to do-able, that I got even more creative. To dry the pulp, (without burning it) I stacked the burner plates together so the pan sat high over the flame and lightly roasted it in a wok. Now here I am, writing this entry and waiting for them to cool so I can continue my kitchen journey. Given how large my almond pieces still are, I’ll try my hand at grinding them again once they cool. Then I’ll brave the 106 degrees F. outside to see if I can find coconut oil and chocolate chips at the store. Hmmm…after all this, maybe $6 isn’t so bad after all.

Yes, I did title this with the plural “Recipes” for a reason. The other day I had dried mung beans available and was browsing online for recipes to use them in. I found an interesting recipe for Sprouted Mung Salad. I liked the idea, but this recipe involved cooking the ingredients and after reading the title, I got really excited for a cold salad I could pull out of the fridge and eat immediately. So I clicked around some more and found a Whole Foods recipe for “Bean Sprout Salad.” It seemed to have a limited number of ingredients, so I added it to my favorites list and returned to the original recipe for directions on how to sprout my dried beans. And since I suck at following recipes exactly, I decided I wanted a more exciting Lime Vinaigrette dressing. Plus I found some fresh peas and carrots at the market that day and wanted to add them, making the salad a complete meal.  Oh, I don’t have any mustard. And I couldn’t imagine this dressing without the tangy zip of mustard. Wait!!! I have mustard seeds! After a few hours of soaking and grinding, I now have a passable mustard and commence making the dressing. The wait time was required anyway; I needed time for the diced cucumbers and tomatoes to sit in the fridge and dry out. Also, I’m currently drinking the last few sips of the juice I made using the cucumber and tomato innards mixed with orange and lime juice and honey.

Accidental yumminess!

It only took a 23 hour trek around the world to get me a really smart phone and my first Uber experience.

Someone recently asked my what the best part of my trip was so far, and my answer probably isn’t what you’d expect. I learned to use Uber for the first time. Sure, I’m somewhat joking, but also serious! Of course, I’d heard other people back home tout it’s usefulness, but my phone was never smart enough to support the app. However, I am now the proud owner (temporarily) of an Intex Q1. For signing up, I automatically received a free ride up to 600 rupees (~$10), but could only rack up a third of that cost. It’s, literally, uber-convenient to have an air-conditioned car show up wherever I am and take me wherever I want to go for less than half the price of a TukTuk. Yesterday I traveled ~10 miles in traffic (1hr) and spent $3.86, and that was for the mid-level Uber car since it was the only type available!


Typical Tuk Tuk or auto rickshaw


Watch out for traffic on the sidewalks!


Crossing the road is like playing Frogger, but instead landing between vehicles.


Oh, don’t be startled. The first honk meant “Hello” and the second is “Welcome.” Because the unspoken, unofficial language of India is the horn. Sometimes a high Beep! from a family of 4 on a scooter, sometimes a quick staccato vaguely resembling music, but always audible. Excuse me, I’m on your right, don’t bump into me = Honk! Hey, I want to pass on your left because you’re not going fast enough = Honk! I’m coming up on a corner and I want to warn oncoming traffic who may or may not be in the middle of the road = Honk!

I took my first solo cab ride today. The driver put on his seatbelt. I tried to do so also, but was emphatically told, “No.” It appeared that the belt had been tucked behind the seat to keep it pristine. As most of the rest of the cab was pristine. In fact, the only part that looked used was the horn. Check out the shiny, thumb-shaped spots in this picture.


At the beginning of most of  my oil painting classes, we spend 5-10 minutes working on a gesture painting focusing on a specific goal or technique. Some of them end up looking better than others, but I always learn something! Click on a painting below for details about that day’s lesson.

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I’ve heard that learning watercolor techniques will help in other types of painting because watercolor is such an unforgiving medium. Every stroke is visible;  no covering up to correct. Once you mess up, you might as well toss it. So I signed up for a class at Cordovan Art School. Here are a couple of the projects I worked on in April.

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          I started by sketching out the main lines using a watercolor pencil. Then I used wet-on-wet for the background and most of the vegetation throughout the painting. After that dried, I came in to add lines for the building, fences and trees. At first, I had trouble making the shadows dark enough. I wasn’t used to how the color lightens as it dries. I also realized partway through that I should have added a wash for the walls and roof before painting the window & door details. At the end, I added a few grass and windmill details using a watercolor pencil.

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Weird Doll

          I used an illustrative technique to paint this creepy doll. I started by drawing every little detail, including the beads, folds in the dress, and designs on the belt. Then I worked on one section of the painting at a time. I had a lot of trouble making the fabric folds look right. The deep purple of the dress didn’t show a lot of value differences, so it came out looking very flat. Also, the face on the doll had faded away to almost nothing, which looked strange on the doll and even stranger when I tried to recreate it.

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Scooby Doo Stuffed Toy

          Scooby was my second attempt at using the illustrative technique. I chose this stuffed toy because it had a lot of folds in the fur. After drawing out all the details, I again ran into problems rendering the folds into believable art. I’m still trying to use watercolors as I do oils with short, repetitive strokes instead of making looong, flowing lines. The plastic eyes showed a lot of reflective areas, which I tried to recreate, but only succeeded in making Scooby look strung out on Scooby Snacks.

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I experimented with masking fluid for this bubbly painting. I drew out some random shapes with a watercolor pencil first. Then I applied the masking fluid to where I wanted the bubble reflections to be. I used a pointed wooden stick instead of a brush. Then I just slapped some water and various colors on top of the masking fluid to give an underwater appearance. After letting it dry, I added layers of the same colors to shadow the bubbles. When everything was dry, I used a rubber cement remover (looks like a little eraser) to gently rub off the masking fluid, leaving lovely white highlights. Oops…near the top left, you can see what happens if the paint isn’t totally dry when you try to rub off the masking fluid.

Thanks to all my wine-y friends for stopping by last weekend for a VERY informal wine tasting to help me decide which local wines to buy for our wedding.


blinding sun smoldering

heat waves rising

yellowed leaves wilting

…You’ve just finished a scrumptious dinner at the Alamo Drafthouse. Walking across the street gave you just enough time to welcome the relief from the Alamo’s notoriously frigid interior before beginning to lament Austin’s sweltering exterior.  Aah the blessed coolness spills from the Northcross mall entrance leading to Go Dance Studios. Upon entering, you make a beeline to the small, drink-filled, help-yourself, bar room. On the way, mounds of sweet cake balls detour your attention long enough to sway your alcoholic beverage choice. Piles of light and dark frosted desserts bounce enticingly through your mind along to the beat of DJ Mel’s famous dance mixes.     What do you taste?

Click HERE to see the winners!

Click below to see the tasters’ feedback…

I found the path to add new links.  I figured it out before, but in the mysterious way of the web, I lost it.  Now it’s come back, looking for food. Good kitty.