Happy New Year!



No resolutions, just carrying over last year's good intentions to the new year!

Home Improvement

Time off from work over the holidays had me attending to things around the house that have needed fixing for months, and in the case of one bathroom shelf: two years!

It was very satisfying to finally change the light bulb over the shower (hopefully fewer razor knicks to Jason's chin and my ankles will follow.) Don't worry, we weren't shaving in the dark, it was just one of two bulbs that had gone out.

I finally found a new step stool for the kitchen. The old one, previously modeled beautifully by niece, June, was getting super wobbly. It was seemingly impossible to find a comparable model that would serve as both a seat and a ladder for reaching the tall cupboards. Everyone's moved onto foldaway plastic ladders, which I do not like. Thank you, Pier 1 for delivering on what I thought might have been lost furniture.And it matches much better with the kitchen; the red painted one definitely read "first apartment!" It must have been the negotiating skills I picked up in India that got me a 30% discount due to a small flaw (which I fixed later with stain anyway.) Ok, no...it was a kind manager who responded very promptly when I pointed out my concern with the floor model. It still pains me to barter!

I painted a bathroom door, and maybe that's what has me browsing the Benjamin Moore website to consider new paint in a larger scale. Not sure where, living room? Hallway accent?It seems like such a commitment, but I wonder if it's worth it to move away from the cool greys and greens that the previous homeowners seemed to favor so much.

Not Done with India Just Yet

Even though we really didn't do much touristy stuff in Mumbai (a reason to go back someday, right?) there was still much to experience. Unlike trips to a different city in the U.S., or even Europe, where you can relax and return to "normal" routines when you get to your hotel, in India you are still traveling even walking down the hotel hallway. Arrivng to our room at the Taj we were introduced to our butler, Sanjay. I don't think we really had any idea what to ask of him, but if there's one thing India has, it's human capital. Lots of people to help you, everywhere. One morning, while Jason was clearly prepared to snooze for hours longer, I slipped out of our room to head downstairs for breakfast.

I have no idea where he came from, but there was Sanjay, "Good morning, mum. How are you?" I was already used to the very British, "mum" address, but what followed was the utmost in diplomatic courtesy, "Is Sir still sleeping?" Sanjay inquired. Yes, "Sir" (hahahaha! hahahhahaha!) was still sleeping. No matter, Sanjay walked with me to the elevator making conversation. He kindly pushed the down button for me. I was ready to say goodbye at this point, but he stepped inside the elevator with me and pushed the button to take me down to breakfast, holding open the doors for me and wishing me well when we arrived.

Jason and I joked that we would return to America and stand helplessly in front of elevators, having forgotten the skill of calling one's own vertical transportation thanks to our time in India. When he delivered our room service the night we were packing for our 2 am flight home Sanjay even offered to help "Sir" pack his luggage. We were totally dumbfounded before being politely able to decline the offer.

Across the street from the Taj is the Gateway of India, so we obviously managed our way over there by ourselves. (Even without Sanjay's help.) Only to be absolutely mobbed by people wanting to take our pictures. Just as we'd experienced at the Amber Fort, young men with cameras and portable printers plead to take your picture and sell it to you. Jason bargained hard for ours, but realized that he should have bargained even harder when our photographer started using me as a model to sell pics to all the Indians who wanted their picture with a tourist. I have no idea how many people's albums I'm in, or what they could possibly say about who I am. I was most obliging with two women who were alone with their children and also took the moment to introduce themselves and ask where I was from.A lot less weird than some of the young men who posed, sometimes even asking Jason to take the picture. "You want ME to take a picture of YOU, with MY WIFE?" he asked at one point, teasing. Of course they were very quickly apologetic and he explained that he was just kidding.

The bigger laugh was running into Swiss tourists, who were just as pale, but jumped in front of us asking for photos, as a shared joke. They'd also found it time consuming to cross to the Gateway. I might now have some sympathy for the celebrities and their exhaustion with the paparazzi; as sweet as this exercise of cultural exchange started out, it became a little hard to extricate ourselves.

In Mumbai, we walked through markets being offered pashminas, bags, perfumes, watches of all brands, and just about everything else you'd want. We also ventured to the Chor Bazaar (aka thieves market), historically known for being a place to find goods looted from wealthy homes. And yes, that's a goat, just hanging out in the street. There were also dogs, cats and birds, all peacefully cohabitating the city streets. Upon hearing of our visit to the bazaar, Dipti & Tushar's parents were a little concerned, but it was among the quietest places we'd visited. (And we paid a taxi driver to wait for us so we could get back home easily.) In one stall a salesman and his industrious children sold us vintage Indian cinema posters. (We had been looking for "The Thug from Delhi" for our friends!) They were about $2-4 each, so we shrugged our shoulders and said, "Why not?" Of course, after stopping at the framers this week, I'm learning the hidden cost will be in the conservation and framing.

After shopping and roaming in the heat (Mumbai was the hottest of anywhere we'd been), we stopped at McDonald's to marvel at the Indian menu (no beef, of course) And then to the pool!Dinner was Morimoto's restaurant in the Taj, the only time I broke the "boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it!" rule to avoid "Delhi belly" in India. (And I was just fine.)I'd devour Morimoto's sushi anywhere in the world!

p.s. I am only slouching to allow Jason to capture both me, the martini and the sushi in one photo. I sat straight back up after the iPhone shutter.

To Do (When the Sun Comes Back)

I think they are trying to sell me a KIA, but this ad has totally sold me on committing to those golf lessons once springtime rolls around. Not sure the girl rap would work as well for me as does for Michelle Wie. Maybe with practice.

Mac Attack

With more time on my hands (but it dwindling quickly, since I will be one of the lonely souls bumping around the office hallways this week) I tried a classic comfort food for the holidays: homemade mac and cheese.

Martha Stewart's *PERFECT* Mac and Cheese
, even.

It was pretty darn near perfect, even for a novice try. Gooey, cheesy, with a hint of nutmeg and cayenne pepper.
Martha, being smarter than you or I, offers a lesson with her recipe:
"If you have ever managed to have a lucid thought while eating this gooey, delicious dish, it may have been to wonder how macaroni and cheese -- American cheese melted into a traditional British white sauce served over Italian pasta -- came about. It all started during the age of European colonization, when seafaring men transported dried macarone -- one of the few staples that could survive a year aboard ship -- from Italy to Britain and to the American colonies.

American colonists did not have the selection of fresh produce and other ingredients that the Italians had; their meals were improvised from a larder of fresh or sour milk, stale bread, and pork drippings. So the imported pasta would often be served with a simple white sauce -- milk thickened with flour and butter. Sometimes it was baked in a casserole with buttered breadcrumbs on top. A recipe for a casserole of macaroni, white sauce, and grated yellow cheese was first recorded in the "Boston Cooking School Cookbook" in 1896."
Those colonists got it right. YUM.

However, with..
1) all this cheesy goodness
2) enough to serve twelve (why don't I remember to halve or quarter recipes??!)
3) a White Christmas outside, and
4) a hurt knee from too much zeal on the treadmill earlier this week

...I fear that we'll have to blow the dust off The Plan from earlier this year.

I've been eating mac and cheese like a rhinoceros. How does a rhino eat mac and cheese? Like it's going out of style, like there's nothing better in the world, like a maniac. YUM. YUM. YUM.

Merry Christmas!

Martha Stewart's Christmas card. Dogs are so much more obedient than cats. (Especially, I'm guessing, Martha's dogs.) See Teedie's look of uncomfortable horror when we tried to put a Santa hat on him last year.Yeah, we probably aren't trying that again.

What We Do When We Have the Time

With a few days off for the holidays, I'm enjoying the "lady of leisure" life. (Ironically though, I've done more business reading in the last two days than I've probably done in the previous six months. Hello, HBR.org.)

Not working gives me time to spy pre-cut butternut squash in the grocery aisle and decide to figure out risotto for the first time. I did it the hard way, since even though Rachel Ray's recipe called for the frozen pureed stuff, I roasted my own. The nice garnish made my dish prettier than the recipe picture. I dirtied far more dishes in the preparation than I did in the serving. It also wasn't really a 30-minute meal, since the risotto was still crunchy at that time.But it was so tasty that the leftovers were both lunch and dinner today! In fact, it was hard to focus on the art at the Art Institute's Modern Wing since I hadn't had lunch yet, and I knew what was waiting at home.

Today I did indeed knock out the long-time 'to do' list item which was to visit the Art Institute's "new" Modern Wing. "New" as in it's been there probably over a year now, but I just got around to visiting!

Telling my coworker about it she exclaimed, "Oh, you know I heard the wreaths around the lions are green this year!" I frowned, "But wreaths are usually green." "No! They are like solar-powered or something!" So Chicago. And ironically, the wreaths are red. Here's the airy Modern Wing. It's a little odd, since all the galleries are through glass doors, which makes it a little hard to know where you are allowed to go. Or maybe it's one of those "if you belong, you *know*" things?I was delighted to find Sam Francis' "In Lovely Blueness No 2", which is an accompaniment to the art above our bed.Wonder if the Art Institute would loan it to us?

The description as "airy, expansive, and exuberant" is probably what I like about having this artwork in our home. (So glad that Juliet was ready to part with the poster in our late adolescent years, since it was she who brought it home from a family trip to Paris, though I later paid the arm and a leg for professional matting and framing.)

Moving Towards Mumbai

Almost a month past our return home, and there is still more to share of our trip to India. On the trip I tried to jot down notes on hotel stationary to remember our experiences for a more complete recap later. I've ticked off most of my notes, but not all just yet.

One of those stories is how we managed to have dinner courtesy of a group of Canadian judges in Udaipur our first night. The hotel's restaurant was a little odd, as it was essentially a buffet in a banquet room. It gave the distinct impression that we were crashing someone's wedding reception. As we requested a table for four we were asked whether we were with the judge's group. Despite saying no, when our bill came it was curiously very low. Low even for India. Seeing us puzzle over the tab our waiter courteously hurried over, worry in his voice, "Sir, is there a problem? Is it too much?" Jason had already realized our luck, but Tushar was still figuring and assured the waiter not to worry. We identified the group by chatting with our table neighbors, and sheepishly hastened out of the dining room, realizing that we'd passed for Canadian judges.

After Udaipur, we headed to our final stop in India: Mumbai. Flying to Mumbai began with a fastidious inspection of my luggage, meaning unpacking every personal item in my backpack, only to then be denied boarding since the thorough security guards had overlooked one critical detail: the stamp saying my bag had been inspected! Worse, the guard who turned me back was the guy who already knew that I use Neutrogena hand lotion, prefer the Kindle over the Nook, carry nuts and gummi bears for a snack, and organize my travel papers in a green folder. But he acted as though he had no recollection of our personal encounter. UGH! I was so steamed, this was when the travel really broke my resolves. So relaxation was primary on our itinerary in Mumbai's Taj Hotel (including a little magazine page flipping, after I picked up VOGUE India's sari issue!)If you recall the Mumbai Terror Attacks of 2003, you have seen the Taj. It was eerie to come home and pull up the closed-circuit camera footage of the attacks and see the hallways where we had stayed. To confirm how India has repaired and recovered from those attacks there was a far more important American who stayed at the Taj just a week ahead of our visit: President Obama. The news coverage was on every hotel television. I got a kick out of their graphics. Of course, we often ended up looking like that too after being welcomed to our hotels.

Bowling: Chicago-style

It's the time of the year for holiday happy hours, dinners, and of course, office parties. For my team, we first did some shopping for Toys for Tots before an afternoon of bowling at Chicago's Southport Lanes. An old-school, four-lane establishment, the pins here are set by hand. Green and red lights tell you when it's safe to bowl, so you don't hit the legs of your pin-setter, whose baggy jeans and sneakers you can see at the end of the lane. This being Chicago, there's a way to improve your bowling which has nothing to do with practice. Bad bowling is a problem that you can literally throw money at here. The waitress introduces you to the practice of tipping your pinsetter. Tuck a few dollars in one of the holes of the bowling ball, and intentionally roll it down the gutter. On your next turn, no matter how many pins you manage to hit, they will all tumble down. The kind intervention of a skinny stick that appears from the side. Do not tip your pinsetter and you'll find your last remaining pin lifted up by an anonymous hand so that the ball rolls right underneath it. It's then placed back down, still standing.

I started legit, but then soon realized that I was never going to make up for consecutive turns of knocking down only 2-3 pins. (See my usual anticipation, hoping for intervention.) Two $5 bills went down the gutter, and I celebrated my highest score ever: 192. (Click the photo to enlarge and see the hand that helped me!)

Walking down Southport afterwards I did some shopping before hopping on the bus home in front of Wrigley Field.

Oh-No-E-O

To whomever brought the oreo fudge cookies into the office this week, and then put then in the hallway I walk down to get anywhere (bathroom, elevator, vending machine, meeting rooms), I'm not sure if I love you or hate you. I will be thinking of you on the treadmill this weekend.

Oh, soooo good! Like the inside of an oreo cookie, with just the right amount of cookie crunch. I was weak and had three. THREE. Which should be the number of miles I make myself run on Saturday.

Udaipur Update

What I would not give to be back on a lake in India right now. It's cold and icy in Chicago and it's been a particularly lousy, unfulfilling week at work. Bleh.

It's the kind of week that I could use the very pleasant surprise that awaited us when we arrived in Udaipur, India's Lake City.

I am a big proponent of TripAdvisor.com for travel planning. It's a terrific way to shop for hotels and activities, since real travelers post their own reviews and photos which the site compiles to feed rankings. We'd used TripAdvisor to vet the hotel recommendations in our itinerary before leaving, and Jason checked in to preview each hotel before we arrived. Somehow, maybe, we thought the Udaipur fell through the cracks. After staying at hotels consistently ranked in the top 10 or at least top 15, our Udaipur hotel was #32. Here was a traveler's lesson, only read TripAdvisor *before* the trip, not while you're on it.

Arriving at night, and tired, we were deflated by the prospect of what awaited us at this hotel. Longingly we looked across the dark lake at the gleaming white Sheraton towers. So nice, ...but not ours. Worse was that our driver didn't even recognize our hotel's name, so we drove around a bit. After a U-turn, he headed towards the Sheraton. We laughed, convinced that this was a fool's errand. But they let us in the gates...and it WAS our hotel. New management! New name on the hotel! The four of us were like children at Christmas, gleeful and cheering as they took our passports for check-in. The room had this funny arrangement that we also saw in Delhi, a window to the bathroom. After more than a week of travel, we did not need to be that close, so we drew the shade. In Udaipur we saw the City Palace and Royal Ladies' gardens; declined a trip to see handicrafts (starting to feel shopped out); and took a lake boat ride to a small island where we enjoyed cool beverages.The City Palace and its iconic sun symbol.The palace doors have steps to get up onto your elephant, and spikes on the outside to keep your enemies' elephants out. However it was an Audi a member of the Royal family was driving when we saw him zipping out of the gates. Udaipur is where the James Bond film Octopussy was shot, which I still haven't watched since our return. With this cold weather it might be a good flick for snuggling into the couch. A respite on the lake was exactly what we were ready to enjoy in Udaipur. Our tour guide likely wondered how we turned a 15 minute stop on the boat ride into an hour long lounging, but after he was impatient with our driver Kamal (who by now, you know was our very favorite person in India) we didn't care too much for the guide.Kingfisher, India's light-drinking lager.At least there can still be a cold beer at the end of a wearying day back here at home.
 

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