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Thulo Manche

Hello…

I’m so sorry for disappearing. I know when I get attached to a blog I feel frustrated when the writer is unexpectedly absent for long stretches of time, so I hope I haven’t lost too many readers.

Friends have been prompting me to beginning blogging again. RH said, “You know—it’s a relationship oriented blog—what if people think you and P split and that’s why you stopped writing!”

Never fear. Things are well, it has just been busy.

One of the major reasons for my disappearance is that I spent most of the spring and half the summer working feverishly on my Master’s degree thesis (the one I should have finished a year or two ago but procrastinated on like it was my job), and by the time I was finished writing and defending it I just felt a little burnt out. Not only have I not written for the blog, I basically stopped writing entirely, and it’s time for that to change.

I really missed writing, and like exercise, it’s way too easy to fall out of the practice of it and then just stop entirely. Blogging primes the mind and the fingers for other types of writing, so it’s time to get back in the groove.

So what does “Thulo Manche” mean? I promised S-di that my first blog post back was going to mention this…

The summer raced by—the first half full of sweaty evenings and weekends working in an un-air-conditioned office with P; he working on his phd dissertation and I on my thesis. We rarely saw anyone unless they were dropping by the office to say hello. Then P’s grandfather passed away, and a week later I was in a car accident that sadly totaled our car. These two events are enough to shake up anyone, but with the looming thesis deadline I had to keep working.

Then P went away to Alaska for a workshop, and I went to my school for a week-long Capstone seminar to finish my thesis defense. Cue more long days–of academic presentations and intense focus. A day after finishing my Masters I flew to Alaska to meet P, but in true C and P fashion, our “vacation” was spent driving across the state, seeing beautiful glacier topped mountains, the ocean, and vast stretches of wilderness. It was an amazing experience, but not necessarily a restful one, as with daylight stretching until late in the night and early in the morning, we spent much of our time up and about, experiencing the countryside.

Upon returning, work geared up. This year we have the largest number of international students ever—over 1000 at our small university, with only two administrators working on immigration and cultural programming for the students—the beginning of the school year, with international orientation and student registration, kept me moving at a fast pace. In addition I started two new campus-wide cultural-focused programs which took additional time.

As August closed we invited friends over for my birthday, and S-di said, “You are such a Thulo Manche these days! It’s so hard to see you!”

“What?” I asked… I understood the Nepali words “thulo” meaning “big” and “manche” meaning “person.” I was certain she was trying to call me fat. “I’m not a thulo manche!” I protested.

“Yes you are!” she teased, “If I want to see you I have to call your ‘secretary’… too busy all the time. Such a thulo manche!

“S-di, don’t call me fat, I could lose a few pounds, but please!”

“No, no—thulo manche—you are a ‘big person’ now… so important, running here and there, busy all the time. Now your friends need to schedule an appointment to say hello!”

So I’m officially declaring that I am not a thulo manche… I’ve just taken a little break, but now I’m back, and I look forward to hearing from you all again too!

Yeah! :)

Rupees Dipped in Gold

When P and I went to the Bratabhanda in Wisconsin in April we met some of his extended relatives who were living in Germany. They brought several boxes of fancy German chocolates as souvenirs and distributed a box to each family’s household.

The chocolates were good, but very rich, not something you would snack on randomly after work, so we put the box on a shelf to save for another time.

Over the weekend a friend came to town to pack up her remaining things so she could prepare to leave the US for good; she spent her last few days with us. She is Peruvian, but has been living in Manaus, a city of 2 million people in the Amazon jungle of Brazil, for the past year. She had recently returned to attend her phd graduation ceremony, and was now packing the books and research that she had left behind the last time she departed. She’s very talkative, and I spent most evenings chatting with her about life in Peru and Brazil.

One night P brought the box of German chocolates out for dessert, and we indulged while continuing our conversation. As our friend and I talked, P unwrapped his chocolate and looked at the rectangle of fancy yellow foil that had once covered it. He smoothed it out, and gathered our other wrappings from the table. He flattened each and started to count them, like he was shuffling through a short-stack of $20 bills.

When our friend and I looked over to see what he was doing he said, “When we were kids we used to save fancy candy wrappers like this and pretend they were money. We would pretend to buy things from each other, or pretend we had a lot of money in our pockets.”

He shuffled through the wrappers again. They were golden yellow, made from heavy foil and cellophane. I could imagine five year old P prizing such a fancy find, pretending they were rupees dipped in gold.

I liked the vision of a young P, using his imagination, and making up games with the other kids in his neighborhood. I can almost imagine standing on the roof of his present-day house in Kathmandu, watching them play with their pretend money in the backyard, chasing each other around.

It was an image I thought I’d share.

My New Anthem?

I had to share this… since my pitfalls in learning Nepali sometimes make me think, “I can only imagine… if I’ll ever learn!”

My personal favorite lyrics– “I can only imagine/when the day comes/when I find myself/with a loosened tongue,” “When they ask if I have eaten, will I say uh-huh or khae?” and “Surrounded by Nepalis, what will my mouth say?”

So enjoy this Friday fun video:

Everest Season

This time of year is generally busy in Solukhumbu, the region of Nepal made famous by the trek to Everest. Most summit attempts happen around the end of April/early May as the weather is best due to the winds and the position of the monsoon. Climbers make their way to Base Camp to prepare and acclimatize in March.

I think P and I have probably watched every movie, documentary and tv show ever made about Everest (thank you Netflix). The stories are intoxicating even if they are often similar… people putting everything on the line to attain a dream that for many would seem absolutely crazy–investing tens of thousands of dollars and potentially fingers and toes (or more!) just to stand for a few moments on the roof of the world. There is drama, suspense, beautiful scenery; the stories are hard not to watch. (If you haven’t yet read Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” you must– then read the Outside Magazine article about the expedition that started it all. Don’t watch the movie, it’s rubbish.)

As P’s phd research is on glaciers and climate change in the Himalayas, it is likely in the future that he will be trekking in various parts of Nepal. Every time we watch one of the documentaries I always feel the need to declare, “P– you are never climbing Everest!” However even I can’t help but feel a bit seduced by these shows– and deep down inside I feel a little ping of envy. It would be amazing to stand on the roof of the world. Well… I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t make it past the Khumbu Ice Fall, as it took quite a bit for me to even hike to Tengboche in 2009.

This year P and I actually know someone who is making the climb. When P was a graduate student in New York he met a Chilean student through mutual South American friends, and he invited us over for a party to see his Nepal pictures. The graduate student was active in climbing circles in Chile, and was asked to be part of a Chilean team expedition to climb Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain in the world. Lhotse adjoins Everest so the Base Camp is shared amongst climbers of both mountains, but eventually their trails diverge. The student had come back with amazing pictures and stories, and had a party to share his experiences.

P recently heard from the student… and he is back in Nepal, but this time he is going all the way. You can follow the expedition online (although the site is in Spanish): http://www.xn--everest20aos-jhb.cl/ and you can check out some of the great pictures posted thus far by the expedition: http://vertical.expenews.com/es/expeditions/220/dispatches/3659. Currently they are in Namche Bazar.

I particularly liked their photos from the airport in Luka:

We will let you know how the expedition goes!

Around…

Hello …

Sorry for the disappearing act. In mid-February I was in bed for a week with a very nasty flu, and work gets very busy this time of year between helping students with their taxes and processing work authorization paperwork for students who will be graduating soon. Not excuses, but explanations. I’m still around though—mostly quietly reading other blogs and making comments here and there.

I will write more soon, I promise! I hope all are doing well :)

Poop Strong… dot org

I guess it doesn’t take much to jump from chicken poop to human poop, and I promise I haven’t developed a new theme for my blog, but I do want to take a few minutes to tell you about another intercultural couple who could use a helping hand right now even though it’s poop related.

P and I met Arjit and and his partner Heather when we first moved to Massachusetts from upstate New York. Arjit, like P, was starting in the same phd program, and during his first year at the school the new cohort (of eight students)– plus the significant others, which meant me, and Arjit’s partner– got together once a week for dinner at one of our apartments. It was a great opportunity to get to know each other.

Arjit was tall and skinny, an American born to Indian parents, with a quirky sense of humor–I think I remember a story where he decided to raise money for charity by agreeing to cut and shave his “Asian-fro” into weird styles (like Krusty the Klown from the Simpsons) if he reached a certain amount of money. He liked to wear bright kurtas around the office, and always had a story. He was a genuine nice guy, and a really great person to know.

He met his partner when they were both working at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (yes, PNAS… insert joke here, Arjit liked making use of the double entendre) and when he decided to start his phd they both moved to Massachusetts.

However, sadly (for us), Arjit’s professor decided to move to a different institution in Arizona, and so Arjit left P’s phd program after two years with a master’s degree and followed his professor to finish his research. Before they left Arjit and his partner got married at the local city hall.

After about a year in Arizona Arjit and his wife had a wedding ceremony and reception with their friends and family, and a few months after that they traveled together to India for the first time.

When they got back from their trip Arjit started feeling sick. He was having strong abdominal pain and at first figured he was experiencing some sort of Delhi Belly-like crazy-intestinal-issue-from-traveling-in-South-Asia type of problem (hey, we’ve all been there). He went to his university’s health clinic a few times to see if he could get rid of it, but when that failed the school nurse sent him to a gastroenterologist. What followed became a nightmare that no one would wish on another person…

A colonoscopy showed a large obstruction in his colon, and during a surgery to remove the cancerous growth, his surgeon discovered that the cancer had spread well beyond the colon and small tumors had metastasized throughout his abdominal cavity.

In his own words, “In a matter of weeks, I went from thinking I had a bad stomach bug to learning I had metastatic colorectal cancer.”

No one is ever prepared for that kind of news, especially not an active, vegetarian, healthy 30 year old.

Sadly, there is more… since Arjit is still a student, and under university health insurance, his policy only covered a lifetime payout of $300,000. Thus far he has needed multiple hospitalizations, an additional highly invasive surgery to remove much of his abdominal lining along with his gallbladder, and many intensive chemotherapy treatments, and therefore has reached his payout limit.

As his website states, “I’m hopeful that this will only be a short-term problem; come August, I should once again have insurance coverage, either through a newly negotiated student health care plan or via the more expensive federal government-run Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan. Nevertheless, between now and August, I still need to undergo treatment and the bills will start piling up. Though it’s hard to predict, we expect that six months of treatment will potentially cost as much as $100,000, assuming that my current treatment regimen continues as planned.”

Arjit has remained positive through this entire experience, a testament to his warm personality and personal strength, but the medical condition alone is a tough situation to deal with, without having money worries on top of it.

So I am helping to spread the word. Arjit has started a website called “PoopStrong.org” and is selling merchandise and soliciting for donations to help off-set the cost of his treatments while he is without insurance. I encourage you to check out his site, read more about his story, follow his blog (http://stageivhope.wordpress.com/) and contribute if you can.

Yep, that's the real Arjit

Please let me extort your connection and interest in South Asian intercultural relationships to help this lovely couple during a scary time in their lives. Even a few dollars is a step in the right direction.

I thank you for listening to their story and for anything you can do to help.

Threading

Last night I had my eyebrows threaded.

I’ve had it done quite a few times over the years, and now I prefer it. It’s fast, it’s neat, and it’s natural.

I remember the first time I heard about threading. I was probably in ninth grade, sitting in the living room of my childhood home, milling about the television while dinner was being prepared. The local news was on, and the reporter was interviewing an Indian woman who had recently opened a salon in the city and in addition to cutting and styling hair she was removing it from women’s faces with cotton thread.

The video was similar to this:

I remember thinking… how weird. How can a rolled cotton string, held between your fingers and in your teeth effectively remove eyebrow hair? It wasn’t something I was eager to try.

As a ninth grader I wasn’t old enough to take my eyebrows that seriously anyway. It took me a long time to finally start doing something with them. I first started wearing glasses in seventh grade, and I had always felt protected behind my frames, until high school peer pressure dictated that more had to be done.

So I started to pluck unwieldy hairs here and there—the straggly hairs that grew 2 or 3 millimeters away from the others. I wasn’t really shaping them, just keeping the jungle from migrating.

Then my maternal grandmother decided it was her duty to usher me in to proper womanhood. On a visit to my aunt’s house in New Jersey my grandmother invited me out, and she took me to a salon. She insisted that I wax my eyebrows, and get a manicure and pedicure. I was taken to a small room in the back of the salon where I was asked to lie down. The woman doing the waxing asked if I had done this before—I’m sure she could tell from the monstrous caterpillars on my face that I hadn’t—and told me to relax. She took a flat popsicle stick coated in hot wax and wiped it on my upper eyelid in an arc and then applied a special paper. Two seconds later she asked, “Ready?” and ripped the paper off my eye in one swift motion. Yowzers.

I cringed as she applied the hot wax to my other upper eyelid. The first time I had been blissfully naïve, but now I knew what was coming. After the second pull there were a few smaller pulls to clean up the edges. Then she took out some tweezers to finish shaping, and a small pair of scissors and an eyebrow brush to complete the procedure.

That was the first and last time I ever waxed my eyebrows.

Sure, many of you are probably reading and thinking, “I wax mine all the time, why is C being a baby?” and I admit, I am. I can’t imagine waxing every time (or even part of the time), and I especially can’t imagine waxing more “sensitive” parts of my body.  I just don’t like the idea of hot wax being put on my face, nor do I like the idea of ripping out hairs in one giant clump. I have seen others get wax jobs done and it looks like it irritates their skin, and I just didn’t like the idea of it. I was happy to use my original waxing as a guideline for where I should pluck, but I was satisfied tending my eyebrows myself, one hair at a time.

Then in college I was talking to some Kenyan friends who said that they “threaded” their eyebrows, and I remembered the news broadcast I saw in ninth grade. I plied them with questions—Did it hurt? Was it fast? Do you recommend it?—I had forgotten about this option, and stored it in the back of my mind.

Shortly after graduating from college I travelled to my mother’s house in Virginia, and went to the mall to get a haircut. A South Asian woman had a booth in the middle of the mall, and she was threading eyebrows for a few dollars. I decided to give it a try.

I sat in the salon chair, and laid my head back. She asked me to put one hand on the skin above my eyebrow and one on the skin below to pull the skin tight, and then she began. I’m not going to lie… my first threading wasn’t painless, in fact when I opened my eyes afterward I couldn’t see anything as my eyes had involuntarily teared up so much from the tugging.

It was a while before I worked up the nerve to do threading again, but I didn’t have the same definitive “no way” feeling that I had after getting waxed.

Once my younger sister M went to the mall with R and I. A Nepali woman was threading eyebrows and R and I were happy to sit and have ours shaped. My sister watched, and even though she is an occasional waxer, she wasn’t ready to try threading. At least not then.

I still mostly pluck, but if I have a special occasion, or if someone is willing to do a threading, I’ll go that route. For example our friend M-dai’s wife knows how to do it and offered to thread all us ladies when we were hanging out on New Years.

It hurts less now, perhaps because I’m used to it. But mostly I like that it is easy, and quick, and natural. I like not having to put extra guck on my face.

When I was getting my eyebrows done last night a Caucasian woman walked up and asked, “Do you mind if I watch?” As my eyebrows were shaped she asked, “Does it hurt?” and I replied, “Not any more than plucking or waxing. I actually prefer it,” but by the time I opened my eyes she had already walked away.

What do you think about threading?

Subtitles

There is a movie theater a few towns down the road from us that has a dedicated screen for Bollywood films. I’ve only been to a handful of shows, but it is kind of nice to have a place to see relatively new Indian films with proper subtitles, since it can be tough to see a movie with good quality subtitles if you buy a DVD of questionable origin at the Indian grocery store (ahem, “3 Idiots” and “Rajneeti”… having every third sentence somewhat translated does not count!)

About a year and a half ago I went with our Nepali friend KS and two of her friends (one Indian and one Burmese, although to a white American high school student selling movie tickets they probably all “looked Indian”). I just happened to be the first of our little group in line and I asked if I could buy one ticket for “I Hate Luv Stories.” (I know, it has a silly name, you have to sign up for a bit of cheesiness with Bollywood romantic comedies).

The white high school kid blinked at me and said, “Um, you know that’s an Indian movie, right?”

“Yeah…”

“And it’s not in English…”

“So?”

But then I paused… maybe the movie didn’t have subtitles. I’ve sat through Bollywood movies in India without subtitles before, and although they can still be entertaining, and the general plot is easy enough to follow, a lot of the details are lost, and I wind up making up plot points or interpret things differently. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world to see yet another movie without subtitles, but if I was paying $12 for a movie, I wanted to follow the story.

“It has subtitles, doesn’t it?” I asked.

“Um, yeah.” He answered.

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Well, a lot of people don’t like reading subtitles, I just wanted to check and make sure you knew.”

I paid for my movie ticket and waited for the other three women (none of which were asked if they minded the subtitles, even though one of them would also need them) and we went inside.

I like all sorts of movies. P and I have spent many an evening curled up watching Netflix, and although we wind up watching a lot of American films, we don’t limit ourselves to English speaking cinema. I’ve watched many a good film in German, French, Italian, Russian, Norwegian, Chinese, Thai, or Hindi. There are many great movies out there that would be missed if one is put off by subtitles.

My boss is Danish, so it’s not surprising that he is a fan of Scandinavian cinema, but one of his biggest pet peeves is when a perfectly good foreign film is remade in Hollywood in English. He doesn’t understand why Americans can’t “simply watch the original with subtitles, like the rest of the world.” He always uses the example of the Danish film “Brødre.” He really enjoyed the original, and didn’t like the American remake. He thought the Danish film could have done well in the US if it had been given the chance.

Danish trailer

American trailer

Perhaps with the backdrop of the war in Afghanistan, the Danish film might not have struck the same cord with an American audience as an American solider fighting in the same war, but I still really enjoyed the original.

This conversation came up again with the American version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

“The Swedish movies were so well made, and the books were originally in Swedish, why does the world need an American remake? Why can’t Americans just appreciate the original with subtitles? The original movie is already an international sensation!” He lamented during our office Christmas party.

Certainly hearing the dialogue in Swedish gives the characters a more authentic feel even though I don’t understand what is being said. It adds to the energy and the tone of the film.

Swedish trailer (English version)

American trailer

I haven’t seen the American version yet, so I can’t really compare, however I do remember watching the original Swedish movies. During the post-Christmas blizzard of 2010 P and I were staying with his brother in Philadelphia. It was late at night, but P and I weren’t tired yet, and so we were scanning through Netflix looking for something interesting to watch. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was streaming, as well as the second movie in the trilogy “The Girl who Played with Fire” both in Swedish. I hadn’t read the books, but I had heard so much about them that P and I decided to give the movie a shot. We were so sucked in to the story that we watched the second movie immediately after the first even though it was already two o’clock in the morning. We were equally eager to watch the final movie once it was available streaming a few months later.

I understand that Hollywood is a big money making machine, so if the film industry can cash in on “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” it will. However don’t shy away from an awesome original just because it has subtitles. Hollywood isn’t the only place to find interesting things to watch.

Now I guess I have to be on the look out for the repackaging of the film in Bollywood…

A Stinky Night

Literally.

Last night was freezing cold. Probably the coldest night thus far this “winter” (I use “ “s since we haven’t had any snow, unless you count the freak Halloween storm). P picked me up from work, we went grocery shopping, and then came home. My December and January editions of National Geographic were waiting in the mailbox and it was one of those nights when you want to bury under a pile of thick blankets and read… which is exactly what I did as soon as we came through the door with the groceries. Instead of taking our dog right out and getting the chilly part of the evening over with, I thought I would warm up a bit with a cup of tea, curl up in a comforter and quickly skim through the magazines before taking him out.

Bad karma.

About an hour later, P and I were ready to start making dinner—pasta with veggies and alfredo sauce, so I put on my favorite sweat shirt and wrapped a warm scarf around my face and put on my winter coat and gloves, grabbed Sampson’s leash, and our apartment keys, and headed out the door. Sampson happily scampered out with me and waited for me at the top of each set of stairs. When I opened the downstairs door he burst into the crispy night air. It was dark, and no one was out, so I didn’t bother to put on his leash. We crossed the road to the sidewalk alongside the park and I gave him a few minutes to sniff around and pee, but it was cold and I was eager to get back inside.

After a few moments I coaxed him back across the road. As usual he walked around the apartment parking lot, sniffing here and there. I walked up to the apartment door and called out for him to come, and heard his dog collar tag tingle tingle off to the side. I spotted him sniffing under a car along the wooden fence that separates our parking lot from the train tracks that run behind our building. Then I heard Sampson let out a little growl/bark, and I yelled over to him more urgently to come. It took a few tries before he started trotting over, and I briefly glimpsed a bit of white sneaking away through a hole in the fence. I figured Sampson was teasing a cat. Until I got a whiff of skunk.

Oooh no you didn’t…

When Sampson reached me on the apartment stairs I bent down to smell his body and took in a deep breath of what I can only describe as a pungent burning tire kind of smell. It didn’t smell like the skunky smell you detect in the air when one gets hit by a car, or sprays something in the neighborhood, it was much more intense. Like it was literally burning olfactory cells in my nose. But I wasn’t 100% sure, because it wasn’t distinctly skunky, just really horribly bad.

I brought him back upstairs and took off my coat and asked P, “Does Sampson smell weird?”

“Awwf! What is that? Skunk?”’

“I thought so.”

I grabbed Sampson goat style (so he was hanging upside down by his four ankles) and stuck him in the bath tub, while I tried to figure out what to do—which means, run to the nearest computer and google, “What to do if your dog is skunked.”

I clicked on the first website that popped up, “Help! My dog’s been skunked!

It started by saying, “A fresh spray smells so bad it burns your nose. The closest comparison I can think of is the smell of burning rubber or plastic. If you or your pet gets sprayed it is important to work quickly to get the skunk oil out and neutralized. If you do not act quickly the smell can last up to 2 years!”

Yikes!

The website continued with a few tips:

1.  Before handling your dog, you may want to put on some old clothes.  Skunk spray is actually an oil and is very difficult to remove from clothing.

2.  If possible, leave the dog outside to prevent the odor ridden oils from getting into your house.

3.  Determine where the spray hit the dog.  Depending on your dog’s hair type, you may be able to trim away or comb out some of the affected hair.

4. You can use paper towels to soak up the oils from the coat before you begin washing. Be careful not to spread the oils from one part of the dog to another. Only wipe where the oils are already to avoid making the problem worse.

5.  When you’re ready to wash the dog, only clean the sprayed area.  Skunk spray is oily and can easily be spread all over the dog.  You will most likely have to give the dog more than one bath, so save an all-over bath until the second or third washing.

Well- I already failed with tip #2 as it was freezing outside and we live on the top floor of an apartment building so I couldn’t leave him outside. As for tip #3, I tried to locate where on his coat he was sprayed, but I couldn’t find a wet oily spot anywhere. I tried to wipe him with a paper towel but since I couldn’t find the oil spot it didn’t work.

Next the website said, “A couple old methods used [to get rid of the skunky smell] are saturating the dog’s coat in tomato juice or mouthwash and then bathing the dog thoroughly with a canine shampoo.  However the effectiveness of these methods are questionable and it is said that the tomato juice will leave your dogs coat all red.”

I tried to call my Dad, who over Christmas break was telling us about how our old Black Lab Jack used to get in a lot of “wilderness” trouble before us kids were born, and how my dad and mom had to use pliers to pull porcupine quills from his face once. I figured he would have some advice, but he didn’t pick up the phone. Next I dialed my mother, but she also didn’t pick up. So we were on our own.

I had only ever heard of tomato juice helping with skunk smell, so I went to our cupboard to see what we had. There was a jar of tomato garlic marinara sauce, and I figured garlic is better than skunk.

“But Mer, the website says the sauce might dye Sampson red!” P said.

“Do you really care what color he is right now?” I asked.

I stripped down to a t-shirt and underwear, opened the glass panel of the shower and poured the marinara sauce all over the dog, little bits of tomato and garlic matting into his fur. Of course Sampson shook out his coat, as dogs do, sending tomato sauce splattering all over me and the walls of the shower. I imagined it looked a little like the shower after the murder in Psycho. I yelled at him, while reaching down to rub the sauce deeper into his fur, and he, in turn, happily started licking up the sauce that was floating around the bathtub.

And if I couldn’t get P to eat marinara sauce before, I certainly won’t be able to do so after this!

I concluded round one by spraying Sampson down with our shower hose until he looked like a drowned rat.

Next I called to P to give me the mouthwash. Again I figured it couldn’t hurt, and splashed blue minty alcohol over his head and back. Another rinse.

Round three was shampoo. P emptied a bottle on his back from the safety of the opposite side of the glass shower door, while I used my nails to scrub the shampoo deep into his coats. I rubbed and rubbed and rubbed, then rinsed and rinsed and rinsed. We grabbed an old towel from the closet and soaked up the access water from his fur, and P took him out to the hallway to run back and forth a bit to dry off further.

Finally P took a large canister of talcum powder that his dad always sends from Nepal and we coated him in it. I wasn’t sure if it would help but P insisted that at least it smelled nice. Our black pup temporarily became white (“he looks like a skunk now” P mused), and again ran up and down the hallway, leaving puffs of powder in his wake.

“Go smell him” I asked P. My deep initial whiff outside our apartment continued to linger in my nostrils, and I couldn’t tell if Sampson was smelling better or if we had just gotten used to it, or maybe we all smelled bad now. P took a sniff and determined he smelled “okay.”

It took me a while to unclog the bathtub, which was now filled with murky water, wads of black fur, and bits of tomato and garlic. Later when I took a shower I was finding specks of spaghetti sauce in nooks and crannies all over the bathroom.

By 9:30 P and I finally made our pasta dinner.

So much for a quiet, cozy evening.

The rest of the evening Sampson kept giving us his pathetic puppy eyes that said, “What did I do?”… and my co-workers assured me in the morning that I don’t smell, but to me everything still has an essence of burning rubber.

Christmas Cookies!

Over the weekend P and I had our (5th!) annual Christmas party. You can read about the 2010 party HERE and the 2009 party HERE.

To take a different angle this year I was going to write about the annual cookie baking prep for the party, but as usual I was in a rush, and with the clock ticking and my hands covered in dough, I didn’t take any pictures.

As a compromise I decided to share some of my favorite cookie recipes to make up for the lack of beautiful pictures.

I’ve written before about how my own mother wasn’t very big in to (or super good at, sorry mom) cooking or baking–in part because she didn’t learn much from her own mother, who in turn didn’t learn much from hers, because my great-grandmother, having spent much of her young adult life as a cook for JD Rockefeller, was sick of cooking by the time she had my grandmother and never really taught her. Even though my mother wasn’t that great at cooking, she did try… probably because my dad was used to homemade foods from his side of the family. For a few years my mother experimented with homemade apple sauce, and she had a good recipe for apple crisp, and an occasional apple pie. Yet when it came to cakes and brownies they were all “from a box,” and cookies were often made instantly with refrigerated Pillsbury dough (like the kind that comes in a tube and comes pre-designed with red or green dye in the center).

As I’ve also mentioned before, when I moved to Massachusetts I was asked by several new Nepali women friends if I could teach them to make “American desserts.” Since much of my experience was of the boxed variety, I decided to do some recipe sleuthing, and find some tasty things to try.

Before the end of summer I baked my first homemade brownies. Our first Thanksgiving I whipped out my paternal grandmother’s pumpkin and apple pie recipes. And by Christmas I was in full cookie baking mode. I invited several women over, we pulled our kitchen table out from the wall and covered it in aluminium foil, and baked cookies like there was no tomorrow. Since then, this has become a bit of a tradition– I make a ridiculous amount of cookies, and then serve them at our Christmas party a day or two later.

Every year P asks my why I do this– spend money on boxes of butter, and different flavored extracts and packages of sugar– I think he thinks its silly. Yet Christmas cookie time only comes once a year so you are allowed to go a little crazy! At least that’s the excuse I give :)

Last year I made 9 different types, but this year I was a little less ambitious and only made 7. Here are some of my favorites:

Double Lemon Delights

Double Lemon Delights (great with a cup of tea in the morning!)

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1.2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon peel, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 to 5 teaspoons lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C)

2. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl; set aside. Beat butter and granulated sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, 1 tablespoon lemon peel and vanilla until well blended. Gradually beat in flour mixture until well blended.

3. Drop 2 tablespoons of dough onto ungreased cookie sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Flatten dough until 2 inches in diameter with bottom of glass that has been dipped in additional sugar.

4. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies are just set and edges are golden brown. Cool completely.

5. Combine powdered sugar, lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon lemon peel in small bowl; drizzle mixture over cookies. Let stand until icing is set.

Makes between 1-2 dozen.

Irish Soda Bread Biscuits

Irish Soda Bread Biscuits (also tasty with tea, sensing a pattern? Plus I needed a nod to my heritage ;))

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (or 1/4 cup milk and 1/4 tablespoon of lemon juice)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C)

2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside. In seperate bowl mix butter and sugar until well blended then add the dry ingredients.

3. Mix in egg, pour in milk and mix with fork to make a soft dough, add raisins.

4. Knead into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour. Dough is very sticky and this helps make handling a little easier.

5. On a floured surface roll out dough and either cut into 2 inch squares or triangles, or– use cookie cutters to make fun shaped biscuits (this is what I do!)

6. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until slightly brown.

Makes about 36.

Cranberry Orange Biscuits (also good with tea!)

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened 
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly grease cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, cream together the white sugar, brown sugar and butter. Stir in the egg, orange juice, orange extract, and orange zest.

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; mix into the orange mixture. Stir in the dried cranberries.

4. Drop cookie dough by heaping teaspoonfuls, 2 inches apart, on prepared cookie sheets.

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until edges are starting to brown. Cool completely.

Makes about 2 dozen

Cinnamon Polar Bears, photo from baking last year...

Cinnamon Polar Bears

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • small amount of powdered sugar
  • mini semisweet chocolate chips
  • red cinnamon candies (or if you can’t find these, “Hot Tamale” candies cut in half)

1. In large bowl, combine sugar and butter; beat until light and fluffy. Add egg; beat well. Add flour and cinnamon; blend well. Cover dough with plastic wrap; refrigerate 1 hour for easier handling.

2. Heat oven to 350°F (175°C). For each cookie, shape dough into 1 inch ball; place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten slightly. Shape dough into 3 (1/4 inch) balls. Place 2 of the balls above and touching larger ball for ears and 1 ball on top to resemble snout. Flatten slightly.

3. Bake for 11-15 minutes or until firm to the touch. Lightly sprinkle cookies with powdered sugar. Press 2 chocolate chips into each cookie for eyes and 1 cinnamon candy for nose.

Makes 2-3 dozen.