30 June 2011

Travel Photo Friday: Krakaw and Zakopane, Poland

From the archives:

Wawel Castle, Krakow.
Town square, Krakow, early in the morning.
Wooden church, Zakopane.

Enjoying the smoked cheese that's sold on roadside carts in Zakopane.
My cousin's guest house in Zakopane.
Poland was the first stop on our European vacation in August 2007. We spent only one day in Krakow before traveling several hours by train to the mountain town of Zakopane, where my mom's family is from. Zakopane is in the Tatra mountains and there is wonderful skiing and hiking and delicious, hearty food. My cousins have a guest house (so if you're planning a trip, let me know!) steps away from some of the hiking trails. I can't wait to get back there some day so Muffin can run around in the mountains.

Photo Friday is hosted by DeliciousBaby.com.

23 June 2011

Travel Photo Friday: Yosemite National Park, California

From the archives.

In 2007 we lived in Walnut Creek, California, which is about an hour (maybe a bit longer) away from one of the Yosemite entrances. We went there for one night with another couple in April. It was cold and rainy! And we could hear bears in the campground at night. I didn't sleep a wink. Gorgeous scenery though and I'd like to go back some day with Muffin.

Photo Friday is hosted by DeliciousBaby.com.

The New Rugs

If you read my previous post then you know I've had some trouble buying new rugs. I went back to the dealer on Monday and held my ground, insisting on an even exchange with something that was better quality. The shopkeeper said everyone knows that you don't vacuum that kind of carpeting, that you have to use a stiff brush and after one week pieces will stop falling out. I said, No, obviously not everyone knows that. You should have told me that before I bought it. If the carpeting is that great you should no problem reselling it to someone else. And I have a baby, I can't have pieces of carpet falling out for one week. One weekend was too long. She's eating the pieces and they're stuck all over her clothes. We went back and forth like that for awhile. Finally he showed me some other rugs that were comparable in price. But much smaller. He unrolled everything in the shop and then had a guy take me down the block to the warehouse. I eventually settled on two that I could live with.

So we now have two small blue Oriental rugs, being covered with spit up and cat fur regularly.

Out with the old.

Back in with the old.

In with the new.

20 June 2011

One Week and Several Thousand Rupees Later and We Still Have the Same Old Rugs

Our housing came with some rugs. They were decent enough at first, but as we got settled we decided we wanted something a little more personal. They are cheap Oriental-style rugs, not colors that we like, and they weren't cleaned well before we moved in. The best thing we could say about them was that the intricate design hid all of Muffin's spit-up well. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement.

We'd seen plenty of shops around town with basic, solid-color rolls of carpeting so we thought it would be no problem to get a couple pieces. We have two living rooms and wanted a new rug for each. To save time, I sent our driver out to get swatches and prices.

He couldn't get any color samples or swatches. No one believed him that we wanted plain, inexpensive solid colors rather than fancy Oriental rugs. So two Saturdays ago we loaded up Muffin and went to the Begam Bazaar district to look at carpeting ourselves. The first few places we looked at only had outdoor or industrial carpeting, nothing soft enough for Muffin's crawling little knees. We went to a nicer shop that our driver knew of and after we insisted that we did not want an expensive Oriental rug, the shopkeeper relented and showed us some swatches of wall-to-wall carpeting that could be cut and bounded into the 12 x 9 size that we wanted. We chose two colors, put down a payment (we didn't have enough cash on us!), and agreed to pickup the rugs and pay the balance in three days.

Three days passed and a series of cryptic text messages started coming in to Mike's phone. We eventually deciphered that the blue carpet we wanted wasn't available, only the red one, but he could give us "candy" brown (chocolate, I guessed) as a replacement. The blue wouldn't be in for weeks, maybe longer, the shopkeeper said. I said we'd take the red, take the balance of our money back for the blue, and buy the blue in a few weeks when it was back in stock. Within hours of my saying that the blue carpet was back in stock, miraculously.

On Friday our housekeeper rolled up the old rugs and swept and mopped the floors to prepare for the new rugs. Our driver picked them up and he and Mike rolled them out. We vacuumed them and noticed a problem. The red one had a hole in it. Pretty big. Right in the middle. We made arrangements with the shopkeeper to bring it back on Saturday and he could replace it by Monday. On Saturday afternoon I noticed the rugs needed vacuuming again. But the vacuum cleaner didn't pick anything up. We've had our vacuum saga, with this being the third one in six months and just recently being repaired, so I was about ready to throw the vacuum cleaner out the window with frustration. Instead, though, I started taking the pieces out to look for a clog. The entire system was clogged with red and blue carpet fuzz. Just rubbing your hands on the carpets was bringing up fuzz. Fuzz was sticking to Muffin's clothes as she played on the rug. I changed her diaper and there was carpet fuzz in there! That was the last straw. Both of these rugs had to leave our house.

Today I am gearing up for my third trip to the carpet shop. Mike has done most of the dealing; my job as wife (in this male-oriented realm of handling the money in India) has been to pick out the colors. But Mike has to go to work and we don't want to waste another weekend trying to get rugs so it's now my job to close this deal once and for all. It's doubtful we'll get our money back so I'm prepared to choose the equivalent amount in an Oriental rug. I have half a mind to try charging the rug guy for the hour's worth of maintenance Mike and I did on the vacuum cleaner to unclog it. I don't think I'll be able to get that point across effectively though.

Here's where I make a confession: I don't particularly care for Oriental rugs. I appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into the really good ones and some day when we have our own house with a room that cats and kids never go into, I wouldn't mind having one if I like the colors, but so far I've never seen one that I love. Nothing else in our decor scheme is Asian-inspired so an Oriental carpet smack dab in the middle of bulky armchairs and sofas (that also came with the house, not chosen by us) just looks ridiculous. The best I'm hoping for today is something a little more geometric and less squiggly-scrolly in colors that I like.

This last week, India has really been trying my patience. By Saturday night I was ready to shut myself in and never leave the house. Between basic tasks and seeking out "India" experiences I feel like everything I try is failing. We couldn't even go for a freakin' walk in the park on Saturday because of the stupid hours all the parks keep!

But I'll put on some India-appropriate clothes today, instead of jeans, and see what I can do about these damned rugs.

09 June 2011

Travel Photo Friday: Joshua Tree National Park, California

From the archives:

Joshua Tree National Park, California, June 2005

When Mike and I first met he was living in Twentynine Palms and I was in San Diego. His house was close to one of the Joshua Tree entrances. We spent a lot of time in the park, even after he joined me in San Diego. This was our last trip there, just a couple weeks before we moved from San Diego. A friend of ours from Germany went with us; he took these photos.

Photo Friday is hosted by DeliciousBaby.com.

04 June 2011

Mango Fest 2011

Today we went to the Department of Agriculture's Mango Show 2011 exhibition. Over two hundred varieties of mango (who knew there were so many?) from all over India were on display. But of course, who wanted to look at mangoes once the little white baby showed up?

Our whole group of friends was big news. Literally. There was press from the local news channels there and they were all interested in getting us to eat mangoes on camera. The vendors have apparently learned that the best way to sell mangoes is to offer free tastings (two years ago, friends report, there was not a single mango to taste at Mango Fest) but some would only offer tastings if they could take photos, too.

Muffin was happy to oblige!

A friend and I remarked that it was actually one of the cleaner, more-organized events we've seen in India. We were early so it wasn't crowded. It was small, and they should have been selling the recycled burlap-bag shopping sacks at the entrance--to fill up with your mango purchases--rather than on the way out, but it was entirely manageable with Muffin. And we came home with a sack full of mangoes to eat! I've been disappointed with the mangoes this season but the offerings from Mango Fest were terrific.

For those in the area Mango Show 2011 is at the Nampally Exhibition Grounds and allegedly runs through Monday. Our friend who was trying to organize the trip had trouble finding out exactly what time and days the exhibition was occurring. India could use some professional promoters for things like this. It's so hard to find out when events are going on.

01 June 2011

Expat Women: Confessions

I'm a frequent reader of the Expat Women website. When the founders of the site contacted bloggers to read and review their new book, Expat Women: Confessions -- 50 Answers to Your Real-Life Questions About Living Abroad, I was excited and couldn't wait to start reading.

The founder of Expat Women has been compiling letters and answers from the popular Confessions column on the website and has put the most common subjects and frequently returned to topics into one book for easy reference. What I think everyone will take away from this book is that "You are not alone." Moving within your own country, even within your own town, is hard. Moving to a new country is very hard, no matter how prepared, organized, determined, or open-minded you are. It helps to hear others' stories for inspiration.

The book is organized into different topics, such as culture shock, raising children, death and divorce overseas, and moving back to your home country. There are questions from single women, women who are the working partner, and women who are the "trailing spouse." The women featured come from a range of different countries and backgrounds, not just the United States, which emphasizes the fact that we can all relate, because we all have some of the same thoughts from time to time.

I don't consider myself a seasoned expat, but I found myself already knowing the answers to some of the questions. One problem I found with the book is that regardless of the problem, the answers were similar or overlapped. There is a lot of advice geared around getting professional counseling, which seems like a difficult thing to do if one of your issues is a language barrier and there are no counselors or therapists practicing in your native language. There is apparently a huge market for life coaching, especially those who practice expat life coaching, of which I was unaware. Most of the advice is to relax and think through the problems and decisions and to have a positive attitude. Exercise and try to make friends. The same pep talk was repeated several times. I think there's more value in the variety of questions, knowing that whatever problem you have there's one other person out there with the same problem. The answer isn't always as important as knowing someone else already asked the question.

There is a lot of practical advice on what sorts of documents and paperwork we should all have in order, especially for when emergencies arise, such as financial papers, health records, wills, and documents pertaining to legal issues in your host country.

After reading this book my feelings that as a State Department expat I think we have it much easier than other expats were confirmed. As much as we grumble sometimes, we have an automatic network in place if we choose to use it. Much of the advice given in this book is similar to what you'll get from the Family Liaison Office. Our housing is mostly taken care of, we have medical personnel and security officers on-call a lot of the time. We have mail service. We jump in to a new assignment filled with people that have just gone through the same move and we have instant access to those people to show us the ropes of a new city.

I think the book can be a valuable resource for some women. It's easy to get so involved in our own little worlds that we forget there are others out there like us but sometimes it's nice to identify with someone.

You can download a free sample of the book here. The book is available for purchase from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle editions.

I received a free promotional copy of this book as a Kindle download for review purposes. The views expressed in this post are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review. I have not enabled Amazon Affiliate links in this post.