Thanks for stopping by...

I'm Tami, and like all of us, I'm a work in progress. Recent years have been tumultuous, and I've allowed the tumult to define me during my grief and recuperation---needfully and reasonably so. It was a tough time. But in time I was ready to move forward. Now I've begun to move on and redefine my next chapter. I want to live fully and hopefully, and since I love to write and like to share, I will pursue and engage in my goals and pleasures and share them with you, for (hopefully) both of our enjoyment.

Thanks for sharing the ride.

Living the Dream...

Living the Dream...
Gazing Upon the Himalayas in Nepal

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Wasting Half a Day of My Life....

This was actually a really cool little project. If you'd like to try it, click on this link to learn how!

I recommend it! It was easy and fun.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Making... Scarecrows! Hopefully, Long-lasting Scarecrows!!!!!

If you've been following me for long enough, you'll know that about a year-and-a-half ago, I made a really beautiful scarecrow using a PVC armature. She was stuffed with bubble-wrap to give her volume; her head was a piece of burlap onto which I appliquéd facial features and then used to cover a Styrofoam wig dummy head; and her outfit was a set of vivid red coveralls that I paid entirely too much for. I put a great deal of time, effort, and expense into creating her...and she pretty much disintegrated in the harsh Texas sun within a single season.I made her in January 2015 and she didn't even last long enough to see me plant my spring vegetables!!!!

She looked great for a couple of weeks, but in almost no time she rapidly began to fade and deteriorate. Sure, I knew she wouldn't last forever...but I certainly thought I'd get more than a single season out of my efforts!!! It was somewhat frustrating, to say the least.

After a brief mourning period, I began to contemplate a long-lasting alternative that would justify my time and effort. I deliberated about the pros and cons of a variety of materials, finally settling on galvanized steel and sheet metal. Thus, a tin man was born!

Work in progress--- in my kitchen, of course!

Not bad, but he needs...something.
Maybe some funnels for, um...visual interest?
Nah, too big.How about an elegant skirt
made from window screen, coupled with a
glamorous belt of copper, sheet-metal and brass?
Très chic! But still, not quite enough.

I still liked the idea of breasts, so instead of ill-fitting funnels (some too big, some too small, none just right), I decided to have the breasts custom fabricated to my exact specifications. I'm very particular, so I made a paper pattern to ensure that the results were exactly what I wanted, then I took my paper breasts to C & C Sheet Metal Fabrications. Craig, the owner/operator, was somewhat taken aback at my request, but he quickly got on board and was tickled by my project. And he made her breasts exactly as I specified! I attached them with looooong bolts with a toggle inside the cans. I thought it was a pretty clever way to attach them, and it worked quite well. The final touches: first, steel nipples made from plumbing pipe caps, and then the coup de grâce: distressing the finish with a generous spray of hydrochloric acid. Craig allowed me to spray the acid at his shop, because I feared damaging my own driveway with the caustic compound. We hoisted her up using a forklift and I sprayed her with the acid, then hosed her down thoroughly and took her home. 

Once she'd been brought to my home, I decided that she still looked too masculine, and she also looked lonely. I could solve both problems with one solution: a tin husband for Caitlyn. So I removed her head and set it aside for her future husband and gave her a new, more feminine head. And voilà! I give you Caitlyn (so named because once she was a he, but with the addition of breasts, eyelashes and a skirt, suddenly he becomes she)!

By now I'd worked out the snags in my construction process, so I believed that making a fellow would (or should) be relatively easy (it still wasn't). For the most part, I made him much the same way as his bride, minus the breasts, skirt, and lashes, except bigger in every way. Of course, the difference in materials posed some minor new challenges, but these were resolved at night in my dreams. (I often fall asleep thinking about how to achieve a certain end, and frequently I wake with the perfect solution.)

A good start, but I can see already that compared to Caitlyn, this fellow is BORING!  Again, he needs...something.

After several days of deliberations (hat? bow tie? belt?) and even a few colorful recommendations (a codpiece? a strategically-placed tin lunchbox for a "package"?), I knew the answer. Just like the tin man of Oz, my fellow needed a heart. So I placed an ad on a local website asking for recommendations about where I could go to have a hole cut in my tin man, and I negotiated a trade: a fellow a few miles away agreed to use his plasma-cutter to cut a hole in my man's chest in exchange for a batch of my homemade chocolate-chip cookies, the best on the planet. And lickety-split, the hole was cut and I found myself jonesing for a plasma-cutter! Super cool.

Now my man just needed a heart. So I found a wooden heart at Michael's Arts and Crafts store, which I painted with vivid red enamel paint. It appears to float because I painted the interior of the trash can torso flat black, then constructed a sort of armature, also painted flat black, to invisibly hold the heart in place from behind. The black paint combined with the shadows from the can's interior make the supports all but disappear and only the heart shows up. I am happy with how it turned out.

And Caitlyn is happy with her husband, Beau. May they live happily ever after...or at least long enough for me to give them to my grandson, John, for his first home. (He loves them! He says "hi!" to them every time he sees them!)

I couldn't have done this without the help of my husband, Pat. He served as an extra pair of hands when I needed him to hold something or tighten a nut or bolt that I was unable to tighten. He even acted as my own hands when mine wouldn't work. (I injured myself recently and I have had three surgeries in the last couple of months on my right hand and wrist.)  And he was the one who came up with the ingenious idea of adding tension to help keep the limbs in place. I am grateful that he was so willing to act as my assistant when I needed him these past weeks. He helped me bring my idea to fruition.

If you are interested in making something similar, just bear in mind that the "bones" of this pair are simply chains covered with pool noodles to give them a bit of stability. The secret to holding it all in place is tension: inside of each arm and leg is a very strong spring pulling the appendage into place. Simple, huh? (No, it wasn't. It took a lot of trial and error, but the end result was worth it IF these two last for a long while. And I have every reason to believe that they will.)

And no, you probably wouldn't be willing to pay me enough to convince me to do it again for anyone but my own family, because it would take a pretty hefty sum. There was a LOT of work involved in constructing these two, but I must say...I'm pleased. My goal was to bring a smile to the face of anyone who visits my garden, and so far I've been very successful!

Rumor has it that Caitlyn and Beau are considering expanding their family: maybe a dog or a cat, and who knows...maybe there'll be a baby along some day. But not some day soon., as I'm rather burned out on this particular project. Bedsides, I have myriad half-finished projects just waiting to be completed before I permit myself to undertake any additions to this family. So off to the next thing I go...

Until next time, Happy Trails!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Halò! Ciamar a Tha Thu?

Usually we're skiing during St. Patrick's Day, but this year, because of my inability to ski due to surgery on my hand, we're laying low here at home. It's a rainy day, so I've decided to spend the day in the kitchen preparing a few traditional, and some not-so-traditional, Irish dishes. I'll put some of my beloved Celtic music on the stereo, and we'll be Irish for the day. (In actuality, I do believe that I am as much as 1/4 Irish by way of both of my paternal grandparents. I want to do a genealogy test one of these days just to see what my heritage is.)

In case you are interested, here is tonight's menu:

St. Patrick’s Day Menu 2016:

Smoked Corned Beef Brisket:

Yes, I know…traditionally corned beef is boiled, but as a Texan, I think it would be acceptable to add a bit of a Texas twist, so instead I’ve rubbed the brisket with Bad Byron’s Butt Rub and I am smoking it in a smoker for 4 hours using mesquite wood chips to give it flavor.

Creamed Cabbage:


4 slices bacon
1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 large head cabbage, cored and shredded
1/2 cup sour cream
Place the bacon in a large, deep skillet, and cook over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until evenly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove the bacon slices to cool.
Whisk the butter, flour, and salt into the drippings in the same pan. Stir in the cabbage, and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until cabbage is tender, about 15 minutes. Crumble the bacon; stir the bacon pieces and sour cream into the cabbage mixture.

Irish Potato Soup:

2 tablespoons butter or margarine
4 medium green onions, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 cups milk

Heat the butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and celery and cook until tender.
Stir the broth, 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper and potatoes in the saucepan and heat to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
Place half of the broth mixture and half of the milk in a blender or food processor. Cover and blend until smooth. Repeat with the remaining broth mixture and remaining milk. Return to the saucepan and heat through.

Irish Apple Cake with Custard Sauce or Irish Whiskey Sauce
Ingredients for the Cake:
3 C. Flour
2 t. Baking Powder
⅛ t. Salt
¼ t. Cloves, ground
¼ t. Nutmeg, ground
6 oz. Butter, (cold is fine)
¾ C. Sugar
4 large Granny Smith apples (I used golden delicious to great effect)
2 Eggs
¾ C. Milk
2 T. Sugar (for sprinkling on top of cake)

Ingredients for the custard topping:
6 large Egg Yolks
6 T. Sugar
1½ C. Whole Milk
1½ t. Vanilla

Alternative topping: Irish Whiskey Sauce:
1½ c. sugar
¾ c. butter
¾ c. light corn syrup
½ c. Jameson Irish Whiskey

Grease and flour an 8" or 9" round springform pan. Using an 8" pan will give you a taller cake.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, cloves and nutmeg into a large mixing bowl. Make sure the bowl is very large to allow room for the apples to be folded in.
Cut the butter into the flour using your fingers or a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
Add the ¾ C. sugar to the flour mixture and mix in.
Peel the apples and slice them into uniform pieces. This cake works best and gets that 'chunky apple look' if the slices are about ¼" wide and then cut into 3 pieces.
Toss the apples into the flour mixture and combine them thoroughly.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and milk together. Add to the apples and flour and mix in with a large spatula until just combined. Batter will be thick and dough-like.
Transfer the dough into the prepared cake pan and flatten the top surface using the back of your spatula.
Sprinkle the sugar over the top of the cake.
Bake for 45-50 minutes. Test the center for doneness. The top of the cake should be golden brown. Serve slices with custard sauce.

*note that this sauce is not a thick, pudding like sauce. It should have a pour-able, just thickened consistency when done.
Place the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk until pale yellow, 2-3 minutes. Place the milk in a medium saucepan and bring just to a boil. Slowly whisk the hot milk into the egg/sugar mixture. Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and stir over medium heat until custard thickens, about 4 minutes. Custard should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Mix in the vanilla. Transfer to bowl or serving saucer.
Serve warm or cold over apple cake.

Mix sugar, butter and corn syrup in medium sauce pan over low heat. Remove from heat when thoroughly blended and sugar has broken down. Whisk in Jameson Irish Whiskey. Serve the sauce warm over warm bread pudding. Makes 12 servings, or 4 if you're Irish!

Buttermilk Irish Soda Bread
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease a large baking sheet.
In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and butter. Stir in 1 cup of buttermilk and egg. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead slightly. Form dough into a round and place on prepared baking sheet. In a small bowl, combine melted butter with 1/4 cup buttermilk; brush loaf with this mixture. Use a sharp knife to cut an 'X' into the top of the loaf.
Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Check for doneness after 30 minutes. You may continue to brush the loaf with the butter mixture while it bakes.

If I make this menu again I will prepare the corned beef brisket the traditional way: a long, slow simmer. I will omit the sour cream from the cabbage dish---it was great without it. The soup was good, the cake was great!!!! 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Community Clinic and Getting Ready to Come Home...


Today was a very quiet day during which I spent a lot of time sleeping and reading. I’d been feeling increasing more ill with the passing of the past three days, so yesterday at the insistence of my hosts, I went to a doctor. I didn’t want to go, because I knew my symptoms were viral (and I was correct, as it turns out), and I refused repeatedly until Tara put his foot down and insisted. He wanted to be sure it wasn’t serious, and he said he wanted me to respect him and go for an evaluation. How does one say no to that? So despite my better judgment, off we went in the unseasonable rains on his scooter to a community clinic, which made me incredibly grateful to be an American (not that I wasn’t grateful already, but this just reinforced my gratitude).

The hospital staff treated me like royalty just by virtue of the color of my skin, which made me incredibly uncomfortable. I did nothing to deserve to be moved to the head of the cue. My skin color doesn’t entitle me to have tests performed that aren’t typically performed for the beautiful people who live here. But that’s exactly what happened. It is a community clinic, a clinic for the poorest of the poor, but that’s where Tara brought me because I suspect that that is what he knows best. It was discrimination in the form of favoritism, and while I appreciate that they wanted to treat a western foreigner well, it felt so wrong to get VIP treatment when others were just as deserving, indeed more so.

I was whisked to the front of the cue, where they drew blood (I saw no hands being washed, and afterward a yellowed piece of cotton was placed on the site where my blood had been drawn), then asked for a urine sample in a thimble-sized container (squat toilet with mold growing nearby, a mildewed mop in the corner and mildew stains on the walls), and finally, a chest X-ray (the most antiquated equipment I have ever seen, and a hospital gown that was last washed who knows when?). Tara told me that they wouldn’t perform such tests for the Nepalis; they would simply administer an antibiotic and send them on their way.

I didn’t have to wait for my tests at all, whereas the locals would likely be waiting 3-4 hours or more, Tara informed me. And they put a rush on getting the results, too. In no time, I learned just what I suspected: my lungs are clear and in general I’m as healthy as a horse (ok, they found a slight urinary tract infection but nothing more); I simply have a good, old-fashioned (albeit pretty brutal) cold virus. So the doctor gave me something for sore throat and headache, and an antibiotic for the UTI, and told me to rest. Which is exactly what I have done, and it has felt marvelous. I feel exhausted by this damnable bug, so curling up in bed with my book, drowsing and reading in turn, has been wonderful. My inclination is to see and do as much as I can in the time I have left, but I am being an obedient patient and resting, and I feel infinitely better for it.

I finished my WWII novel and have moved on to a revisit of A Game of Thrones. I’ve never read the most recent book of the series and since I have forgotten so much, I decided to begin anew. Besides, I find the plot so complex, what with the myriad characters and locales, that a revisit clarifies a great deal in my mind. It’s a great story, although undeniably violent. I’ve not watched the HBO television series, but I think I will. I don’t watch much television at all, generally, as I always prefer a good book to television. But I’ll give it a go and see if it lives up to the hype. I often like “loftier” types of reads---something edifying or informative, but sometimes a good tale is just what the doctor ordered.

I’ve begun preparing for my trip home, sorting belongings and washing clothes, trying to fit two new drums (Hindu drums: tabela) and a big wheel of yak cheese, along with numerous other gifts for my loved ones, into my two allotted bags. I am so grateful to my trekking companion and friend, Sue, because she was kind enough to bring me an extra piece of luggage when she came for our trek. I knew I wouldn’t be able to fit all of my gifts into my already-overstuffed bags, so I contacted her  before she came and asked her to bring another, as she was only using one bag of her own. She happily complied, and after our trek she returned to Austin with a suitcase already filled with gifts. Now I just have to deal with the drums and the cheese, plus my clothes and sundries. Thank you, thank you, thank you Sue! I owe you one…

I have loved Nepal immensely, so much so that I plan to learn to speak Hindi  (the closest language to Nepali that Rosetta Stone might offer, and sufficiently close to allow meaningful communication) and return to do some volunteer work. I have seen many beautiful places, but it’s the people who have touched my heart here the most. They are so kind, especially those in the remote mountain villages. Many of the trekking routes we took were the same paths and trails that the villagers use to get from one village to the next for visits or trade, and these routes traverse right through people’s homesteads. As a result, curious villagers were delighted to see the rare western trekkers passing through, and almost invariably stopped whatever they were doing to shout out a warm and hearty “Namaste!”  as they greeted us with hands folded in the traditional prayer-like attitude. Such a greeting is utterly charming, especially when uttered by eager and earnest children who love to have a chance to see a foreigner. And how often did these Nepalis invite us to share a bit of racksi (moonshine) or a cup of tea, perhaps some yak milk or dried cheese, when they had so little themselves! Their kindness was enchanting, endearing, and utterly wonderful. Their generosity was overwhelming. These are a good and kind people, a very peaceful people, and they have stolen my heart. I want to come back and bask in their loving nature as I do what I can to enrich their lives as they have enriched mine. Kathmandu lacks much of the charm and warmth of the mountains, but the people here are generally good, too...yet it is the mountain people who truly warm my heart, and when I return it will be to them I devote myself.

I love Nepal!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

"Wild" Monkeys and Miscommunication


Yesterday was another full day for me, despite feeling ill. I returned to the fascinating Pashmina and watched a few funerals and cremations. I wandered the streets and just looked upon all I saw in wonder, as even the most commonplace things, such as a cow wandering the streets, fascinates me. I photographed wild monkeys, much to the dismay of some local Nepalis who warned me through a series of gestures that I was getting far too close. I learned later from Tara that the monkeys sometimes bite, and will often steal anything you have in your hands, including an expensive camera, in the hope that it might be food.

For your amusement, here is a typical conversation between Tara and me, as I was perusing the market in search of ingredients for the meal I was looking forward to preparing for my host family:
(Sometimes when I speak with Chandu, who speaks even less English, the results are even more humorous):

ME: I have been looking for lettuce and I never see it here.
TARA: In Nepal we do not do letters. We have cell phone.
ME: No, not letters, lettuce. It is a vegetable.
TARA: Festival? Yes we have many festival.

Sometimes I will ask a question or try to convey an idea, and the response makes my head spin, it is so far off from what I was trying to say I can only smile. I mean no disrespect whatsoever in describing our baffling dialog, and I am not poking fun: it is a language obstacle, and I am sure they sometimes wonder if I am a complete lunatic or idiot! Sometimes we just look at each other and laugh let the current topic of conversation die, because we realize that sometimes a topic is just too big or too complicated for us to make meaningful dialog. There is no frustration, just acceptance, and we move on.

The home of my hosts sits directly across from an earthquake shelter, a tent city, but rather than being a dismal place, I am heartened by the residents’ resiliency and fortitude. There is always a flurry of activity there, with people washing their clothes in the nearby communal spigot, or preparing  and taking their meals outdoors. Children scamper and squeal playfully, and chickens roam the grounds. People can be seen sweeping the communal hardscape areas to keep them tidy despite the mountains of trash in the street mere feet away, and there are almost always children playing on the barren dirt soccer-field adjacent. Usually it’s soccer, but sometimes it’s badminton played with cheap dime store plastic rackets, or a simple game of tag. On the first night of Dashain, I could see a fabulous party taking place at the shelter. Remember the scene in the movie “Titanic,” where the best party on board could be found below deck? That’s what the first night of Dashain in the earthquake shelter looked like. I could see the people dancing---sherpa dancing, I was told---and they looked to be having a marvelous time. I tried to go to watch, accompanied by Tara, but I was turned away. “No outsiders,” they said. I longed to watch them dance and laugh up close, rather than from the second-floor apartment half a block away. Still, it was their party and not a spectator sport, and while I was very disappointed, I understood.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Spaghetti with a Side of Musings


It’s about 4:00 in the morning and, as per usual, I have awakened before the family. This time, however, I have awakened particularly early because I went to bed yesterday at about 3:00 or so in the afternoon as, alas, I am sick.  I have a raging sore throat and cough, nasal congestion, and slight fever. Yes, I have contracted a cold. Probably I have been exposed to some Nepali cold virus undoubtedly brought to me by Sangima, their school-age daughter. I am determined to tough it out as best I can though, because yesterday before I fell ill (or at least before my already-blooming cold reached its current zenith), I bought the ingredients to cook dinner for this family: one of my own family’s favorite, spaghetti with cheesy garlic bread. I could only find sliced white bread, no baguette or Italian bread, and instead of mozzarella for the cheesy garlic bread, I have yak cheese. And, of course, no lettuce for the salad I might typically make to accompany it. Not even onions for the sauce. When I asked about onion, I was given purple garlic. And no oven for the bread: just a two-burner propane countertop cook top, on which I will heat the sauce and boil the pasta and then use to fry the white bread in garlic butter.  But I did find real sauce and pasta imported from Italy at the big market, and to some of it I will add water buffalo meat (which they call “buff”), and to some I will add pork. (Some family members do not like buff, others do not like pork, so I will make both and let them choose as they wish.) I hope I can concoct a passable meal that my lovely Nepali hosts will enjoy. They have been so kind to me…

(LATER… Tonight’s meal was a resounding success, even though the power went out---again---and I cooked by the light of a flashlight. They ate all of the buff spaghetti sauce, but none of the pork. Somehow I misunderstood when I asked who would eat pork and who would eat buff. Turns out no one will eat the pork. And the garlic bread turned out great! Instead of the way I make it at home, which requires an oven, I made it on a griddle. I mixed buff butter, which I found at a street market a few blocks from here, with a bit of salt, garlic powder (also found at a street market), and buff cheese to make a filling. Then I lightly buttered the outside of some dry white bread, the only bread I could find, and used the filling between two slices and toasted them on the griddle. Everyone loved it, and I am so pleased to have made a simple meal that they actually enjoyed!)

Yesterday was Santa day. I took the family out to buy clothes and shoes plus a doll for Sangima and a ball and coat for Luna. (Much to my dismay, all of the dolls have fair skin and yellow hair. Such a pity! Why??????) I also met three members of the family I have decided to “adopt:” a young father with two small daughters who barely have enough to eat and whose daughters attend a dismal government school for the poor. He is a laborer and the mother, whom I didn’t get to meet, is very ill with “blood cancer” --- leukemia, I believe. (From what I could gather through our limited communication, the mother was with her own mother at the moment.) With just a little help, about $25.00 US per month, their children will be able to go to a better school where they will be fed a nutritious lunch and wear clean uniforms instead of the filthy tattered clothes they wore when I met them. The Diet Dr. Pepper I drink in a month costs me more than the $25.00 I’ll spend to vastly improve these children’s lives. It’s chump change, and if ever any of you wishes to do something similar, I have made contacts here in Nepal that will enable you to do so. No, you won’t get a tax refund receipt because I am not going through any organized charitable foundation. I’m giving straight to the schools on the children’s behalf. Charitable organizations don’t ever reach those who need it most because of the way funds are distributed. I believe that the Nepali government is corrupt, and it is their representatives who oversee how money is distributed, and believe me, the money is not making its way to the poorest of the poor.

I bought the family a crate of eggs---maybe 4-5 dozen--- because it is a source of protein that will keep without refrigeration---yes, an egg can last more than a month without refrigeration if it remains unwashed in its shell, and that’s been the way the world has done so for centuries until the USDA decided to begin washing the natural protective coating off of eggs, thus requiring them to be refrigerated. And, as a special treat for dinner, a fresh chicken. No, I can’t help Nepal in general, but I can maybe help two underfed waifs build a better future through education. But even with the best education, they are doomed to a life of struggle and, likely, poverty, just because of their misfortune to be born here in this beautiful but oh-so-poor country. For those of you reading this in the west, count your blessings, my friend. You won the geographic lottery. You could just as easily been born in Jamaica or Africa or Nepal, or any of hundreds of other poverty-stricken places throughout the world. No, you are not more deserving: you’re lucky, damned lucky, and I hope you don’t forget it.

Swasthani works at the local grocery store, where she earns 7000 rupees every 30 days. That’s roughly $70.00 US. every 30 days. That’s the staggeringly low amount of $2.50 US every day, for nine hours of work. Our minimum-wage workers in the U.S. make more for one day's work than she does in an entire month. And she’s one of the lucky ones. The unemployment rate here is 70%, according to Tara. Most of the decent jobs belong to government workers, and the nepotistic tendency toward favoritism means that unless you have a friend or relative who works in the government, you’re out of luck. The caste system, which is even stronger here than it is in India, also means a lot of closed doors for some very worthy people, such as my guide Bijaya, whom I told you about. He has a master’s degree in environmental science, and his grades were top-notch, but because he lacks “connections,” he can’t find work, so he serves as a guide when he is lucky enough to do so. Such a waste. I told Bijaya that he’d do well to leave Nepal with his talents and education and stellar mind, but he has a genuine desire to serve his country, and he vows to remain and wait until some day he can get his foot in a door. So admirable.

As an outsider, it makes me so damned angry to see what is happening here. This government is useless, as far as I can see. I’ll see dozens of police officers just sitting or standing around together en mass, doing nothing, while many citizens can barely eat. And if one should pull you over for a traffic violation, you can try to negotiate your fine, which goes straight into his pocket. If you can’t negotiate a satisfactory deal, you’re hauled off to the police station to face even stiffer penalties. The police are not public servants; they’re public tyrants, from what Tara and Kalyan have told me. But even Tara says that they are just trying to do what they must to feed their families, because they too have abysmally low wages. It’s a mess here. My trekking companion Sue and I paid fees equivalent to about $700. for the right to trek in the mountains---a huge sum by Nepali standards---, but what are those fees used for? Kalyan says that in his 14 years as a guide, he has never seen any preservation work taking place at the many stupas, temples and monasteries, which fall into ever-increasing decay. These places are the Nepalis’ national treasures---indeed, they are the world’s treasures, and with every passing day that they remain neglected, they fall into greater and greater disrepair. Many of them have been lost forever already, and more are sure to follow. As I walk through the mountains, villages, and cities of Nepal, I see the devastation everywhere, but only once, two days ago, did I see a single sign of any repair work taking place six months after the earthquake. Six months, and thousands of people throughout Nepal still live in tent cities. The Nepali government should be ashamed, and I would love to shine a spotlight on their ineptitude.

That is enough ranting for now. Despite this blasted virus, I’m off to explore a little more while I still can. Nepal is fascinating.

(LATER…I am sick. Truly sick. Sucks.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Typical Morning During My Home-Stay


My time in Nepal is quickly drawing to a close. I have enjoyed my stay immensely, but at the same time I am most eager to go home to be reunited with my loved ones, particularly with my beautiful grandson John, who, true to my predictions, has learned to walk during my absence and who has also begun speaking his first words. The only prediction I was mistaken on was my belief that his first tooth might also emerge. Otherwise, I regretfully have missed some pretty big milestones in a baby’s life…but there will be many milestones to celebrate in John’s life.

I am sitting in the darkness in the home of my Nepali hosts, as the electricity has been shut off according to schedule. Nepal seems to have a shortage of a great many things, including electricity, and the government routinely cuts off electricity to certain areas on a routine rotational basis so as to avoid overburdening the insufficient electric power grid. The practice is called load sharing, and it is a way of life here in Nepal. Somehow the major hotels and restaurants manage despite the periodic electric blackouts, and I suspect it is because they are equipped with generators, and perhaps solar panels, to provide electricity when the power goes out. As for the average household, candles and “torches” (flashlights) are a necessary staple. With the seeming abundance of rivers here, I do not understand why hydroelectric power is not implemented more, but it appears that the Nepali government is frustratingly ineffectual in a great many areas.

I began my day as I have every day since being “adopted” by this family. I wake before the dawn, unable to sleep any longer. The family around me continues to sleep for another half-hour or so as I enjoy the rare quiet, reading on my Kindle (an historical novel about life during World War II). 

As the family begins to wake, the household quickly becomes abuzz with the routines of the day. Baba (Father) Tara opens the water taps to collect water for the day into various containers, as later the taps will run dry, and even when they run, the water from the taps comes out tinged with brown. As the containers fill, he assumes duties with the baby, Luna (16 months): toileting (even as young as she is, Luna regularly sits on a potty chair), bathing, dressing, brushing her hair; meanwhile, Moma (Mother) Chandu begins her day by lighting the butter candle in her altar to her gods and filling the seven vessels of water. (Upon his birth, Buddah took seven steps, from each of which a lotus bloomed. The seven vessels of water honor this miracle.) She the begins heating water for tea as she prepares chapatti (tortillas) and seasoned potatoes for breakfast.

Swasthani, the beautiful young (21 years) niece who also lives here, busies herself with chopping vegetables, sweeping the floors and finishing tea preparation as Tata moves on to washing the clothes, a multi-step process beginning with soaking the clothes in water (which, as I've said, comes out of the tap a dismal brown color) in an enormous bowl, followed by laying them out flat on the bathroom floor and rubbing them with the biggest bar of soap I’ve ever seen, then scrubbing them with a scrub brush. After that the soapy clothes are gathered into a basin for the first of three rinses, with the water looking alarmingly dirty even after the third rinse. The reason the water looks so is three-fold: first, because the clothes are, of course, soiled; second, because the water itself comes from the tap dirty, and third, because fabric dyes here in Nepal are, I discovered to my dismay, notoriously non-colorfast. Everything I own has stains of red because I unknowingly soaked my clothes in a basin overnight, and one of my articles of clothing was a red shirt purchased here. And now, as I wash, I see that everything I purchased here “bleeds” as I wash it, even clothes that have been washed a half-dozen times.

Chandu continues breakfast preparations as Swasthani brings out a spiced black tea to start the day (delicious but often overly sweet! I confess that the lone houseplant has had more than its share of tea during my visit).  Swasthani begins chopping vegetables for the day’s meals. Chandu prompts her older daughter, Sangina (7 years) through her own morning routines as she prepares something for baby Luna to eat: perhaps dal bat (rice with lentils) or warmed milk with “biscoots” (cookies similar to vanilla wafers) dissolved in it. When Tara has completed Luna’s morning ablutions, Chandu feeds her. If dal bat, she uses her hands, which is how the Nepalis routinely eat.  If milk with biscoot, she uses a spoon. If the food is firm, she chews it first then spits in directly into Luna’s mouth.

(Interesting aside: speaking of the Nepali practice of eating with one’s hands, many Nepali women “varnish” only their left hands, as the right is used for eating and they don’t want to inadvertently ingest flaking nail polish.)

After the children are tended to, we all sit down to eat. I love the chapatti (almost identical to a tortilla) and now that I see how easy it is, I’ll be making my own homemade tortillas hereafter. But I’ll hold on to my knife and fork at home, thank you very much.

As all of this flurry of activity is taking place, Tara, Chandu  and Swasthani continually busy themselves with household tasks like sweeping the floor or cleaning as needed. The house is tidy and very pleasant: small but cozy and filled with a joyful and loving family. But keeping this wonderful little family fed and clothed and in a clean home requires a great deal of work, and without such niceties as a washing machine or dishwasher or vacuum cleaner, small tasks become big tasks very quickly. Indeed, yesterday I washed a load of my own clothes as described above, and the process took me about an hour. At home I’d have spent maybe a minute or two sorting and another minute tossing a load in the wash, adding detergent, pushing a button and walking mindlessly away from a task completed.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Homeward Bound...

Goodbye squat toilets and goat meat, racksi and Dashain. First thing I intend to do when I get home is hug and kiss my loved ones. Second thing: down three Diet Dr. Peppers over ICE in quick succession. Third thing: sit on a western flush toilet and sigh a big sigh of pleasure.

Austin, here I about 30 hours or so...

(When I get home I'll begin posting about my trip. I have had extremely limited internet access in the past several weeks, and I have much to share.)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Crematoriums and Phalluses: Just another Day in Nepal

October 22, 2015:

NOTE: This blog post is incomplete but I'm posting it for your reading pleasure anyway. When I get home I'll update it with some fun photographs and some additional narrative which will require a bit of research. In the meantime, my limited battery-life and internet access make it unfeasible to do so at this time, so check back. 

Yesterday was my first full home-stay day and night, and it certainly was a day filled with new experiences! There were moments that I’ve felt as though I've stepped into a completely different world, and indeed, to a great extent, I have! But before I elaborate on yesterday, let me step back a couple of days, to when Sue and I stepped off of the trail and back into such civilization as was to be found in Kathmandu: civilization, to be sure, but vastly different from the civilization to which I am accustomed in the west. (Don’t worry---as time permits I will share with you my impressions, photographs and recollections from the trail. But for now, I’d like to tell you of my recent experiences here in Kathmandu, while my recollections are fresh on my mind.)

Our transition from trail life to our respective post-trail experiences began at the Tibet Hotel, where Sue and I stayed for a couple of days following our trek. It was indescribably nice to enjoy simple pleasures such as a scalding hot shower, including a real washcloth followed by a real towel!  Equally as delicious were the clean fresh sheets, fluffy mattress and comforter, and impossibly soft pillows---not one but two! And then: oh, glory! Fresh clean clothes to wear! One tends to take the simple pleasures in life for granted when one lives in a world of abundance, so it’s certainly nice to relish those simple pleasures again even after a brief absence. When I hiked the Appalachian Trail I took a day off about once a week to bathe and wash my clothes and have a stay in a hotel. Hotel cleanliness along the AT was questionable at best, but at least I was able to wash my clothes and my body. This trek was the longest I’ve gone wearing the same clothes over and over---although I did have two full outfits, plus some extra socks and undies, which I was rotating through.

Kalyan was already committed to a new trekking group, so he left us in the very capable hands of a city guide friend of his, Bijaya Chapagain, an extremely charming and knowlegable young Nepali who holds a master’s degree in environmental science but serves as a tour guide because he cannot find work in his area of study. Bijaya took us to several notable locations within Kathmandu, beginning with the compound wherein cremations, among other activities, take place: Pashupatinath (  The place was utterly fascinating, and while there I witnessed not one, but two cremations from across the river Bagmati, which is the holiest river here and which ultimately wends its way to India and the Ganges, the ultimate in holy rivers for the Hindus.

Cremation begins with the body being carried in from wherever the deceased met his demise. If from a home anywhere in the enormous Kathmandu area, the body is carried in on a litter made from cloth and bamboo poles.  If from a hospital, an ambulance brings the body to the river. In either case, the body is wrapped in orange fabric, the sacred color of the Hindu people.  Loved ones gather by the river until all persons are present, then the ritual of cleansing the body takes place.

(An ironic aside: It is just after 6:00 am on October 23, and I am editing this post on the day following that in which I originally began it. The family with whom I am staying just received a call that a neighbor has died, and my host has been called upon to help. He explained to me that the family of the deceased calls upon family, friends, and neighbors to help carry the body to the Pashupati. People take turns carrying the body in a procession until they reach the river. It is in this way that the heavy remains of a corpse is conveyed for perhaps several miles until they reach the river. (My host, Tara Bahadur Gurung, was going to give me a lift to an area of Kathmandu  which I’d like to explore that is too far away for me to walk since public transportation here is far too difficult for a non-Nepali speaker, but of course those plans are now on hold for another day, as he is called upon to perform his cultural responsibilities to his neighbor. I could try to take a cab, but that too is a very iffy proposition, what with the current fuel shortage and many Nepalis tendency to take advantage of tourists.)

The body is placed on a sloped segment of concrete with the feet extending into the river for purification. A mixture of water, from the nearby temple, and milk is poured over the head. The body’s clothing is removed by the loved ones, who carefully remove the clothes from under the orange shroud, taking care not to reveal the body’s nakedness. The clothing is offered to the river, piece by piece, until the body is naked beneath the shroud. Then the body is carried to a platform on which wood has been carefully stacked.
Cremation begins with the deceased’s closest next-of-kin placing burning wood into the body’s mouth. Afterward, the professional cremator takes over, building the fire beneath the body using kindling delivered by children who are being raised as apprentice cremators. It takes about 7-8 hours for a body to burn, and I found the stench to be quite disconcerting. It smelled like the cooking of rancid meat, and knowing that one’s olfactory nerve is stimulated by actual minute particles of whatever one is smelling, I felt somewhat sick to realize that my own senses were being stimulated by the smells of death and charred human flesh, but I did my best to appear unaffected. I wanted to be as respectful as possible, but I felt ill with the realization that my nose was filled with the particles of a dead body burning.

In addition to cremations, the Pashupati is a place of worship and education. Many novice (children)Hindu holy men, priests and nuns make their humble homes on the grounds, and when I say humble I do mean humble. They live on a dirt floor with barely a roof over their heads, no walls, and beneath the roof is where they sleep and prepare their food and take their meals. There are classrooms for the monks, and I could hear them reciting their lessons in unison from within the walls. Our guide informed us that beginning from childhood, the children would recite their lessons so many times that they would have no need of the holy books from which they were learning by the time they reached adulthood, as they would have all of their lessons and scriptures memorized. Young monks who err or misbehave in any way are dealt with severely, and indeed I heard the unmistakable thwack of a stick on flesh as I listened to their oral lessons, but there was no cry that came after. I suspect that a cry would mean more discipline.

Numerous holy men live on the grounds of the crematorium, and they spend their days chanting and praying in one of the many tiny pagodas on the grounds. A few are legitimate holy men, but many have been polluted by westerners who, desirous of a photograph with these oddly-adorned men, have paid them money to pose for a picture. Now most of these “holy men” are nothing more than street performers such as you might see in New York posing as the Statue of Liberty. I allowed myself to be persuaded to take a picture with three such “holy men,” but I reasoned that at least they are not simply begging, which is what many desperate people here resort to. My tender heart has been compelled to give to numerous desperate people who have clearly not been served by modern medicine, as well as buying infant formula for several young mothers I found begging in the streets with infants clutched to their hips.

The crematorium is also a place of commerce. There are lots of peddlers selling their wares there, and many can be quite aggressive, although I recognize that their aggression stems from a sense of desperation. They are the poorest of the poor, and this year’s alarming lack of tourists following the earthquakes and landslides, compounded with the current political turmoil, has these poor people more desperate than ever. Still, it is extremely uncomfortable to be pursued for half-a-block by someone who is begging you to buy from them. And it is impossible to buy from everyone who would like to sell you something.
Inexplicably, the crematorium grounds are also a place for romance. Many young couples plan clandestine meetings there, and sometimes such couples even persuade the priests to marry them. Arranged marriages are still the norm here, but some of the modern young couples secretly marry for love on the sly. (Happily, this practice is slowly changing, as more and more traditional Nepali parents are acquiescing to their children’s desire to marry for love. Perhaps within a few generations, arranged marriages will be a thing of the past here in Nepal).

Following our fascinating tour of Pashupati, our guide took Sue and I to Swayambhu, also known as “The Monkey Temple” (although in actuality I only saw a handful of monkeys scampering on the grounds; there were far more monkeys on the grounds of the crematorium, where within seconds of my pulling it from my purse, a thieving monkey scampered up my body and held onto my skirt just long enough to steal the banana I held in my hands). We took in the sights of Swayambhu of beautiful temples and pagodas, including many shivalingam, a phallic symbol found throughout the sites of holy places and about which I intend to do more research to share with you. The numerous shivalingum around Nepal would suggest quite the preoccupation with phallic symbols, but as of yet I have been unable to determine their meaning in talking to the locals, what with their limited English and my nonexistent Nepalese.

Finally, our day with Bijaya ended with a visit to Hanumandoka Dubar Square, where we visited the site of the royal palace that was built beginning in the 16th century. Sadly, much of the site is now in ruins because of the recent earthquakes; an especially bitter loss is the oldest temple in Nepal (circa 1300???), which was completely wiped out. Bijaya confided that the first time he had a look at these world heritage sites, he cried. I felt like crying, too, and the loss to me is not personal, as it is to the Nepalis.  (During my trek in the mountains, my guides were looking at several villages for the first time since the earthquake, and I could see their heartbreak in their stunned silence. The devastation we witnessed was horrific, and I will elaborate more on that later.)

Sue and I had an amazing day exploring some of Kathmandu’s World Heritage sites with Bijaya on the 20th. By the end of the day’s activities, we both gratefully fell into our beds at a ridiculously early hour, savoring the feel of the luxuries of hotel beds and sheets once again. The next morning, I bid Sue goodbye and began part 3 of my Nepal Adventure: my home-stay with a Nepali family.

My trekking guide, Kalyan, arranged a week’s home stay with his brother Tara Gurung and his wife, Chandu, and their two lovely children: Sangima, age 7, and Luna, age 16 months. Also living with Tara and Chandu and their children is a beautiful young lady, Swasthani, whom I suppose to be a niece but the family is having a hard time explaining relationships to me. Sometimes they’ll mistakenly call a brother-in-law a step-brother, or even call a niece an uncle, so I am not certain how Swasthani is related, but I know she is a close member of the extended family.

Tara arrived to the hotel at about 9:00 am on his motorcycle, the primary mode of transportation for those lucky enough to afford one. (Most folks use the public bus system; only the wealthiest of Nepalis own personal vehicles.) He was followed by a taxi which he’d flagged down in order to transport me and my belongings to his home. I felt like a western glutton with my two huge bags plus camera and laptop. One bag held my trekking gear; the other held my town clothes, yet my two bags look like a study in excess compared to what these fine people have. And relative to many, if not most Nepalis, Kalyan’s brother Tara and sister-in-law Chandu are not poor. Yet relative to most Americans, they are indeed living in poverty. They live in a humble but clean abode: a diminutive living room with a bed that also serves as a couch, where father and elder daughter sleep; a bedroom in which mother, baby and niece (and now me too) sleep; a tiny kitchen with a gas cooktop on the counter on which they do all of their meal prep, plus heat their water for bathing and laundry; a bathroom in which the water sometimes flows, but in which basins are filled for the times when it doesn’t. My bedroom / bath and closet at home are probably thrice the size of their entire home. It makes me feel greedy, selfish, and gluttonous to live in the manner in which I do when I see what these people have, and even more so in comparison to the mountain village and nomadic people I met on the trail.

Tara and Chandu are amazingly kind people and I feel honored that they have welcomed me to their home. They are practically bending over backward to ensure that I am happy, comfortable, and well-fed. And they and the (HUGE) extended family made me an honorary member of the family during the most important day of the most important festival of the year: the first day of Dashain, which is the equivalent of Christmas in America as far as importance. On this day, elders bestow prayers of blessing and gifts on the younger, primarily gifts of money. As an honorary elder member of the family, I was asked to bestow gifts, too, a request to which I happily complied. It ended up being rather costly, as I was the elder of just about everyone present, including all five of the Gurung brothers and their wives and cousins and all of their respective children. There must have been at least 25-30 people upon whom I bestowed blessings of about 500-600 rupees each (an amount suggested to me by one of Kalyan’s brothers), but I did so gladly. The tradition is quite touching, actually: elders sit on the floor before the younger family members and place tika on their forehead as they pray a prayer of blessing. (In Nepal, the tika is a sign of blessing placed on the forehead. It is a pasty mixture of of abir, a red powder, and yogurt and grains of rice.) I prayed the same prayer to all, and I'm sure that not a one understood: "I wish you joy, I wish you peace, I wish you love." And to the children, I added, "I wish you an education." After the application of tika, the elder bestows a monetary gift wrapped around a marigold and blades of some sort of grass. I don't know the significance of the marigold, nor the grass, but it's sweet, nonetheless. The younger then bows toward the elder's feet and "namaste's" are exchanged. Afterward, the girls put the marigolds and grass in their hair, and the boys put them behind their ears. I look forward to doing some research to learn the symbolism behind these traditions. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Today is My Birthday and I'm on Top of the World!

Or close to it, anyway. By tomorrow I will be within sight of Mt. Everest, and will remain so for the remainder of my mountain trek.

Already, in only three days of trekking, I am having a most amazing time! Alas, the cost and limitations of data roaming make it impractical for me to enter a lengthy blog post, and today I will hike out of range anyway. But I have been journaling the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, and I will share with you when this portion of my adventure is passed and I return to modern civilization.

Just know that I am loving life and I am so happy I could burst! I am in excellent and capable hands with my guide and cooks and sherpas/porters. And today, here in Nepal, I awake to my 53rd birthday (tomorrow in the USA), camped on a mountain with an incredible view, listening to falcons calling and a stream tumbling and tripping over the rocks, and I am extremely grateful to be alive!!! I am in my happy place in body, mind, and spirit, and I carry my loved ones with me in the deepest places in my heart.