Hoppy Gnu Ears

This New Year's Resolution, hereafter referred to as "The Rez," is made on December 31, 2008 between Baji and The Baby New Year.

Subject to the terms and conditions as set forth herein, Baji resolves and The Baby New Year hereby accepts Baji's resolution to perform services described herein from December 31, 2008 to December 31, 2009.

1. Baji's obligations:
In return for the compensation noted under "Compensation," Baji voluntarily agrees to perform services for The Baby New Year as described below:
(a) Get more sleep
(b) Get more kids potty trained
(c) Get more exercise
(d) Archive old family photos
(e) Document and update prior travelogues
(f) Roll over IRAs into current employment scheme
(g) Buy low and sell high
(h) Move to a location with more bathrooms throughout the house and fewer homicides in the back yard
(i) Play more Rock Band
(j) Organize the basement, the bedrooms, the brain
(k) Refrain from new purchases of books until the books on the "to be read" shelf (see addendum attached hereto) have been read . . . or at least cracked open. Caveat: the term "new" includes "used" books but does not include books that have already been purchased and are on the way.

2. Compensation
In full consideration of all services performed by Baji as described in The Rez, The Baby New Year will cut Baji a break here and there for completion of assigned tasks. Baji shall be exclusively responsible for the payment of all taxes incidental to the compensation paid for services performed, including but not limited to federal and state income, sales, or use taxation.

3. Standards of performance
Baji is hereby held to a standard of reasonable care and in the event that Baji does not complete or breaks the above referenced resolutions, The Baby New Year will determine the damages on a case-by-case basis but in all instances shall cut Baji some slack.

4. Compliance with law
Baji's performance of services under The Rez shall be in compliance with all applicable laws or regulations of the federal, state, local, galatic, and intergalatic government.

5. Modification of contract
No waiver or modification of The Rez or of any covenant, condition or limitation herein shall be valid unless presented in writing and signed by both parties or, in the presense of at least one (1) witness, agreed to with a wink and a nod.

6. Severability
All covenants contained herein are severable, and in the event of any being held invalid by any competent court, The Rez shall remain intact except for the omission of the invalid covenant.

7. Choice of law
It is the intention of both parties that all suits that may be brought arising out of, or in connection with The Rez will be construed in accordance with and under and pursuant to the laws of the District of Columbia.

8. Entire agreement
This contract contains the complete agreement concerning the services to be performed by the Baji and supersedes all prior agreements or understandings, written or unwritten. By signing The Rez, both parties acknowledge that they have read this contract, understood its terms, including the release, have had an opportunity to have legal counsel review this agreement, and have voluntarily accepted its provisions.

Executed this thirty-first day of December, 2008

/The Baby New Year/

In reference to Section 1(k) of The Rez, the following photograph is made of record and may be amended from time to time.


Netflix Anyone?

What's that, you say? You have a long couple of weekends and are looking for something good to watch but don't feel like braving the theater crowds? Here's a "top ten movies that I found very enjoyable but that you* may not have heard of" list for ye. You can thank me later.

  • Fear and Trembling: A Belgian translator attempts to fit into her new role in a Japanese corporation. Based on Amelie Nothomb's autobiographical novel. Whimsical, masochistic, twisted, and hilarious.
  • Kontroll: Brilliant and innovative drama of the lives of the Hungarian underground metro ticket inspectors; funny, dramatic, and clever with a pulsing, throbbing soundtrack.
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: Best seen with an uber-nerdy B.A. in English under your belt and, possibly, a philosophy minor in your pocket.
  • Living in Oblivion: Dark, low-budget indie movie about the making of a dark, low-budget indie movie. Plus, Buscemi.
  • Croupier: Film noir crime drama starring the compelling Clive Owen. For a great double feature, try out I'll Sleep When I'm Dead as well.
  • Swimming with Sharks: The definition of "the boss from hell" played with utter perfection by Kevin Spacey in this black dramedy.
  • Kung Fu Hustle: I saw this for free at the Smithsonian and did not know what it was about but trust me when I say that my sides really did split.
  • 8 Femmes: A French musical murder mystery comedy. Good pick for those who enjoyed Gosford Park.
  • Following: Yet another film noir that preceded the amazing, mind-boggling Memento.
  • The White Balloon: Heartbreaking and simple, it was my first introduction to the the Iranian film genre.

*excluding upyernoz, gunnar, and LB


Rock and Rolls of Fat

All hands on deck! Sound the alarm! My post-pregnancy body is shot to hell and hasn't snapped back to its former lithe shape. I've started trying on occasion when I work up the energy here and there sometimes but sporadically to exercise. I bought some new joggers (my shoe size decided to join the rest of my sizes by kicking up a notch), got a membership to the nearby gym (sorry, "health and fitness club"), and a new mp3 player. Now all I have to do is get some high-energy tunes to motivate me to pause in my work, sneak past my kids, and get my heart rate up for something other than ZP throwing a train at AP. My taste in music is eclectic. The bulk of my music collection is indie-leaning but there are the odd tunes (world music, country, jazz, blues, rock, soul, etc.) mixed in. However, the ones that are "good to work out to" are few and far between. So I look to you, constant readers, to help a sistah out hyah. What music moves you and what music makes you move? In exchange for your bouncy tunes, I will break down the following acoustic, emo, retro tune for ye so you can be part of my indie world.

His Indie World
Mary Lou Lord

I don't think I fit into his Indie world
Guided By Voices and Velocity Girl
Eric's Trip and Rocket Ship, Rancid and Rocket from The Crypt
Bikini Kill and Built to Spill, it's plain to see that I don't fit

He says my songs are too deep and gloomy
He wishes that I could be more like Jenny Toomey
Just give me my Joni my Nick, Neil, and Bob
You can keep your Tsunami, your Slant 6 and Smog

"What's the story?" He says, "Butterglory"
I say, "what's the news?" He says, "the Silver Jews"
His heavenly hang-up is getting me down
And it's making me wonder why he's hanging around

Cause I don't fit into his India scene
Huggy Bear and Helium and Half-Japanese
Sebadoh and Sentridoh and Superchunk and I don't know
Doug and Lou and Calvin too and Kim and Kim and Kim and Kim

Yeah I’m stuck in the past and he's stuck on his four-track
But I can't get through to his one-track mind
I push play and record and a major chord
Maybe I’ll win his heart this time
Maybe I’ll win his heart this time


for yaz -- ole! (yeah, voila would be more appropriate but that's not the right language)

May, 2000
[please note that this travelogue was written when the dollar was strong, the prices in Spain were cheap, and I was not familiar with this "linking" concept and digital picture hoo ha.]

Dear Constant Readers,
Yes, folks, it is that time of the year again. Time for another e-travelogue from yours truly. When I last left you, we were recovering from our adventures and tribulations south of the border, down Mexico way (for you Frank Sinatra fans).

I have recently returned from my latest trip to beautiful, sunny Spain. Madrid, Escorial, Valley of the Fallen, Toledo, Avila, Segovia, Grenada, Cordoba, and Sevilla. And now I present you with: TEN SITES IN TEN NIGHTS! (Actually, it is more accurate to say 10 sites in 10 days, but that is not as catchy and does not rhyme, so there you have it).

Cast of Characters:
Baji, our narrator, indie filmmaker, and on-the-road correspondent
LB, sister of narrator, our photographer, and queen-napper (yes, she even out-napped me);
Claudia, Discovery hotshot, master translator (she is from Chile and her language skills made our trip very smooth and manageable);
Anne, Discovery hotshot (part deux), traveling companion, birthday girl.

Day One: Madrid

The story begins with the four of us departing from Dulles Airport with seats so far back in the plane that all we had to do to get into the toilets was lean back. After spending a few hours berating myself for forgetting all my traveler’s checks back home (in a loving homage to my mother – ask her about Saudi Arabia), I got my first glimpse of Madrid, home to 2.9 meeeellion people. The air was clean and cool, the airport was well-maintained, and customs was a breeze. Our chatty cab driver whisked us to our hotel, NH Abascal, when, to our slight dismay, we found out that (1) rather than giving us two double beds per room, they set us up with one matrimonial bed per room and (2) none of the rooms were ready yet anyway and we had to come back in an hour. We explained that although we were friends, we were not such great friends that we wanted to share matrimonial beds, so after some re-arranging, we managed to snag two rooms with two beds each, but still had to wait an hour. We left our luggage in NH’s care and went out to seek sustenance. We staggered around, sleep-deprived, food-deprived, and map-deprived, and found a little dive restaurant near the hotel which was blaring some awful song by Tom Jones subtly titled “Sex Bomb”. We had our mediocre meal under the thudding monotony of the bass and then wove our way back to the hotel to address our first order of business: SIESTA!!!! Bear in mind that none of us had really slept for the last 24 hours, so LB and I conked out before the porter even brought out luggage back from the lobby. How sweet it is.

Minds refreshed, bodies showered, and clothes changed, it felt like a brand new day at 5pm. We familiarized ourselves with the Metro system (without managing to look like completely lost tourists), went down to Puerta del Sol (with which we became very well acquainted over the next few days), did some brief sight seeing, ogled the huge, beautiful ornate buildings and doors, and plopped down at a café for our first real meal. The food was great. Potato omelette (which Spaniards call “tortillas”), veggie soup, and very strong coffee. We had to get café con leche (coffee with milk) or else we would OD on caffeine as Spanish coffee closely resembles Turkish coffee in strength. Claudia and Anne had their first taste of paella (Spanish rice dish with a lot of other stuff thrown in). After dinner, we took a walk around the center to get our bearings. It was a gorgeous night which was a very fortunate thing as we had mistakenly appointed C and A to guide us back to the hotel and ended up walking in the completely opposite direction. After our legs were about to protest and go no further, we decided to take a cab back to the hotel and ended up seeing the same route we just walked whiz by. An inexpensive dollar a person ride later, we arrived back at the hotel where we made plans for the next morning over chamomile tea and more café con leche. We decided to take an 11-hour bus tour to Escorial, the Valley of the Fallen, and Toledo one day and a 9-hour bus tour to Avila and Segovia the day after that. We made do with our matrimonial beds (double beds promised for tomorrow) and slipped into a coma-like state.

Day Two: Madrid

Morning came much too early, but the Museo del Prado opened at 9am, so we forced ourselves out of bed, stood all too briefly under the wonderful shower provided by NH, and gobbled down our breakfast of freshly squeezed OJ, hot café con leche, flaky croissants, and some mystery cream-filled pastry at a diner near the museum. While we loitered near a statue of Goya and waited in line for the museum to open, Claudia chatted with some other tourists and found out about some fabulous bus tours offered for Toledo and Segovia. We paid our 500 pesetas (roughly $7) and tried to absorb as much Velazquez (famous Las Meninas or more formally, La Familia de Felipe IV), Goya (nightmarish Saturn Devouring One of His Sons), Greco (La Crucifixion), Bosch (freaky, mushroom-induced Garden of Earthly Delights), Rubens, Titian (chuckle if you remember Dan Akroyd’s sleazy character in SNL discussing famous paintings), and Raphael as we could.

Minds saturated with art (most of it bloody crucifixions, violent Greek mythology, and royal portraits), we broke for lunch. Unfortunately, we still were not prepared for how absolute the siesta-time is set and so had to walk far and wide before we found a restaurant that was open for business. We took an after-lunch stroll around the center of town (now understanding the lay of the land and recognizing our folly of last night’s meandering), checked out a long stretch of used bookstores, had some triple-chocolate ice cream bars for dessert, busted up some kids’ soccer game so that C and A could take some pictures of them, and then returned to the Museo del Prado for C and A to purchase some original oil paintings and meet the artist.

On the metro ride back to the hotel (we are now experts on the Madrid Metro system), we pumped some German kid for information on the local music scene. Siesta, relaxing showers, and pack up all the gear we had strewn around the rooms because the double beds came through! We moved our stuff to the new rooms, got dressed up (i.e. peeled off our dirty jeans and put on some clean, nicer outfits) and headed out to Prada del Sol. The first restaurant was out of cheese (go figure), and the second one (El Zorro) offered too much cheese. Rather than pull a Goldilocks stunt and look for a place where the cheese was just right, we filled ourselves up with quesadillas, guacamole, and chips.

We then set out to walk around the center of town in search of a hotel for the extra two nights we decided to stay in Madrid. But fate was against us. You see, although we had a slight idea of some festival to be held in Madrid during mid-May, we were not aware that we were going to be in Madrid RIGHT SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE of the Fiesta de San Isidro, “Madrid’s single greatest fiesta” which celebrates the city’s patron saint. The festival includes fairs, parties, fireworks, and musical performances. It kicks off Spain’s most prestigious feria, or bullfighting season, and all the hotels downtown were booked. Which means, we spent most of the night walking off all that cheese going from hotel to hotel to hotel (from luxurious to increasingly sketchy) asking if they had room for us for Monday and Tuesday nights. When we finally found one place that did have rooms available, we tried to ignore the empty lobby and the suspicious darkness around it and told them we would take it. We spent the next half hour (seemed like an eternity) standing in the cooling night waiting for a cab. We finally got one and returned to the NH hotel. Did I mention that by this time it was 3 a.m., some of our tummies were getting cranky over the intense cheese-intake, and we had planned to go on our first bus tour after three hours of sleep? No? Chalk it up to exhaustion and stay tuned to find out about the rest of the trip.

Day 3: Escorial, Valley of the Fallen, and Holy Toledo

Don’t ask me how we did it, but we managed to get up, dressed, and ready for the 11 hour bus tour by 7 a.m. While waiting for the transport bus to take us to the high-tech, AC tour bus at a nearby swanky hotel called Miguel Angelo, we asked if they had rooms for us for our last day in Madrid and much to our surprise, they did! Relief. It was expensive, but we’re worth it (as we toss our luxurious hair over our respective shoulders with a devil-may-care attitude). We settled down in our plush, reclining seats and looked out the huge picture windows as the bus tooled along to our first stop: Escorial. This palace/monastery is north of Madrid and served as the summer getaway for King Philip II. We walked through the Basilica, the Royal Palace, and the Royal Pantheons. The pamphlet the tour bus provided proclaimed Escorial to be “the eighth Wonder of the World,” but I have some reservations about that title (especially after seeing a fire-breathing Truckasaurus on ESPN). We strolled around the grounds, walked quickly around the tombs where almost all Spain’s monarchs since Carlos I rest in marble coffins, and peeked in during a service at the Basilica.

We four dawdled a bit longer than we should have at the end of the tour taking pictures and videotaping so that by the time we got back to the bus, we were met with obvious glares from our fellow tourists and a light reprimand from the tour guide (much gentler than the one that one of us – not me – received by one of the Escorial guards when she took some flash photograph of the tombs of the kings). We found out that this tour group was very precise on timing (I suspect the majority of them were Swiss) and that they had been waiting for us to get back. Oops. Desi Standard Time rules! We sheepishly took our seats and headed out to Valle de los Caidos, the Valley of the Fallen. This huge monument, a mammoth cross atop a immense, concrete shrine, was built by prison labor to commemorate the victims of the Spanish Civil War. More impressive than the gargantuan structures were the beautiful countryside and the still snow-capped mountains nearby. We soaked up some more Spanish sunshine and then managed to be the very first people on the bus to make up for our previous faux pas.

We drove toward Toledo, passing intensely green fields dotted with bright red poppies and purple spiky flowers along the way. LB and I managed to sneak in a siesta on the ride and awoke when we stopped for a moment to have lunch at a restaurant high on a hill with an amazing view of the city. Music was provided by the Tuna University singers (yes, that was their name) and C & A bought their CD and got their autographs. We spent the rest of the tour on foot as we walked through the narrow alleys and crowded streets to see cathedrals, churches, synagogues, and bridges built by the Moors. We saw some Greco paintings (learned that his real name was Domenikos Theotokopoulos, but since he was a Greek, the Spaniards just nicknamed him El Greco; he came to settle in Toledo after being rejected for being a court artist for Escorial). We saw Toledo’s Alcazar (Arabic for fortress) high on a hill and built in the 10th century. We toured a metal factory where they forge swords with damascene decorations made in gold and silver according to the Arab artistic tradition. C & A bonded with our tour guide and got his autograph in a book he wrote on his travels. He apparently had forgiven us for our tardiness.

Arriving back in Madrid, we took our second siesta for the day (can’t get enough of those), made arrangements with NH so we did not have to stay in the dank, suspicious Hotel Paris, and headed back to our headquarters in Puerta del Sol. After dinner at our regular restaurant (so called because it was the second time we ate there), we took a leisurely stroll and did some window-shopping. We were so lulled by full stomachs and the warm night that none of us could react quickly enough to prevent a thief from snatching an old man’s camera right out of his hands and running up the street and into the night. It happened so fast, we did not even know what was going on until it was too late. The old man took off up the hill after the thief and we spent the next few moments fuming, berating ourselves for not tripping the thief or tackling him, and creating scenarios where we managed to stop the snatching, save the camera, and save the day or where the old man managed to catch up to the thief and retrieve his camera (or, as Anne came up with: we tripped the guy so he bashes his teeth on the concrete . . . ouch). Because it was the Sunday night before the festivities for the Fiesta, the streets were pretty deserted and there was not much to be seen. We took a cab back to the hotel, rested our tired legs, and slipped into sleep, hoping that Claudia would get some measure of rest this night before she turned into the female version of Tyler Durden and started beating people up from the delirium caused by lack of sleep.

Day 4: Avila and Segovia

Woke up, got out of bed, dragged some combs across our respective heads, made our way downstairs and had a cup . . . of café con leche at the Nebraska Café nearby the bus depot in preparation for our 9 hour tour to Avila and Segovia. We exchanged some greenbacks for some pesetas (rate was about 180 pesetas to the dollar, but you can only get such a good rate at the banks which are only open from about 10 to 10:15 as far as we could tell) and scurried on board the tour bus so we could snatch the best seats. We learned from our trip the day before that the seats near the middle of the bus reclined more and were near the door so we could travel in comfort AND manage to be the first ones in and out of the bus this time. However, this group was a little more laid back and relaxed than the prior one, in which we struggled to keep up with the breakneck speed of the tour guide’s walk and talk.

We drove for an hour through Spain’s gorgeous countryside, again enjoying the rich green fields, dazzling red poppies, and bright sunshine. At a brief rest stop near Avila, Anne and I quickly used the surprisingly clean facilities to relieve ourselves of the mass quantities of coffee we imbibed while LB and Claudia used up the caffeine in their systems by kung-fu fighting each other in the parking lot near the bus. Avila’s main attraction were the 11th century thick, robust walls surrounding the city. The wall was built by Muslims and Romans and has been called one of the best preserved medieval defensive perimeters in the world. The city itself was not that impressive. We visited Santa Teresa’s Convent and loitered around the walls until the bus came to pick us up.

We drove for another hour to Segovia which was much more spectacular. But first, some adventures in bargaining for our friends. As soon as we got off the bus, several large women wielding hand-stitched table cloths, napkins, and the like swarmed towards us and started spouting off prices. Anne and Claudia, finding the goods much to their liking, became their main targets since I was busy listening to the tour guide giving us instructions on how we were on our own for lunch and then giving directions to the Cathedral and LB was busy snapping photographs of the incredible Aqueduct. They were caught up in the moment and ended up buying many of the goods for a price lower than they would have paid in the US, but higher than they would have paid if they had either walked down the street or shown their disinterest for the goods until the price fell on their own. We headed down the street to find a place to eat, but once they realized they could have gotten a better deal than they did, C & A stormed back to the women and demanded restitution. In the end, they walked away with better deals and lighter spirits, and we all lived happily ever after.

We admired the 1st century A.D. Roman aqueduct which was made completely out of granite without a drop of mortar to hold up its 163 arches. We relaxed in the sun, ate our lunch, and headed up the narrow streets to the Cathedral. The Gothic Cathedral was very beautiful with intricate and sky-scraping spires and turrets on the outside and lots of shiny gold and stained glass on the inside. It was very cold (stone cold actually) and it was nice to thaw out in the sun as we walked to our next site, Alcazar. Segovia’s Alcazar (those of you who are paying attention get 5 bonus points if you remember what Alcazar means) impressed Walt Disney so much that he fashioned a similar one in Disneyland in California – Cinderella’s digs. The interior was decorated with exquisite tiles, rich tapestries, and gold, gold, and more gold that made the rooms look like jewel boxes. The view from Alcazar down the valley was amazing. We did some more sight seeing and then headed back to our tour bus which had been sitting in the hot sun for a few hours and was not as pleasant as it was before. We spent the majority of the drive back to Madrid taking one of our beloved siestas and awoke to find ourselves snarled in traffic as everyone tried to gain entry into the city for the big fiesta.

After some rest and relaxation (consisting of a steamy shower, Simpsons in Spanish, and another siesta), we trekked down to the fair. We strolled around the typical fair festivities such as bottle-knocking contests, bumper cars, and roller coasters. One ride cracked us up so much we stood there for about half an hour watching it: people climbed up on a long tube of foam with the head of a bull at the front and tried to stay on while the DJ played some rock music and triggered the bull to shift and jolt very fast to throw the riders off. Amidst laughter, screams, and a whole lot of smoke billowing out from some unseen jets, we joined the Madrilenos to enjoy the rides, games, lights and cotton candy. We watched the fireworks at midnight and then headed over to Joy, the popular club downtown. We got back to the hotel around 2 a.m. totally exhausted and had room service send up a extravagant fare of yogurt, cereal, and an orange.

Day 5: All Madrid, All the Time

Happy Birthday, Anne! We got to sleep in this day, but by sleeping in I mean we did not have to rise at the break-a-break-a-dawn. We got up early to head out to the Museo del Reina Sofia only to find out it is closed on Tuesdays. So shopping it is. LB and I roamed around Puerta del Sol, which was hopping now that we were there pre-siesta, and made our long, winding way to Plaza Mayor. We found an open bank to exchange more money (yes, it was 10:15), passed by the Royal Palace, and settled down at Plaza Mayor’s open square surrounded with cafes and markets. I finally had some paella, which was pretty decent, although that may have more to do with the fact that I was starving at this point than with the fact that it was something to eat. LB downed a couple cups of café con leche and we took it easy for a while watching the passers-by pass by. We found out from some Americans lunching nearby that there was going to be a free concert at Plaza Mayor that night as part of the continuing festival so we had our plans for the evening set. Claudia and Anne, meanwhile, were on their own shopping spree near the Museo del Prado.

We all met up at the hotel and tried to make hotel arrangements for Grenada (no problem) and Sevilla (problem). Apparently, Madrid was not the only city celebrating and having a housing shortage and most of the hotels we called in Sevilla were booked. We absorbed enough of the mellow Spanish mood to shrug off the responsibility for another day and headed out again. After some more shopping and walking and shopping and walking, we parked ourselves back at Plaza Mayor for the concert. As we sat outside sipping yet more coffee and listening to the music (which was disconcertingly more Irish sounding than Spanish sounding and even included a Weird Al Yankovic-like accordion player), the day turned into night. For the first time since we came to Spain, there was a brief storm, a burst of rain, and some thunder and lightening. Claudia leapt up to boogie with the other drenched dancers near the stage while we three remained quite content under the large café umbrella.

We toasted Anne’s birth and made her give a speech (see video). Then we sent her off to do some videotaping of the festival, the concert, and the lights only to have her return scant moments later with a bizarre mime following her. A worse mime I have never seen. His entire act consisted of smiling, nodding, and holding his hand out for money. We shooed him off and chilled for a while before heading off to THE BEST PLACE IN SPAIN (except for Alhambra). It was not a palace or monument. It was not a museum or plaza. It was not a cathedral or garden. It was (drum roll please) a chocolateria. To eat: golden, crispy churros (fried dough) to dip into mugs of deep, rich, dark chocolate. To drink: dense chocolate with a dash of whole milk. Heaven. The restaurant joined us in singing “Happy Birthday” to Anne and the waiter gave us a discount on the sinfully delicious snack. Buzzing on a sugar high and acting drunk, we wove our way to the center of town to head back to the hotel. Having a high tolerance for massive quantities of sugar, I was able to drift off with little effort. LB had a giggle fit for a while but also managed to sleep relatively swiftly. Claudia and Anne, however, later reported that they were up until the wee hours and if you want to know how they passed the time, you will have to ask them.

Day 6: Madrid to Grenada

Our last day in Madrid arrived so quickly. We packed up our belongings (which, for some of us, had doubled in size since we arrived), had our last breakfast at Café y Te, and dashed to the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia to catch Picasso’s famous Guernica. I latched onto a group of school children touring the museum so I could listen in on their guide’s explanation of the paintings; he was speaking in such simple words that even I could understand what he was saying about Senor Picasso and the history of the painting (representing the German’s bombing of Gernika in 1937). We checked out some other cool Picasso paintings (I really liked the horse with the zany buck teeth), Dali’s bizarre creations, and some Miro. Again, the fates were with us and the thunderstorm that began just as we entered the museum ended just as we left it. We made a bee-line to the bus station to purchase our tickets to Grenada (2000 pesetas each, about $11), raced back to the hotel to check out, retrieve our stored luggage, and zipped right back to the bus station in time to board the bus.

On this journey, we saw our familiar poppies, olive trees, and gentle rolling hills, but we also got a chance to see a unique site along the highway: silhouettes of giant black bulls. 2-D bulls, that is. It ends up that what we were seeing were clever advertising for sherry and brandy called “Toros de Osborne”. Made in 1957, they were almost all torn down due to a new law banning billboards near main roads, but public outcry and threats to go to the supreme court allowed the “bullboards” to remain and we got to see several of them on our trip south.

After a very comfortable five hour ride, we arrived in Grenada and went to the Hotel Washington Irving, so named because America writer Mr. Irving actually used to live in Grenada, and to be more specific, in the Alhambra palace when it was abandoned in the 19th century. The hotel was right outside the Alhambra. By that, I mean we had an unobstructed view of the palace’s red walls from our room, a stone’s throw away! The rooms were huge with FOUR beds in each room . . .perhaps to make up for the cramped matrimonial beds we had in Madrid. The hotel was built two centuries ago (meaning in the late 1800s) and the plumbing reflected it. Good ol’ fashioned pull-the-chain-to-flush toilets and hold-the-shower-wand-in-your-hand-while-you-shower shower.

LB and I walked down to the center of town and had the best meal at a Middle Eastern restaurant called Al Andalus. Falafel, kibbe, and hummmmmmmmus were so nice after being bombarded by all the Spanish jamon (ham). We sipped cappuccino while observing freaky hippies do their freaky hippie acts in the plaza. Juggling, guitar playing, hackysack kicking, dreadlock hair flying hippies. We made up various scenarios to explain the bizarre behavior of one hippie who was hovering around a car for about half an hour, checking out the lights, the tires, the doors, the lights, the doors, and the tires. We shooed off one of the many, many dogs looking in askance for some of our food and eavesdropped on the conversation behind us being held in Arabic. After the breath-taking hike back to the hotel (not breath-taking because of the scenery, but because the hill was so sharply inclined it ripped the breath out of our lungs), we called it an early night.

Day 7: Alhambra

Another bright, sunny day. We got up super early so that we could make sure we got tickets for Alhambra as all the guidebooks, websites, and literature warned us that tickets sold out within the first few hours of the day. Tickets in hand, we ventured out for breakfast since we were not allowed to enter until after 10am. We took the long, winding way around town in search of a place to eat until we ended up back at Plaza Nueva, the same plaza we were in the night before, scarfed down some croissants and café, and marched back up the hill.

Alhambra (Red Castle) is beautiful. Peaceful pools of water, meandering rose gardens, and towering palaces all within the fortress walls. We could have done without the hordes of tourists, but such was the price to gaze down onto bustling Grenada from the watchtowers and up into the snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountains. The Islamic architecture was so incredible and at the same time familiar. It seems like all Muslim art, architecture, and ambiance is, with slight variations, the same the world over. The balance between the intricate man-made marble and alabaster carvings and brightly painted tiles that adorned the inner walls of the palaces and the natural lush greenery of the rose gardens and hedges and the powerful mountains surrounding the fortress was awesome, in the traditional sense of the word. The gardens are an attempt (in my opinion, a very successful attempt) to depict the Quran’s description of paradise.

It was built in the 9th century as a fortress, became a Moorish fortress/palace in the 13th century, a mosque in the 14th century, a church in the 15th, a Renaissance palace in the 16th, an abandoned flophouse for beggars and thieves in the 18th, the focus of Washington Irving’s writings in the 19th, and finally the biggest tourist attraction in Spain in the 20th and 21st. The grounds are surrounded by neatly trimmed hedges, sparkling fountains, and a variety of trees: cypress, elms, yew, bay, and oak. Since we were lucky enough to be there in the spring, the gardens were overflowing with blooming roses, bougainvillea, and geraniums and the trees were spilling oranges from their branches. I cannot adequately describe the beauty and the calm of Alhambra. We left there feeling so tranquil, almost dazed, from the whole experience. I wish we could linger and savor the sights of the gardens and mountains, the smells of the flowers, and the sounds of the water and birds longer. Alas, the call of the worldly life (i.e. rumbling tummies) forced us to leave our paradise.

We refueled at Al Andalus again and then really delved back into the modern life by going shopping. Leather sandals! Fashionable clothing! Prints and postcards and posters, oh my! We returned briefly to our hotel which was in the midst of a struggle with electricity, as in there was none, stumbled around in the near-dark, and headed back down to the Plaza Nueva for dinner. LB and I, following Lonely Planet’s suggestion, went to a restaurant lauded for its vegetarian dishes. The fact that the place looked and smelled like a dive should have warned us. We ordered our food and when it came, my dish of steamed vegetables was completely flavorless except for some slight vinegary aftertaste and LB’s dish of tortilla (remember, that’s an omelette) was a vague, grey mass. We pushed the food around our plates a bit to make it look like we ate some and eventually called our waiter to get the bill. He expressed his surprise that we were finished so quickly and then, much to our embarrassment, tattle-taled to the chef who came out from the kitchen, enormous apron-covered belly first, to ask us what the matter was with the food! Thinking quickly, in much broken Spanish, I explained that it was really late (by now it was almost 11:30) and that our friends were waiting for us. He sort of accepted that explanation and left us in peace. We fled the restaurant, went in search of Claudia and Anne who had returned to their favorite restaurant for tapas, gave up on that search and instead sought out Zara (a hip Spanish store that we saw in Madrid and found out was in Grenada too) and eventually wandered back to the hotel for the night.

Day 8: Grenada to Cordoba

We spent our last day in Grenada racing down the hill, inhaling some hot coffee and croissants, doing some whirlwind souvenir shopping, and returning to the hotel to pack and catch a ride to the bus terminal. LB and I ran into Claudia and Anne several times during the morning rush as we prepared to head north to Cordoba and they prepared to head west to Sevilla. We spent a pleasant three hours driving to Cordoba in the comfortable bus seeing the olive trees, the mountains, and the Rio Guadalquivir and then caught a taxi to our hotel, Hotel El Conquistador. The streets reminded me of D.C.’s as they were rather winding and would occasionally turn into one-way streets without notice or become restricted streets that were only allowed to be traveled upon during certain hours of the day. The Hotel El Conquistador was located even closer to the famous Cordoba Mezquita, called one of the most magnificent of all Islamic buildings. Cordoba was actually the Muslim capital in Spain in 711 and in the 900s became the largest city in western Europe.

We tossed our luggage in the room, washed up, and headed out to survey our surroundings. We stopped at a nearby restaurant for tortilla patatas, gathered up our reserve energy and walked around and around and around until we reached the Plaza Tendillas and finally, after our country-wide search, found a Zara! We shopped, walked to the Juderia (Jewish quarters), and admired the huge gold doors of the Mezquita, which was all we could admire as the doors were closed. We took about ten giant steps to reach the hotel and treated ourselves to some much deserved napping. After only half an hour, the guest in the room above us decided to prance around the room in high heeled shoes and as we could not go back to sleep, we escaped the constant pounding by retreating outside and taking in the evening air. We walked around the Mezquita again, saw the Islamic Wheel (a huge, inactive waterwheel next to the Rio Guadalquivir), and had dinner of gazpacho (very yummy) before returning to the hotel. Shower, watch a little TV consisting of Simpsons, news, and then, God save us all, “Who Wants to be a (Spanish) Millionaire”. Around midnight, I heard some fireworks and celebrating going on outside, but I was just too exhausted to step outside to see this city’s festivities. The next thing I knew, it was morning.

Day 9: Cordoba to Sevilla

Now familiar with the city’s layout, we made our way easily to the Plaza Tendillas for breakfast and took our time wandering back to the Mezquita as it did not open until late morning. We peeked into a number of gorgeous patios that were filled with flowers in full bloom, flamboyant fountains, and sweetly singing birds. We returned to the Mezquita just as it was opening, student IDs in hand, and entered the mosque/cathedral. “Mosque/cathedral?” Yes. Adb ar-Rahman I founded the mosque in the 8th century and then the center was ripped out in the 16th century to accommodate the cathedral and a choir. It was very bewildering to see the combination of Islam (Arabic script, sweeping arches, and high domes) and Christianity (crosses, the ornate choir, and the chapel) in one building.

We wrapped up our stay in Cordoba by hitting a few more stores, seeing the silver district and checking out the tiles and leather goods. We had some snacks, filled our packs, and hit the tracks . . . railroad tracks that is. We were making our way to Sevilla to rendevous with Claudia and Anne by train rather than by bus. We boarded the luxurious passenger car and barely felt the train leave the station. The ride was so smooth, it was as though the train was sliding on oiled tracks. In an instant, we arrived in Sevilla. Planes, trains, and automobiles, check. Disembarked, taxied to the hotel, unloaded, and headed out to see Sevilla’s Alcazar. The entire complex is made up of rooms with outdoor patios. Although not as impressive as Alhambra, the gardens here are more peaceful and still extremely beautiful. We chilled for a while by the fountains, watched a troop of baby ducks swim around in one of the many pools, and stopped and smelled the roses. After such a hectic journey across Spain, it was so nice to walk lazily around the gardens and through the shopping center of Sevilla. We returned to the hotel via the longest way possible and met up with Claudia and Anne for dinner. We went to a fancy restaurant on the Rio Guadalquivir (same one that flowed through Cordoba). We reminisced over our adventures, perhaps drawing the attention of some other diners as we laughed hysterically about some of the misadventures, while about eight waiters stood by anticipating our dining needs and awaiting our orders. We settled all accounts, returned to the hotel, and did our final packing during our final night in Spain.

Day 10: Home again, home again, jiggety-jig

We bade Sevilla adieu in the early morning and boarded Span Air, the national airline. We came full circle by returning to Madrid, went through all the airport security and ticket lines, and tried to spend all the remaining pesetas we had on snacks. We were very lucky that we had such incredible weather during the entire trip. We got to travel all over the beautiful country during the most agreeable time of the year, experience the various festivals and celebrations, and have an all around wonderful time. Spain definitely made our top ten list.

El Fin


Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific

My friend Ms. Moneybags lives in Paris and visits DC every year around this time. And every year, she asks me what kinds of ungents, salves, and hair care products I would like for her to bring me. Yes, that's right. I'm SO fancy, that I get my beauty products imported from France. Anyway, in keeping with the listology, I present you with Baji's Favorite Lotions and Potions (including the pedestrian domestic products):

Your turn! Share your beauty secrets, faves, and wishlists.


Good Eats

The year is coming to an end and that means all sorts of lists are on the horizon. What's that? You are coming to visit me in D.C. and want to know where a good place to eat is? Here is Baji's Top Eateries Around Town:

  • Best Brunch: Rosemary's Thyme Bistro. Not only is it around the corner from us, but the pide is smashing, especially when, on Sundays, they throw a couple of eggs on top.
  • Best 24-hour: The Diner. Not only is it around the corner from us, but the root beer floats are amazing, especially when coupled with hot, crispy fries.
  • Best historical attraction and good food: Ben's Chili Bowl. Not only is it right around the corner from us (do you see a theme here?), but it's a landmark, it has a panda out front, and it's the place where KG ate just before he proposed to LB!
  • Best sushi: Kotobuki. Bite-sized morsels that melt in your mouth and at a great price.
  • Best Ethiopian: Meskerem. Maybe not as popular as the shiny new but pencil thin Etete but at least my tummy doesn't hurt afterwards.
  • Best South Indian: Udupi Palace. It's a bit of a hike to get there, but the all-you-can eat brunch with free dosas makes it worth it.
  • Best Spanish tapas: Jaleo. One of our go-to hits that pleases everyone.
  • Best Vietnamese: Nam Viet. Haven't had a bad meal there yet.
  • Best Middle Eastern: Lebanese Taverna. Another crowd-pleaser that we often visit when money-bags parents are in town.
  • Best Pizza: Vace. and Two Amy's. Vace's pizzas have gotten a little saltier but they are still great when piping hot; Two Amy's is classically made and fantastic but more expensive and harder to park at.
  • Best Bagels: So's Your Mom. Alas, since What's-A-Bagel closed in Cleveland Park, the pickin's are slim, but the bagels (and sandwiches) here are great.
  • Best Afghan: Afghan Restaurant. What the name lacks in cleverness, the cuisine makes up for in taste.
  • Best Kebabs: Food Factory. See above.
  • Best Mexican: Lauriol Plaza. Can get pretty crowded but I've never had to wait long to get a table at the multi-storied restaurant and crowds (often) = good food.
  • Best Tex-Mex: Mixtec. A-Number one flautas.
  • Best Falafels: Amsterdam Cafe. Choose your own toppings, bring cash, and load up on fries.
  • Best French Toast: Open City. Not shy with the powdered sugar and creamy butter.
  • Best Italian: Al Tiramisu. Yeah, it's pricey but it's also pretty nice.
  • Best Seafood: Grillfish. Wide selection and since they specialize in fish, you can't Linkbe steered too wrongly as, say, if you visited one of those mix of cuisine joints.
  • Best Ps'ghetti: La Tomate. The other dishes are great too but I love their ps'ghetti.
  • Best Gelato: Dolcezza. *dies*
  • Best Spring Rolls: Thaiphoon. Crunchy and veggie.
  • Best Tea: Teaism. Lovely wares and calming atmosphere.
  • Best Coffee: Murky. Look past the drama and attitude and drink up.
  • Best Cannoli: Vaccaro's. Hands down.
  • Best Croissant: Patisserie Poupon. The plain ones are light and flaky and the chocolate ones have a generous slab of chocolate to satisfy.
  • Best Crepes: Cafe Bonaparte. There are actually two places in AdMo that are rated up there too, but the best I've had is at Bonaparte.


Uncle Bhai Jan

My grandfather loves jokes. I mean, he LOVES them. He has shelves upon shelves of joke books, funny quotes, and compilations of humour (yes, he was raised under the British school system, so you get the extra "u"). He writes it, he recites it, he lives it. He's been on my mind lately and I came across this tidbit that I want to save here before it gets lost. Enjoy.

"The Flying Jogger" story

Approximately at 45 degrees across the street from our house is No.720, nicknamed No.420. . . Its inhabitants were a couple with 8 or 9 or 10 children---I don't know even after having them as neighbours for years--- naughtier than Satan.

One day as I was passing the house, I was surprised by a single jogger landing with a thud hardly a foot ahead of me. Thank God it didn't land on my head. I looked around but couldn't see anyone. I estimated that it must have come from the top floor of No.420, 30 feet above the street level. I speared it on my walking stick, carried it a few yards to our house, dumped it behind a hedge, and waited for a couple of days for some claimant to turn up but when no one came, I dumped the jogger in the garbage van when it visited our street.

A day later, Mr.420 met me and I told him of the incident, saying that I suspected one of his kids. He swore they were angels and it was unthinkable that they would do such mischief. I suggested he line them up wearing their joggers and the one having only one jogger should explain how come. He liked the suggestion and promised to do so. When he met me next, he said: "Bhatti Sahib, the kid is only five years old, so I suggest we excuse him this time." I agreed but told him that the jogger was now in the city garbage dump. "And Mr. 420, it was a size 8 shoe!"


1.21 gigawatts

[note - tomorrow is going to be hectic so I'll just go ahead and future post tomorrow's blog entry today]

Whew!  I'm so glad Obama won.  I was nervous for a while considering how certain I was during the last election that there would be no WAY the Republicans would win.  But now we have a new president in the wings and hopefully a bright future ahead of us.  

Election Day was hectic.  Up at 6 a.m. to shower, eat, and get the kids packed up for their flu shots/mist.  ZP lucked out and only had to have a little spray in his nose.  Poor AP had to have a needle jabbed in her tiny chubby thigh and after a slight delay, she let her displeasure be known to the entire office.  After passing by the polling center (which is literally right behind our house) and seeing a slightly smaller line of voters, we dropped the kids off at home and I ran off to vote while TP, anxious about getting to work first, decided to vote later.  

When I arrived at 10:15, I saw that the cluster of people outside were actually not voters at all but last minute advocates for the candidates.  I called TP to come quickly because the line was actually only about 30 people deep.  I had barely hung up the phone and opened my book when TP appeared behind me.  A woman came down the line calling out, "Anyone K through R?  Anyone S through Z?  Come on up."  Apparently the "A through J" folks were behind on their game.  I was STILL standing in line when TP (with his fancy pants "P" surname) ran in, voted, and whizzed by.  Why didn't I change my last name?!  (interro-at-least-I-can-share-our-President's-name!).  Eventually, I was permitted to enter, get my "I voted" sticker, and leave.  The whole affair took about half an hour.  I grabbed an everything bagel from Tryst, a free coffee from Starbucks (which I split with Tia), and ran upstairs to work (i.e. stare at the intense yellow and red leaves in my backyard).  

How was your experience?  And answer this for me:  I have a theory that the "A to K" line was so long because as children, we folks with surnames towards the beginning of the alphabet were used to having to go first, stand at the front of the line, be called on before anyone else.  The kids with surnames in the rest of the lower 15 letters were used to going in later.  That's why the "A to K" line was long in the morning and, theoretically, the "K to Z" lines will be longer in the afternoon/evening.  So where does your name fall and what time did you vote?


Worthy of a CV - "course of life"

When you are looking for a job, you are required to craft a résumé with highlights of your vast experience and stellar education.  You know what they want to hear, you have examples galore to bogart at will, and a few bullet points, fancy fonts, and margin enhancements later, you've got yourself a fine looking sample.  

But what about the job for which you cannot prepare,  you have nil experience, and you cannot fathom what is required of you?  I'm speaking of the illustrious career (because it is a career) known as parenthood.  What in my past made me think I was cut out for this?  What skills, if any, have I accrued that will help me now?  Where is my mind?  If I had to present something in writing, I think I would include the following:

  • Utilized degree in law to negotiate with, argue with, and hand down judgment to equals and subordinates
  • Applied degree in English to read and translate books to those with the inability to do so themselves and tweaked creative writing skills to engage in storytelling in the oral tradition
  • Honed hand-eye coordination after years of experience with programs such as Space Invaders, Breakout, and Circus Atari in order to deliver nutrition in a precise and accurate manner to a moving and/or sealed object with minimal shrapnel and debris
  • Streamlined skills actualized by engaging in Taboo competitions in order to analyze and comprehend Toddler-Speak 2.0
  • Strengthened ability to overcome sensation of jet lag and still operate in a normal fashion after frequent international travel and engaging in unusual non-awake positions with multiple individuals in the same berth
  • Furthered voice training gained from roadtrip karaoke sessions with sibling in order to cantillate and to issue disciplinary edicts
  • Proficiency in sanitation management gained while employed at a medical office
  • Held position of culinary engineer with ability to prepare comestibles for the most fastidious of patrons
  • Displayed technical savvy in ability to operate complicated machinery such as the Comcast cable remote control to access Thomas and Yo Gabba Gabba On Demand 
  • Developed expertise in employee relations by acting as manager in a law office and corporate setting
  • Improved ability to sit through countless repeats of cartoons and children's entertainment via own hours of television viewing
  • Entirely responsible for employees’ existence.



Since I'm too lazy to update anything new, here is something old.

If my failing memory serves me correctly, the Windstar Debacle unfolded as follows:

My family and I went to St. Martin for our good friend’s graduation on Saba Island. The boys and LB and I had arrived earlier than the girls, so we had already taken a tour of the town (all 15 minutes of it) and the beach. By the time the girls arrived with their parents, it was already evening. After dinner, the boys went their way (probably to get into some nonsense) and we girls went our own. LB wanted to show the girls the beach that was about a ten minute walk from our hotel. Despite the sun having long set, she boldly navigated the minivan we had rented, a Ford Windstar, along the road that led to the beach. Unbeknownst to her and not clearly visible in the dark, the road softly ended and just sort of merged and blurred into the sand.

We all got out of the van and enjoyed hearing the waves crashing and seeing the dark outline of the volcanic landscape under the moonlit sky. Since the girls had just come straight from the long flight from the US to dinner, they were tired and so we decided to head back. We piled into the van, LB turned the ignition and put the van into reverse and we sat there listening to the tires spin. And spin. And spin. LB stopped, put the van into drive, and we sat there listening to the tires spin. And spin. And spin. We all got back out and stood in a line looking at the van with the tires nestled snuggly in the soft, slippery sand.

     Attempt #1: LB got back in and tried to rock the van gently. No luck.

     Attempt #2: LB revved the engine while the three of us pushed. The only victory this time was that we learned how freaking heavy a Ford Windstar could be.

     Attempt #3: We scoured the dark beach for driftwood, cardboard, anything to wedge under the tires to provide some traction. I think at one point someone even tried a few rocks. All we earned from that try was some scratched up skin and a few broken nails.

By now, it was nearly midnight. Out of ideas and fearful of KK’s fury with our treatment of the van (when I say he is a car lover, I mean HE IS A CAR LOVER), we opted not to call the boys to rescue us. Instead, we took the girls’ luggage out of the trunk and hiked across the street, the meadow, and a horde of blood-sucking insects to get to the hotel. One was exhausted and went straight to bed.  The other had somehow acquired a huge gash on her face and was bleeding in a rather unladlylike manner. LB and I approached the desk clerk and with great chagrin asked him if he had any suggestions on how to unstick the van. With a bemused expression on his face, he said that he did not. “What?” I asked, not sure I was hearing correctly. “I don’t know what you could do other than what you have already done,” he responded. “Are you telling me that we are the first people ever to get a vehicle stuck on the beach?” He just sighed, shrugged his islandy shoulders, and suggested we wait until morning and then call the tow company.

That night, we girls got little sleep. LB was grinding her teeth all night and I had my internal alarm clock set to wake me up the moment the sun came up so I could call the tow truck over. When morning finally broke, we raced back to the van to await the tow truck. Typical Carribean time later, they finally showed up. They hooked the van to the back of the crane, revved up, and went nowhere. Yep. The tow truck got stuck on the beach too.

Activity on the beach started to pick up as the day progressed and a few lookee loos glanced over but offered no help. The local towers were at a loss at what to do. They were on their phones spitting out orders back to the homebase to send another rescue truck when one big, burly, beefy American and one skinny, denim-short-wearing American came by with their wives. They took one look at the scene, discussed the situation amongst themselves, and announced that they decided to take charge. Somehow, through a combination of brute force and something else which, for the life of me I cannot remember but it may have had something to do with deflating the tires a bit so that there was more surface contact between the tires and the sand, they did it. It turns out that they were farmers from Pennsylvania who were familiar with getting large farm equipment mired in the mud during the rainy seasons. So they put their all-American know-how to the test and succeeded in getting both the van and the tow truck out of the sand trap. YEE HAW!!! *cue “Proud to be an American” anthem*

Suffice it to say, we have never let LB forget the saga. Even now, whenever we are tooling along on the highway and see a Windstar chug alongside us, I’ll slide my eyes over to LB, LB will narrow her eyes into “DON’T TALK ABOUT IT” slits, and we will continue on our merry way.


Celebrate Good Times, COME ON!

Thanks for all the birthday well wishes, gang!  It was a much nicer bday than last year, no doubt.  Anyway, Eid MubarakHappy Rosh Hashanah, and Happy Birthday George Peppard!  I, too, love it when a plan comes together.


Conversations with ZP

ZP the linguist

Backround:  Our nanny has been teaching ZP spanish lately - numbers, letter, and words.  She's teaching him that, "for Mommy, it's cow, but for Tia, it's vaca!" or "in English, it's one two three, but in Spanish, it's uno dos tres."  He knows "mine" is "mio" and "cat" is "gato" etc.   I've been trying to stick to it too, not only to help him remember, but to help me remember/learn. So, the other day, I was asking him about his eating utensil:

me: "What's this?"
zp: "It's a fork!"
me: "Yes! that's right!  And what is it in Spanish?"
zp: (pause to consider and then tentatively) "Forko?"


ZP the engineer

Background:  ZP's high chair has a toy attached to it that is in the shape of a crab with a plastic globe filled with little beads.  He enjoyed shaking it but what he really wanted was to break it open and get the beads out.

zp:  "Mommy, open it."
me: "I can't open it.  It's stuck."
zp: "Get the scissors."
me:  "No way!"
zp: (serious expression on his face): "They dangerous.  You get hurt."
me: "Yes, that's right."
zp: (little wheels in his brain turning): "Get the hammer."


ZP the medical practitioner

Background:  I was hungry after fasting all day and my stomach started growling and I automatically covered my belly with my hand (as though this would stifle the sound).

zp (concerned look on his face):  "Mommy, wha happened?"
me: "My tummy is making noise."
zp:  "You got hurt?  It's okay.  Medicine is upstairs!"
me:  "It's okay.  I don't need medicine, but thank you."
zp: (note: for some reason, this kid LOVES medicine, both in "lotion" form or in sweet cherry-flavored Tylenol/Motrin form)  "Aw, Mommy got hurt.  Look, I got hurt.  (shows me his completely unblemished finger).  Medicine is upstairs!"


Ghosts of Ramadan Past

Me: "What time does the sun set tonight?
KG: "I think around 7:20 but I'll check on-line to make sure."
Me: "Well, yesterday it was 7:21 and it's been going down by two minutes every day so it might be 7:19."
KG's Mom: "I have never been in a room with so many people interested in the precise minute the sun sets!"
Me to myself and telepathically to KG: (I guess you've never fasted every day for weeks, have you?)

The exchange above got me reminiscing about past Ramadans.  The first memory was of a time when we were all going to my parents' friends' house for Iftar one year.  All of the adults were chatting and all the teenagers and above were watching TV.  Mornings were always rough for me because I was just too tired to eat a pre-dawn hearty meal.  The combination of a growling tummy and a Swatch watch that was so cool that its face had no numbers or marks or anything to pinpoint the minutes led me to go into an empty room and call the date-and-time phone number over and over again until it was time to eat.  I think I was 14 at the time.

Then I started thinking about other Ramadan memories.  
  • Like the time that Dad insisted on playing a Doctors v. Nurses Softball game in the middle of summer while fasting and how we, on the sidelines and in the shade, cheered him on as we simultaneously thought he was crazy.  
  • Or the time we were in Pakistan that year and I was astounded with the topsy-turvy way in which the city would completely shut down during the day and be ablaze with lights and activity at night.
  • Or the time that I spent an entire day in bed reading "One Thousand and One Nights" or "Arabian Nights" because it was summer time and I was off from school and what better way to pass the day than in a air-conditioned room on your cozy bed with a book?  
  • Or the times I had to explain to my friends in high school why I was spending our lunch break in the library rather than in the lunchroom.  
  • Or the time I was on my own at college for the first time and managed to keep all the fasts by having a cheese omelet and a huge glass of chocolate milk every single morning.
  • Or the time my college roommate and I decided to get a jump start on an April Fool joke since it was so early in the morning that our victim would be too sleepy to figure out the prank we were playing [aside:  that was the very last time I ever played an April Fool's joke.  It totally backfired and I recently celebrated a milestone anniversary of 15 years of calling my victim up on April 1 and apologizing].  
  • Or the time I was so touched that my new friends in law school woke up and treated me to pancakes for sehri despite the freezing weather and ungodly hour.  [aside:  hey, Jules, was that IHOP or Denny's or some other local St. Louis 24 hour diner?]
  • Or the time LB and I were driving to an aunty's house in Chesterfield and we were lost and running late and didn't know what time the sun was supposed to set so we just watched the sun actually set and broke our fasts in the car with some gum.
  • Or the times when Mom would mail, yes, U.S. Post Office or UPS mail, us aloo parathas and/or congo bars during Ramadan.
  • Or the time we had a Thanksgiving Ramadan in Georgia with special guest star cousins visiting from Pakistan where every square inch of the apartment was taken by a sleeping body but the chai and omelets were hot in the morning and the big party dinner was delicious at night.  And the next night.  And the next night.
  • Or the first Ramadan I shared with TP [aside: that was the year he read the entire Quran]
  • Or the first Ramadan I shared with LB alone [aside: that was the year I discovered that Sara Lee's All Butter Pound Cake made a fine contribution to sehri]
  • Or the days when I used to work in the same building as a bunch of Arabs (they were our clients) and we'd have an amazing, hot, instant iftar in the office every evening with falafels, stuffed grape leaves, lentil soup, hummus, kibbe, yogurt, and oh man, I need to stop reminiscing or else my drool will short-circuit my keyboard.  



ever have one of those days when you want to tell everyone to "SHUT IT!"?


Six of one, half a dozen of the other

Happy Six Month Birthday, me wee one! I cannae believe that six months today, you came into my life

Five months ago, you were a tiny bundle that was shuttled from person to person in an attempt to keep you from harm's way (i.e. your big brother).  ZP was still in the throes of jealousy and the terrible twos which made for a harrowing time for all.  In fact, your arrival heralded ZP's first full sentence which was repeated whenever he saw TP carrying you:  "Baby Ziza DOWN!"  You took everything, including ZP's shrieking and banging and general havoc-wreaking, with great aplomb and and composure.  You were so very easy-going and undemanding.  The visitors you received were astonished by your shock of hair, your saucer-sized eyes, and your rosebud mouth.  You slept well, you ate well, and you actually enjoyed a good cuddle session.

Four months ago, you were your Nani's roommate to allow your poor bedraggled parents a moment of rest.  You retained your lovely hostess manners while various relatives and friends came to visit and ooh and ahh over you.  When ZP was born, we bought a new leather recliner.  This time, we craiglisted my old IKEA couch away and replaced it with two bigger, microfiber Crate and Barrel couches so that Babu could sleep more comfortably.  Your wardrobe grew exponentially as people took pity on you suffering the indignity of wearing some of ZP's hand-me-downs.  Soon, his room was strewn with as many blue shirts as it was with pink dresses.  Eventually, your grandparents had to return and you were left in the care of just the three of us.

Three months ago, the weather was nicer and we started taking you out for walks.  As it is with most babies, the fresh air would knock you out.  But for those brief moments before the stroll began, you would soak in the sights and sounds and smile.  We thought that all infants were pretty much alike in the early months, but you proved us wrong.  As energetic and volatile and explosive as ZP was, you were ladylike and gentle and sweet.  ZP started taking an interest in you and actually acknowledged your presence instead of steadfastly ignoring your existence completely unless and until TP glanced your way.  He even started to want to hold you and offer you some of his toys . . . to look at . . . for a short time.  Your sleeping and eating habits were still a welcome surprise to us and we kept waiting for the other shoe to drop but it never did.  Thanks for the sleep!  

Two months ago, I cut my own heart out and returned to work full time with Tia taking care of you and ZP. It was so hard to do and the only thing that made it bearable was that I knew you were in good hands and that I was just a flight of stairs away.  The first week was torture because every time I heard you cry, I wanted to drop everything and sweep you up.  Actually, that did happen on more than one occasion (thank goodness my work is flexible enough to allow me to do so).  But eventually, you warmed up to Tia and a routine was set and there was peace in the land again.  During the day, you play nicely on your own or, when ZP isn't charging head-first into you, with ZP himself in that you observe him playing with his toys, dashing around in circles, and singing songs to you.  In the evening, TP handles the ZP feeding duties (which I was more than happy to relinquish) while you and I have a little mother-daughter bonding session beginning in the tub, progressing to the couch for a quick dinner, and ending on the bed where we smile at each other, give each other some cuddles, and then pass out with trails of drool glistening on our cheeks.

One month ago, you took your first flight to Georgia for your Chai Khala's wedding.  As expected, you were very well-behaved on the plane to Atlanta, in the van to Columbus, and throughout the wedding festivities.  You were dressed in some pretty fancy finery that you Nani tailored for you out of some of our gently-used (i.e. old and didn't fit anymore) shalwar kurtas, saris, dupattas, you name it.  While ZP was running amok with his uncles (from ages 5 to 7), you were content to lounge around with Nani and Babu and everyone who could get their hands on you.  You took your first dip in a swimming pool/jacuzzi with Uncle KG and, much like your lavender-scented baths, you found it to your liking.  The next week, you played the gracious hostess again when the wedding party arrived here for the second part.  The evening drives to the parties when you were hungry and/or tired were not so much to your liking.  Nonetheless, for the most part, you still displayed a good nature, a super wattage smile, and (once again differentiating yourself from your brother) a stunning preference for vegetables over fruit.

Now, you are half a year old.  You just sprouted your first tooth.  You have graduated to the 6-9 month clothes.  You enjoy giving raspberries and are starting to babble a bit.  You love gnawing on board books, trucks, and power tools.  Alas, we celebrated your six month milestone with yet another doctor's visit in which you were pronounced a happy, healthy baby and then jabbed no less than four times as a reward. But the day is bright and sunny and pleasant enough to enjoy some time at the park which is where you are now.  I love you, Aziza Baziza!


Age Ain't Nothing But A Number

I'm curious.  How old do you think I am?  For those of you who already know me, how old did you think I was when you first "met" me?


fourth on fourth

It's our fourth anniversary!  Yep, it's been four years since the day TP and I got hitched in front of our family and friends.  I wonder how many people realize what an eclectic mix of guests we had there.  

We had Desi men married to American women, a Mauritanian man married to a Trinidadian/American woman, an American man with a Latino man.  We had city folk, country folk, mountain folk, desert folk.  We had Muslims and Hindus, Christians and Jews (hey, that rhymes!), Hard Core versions of each and then, on the other end of the spectrum, the Atheists and Agnostics.  We had old (as in the second half of the 80s and I'm not talking about leg warmers, NKOTB, and mall walls) and young ("He's blocking the faaaaan!!!" during the khutbah at the nikkah comes to mind).  We had doctors and lawyers as well as beauticians and metal workers (well, only one of each of those, but still).  We had people whom we've known since they were born and people who knew our parents since they were born.  

It was the last time I saw my Dadiji.  It was the last time I had henna on my feet.  It was the last time I fit into size small fill-in-the-blank.  It was the last time I was alone.  Happy Anniversary, TP!  I dedicate this song to you:

Knuckles the dog what a very good dog you are
You're the best dog of all the other dogs by far

Raised to run the greyhound tracks
Down on the puppy farm
Retired and is now devoted
To protecting people from harm

Too slow to compete they sent him away
To the glue factory
Saved by a handicapped boy
Now everybody knows that boy is me

I am a blind and halting boy
Condemned to life in this wheelchair
Other kids will not play with me
But Knuckles the dog, you were always there

Knuckles goes to the nursing home
To visit the elderly
Abandoned by their own children
Knuckles lets them from their misery

Knuckles the dog what a very good dog you are
You're the best dog of all the other dogs by far

Knuckles the dog won't mind
He respects all forms of life
Dying now in my arms
To save me bravely gave his life

Put down by a chances bullet
That was meant for me
Knuckles the dog who helps people
Now you are forever free

Knuckles the dog what a very good dog you were x 2

Knuckles the dog
Knuckles it goes with you
When you explore

Just pull his chain
He'll go for a walk
He's your dog
For sure

Knuckles the dog what a very very good dog
Very good dog
You were

Knuckles the dog what a very good good
Good good very good very good dog
You were

Knuckles the dog what a very very very very very good
Very good very good dog you were

Knuckles the dog what a very good dog dog
Very good dog
Boy good dog you were

Knuckles the dog what very good very good very good very good
Dog you were

Knuckles the dog what a very very very very very very good dog you were!


Oh you'll never see my shade or hear the sound of my feet when there's a moon over Bourbon Street

What this?  Sensing the rise and set of the sun before it happens?  Maintaining as near a deathlike stillness during the day only to have a burst of energy and devouring flesh (and veggies and grains and dairy) at night?  Wandering around with my arm crooked over my face draped with my cape so as not to burst into flames when I step near daylight?  Well, maybe not that last one.  My vampire days are upon me again!  It's been three years but I'm Ramadaning once again.  

It will be an interesting experience because this will be the first time in a long, long time that I'll be at home while fasting.  For the last few decades (pause.  wow.), I've either been at school or working in an office where I've had to remind my boss each year of my new schedule or remind my co-workers why I couldn't join them for lunch or coffee.  This year, I'll be cloistered in my home office with the ability to nap when I choose, to go grocery shopping when it's not crowded, and to avoid the commuting throngs that even on a normal day can be grating.  

So with that, I bid ye a Ramadan Mubarak!  I'm going to look in the mirror to see just how sharp my incisors seem to have gotten today . . . 


Stuck Between Stations

I just returned from my cousin's wedding in Georgia where the food flowed freely, the laughter was unconfined, and the hulla gulla was in full force.  It's quite a different experience participating in a shaadi when you have kids, especially when both of them are two and under.  At LB's wedding, ZP was still just a massive 9th month mound in mah belly so although my movements were slow, at least they were free.  At my cousin's wedding in Islamabad, ZP was on the loose but under the watchful eye of TP, LB, KG, and everyone else while AP was just a reasonably-sized 6th month mound in mah belly.  This one, however, had me and anyone I could convince to help running around to care for them while I simultaneously tried to be a part of the festivities as much as I could.  I found myself straddling two worlds:

On the one hand, I was in the "Aunty" category.  On the plus side, I had a valid reason for not hitting the dance floor because I was trying to keep an eye on ZP busting his moves but hopefully not busting his head.  I was excused from heavy labor such as "bring the coffee table up from the basement and put it on the truck" or "decorate the entire tent with the yellow and turquoise streamers" because I had to be available for AP duty at a moment's notice.  I was unfettered by propriety and was confident enough to sneak an entire raspberry chocolate cheesecake out of the freezer during the middle of the mehndi so that my cousins, my mother, and I could dig into it before it was all gone or forgotten.  On the negative side, I missed out on the shoe-stealing tradition because I had to leave early to put the kids to bed.  I couldn't put mehndi on my hands because I had to have them free to grab/carry/wrestle ZP to the ground and lasso him up when needed (although I didn't see any opportunity to do so anyway, so just as well).  And I couldn't take as many pix as I wanted to because my attention was constantly divided between the parties and my duties.

On the other hand, I still seem to be in the "kid" category.  I was in charge of matching up sets of churiyan (bangles) for the guests (this post was previously held by a 13 year old).  I was giggling maniacally with my cousins by the pool and at the wedding about the stupidest but funniest stuff as we kept trying to outwit each other or make increasingly absurd comments about the guests/family/everything.  "Line thee, cross ho gai."  I still got a fashion critique about my outfit from an older aunty which was completely unnecessary but so predictable.  

So where do I fall in the spectrum?  Am I the aunty who maintained a lengthy conversation about threading versus waxing or child-rearing while the others were doing chores?  Or am I the kid lugging in 50 bags of groceries while a perfectly capable and healthy couple of young men are lounging around reading magazines or napping?  I guess I am both.  Jack of all trades, master of none.  A chameleon who can blend into any crowd.  In the end, I am, and always will be, "Baji."  The title allows me to boss people around but still (hopefully) be fun to be around.  The title grants me access to all doors and groups.  The title suits me.  Don't you think?


two turntables and a microphone

Well, a microphone of sorts, at least.  I'm heading out to the durrrty South and I think I'll take a cue (drat, if it was a queue, at least I'd get the 10 points for the Q . . . um, I think I've been playing Scrabble/Scramble/Scrabulous too much these days) from degrouchyowl and hand the mic over to you.  That's right, you.  You, the reader and/or blurker.  All two of ye.  Ask me something you've been curious about, want to hear my take on, or are too lazy to research and I'll respond.  *tap tap tap*  Okay, this thing is on.  So, begin!


objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are

I sold part of my youth this weekend. No mas Cressie. I knew this day was coming, I even blogged about it earlier, but it didn't really hit me until I pulled her away from the curb for the last time. I followed TP blindly and just relied on his brake lights to send the message to my brake and accelerator foot (not to be confused with my regulator foot), while my mind hurtled back to days gone by.  Sixteen years.  Sixteen shiny-turned-dull, countless tune-ups, tire changes, touch-ups, busticated this, bashed up that years.  If that doesn't spell out how much I like my stuff and dislike change, I don't know what would.  I've given up my college days futon for a proper bed, my milk crates for a lovely bookcase, my upturned cardboard box with a pretty patterned tablecloth to disguise it into a coffee table for nothing.  But I've held on to Cressie for a long long time.  I even gave up the chance of getting a Mercedes in order to keep Cressie!  

As I drove up 13th Street to deliver the title, keys, and goods to some Craigslist stranger, I couldn't stop the feeling of nostalgia overwhelm me.   I listened to mix cassette tapes on long drives, I engaged in ear-piercingly loud fights with LB (where the backseat passengers would get anxious and try to make peace between us only to find themselves the victim of our arguments because, unbeknownst to them, we quite enjoy fighting with each other), and I have criss-crossed various cities and always arrived home safely in this car.  THIS is the car that had a carpet sample in the trunk so that the inevitable salaan dish that would spill over wouldn't stain the trunk itself.  THIS is the car that LB argued with Mom about not losing the back of her gold earring only to lose the back of her gold earring in.  THIS is the car that I fell in love in, drove to and from the courthouse after our wedding, drove to and from the hospital after our kids were born.  

It has ZP's artwork in white crayon in the back.  It has a Clarksville, Indiana sticker on the license plate holder.  It has sixteen years of memories.  When some sappy romantic song popped onto the radio, you know the kind - the ones that have no meaning until you are feeling utterly sentimental and then suddenly it seems as though every lyric speaks volumes and is exactly what you are going through right now - I almost felt tears well up (and I'm not a tear-welling-up kind of gal).  I caught TP waving his hand and looking at me in the rear view mirror.  I half-heartedly waved back and hugged the steering wheel and mouthed, "MINE!"  He shook his head, waved back more energetically, and smiled and I realized, yes, I was saying goodbye to my past, but I was following my future.  Veevee held my husband, my toddler, and my infant.  I'm sure she'll have just as many high adventures and poignant memories before too long.  She won't be Cressie, but she'll do.  I believe I saw several smashed Cheerios and my Stephen Malkmus CD on the floor under the seat already. . . .


No, Thank you.

From a review of a local Korean joint:

"If you want a little bit of everything, try the bibim bap. It's a mix of bulgogi beef, sauteed eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini, lettuce, watercress, pickled daikon, and bean sprouts, topped with a fried egg. You mix the veggies and meat with gochujuang — a Korean hot sauce — and rice to create an incredibly fresh and hearty meal."

I'm sure it's a far cry better than black pudding. But still, I'll pass.



Whoever said m&ms "melt in your mouth, not in your hands" did not try to eat them during a summer in Washington, D.C.  Also, I think it's high time that the fine folks at Mars (does that make them martians?) should start issuing special edition Dark Chocolate Pistachio m&ms.  I'll take my finder's fee in cold hard cash with the bonus fee for the first million sold in the form of Dark Chocolate Pistachio m&ms. 


We are Family, I Got All My Sisters With Me

Think we are related?  We may be!  This is a summary of the break down of "Important Dates" compiled by my grandfather.  The actual list is quite long and includes things like "attended 10 days Poultry Farming course in Poultry Development Centre, Rawalpindi" and "underwent piles operation in Hong Kong."  So, um, just the highlights, yeah?

  • 1800 Hamlet set up by Mohammed, Gujjar "Ladi" of Ludhiana and Nek Mohammed, Gujjar of Kharian - "Ladi" + (Khar) "ian" = "Ladian" at 32 deg. 49 min North Latitude, 74 deg. 05 min. East Latitude.
  • 18?? Ladian looted and destroyed during declining years of the Mughals
  • 1822 Ladian rebuilt and rehabilitated during Sikh rule
  • 1823 Ladian and surrounding land gifted by Punjab-Kashmir Maharaha Ranjit Singh to Hindu Faqir Anand Devadasi
  • 1844 Kashmiri families in Village Dev Draggar, District Baramula near Sri Nagar, Kashmir, migrated to District Gujrat and settled in Villages Ladian, Bhurchch Basoha, Sidh, Kharana, Uda.  Abdul Shakoor, (son of Mohammed Jaffar Bhatti of Dev Draggar), came with his sons Abdul Salaam and Lassa, to Ladian
  • 1857 First War of Independence ("Indian Mutiny")
  • 18?? Second War of Independence ("British-Sikh War) at Chelianwala, Gujrat
  • 1889 Babuji, son of Nur Din, born in Ladian, Tehsil Kharian, District Gujrat
  • 1897 Mamaji, daughter of Ham Din, born in Bhurchch Basoha, Tehsil Kharian, District Gujrat
  • 1908 Babuji and Mamaji married in Ladian
  • 1911 Babuji joined Royal Naval Yard Police in Hong Kong
  • 1916 Sir Ellis Kadoorie School for Indians established in Soo Kan Po Valley, Hong Kong
  • 1918 Nazir Ahmed born and lived at 13-A Shaukiwan Road, Hong Kong
  • 1920 Mohammed Shariff born
  • 1920 Nazir Begum born and lived at No. 1, Praya East, Wanchai, Hong Kong
  • 1922 Aziza born
  • 1923 Aziz born 
  • 1924 Sardar born; Fazal Karim born
  • 1925 89 marlas of land (1 1/8 acres of land) bearing Khasra No. 335, originally property of Allah Ditta Gujjar (alias "Tala Bala") transferred in Tehsil Kharian Revenue Records to Nur Din's sons
  • 1928 Rashid Begum born
  • 1933 Bhattis instituted civil action in Gujrat against government for correction of caste and won
  • 1934 Foundation laid of Bhatti Manzil, Ladian
  • 1934 Nazir rejoined Queen's College, Hong Kong because underage for Hong Kong University until 1935 at which time he joined HKU
  • 1935 Razia born (or 1941?)
  • 1940 Nazir and Aziza married in Hong Kong and Nazir joined the HK Police Reserve
  • 1941 Nazir selected by China Command Interviewing Board for commission in Indian Army; Nazir, Aziz, and Sardar arrested by Japanese, and released
  • 1942 Nazir joined as Chief Security Guard, S.S. Kaisyu Maru; Gulzar born; Aziz joined but also arrested by Japanese police and released (wha?)
  • 1942 Dad born
  • 1943 Nazir joined Hong Kong Harbour Guards
  • 1943 Bashir left Macau for Kwang Chow Wan, arrested by Japanese, brought to Macau and then to Hong Kong and taken to Stanley Prison, tried by Japanese military court and executed by Japanese in Hong Kong
  • 1944 Nazir arrested by Japanese, imprisoned by Japanese in Stanley Prison, Hong Kong
  • 1945 Gap Road house bombed by U.S. B-29s and family took refuge in abandoned house on Stubbs Road, Mount Cameron
  • 1945 Nazir released by Japanese and family (except Nazir and Aziz) went to Macau until the end of WWII and then returned to Ladian
  • 1946 Babuji retired from Hong Kong government service and Nazir and brothers joined Royal Indian Air Force with basic training at Arkonam, Madras
  • 1947 Mom born
  • 1948 Nazir completed training and posted at Drigh Road, Risalpur, Chaklala, Peshawar, Quetta, Drigh Road, Mauripur
  • 1956 Nazir selected for commission in Pakistan Navy and arrived in PNS Himalaya for training then arrived in PNS Sind as Supply Office
  • 1959 Nazir promoted to Lieutenant
  • 1959 MARTIAL LAW (I) - General M. Ayub Khan
  • 1964 Nazir arrived in Embassy of Pakistan, Peking
  • 1965 India-Pakistan War began; Aziz martyred on BRB Canal front, Lahore, and awarded Nishan-e-Haider posthumously
  • 1966 Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China began and Mom's schools were closed
  • 1968 Mom and Dad married; Babuji and Mamaji performed Hajj
  • 1970 Yours truly born (but this family tree and timeline lists only the important events for the men of the family and so the illustrious and auspicious occasion is not marked)
Simplified Family Tree
  • Family of A. Salam born in Kashmir
  1. Karam Din
  2. Ramzan
  3. Hasan Din
  4. Nur Din
  5. Ilam Din
  6. Sahib Din
  • Family of Nur Din born in Ladian
  1. Imam Din
  2. Ahmed Din
  3. Abdullah
  4. Ghulam Ali
  5. Rehmat Bibi
  6. Sutlan Ali
  7. Nawab Ali
  8. Ghulam Ali
  9. Nizam Din
  10. Niyamat
  • Family of Abdullah born in Hong Kong
  1. Nazir Ahmed
  2. Nazir Begum
  3. Bashir Ahmed
  4. Aziz Ahmed
  5. Sardar Ahmed
  6. Rashid Begum
  7. Rashid Ahmed
  • Family of Nazir Ahmed Bhatti born in Pakistan
  1. Rafeeqa
  2. Khalid
  • Family of Rafeeqa Bhatti born in Ladian
  1. Baji
  2. Lil Baji
  • Family of Baji born in Wales
  1. ZP
  2. AP

So what say you?  Any gaps to fill?  Any questions?  Any announcement to make such as, "Baji!  You really ARE my Baji!  Check it!"?