Monday, October 29, 2007

swiper, don't swipe!

Last night I got a call from my credit card company, saying that there were some fraudulent charges on my card. I was pretty impressed they figured it out after only three fake charges. And while I am very careful about where I use it, I have been throwing around that piece of plastic quite a bit lately in many different parts of the country. However, it seems that someone had memory on their machine and made a counterfeit card that s/he's been able to swipe and charge to my account.

I'm guessing they figured it out because I was making charges here in Chicago at the same time they were living it up at Von's and Albertson's in Redondo Beach and Torrence, California. They also made an $8 charge online, which is baffling not only because it was so small, but they certainly wouldn't be sending it to my house. I'm so relieved my company caught it in time, but hearing about this has made me feel violated and extremely paranoid. Not that I needed any more encouragement on that last part.

Watch your wallets, people.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

you're so not invited

Dear H’s friend,

You are now officially on my LIST.

When I met you two years ago at the Christmas party for your and H’s company, I got a cold reception; barely a hello even though we were all sitting at the same table. But I didn't think much of it. For all you knew, it may not have worked out between me and him, and there’s no use getting to know someone who lives 2,000 miles away if you never see her again.

Then at the next year’s Christmas party, you didn’t even address me when we were all standing around in a circle under a plane. H was talking to someone and I didn't really know anyone else. I was baffled and kept wondering if you didn't like me for some reason. Sure, my clothes sometimes carry the faint aroma of samosas and I probably smile a little too much, but still. H told me not to worry about it, but I'm just not the let-it-go type, especially if I feel like I haven't done anything wrong.

I was determined to crack the mystery. I called you two months before H’s 30th birthday this year and asked if you’d like to help me do something nice for him. I figured it was a way to better get to know the people he hangs out with every weekend and it'd make him happy. I can’t say I was surprised you didn’t get back to me right away, but I was delighted a few weeks later when you called and offered to throw a party for him at your house. You said you’d get the word out and I suggested you send all the coworkers an evite; it’d be nice for H to see his pals from the office again. I was busy constructing a web of lies to get H to drive us three hours out of his way to go to your house when I came out to visit. And it was proving to be tricky.

About a week and a half before our agreed-upon date, I called to find out how the party planning was going and if I could do anything to help. I found out that you never sent any evite or told anyone at work, and the five-person guest list extended to the far-reaching corners of your living room (it consisted of your siblings, roommates and one friend who comes over all the time). I was baffled, especially because you work and play softball with so many of H's friends. And by that point, most people would have made commitments for that weekend and would likely not come, and I had already booked my tickets to fly out there.

H had told me that the weekend after I came to visit, you and your brother were throwing a Halloween party at your house. Everyone was coming as a rock star, and he was trying to think of what to wear. Just out of curiosity, I asked you about it. You said you invited 40 people from work and your brother invited 50 people from around town where you all grew up together. Granted, I've been told your brother probably had more to do with getting that shindig together—he's also the only one of you guys who came up to me at the Christmas party, said hello and asked me how my flight was. In fact, I'm kicking myself for not just contacting him about all this, because he's always been pretty cool and seems like someone who keeps promises.

You, on the other hand are NOT so cool. Believe me, I'm well aware that hosting parties is exhausting, and that you decided to have a big one the very next weekend. If it was too much work, I wish you had told me you wouldn't be able to do it instead of just sort of letting it fizzle out, or not even offered at all. And after seeing your lackluster enthusiasm and that limp guest list, I decided to cancel the party. It would have taken some fancy footwork to convince him to go all the way to your house from his sister's (whom we'd be visiting that weekend). And for a half-hearted evening, it just wouldn't be worth it. I was sad about canceling, but it turned out okay because nearly all of H's family decided to come down to his sister's place. We'd have our own little party for him. I wasn't going to tell him about the failed attempt because nothing sucks worse than no one doing anything for your birthday than no one doing anything for your birthday and then telling you about all the stuff they didn't do.

I figured what H didn't know couldn't hurt him. Then I found out that you told him about it. "We were going to throw you a party, but Cadiz canceled it," is what I believe he said. His reaction was pretty matter of fact, though, and he said it was no big deal. "When your birthday is on Halloween, Cadiz, you pretty much get used to everyone rather doing other things than celebrating it." That just broke my heart.

I was LIVID. Not only did you totally drop the ball on me, you disappointed a guy who has always gone out of his way to help you out, be it for rewiring your computer system and giving you advice on buying electronics or volunteering to do the annoying duties of a softball team manager when no one else wanted the hassle. And even though he blew it off, I don't think H would have told me what you said if it hadn't bothered him. And on top of all that, his sister said she bumped into you at a wedding, you asked her if you had to come all the way down to her house for H's birthday and she said, "No, but what you do have to do is offer your house for a party." That was the night you called me. So you didn't even come up with THAT on your own!

You may be one of his oldest friends, but from what I've seen, you're not a very good one. I'm pretty much over being mad at you, but I'm not in a hurry to hang out with you anytime soon. Or ever. I made an effort, but I've given up trying to figure out what your problem is. H has plenty of other friends who—even though they're far away—I'm sure would be delighted to do something nice for him. I plan on contacting them in the future.

When I found out you told him about the botched plan, I was so angry I said to my coworker, "I don't care who H is marrying, THIS GUY is not going to be invited." I'm sure he isn't getting married anytime soon, but that's lucky for you if he wants me to be his wedding planner. Because it'll take me a very long time to forget about this.

Monday, October 22, 2007

trial by fire

When she was first teaching me to prepare Indian food (read: making me stand near her but not allowing me to touch anything), my mother would often say it was imperative that I figure out this cooking thing or else my mother-in-law would ask why mom didn't teach me anything and throw me out into the street (in oldschool India, when a girl got married she went to live with the inlaws and often did all the housework). I quickly got bored of standing around and laughed it off. I told her I was only going to marry someone from America who would share in the household duties and who definitely would not still live with his mom, then went back downstairs to watch tv.

Later, in the race against expiration, I got more of a wing-it-and-be-critiqued culinary education (it's much easier to cook when she's not physically in the kitchen telling you to "move your hands and feet faster"). After I'd mostly finished the dish du jour, she'd look into the pot and throw a pinch of this and a shake of that into the mix to fix it. When I'd ask what I'd done wrong, she'd quote her own mother with "all you have to do is look at uskii shakal (its face) to know if you did it right." Mrs. Leuken certainly did not make Baked Alaskas and Peach Cobbler this way in seventh grade Home Economics class; she gave out written recipes. On the other hand, my mother's idea of a recipe is to tell you to put a "fistful" of this and and a "little bit" of that and "don't forget to throw in some" of whatever else. Repeating it too many times or writing it down is too taxing, and she'd remind me that if I had stood around and watched when I was a kid, this wouldn't have been a problem. Then, for good measure, she'd tell me that my youngest aunt could cook ten-course meals around the time she was learning long division.

At some point I realized I can't keep running to mommy, and I'd need to at least learn how to prepare the things I enjoy the most--simple dishes that you can't really get at an Indian restaurant without gross bells and whistles. Things like kadhi, dal, parathas, rotis, egg curry, chicken curry, meat curry, bhindi, aloo bhaji, methi, gawar phali, tindoora, rass malai, kulfi, etc. I also realized that I inherited my mother's discerning taste for North Indian food--when it's comes to our house specialties, neither of us find anything comparable to her own mother's cooking, including her own. (Dishes we don't usually make, however, are pretty well received.) I admit, this is snobby. But a lot of people ask my mom to cook for them or for her recipes, and my nani was known as Mummy to their entire town and often had drop-in guests for dinner. There's gotta be something to that.

All of this is pretty hilarious when you consider that my mother has four other sisters and was considered inept at cooking by my nani when she was a kid. Mom preferred reading about chemistry to watching the cooking process, and was often to blame if something burned even if she was in another room. So she was in quite a pickle when she found herself on the other side of the world, married and trying desperately to remember what snippets she did recall from passing through my nani's kitchen. She's often told me that she didn't really learn to cook until she got to the U.S., but she must have picked up something back then: All five sisters' cooking is remarkably similar to my nani's. Which means she did her job. And biases aside, my mom is a great cook, especially considering the late start.

So when I agreed to cook for H's family, my mother helped me distribute the haldi, garam masala, mirchi, dhaniya, jeera, adrak, laung and other assorted goodies into separate plastic baggies. She gave me some of the rice we use, (knowing it's my weak point) and explained the trick to this specific brand several times. She gave me a hug and said to call if I ran into any problems, because this was likely some sort of potential-daughter-in-law test.

H and I went to the local Indian grocery store and bought the rest of the ingredients. I wasn't about to handmake rotis without my trusty tawa, so we used frozen naan and parathas from the store and I made chicken curry, spinach with potato, dal, raita (yogurt with tomato, cucumber and spices), and my nemesis--rice. But of course, I couldn't just have it plain, but threw in some vegetables to make it a little more fancy.

The potatoes were a little overdone and the shakal of the dal didn't exactly look like my mom's (somehow it's always the simple dishes that prove the hardest for me to master), but it tasted all right. I was pleasantly surprised at the chicken, but more ecstatic that the rice was neither under nor overcooked (luckily, I'd transferred it to a ginormous stock pot when I realized that the one I had originally chosen would be too small). It probably didn't hurt that I got to cook in a dream kitchen with pretty much any and every cool gadget and pretty pot in the catalog.

When I panicked and called my mom, it was mostly for reassurance. She asked if I had remembered to turn on the stove, laughed and said I'd be just fine. I needed to hear that nod of approval, because whether or not it was actually true, I did see this dinner as a test. However, to me it wasn't a test of being worthy of H, but more to prove that I am fit to be called my mom's daughter and my nani's granddaughter.

There's plenty of room for improvement, but I think I passed.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

the heat is on

I've been in California since thursday, and dreading today the last several weeks. You see, I agreed to cook an "authentic" Indian meal for H's family, and I've been freaking out ever since. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep my nerves at bay and not turn them off to the cuisine all together.

Wish me luck.

Monday, October 15, 2007

not conducive to the healing of the ulcer

I like to chat.
I am a bad liar.
Someone told me my face is louder than my mouth. And it's true.

And yet for some reason, I find myself compelled to plan Surprise Party after Surprise Party.

This year, all the planning is overlapping.
And there's quite a bit of stress.
Mostly because I can't keep my stories straight.
I have no idea what I've told to whom.
But in the end the recipients are happy, and so am I.

Unfortunately, being out of a job in a few weeks and having few viable leads is keeping me up at night, too.

And that stress is not quite as rewarding.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

'tis the season...almost

Last year, I signed up for NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) started by the mastermind behind Basically, it's a commitment to post every day for the entire month of November. And from what I understand, there were some 2,000 participants and some lovely prizes. I fulfilled my obilgation, but it was rough going on some days to come up with anything to say every single day. Shocking, I know. But Jam did it, too. And so did Jon. And that immensely helped me keep going.

This year, they've created an entire social network. I signed up at the end of September and was the 198th person to join. As of this morning, there were exactly 1000 people registered and promising 30 days of nonstop blogging madness. And in the time it's taken me to write this, the number is up to 1007.

The sheer number of participants this early in the game seems to indicate that this thing has gone pretty Big Time. I've found several very cool blogs, and can already feel a little performance anxiety. So I've started to hunt around for some good topics to keep in my pocket for November, and stumbled upon this little idea. I'm toying with the idea of doing all thirty days about people I know.

Regardless, if there are things that you've been dying to know or questions you'd like me to address or topics in general that you'd like to see covered here, feel free to send me an email, carrier pigeon or telepathic message with your suggestions and recommendations. I appreciate your help and love to hear from you, as always.

Friday, October 05, 2007

it's a bad day if i awaken in a good mood

I woke up today in a good mood.

I even got out of the house on time and relished the lovely weather--unseasonably warm!

I managed to choose the perfect spot on the train platform to stand at because when the train stopped, the door lined up right in front of me, so i got on first and had my pick of the best seats.

I sat down, fished out my monthly pass and settled down with an excellent and captivating graphic novel, in which I was engrossed for several minutes.

And then I heard it.

It was low and gutteral and came at me in unexpected bursts from the seat directly behind me. The train is nearly silent in the a.m., so every time it tore through my tranquility with a rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrip, I'd cringe and sit up straighter in annoyance. This woman had sat behind me before, destroying my peaceful morning ride with her just-when-you-thought-she-was-done-oh-wait-she's-not throat clearing. But I didn't know what she looked like to avoid her. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against throat clearing, sneezing or even repeated coughing. People need to do what they need to do. It's just hers that I cannot withstand: Quiet and painfully drawn out, not unlike the opening of candy wrappers reaaaaaallly sloooooowly in a darkened theater in hopes that no one will notice. And what's worse is that, to me, her particular throat-clearing sounds a lot like the noises very small children make when they're having difficulty trying to fill a diaper.

It took every atom of energy I had for nearly 35 minutes not to turn around and yell at the top of my lungs: LISTEN LADY, APPARENTLY YOU HAVE SOMETHING IN YOUR THROAT. WHY DON'T YOU PUT SOME EFFORT INTO COUGHING IT OUT AND DO SO IN AN ABRUPT, ALBEIT LOUD, MANNER? YOUR METHOD IS DRIVING ME FRICKING BALLISTIC! But instead I sat there, eyes glazed over, pretending to read but contemplating exactly how I'd word my bitter, hateful blog diatribe against her.

And then suddenly, it had been nearly ten minutes without a single rumble. I started to panic. What if throat lady could read minds and heard all the nasty things I was thinking about her? What if she's actually got an untreatable medical condition that causes her to annoy fellow human beings (the guy she was with was rocking some hugeass noise-canceling headphones)? What if this was the one incident that was pushed me completely into the Definitely Going To Hell category? I resumed full concentration on my book, and tried to think nice, apologetic thoughts.

But then she did it again. Just to piss me off. And the rest of my day hasn't been right since.