Thursday, December 24, 2009

Look at me Ma-I'm Green!

Well I done did it.  I'm a proud owner of the 2010 Toyota Prius in schnazzy black, all decked out with the navigation package (and a package it is - backup rear view camera, upgraded speakers, 4 disc changer, built-in bluetooth, and a touch screen nav system) .  I haven't even seen it, and I already love it. The journey to a new car started back in the Cash for Clunkers destined-to-be-a-disaster time frame.  You see, if you know me at all, you know that I cannot make a major financial decision in just a day or two.  I am the anti-thesis of impulsive.  The only other person who holds a candle to my need to research is my very own fiance.  So put the two of us together, and the process was bound to take months and months (and of the fact that it was months and not years was a proud moment for me). 

Yes, I know.  Black will show all the dirt and scratches and all.  I don't care. I have never owned a black car, and they're so slick.

When my sister called me and even merely suggested that I consider trading in my love (the Pathfinder I have driven for 10 years and has been in the family for 15), I dreaded the coming days.  My other sister, Pritty, had just cashed in on the Obama-deal and did so quite fast and quite well.  She is, of course, the impulsive one.  Great job, P.  I still cannot do it.  Not me.  Not now.  Not ever.  Unless it is life or death.  In which case, the circumstances are totally different and brash decisions can be justified and not severely regretted.  Though, still, the pressure was on.  I hunted and researched and had my ear/eyes on the news for hours on end.  Any headline concerning Cash, Clunkers, and End grabbed my rapt attention.  Against the likings of all those I know and love, I wanted the Honda Element. I loved that no one else loved it, admired its rugged and unique look, and marveled at its quirkiness.  I worked out a deal after some sub-par negotiating and was ready to buy my first ever car.  Mentally, financially, and physically ready. 

Don't think I would buy the uglier older model with the plastic all up on the side of the car. Girl's got some style!

The news had just announced that the Clunker program would end Monday at 8PM, and Srin flew in that Saturday morning.  Off to the dealers we went that same day.  We worked out a deal with Uncle (the Indian man with whom I had been working and who 'promised' me a family price...Riiiight.) and were ready to pay up.  Only to find out that they had ended Clunker deals at noon that day.  He claimed that he had no idea I was going to participate in it, except that the man asked about the title in my hand earlier that day and days earlier knew about the Clunker.  Hmmm....

So, luckily for me, I had worked out a backup phone deal at the next closest dealership (I told you--I am a planner).  I called Abner, and he said come on in.  He was ready for us, and yes, they were still taking Clunkers.  We jumped in the car and bee-lined it for I45 in my baby, the Clunker.  Only to get a phone call not more than 1 minute later stating that they decided to end the program right then and there.  No more Clunkers.  They were finished.  Done.  Kaput.  Head hung low, I was disappointed.  Funny enough, I didn't really have my heart set on it and didn't forsee being bummed until I got within a mile of a new car.  In a saving-face kind of way, I decided that if I saved $400/month while I continued to drive the Pathfinder, I would have that same amount of money saved up in a year.  No problem.  The loss had been quickly justified for the sake of my own sanity in having lost a free $4500 buckaroos.

And then, less than a year later, the logic that family tried to force on me was finally realized and accepted.  I knew I drove too much to rely on a 15 year old car (or the 9 year old Xterra my parents gave me to replace the older car).  Although I wanted to keep on using my payment-free Clunker, I knew it was wiser to buy a new car.  To Srin, it seemed I had made a 180 from my Cash for Clunker days.  I all of a sudden wanted the Toyota Prius.  But, it was not a sudden change.  Over the course of the months since the Obama-deal ended, I realized that I liked being Green.  I love recycling.  I love my new CFLs.  I reuse plastic bags as best as I can.  I buy recycled when I see it.  Green is better than cool or hip or "in".  It is necessary.  So, in my heart of hearts, I knew that the better long term choice was the Prius.  And the nice gas mileage rating was a practical lil' bonus. 

So, only weeks of research later, I had found the Prius I wanted.  Being that Srin proposed in between then and now, I decided he should be part of this purchase.  If anyone knows him, you know that man needs the best deal he can get.  Whereas if it means I don't have to talk to the dealer more, I will pay the 50 bucks extra.  And yes, the interest over 5 years on that 50 bucks.  I hate dealers that much.  But, not my man Srin.  I put him on three way with my dealer in Texas and somehow he managed to negotiate the price down even further!  But, the Texas dealer wouldn't budge any more.  Turns out, according to Edmunds, the Prius goes for more down here than in DC.  Yup that's right.  The only thing not cheaper in Texas is the Prius.  Some dealers cannot even keep it on their lots--that's how popular the car is.  So, Srin hit up a couple of dealers in DC and bid them against each other.  It worked.  He managed to pull off a better deal than we could have gotten here.  For the exact car I wanted.  And I didn't hate that dealer, Sassan.  He was responsive, together, kept his word, and all.  I was quite impressed. 

The only thing I am less excited about is not having the yellow Xterra that can be found in any parking lot a mile away.  And everyone has black and that is not unique.  Oh well.  I wanted black that badly.  I even paid $400 more for it. Plus another $80 in interest over five years. 

I'm sure you are wondering how we could buy the car in DC if it was for me here in Texas.  Don't worry my friends.  I am the consummate "think-ahead-er".  I wouldn't have bought the car there if the dealer didn't say he could TTL it in Texas.  Yup, that's right.  I bought a car in Maryland and it was taxed, titled, and licensed here in Texas.  It wasn't even a big deal-it was seemingly routine almost.  So, many negotiations, three way phone calls, and mailed paperwork later, I am the proud owner a Toyota Prius.  Our first major purchase together as a couple.  I think we'll make in through life just fine.  

Now I just gotta get it down here. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Poor dog...Or is it poor us...

So this is our last Christmas with my brother's dog, Dax.  It's almost surprising that two years later I am sad to see him go.  You see, this dog started out as a terrorizing puppy.  Much like a child in his terrible-two's.  I cannot even begin to tell you the number of phone calls P and I got starting out as a conversation between brother and sisters and evolving into sisters-listening-to-brother-yelling-helplessly-at-crazy-puppy calls.  When he got the puppy at six weeks old from someone who said he was too much for her to take care of, we told him: "Give him back!  In two weeks, you will be attached and then you're done for.".  Of course, he didn't listen and two weeks later, crazy puppy was in fact still crazy and had suckered in our 200 lb, 6 ft brother. 

In the weeks, months, and years following, we witnessed the dog snicker at my mom (yes, snicker...), command Bhik as his (and only his) owner, try to overtake the house from our other dog Shorty, poo in the house because "he smelled Shorty's poop", pee when he felt like it (in the house), ignore the command "stay", run around like he was being chased (in the house), climb on the furniture, and well, act like a puppy (all up in the house).  P and I laughed at the sly comments our dad would make to my brother about Animal Planet's "teach your dog to obey" shows.  I even attended puppy school with my brother, where we were, ahem, mistakenly assumed to be husband-wife.  The question was posed:  "What do you like the most and the least about your dog?" and it took all I had in me to answer the question rather than spit out, "He's my brother!!! Don't we look related!??!?!"  But, I guess all Indians do look married...Riiiight. 

No, she doesn't want to play, Dax.  She's older and perfectly content sitting by the heater. 
(not taken with the D40...just sayin')

Perhaps the funniest moments were when Dax and his Daxaphoy (obvious namesake) had to interact.  D is our older sister who, let's see, how can I put it...didn't like him much.  Yes, I know Bhik, he can hear me. In fact, when Bhik got Dax, I think D grew fonder of Shorty.  But, in the end, Dax won us over.  He grew up to be a fantastic dog.   He only barks when necessary (at strangers), doesn't pander for food (usually), is nicer to mom, actually stays when you say "stay", limits the crazy being-chased-runs, cuddles when it's cold (or not), doesn't lick (too much), and finally is house-trained and rarely (if ever) has an accident in the house.  It's like divine intervention took over.  Although, he remains attached to my brother and hates being left alone.  He has to be near someone (and by near, I mean in your lap) at all times.  But, in all honesty, who can resist this face?  Except you, D. 

Not really sure why I like close-ups.  But I do.  Can that be a photographer's style?!?!?!?

But, sadly, as fantastic of a dog as he has become, we must say goodbye after this Christmas.  My brother got a job that requires travel at a moment's notice, and he feels bad leaving Dax alone.  Not to mention the doggie daycare costs.  You see, Bhik cares for Dax like a child (like pet insurance you know...because Dachsunds have back issues later in life...yeah, we hear you puppy-dad).  He is on a better diet than his owner, and you'll be reprimanded if you try to feed him table scraps.  Only the best for Dax....

Although Bhik struggled with the decision to give him away a few times over the course of the last couple of years, he never could.  "It's like he knows.  He's so sad."  And, my poor brother just couldn't bring himself to do it.  He came quite close one time, and I am certain P nearly cried, pleading that Bhik would regret the decision.  After a strick talking-to from D, P didn't relent and Bhik kept Dax.   

But, now, after what I am sure was an arduous decision to finally give him away to the owners of the daycare center, Bhik decided to take him home for the holidays one more time.  And, I decided to blind him by taking non-stop pictures with my new D40.  Poor little guy.  You're gonna be missed Dax.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My feeble attempt to get over it...

Laziness that is.  Getting over laziness means cooking. I know what you're thinking-she's talking about being lazy again?!?!?  But contrar my dears...I am actually talking about being un-lazy today.  After my last blog, I found motivation.  Now, don't get me wrong.  It wasn't my normal self-motivation.  But, ahem, motivation is motivation, if I do say so myself. And I do.  First entree was for me, myself, and I.  The three of us savored the aromatherapy of Asian cooking.  A dash of soy sauce and a hint of ginger keeps the doctor away.  Maybe even the neighbors.  And the dog.  Don't even try your breath on little kids.  They will embarrass you.  Like when your 5 year old niece asks why you have that one hair on your neck, because, well she doesn't have any hair there.  Yeah, just wait Trishie.  I've got one word for you.  Puberty.  There.  I said it. 

Anyhoo, back to my stellar meal.  I started with a little egg drop-Mamta-made-up soup, and as it turns out, I'm a pretty good cook!  I do love me some Asian cooking.  And this soup filled me up with all the warm tinglies a good soup does on a cold (-ish) winter (ahem, I use winter loosely) day.  Aaah the life.

After a bout of dishes and lazing around (oops, guess I am going to talk more about being lazy...but this is after working-it's an excused lazy...right?), I was back at it for yet another holiday party.  This one was at my girl Laurie's house, and if anyone knows Laurie, you know it was going to be a straight up feast.  So, I did my part to add to the feast.  I broke out the ol' rolling pin from India and went at it.

The final outcome was these party-goer-devoured cheese straws.  No, kids, they are not french fries.  And yes, they do have pepper in them.  Coarse, freshy ground black pepper.  I know-grown ups just don't appreciate the kick pepper gives.  It's so commonplace now.  Shame on our taste buds.  Salt and pepper is often all you need for an oh-so-scrumptious appetizer.  Oh and cheese of course.  Lots of cheese.  This is my adaptation of the to-die-for SmittenKitchen blog recipe.  What?  You have never heard of SmittenKitchen.  For real?  Well you better get at it.  Go on.  Click it already.  It's fab.  And I do mean fab.  Fair warning-no browsing while hungry.  You've been warned.

And so this was my party-goer-induced-motivation-so-I-uphold-my-love-to-cook-reputation day.  Take that laziness.  Boo-yah!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I'm Really Not A Lazy Person...

But all I have done this weekend is sit around.  I've been to Facebook more today than since my brother-in-law created my account, cumulative!  I love to cook and bake, any yet I ate a bowl of popcorn last night.  For dinner.  At least I popped the popcorn like my grandmother used to.  But still, I don't feel like my normal self.  The last AND ONLY time I ever felt so lazy and unmotivated to cook (of all things) was in the Summer of 2006 when by baby sister (and best friend) was in New York and I was less than my happy self in Atlanta. 

But, this time, I am happy.  So very happy.  I couldn't be any happier.  I just got engaged, I love to plan things (Excel gives me goose bumps), I've traveled my heart out this year, I have a brand new cute-as-can-be nephew, and I'm surrounded by fantastic friends and family.  So my laziness has me baffled. 

Does this actually finally make me normal?  In general, my energy outlasts anyone, and my family often calls me abnormal.  I'm always ready to do anything and am never too tired to not do it.  But, right now, I lack self-motivation. And it is unsettling.  Seriously. 

I am watching Julie and Julia, and I first started the film on the plane back from Paris one week prior to turning 30.  It's like serendipity.  I feel like the movie is supposed to be my motivation.  But, I refuse to be a copycat.  And, it's not like I need more to do.  But, wouldn't it be nice if I stuck to something long term rather than a little of everything that interests me?  And it seems that I try everything.  Sewing, knitting (that went well, yeah), baking, cooking, blogging, photography, freelance writing, travelling, gardening, writing a book (yeah like that is going to happen), volunteering, acting.  There was even talk about me becoming a wedding planner after my sister's wedding.   

I think I have to choose something.  I need a concrete goal.  I want to write. A book.  But even about that, I have a million things I would want to write about.  Family.  My parent's life.  Cooking.  That would be fun.  Children's lit.  Fiction.  Definitely fiction.  Set in another country.  But I need to be held accountable.  Do you think I could do it? Blah...

Take out for dinner tonight.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Clinton Edward Clarke, IV

My sister's baby boy! Coming in this world on December 10, 2009 at 7lbs 6.8oz and 19 in.  Congrats D and Eddie!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Honest, Humble, and Happy

That's how I would describe Costa Ricans. I have just returned from an adventure I will always associate with the locals of a beautifully green, picturesque country. The place lived up to its remarkable reputation, providing me with memories full of sincerity, nature, and adventure.

Once safely in San Jose and after Srin managed to survive a plane trip with me yelling "Hasta luego Los Estados Unidos! Vamos a Costa Rica!", our journey began at a local restaurant called Calalu. Interbus, one of Costa Rica's two main shuttle services, was to pick us up here. After stuffing ourselves with plantain-cassava-fried-goodness, we introduced ourselves to the driver (after the incredibly helpful Calalu owner called him for us by his own will--I'm telling you--the NICEST locals). You know it's going to be a great cultural adventure when you say "Hablo espanol un poquito solamente senor" and he says "Si si...hablo ingles un poquito tambien", with emphasis on the poquito combined with a shy smile. So through gestures and broken high school Spanish, Srin and I were well on our way to a Costa Rican week.

First stop: Arenal. After a 5 hour journey from San Jose, through a wooded area at night, up unpaved streets into the rainforest, and a few feet further to the base of the volcano, we managed to find ourselves at the Arenal Observatory Lodge in the Arenal National Park outside of La Fortuna. It was, as promised, the ONLY lodge in the national park and faced the active, lava-showing-off side of the volcano. Imagine, if you will, our faces when we saw this outside our room.

So real it could be fake...Or so fake it could be real...

Or maybe it was inside our room. I forget. Anyhoo, Arenal was amazing. We woke up Turkey day to take a hike on the lodge grounds and spotted a turkey who survived T-day (lucky little guy), a Costa Rican racoon-thingy-majig called a quati, and a serene waterfall that was in fact totally worth it. Oh actually what made it totally worth it was the band of Indian people that also happened to be at Arenal the same weekend. Uncle 'Stache and Ol' Man Kartik Sundareswaran accompanied us on our hike.

Here Quati Quati...

Uncle Uncle Uncle...

"It's just like my trip to Sikkham, India"
My man Srin showed his true colors at least once on this trip. We went ziplining/canopying through the base of the volcano with Ecoglide and had a thrilling time. We came to one stop that was an optional adventure. I knew I was game. Was I scared? Yup! Was I going to do it anyway? Yup! You only live once, and I love thrills! But, perhaps the best part was hands down Srin's expletive that had even the locals laughing (mind you, these locals take people to do this a million times a day and surely have heard it all) . This video shows Srin imitating the one and the only Tarzan, in all his brave might. Money. Sweet money.

After soaking our bodies in the au-natural hot springs of Baldi, we were on our way out of the rainforest and into Guanacaste, the north-western region of Costa Rica along the Pacific. The view changed dramatically, as promised by our Guanacastan local driver Gerardo, and we were greeted by open fields, inundated with tropical fruit farms, and accompanied by some crazy bride who was certain she saw monkeys in the trees lining the Pan American highway. Needless to say, her new husband was vocally scared she was loco, if you will. Or is that loca? Whatever.

So one and only swimsuit never made it back because I left it at Baldi Hot Springs...

Once in Tamarindo, a small surf town off of the Pacific coast, we were certain that our hotel didn't exist, given that it seemed no one could locate it. It took a fluent Spanish speaker, a couple of locals (once again, the locals came through for us...), and 4-wheel drive to get us to the oasis that was Hotel Tamarindo Yam. It consisted of no more than 6 or 7 rooms and a nice man who spoke little English. As Srin and I lounged on the beach, we said no less than 15 times "This is the life".

So I bought myself a new one at Tamarindo's own 70s swimwear apparel...

Grudgingly, we left the beach and continued on our exotic adventure back to San Jose on this mother of a plane, only after a semi-stressful failed attempt to schedule my own taxi with someone who spoke absolutely no English. We thought I did a great job since she even repeated it back to me. And, I understood it all. She said "Es-ta bi-en" R-E-A-L-L-Y slowly to let me know she copied all. Except no one showed. At all. And we had 10 minutes until we needed to be at the airport. For the only flight back to San Jose that day. And once again, the locals came through. Not only did the owner let us check out late ("Hey! It's Costa Rica. Pura Vida!"), use the internet for free, give us beach towels, etc etc etc, he called a taxi and and instructed the driver that we must be at the airport for a 3PM flight. He and his maid waved to us as we left, leaving me feeling like I had just visited Indians as we did when we were kids. Hasta Luego, la playa. It was real. And spectacular.

Oh heck no this is NOT our plane...

Of course it crossed my mind that I was a potential news story since you always hear about small planes going down in other countries...but it was washed from my pea-sized brain when I was greeted by an amazing aerial tour of Costa Rica. The plane ride from Tamarindo to San Jose was breath-taking. On one side I saw the vast Pacific and on the other side I saw farms and flat lands. The dichotomy was truly incredible. Once in San Jose, we were ecstatic to find that the cheapest hotel ever was a true gem! It was beautiful, quaint, and had the best spread of breakfast. Srin and I were amazed at our journey, and we reveled like only two giddy people could over dinner at Tin Jo.

Hotel Aranjuez in the Aranjuez sector of San Jose...If only we had more time to devour this spread...

After being served more delicious vegetarian food and greeted by the "Gujarati" manager, we both decided this was, in fact, a moment we would never forget. Hasta Luego, Adios, Gracias, y Pura Vida Costa Rica. Cheers!

Oh did I forget to blog about something....What could it be? I feel like something else happened that was "blog-worthy"...

"Are you serious?"

My bad. I left out WHY the trip was so unforgettable. Or maybe I did it to make you read my blog. Who knows. Yes, the reason you came here was to get all the warm and gooey details that confirm all of your suspicions that Srin is, in fact, a romantic-y person. Now, I am not saying he's Mr. Romantic, but he did take the big plunge and did it with some style.

My man proposed to me. Srin actually proposed TO ME! YAY! It was exotic and unexpected. Wholesome and adventurous. It was nothing of how I imagined and inexplicably better.

Our first night in Arenal was long and late, with a so-so dinner. Not a good night "to do it", he said. Second day was all sorts of not the right day. The man was carrying a diamond for goodness sake, and we were traipsing all over the rainforest...or shall I say way above the rainforest. He risked a bye-bye diamond. So second night was out. Though, it was this night that Srin got a nice scare. We had talked earlier in the day about counting how many colones (Costa Rican dollars) we had left. Sooo, when Srin popped in the shower, I grabbed his wallet from the safe and pulled out the bills (mind you, I was the only one who had pulled any cash from the ATM so far). When he saw me, Srin was visibly upset that I was in his wallet. Normally, I would give attitude back but for some reason, I just shrugged it off and thought to myself, "'s MY money. And, since when did he care if I was in his wallet?!??!?!" and that was the last I thought of it as I took a long, hot shower. Come to find out, the ring was in HIS WALLET!!! Srin was certain his five months+ of keeping this secret had just crumbled before him. Alas, I had no idea until the next morning.

We awoke to rain pounding the forest and clouds covering the entire volcano. After mentioning "maybe it will pass in an hour" at least two times, we both decided there was no way we were spending our last day in Arenal in the hotel room. So, off to go hike in the rainforest we went. With the bugs and rain and all. I was wearing my lycra yoga pants, a black tank top, and yes, ladies, a bright red bra, straps showing and all. Ghetto fabulous. No makeup and bed hair. It was totally me. Topping it off with my old Aggie lacrosse raincoat, Srin and I headed into the forest.

We hiked, slipped, and reveled in the serenity around us. On our way back, my wonderful man mentions something about the path being closed. To my surprise, he saw a sign that said this path was closed and still took me on it! Of course, he was glad I didn't notice because there is NO way we would have gone down a path without knowing the reasons for which it was closed.

And, I guess I now know why he was so glad I missed the big sign. Upon exiting the rainforest, I complained about being hot and sweaty and bug-bitten while Srin was mumbling something about the rest of my birthday present. With a goofy shy grin, he held the most astonishing rock in his hand. "Mamta Patel, will you marry me?" It was music to my ears. Words I never thought I would hear. With my mouth propped open and eyes fixated on the sparkle coming from the man's hands, I proceeded to say...."Are you serious?". Yup. Not "yes". Not "oh my gosh". I said "Are you serious?" I, then, of course said YES and bear-hugged the man I was going to marry! Locked in baby!!! The man is now LOCKED IN!

And that's how it went down. There were no rose petals, no cheesy music, and no "down on one knee". It was rustic and quaint. Exotic and memorable. Simple and surprising. It was precisely what defines "us".

Although I spent the last six months wondering what the hey was wrong with me that my man didn't want to marry me, he had spent that same time trying to find me the perfect ring that represented the both of us. I love my ring, for it is simple and elegant with just enough glamour and sparkle to make me feel like a million bucks. Thank you, Srinidhi, for making me the happiest woman on Earth. I cannot wait to see what our life has in store for us, with the many adventures I am sure we will take including having a family of our own.

Friday, November 27th, 2009 at Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

We have posted our pictures at if you wish to hear and see more of our trip.  Thanks for sharing this with us!