Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Nightmare Before Christmas

I go to a yoga class three times a week. I've gotten to know my instructor, Samu, really well. It started with staying a few minutes after class to chat, then we started sharing a few recipes with each other (she gave me potato curry, I gave her banana bread), eventually she started to even speak with me in Tamil. She asked me a few weeks ago if I could come and dress up as Santa for the kids in the preschool that she teaches at. Me, being the considerate wife that I am, knew that Neil would be off of work and might enjoy doing it. So, I volunteered him. What follows is only a portion of the terror we witnessed this morning...





Neil & Courtney, spreading Christmas joy in Chennai.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Clara turns 1

We remember just one year ago...

love at first sight

bright-eyed from the start

sweet cuddler

not yet interested in Uncle Neil's antics

Can't believe she's already one! Lots of love and kisses being sent today to our #1 niece on her #1 birthday!


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dr. Dreadful--Indian style

the makings of curry

I was never that into science growing up but I did always love the Dr. Dreadful Drink Lab. Anyone else with me? I never thought about it before, but maybe my interest in mixing spices and bizarre flavor combinations is somehow associated with the strange, carbonated, colorful concoctions that entertained my palate around the age of 8. Who knows. Either way, I seriously love mixing and matching flavors and finding creative substitutes for things I can't find or use here (eggs, sour cream, quick rise yeast, etc). I have also had my fair share of things blow up on me to claim an even stronger association with a science lab (tomatoes in my mixie, hot soup in my mixie, boiling chenna in my pressure cooker, the list goes on). Thankfully I've escaped with only minor burns and a lifetime's worth of lessons on "this should not be mixed with this".

My favorite thing to make is curry. The big lesson of the night the first time I made curry is that sniffing the freshly ground spices of curry is similar to inhaling flour, except there's chilly powder in curry. Explosion of the sinuses.

Still learning.... :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cyclone Jal--almost

We were set to have a huge cyclone hit Chennai a few weeks ago; In anticipation of the cyclone's arrival, Neil and I went to the beach to watch the waves. It's hard to capture through a camera, but they were pretty impressive. The cyclone ended up being considerably smaller than expected, which we were thankful for because it felt kind of intense leading up to it! Here's some footage of our first 'almost a cyclone' experience...


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Looks can be deceiving

This might look like a normal hand, but it's not. It's actually a hand unintentionally marinating in chilly (yes, that's how it's spelled here) oil. I thought I would be quick and chop chillies with no protective covering. FAIL. After soaking my hands in whole milk 3 different times they still felt like they were on fire for the next 8 hours. I learned this lesson in August.

Fast forward to October. Again, I am cutting chillies. I DO protect my hands this time (an inside out grocery bag works wonders), but I fail to protect my eyes. For some unknown reason I decide I need a closer look while I'm chopping. Result: left eye on fire.

Take note: chillies are not for wimps.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lemony Bitterness: a rant

A few years ago I realized that lemon scented cleaners have wreaked havoc on my ability to enjoy anything lemon flavored. My most recent bitter moment came while enjoying a date night with my hubby at a local Thai restaurant. The waitress poured traditional Thai tea with a pungent lemon smell. One whiff of the tea filling that cute little Thai cup turned me into a 12 year old dusting my mom's piano, trying not to break all of her Precious Moments figurines. I've had similar moments over the last 5 years that increase my beef with the Pine Sol lady (you know, the one with the dreads who has been doing lemony-fresh commercials since 1992). I seriously don't get it. Why have the lemon people sacrificed the countless commercial marketing opportunities with teas, cakes, marinades, candles, etc for the floor cleaning industry. It's a waste of a perfectly good citrus, if you ask me.

So, take this as a public service announcement: Stop using lemon-scented cleaners. Seriously. If your children, in whom you want to instill a 'dignity of work' value, have any hope of enjoying lemon flavored food, you MUST stop using these vehicles of dessert destruction.

I would really like to be cured of this association. Until then, my bitterness smells like lemon-scented Pine sol.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Flattery

As a part of their jobs, many of the trainees are asked to pick pseudonyms for when they are on the phone. Some Americans have a difficulty hearing and repeating Srikalaivaani, and so they are asked to start going by "Paul" or "Carrie". Thus begins the infamous dialogue:

"Hi, welcome to (huge company), my name is Cory, how may I help you?"
"Wait, your name isn't really Cory, is it? I know your name isn't Cory. What's your real name"
"Hari Kumar Balasubramanian"
"Umm, ok, let's stick with Cory."

From time to time I hear back from the trainees who are getting ready to start answering phones. A few days ago one sent me an email stating that he had been asked to choose a pseudonym and was proud to tell me that he had chosen Neil Miller as his fake name. I was at once amazed and in disbelief. Flattered, yet slightly unsettled. So, just in case you run into him on the phone, I wanted to let everyone know that I have neither switched jobs nor started a cult.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tree House

We recently visited some friends in Bangalore, which is a large city about an overnight train ride away from Chennai, most well known for being the headquarters of Microsoft in India. We went because our friends there are practicing the kind of devotion to Christ that we are interested in learning about here in India. I came into the weekend thinking that I would walk away with some great spiritual encounter and a lot of informed theology. I thought I would leave with a deeper sense of our purpose here and an action plan of how to move forward.

Instead, I helped build a tree house.

There are 4 kids in this family and the two youngest are boys aged 12 and 8. They had already kind of started the tree house, but soon decided to start over. So, most of the day on Saturday we moved limbs around and tried to tie things together to make it more stable. As always, you have to add on some cool amenities like a climbing rope to the top, and a swing made out of small limbs (which I very proudly designed and built), and mats made of weaved palm leaves. All the while, the father of this family was helping the kids along and getting them whatever supplies they needed. He had no other agenda that weekend, just there to be with his family.

It really got me thinking about God. I've been trying to learn more to see him as my Papa and the one who has no other agenda than to hang out with me and all his other kids. In this dad, I saw a good glimpse of our Papa. It made me think that when the world gets redeemed and Christ comes back, we may be looking for all of our theological questions to be answered and to come to a greater understanding of the world and how things work. It's easy to think that we will sit around all day and be taught by God about all these deep philosophical questions.

I hope some of that happens, but I think we might end up spending a decent amount of our time building tree houses with really cool rope swings.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Time to brag


Last week, Neil told me that there was a function going on at Cognizant (the company where he does accent modification/customer service/corporate etiquette trainings) and that I was invited to come. I wasn't sure why I was invited since I don't do regular trainings, but I figured it was just a matter of providing as many people as possible to represent our company. This morning, we arrive at the function and I slowly start piecing together that this is not what I expected it to be. My suspicions are confirmed when they begin giving out awards. Lo and behold, about 15 minutes in they call Neil's name and he is awarded the "Top Trainer" award in his division. Later, I discovered that this was especially awesome because they determined the winners by going through trainee evaluations and the results they see coming from the trainings. I was (am) so proud! Neil has taken his role as a trainer very seriously. He has a lot of natural gifts in the area, but he has also been faithful to develop what God has already given him. He spends days off working through curriculum, seeks to know each trainee individually, loves getting to spend time with trainees outside of the classroom, frequently shares lunch with them to learn more about their culture and who they are as individuals and most of all he is faithful to pray for each group that comes through. He really cares for each person who comes into his classroom. I'm sure it's obvious by now, but this is one proud wife!

I'm thankful that we serve a God who wants us to draw satisfaction from our work. I'm also thankful that we serve a God who loves us and blesses us with great husbands!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rotary Club & Starstruck


I (Neil) joined the Rotary Club of Thiruvanmiyur last week. Rotary is actually very international with clubs in over 200 countries. A 'Rotarian' friend from New Albany suggested I look into it. For those unfamiliar, Rotary is a service organization for business men and women, which encourages them to be active in their communities.

I found the club closest to me and go on Tuesday nights when I get back from work. I've found it to be a great place to meet other businessmen and also be aware of what is going on in the community. I had my induction ceremony last week were I got my "Rotary Pin" along with some other goodies. Already, we've been able to connect with some of these guys who definitely have service at their heart and are eager to invite me in.

Here in Chennai, the Rotary Club is very active and always has some sort of event or project going on. Recently, they organized a 6km run for cancer research, and Courtney and I went to it. We got there a bit late (which was actually on time), but found a large gathering going on at the starting gate. There were a bunch of people frantically gathering around someone and cheering loudly. Then, we found out that Vikram was there.

Movie stars are big in the States, but they are crazy huge here. Vikram is a "hero" (leading man) in Tamil and Hindi films, and is also the star of a movie we saw twice called Ravanan. He's pretty much the only celebrity we have any connection to. While I thought it was cool, Courtney thought it was amazing that the one movie star we know was right in front of us and she kept trying to get us closer and closer to him.

I finally asked her, "What are you going to say if we get up to the front?". She said, "I'll say, 'I loved you in Ravanan!', and then leave." It's good to know that India is getting deeper into us and touching that inner 13 year old in us all.



Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Being Veg

We arrived in Chennai on January 1st of this year and since that time, we have been what is called "veg" here. Being a vegetarian is so common that a restaurant is either Veg or Non-veg, and it's about a 50/50 split on the number of restaurants.

For us, being Veg means no red meat, no chicken, no fish. The most strict vegetarians here will not eat eggs, garlic, and onions as well, but we still indulge ourselves on those items.

Being veg has a lot of advantages for us:
-Cheaper meals (at least 20 rupees cheaper at a restaurant)
-Not worrying about if meat is going to spoil in the fridge, or if it gets left out on the counter, or if bits of bacteria are hiding in a cutting board
-Being able to freely invite others to eat our food. Many who are vegetarian here will always question what something is made of. Also, they will not want to eat off dishes that have had meat on them before, even if they are washed.
-Being Veg is seen as a practice of those who are more spiritual or religious
-After seeing where some of the meat is sold, it becomes much less appetizing
-It's usually a shock for someone to learn this about us, which always invites interesting conversation

Part of the training that we do is getting the trainees more familiar with American culture, and they are always interested in our "food habits". Here are some snippets of conversations:

"So are the Veg restaurants in the US very good?"
"Uhhh...." (I could not for the life of me think of any chain of restaurant that had only vegetarian food - help me out if you know of any!)

"The Midwest has a lot of farmland."
"What kinds of things do they grow?"
"Mainly corn and soybeans. But we don't eat those."
[confused looks] "What do you do with them?"
"Well, we feed them to our animals and then eat those."
[gasps of horror!]

"I want to know some of the famous American Vegetarian dishes."
"Umm, potato salad?"
"But there aren't any main dishes that are vegetarian?"
"Not any really common ones."
"Well what about pot roast - I've heard of that one."
"Umm, it's not exactly vegetarian..."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Always barter


When we first moved here, I loved the thrill of bartering with auto-rickshaw drivers. It was fun to get our feet wet and try to learn how to do it. Quickly, though, the novelty of it wore off and I found myself dreading the bartering process and hoping that the driver would just agree with our first price and we could move on. However, after some careful reflection, I have come to a new appreciation of the back-and-forth that must happen between a passenger and a driver. In fact, it is critical to ensuring a quality, safe and fair auto experience. You see, if you tell a driver where you want to go and he immediately agrees on the price without arguing with you:

1) He didn't understand you and therefore you will get lost
2) He doesn't actually know the location you are talking about and therefore you will get lost
3) You offered to pay way too much and therefore you will be overspending
4) He's had 'one too many' and therefore you might die

All of these possibilities don't bode well for the passenger. Once I realized that lack of bartering was simply a short-term gain with some serious long-term set-backs--I now deeply appreciate a driver who wants to dicker with me. It means the opposite of the above four, which is exactly what I want in a driver.

Bring on the bartering!


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Indian Carry-Out

We've got a little eatery about a block away from us that we go to whenever we need a quick bite. Or, in the case of these photos, when I've made an Indian gravy that needs to be sopped up with some delicious, homemade bread. Packaging is a little different than the States :)

Paratha bread wrapped up in banana leaves & twine.

Sambar, a vegetable stew, and raita, a yogurt & onion based condiment, in the plastic & twine.

In other news, has anyone else noticed how frequently I post about food?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Language Learning

I (Neil) have spent the last few weeks in an intensive month-long Tamil program. It's been pretty good and has given me a good foundation for more learning in the future, but being conversational is still a ways away. One problem is just finding people to practice with as most people only want to speak English with us. Here's a conversation I had on the bus today:

"So where are you from?" asks a 20 year old guy
"America lirundhu [from America]."
"What?"
"U.S. lirundhu"
"Oh, US. Are you working here?"
"Naan velai seirein [I am working]"
"What? You speak English, right?"
"[sheepishly] Yeah, I'm working here."
"How do you like Tamil Nadu (the state)?"
"It's really nice, I'm trying to learn the language, but it's very hard since I don't get to practice it much."
"Yeah, the only way to learn it is to practice talking with people. You have to practice a lot. So, where are you staying?"
"Thiruvanmiyur tengi irukein"
"What?"
"Nevermind..."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's not delivery! It's homemade Indian food..

We were enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon when a knock came to our door; it was our new neighbor holding 2 containers full of some delicious smelling food. She was cooking lunch and thought we would enjoy some.

How awesome is that?

the remnants of yummy-ness.
Be jealous.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Handy Man

I've always aspired to being a handyman around the house. It is such a great feeling to be able to see something that needs fixed and totally fix it with your own hands.

Here in India, there is not a lot of room for the do-it-yourself personality. No Home Depot, no Lowe's, and a lot of funny looks if you walk into a small hardware store.

So, when a few problems arose in our flat, I was anxious to see how well I
could fix them using only the tools I brought over (1 screwdriver, 1 pair of pliers).

Problem #1: The drain where the water from our washing machine empties is too high. The hose usually comes out and then floods the bathroom with dirty water. After many attempts to correct this one, I finally realized I needed to stabilize the hose somehow to stay up.

Solution: I used a lot of string from some bags we had to make one long rope which I tied to the washing machine and then to the hose. I'm pretty proud of that one as it has worked and stayed in place.



















Problem #2: The doorstop on the bathroom door will not stay up and so it is always dragging and prevents you from ever actually closing the door.

Solution: I wanted to lodge something in the hinge to keep the doorstep from falling down. Without many other options I chose to chew two pieces of Juicy Fruit (to match the paint) and set them around the doorstop, hoping it would dry and hold it up. That idea failed miserably. The doorstop is still annoying and now it has gum all over it.































With the odds stacked against me, I think 1 out of 2 is pretty good.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Heaven Song

Some people have the gift of marrying words with rhythm; the gift of song. I do not. It is the one gift I wish I had. I feel music inside of me all of the time, especially in moments of especial intimacy with Christ, but I've never been able to get that music out. I have always struggled with writing poetry, singing harmony, remembering lyrics--but I love them all deeply. I have always had to rely on others to pen the words in my heart. Only in the last few years have I become especially aware of this..."block". I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with this self-realization--did it mean I had a sin that I just wasn't letting go of? Is there a part of me that first needs to be stripped away, to free me to sing the way my heart feels? The question of whether I was supposed to have this gift never occurred to me, because I am; I feel it. So why is it not coming?

Thinking about my beautiful friend, Kylee, and her death 2 months ago, has made me restless for Jesus to come back. I feel more aware than ever that Neil and I are not supposed to be "together forever", that I don't want to live to be 900 years old, and that this world is not at all the way that it is supposed to be. My heart belongs somewhere else--somewhere beyond the love found in friends, family, marriage, and country. My heart belongs with Him; that is the only place it will find rest.

I am realizing that no words I speak and no tune that I sing will ever fully reflect the affection my Brother, Friend, Lover and King has for me. Maybe God has put this longing for song throughout my body, knowing that it will not be quenched in this life. Maybe it was meant to be my pointer to the hope of heaven; my reminder that I have so much more of Christ to experience.

Someday I will sing with total abandon the heart song inside of me.
Maybe it's just a matter of waiting for Heaven.

Come quickly, Lord. I'm ready to sing.

Kylee, I'm a little jealous.










Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hot or not?

Does anyone else remember that website? People would post their pictures to be rated as "hot" or "not". I remember finding out in college that a friend of mine had posted his picture on it--oh the jokes that came from that discovery :)

But now, I am sucking up my pride and posting my own picture. I took it after walking back from the grocery store (in 100+ degree heat). Notice the drop of sweat from my chin.


I vote "hot".


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mirror

I've realized lately that I am a much better person on the days when I don't look into the mirror. I'm much less plagued by vain curiosities and have a greater tendency to just be me.

I've been learning a lot lately--about myself and about Christ. The vulnerability of being in an environment that I'm completely unaccustomed to and realizing afresh that we marry those who are opposite of us have revealed with painful accuracy my faults. My sins, I should say. Faults make it sound like I stumble into them, when in fact they are often calculated moves, if I'm being honest. To quote a friend, my brain is "3/4 a wild zoo of bad, mad, sad animals" (ref. James 3:11-16. And every person you've ever met). I suppose, in this light, a figurative mirror would plague me as much as my actual one. A pimple or wide nose is no match for hate-filled tendencies. Again, I would much rather not look into a mirror.

And yet, that is what I have been doing a lot of this past month. My husband, a wise counselor, and Romans 2-3 have been my mirror. Through these the Law has crushed me (I will never be able to uphold it); and through the crushing of the Law, the grace of Christ has become more evident than ever. Earlier this month, my wise counselor actually shared with me the good news that I am loved by Christ. Sure I've heard it before, but it felt new. It was beautiful and it made me cry. For days, in fact.

With this new perspective, being baptized when I wash my face each morning and looking at myself in the mirror presents a paradox. I am a slave to my flesh and yet am filled with His Spirit. My flesh will haunt me until the day it is restored. I will continue to do the things that I hate and refuse to do the things that I love. His mercies really are new every morning.

Seeing the grace of Christ in light of my fleshly state is overwhelming, heartbreaking and full of hope. I won't avoid looking in the mirror so much; the first few moments of nasty realizations are worth it.

In fact, I'm beginning to find what I see pretty breathtaking.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tata


Everyday on the way to work, I pass this massive structure which looks like a pirate ship collided with a professional football stadium. It is gargantuan and extremely impressive. It is being built by Tata Consultancy Services. It's about their 20th building in Chennai, and Chennai is a small part of their operations. Maybe you haven't heard of Tata - maybe you will some day when they own the other 5/6th of the world. Seriously, they are bigger than Walmart - yes, bigger than Walmart.

Here is what "the Tata Group" specializes in:
-Wireless Mobile Services
-Mobile Broadband
-IT consulting (largest in India)
-Business Process Outsourcing (largest in India)
-Product Design
-Cars (largest manufacturer in India, they made the Ambassador, which was pretty much the only car in India for a few decades, owns Jaguar and Land Rover, makes a car that costs only $2,200)
-Energy production (largest in India)
-Steel (largest in India)
-Tea (largest in India, 2nd largest in the world)
-Chemicals
-Satellite TV

In virtually any profitable industry, Tata is there building huge buildings and loving it. Good luck keeping up with that pace, Walmart.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Bobble Heads

One thing India is famous for is the ever ambiguous head bobble. It is not the lateral "no" or the verticle "yes", but a third dimension of head movements. It can mean, "Ok", "No problem", "Yes", "I don't know", "Maybe", "Of course", and a host of other phrases. So, often when we get that response, it is necessary to clarify the exact meaning of what they said, which usually results in another head bobble.

For example:
"Ok, so 50 rupees, right?" Head bobble
"50 rupees?" Head bobble.
"Ok, so it's 50 rupees then?" Very confident head bobble.

I thought this might be just a cross-cultural problem, but then I got this email from a trainee in my last batch. His manager was 2 hours late to a meeting and apologized when he finally arrived. The trainee wasn't sure how to respond. In his own words, "I had no clue what to do. I nodded my head in every possible direction."

He asked me if he did the right thing. I bobbled my head.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

So, how are you?

A question I am frequently asked and have the hardest time answering! The answer is generally found somewhere between "great" and "I don't know exactly". So, here's how I would love to answer this question next time it is asked of me:

-The Genius option on iTunes has saved me from many a bad mood.
-Peas are my new favorite veggie.
-Skype makes my life exponentially better than it would have been without it.
-The seeds in the middle of Jackfruit freak me out a little (I think they look like unborn babies. See, disturbing.).
-I now put chilli powder (yes, 2 l's) in everything--including chocolate desserts and vegetable soup.
-Grief, quite frankly, sucks. And then it meets Jesus. And then you are better than you were before.
-After being exposed to a portion of the 1 billion Indians in this country, my husband is still my favorite person in the world.
-I've had a sudden realization that once you get pregnant, you can't go back (no, we are not pregnant. Just an epiphany I've recently had.).
-I WILL learn Tamil.
-I'm more anxious for Heaven than ever.
-I've cooked some pretty stellar meals lately.
-I love and hate my 2 mile walk to get groceries.
-My Christmas 'pudge' is officially gone. One of the many gifts India has given me.
-I really like my family a lot.
-Best friends having babies might be one of the greatest things in the world.
-I can take "long walks on the beach" whenever I want to.
-India is a home for us now.
-Christ is often found in the strangest of places...

So, that's how I am. All of those things wrapped up into one is me, today.

so, how are you??

-c

Monday, April 5, 2010

American Culture Quiz

Part of the trainings I've been doing include getting the trainees familiar with American culture. As a way to decide who will get to go first on an activity, I said the first side to name 5 Major League Baseball teams gets to go first.

Silence.

Ok, 3 teams.

Silence.

"Umm, the New York Yankees...the Chicago Bulls....the Los Angeles Lakers."

I guess the good news is that we still have 2 weeks of training left.

Neil

Friday, March 26, 2010

too proud not to share...

I just made egg-less brownies...with Chili powder.
and I like them.

bam.

Courtney: 1
Cultural Shock: 0

Monday, March 22, 2010

Maximum Size

I've learned to do my absolute best to shop BY MYSELF in India. I don't mean no friends coming along, I mean dodging the 15 "very helpful" employees at every store you walk into. Sometimes the rush to help you is actually helpful. Sometimes, it's not. For instance, walking into a clothing store I can nearly guarantee you that the following conversation will occur:

helpful employee: "What size, ma'am?"
me: "Medium"
helpful employee: "okay, Large."
me: "No, Medium"
helpful employee: "okay, okay, Large"
me: "Medium. I wear a MEDIUM."
helpful employee: "sure, sure. Here is a Large."

The other day I was looking for shoes in a large department store here. They were all sized by European measurements, so I wasn't sure what number fit my American foot. I found a pair I liked and went to the shoe guy on duty. I explained my dilemna to said shoe guy, he took one look at my feet, turned over his shoulder and yelled to the other shoe guy across the room, "Maximum Size!"

awesome.

Neil & I got a good laugh out of that one :)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

the life of tea

For Kylee, who knew how to drink from a cup of bitterness while drinking deeply of Christ. I love you, friend.

Tea is a staple in India (and many parts of the world). It serves as an excuse to call people into your home. It is a sweet (and sometimes bitter) way of sharing. An excuse to make a conversation go on longer.

I've never been much of a tea drinker. I've always secretly wanted to be one of those people who can put a very emo/organic/hippie facebook status report about the most recent exotic tea they just drank over a book or song that made them cry. But, it's just not me.

A few days ago a neighbor knocked on our door and said that she and her husband would like to come by this weekend. I ecstatically agreed and knew what I needed to do. I went out that day and purchased my first tea set. A reminder of the promise I heard God give me a few months ago, "You have friendships waiting for you in India." That tea set looked so beautiful to me that day.

______

Something else I want is to be good at mourning. It may sound crazy, but in the last year I have been so humbled to see the way God draws near during times of pain and sadness. This world is not in it's ideal state, and that should be sad to us. Knowing Christ is not a reason to "be strong and quit crying"; knowing Christ is the reason why we can drink deeply of sadness and loss without fear of being overtaken by them. Those of us who know Christ should be the best mourners; not the ones who avoid it.

Mourning is a staple in most of the world. Some cultures are just plain good at it. Jews sit for days at a time, tear clothes, spread ash on their heads. In Chennai, a group of men carry the body through the streets, making sure to block traffic and force regular life to stop if even for just one second. God praises women who are good at mourning.

This morning, I lost a dear friend. A friend who was one of those women God praises for their skillfull mourning. Is it cliche to say that she was young, beautiful, and left us too soon? Either way, it's true. I felt so sad. I still feel sad. I will feel sad for a long time. I didn't know what to do; I needed some kind of an expression for my aching heart. I made a batch of tea, leaving out the sugar. I sat at my kitchen table, sipping the bitter tea until it was gone. It hurt. A lot. It also felt good.

I'm not sure the purpose of this post. Maybe being so far away from all of the other mourners, I needed to have a forum to share my hurting heart.

Thankfully, I have my husband, my tears, and a cup of tea.

and Jesus.



Sunday, March 14, 2010

#1 Beach View



















When we first walked into the guest house we rented for 2 months, this was the sight we saw. A picture of the beach that covered the entire wall of the flat. Though it might seem slightly tacky to put an entire mural of a tropical paradise on a wall, we must admit that it was extremely well done and realistic. It made for some nice background in talking with family over Skype.

Having a place of our own to live for a few months was a real blessing and we really grew to love living in the area. We got to know the markets, the nearby restaurants, the call of the guy who collected the waste paper.... It was really a nice time and there were times we were sad that we had to move again.

But, now that we've made it into our long-term apartment, we are thankful. Not only is it wonderful and homey and relaxing, we also do not have a set date that we have to move out. Since we've been married, there has always been an ending date associated with every place we've lived. A reminder that there was little permanence to our lives and a discouragement from really engaging in where we were.

But here in Chennai, on the other side of the world from where we first started our journey, we've found a place we can truly start to call home. It took a while to find the best place, but we were so excited once we decided on it. We hope to live here for a long time and really create a place where our family can grow and we can become a part of the neighborhood. So, without any further delay, here is our new place. We traded in one beach view for a much better one.


video

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

#2 Having a "shoe guy"

One of my (Neil) favorite days so far was just a typical day of running errands. I have these sandals that I really like, but the velcro on them was positioned in a way that they would not tighten firmly enough for me. In the States, I just dealt with it. But, a few days before, Courtney's shoe had broken and she took it to a “shoe guy”, which means that there is a guy who sits by the side of the road and has a booth where he repairs shoes all day. He did a pretty good job with her shoe, so I decided to chance it and have him reposition the velcro. Speaking very little English, he totally understood what I wanted and within 10 minutes had fixed the one thing I hated about these great shoes.

It's not just shoes either. There are all sorts of jobs of convenience here in India. Courtney and I have both taken in clothes to get tailored. Having clothes that fit just ok was another thing that we just dealt with in the States. But here, it's so easy to take in an article of clothing and for a reasonable price have it tailored.

With a billion people to find jobs for, there are many professions that exist here. Shoe guys, ironers, elevator men, ladies tailors, gents tailors, waste paper collector, house help, watchman, etc. There seems to be a common understanding here that people need jobs. So having a shoe guy is not only a really convenience for us, it also makes sure there is one more job out there for someone to fulfill.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

#3 Not Talking about the Weather

You all know the scene. You walk into work, see the receptionist who gives you a friendly smile, which necessitates a verbal response, so you say "man, it's cold" with a smile. OR you're small talking with strangers at a party, conversation starts to get a little dry so someone says, "can you believe how much it's rained lately?" OR you're standing on the train and start to feel chatty, so the easiest way to strike up a conversation with the guy next to you is, "can you believe how hot it is today?". Welcome to the Midwest.

Having both grown up in the Midwest, Neil and I know that we can always rely on the faithful "how's the weather?" conversation filler. What's great, is that it's not just mindless "filler", because it really is a legitimately interesting topic, because the weather is so rarely the same two days in a row. Monday could bring 50 degrees, partly cloudy. Tuesday is 20 degrees, sunny. Wednesday is 31/32 degrees and freezing rain. But, not in Chennai.

I realized before me moved here that we would have to re-learn how to "small talk", but I wasn't totally sure what was and was not going to work. After a couple of friendly "it's hot" comments, I quickly realized that talking about the weather was one area of small talk that didn't survive the plane ride. Imagine if all of your conversation fillers suddenly come back void and you realize that you have NO CLUE how to start, end or fill friendly conversation. That's what happened to me. It was a little unnerving at first, until I realized that the reason weather isn't a great topic to talk about in Chennai is because IT NEVER CHANGES! There are definitely differences in the seasons, but day to day you can absolutely count on the weather being between 30-34 degrees celsius and sunny. Go ahead, google it.

So, now I'm happy that I've lost a conversation filler because I've gained consistency in an area of my life that was NEVER consistent before: the weather. Plus, I've figured out the perfect conversation filler to go in it's place: my language faux-paus.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

#4 Juice "The Way God Meant it to Be"


There are few things in life that give me (Neil) more pure joy than juice. I love fruit in general, and there is something so wonderful about squeezing out its essence. When we lived in the State, I was always on the lookout for some wonderful new juice mixture (white cranberries AND peaches AND strawberries? Banana AND mango? I must try it...) .

Upon a few days after arriving in India, we went to a grocery store and there was this big banner advertizement which was for a brand of juice called “Saint”, and the ad reads “Juice the Way God Meant it”. Immediately I knew I was among people who spoke my heart language. We got the Mixed Fruit Juice and I feel okay saying that it was heavenly.

While I am dropping brand names, I must add my new favorite drink, Nimbooz, by 7UP. It's similar to a lemonade, but better in ways I can't quite describe. I have often said that if I had an endless amount of money, my one luxury would be wearing a new pair of socks everyday. However, since I don't wear socks in India, I think I will change it to having a Nimbooz everyday.

Not only are there a plethora of delicious juices at the grocery store, there is also a juice shop on nearly every block. While living in our guest house, we found one shop that made delicious juice for a cheap price. These places will make nearly any fruit into a juice and the fruit is just sitting there in the store. On my birthday, we went with Karyn and Ben to the king of juice shops called the Fruit Shop on Greams Road. They had a menu with at least 40 options of juice choices. Unbelievable.

If you are still reading by this point, you must be a juice lover as I am. So, if you want to make a pilgrimage to the center of great juices, look no further than Chennai.



Thursday, February 25, 2010

#5 All Food is Finger Food

Welcome to the first in a five part series entitled, “5 Things We Really Like About India”!


For those who know me (Courtney) well, you don’t need much explanation of the above title to understand how happy it makes me to say it. I have always loved playing with my food. In high school I would sit at Steak ‘n Shake, bumming food off my friends usually, and at the end of the meal would create some disgusting concoction that would make my friends “ooo” and “aahh” (not totally true. Reality was more like, “gross, Courtney”). I have since graduated from salt, ketchup and hot pepper mixtures to gravitating toward taco bars. Any hands-on eating experience warms my heart. That being said, I think I was specially made for this part of Indian life. Every meal is eaten with your hands (actually, ‘hand’, maybe I’ll explain that one later…). The traditional way to eat is to combine rice and some “gravy” into a mushy ball, pick it up with your right hand and roll it into your mouth. Only the truly gifted can do this without tipping their head back to catch the food; we are nearly there. I absolutely love it.


Neil has always told me that I’ll never be able to tell our kids to stop playing with their food. If they grow up here, I won’t have to. :)

Train Ride

We went to Goa for a conference and were challenged to try taking the train instead of flying. Goa is on the other side of the country from Chennai and is known as a tropical getaway. We decided to go for it, but waited to buy train tickets until about 2 weeks before, which we found out was way too late. One travel agent even refused to work with us! In the end, we had to resort to flying to Goa (2.5 hours in a plane) and taking the train back (about 24 hours).

Here is a video of us getting ready to board our first train and some shots of what it was like.

video

All in all, we had a good experience with it. 24 hours on a train is much more comfortable than 24 hours on a plane. We did a lot of reading, walking around, Sudoku, journaling, listening to podcasts - anything that would take up a nice block of time. Food was pretty easy to get as there would be someone walking through about every 5 minutes saying "Chai, Chai", or whatever else they had to sell. People on a train are very friendly too. there was a lot of laughing going on around us and I even saw a group of people playing some form of charades.

There were a lot of good memories, and we might try it again sometime, but after a full day of traveling, we were both ready to crash at home.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Movies

Even before we got to India we kept hearing “you have to go to the movie theatre”. I couldn’t quite figure out what was so great about going to the movies here, until I got to experience it for myself!

Neil and I went to see Avatar with Jason & Karyn at a movie theatre called ‘Sathyam’. This is well known to be the nicest movie theatre in Chennai—it’s the nicest one I’ve ever been in! Here are the highlights:


-AIR CONDITIONING.

-Big, comfy seats all with their own armrest. Seriously the most comfortable I’ve ever been at the movies.

-Intermission for a potty break (or to get more food)

-getting to eat 2 veg puffs, 1 brownie, 1 coffee, 1 veg sandwich, bottled water & a container of caramel corn for around $6US (I can’t remember the exact amount, but this is conservative. It very well might have been less.) We barely get a coke for that in the States!

-this is by far my favorite…the whistling, yelling, and clapping. The theatre was so much noisier than we would ever go for in the States, but we loved it! There were a couple of times when a scary, slimy monster would be sneaking up on the hero and someone in the crowd would whistle, seemingly to get the hero’s attention. Or, when a really good part would happen, they would clap. If something scary or exciting happened, some would yell. It was awesome!


If you ever find yourself roaming around Chennai, looking for something to do, go to the movies. (actually, if you ever find yourself roaming around Chennai, looking for something to do, CALL US, then we’ll go to the movies.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Subway Delivers!

So another great thing about India is that nearly everyone delivers...including Subway. I'm not sure why this hasn't caught on in the States, but here, you can go online and choose your own sandwich, toppings, sauce, bread, and then they'll bring it right to your door for no extra charge. Pretty wonderful...













-Neil

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

num num nummy...

I had another cooking adventure--my first true (North) Indian meal! While this one did involve a pressure cooker, thankfully nothing tragic happened :)


I make a "bath" for every market purchase before we eat it. Some clean water + a little vinegar = my interpretation of "clean". I love my grinder and the little spice bowls they frequently use here. It was my first time grinding my own spices and what made it even better was that it was my favorite spice: cumin! I absolutely love the stuff. They have really good snack selections here and I'm always on the lookout for anything 'jeera' (cumin) flavored. I managed to spill tomato juice all over my cookbook, but no harm done; I just figure it has more personality now.

So, we had our first homemade Indian dish and it was great! I feel so much more at home now. :)



A few of you have requested recipes. I've included the recipe for the meal in the pictures below...

Curried Vegetables

2T cooking oil 2 med. tomatoes, seeded & chopped
1 t. cumin seeds, crushed 2 med. potatoes, peeled & diced
1 clove garlic, minced 1/2 c. chopped carrot
1 t. salt 1/2 c. green beans (can be frozen)
1 t. garam masala 1/2 c. peas (can be frozen)
1 t. grated fresh ginger 2 c. water
1/2 t. ground turmeric 1/4 c. raisins (golden are best)
1/4-1/2 t. cayenne or chilli pepper 1/2 c. whipping cream (opt., I used plain yogurt)
(depending on how hot you want it) 2 c. hot cooked basmati rice
Fresh cilantro for garnish
In a large skillet heat oil over med. heat. Add cumin seeds. Cook & stir for 10 seconds. Add garlic, salt, garam masala, ginger, turmeric & cayenne at the same time. Cook & stir for 15 seconds (watch closely to avoid burning!). Add tomatoes, potatoes, carrot, green beans, peas, water, and raisins. Bring to boil; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, or until veggies are tender (mine took more like 40 min.). If desired, stir in cream or plain yogurt. Serve with rice. Garnish with cilantro.

It's pretty spicy, so I recommend serving with a fruit, like pear or pomegranate.
-c


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Less than $1

Let me be specific. All of this...

for 63 US cents. I love veggie shopping here!



Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Knights




When we first arrived in Chennai, our teammate Jason looked at me (Neil) and asked if I wanted to coach a youth basketball team. My Indiana blood screamed "YES", and it came out of my mouth quickly, but then I thought, "Basketball in India?". Does anybody really even play here? Is this too much westernization? Am I being type-casted?

I was also a little nervous because I've never actually coached before, but Jason assured the guy who ran the league that I had played basketball all the way through college. Which is true, I did play some pick-up games while at Lincoln; but I think the connotation might have led to a different interpretation. This was confirmed when the league director saw that I had worn some IU stuff (wristband, shorts) and asked me if I played at IU.

As it turns out, coaching basketball has become one of my favorite things here in Chennai. It is sponsored by the church we've been going to as an outreach event. Only about 10% or less of the kids are from the church. Most come from middle or upper class families, and quite a lot of them are Hindu. These parents want their kids to have a really quality, international education and exposure. Many of these kids might end up studying abroad. So, learning basketball can be a helpful way for the kids to feel comfortable and fit in if they end up in another country some day.

My team is called the Knights. They are amazing. All the kids have really good attitudes and are really excited about playing together. They do a great job of listening to me too and at trying to do the things we are teaching them. We have won our first three games and clinched the division already.

It makes me so happy to be around these kids and have fun with them. I introduce a "word of the day" before the game. The first word was "remember", stressing that they needed to remember all the good things we taught them at the camp. I used the story of Moses and the Israelites to show how important it was to remember the good things of the past and not forget when things got tough. Last week, we talked about "teamwork" and how only having one person not do their job can lead to the whole team losing, using the story of Achan keeping back the treasures of Jericho for himself.

Basketball is one of my favorite things in life, and I thought it would have to be in the shadows here in India. But, it has been such a great tool to get to know these kids and have a chance to impact their lives.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Time to tell on myself...

I might have had a few faux-pas during the last 3 1/2 weeks (scratch that, A LOT) so in my effort to battle pride, I will share a few...

1) While riding in an auto-rickshaw (which they just call "auto") I wanted to try out some of my new Tamil skills. The driver asked if he was supposed to turn right, to which I replied, "Yes" in Tamil ("Amma"). He looked in his rearview mirror at me like, "What is wrong with you, lady?". I immediately realized what I had done. I had put the stress on the wrong part of the word. I had called him "mom".

2) (this one is both of us) We have been frequenting lots of shops in the area trying to get a feel of what is available in Chennai. There is one little treasure of a store that we found called Conne Xions (we weren't totally sure how to pronounce it, so we just called it "Connie Zions"). We kept giving auto drivers the name of the store, but they were always really confused. A few days later, Neil was cleaning up in the kitchen and started to throw away a "Connie Zions" bag. He looked at the website address and noticed that it said 'Connexions' all in a row. The store is called "Connections".

3) (I think this one takes the cake) I had been told that auto drivers strike fairly often in the city & that you have to watch out to make sure you aren't trying to travel very much on the days that they strike. We had just passed a group of auto's parked in front of a sign that said, "Stand for Auto-rickshaws". Me, trying to be really observant & savvy, leaned over to Neil while we were riding in the bus and said, "I think the auto drivers are getting ready to strike". I pointed the sign out to Neil and instead of the "What's wrong with you, lady?" look I got the, "oh my goodness, I can't believe you just said that," look. He responded to me by saying, "It's a place where the auto's park".

-c

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Recommendation

Our friend, Marianne, wrote a beautiful post on her blog entitled "Why I Love Orphans". I highly recommend reading it... http://thegrossfam.blogspot.com/.

Our Father is good.
-c

Friday, January 22, 2010

View from our laundry

I was hanging clothes out to dry today and felt inspired. Here's the view from our laundry...




"Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 12:6)

Be blessed in the mundane today. He is near.

-c

The Night Life

Of the many things that we are adjusting to in India, one is the time that things happen. For example, our favorite restaurant doesn't even open for lunch until 12:30. When we go out for dinner and arrive at a place around 7, we are generally sitting in an empty restaurant. Most people do not eat until at least 8 or later.

This is a video of one of the more organized street crossings we've been to in a part of town called Saidapet ("side-a-pet"). Usually you just cross when there's a small break in the traffic, but here there were lights and everything. This was around 7:30, when things were just starting to pick up.

video

Monday, January 18, 2010

Perpetual Saturdays

While we were back in the States, Courtney said that she felt our lives felt like they were perpetual Saturdays. Not in the sense that we get to watch cartoons every morning and go outside and play. But in the sense that Saturday is the day that you usually get all those little tasks done that have been waiting on you all week or all month. Every day it seems we get to make a list of all those little things that we haven't got to yet...balancing the checkbook, running to the store to get some household things, catching up on email, fixing things around the house.

While this might sound appealing to some, after a year of it, we are both ready to have a reason to look forward to Saturday. It will be so nice to get into a routine and a schedule where we are able to see a lot of the same people, build great relationships, feel comfortable with our lives, know what to expect.

Saturdays are great, but I'm a guy who is actually looking forward to Monday.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pressure cookers are not for soup

Despite lacking many useful items, I braved my way into the kitchen to cook my first dish: Eastern European Lentil Soup (I know, I know, not an Indian dish, but the only dish I had all of the ingredients for). One of the 'useful items' I don't have is a stockpot, which comes in handy for soup. The kitchen did come stocked with a pressure cooker; the only item large enough to hold the amount of soup I was cooking. It was all pretty uneventful until the last 10 minutes of simmering. I checked the pot, stirred it, and decided it needed an additional 5 minutes. I put the lid back on (*ahem, the pressure cooker lid) and unknowingly latched the lid. For those who have used a pressure cooker, you know that latching the lid is what guarantees the "pressure" part...

I'm sitting in the living room, checking email, when I hear a hissing sound. I stop, concerned it is the soup, but then resume my emailing when I decide it isn't. I keep hearing it. I stop again, this time deciding to glance into the kitchen. The closer I got to the soup, the louder the hissing got...I realized it was the soup. I quickly unlatched the lid and a subsequent "BANG!" was heard. My soup had been effectively pressurized.

This all came after Neil and I spent some time on our rooftop enjoying the stars and thinking thoughts that only come when one is under the stars. The kind of thoughts you don't have time to think about during the rest of the busy day. Ironically, one of those thoughts for me tonight was, "What happens if I burn the house down while cooking? We have no insurance here....hmm, I hope that doesn't happen."

Thankfully, I was spared tonight.

-c

What is it?

We will give a year's subscription to our blog + a postcard to the person who can first correctly guess what this useful item is.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Is that motor oil?


So much of our transition to India has gone extremely well. Our flights were good, we got all of our luggage, we had great friends who showed us around town, we found a place to live very quickly... it couldn't have been better.

So I guess it was only fair that we had something go wrong - terribly, stickily wrong.

On Neil's birthday in the afternoon, we were getting ready to lay down for a nap when Courtney noticed a strange dark liquid by the side of one of our suitcases. In our brilliant packing, we had one suitcase that we had packed with stuff that we wouldn't need until we moved into our permanent place. Decorations, books, pictures, etc. So, once we saw it come off the baggage claim, we didn't even bother to look in it.

Then, Courtney said, "What is that?" We were both perplexed at first and then the horrible truth started to come into focus. One of the items we packed away was a jar of molasses which is unavailable in India, but useful for all sorts of things. It was the one thing too that we did not put into a plastic bag, thinking it would be safe. It was not. There was molasses everywhere and on everything in the suitcase. All of the few items we had decided to take with us to remind us of home had this dark sugary syrup all over them. Sad and gross.

Gratefully, we were able to wash off most of the items in the bathroom as the molasses comes off pretty easily. But there were some casualties including some decorative pictures, Courtney's business class notebook, and some books that will probably always have that nasty brown look to them. We tried to save the suitcase itself, but it too was beyond saving, and will enter the world of the Indian recycling program known as "throwing it away".

So, a sad story, but we've come through it. And after many showers, we can laugh about it, at least a little bit.

Guest House

We moved into our new guest house yesterday. It is amazing to be again on our own after more than a month of living with other people. While it is not our permanent housing here in Chennai, it will provide a great place for us to call home for now. There are a lot of good places within walking distance and the area is really nice. Here is a tour of our new place.

video

-N

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me


My birthday has usually been the mark of a significant change in our lives. In 2007, we moved into our very first apartment in Lincoln. In 2008, we moved into a new place and began our lives in Sellersburg, IN. In 2009, we kicked off a support-raising tour after deciding to move to India. Now, in 2010, we are just barely a week into our new lives here in Chennai.

One of the best parts about having a birthday on the other side of the world is that it lasts so long. I got birthday wishes from the time I got up on the 7th until around noon on the 8th. Here in Chennai, we celebrated with Karyn and Ben by going to the Fruit Shop on Greams Road. This was an excellent decision, as I usually can't get enough fruit. They had about 40 different kinds of fruit juices and smoothies and fruit salads. It was incredibly delicious. Afterwards we went to a store that carries a lot of import items from the States, where we were able to find the one item that airport security would not let us take to India on our carryon...cherry pie filling.

We had an amazing lunch at our new favorite vegetarian cafe and then came back to the Fry's flat. In a later post, we'll share what we did in the afternoon...it is a story that deserves it's own space.

Karyn made some fajitas for dinner (Mexican food is very rare around here) and then we had a chocolate cherry cake made by my lovely wife who brought over most of the ingredients as a surprise.

It was a great birthday! Thanks to Courtney, the Frys, and to all of you who sent your greetings to me. Here are some pictures.



Birthday Boy

Today, one of the biggest blessings in my life turns 25.

Happy Birthday, love.




I like him so much. :)