Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Favorite Books of 2016

Last year at this time I was inspired by my daughter's regular blog about the books she reads each month (click here). I don't read as many as she does, but my life always has a book going. So I'm going to tell you about the ones that I most enjoyed and that stayed in my mind from the past year. I've kept a list since 1998 and am amazed to see that I have read more than 1200 books in those years.

Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. I was partway through this series about a psychologist/ detective last year at this time. I finished all the published books around April after the most recent one was published. I can't remember when I've been more engrossed in a character or read about one with so many interesting facets. If you haven't read this series, I can highly recommend it. I also read the author's stand-alone novel The Care and Management of Lies,  a poignant story set in World War I about a young farmer's wife who had to keep things going while her husband went away to war. She writes to him about all the wonderful meals she is making. The letters are very creative although untrue, and the husband reads the descriptions of the feasts to his fellow soldiers in the trenches.

Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery. Written in the early 1900s, these books are classic children's literature, although only the first is about her childhood. My daughter set up a Facebook reading group of her friends to read the entire series, one a month. There is only one more to finish. I enjoyed the process thoroughly; it was good to reread those that I sometimes skip when going back. 

Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley was a Christmas gift and the start of a new series. Each book is about one of the daughters adopted by an unusual, wealthy man. Their father dies and leaves them clues about their various obscure origins. The first two books send you to Brazil and France during the time of the creation of the Christ the Redeemer statue and to Norway for a mysterious connection to Grieg. I can't wait for the rest of them!

Nevil Shute is one of my favorite authors (I might have said this before!). This year I reread A Town Like Alice,  probably my favorite. For the first time I read Slide Rule, his autobiography. It focuses primarily on the creation of the Airship R100, which proved more interesting than I expected. There isn't much in it about his personal life. That leads to:

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhorn, which is a fictionalized version of the last flight and crash of the Hindenburg airship. The depictions of the characters was wonderful. She did a lot of research and most of the characters are drawn from history. Very enjoyable and educational.

One of my favorite painters is Botticelli, especially his painting Primavera. I happened upon Marina Fiorato's book The Botticelli Secret and enjoyed it immensely. She imagines a story based on the painting where each person stands for a different city-state in Italy. A prostitute and a monk work together to solve the mystery of a conspiracy among them.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova is a moving portrait of a woman who studies the mind and realizes she has Alzheimer's disease. I haven't seen the movie.

I've heard of R. L. Delderfield for years, an English author of the mid-20th century who writes long books. I finally read God Is an Englishman and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have To Serve Him All My Days on my reading list for this coming year. And, no, I never saw the BBC series based on it.

I listened to The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, who also wrote Elsewhere, among others. This tale of a lonely bookshop owner who finds a baby is wonderful.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick is about a widower who finds a charm bracelet long hidden by his late wife. He follows the charms to learn more about her life than he ever knew.

Frerick Backman wrote two books I enjoyed this year -- Britt-Marie Was Here and A Man Called Ove.  Both are set in Scandinavia and have lead characters who are lonely but find a new way of life. Absolutely charming.

Two books set in historical settings were Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend and Twelve Rooms of the Nile by Enid Schomer. The first is about settlers on the Galapagos and the second about the meeting of Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert while traveling in Egypt in 1850.

Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale is about two French sisters during World War II in France; one billets a German soldier in her home and the other leads downed Allied airmen to safety.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton is about three strange sisters who live in a castle in England and take in a child during World War II. Much of the story focuses on the child's memories and reconnections as they are discovered by her daughter, who never knew the story.

While I was in India in the fall I put several books on hold at the Goshen Library, so I had a busy time in November and December catching up with all of them. One after another made my "best of" list.

News of the World by Paulette Giles made multiple lists of the Best Books of 2016. It tells about a crusty old man who makes his living traveling around frontier Texas reading from newspapers to the populace for entertainment. He is given a 10-year-old girl rescued from Indian captivity to return to her relatives. One of my favorites.

Also on those lists is Homegoing by Gyasi Yaa. It follows two sisters from Ghana -- one who stays in Africa and one who becomes a slave in America. Wonderful.

Another is Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, an excellent author. Tangled lives of step siblings.

Slighter but delightful was Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan. Nina creates a new life for herself by moving to Scotland, purchasing a van, and creating a mobile bookstore.

In Julie Berry's The Passion of Dollsa three sisters' lives become entangled with a mystical heretical woman in 1241.

I wanted to love Swing Time by Zadie Smith (also on many best-of lists) but didn't. I'm not sure why, if it was the timing (packing to leave) or it just didn't resonate with me. I've enjoyed her earlier books very much.

Wishing you good reading in the year ahead!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Heading Back to Chiang Mai

We are beginning our third winter in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We are feeling quite at home here now and it's nice to be recognized by some of the neighborhood people.

We spent five days in Spokane, WA, with our son Dirk and Tracy and the family. We had asked for no gifts that we would have to carry with us and they complied:  Dirk gave us each a massage, and we four went out for a dinner on Friday night that was wonderful. It was a set course dinner and we had ten (fortunately small!) courses. They were all unusual and delicious. Many games were played and we were very happy to spend time with all of them.

Looking out the back door in Spokane
Early on Wednesday morning (28th) Tracy got up and took us to the airport. We had a short flight to Seattle on Alaska Airlines. When we arrived at the checkin counter, there was a huge line as the 7:00 flight had been cancelled. Fortunately, we were on the 8:30, so checked in, got some breakfast, and headed further west. I took this picture out the plane window; I'm guessing it is probably the Columbia River.

After a comfortable several hours in the lounge, our Korean Airlines flight left for Seoul. It was about a 12-hour flight. I watched two movies (Cafe Society  and Genius) and slept for about 5 hours. We had a very tight connection in Seoul and we landed somewhat late. We hurried through the airport (fortunately only about 4 gates away) and made it on as final boarding was being called. I don't know if we were the last, but we were happy we didn't miss the flight. Then there was another delay as the heating/cooling system needed attention. But we didn't mind! I tried not to sleep and watched two more movies (Howard's End and West Side Story). The last one ended exactly as we hit the runway in Chiang Mai. It was light for much of the way and the scenery was amazing. We flew over eastern Russia and across China.

Twisty Russian River

Near Russia-China border, very desolate

Chinese city at night
Our bags all made the transfer, thankfully! The wait for a taxi at the airport was long, as usual; there never are quite enough of them. When we got to our hotel, we were happy to learn that we will be able to get into our apartment today (30th) instead of waiting until the 1st, as the previous tenant has moved out early. So just this one night in the sister hotel and we can get settled.

This evening we meet up with my daughter and her husband, who are out on a tour today.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Home Again!

As I expected, it was a quiet week in Bangalore. I had breakfast at the hotel and walked over to Nina and Mahesh's place around mid-morning. I hung out there, knitting, reading and visiting, and Mahesh drove me back to the hotel after dinner in the evenings. We thought we might go shopping, but I really didn't need or want to buy anything.

Here is a picture of one of the streets I walked along. There were goats out every day foraging. I'm not sure where they actually belonged. I don't have any pictures of the many dogs. They were quite frightening, especially as they barked ferociously at my walking sticks. I kept my eyes open to see them before they saw me and held the sticks close to my body to avoid offending them.

Signs like this one painted on a wall are common. This area has been built up a lot over the last ten years. Developers and homebuilders are eager for any property they can find. 

Dan returned Friday morning after taking an overnight train from Nagercoil in the south. He had a great visit to three orphanages and a nursing school. The sisters who are in charge took great care of him and especially enjoyed how much he liked the food they served him. He brought back several gifts of cashews and some cloths.

Sunday we returned to the Barbeque Nation restaurant I've written about before. Skewers of shrimp, chicken, fish, mushrooms, paneer and veggies are brought and laid over a small charcoal burner in the center of each table. They are all delicious and filling. Then there is a full buffet of veg and non-veg Indian food. The dessert table included delicious mango ice cream. Needless to say, we all stuffed ourselves and had a great time. The day was finished out with the third ODI cricket match between India and New Zealand. However, we were quite exhausted and stuffed, so went back to the hotel at the break around 6:30. Dhruv isn't very interested in cricket, but he was very involved in the book he was reading all afternoon.

Nina and Mahesh joined us for lunch at our hotel on Monday just before we took a cab to the airport. It turned out to be a good thing that we got there quite early. We were sitting in the lounge when an Air India employee came to us and said there was a phone charger in our suitcase and I needed to come take it out. She escorted me down, around, and into the back corridors of the airport. There was a small room where a man was supervising multiple people (all men) who were coming in and removing chargers from their checked bags. My escort left me there and went to get my bag, some distance away. When I opened it, I realized it was the bag that didn't have any of our electronic items in it, but she was definite that this one failed the scanner. So I went through it all and the only thing I could find was my travel alarm, that has a small battery. She took the bag back and ran it through the scanner again. Then she returned and said it was all right now. From there we had to go back to checkin to get me a new boarding pass (mine had been cancelled), then through security. At least this time we got to go through a special short line. A very interesting experience!

The rest of our travels went well. We had almost 4 hours to wait to transfer in Delhi. Our Air Canada flight departed at 12:10 AM. Both Dan and I slept almost immediately, and for a good 7+ hours. In Toronto we went through US immigration and customs. We were fortunate to get our bags quickly in Chicago and catch the bus to Michigan City. We were home by 3:00. A few groceries, some unpacking, and preparing our kitchen for some work that starts tomorrow will keep us from falling into bed too terribly early. 

Thanks for following. Next up, Spokane for Christmas and Thailand for the winter.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Weekend in Bangalore

On Saturday we headed out to the Andhra restaurant we've been to several times. This time we were going for the biriani instead of the traditional meal of several curries and rice served on a banana leaf. The banana leaf is still there, but the biriani comes in its own steel bowls. I had egg biriani and the others all had the mutton. It was a lot of rice; I ate barely half of mine. But it was delicious, a variation of the Hyderabad style. There are two main types of biriani in India, northern Lucknow-Mogul and Hyderabad. They all have rice slow-cooked with lots of spices and, usually, meat.

Across the street is a sweet shop that I remembered from the last visit. It is the only place that I've ever seen mango barfi, and they still had it. So delicious! Barfi is a popular Indian sweet made from khoya -- milk cooked down until it is nearly solid -- and sugar. Many different flavors are added, often pistachios or other nuts. I've had a dark chocolate one that was wonderful. I got 250 grams of the mango, and we all ate it down. If I'm lucky, I'll get there one more time while we are here.

We stopped for Dan and Mahesh to pick up some of their friend Old Monk. Nina, Dhruv and I went into a supermarket across the street to look for some special sweets that Dan wanted to take along to the South. This picture is for my India-related friends from the 60s-70s-80s. Having a store like this available was unthinkable when we lived here.

In the late afternoon we drove across the Ring Road (no walking!) to a new park. It is quite large, has a lot of trees, and there were quite a few people out for an evening stroll, even though this picture doesn't show them. There are curbed walkways throughout and open field areas where some people were tossing balls and playing around. 

Here are Nina and Dhruv posing for me. If you look closely, you can see the men ahead of us between them. The red shirt is one I brought as a gift for Dhruv. I think I picked well, as he didn't take it off for the entire weekend! (Today he goes back to school after a week's break, so he'll be back in his uniform.)

The moonrise was incredible. I took several pictures, but it was bright enough that this is the only one where it can be seen. This photo also shows some of the many trees in the park. So nice to have wooded areas in the middle of a big city.

Sunday was a lazier day. We walked to the apartment about 11:00. Dan was all packed up for his trip to visit several orphanages and a nursing school in the far south. He had his shoulder bag, a backpack and a borrowed duffle. Much of the contents include gifts for the sisters who will show him around. He also got eclair candies to hand out to the children in the orphanages.

The afternoon and early evening were spent watching the first India-New Zealand ODI cricket match. Dan has greatly enjoyed being able to see most of three full tests while we've been here. He and Nina are big fans, the others of us watched off and on. India won handily less than half an hour before the taxi was due to take him to the station -- great timing! (They also won all three tests, quite a feat, as NZ was ranked number one when they came.)

I went along in the taxi and was dropped at the hotel. The rest of this week will probably be quiet, as I entertain myself while Mahesh and Nina do their work (from home, so they'll be around).

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Travel to Bangalore

We left our hotel about 7:00 for the 8:45 train. We knew it would be rush hour and wanted to allow plenty of time. As we headed from Pahar Ganj through the center of New Delhi, we were amazed at the traffic. We were stuck in several jams. There were some processions going on, closing some of the streets. Our driver was excellent, threading his way through and eventually getting us to the station before 8:00.

We got two porters to carry our heavy bags. They always know which platform we need, plus the exact spot where our bogie (railroad car) will be located when the train pulls in. Sure enough, we were right in front of the door when it came. We had decided to do this trip in First Class A/C, a step up from Two-Tier A/C we did the last time, several years ago. In the Two-Tier, there are cubicles with four berths and a curtain. In First Class, the compartments are private with locking doors. We were lucky to get a coupé with only two berths, as we had hoped. (The railways website said that married couples are given priority for the few coupés on the train.) Here is a look in from the doorway. Clean sheets and pillows are provided, plus heavy wool blankets and a hand towel for each person. During the day the upper berth folds up and locks onto the wall, and the top layer of the lower berth folds up and becomes a back for the bench seat. It was very comfortable and we slept quite well.

When it was time for a meal, two tray tables were set up for us to eat on. This is the soup course of the dinner we were served after departure.

During the trip, a cleaner came in twice to sweep and mop the floor. The window was cleaned on the outside at several of the station stops. I enjoyed watching the scenery go by, miles and miles of fields. We had a few odd stops in the middle of nowhere (probably waiting for the track to clear). At one of them two of the workers from our bogie saw a custard apple tree just outside. They ran out and quickly picked as many as they could grab, got back on, and we took off. They were very happy! As I watched, there were no more of these trees along the way, so they were truly just lucky.

The main meals were basically the same as on the Shatabdi. And they fed us a lot -- morning tea, breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. By Thursday evening I wasn't hungry, so opted to skip dinner for an orange. The waiter noticed and soon brought me an apple and a sharp knife. Great service! When Dan hesitated about ordering dinner, he asked if he wanted chow mein and/or pasta instead of the regular mea. Dan said yes, and here is what he got:

Chow mein, pasta, vegetables, and veg cutlets
As we pulled into Bangalore, I caught this view of crowded apartment buildings in pastel colors.

We found a taxi easily and headed toward our hotel, about a 45-minute drive. It is in a newer area and addresses are difficult. With several calls to the hotel, we eventually got there. Although it was early, they had a room ready for us. We moved in, got showers, and met up with Mahesh, Nina and Dhruv. We walked to their flat about 10 minutes away and got down to the business of catching up and visiting.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

On the Road Again...

Our time in Mussoorie has come to a close. The flurry of socializing over the weekend was fun. It's so good to have so many old friends here. Monday was a quiet day, the first of a week-long break for staff and students. There was only one person in the office; I stopped by, but my work for this time was mainly finished. Our longtime dhobi, Om Prakash, came by in the morning with our laundry from last Thursday. Because of the constant mist, it wasn't completely dry, so I draped the things all over our furniture. (Most of it went into trunks for the Dunda village project and I didn't think it was a good idea to put damp clothes inside.)

I was told to feel free to use the washer and dryer (!) that have been placed in the guest room area. It took me most of the day to run two loads through, plus putting a number of the dhoti-cleaned things in. The washer took about 90 minutes and the dryer at least that long. But what a treat to be able to use it and bring virtually no dirty clothing along!

Dan with Om Prakash
Manoj carrying our bags down the stairs
 We left quite early for the train station in Dehra Dun. The Dusshera holiday was on Tuesday and we wanted to be sure to be ready to deal with traffic. Indeed, there was a procession near the Clock Tower in DD and our driver skirted the city to avoid it. We were nearly an hour early, but fortunately the A/C chair car was ready and we could go in and sit. We are always well fed on the Shatabdi train -- tea with sandwich, savory and sweet snacks; soup and bread sticks; dinner tray of rice, dal, curry and roti. And a cup of ice cream to finish off. It was a long ride and we got to our hotel about midnight. The Metropolis in Pahar Ganj is comfortable and we are used to the area now.

We had our usual breakfast at a place around the corner. Dan had an omelet and I had "banana porridge" (dhalia, cracked wheat cereal) and toast. I never eat plain white toast at home, but there is something about breakfast toast in India that tastes delicious, especially with chai.

Buttered toast - one order is 4 pieces! (I only ate two)

Banana porridge -- doesn't look too colorful, but delicious and served with honey

It's now about 11:00 AM and Dan just left to go into Connaught Place. I am going much closer, to Karol Bagh, where I'm planning to visit the West Side clothing store. I found some good things there last year, so wish me luck!

Next post in Bangalore after our 36-hour train journey. (A/C sleeper)

Monday, October 10, 2016

...and Sunday Socializing

Sunday morning we were invited to Kutty and Lalitha's place (Suncliff) for a dosa breakfast. It was good to see these friends -- Lalitha has been away the whole time we've been here and Kutty was busy with other activities. Their daughter Sara was home from her college in Gurgaon for a fall break.

I loved this tiny succulent in a champagne cork that someone gave them as a gift. So tiny! And you can't see it, but the wire is bent into a loop on the back side so you could hang it up.

Yum masala dosa! The sambar was delicious, too.

Lalitha and Kutty

Sara having her Kalsang leftovers for breakfast

Four outside on the veranda 
After a relaxing Sunday afternoon, we headed over to Woodstock Villa, our first home here at Woodstock (1968-71). We've known Monica and Eric since they first came to Woodstock, before we left in 1980. Monica works in the alumni office and knows *everybody*.

Two Shaws and a friend getting the food

L to R: Isabella Shaw, Marcus Shaw, Karsten Shaw,
Monica, me, Dan, Eric
And, just to finish up, a tree by the gate that I noticed while waiting for someone to come.

Today (Monday) is our last full day. I am doing some laundry and finishing off a couple of small projects. Tuesday we leave for Delhi and Wednesday we head to Bangalore by train. I may not have another post until we are settled in Bangalore.

Saturday Socializing

We are down to our last few days, and in a flurry of socializing with friends. Saturday evening we walked with Naz and Darab to the Cliffe, a new hotel and restaurant above Mullingar, just after the first turn at the hawa ghar. It looked really nice from the outside and we decided to try it. This is the longest walk Dan has taken and we were happy to know that his foot is healing well.

We had three tandoori platters -- one veg and two non-veg.

Dining Room -- built right into the cliff!

Crispy potatoes appetizer



Nonage platter -- 3 kinds of chicken -- tandoori, green and cream
[Sorry, it got started before I got my camera out!]

Veg platter -- cutlets, mushrooms, cauliflower, paneer

View toward back of Mussoorie at dusk

View toward Landour with the interline

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Last Full Week

This past week students from grade 5 up and most staff were away for activity week. The younger students were here, but did many day trips around the area.

I was able to finish up most of the work I've been doing. I've turned over the research for the history book to the Principal and the new Director of Alumni Affairs. They will need to find a writer for the next phase. I feel like I've accomplished a lot, but that there is still a lot to be done. I've also been proofreading copy for the alumni magazine and updating the school's Wikipedia entry.

Thursday was the last day in the office for Lauri, head of the alumni office. Because it was the last day with a good number of us there, they had a farewell party for me. We had fresh hot samosas (yum!!) and really good barfi along with whatever the kitchen had provided for morning coffee hour. After spending the last three weeks skipping the coffee and tea time snacks, I actually ate two of the samosas. So my lunch was very small. [In this picture, you might notice my stylish look -- socks and sandals. I had decided not to bring my large shoes, as we didn't expect to be here in the cold. But it was quite cool on Thursday.]

Left to right:  Sereena Pun (HR), Judy Crider, Cate Whitcomb, Lauri Wilson Coulter, Lori Osborne, Monica Roberts, Immu Uniyal. Cate and Lori were here just a few days. They are researching the history of the WCTU. They volunteer at the international centre in Chicago. The Indian WCTU was and still is one of the largest chapters.

Friday evening we were invited to Oakville for dinner with Steve and Ameeta Alter. We had a wonderful evening which included Momo and Tsering Nima, longtime friends.

Over the years, Ameeta and Steve have done lots of work on this old home (1848, I believe) to restore and update it. This year they had the foyer worked on. It is beautiful! It had been whitewashed so many times that the intricate plaster work was barely visible. It took many months of scraping to get rid of the gunk. It is a hodgepodge of Tudor rose, Greek column and Mogul-style ornamentation.

Here is a closeup of some of the work on the lower center.

Tenzing "Momo" at dinner.

Dan and Tsering at dinner. I'm embarrassed that I didn't get a shot of Steve and Ameeta! How could I have done that?

Earlier in the week I heard a commotion outside our living room window, which overlooks the elementary playground. The workers were repainting the outside of our building. I hope this picture gives you an idea of the height of the ladder. It looked very rickety to me!

Monday, October 3, 2016


We had a busy weekend! We will need to get our passports renewed as soon as we get home, so one thing we need is new pictures. It is cheaper here than at home, so Saturday we planned a bazaar trip to have our photos taken. There are new rules since the last time we did it — the size has changed and we learned that on Nov. 1 this year glasses must be removed. Dan took the scooter in and I walked, with the plan for me to take a taxi back.

Between Springview and the hospital a car full of young men drove by, with one of them brandishing a small pistol out of the window and pointing it at people. I am quite sure it was a toy, but it looked real enough and quite frightened me. There was a Woodstock School boy walking behind me and I turned to him and asked him if he saw it, too. That started quite a long conversation as he walked with me most of the way. He is a freshman, Indian boy, but living in Dubai. He was quite interested in what it was like long ago and I quite enjoyed chatting with him about things that are the same and those that are different. He left me at a salon where he was due to have a haircut. It passed the time quite well and I had a good time. The one thing he couldn’t agree with me on was the food — he was convinced it is absolutely terrible, even though in truth it is not bad. I told him that every boarding school student feels the same way as he does.

I met Dan at the Mussoorie Heritage Centre just behind the Clock Tower site. We had a good visit with Surbhi, daughter of Vinod, who runs the Centre. They have many interesting old photos on display and sell a variety of handicrafts made right around here. She told us about the plan for the Clock Tower, which was taken down several years ago. A WS alumnus wanted to renovate it and when they got inside, found it so decayed that it had to be removed. Since then the project has been stuck in political wrangling, but it appears that the final rebuilding has been approved. The hole for the foundation closes off the road to the left, which heads toward Wynberg Allen School and is one of the bypass roads to get out of the bazaar traffic. 

We went into the Glamour Photo shop, which is only about 6-7 feet wide. It has three rooms, with the one in the rear having the photo area. We both had our pictures taken and ordered 20 copies. They will come in handy if we need to apply for any visas in the next few years. The proprietor said they will be ready on Monday.

Next we went into the Golden Restaurant, one of our long-time favorites. They have a newly printed menu but mostly the same food. We started with paneer pakoras, then had aloo zeera (potatoes with cumin seed, dry) and channa dal (chickpeas in curry gravy). The fresh tandoori rotis were great! The total was about $7, so food isn’t quite as cheap here as it once was.

So which of the 4 numbers should I call for delivery?

Paneer Pakoras

Bill with the usual fennel seeds and sugar crystals
(Dhai actually is dahi - yogurt)

I decided that I was up for the walk back to school rather than getting a taxi, so Dan took off to order our taxi for Sunday. By the time I got to the top of Mullingar Hill I was quite tired, but managed to make it the rest of the way. I spent some time resting at home, feeling exhausted.

New hotel facade - including astroturf decor

Tiny garage along road

Downed electric pole; it must have been there for some time

Monkey family

Jacob's Ladder, steps from school gate to high school building

In the evening we went back into the bazaar with our friends Darab and Naz. Darab drove us in his car and parked just below the Clock Tower. We walked down to the Little Llama Cafe, located just above Union Church. This cafe was open for the first time when we were here last year and it is a very popular spot with WS students and staff. Their pizzas are quite good and most of their things are western rather than Indian.

Hot dog with fries


Chicken burger with fries

Dan and Amriq - Ajit's brother from Toronto

Ajit and his sister