the wonderful world of veena.

27 February 2015

weekly roundup 02 // 2015.

I'm back again. Looks like maybe this might become a regular thing after all? We'll see, but for now it has my attention.

My favourite photo from this week:

[the friendliest auto driver i've ever known]
Some links to articles and other fun stuffs:

Have you heard about the documentary The Wolfpack about 6 brothers who were locked inside their home in Lower Manhattan for 12 years with their only escape being the movies they watched incessantly? I am both fascinated and appalled and want to see this film.

Indian kids are using hand-drawn maps to map their slums and spur developmental improvements in their areas. As a map nerd and as someone who has worked in development in India for a decade, this makes my heart happy.

I love this idea of cities going car-free. Just imagine Bangalore or even Bombay with no cars!

A great article on Roads and Kingdoms about the South Park Street Cemetery in Kolkata. I would love to have a wander through there on my next visit to the city.

I cannot stop looking at the photos in Bridges and Balloons' photo essay of the Kerala backwaters. I can feel my feet beginning to itch...

In case you missed it:

My current favourite podcasts. Do you have any I should add to my list?

The books I've read so far this year. I'm one-third of the way through my goal of reading 15 books for fun in 2015!

What fun things have you seen around the interwebs this week? I'd love to know!

26 February 2015

book number five of 2015: alice's adventures in wonderland + through the looking glass [lewis carroll].

I have a confession: I never read Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass as a child. I saw the Disney movie a few times, but it was never really one of my favourites, and somehow I was never really interested to read the book.

Until a few weeks ago, that is, when it was continually referenced in Jeannette Walls' The Silver Star, and I finally decided it was time to give it a go. Combine that with a $0.99 price tag for the Kindle version of both books, and I was sold.

I took a few days off from reading during my quick visit to Bangalore, but otherwise I sped through both books pretty quickly. It's so funny to read such an old book after reading so many contemporary books recently -- the funny spellings and punctuation and the old English way of speaking kept me pretty entertained.

I'll admit that while I thoroughly enjoyed Alice's Adventures, I didn't find it to be as crazy and off-the-wall as I had anticipated. If I had read it as a child, I think it would have been much more fanciful than reading it as an adult. Or maybe it's just that my imagination is almost as vivid as Alice's :)

Through the Looking Glass was much more along the zany lines I was expecting. I loved the chapter with Tweedledum and Tweedledee and had good fun reminiscing about the Halloween Mindy and I dressed up as them [nearly 10 years ago!]. And I also loved Humpty Dumpty's explanation of the Jabberwocky poem. My class had to memorize that poem in 10th grade, and although I still remember most of it, I've never known what it meant. Even if Humpty's translation isn't entirely accurate, I'm still happy to have it.

Another fun part for me was to read it in my head with a British accent. I've been on a Downton Abbey binge-watching kick, so my internal British accent is pretty strong, and it made both the books much more entertaining.

Both stories were very quick reads and kept me thoroughly entertained throughout. I'm sad to have missed out on these as a child but am glad I finally got around to them now.

now reading: The Seventh Child by Erik Valeur, one of my Kindle First selections from last year. It sounds super interesting, but it's long, so it might be a while before my next book update.

25 February 2015

hello hyderabad: chutneys.

Generally during the week I carry lunch with me from home, but every now and then I'll have to pick up something between the schools and our office. It's usually more of a quick snack - some biscuits or a chicken puff and a Thums Up - but this week I treated myself to a nice South Indian lunch at Chutneys.

Chutneys boasts a vast menu and offers everything from Indian to Chinese, but in my experience they are best known for their South Indian food, particularly their dosas and idlis and different chutneys.

[my assortment of chutneys. the ginger - far right - was my favourite]
I decided to stick with the basics and ordered a butter masala dosa. While I was waiting for it to arrive, I received my various chutney offerings. I was able to easily identify the peanut, coconut, and ginger ones, but the the others remained mysterious and enticing.

When my dosa arrived, I couldn't believe my eyes. I could quite literally feel my mouth watering at the sight of it, with the butter melting away on the top of the fresh dosa. I quickly dug in, suddenly famished.

[i dare you to find a more glorious-looking lunch]
To put it simply, my meal was delicious. The dosa was the perfect level of crispy, the chutneys were all fantastic, and the masala was tasty with just the slightest hint of spice. My favourite chutneys were the peanut and ginger, and I couldn't get enough of them.

Another thing I liked was that the masala was well spread out inside the dosa. Oftentimes at dhabas, they use a scooper to add the masala, so it ends up being a round blob right in the center of the dosa. At Chutneys, it was clear that they were more intentional about having an equal amount of masala throughout the entire dosa, which made a huge impression on me. I know it might sound nit-picky, but these are the small details that separate the good from the best.

[tearing it to shreds]
a few things to know:
  • I ate at the Banjara Hills location [just next to Nagarjuna Circle], but they also have locations in Jubilee Hills and Himayat Nagar and inside the Inorbit Mall in Hitec City
  • You'll be tempted by the other offerings on the menu, as I was by the chole bhatura, but if it's your first visit, stick with the traditional South Indian fare
I've had a pretty good food week, and as I head into my final two weeks in Hyderabad, I would love some more suggestions!

24 February 2015

hello hyderabad: paradise biryani.

Since I was in Hitech City to see The Imitation Game, I decided to make the most of it and treat myself to dinner at Paradise Food Court.

As soon as I announced that I would be coming to Hyderabad for work, nearly everyone I know who has ever been here chimed in to tell me that I had to eat at Paradise. Famous for their mutton biryani, Paradise has become the go-to in the city for the dish. I have a great affinity for biryani, so I obviously knew I would need to get there at some point.

There's not a Paradise location near my office or where I'm staying, so it took me some time to finally be in close proximity to one, and I am so glad I finally made it.

[just look at that yummy goodness on my plate]
The Paradise location in Hitech City has three different options based on what you want: the ground floor is solely a take-away counter; the first floor is a pretty nice air-conditioned restaurant [a must during summer, which has already begun here]; and the second floor is a terrace-level air-conditioned restaurant. I ate at the restaurant on the first floor, and my only guess for the difference between the two restaurants would be price and potential views, although the curtains were all drawn when I was there.

Considering it was 9.30pm on a Saturday night, the restaurant was busy but not crowded, and I settled into a nice corner table. My waiter was very friendly and courteous, probably owing to the fact that they don't often get women in there dining on their own.

[my full spread. it was more than my stomach could handle]
All the offerings on the menu sounded delicious, and I would have loved some kebabs as a starter, but I hate wasting food and so had to pass. All I ordered was mutton biryani, and I'm so glad I listened to my instincts, as the portion was huge!

The biryani itself was delicious, and the masala was mouth-watering, but my favourite part was the mutton: the meat was so tender that it practically fell apart as soon as I touched it. The only other time that happens is when I eat Sheilamma's biryani, so that's how you know it's good.

[my very sweet waiter saw me taking photos of my dinner and offered to take one of me as well. i figured it would make my mother happy and my father and brother jealous, so i said yes]
I stuffed myself as full as I could, but I admit I had to leave a little bit of the rice at the end, because I was bursting at my seams. My dinner was delicious, and I think I amused my waiter with how much I enjoyed the food.

I can be ornery and sometimes skip the places that everyone goes to, but in the case of Paradise everyone goes there because the food is excellent and so is the service. If you find yourself in Hyderabad - or in a city where they've opened an outlet, such as Bangalore - take yourself there at once. You won't be sorry.

Here's to some biryani-filled dreams for the next few nights.

23 February 2015

movie review: the imitation game.

Let me preface this post by saying that I knew even before I saw this movie that I would love it. It's about World War Two and code breakers, and it involves actors with British accents. There was no way, save a ridiculous calamity, that I was not going to enjoy this.

I first heard about Alan Turing and his work breaking German codes during World War 2 on an episode of Stuff You Missed in History Class about 2.5 years ago, and I was fascinated. Cryptography and code breaking are super cool to puzzle nerds such as myself, and it was very cool to think about how Turing and his team built the machine that eventually cracked Germany's "unbreakable" Enigma machine. So when I first began seeing previews for The Imitation Game, I was ecstatic. And with Benedict Cumberbatch in the role of Turing? Sign me up.

Because the movie released in the States on Christmas Day and I flew out on the day after, I didn't get a chance to see it before I left. My first month in India was crazy, going from Bombay to Bangalore and finally to Hyderabad, and so I kind of forgot about it until all the Oscar hype of last week. And then I decided to see if it was playing in Hyderabad.

There was one show a day at the PVR in Hitech City, so I decided to make an evening of it and go this past Saturday. Because I waited and bought my ticket at the mall, my seat wasn't great [you get assigned seats at the cinemas in India], but it was at least comfortable and reclined, so I settled in for the movie.

Even though I knew I would like the movie, I didn't realized just how much I would. For one, I thought Cumberbatch was great. He really nailed his performance and brought so much depth to the role. And with a supporting cast that included Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, and Allan Leech, there wasn't much that could go wrong.

I liked that it moved along quickly and never felt like it was dragging. Sometimes with biographies like this, they drag on for hours and become a bit mind-numbing, but I never got bored. At just under 2 hours running time, I was really pleased with the pace of the movie.

It's tough to watch a movie in 2015 about a man who was found guilty of "gross indecency" simply because of his sexuality, but I thought the filmmakers did a fine job of covering it without sensationalizing it.

If you are interested in World War Two, code breaking, British people, and history, then you will enjoy this film.

20 February 2015

weekly roundup number one // 2015.

[monday morning commute on the bangalore metro]
I've been toying with doing some sort of weekly link roundup for some time now. I'm still not fully convinced it's something I want to or will do, but there were a few things that caught my eye this week that I wanted to share.

So here goes, and we'll see if it's something I decide to keep up with in the future:

Maratha Mandir in Bombay just aired their final showing of DDLJ after 1009 consecutive weeks. And now I will never be able to forgive myself for not seeing it when I lived in Bombay.

Sir Ken Robinson continues to inspire educators around the world with his wit, his charm, and his calls to action. One of my favourite TED Talks.

Grantland has created a bracket to determine the top second banana of all time. I voted for my first round picks and can't wait to check back next week for Round 2.

A really interesting story on Maptia about growing up in a country that technically doesn't exist. [reminded me a lot of The Terminal, which has been airing on tv in India a lot recently]

This Thrillist article captures so much of Memphis' wonderful weirdness. And makes me just a little bit homesick for BBQ and fried chicken.

Happy weekend, world!

19 February 2015

blog goals for 2015.

Now that I have had this blog for nearly 4.5 years and have over 500 published posts, I figured it's about time that I actually put some effort into expanding it. That's not to say I've not been doing that to an extent already -- I often link to posts on Facebook and Twitter, but they tend to be posts that I think people will be interested in. I have no interest in making my blog a business and profiting off of ads or anything like that; I have a full-time job, and this blog remains a hobby of mine, but I would like to take a stab at diversifying a bit and increasing viewership and shares of posts.

So how exactly do I do that without compromising on my content? It's quite simple and also rather complicated at the same time.

1. Update the design. In December 2010 I chose the "library looking" design for my blog because I love books. And then I decided on a different design because I liked the colour, and for some reason I've stuck with both, which is why my homepage has a lot of colours on it that don't really go together. I want to fix that. I'm still playing around with a few different designs, but I'm hoping to pick one soon.

2. Add pages. Now that I have a lot of content on here, I thought I would break it down a bit. I've got lots of posts on books and travel, and I'll soon have a lot more on life and getting around in India, so I thought I would create some space on here that would provide easy access to those. These are in development but might take some more time as I'm working on getting some illustrations for them as well [the perks of having creative friends :)].

3. Diversify my content. I am still going to write about books and travel, as those will always be big parts of my life. But I also want to talk about life in India and some of my favourite places and tips and tricks for traveling around. Maybe some shorter posts with more pictures. Some Top 10 lists. Who knows. I just want to play around and experiment with what I'm posting. I don't have any series that are running right now other than the monthly photo roundup, so I thought I'd see what other new stuff I can get going. I'm hoping to get a "Best in Bangalore" series going once I'm back for good next month.

4. Increase social media outreach without being obnoxious. Until my time in Nepal and Bombay, I rarely shared my posts. I just never took the extra effort, assuming people didn't care and might get annoyed. Now I have it set up so that every post automatically gets shared to my Google+ page, but I want to start sharing to Twitter and Facebook and maybe even Instagram more regularly as well. I do not, however, want to become annoying or obnoxious about it, which is a fine line to tread. We'll see how successful I am with it. If it gets to be too much, I'll stop.

5. Collaborate with other bloggers. I've been in contact with a few bloggers - mostly travelers - for the last year, and I've slowly been asking about participating in various guest posts or surveys they do. In the fall I contributed a Backpacker's Boutique Guide to Bangalore for Rachel of Hippie In Heels. I'm in the process of collaborating with Margo of The Overseas Escape and Ashley of Ashley Abroad on posts they are working on. And it's been fun. I want to do more of those and branch out into the world. Maybe later in the year I'll host a few guests of my own, but we're not going to get too crazy for the time being.

These might not sound like much right now, but they are all things that will take some time to get off the ground. In the meantime I am having fun brainstorming some new ideas for posts and getting some fun illustrations sorted out.

Wish me luck, and hopefully we will all be enjoying a new "wonderful world" soon!

13 February 2015

book number four of 2015: the silver star [jeannette walls].

I first read Jeannette Walls' memoir The Glass Castle about 6 years ago, and I loved both the story as well as Walls' writing style. In all the books I have read before or since, it has remained one of the books I most recommend others should read. Her writing is so honest, and her story-telling is spectacular, so I was beyond excited about cracking open this book a few weeks ago.

The Silver Star is a story about family and about the different ways families have to pull together. Narrated by 12-year-old "Bean" Holladay in 1970, we travel from California to small-town Virginia on the cusp on integration. After their mother has a small breakdown and heads out for some time on her own, Bean and her older sister Liz head to their uncle's home in Virginia to evade the police.

As Bean and Liz adjust to Byler and to life with their Uncle Tinsley, they uncover town secrets and family histories and begin to understand their mother's behaviour a little better. While Bean takes to small-town country living like a fish to water, Liz is more skeptical, holding the town at arm's length.

Both girls slowly settle in and eventually pick up part-time jobs. A new school year begins, and with it comes integration and a lot of racial tension. Reading Bean's descriptions made me want to watch Remember the Titans again. And then, shortly after the school year opens, something happens that shakes the foundation of the sisters, of the Holladay family, and of the town itself.

We follow along with Bean as she learns to navigate that gray area between right and wrong, and in many ways we grow up with her. I loved Bean as a narrator, and I tried to drag out the last 30 pages of the book because I was not yet ready to bid her goodbye. She reminded me in a number of ways of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, a book Bean reads in her own English class.

If you liked Walls' first book, or if you just enjoy great lead characters, check this book out.

Next read: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. Because I've never read it and figured it was time. And also because Carroll was Liz Holladay's favourite author.

11 February 2015

book review: how children succeed [paul tough]

I first heard about Tough's book when he appeared on a This American Life episode a few years ago, and it has been on my shortlist to read ever since. When I was hired by Zaya in early November, I took it as a sign that it was time to finally purchase and read it to see what he had to say.

I took my time with it, progressing slowly and reading in between books for fun and articles for work. It was tough going at first to find my rhythm with it, but once I set a schedule for myself, I stuck to it pretty well.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character is Tough's look at how external and internal factors can affect a child's life, and how we as educators can help instill some of the values that will help them succeed in life. Ultimately there are some, such as grit, which are inherently a part of them, but we can encourage them to find and to harness those qualities.

There were a few points in the book where a lot of technical language was used, and having not been in the education arena for a year-and-a-half, it took me some time to catch up to all of it, but once I did I sailed right along. I especially loved the stories of the chess teacher in New York City and the director of OneGoal in Chicago and how their hard work, perseverance, and dedication have helped their students move along in life.

I especially related to his findings regarding how home life can impact children's learning. It's an easy assumption to make, but in India it is tough to convince parents of this. Many parents - especially in low-income areas - think that it is entirely up to the school to make their children learn and do not provide help or assistance at home. We at Zaya are currently trying to collect some data from our students to show correlations between parent engagement and student learning outcomes, but it's going to take some time to gather all of that.

But what I ultimately liked about Tough's book was that there is hope for children who come even from the toughest of circumstances, especially if they posses those three all-important qualities: grit, curiosity, and character. His profiles of students who have used all three to pull themselves out of their situations were very powerful. It reminded me a lot of Brandon Stanton [the photographer behind Humans of New York] and his campaign to send kids from Brownsville in NYC on college visits to Harvard. That is the toughest neighbourhood in the city, but even those kids have dreams of getting out. They just need people to believe in them and help them out a little.

This is not a book for everyone, but if you are interested in education or the importance of youth empowerment, I think you'll enjoy this read. And as a bonus, it is currently available on KindleUnlimited for free if you are a subscriber!

What other books would you recommend along these lines? I've already got The Smartest Kids in the World, but I am always on the lookout for more!

09 February 2015

what i'm listening to.

I go through phases when it comes to podcasts. I love them a lot, so I have a tendency to try to listen to too many. As the episodes build up, I get overwhelmed and give up. It's a vicious cycle, but it has become an ongoing one in my life.

I got back into podcasts because of Serial [yes, just like everyone else]. I downloaded all the available episodes when Christina and I were going to the Packers game in November, knowing that we would have 3.5-hour drives between Chicago and Green Bay. Before the end of the first episode, we were both hooked, and I was back on the podcast bandwagon.

Through the last few months of the year I kept adding to and deleting from my list of podcasts. I still try to listen to too many, but I am slowly coming to terms with it. Today I thought I would share the ones that are currently on my rotation.

In no particular order:

Tuesdays With Aaron. A weekly podcast with Green Bay Packers quarterback and all-around awesome human being Aaron Rodgers? No further information necessary.

Serial. Also known as, The Podcast that Captivated America. It was ridiculously addicting, and I was not emotionally ready for it to end. I know there have been a lot of follow-up interviews and articles written since the podcast ended, but I've not had a chance to read them all. All I know is, the second season of this podcast might just be the most highly anticipated thing to happen this year.

This American Life. The podcast that everyone knows and loves. After Neil Gaiman, I'd love Ira Glass to narrate my life.

Stuff You Should Know. A quirky show that explains how things work. From discussing book banning to the Peace Corps to juggling, Josh and Chuck discuss pretty much everything under the sun. The episodes are usually around half-an-hour and are sarcastic and informative at the same time.

The BS Report with Bill Simmons. I have loved Bill Simmons for nearly 15 years now, so there's no way I can pass on the opportunity to hear his voice nearly every weekday. And while he covers mostly sports, just like his columns, the podcast also includes numerous pop culture references and digs at celebrities. And with appearances from Cousin Sal, Jacko, Bill's Dad, Grantland staffers like Zach Lowe and Andy Greenwald, and random celebrities from time to time, it's chock full of awesomeness.

Serial Serial. The podcast from The Onion where members of the AV Club break down recent episodes of Serial and discuss the bombshells and the remaining questions. This began around the 7th or 8th episode of Serial, and it was great to know there were other people in the world who had the same questions about the case as I did. And as a bonus, even though Serial itself has concluded, the Serial Serial has continued to publish a few more episodes following up on new information and updates to Adnan's appeal.

Freakonomics Radio. If you read and enjoyed the books, you'll love the podcast. Stephen J Dubner, one of the co-authors of the bestsellers, continues to explore the "hidden side of everything" in weekly episodes, covering such topics as education and energy efficiency, to name a few. I have really enjoyed listening to these during my commute and tend to feel just a little bit smarter by the end of them.

Here's the Thing. Alec Baldwin chatting with other celebrities about their careers? Sign me up. I started from the beginning and am listening to select episodes, and so far my favourites have been Lorne Michaels, Kristen Wiig, and Kathleen Turner.

TED Radio Hour. I love TED Talks, and I used to subscribe to the daily video podcast, but the videos just kept piling up and I could never seem to be able to make a dent in the list, so this is a great compromise. The Radio Hour pulls together snippets from people's TED Talks around common themes and then also does brief interviews with those speakers. I don't necessarily listen to all of the episodes, but the ones I have listened to have been phenomenal - especially the one about education and the one about secrets.

I Love Memphis Podcast. Hosted by Holly Edwards, author of the ILoveMemphisBlog, and Kevin Cerrito, radio and trivia host, this podcast highlights special events happening in Memphis, and each episode includes an interview with a special Memphian. It's been a great way to keep up with the goings-on in Memphis even though I'm not there anymore, and I especially love the interviews. January 2015 featured Paula Raiford, owner of Paula and Raiford's Disco in downtown Memphis, and was spectacular.

Reveal. This is a new one for me - I just discovered it about two weeks ago - so I am still deciding how I feel about it, but my initial take is that it's rather fascinating.

Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! NPR's hilarious weekly trivia podcast. I like listening to the panelists and their antics, and it's a quick way for me to catch up on the big headlines from the previous week and see how much I know about what is happening in the world.

Slate's Hang Up and Listen. Slate's weekly sports podcast. It covers all the big and also not-so-big sporting events from around the world, and it has been one of the few podcasts I've kept up with for over two years.

Radiolab from WNYC. I have been trying to figure out how to describe Radiolab and have been drawing a blank, so I'll just use their description: "On Radiolab, science meets culture and information sounds like music. Each episode of Radiolab is an investigation -- a patchwork of people, sounds, stories and experiences centered around One Big Idea". That's pretty much it, and it is fantastic.

Stuff You Missed in History Class. The podcast for the history nerd within us all. I made the mistake of trying to start from the beginning and listen to every episode, and I still have about 260 episodes to go to catch up. I've skipped a few that didn't sound too interesting to me, and some have been a little disappointing, but for the most part I have really enjoyed this podcast. Some of my favourite episodes include the ones about the Winchester House, the Hearst Mansion, the Medici family, WW2 codebreakers, and the disappearance of the Lindbergh baby, just to name a few. The archive is close to 600 episodes now, so it might appear a little daunting, but there are some really interesting ones if you have an inkling to check it out.

Criminal. In short this is a podcast about crime, but it's really so much more than that. I don't fully know how to explain it, but it takes everyday crimes and tells you the backstory to them. I started listening to it in December, so there have only been about 3 or 4 episodes, but they've all been really interesting to listen to.

Slate's Political Gabfest. Slate's weekly political podcast. I am not one who is good about keeping up with politics in the US, mostly because it often makes me mad, so this podcast is a good way for me to know what's going on without having to watch the news.

How to do Everything. I feel like the name gives you all the information you need about this one. It's pretty interesting and tackles some questions you wouldn't necessarily think of on your own but that are pretty thought-provoking. Just last week I learned that the plural of Lego is in fact Lego. I've been saying it incorrectly my whole life!

HuffPost Weird News. Again, pretty self-explanatory. I listen to this one pretty intermittently, but it's generally pretty interesting and quirky.

Invisibilia. Another new one I am just getting into. It's all about the invisible connections that control our lives, and I kind of like it. The recent episode entitled "Batman" was really great. It launched in mid-December and is already the number one downloaded podcast on iTunes.

Call Your Girlfriend. "The podcast for long-distance besties everywhere". I discovered this in early January and have been enjoying catching up on the back episodes. Hosted by long-distance best friends, I especially love it because my own best friends are spread across the US, the UK, and India, so no matter where I am in the world, I am always separated from someone. Ann and Aminatou talk about current events, music, the pressure of making it through friends' wedding weekends, their periods, and everything in between. Parts of it are pretty funny, and I think I'm a fan. I also like that their website includes links to everything they discuss so you can follow along if you want.

I know I know, it's far too many. But they're just so addicting! Past ones I have also enjoyed include Lexicon Valley [which I still return to every once in a while]; BBC Global News; and Slate's The Gist.

What podcasts do you enjoy listening to? I am always up for rotating a few new ones into my playlist!

06 February 2015

book number three of 2015: the bean trees [barbara kingsolver]

These last few weeks I finally got around to reading a  book I've had on my list for close to 5 years: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. I first saw it in a used bookstore in Bangalore late in 2010, but already having too many books to read before moving back to the States, I had to pass on the urge to pick it up [not easy]. Last summer I found a Kindle version for cheap, so I bought it quickly and saved it for when I was ready to dive into it.

The Bean Trees is the story of Taylor, a girl determined to grow up and escape Pittman County, Kentucky. By avoiding getting pregnant in high school, and by getting a job and saving her money, she was able to leave when she was 23, heading west with no final destination in mind.

Along the way she sort of inherits a small child, whom she names Turtle, and they eventually find themselves in Tuscon. There she befriends a newly single mother - also originally from small-town Kentucky - and together they learn to survive and thrive in a foreign place.

Taylor and her makeshift family face a number of triumphs and fails, and The Bean Trees tells the story of how they pull together to take care of one another and ensure everyone's health and well-being, even when facing difficult odds and difficult situations.

Their mettle is especially tested after an incident brings certain truths to light, and Kingsolver deftly portrays how they band together to solve their problem. I love the underlying theme of finding family in the most unexpected of places and how often it is those people who will help you out no matter what when you're in trouble.

I didn't realize until I finished the book that The Bean Trees was Kingsolver's first novel. Her talent is immediately apparent, and her abilities as a storyteller are extraordinary. And while this book certainly differs greatly from The Poisonwood Bible, her most famous work and a particular favourite of mine, it is by no means a less great work.

I also just found out that Kingsolver actually wrote a sort of follow-up from the viewpoint of Turtle, so I will be adding that to my collection one day soon.

next up: The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls. I loved her first book, The Glass Castle, and I can't wait to delve into this one.

05 February 2015

loving lately: apps + websites.

There are a few new-to-me apps and websites - and some that I've rediscovered - that I have been exploring lately, and I thought I would share some quick thoughts on them with you.

Trover. I first heard about this on Be My Travel Muse, and Kristin's words couldn't have been more correct: "it's like Pinterest meets a virtual travel agent". [or at least what I imagine Pinterest is like, because I have used it approximately 3 times in my life] It's a great way to post your pictures for other travelers to see and to get great ideas for upcoming trips. Planning a holiday in New York City? Just search for it in Trover and see the places other travelers have enjoyed in the city. It has certainly come in handy during my stay in Hyderabad, as I have gotten to see it through the eyes of both locals and visitors and have been able to choose which places I wish to see for myself. And it's so thrilling every time a traveler "thanks" you for posting a new discovery.

Touchnote. I can't remember whose blog I learned about this from, but it has quickly become one of my favourite apps. As someone who loves to write cards and letters but who hates having to hunt down post offices in India, this app comes in handy while living abroad. It allows me to send postcards with photos from my own Camera Roll, so that friends and family can receive copies of my pictures, making it more personalized. If I think someone would really like a particular photo, I can send them a card with it on the front! Prices vary depending on where the cards are going, but you can buy a pack of credits, which works out a bit cheaper. I began with a pack of 20 credits, which cost $29.95, and that covers worldwide postage for all of my cards. I'm still hand-writing my weekly postcards, because I am a purist and because I have a ridiculous collection that needs to be shared with the world, but I'm finding Touchnote makes it super easy to send quick notes to friends who are far away [especially for things like birthdays, since you never know with the Indian postal system how long things like that will take].

Podcasts. I am working on a much longer post about the particular podcasts I am currently listening to, but I just have to say, I am so glad that Apply finally gave Podcasts its own app. It's so much easier and more convenient being able to organize and access these on their own app, and it's made me much more diligent about actually keeping up with them.

Flipboard. I have used this on-and-off for the last 4 years - generally whenever I have space on my phone for it - and have always loved it. It curates news stories for you based on your interests and the publications you like, so that articles are readily available for you. I've always liked their interface, where it feels like you are actually flipping from one page to the next, and I find that the stories it gives me are relevant to my work and my interests. I also like that it will email me a daily Top 10, because I prefer reading on my computer rather than on my phone. Another similar app I like is called Zite, and I get most of my daily news and information from these two.

Evernote. I first downloaded Evernote when I was in grad school, but at the time I still preferred to use Microsoft Word for my class notes. I recently rediscovered it, however, when I began working at Zaya and found it was an easy way to organize my notes from my school visits as well as from meetings and articles or books I was reading all in one place. It has proven easier to use than I originally anticipated, which just goes to prove that I am generally behind the curve. Plus I like how easy it is to share notes with other team members if need me, and the syncing between devices is an added bonus.

Goodreads. I will be the first to admit, I go through weird phases with Goodreads. I will suddenly remember it and mark twenty or so books as "read", and then I'll forget about it for about 6 months, until I get an email saying that someone has added me as a friend. And then I'll repeat the cycle. But now that I have a phone with a memory larger than 16gb, I decided to download the app, knowing that I would be much more likely to keep track of books as I read them. Which is especially good, since I made it a goal to read 15 books for fun this year and 25 books overall. Making things even more convenient, on Goodreads you can now set challenges for yourself, so I can actually see how well I am progressing toward my goal. Oh, and having it linked to my Amazon account is just icing on the cake: as soon as I finish a book on my Kindle and give it a rating, it automatically syncs that to my Goodreads account, and I can also see the books I've ordered from Amazon and mark the ones I have actually read. It's a great way to keep track of which books I've read, and it also reminds me of how many I've ordered and promptly forgotten about...

Ola Cabs. India's cheaper - and safer? - version of Uber. It works in much the same way as Uber, except you have the option of paying by cash, and you can book a cab either by calling them or using their app. The minis run on pretty much the same fares as autos but are much more convenient, and much easier and safer to use if it is late at night; if you have more people or luggage, you can book a bigger vehicle, and the fare increases slightly. Shonali and I were using them regularly when I was in Bangalore, and they were pretty great. Bonus: they have autos as well who will pick you up from your front door for a Rs 10 convenience charge. Sometimes, in Bangalore, that convenience is worth it.

Trail Wallet. This is a new one I just downloaded after reading a review of it on Too Many Adapters, so I am still exploring it, but I have been wanting a good expenses app since I moved back to India and think this might be the one I stick with. Truth be told, this would have been a lifesaver during my summer road trip and would have saved me all the time I spent adding and categorizing and setting up formulas on Excel so I could keep track of how much I was spending. I'm looking forward to using the app some more and seeing how much I utilize it.

And there you have it, the tech-y things that are keeping me entertained these days. Anyone have any other good apps or websites you'd recommend?

02 February 2015

in photos: january 2015.

January was a crazy month. I started a new job. I went from Bombay to Bangalore and finally to Hyderabad. I rang in the year at Janata, caught up with a lot of fun friends and babies, and have been enjoying exploring a new city. And here you have what the month has looked like as seen through the lens of my camera[phone]. [apologies for repeats which have appeared in previous posts]


[ringing in 2015 with steph and co at janata]
[artsy decor at my farewell bombay dinner]
[love my bombay kiddos so much]

[chamarajpet: my first home in bangalore nearly 10 years ago and still one of my sanctuaries in the city]
[kicking off our tinfinity celebrations at guzzlers]
[the next generation of the devaraj family. so many girls!]
[so many fresh vegetables for only $2! just another reason why i love india]
[pongal lunch]
[peanut is such a cheeseball]
[hoirong show at counterculture. love seeing kamal on stage again]

[adorable indian schoolchildren]
[afternoon snacks when i'm working at home: sev, cashew biscuits, and an orange]
[having a celebration in your home? just shut down the street. no big deal]
[my favourite room in the salar jung museum, the manuscript room] 
[driving past the charminar] 
[strolling around the chowmahalla palace]
[love seeing the kids' cycles all lined up at the schools] 
[students' tiffin boxes get delivered from home throughout the morning and placed outside their classrooms]
One month down, only eleven more to go!