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Note: For some of you, this post is under the heading of “Too Much Information,” but I think that it’s particularly important to work against our natural inclination to cherry-coat our lives for public consumption.

Thursday I woke up with a swollen right hand and a light rash on the sides of my abdomen. Both places itched terribly. By that evening, I had to take antihistamines to make it bearable.

Friday was worse. This is a picture of a fraction of the rash on one of my sides.

A nurse practitioner gave me a script for steroids and more antihistamines. While the itching was somewhat controlled, the rash continued to spread Saturday. I felt a bit like when Spiderman unlocks the black spider-suit and it covers him. Luckily, I was able to see a doctor Monday. Among other things, he ordered a huge dose of steroids to be administered just like in the movies!

It was the most painless experience I’ve had with needles, from blood draws to vaccinations. And more importantly, it seems to have worked. The rash on my legs still itches, but everything is slowly clearing up.

Despite the completely unknown cause, I’m thanking my lucky stars it happened when it did; a week later would have messed up my Yellowstone trip, which I leave for tomorrow!

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It’s summer in Texas.

I had a long list of outdoor activities that I wanted to do when I returned to the U.S. Well, I’m here…and in past month, I haven’t done much beyond going inline skating twice and taking walks (just before going to sleep, which is the only point in the day that the temperature is below 97 degrees) several times a week.

This post might seem to be about how awfully hot and humid it is here.

I complain about how there is nothing to do here because it’s too hot. But the truth is that there is just not much to do here. Or at least not for someone like me, and by that I mean someone without extended family, children, school and sporting events, or a very settled life to keep them entertained.

Dallas is a great city…for people who want plenty of space near good schools to raise their children who are driven to practices and recitals. But for me, it leaves a lot to be desired.

I’ve visited the 2 museums downtown. I’ve been to the arboretum and the hour away Ft. Worth Botanic gardens (neither of which I would recommend in the over 100 degree heat we’re having). Twice, I’ve been to thenature reserve” that everyone raves about, although it leaves me wondering if those people know the meaning of “Arbor” or “Hills.”

But I continue to find myself frustrated with a lack of things to do here.

I don’t care for sports, professional, college, or little league. I don’t have children, nor all that their lives entail. I don’t like shopping, despite the malls and shopping centers lining the highways for tens of miles.

So this city leaves me (and any guests visiting me) wondering what there is to do. I have found that there are some tasty restaurants (beyond Tex-Mex & steak houses), and I quite enjoy the amazing thunderstorms and lightening shows.  See, this is a problem — if you ask me about Dallas, I can only recommend the ethnic food and the thunderstorms. Actually, there’s also a great Indian grocery store, and I have been known to take my guests there for a treat:)

I hope it’s clear to you now that this post is actually a plea for more ideas.

Suggestions? Recommendations?

I expect to be leaving this city soon, but first, I want to unearth some gems.

 

Before you start, let me say:

I haven’t been to Six Flags Over Texas since a High School band trip. (This is mostly because I don’t care to stand in line in the heat and sun, but don’t forget that without some serious coupons, the standard price is $75/person. Yikes!)

Also, I have only gone to 1 or 2 movies in the theater. (I’ve never been a big tv watcher, and after tons of bootlegged copies of movies and tv shows in Afghanistan, I prefer to take a break for awhile.)

 

I really enjoyed some of the Afghan dishes that I had while I lived there. Each of the cooks taught me how to make one of my favorite dishes.

This is Hussain showing me how to make eggplant. This dish was so good that if someone came to dinner a little late they often didn’t get any! However, once I learned how to make it, I wasn’t sure if I would actually do it. It has 3 major steps, making it time-consuming (although far from the most time-consuming Afghan recipes). While I enjoy cooking, that’s quite a commitment. But I finally attempted it last week, and I’m so pleased with it. Here’s the basic recipe, although quantities are eyeball estimates.

Eggplant with yogurt

Preparing eggplant

2 eggplant* (long, skinny “chinese” variety recommended”)

Salt

Vegetable oil

First, slice eggplant, sprinkle with salt, and set for 30 min. Next, rinse eggplant with water to remove salt and juices (I patted them dry after this). Heat oil in shallow pan and deep fry slices for 3-5 min on each side until lightly brown. (Note: this is the time consuming step because you can only cook so many at a time.)

Tomato sauce

6 tomatoes

4 garlic cloves

1 t. salt

1 t. pepper

Combine above ingredients. Cook on medium heat until tomatoes resemble a sauce. Layer cooked eggplant and tomato sauce in oven pan. Bake at around 350 degrees for 20 min.

Yogurt sauce

1-1.5 cups yogurt (sour or natural plain yogurt)

1-2 t. salt

2 cloves of garlic

Combine yogurt, salt, and garlic (I recommend doing this toward the beginning and letting it sit). Place yogurt sauce over the eggplant dish and serve.

The dish is blissful!

Note: I tried using canned tomatoes and the sauce was a little too watery, but I can adjust that. And now that I’ve made it successfully, I’m going to try some tweaks to see if I can find a quicker way to cook the eggplant, such as broiling the eggplant in the oven.

If you attempt to make this, you will be pleasantly surprised in just how good it tastes!

*I have to mention that until I went to Afghanistan I didn’t think I liked eggplant. I was completely surprised to eat it there and love it! I’ve since learned that eggplant varieties vary substantially in taste. The nice round ones are typical in the US, and the slender ones are found at specialty stores (and at your local grocery are often called chinese eggplant). If you haven’t tried different kinds, I highly recommend it.

Do you have a plan in place in case someone close to you (but living far away) suddenly falls ill or dies? Many of us have family and friends who we cannot reach simply by jumping in the car. Where are your grandparents, parents, siblings, close friends, god children, or any children who you are designated guardians for?

Spend some time thinking about the unthinkable now.

 

This is much more than just knowing the major airports for flying.

 

Research what airlines you might fly, both major and minor carriers. The airlines you fly for well-planned visits may vary substantially from what you select in the event of an emergency. Airlines may be booked, or last-minute flights may easily cost 6xs the normal rate.

Look at the policies of those airlines. Some airlines still offer some form of bereavement tix. For some situations, these will be a great deal (because they offer things like no change fees) or they may be much more expensive (because you have to buy directly through the published airline instead of through discount travel sites).

Other airlines don’t have any discounts (e.g., British Airways), or discounts may only apply for domestic fares.

Ensure your situation (compassion fares vs bereavement fares) fits the stipulations of the airline and that you can get the required documentation (e.g. copy of death certificate, name of hospital).

Consider other options. Don’t forget to check with any discount programs that you are a part of. Buying tix through your corporate account, AAA, airline miles, or perks with your credit card may save you a lot because their rates aren’t set in the same way as published fares. Knowing what your options are ahead of time may save  you from needless time calling programs that won’t work or easily forgetting to check others.

Create a basic plan. Have a plan in place for which airport you should fly into, where it’s convenient for family/friends to pick you up, or where it makes the most sense to drive, taxi, train, metro, or bus. Consider a couple of different scenarios depending the nature of the emergency or whether there are family/friends nearby.

Have a place where pertinent info of your plan is written down. You’re likely to be in shock if you get a call in the middle of the night and having a document that details what you know and steps to make can really help. You aren’t likely to have a complete plan, but ensuring you have guidance to narrow down your search when the time comes will help a lot. You may have to make quick decisions on little sleep, and a general plan written down can help in keeping costs as low as possible while getting to where you need to be expediently.

Also, since you have to call for these fares, it’s best to have the airline numbers on hand and be prepared to be on the phone for awhile just to speak to a rep and sort out the options.

 

Here are some links to get you started:

American Airlines 800-433-7300

Delta/NW Airlines  800-221-1212

United Airlines 800-864-8331

 

I wish I had thought to do this months before trying to figure it out at 4 am after a very sleepless night. I hope you learn from my mistake.

There has been a lull in my posts due to an emergency in India. My heart grieves for that family and their loss; I wish them strength in all things to come. In the meantime, I am lucky to be able to spend this time with my own family, since I am often quite far away from them.

This congressional investigation to be released today includes most of the information that I would provide if someone, like Obama, asked me about US programs in Afghanistan.

  • Aid money to stabilize areas is a short-term fix
  • There is little evidence that any positive results are sustainable
  • Enormous cash flows overwhelm and distort local culture and economies
  • There is little oversight, particularly more so in Afghan-run projects, which encourages corruption and mis-use of funds
  • The “single most important step” is to stop paying Afghans “inflated salaries” — often 10 or more times the going rate — to work for foreign governments and contractors

It’s good to see that this information is making it’s way to US policy makers and the public. I just hope they will listen and make changes accordingly.

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