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I’ve been living in Dallas just about 3.5 months (with multiple trips elsewhere). I won’t miss the unseasonably hot weather that accompanied most of my stay, but there are a few things that I have grown accustomed to and will miss.

  • The wide open streets with many lanes and a rush hour that often only lasts for one hour. Although when there is an accident on the highway, 4 or 5 lanes of traffic always become just one lane to get around the fire trucks and cops on scene, no matter the size of the accident.
  • The expediency of automated toll lanes, which crisscross the city. This is clearly a place made for people who want to drive (fast).
  • Central Market – a wonderful grocery store, something like Trader Joe’s on steroids
  • Taj Mahal Imports – an enormous indian grocery store with tasty street snacks and drinks (and wonderful mangos) located in an area that has been affectionately named “Indian Ghetto” for the large number of indian shops
  • The local library (I’ve heard a few comments that CA libraries aren’t good – lack of books and bad smells – something I’ll have to verify.)
  • No state tax! (especially compared to the high state taxes of CA)
  • Update: I forgot to mention my favorite place for ping pong and shuffle board Gator’s.

I might even possibly miss swimming outside when I am normally sleeping.

I won’t miss complaining about the heat, people making references to the Dallasseries that I don’t understand or Cowboy Cheerleaders, stop lights that haven’t been calibrated for traffic flow, yelp and google reviews that rave about restaurants with less than mediocre food (definitely low food standards here), miles and miles of shopping centers and malls, and golf courses carved into the flat land.

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In other (more important) news, yesterday I finally heard that the apartment application has “almost been approved.” They are still trying to verify one piece of information. Meanwhile, I have to set up the forwarding address with the post office…

Stay tuned; I’m really looking forward to telling you about the road trip from Dallas to LA that I have planned. It begs to be a great adventure, and that’s not just because all of the packing will finally be done.

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or at least on my subconscious!

Around the time that I left Afghanistan, several of my close friends were also leaving (either because their contract was coming to an end or, like me, the funding for their project was suddenly cut). At the time, it gave us a certain shared experience of leaving within days of each other. But each of us had our own lives and our own circumstances to determine what we would be doing next. My friends ended up all over the world when leaving Kabul.

Since then, rather surprisingly to me, almost all of them have returned or were seriously considering returning to Afghanistan.

Like I said, they have their reasons for returning, but each time I learn of a friend going back, I end up spending some time thinking about whether I would go back. I already met the goals I set for myself in going there last year. Further, the security situation has clearly worsened (as it always does in the summer months), the financial situation has grown tighter, and I have already seen what a tiny impact our projects are having. [Clearly, I don’t write to be politically correct.]

I always come to the conclusion that 1) I have already had that experience, 2) It’s important to focus on my personal relationships and things at home right now, and 3) I’d rather go somewhere else if the opportunity presents itself.

I feel comfortable with this decision. And right now I have a ton of other things related to moving to California on my mind. But while in the middle of moving, almost every night I have a dream about returning to Afghanistan. I haven’t had a dream, that I remember, having anything to do with California. I’m sure that it’s a lot easier for the brain to create stories around the known than around the unknown, but it’s a strange way to wake up.

Yesterday, I got an email from my old translator in Kabul. He has moved to a different position, and the office of guys where the greatest amount of cultural exchange happened for me is no longer anything like when I was there. It’s rather bittersweet that the best parts of my experience no longer exist. (Too bad I can’t tell my subconscious that Afghanistan would indeed hold plenty of unknowns, too.)

Finally, I can see the end to this awful heat. It isn’t because Dallas has cooled down at all. (No, it was 97 degrees at 9:30pm last night so we went for a swim!)

I can finally announce that M and I will be moving California – Los Angeles, or rather Hollywood, to be specific. The interviews are over, the visa is transferred, and we’re in the midst of a frantic dash to take care of a lot of moving details.

By far, the most difficult aspect has been finding a place to live. Partially, the challenge has been because it is very expensive if you want a short commute, but the most difficult requirement was finding a place with less than a year lease. In and around DC, this is pretty easy to find if you rent from landlords, rather than an apartment complex. Based on my search, I’d say 98% of LA residents renting out an apartment, guest house, or duplex require a year lease. (Perhaps if we were willing to battle an awful commute each work day we could have found a more flexible lease arrangement in the burbs; I don’t know.)

Once I finally found a potential apartment, the paperwork required to secure it was actually more than was required to buy a condo and get a mortgage in Northern Virginia. (Apparently, after reconciling yourself to the terrible traffic of L.A., you must next completely re-calibrate your expectations for getting things done in CA, which is “a litigious state” I’ve been told). Sadly, I’m still sitting in limbo, waiting to find out whether the application will be approved. One of the required application items was proof of rental history for the previous 2 years. That’s when I realized that I don’t have a scrap of paper (or contact to refer to) to prove that I was residing in Afghanistan for 10 months, and even if I did, I’m not sure it would really help my application.

In the meantime, I’m trying to assume that it will all work out ok, and seeing this video, which is pretty great, reminds me how lucky I am to have my kind of problems.

http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2011/07/letting-the-light-in.html

It’s great seeing real ingenuity being used  to substantially improve people’s lives.

Today is Indian Independence Day. For most of my Indian friends, it’s just another day, unlike major holi or diwali celebrations in India. But several years ago, I said what better day than today to try to make a new indian dish. At the time, it was just an excuse to make some curious pistachio cookies called peda.

But now it’s my very own tradition that I look forward to each year. While trying to make an Indian dish might not seem like a big adventure, it most wholeheartedly is. First, the recipes are notoriously poorly written: often way off in proportions (my first attempt at poha consisted of twice the amount of flattened rice to seasoning) or simply vague quantities (such as “a bunch of raisins”). It’s also difficult to know what texture it is supposed to be for food I haven’t eaten (the peda above is very wet, not like a cookie at all). And then there’s always the issue that I’m very sensitive to heat (so much so that when I made mango-orange salad I was very glad we had guests…because I couldn’t eat it!)

This year I settled on chicken biryani. It’s a dish I have had several times and felt pretty comfortable trying to make. However, I was glad when M stepped in to help when I assumed that a standard recipe would use one pound of chicken (I had lazily done the conversions for the chicken, but not for the chili powder!)

Like so many indian recipes, this dish has 25,000 steps in it. It’s marinating, sautéing, sautéing, sautéing, cooking, browning, cooking down, draining, cooling, combining, sautéing, separating, sautéing, roasting, cooking down, sitting, combining, layering, layering, and steaming. And that doesn’t include all of the chopping, grinding, measuring, more chopping and washing of dishes throughout the process.

The end result should have been the elixir of life or at least a charm brewed in Macbeth. But it was DELICIOUS, especially combined with the raita that M suggested making.

I’ve been taking advantage of a lot of online tools as we begin thinking through the process of moving away from Dallas. There are some pretty fantastic free tools to enable researching all phases of moving (or traveling). Check some of these out:

Hipmunk allows you to easily sort through available options for flights (using even swaps idea) with great visuals.

Padmapper allows you to pull craigslist ads, apartment.com, and rent.com into an easily sortable map. And the best part is adding the heat map overlay of walkability and mass transit options. This is great for large cities that you aren’t familiar with (and you can even use the heat maps for booking hotels in good locations).

TaxiFareFinder calculates what you should expect to pay for taxis (making it easier to compare with Super Shuttle or a rental).

Zilok allows you to search for anything you might want to rent (great for people who don’t want to buy items seldom used). Need a ladder to take down drapes or wall hangings? A great alternative to Craigslist, which focuses on owning items.

Homestyler allows you to create a 2D and 3D visual layout of your home (or to-be home) based on dimensions, furniture, and colors. It misses a few elements (like good office chairs), but this is a great way to think through home design issues.

Add your favorites in the comments.

As I mentioned in my post about cleaning, I’m trying out a bunch of things that I read about last year while abroad. Since finding out that lentils really can taste good (thanks to a wonderful cook in Kabul), I have been trying to incorporate them into my diet. And as an apartment dweller, I’m often looking for easy ways to grow things, preferably things I can eat. When I learned that bean sprouts are substantially more nutritious and more easily digestible than seeds I wanted to see how easy it really is to produce them at home.

Here’s a quick video and a descriptive website about how to make bean sprouts.

It really is that easy. Watching the seed turn into food in a few days is pure instant gratification! This is what I produced after a mere 3 days!

Sprouts are great for salads, stir fry, and whipped in the blender for shakes and salad dressings. (Actually, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys eating peas (pod and all) fresh off the plant, you may enjoy eating sprouts as a snack.)

 

Once you get started with the basics, you can do more research (and experimenting) with other options like almonds and grains.

Note: my half cup of lentils turned into over 3 cups of sprouts so start small 🙂

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