Monday, March 23, 2009

Trip to India

The last time I went to India was right before I joined graduate school – the summer of 2001. Since then a lot of things have happened – but the biggest one for my relatives back home is that Gregg and I got married. We have been married for 2 years now and have never made the trip. Therefore, we have been getting a lot of pressure to visit. Now, we moved to Farmville, VA in 2007 (shortly after the wedding) and to Lancaster, PA in 2008. So, we have not had either the money or the time to plan for and take a trip to India. However, this year seemed the right time to take the trip. We renewed the lease on our current apartment till July 2009, so we are not moving anywhere soon. I am continuing at Millersville University next year. I have my green card so coming back into the country should not be an issue. However, there was one problem – the economy. The economy has been so bad that we did not want to spend the $3500-$4000 it takes for 2 round trip tickets. However, turns out that it is precisely the economy that changed our minds.

A couple of months ago we started searching for cheap tickets to India. It turned out that people are not travelling anymore and therefore, travel is much cheaper than we thought. We ended up buying two tickets for under $2400 – saving at least $1100 on the transaction. How could we pass this up?

The other question was: when should we go? Gregg wanted to go during the summer since we would be able to spend more time there. But my parents were adamant: it will be too hot; you have to come during the winter. Besides, as mentioned earlier, I have to finish and defend my dissertation by the end of September. Taking 3-4 weeks off in the middle of summer seemed unfeasible. So, we finally decided to go during the Christmas vacation. We will be leaving on December 24th and will reach Calcutta on Christmas night (their time – here, it will be Christmas morning). Tickets were cheapest at this time though Gregg thinks it will be weird to be on a flight on Christmas Day. We will be returning on January 14th. While there, Gregg will not only get to see Calcutta and meet all my relatives (JOY!!!!) but we will also be travelling to see the Taj Mahal as well as Delhi and Jaipur. Just for the record, I have never seen the Taj Mahal either.

Gregg has been more excited about this trip than I have. He is trying to learn Bengali and reading up on things to do in and around Calcutta and in and around Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. This is my first international trip with Gregg and my first trip back home in a long while, so I am excited too.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Home Cooking

Sorry for the long absence – this has been a rather crazy semester. Actually, I am looking forward to this crazy first year of teaching, advising and committee work to come to an end. Then I have three long months to look forward to – spent on my dissertation. My deadline for getting that done is September 30th. But more on that later. Today, I want to talk about some of my ways of saving money in this horrendous economy.

The more I hear about the economy, the more nervous I get. It is getting very bad out there. So, I usually respond by doing things which are within my power. One of these things is cooking at home. It saves money, allows you to tailor your meals to your taste-buds and is a way of de-stressing.

1. I have started making ghee (clarified butter) at home. I mentioned this before (September 13th, 2008) and it saves quite a lot of money.

2. I have stopped buying beans in cans. We are now buying dry beans and soaking them overnight. It is much cheaper than buying cans and the extra work is not that much of a hassle. Also, and I learnt this from Food Network, you can be a more versatile cook with dry than with cooked beans.

3. I have started making more meals with lentils. I love lentils but Gregg has never been crazy about them. But lentils with ground beef/chicken with rice or couscous has changed his mind.

4. I am making flan – not from scratch but from the Goya packets. It took me some time to learn how to make the caramel sauce properly but now I have mastered it. It is so much more healthy than the store-made apple pie and is also cheaper.

5. I am making better use of leftovers and eggs. To this end, I bought a great nonstick pan which goes from the stovetop to the oven. Eggs for dinner can be good if spiced up with leftover meats and veggies. This is new for me because ordinarily, I hate eggs.

Things I still do even though it may be cheaper to stop doing them:

1. I still buy cans of diced tomatoes with green chilies. This is a staple of Indian food and it really saves time when I do not have to cut up tomatoes and chilies.

2. Coupon cutting is only done when it is easy (something catches my eye) or when I am making a bigger purchase (like bedsheets or something). I have stopped going through books of coupons and cutting everything out. It takes too much time and driving from one store to another to get a deal is just not my thing.

3. Switch stores: I love my current grocery store – Stauffers. It is local to PA and has great selections. It would be cheaper to switch to Walmart but I cannot do it.

4. Giving up on one nice meal a week: As I said before, I like cooking and experimenting and once a week, I try out something new and slightly complicated. I still do this though it is sometimes a little expensive because I do not have all the ingredients I need at home.

5. Buying healthy snacks: I still eat crappy snacks like potato chips but have been buying pistachios, fried peas and other slightly more expensive but healthier snacks.


Other News:

School: Has really exhausted me this past year. But I have only a month to go – the last day of school is April 24th. In fact, the last day to turn in grades in May 7th. But this is also advising time which is turning out to be quite hectic. This is also the time of year when I am most irritated with my students because they realize that their grades are more than halfway there and that they need to do very well in the final month in order to increase their grades.

Giggs: He is now a year and 3 months but his puppy behavior is still in full force. He is now a little over 10 pounds.

Trip to India: I will write more on this later but Gregg and I just bought tickets to go to India for 3 weeks in December. This will be Gregg’s first trip there and my first in 8 years. I am so excited!!!