Tonight I’m cooking dal. It’s smelling quite delicious, and made entirely with ingredients I scrounged from around the house. In other words, while I did pay money for this food somewhere along the way, tonight, it’s free. I had jars of dry red lentils, some leftover organic heirloom tomato chunks in the fridge, a frozen chili pepper from my parents’ garden, spices, salt, even a fresh onion and garlic. Oh yes, and let’s not forget an expired yogurt that I deemed “good enough”. Dal is deceptively easy to make. Just sauté your onions, garlic, and chilies, stir in the tomatoes, stir in the washed lentils and “dry” cook them for a bit, and finally add water, garam masala, salt and pepper. Lentils cook quickly so you can eat in less than an hour, or cook them more slowly to let all the flavors meld together. I always like it better the second day. Stir in some plain yogurt or butter if desired. Voila! Ah, but I digress. but My point was not the exotic aroma filling the house tonight. My point was that it was one small step toward saving for a future travel adventure.

Earlier this year, my now annual pilgrimage to Burning Man  put me in a harsh climate. Scorching daytime temperature plummeted over 40 degrees in a matter of hours. 24/7 noise made sleep difficult, and an insidious dust made its way into nearly every crevice of everything (and everyone!). Sleeping on the ground and limited access to showers added to a general sort of physical discomfort. Nonetheless, Burning Man is an amazing experience, and I dare say it has it’s own culture, religion even. For a semi-anarchistic environment, order still forms amidst the chaos and daily patterns and rituals begin to emerge.  However the freedom to change ones mind at a moment’s notice, to wander or bicycle randomly and see what one encounters, evoke the thrill of travel. Coming back to “defaultia”, after this week of harsh conditions but total freedom, gave me the travel bug again. The way I see it, conditions don’t get much more uncomfortable than spending a week in a tent on the Playa, so almost ANY destination in the world is going to be cake compared to that. Ok, well maybe not Antartica, or places in political messes, but in terms of basic physical comforts.

The lessons learned at Burning Man that can be translated into world-traveling may seem clear, but some are worth a repeat.

  • Wear comfortable shoes (my go-to shoes were Chuck Taylors with a Dr. Scholls gel insert inside)
  • Clean socks are worth their weight in gold (Smartwool cushioned hiking socks rock)
  • Earplugs and a sleep mask are your best friends
  • Chapstick (mine is homemade out of coconut oil, shea butter, and beeswax)
  • Toothbrush (sometimes clean teeth are the one thing keeping you civilized)
  • Something warm (ok, my something warm was furry pink with leopard spots and ears, but aside from looking like a psychedelic little pink riding hood, I was cozy)
I really believe that one could travel with just these basics to be relatively comfortable, but let’s delve a little deeper and get into the real luxuries. Hot water. Now that’s a luxury! Have you ever had a cold bucket bath in Asia? Nothing is quite as invigorating as that!  I thought of a deceptively simple solution though. Well, the expensive version is to carry a solar shower with you. These run can easily run $35 for a nice one, but even these can leak and do you really want to carry a leaky water bag around with you? How about a black garbage bag? Takes up next to no space, and could have many potential uses. Next time you end up at a hostel with bucket baths, ask for your bucket in the morning, fill it with water, wrap it up in your black garbage bag and let the sun warm it for a couple of hours and enjoy. Be the envy of your hostel-mates!
Of course there were many more lessons to be learned on the Playa, but the important thing is that it renewed my sense of adventure, my openness to meeting new people, patience, and my trust in myself and my ability to bring the gift of friendship wherever I may go.
So tonight’s Scrounge Dal is tomorrow’s  5am tacos from the Vampire taco lady outside of Dama de Las Camelia’s salsa club in Guanajuato. At least that’s the goal!

Ok, how many of you are using a “smart” phone? Is it powered by AT&T? Do you get horrible service, dropped calls, and generally feel like they should be paying you, not the other way around? That’s what I thought. I’ve been thinking about how much money I sink into my smartphone and putting it into numbers. Here are some of my observations:

Cost of my phone bill (2 year contract) plus phone – $2488

Wow. That’s a lot. Let’s look at the costs of just the service, over 5 years, we’re looking at over $5000. That doesn’t include the cost of having the latest and greatest iphone or smartphone, or replacing the one you left in the cab, or that you left in your pocket when you dove into the swimming pool, or the one that saved you from a face-plant getting off the bus…

Now let’s compare that $5000 over 5 years with the number of vacations you could take. Ok, $500 for a plane ticket somewhere warm. Another $500 for accommodations and food. If you’re thrifty, you could get by on $500 for quite a while. But to be on the conservative side, with nice-ish accommodations south of the border, let’s just say that the smart phone is costing you one pretty nice vacation each year. Wow, that sucks.

To get a visual of how much money I’ve been wasting on ATT I decided to actually crumple up $1000 and throw it in the bin. The photo doesn’t really capture the impact as well as I had hoped, so I highly suggest trying this at home for maximum effect.

Let’s see what you get in exchange for all that dough in the bin:

  • Texting-while-drunk remorse (you could need therapy for this)
  • Auto-spell remorse (possibly worse than drunken texting)
  • The ability to break up with someone without actually having to talk to them (ok, this could actually be worth $1000…)
  • Maybe a little GPS action (could you have asked for directions or used a map?)
  • Annoying calls from work at inappropriate times (boner killer!)
  • Embarrassing dropped calls while talking with a big-time client (fail!)
  • The ability to pretend to be checking your phone while you’re feeling awkward (grow up!)
  • The ability to read Huff Po while you wait in line for your cappuccino (it’s simply invaluable to know what Michelle Bachman is up to isn’t it? Doesn’t it just make for the most delightful dinner conversations?)

Really? You just threw away $1000 for these “privileges”? All this when you could be taking a vacation? Relaxing on the powder sand beach, piña colada in hand, fresh fish tacos, cabana boy fanning you (okay maybe I got a bit carried away)…

Ok, so you say “well I’m still on contract so I may as well just wait it out”. Let’s say, as in my case, I have fulfilled one year so far of my two year contract. The early termination fee is $375 less $10 for each month fulfilled. So that fee will be $255. That seems like a lot. UNTIL we calculate how much is would cost to just “ride out” the contract, well the average of $87 a month for another year is $1044. If I cancel now and just go sans smartphone I will save $789 in just the next year alone. Now, maybe I’d like to have some kind of phone service. There are options for that, such as Skype (you can even have your own phone number for $5/month) or a Pay As You Go phone. Even if you do both, it will certainly come to less than the remaining $789.

Will you make some sacrifices? Yes, undoubtedly. But let’s look at the bright side. You can still keep your sexy, shiny Steve Jobs iDevice and use the free WiFi available at most cafes (or Starbucks if you’re desperate). And with the money you save you could hire a messenger to deliver a bag of dog shit to your unsavory ex.

Ok, so I know this blog is just all over the map, and I can’t seem to stick to one subject or another, and I start projects and never finish them…

But that’s just life, isn’t it? Today I’m going to talk about how I came to like riding my bicycle.

As some of you may know, I have a long and sordid history with bicycles. My first bike experiences were fantastic. At the age of 5 I taught myself to balance on a bicycle in my parents front yard. Not moving, just balancing. When I got a little older my dad practiced juggling while I rode my bike in the street. I never needed training wheels after honing my balance like that. Later my sister joined me in the street and we had endless hours of fun riding up and down our street and riding and/or pushing our big clunky bikes up hills and coasting back down, splashing through mud puddles and occasionally skinning knees.

As a young adult, I fell in with a crowd of cyclists. They bike for fun too, but I personally don’t consider “baby heads” and “centuries” fun. If you get either of those references you’re either a mountain biker or a roadie. So after years of trying to enjoy biking, I really grew to hate it. Sure I liked the mountainous vistas, but I found myself more focused on the pint of Ben & Jerry’s I planned to consume at the end of my ride. What can I say? I like ice cream. I like it more than I like biking. Period.

When I moved to San Francisco, my trusty mountain bike came with me and I no longer used it for  “pleasure”, for lack of a better term. No, this time, I had no car, and I was determined to avoid taking Muni whenever possible. I put on my sparkly jeans and high heels and hauled ass up those hills. I don’t know how I did it. But I did, until my quads started getting too enormous.  And it most definitely was not fun. Hated it! Something in me wouldn’t let me part with that mountain bike,  but I just couldn’t bring myself to ride it for about the last 10 years.

Then 2010, Burning Man. Of course I needed a bike for the desert. Not wanting to muck up my old mountain bike, a friend donated her Burning Man bike to me. I promptly covered it in scraps of fauxfur and LED lights, strapped it onto the back of our civilian vehicle, and made my way to the Nevada desert. The scale of everything is bigger in the desert. The vast landscape, the stars in the sky, the heat of day, the chill of night, the distance to the toilets. It soon became clear that bicycles were the preferred mode of transport across the “Playa”. And I soon discovered it wasn’t just to get from one end to the other, but for running quick errands too. Getting ice, a quick jaunt to the outhouse village… Wow. This actually felt fun! There was no hurry, and my bike was furry. It was a happy bike! It had a stuffed flamingo strapped onto it and blinking lights at night. Nothing to be serious about.  I didn’t have to huff and puff to keep up with some spandex clad dude with shaved (or worse yet, waxed) legs. I had a little basket on the front with my henna supplies. I was going to spread the henna love wherever I decided to take a break. Suddenly, this El Cheapo Kmart bike was the best thing since clipless pedals.

Welcome back to reality. Upon my return from Burning Man, I wanted to say “oh, it was no big deal, it didn’t change me”. And I still contend that it didn’t change me, it just brought out my inner kid again. Bikes are supposed to be fun and useful. They should make you feel good. Or maybe you haul your fun stuff around with it.  So, after all these years, I got a new bike and I love it. It’s sunny yellow-orange and has a built in Danish porter  (basket thingee) on the front. It makes me think of eating Creamsicles in summer. I even started pegging my jeans again! Well, only on the one side….   But what I want to say is that even though I usually only make quick trips of 15-20 minutes or so, and don’t climb any big hills, I am finding it infinitely more satisfying than any of the “epic” rides I ever took before. Just taking a load of parcels to the post office, or making it to the Ravioli shop 10 minutes before they close (couldn’t have done that walking OR by car) or even just picking up the perfect batch of winter tulips from my favorite florist in the Castro. It’s just all so HAPPY. My goodness, I do believe I like riding my bike again!!
So goodbye to padded shorts, goodbye to ridiculous team jerseys, goodbye to too-early Saturday morning torture rides and “death marches”, goodbye to snotty Gu and shit-like Powerbars. Goodbye pain.  Goodbye inadequacy. Goodbye “bonking”. Fuck all that.

I just want to have a good time while I get things done.  Oh yeah, and eat ice cream.

If you’re like me, you have thousands of photos that are taking up space on your hard-drive. Pets, travel photos, family, and documentation of household and work events.

Because my very generous boyfriend got me a new MacBook Pro for Christmas, (<3 him!)  I wanted to make a fresh start, and being that it’s now the beginning of the year, what better time to purge old photos than now.

At first it can be hard to start deleting, but in the process of deleting several thousand images in the last day or so, I came to a process. Just ask yourself these simple questions:

1.” Do I need this photo for any sort of legal documentation? ” In the henna line of work, I keep the best portfolio pictures as well as older published images for pursuing the copyright infringement cases.

2. For portraits of friends/family, “Is this how I want to remember this person?”. You are not killing a part of the person by deleting their photo. In fact, they’ll thank you for saving the most flattering/fun images.

3. For travel photos, “Is this how I want to remember this location, or a particular experience at this location?”. If you took 20 different pictures at the Mayan Ruins, choose the 2 you like best. Photos of food usually look disgusting, so unless you’re a real pro, or eating a scorpion, delete the food pictures. Market photos on the other hand can be very compelling. For beaches, one or two exquisite beaches or sunsets is enough.

4. General “Do I look happy?”  followed by… “Do I look comfortable in my body?”.  It may seem vain to delete the “fat” photos, but if they don’t make you feel happy to see them…

These questions really narrow things down, because once you delete the photos that really don’t show the beauty of Caesar’s tomb, and the ones where you were having a fight with your travel partner, and the unflattering picture of your ex-mother-in-law, then you are left with just the good stuff. Ideally, when you look through your images, each one should make you remember that occasion fondly. And less really is more. When you have 10 fantastic photos of your trip to Paris, they are so much more precious than having 1000 mediocre shots, including 30 different angles of the Eiffel Tower.

5. And if you still can’t decide, ask yourself “Would I pay to have this printed?”. In the digital world, it’s all too easy to keep the not-so-great images, because you don’t have to print everything, like in the olden days when we took time to compose our photos, said a little prayer as we clicked the shutter, and then waited for days to have the drugstore guy process them. Even with all that care, still only a few images were really worthwhile. Digital technology is no excuse for keeping bad photos!

One more bit of advice, the people who love you will take great photos of you, because that is how they see you! So let them snap away. And yes, one last thing, when the storm clouds gather, don’t put your camera away to “protect it from the rain”, whip it out and start shooting.

 

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about minimalism and reading a lot of minimalist blogs. There is something about them that makes me slightly uncomfortable, in the same kind of way that Zen Buddhism makes me uncomfortable. Now, I really enjoy reading these blogs, enough that they are almost a guilty pleasure. I have not been at all minimalist in my reading of them. Rather, I devour them. I’ll read all the archived posts greedily, feeling disappointed when I have read them all. Surely this is not minimalist behavior. And on top of my ravenous virtual consumption, I am also left with this feeling that perhaps I am not a good person. After all, I have mismatched wine glasses, several sets of silverware, multiple bicycles, and walls painted in colors. And pillows. Too many pillows perhaps. Shit, I’m tired. I think I’m going to need to sleep on this one.

My name is Darcy Vasudev.

I was born Darcy Van Gelder, the “Darcy” bit being from a song best know as a John Denver ‘hit’. The song is a very depressing one which culminates in a double death:

Where the walker runs down to the Carson Valley Plain
There lived a maiden, Darcy Farrow was her name
The daughter of old Dundee and a fair one was she
The sweetest flower that bloomed oer the range

Her voice was as sweet as the sugar candy
Her touch was as soft as a bed of goose down
Her eyes shone bright like the pretty lights
That shone in the night out of Yerrington town

She was courted by Young Vandamere
A fine lad was he as I am to hear
He gave her silver rings and lacy things
And she promised to wed before the snows came that year

But her pony did stumble and she did fall
Her dyin touched the hearts of us one and all
Young Vandy in his pain put a bullet through his brain

And we buried them together as the snows began to fall

They sing of Darcy Farrow where the Truckee runs through
They sing of her beauty in Virginia City too
At dusky sundown to her name they drink a round
And to young Vandy whose love was true

(Words and music by Steve Gillette and Tom Campbell)

A couple of side notes:

1. I used to either hide or cry when my parents would spin the vinyl Ian and Sylvia version.

2. I used to think the diamond in the “needle” of the turntable must be extremely valuable.

3. I was more upset about the pony stumbling, than I was about the death of Darcy and Vandy.

But I digress..

The Van Gelder part I always thought was cool, but was definitely a pain to spell, and no, Van is not my middle name. In fact I don’t even have a middle name.  However, a marriage changed my last name, and I embraced my new moniker. Vasudev. It still begins with a “V”, but doesn’t have the confusing space in it or the aspirated Dutch “G”. Vasudev sounds exotic and mysterious. People ask if I’m Russian, Bosnian, Croation. Of course Indians recognize it as an Indian name. Vasudev, also known as Vasudeva – none other than the father of Krishna; one of the most recognized Gods in Hinduism.

So, my marriage came and went, and I’m still here with Vasudev as part of my identity. I thought about changing it back to Van Gelder, but getting a new passport, driver’s license, and a million other pieces of paperwork seemed so daunting.  Suddenly today it hit me. This was meant to be my name.

In fact, according to traditions in Karnataka, my ex’s name should have been  laid out as follows: given name, father’s name (Middle name), last name (which normally reflects family name, place, occupation etc.). However, he received his father’s given name (Vasudev) as his last name, which was then passed on to me.  Traditionally, his last name would have reflected the village from which his father came –  Arakere.

So thus, because of an aberration in the naming tradition, I have been gifted with this divine name. Now that I have made peace with it, I must determine the lesson contained within.

I like cleaning and organizing, and I love getting rid of old baggage to make room for new, well, baggage. After a particularly rough re-entry into the domesticity of Autumn, tonight I finally had a revelation, which I will share momentarily.

Autumn is a time of nesting, cozying up for the upcoming winter, turning the home into a welcoming place, because with rain already here, I know I’m going to be spending more time indoors. Because I  also work from home, having a cozy and clean homestead is really important to me. As I discussed in a previous blog entry, the home should be a sanctuary, or one must at least have a sanctuary within the home. Home is where the heart is, or home is where you hang your hat. Or for the more surreal, Home is where the Hat is. Ok.

Lately it has seemed like an uphill battle in my home. Because it is a home shared with a partner and two cute, if rambunctious, kittens, it is always a work in progress, where progress seemingly and literally gets eroded each night. Every morning I come downstairs to find the dust bunnies have bred. Today there was cat shit on the wall.  Aforementioned partner has little interest in cleaning or cleanliness, so he doesn’t notice when things are bad, unless of course, he’s running out of clean underwear. All kinds of thoughts run through my head. From the irrational “if he cared about me he’d help with the housework” to the feminazi “emancipated women shouldn’t have to do housework” to the jaded “this is just a replay of how it was with my ex-husband”.  What’s really going on here? And why is this eating at me? And when is this PMS going to subside?

The answer became clearer tonight. If I want a clean and delicious smelling house, I’m going to have to make it that way. My partner does not care about cleanliness or order. It’s not a personal affront. He is not ignoring housework because he wants to annoy me, or because he doesn’t love me, but because those things are not important to him. Which is fine. Because now, I will do my own laundry, and when clean underwear become important to him, he can manifest his own unmentionables. I know that sounds a little passive aggressive, but that is not my intent. With the time I save on not doing someone else’ laundry, I will free up time to alphabetize my spice rack, or color code my socks; things that will make me “happy”. Oh yes, an alphabetized spice rack just sounds crazy, but my point is that at least I will be able to focus on the tasks that are important to me and not resent doing someone else’ tasks and not be appreciated for it.

So what I have determined is that doing someone else’ work, unsolicited, is annoying to both parties. For example, me doing my partner’s laundry makes him feel guilty and inadequate for not doing it himself, AND I resent not being appreciated for it, AND it is possible that I have inadvertently shrunk a large number of his tee-shirts in the process. Everyone loses, though I hear the 80’s are back.

So instead, I will clean for myself. Because it’s important to me, and because the Universe is most definitely on my side. The tools to do an even better job than ever, have become available to me via one of my favorite websites, Apartment Therapy. Maxwell, the leading lad, has a series of videos which inspire a new 20 minute task each day, and on the sister site, The Kitchn, weekly assignments lead to a cleaner, more efficient kitchen.

So I guess to sum it up, if you want a job done right, do it yourself. Or perhaps, more realistically, if you want a job done at all, do it yourself.

And, P.S., my boyfriend is great in so many other ways! I hate to imagine if the tables were turned, and he said “oh yeah, I love my girlfriend because she cleans”. I’d be so offended!

After the tutus in the desert, after the lanterns floating up into the  dawn sky, after the sun kissing your skin, after the  sketches and paintings and trips to museums…after the vows to be more spontaneous, to be nicer, to ride the bike, to buy local…

After the after-parties…

Now the days are officially shorter than the nights, and  Halloween looms ahead as a garish and ghoulish monument to future landfills. And even Christmas is already being thrown at us on certain floors at Macy’s and in the upper shelves at Walgreens. After a summer of blissful creativity, the winter of our discontent is just ahead. I notice my mood shifting. I have plenty of time on my hands, but nothing I want to do with it.

Let’s face it. I’m bored, and even a little depressed. I guess after every high comes a low.

I guess I’ll pack my orders, sweep up the dust bunnies, and empty the old food from the fridge.

Sometimes reality bites the big one.

 

For some people, after a long day at the office, all you want to do is come home to a relaxing environment. It seems obvious that you would want to have a reasonably clean and cheerful space to come home to.  Maybe that means no dishes in the sink, and a nicely made bed.

What about for those of us who work from home?  Where is our sanctuary? How do we escape the “office”? And how do we separate our work space from our living space? And when do we “go home”?

I’ve found that I am in “work mode” basically 24 hours a day, answering the phone at all hours, and leaving unfinished work projects on the desk or in the kitchen. Meanwhile, the upstairs bedroom, where my boyfriend and I like to watch Law and Order or X-Files (don’t laugh) projected on the wall, has been a complete disaster of plastic storage bins, dirty laundry and dirty walls that the land-lady never painted before we moved in.  What does all this mean? It means I have no sanctuary. Time to change that.

It is important to have a sanctuary, or safe space, where you can be free from looming projects, unfinished business, and ideally the potential “threat” of incoming calls. This means that this designated area is free of paperwork, things that smell (like dirty laundry or garbage), and extraneous clutter.

My ideal sanctuary consists of the following:

Mainly clear surfaces (tables, shelves, dressers) – with the exception of a book you are currently reading,  a few select objects that are important to you such as a photograph of a loved one or a piece of art/sculpture, and fresh flowers. FRESH. Stale, dry flowers are associated with bad Chi (energy).

Pleasing textures and colors – for myself, I like natural fibers like linen and wool, and soothing colors. For the bedroom, red can incite passion, but it can also incite anger! Our apartment came with a deep red wall and parapet, which definitely isn’t a happy red. My plan involves some soft blue/gray tones. I’ve found a color called Soft Chinchilla, and the name alone seems reason enough to paint the “accent wall” this color! The white wall will be warmed up with Bone White. So that red wall to the right?  And check out the Benjamin Moore Virtual Fan Deck if you need color ideas.

A place to sit besides the bed – I just dug out a big round ottoman and it is suddenly my favorite part of the room. It’s just the right height and firmness for sitting on while putting on my socks. I also noticed my boyfriend and the cats seem to like it. Instant win.

Turn the phone on vibrate!

Here is the “in progress” photo of my bedroom (note the color swatches on the wall). Stay tuned for “after” pictures!

So that was the easy part. Now, the hard part! Closing up shop. This is a challenge I’m presenting to myself, and I invite you to join me! At 6pm, I’m “going home”. This means I’m going to finish shipping my orders and put away any inventory or supplies relating to work so that when my boyfriend comes home, he can enjoy a pleasant home environment, rather than coming home to “my office”, or should I say “my dirty office”. This also means not answering the phone (unless it’s a friend or family member whom you wish to talk to) or answering work emails. If you procrastinated until 6pm to do these things, they can obviously wait until tomorrow. Now is your time to do something you enjoy, like take an evening walk, cook a nice meal, read a book, or watch a movie. Perhaps some of this free time will be spent in your sanctuarea (ooh, another new word). That could be your clean bedroom, a nice space in your garden or yard, or a nice public space if you don’t yet have a space at home that you want to be in.

Ok, I have 30 minutes, I’m going to pack my last 2 orders, clear my desk, and put away my inventory that is sitting in the kitchen. What are you going to do?

Today I will not be sharing any cute photos. Instead, I will share a small, if dubious, accomplishment. I have zero emails in my inbox. There were projects accumulating in there, and I was able to complete all of them by 1pm. I bet you that you too can complete most of the projects in your inbox, or at least get started on prioritizing them.

The most notable projects include sending a few invoices, packing some orders, designing a tattoo for a client in the UK, and printing out a form, filling it in, and hand-writing an address on a real envelope and affixing a real stamp! I wish I could say I licked the stamp, but it was self-adhesive. So these dreaded projects which had been festering in my inbox did not take long at all. And not only was it not all that painful to complete them, I now feel great!

So, all those facebook notifications that you’ve been meaning to wittily respond to?? DELETE THEM ALL.

Emails from friends or family, one by one, send a one or two sentence update and suggest making a date to meet in person (where possible) and DELETE.

Work emails, if they’re older than a day or so, they’re probably already obsolete. DELETE. Tackle the most pressing ones NOW!

Okay, one last thing – once your email box is at zero, when an email comes in, see if it’s something you can unsubscribe to. Even Gmail or work email users get spam, or at the very least you may have subscribed to something that isn’t really relevant. Do you really need to be tempted into your favorite stores in this economy? That “sale” is just a way to get you to spend more money!

Once your email box is empty, you will realize there are tasks outside of your computer which could use attention. Choose one of them, and revel in your productivity!

Have a great day everyone!

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