Kitchen Confidential

I haven’t told anyone this, until today. But thanks to Timehop reminding me of this day, I think it’s time I admitted to this faux-pas of mine.

***

‘Counting down to Turkey Day with chocolate cheesecake’, I posted on Facebook. I was publicly admitting that I’d said I’d bake something for Thanksgiving with my family that week, even though it had been years since I’d baked anything. I had also never baked a cheesecake at that time (though I had done many no-bake versions), so I didn’t even know what could happen if I made a mistake. I, however, staked a lot on the claim that while I can’t cook, I can bake. And I’d complicated matters by asking for choices, and had landed up in this chocolate-coffee cheesecake situation. The responses on FB were not really encouraging. My ‘friends’ made fun of my cooking skills and pointed out that I’d once invited my cousin home for lunch, and made enough lady finger curry to feed half a person (in my defense, I had no clue just how much lady fingers shrink when cooked). I was mighty encouraged by the support and told everyone I’d prove them wrong, with video evidence in return.

***

So there I was, the day before my Thanksgiving trip to Portland with 6 boxes of cream cheese and a shiny new cheesecake pan. I was very careful, as I measured out the ingredients and began blending everything. It seemed like everything was going fine, until I got to the fourth box of cream cheese. As I scraped it out, I saw that there were some green dots at the bottom. I wondered if it was moldy, and sniffed at it. But it seemed fine. I knew the first three boxes had no issue. I opened the fifth one, and again, this one had the green specks, too.

Now, I was a little worried. I was baking in the middle of the night, which meant I had no chance to go out and buy more cream cheese. I also didn’t know what would happen to my cake if I used lesser cream cheese than recommended. I couldn’t show up without a cheesecake because I knew my family would laugh me out of town. Also, they’d very nicely told me that they wouldn’t take me home if I didn’t show up with the cake. Sigh.

I tasted the green-speckled cheese and it seemed fine. But I didn’t want to take a chance. I also began wondering if all the cheese was past its expiry, and what I’d already used was just not showing any signs yet. So I pulled out all the packets from the trash (yes, yes, it’s gross, but I may have already ingested mouldy cheese, so whatever!) to check the expiry date. That’s when I saw it. I had bought 3 packets of regular cream cheese, and 2 of garlic-herb flavored cream cheese. That explained the green specks, but it didn’t solve my problem. How could I make the cheesecake I’d promised if I didn’t have enough cream cheese? I evaluated the pros and cons of showing up with nothing vs. showing up with a weird tasting cake, and decided I’d take a chance.

And that’s how I made a chocolate-coffee cheesecake that included some garlic-herbs mix as well. Thankfully, my over enthusiasm for extra dark chocolate meant that the onion-herbs flavor was largely drowned out, and the cake tasted pretty alright. No one who ate the cake realized what I’d done. Infact, someone even commented on the fact that it had a slight salty taste, like really well made brownies that aren’t super sugary. I claimed that I’d used the bakers secret of a tinge of salt, without admitting just where that tinge originated.

And that’s how I invented a recipe for chocolate-coffee cheesecake, with garlic and herbs. I also got away with it, until today, because I never told anyone what I’d done. But I couldn’t help but post this when I saw the prescient comment on the FB post, that said, as long as you don’t pull a Rachel, with a link to this video.

Sometimes, you can mix up recipes, and it won’t taste like feet.

 

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Dear Childhood Friend…

Dear A,

I didn’t think I’d write to you again, but I can’t help myself.

Last week, I went to the wedding. I went because your mother asked me to, and I don’t say no to her.

It felt weird.

I can’t believe I didn’t go to your wedding. I can’t even remember why, it was so long ago. I wish I’d been to yours, but since I didn’t go, I am glad I went to this one, even though it felt weird..

It’s weird how nobody from our childhood could talk about me, without talking about us. It’s like we were this unit. I didn’t know how to react, so I smiled. But I couldn’t help but think of how different things would’ve been if you’d been there.

It’s weird how grown up A looked, and how he didn’t even know who I was. He doesn’t know just how many hours we’ve spent chatting while he slept peacefully in his crib.

It’s weird how AN didn’t recognize me when I said hello. The only time we spoke was right after, when I visited aunty before my wedding and that was almost 3 years ago. Why would he even know me? But how weird is it that he doesn’t?

It’s weird that V never met you, and he never will meet you.

It’s weird that when the bride introduced me, she said, “this is my childhood friend.” I would’ve called myself your friend first, after all.

What wasn’t weird though, was when aunty told anyone and everyone there that we’re best friends.

Are.

Love always,

D

 

Me too, me too, me too

Why don’t people name the culprits when they say #metoo, you say.

How do you name the culprit, I ask.

You should, you insist. You should.

But you can’t, I say.

You should. You must stand up for yourself.

I wonder…

How do I name the guy who purposely stuck his arm out and grabbed me when I was twelve?

I wonder…

How do I name the guy in the backseat of the bus, who’s arm sneaked up through the gap to touch whatever he could while I was asleep? I was fourteen and we’d almost reached before I realized it wasn’t a mouse, it was a human hand.

I wonder…

How do I name the guy who flashed a bunch of schoolgirls in Kerala just because he knew we’d be so shocked we wouldn’t scream?

I wonder…

How do I name the guy who I yelled at and got thrown off a bus in Delhi? I was worried for days after that he’d find me and do something worse.

I wonder, I wonder, I wonder…

So I simply say – you can’t name everyone because you don’t ask them their names if things happen on the streets.

Then you say you should if they’re people who can be named.

 

Then I wonder again…do I name every single person who has committed some version of a micro aggression, some version of discrimination…

Do I name the people who cut me off in meetings because I’m a woman?

Do I name the people who thought I could work late just because I was ‘single’ and therefore couldn’t possible have a life?

Do I name the people who would accompany their wives to the bathroom because of shady characters nearby, but wouldn’t do the same for me as a friend?

Do I name the people who thought it was OK to say that I should hang a dupatta outside the door as a sign of my presence in a room?

Do I name the people who think being Type A, and being loud men who can drown out a woman’s voice are one and the same?

Do I name the people who mansplain my work to me?

Do I name the people who attempt to physically intimidate me to make a point, and then chalk it up to having a temper as if I couldn’t possibly have one, too?

Do I name the people who think of me as a ‘diversity’ filter, vs. as someone with a brain (and an opinion to boot)

Do I name every single one of them, and if I do, would they try and understand why I’m naming them, or will they just say that I am overreacting. That I’m not professional, not a good friend, that I’m one of ‘those’ crazy women.

Do I name those who don’t do anything, but are complicit in their silence?

Do I name you?

 

We are a startup, and so…

We will not use a single point of contact for communications with a vendor. Instead, we expect people to follow up with different people for different parts of the process, and those people won’t talk to each other. Let the vendor rework stuff multiple times, that’s simpler.

Our feedback will be as random as to suggest re-doing work in an entirely different style, when all we wanted was to make things darker. We will not put this on email, however, because we only give clarifications on the phone with no paper trail.

We will blame our delays on another external consultant, because we don’t want to take any ownership for any breaks in our (non-existent) process.

We will have a person who claims they are a sign-off authority, but whenever there is an unpleasant decision to be communicated, we will hide behind “our team thinks…”

We believe “empathy” means not having to take accountability for our actions. We will throw around the word whenever someone pushes back on us, to claim that they do not have “empathy”.

We will claim that there’s no one person over-seeing this relationship. However, the person will suddenly show up out of the blue just to send emails at midnight, based on one person’s word. We will not give the other person a chance to share their side of the hassle. Because, we believe “two-way empathy” is about us.

In short, we don’t have a process because we are growing and trying to accomplish a lot with minimal resources. If you have a suggestion on how we can work together better, don’t tell us because we don’t want to hear it.

After all, why should a startup have a process? That’s a big company thing. We are so nimble, we will instead communicate vaguely, go back on our commitments and approvals, and if someone dares question us, well, that just means you don’t have the empathy to work with us, right?

 

ET, when did you become a neighbourhood aunty?

Dear Economic Times,

Last I checked you were a business paper. That’s right, BUSINESS. I understand that conception and fertility are businesses now (and probably bigger than most other businesses), but that still doesn’t give you the right to judge those of us who are a “tad late” by your standards. Brilliant piece of reporting by the way, what with the use of that phrase, in addition to quoting “a research” that states whatever point you’re looking to make, with zero data or methodology or even a source. I’d love to know if this research was carried out by an intern in your office as a full-fledged summer project, or whether she came up with it over a tea break just in time for you to send the article to press.

I’m also curious by that photograph you used to illustrate your point – are the treatments and doctors you quote (good job with the subtle paid advertising gimmick Aveya Fertility and Cloud Nine group!), also guaranteed to give you the Caucasian skin the model in your stock photography sports? I’ve seen enough of these models in fertility clinic ads around town, so maybe the idea is to wait till one is a ‘tad late’, and then get a double whammy of fair skin AND a baby (or two, or maybe more because anyway one must be freezing ones geriatric eggs at 30)?

My favorite portion is your section on prenatal precautions, which tells me I HAVE to quit smoking, but I only need to ‘limit’ my drinking. Is this a concession for today’s generation? I mean, what is this limited drinking – how much do you think an average woman drinks, and therefore what’s the limit? I got my drinking chops in Gurgaon so I’m a “tad” worried that I may be over your limit. I’d also like to understand what are the so-call ‘acceptable levels’ for weight. Your esteemed professionals don’t really tell me this, just like they don’t tell me how I’m supposed to “keep my pre-existing conditions under check”. I assume they mean continue to take the relevant medication, but it sounds like you want me to will it away. I will try that and let you know what my medical practitioner thinks of my attempt.

Basically, you claim you’re telling me the pros and cons of my choices, but all you have are sweeping statements, generalizations, and enough quotes to convince me that the 3/4 of the page this article took up was paid for by these so-called concerned healthcare providers. By the way, did you consider the fact that the planet is already groaning under the weight of the people we have, and maybe, just maybe, not everyone needs to necessarily procreate?

ET, I think you should go back to what you’re supposed to do, and what you’re actually reasonably decent at, and report on business news. Dr. Shenoi and her ilk can work with other papers in your group, and maybe Aveya can be a part of the Ads for Equity program, given that they’re only a few months old.

After all, there are enough well meaning neighbourhood aunties as-is, without your having to take on the mantle of one.

Best,

Me

PS: For those concerned, this is the article in question. The top search result leads you right to…surprise surprise – the Cloud Nine website. I guess there really isn’t a doubt on who’s judging those of us who are “late”, and how much they benefit from fear mongering to aid their business?

What I Learnt in Tanzania

There I was, in Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, trying to find the gate to our flight to Tanzania while simultaneously scoping out bathrooms. I spotted one, and told my fellow companions (my husband V, my cousin NK, his wife RT, and their friends J & K) that I’d be out in a second. “No, let’s find one closer to the gate”, RT said, a woman on a mission to get to the gate in the minimal time left on our layover. So we trudged on, and finally found our gate. As luck would have it, there was a bathroom right there. It said ‘Gents’ so I confidently walked to the one right next to it, expecting that it would be the Women’s bathroom. Except, this one said ‘Gents’ too. I thought that maybe my sleep deprived eyesight was tricking me. Only to hear K say, “We have to go back – these are both men’s bathrooms!”

And that’s how on Day Zero of our Africa Trip, I learnt my very first lesson – When you see a bathroom, just GO! 

***

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Dazzle – you heard it here first!

On Day 1 of our trip, we drove from Arusha (where we spent our first night post landing in Tanzania) to Tarangire Safari Lodge. Along the way, we went on our very first game drive through the Tarangire National Park. While the drive until the Park entrance was largely uneventful (highways all around the world look largely the same), we saw a dazzle of zebras as soon as we entered the park, thereby raising the bar for the overall trip right there (incase you’re wondering, I also did NOT know the collective noun for Zebras up until I Googled it). Before we could process what we’d seen, the Zebras began crossing the road, thereby bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Zebra Crossing’. V provided entertainment by responding to NK’s question, “How do Zebras recognize their mate?”. In case you’re wondering (and knowing his PJ skills you may wonder why you did), the answer is – “They can’t get confused. It’s all black or white for them!”

We also spotted wildebeest grazing, and got very excited thinking that they were all still in Tanzania and we would get to see the migration, which in our heads looked EXACTLY like what we’d seen on NatGeo specials. Our guide gently explained that most of them had already migrated, and these were just the lazy ones that continued to hang about on this end, and were likely not migrating this year.

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So NOT planning to migrate this year.

In true Type A city-dweller fashion, I decided to re-visit the objective of the trip and work toward spotting the Big 5 instead. My quest began with spotting a memory of Elephants (language nerd alert – loving these collective nouns as much as I loved seeing the animals!). Check one for Day One!

We got to the Tarangire Safari Lodge in the evening and discovered that we were glamping in some fantastic tents. There’s no real fencing of the property so animals come right up to the tents! Their outdoor eating area also had a great view of the forest, and we got to see the Milky Way at night. I must admit, that the uncluttered view of the stars beat any city skyline hands down.

 

Tip: While at Tarangire Safari Lodge, try out the local Mango Wine and Honey Wine. They’re both quite awesome.

***

Our second day was another game drive at Tarangire. In addition to everything we’d seen the day before, we also saw elephants at lunch time. This was the closest that we’d seen them, and watching them eat was quite a relaxing activity.

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Lunch and exercise, in one fluid move!

We also spotted some Wild Buffaloes, even though they were way off in the distance. We decided to count this as No. 2 on the Big 5 list, as well as consider this a ‘migration’ because they were crossing the river. After all, who knew if we would see the lazy Wildebeest migrate given how green everything was in Tarangire? As we discussed the technicalities of what we saw, we were also lucky enough to spot a Leopard (OMG! No 3!). Like the ones in India, this one was shy, and on a distant tree, so we had to be satisfied with blurry pics (and the hope that V’s photoshop skills could somehow make the yellow blob look more Leopard-like).

The highlight of the day (other than the Leopard), was spotting everyone’s favorite Disney character, Pumba, and his friends, leading to a ‘Hakuna Matata’ moment. Only to realize later that night, that we didn’t even know the REAL Hakuna Matata song. This was one of my favorite discoveries on this trip, and lesson 2: Disney does not always have the best version of the song. . For what it’s worth, this is a birthday song. On my next birthday, I’m requesting this instead of ‘Happy Birthday’.

Overall, the Tarangire game drives were fantastic, and we were quite convinced we’d seen a LOT. We even wondered if there was going to be anything new to see on the next couple of days.

Tip: Do NOT wear dark blue or black, if you do not want to be hounded by the dreaded Tsetse fly (bonus PJ – “Tsetse, tsetse, tsetse mujhe log bole!”). I made sure not to pack anything in these colors, only to forget that V’s sneakers are black with blue laces. Basically, he was wearing a Tsetse attraction flag on his feet!

***

On Day 3, we awoke to discover waterbucks peering at us through the thicket near our tent. I thought this was the pinnacle of what we were going to see, and wondered what we’d do over the next few days. That day, we drove from Tarangire to Ngorongoro, with a game drive through the caldera, home to the highest density of wildlife in Africa. I’d been hoping to spot the Black Rhino over here. Yes, that’s Type A crazy city girl for you – I took the “Rhino” requirement off the Big 5 list, and raised it to “almost extinct Black Rhino of which there are only 21 left in Ngorongoro.”

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Ngorongoro is beautiful, with plains framed by mountains. As we drove down into the crater I realized that even if we saw no animals, the natural beauty of the landscape alone was worth the trip here. But, Tanzania doesn’t disppoint when it comes to animals – we saw our very first glimpse of lions amidst great excitement! V was also thrilled to see hyenas, jackals and wolves up close.

We got a better look at the buffaloes up close, looking all judgy at us and leading to our philosophical question of the trip – “What do the animals think of while they stand around all day?”.

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Whatchu’ lookin’ at? HUH??

There were also vultures, kites and eagles perched on the trees here, in addition the the ostriches and other birds ranging from the Starling to Grey Crested Crane, and our favorite the Secretary Bird.

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By this point in the trip, V was wondering where the African food he was promised went. RTs friends who’d visited Kenya a year ago mentioned that they got local food (and meat), and we’d thought this would be the same. However, all our lunch boxes offered us were sandwiches, chips, juice, mini pizzas, and enough fruit and peanuts to start a business selling them! V tried convincing our guide to take us to a local African restaurant enroute to Ngorongoro, but he was told that he should ask the chef at the hotel. That night, at Sopa Lodges, V asks to see the chef. The chef shows up, and he’s very clearly of Indian-origin. As V begins to ask his question, I can’t help but point out that V Singh was speaking to B Singh. A little more questioning revealed that B Singh came from Rishikesh, and moved to Tanzania about 5 years ago. He could name African dishes, but claimed they’d all take time to make, and instead tried to subtly convince us to request dal khichdi for our lunchboxes the next day. Thus ended V’s quest to eat local African food.

Lesson 4 – There may not be a Malayali on the moon, but there’s definitely a Singh in Ngorongoro!

***

Since this was our last day at Ngorongoro, I was all set to see the Black Rhino, and it seemed like our guide was, too. We stalked a black blob in the horizon for hours before it got into a reasonable zoom range and we could spot a horn and confirm that it was indeed a rhino, and not a hippo that had accidentally wandered away from the ‘Hippo Pool’. Unfortunately, these rhinos have been poached so brutally that they don’t come anywhere near the paths (except during mating season) because their survival instinct drives them to stay away from humans. So, while we managed to see the Big 5, I have no real proof of the fifth. For those of you who say pictures or it didn’t happen, that distant blurry, grey-ish blob, is indeed a Black Rhino.

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Check your eyesight – can you spot the Rhino?

Also, we saw two of them, because we spotted the second later in the day. OK, maybe it was the same one twice. Nevertheless, we spotted the Big 5, with 3 days to go!

We also saw many more hyenas – they’ve apparently evolved enough to scare away all the leopards in the area, as well as a cheetah in the distance. V insisted that our best view of a cheetah will come when we are closer to the river, because “Cheetah bhi peeta hai” (if I have to listen to this on a daily basis, you may as well hear some of these once in a while!).

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Do you know how to say “giraffe” correctly?

So far, our best views have been of the buffaloes, giraffe, elephants, zebras and wildebeest. We’ve also spent some time trying to learn how to say ‘zebra’ (more like see-bra) and wildebeest (‘wild beast’ NOT ‘wilderbeast’) correctly.

 

 

Lesson 5 – When in doubt, pronounce it like the locals do. It doesn’t matter what the British vs. American pronunciation is, if the animal is African. 

 

***

Just in case we felt we’d seen everything, we spotted a dead buffalo as we drove off from the crater toward Serengeti. “Oh my God! That poor buffalo’s head has been cleanly chopped off!”, I said. Only to be informed that I’d seen the wrong end, so I’d basically been looking for a head up the buffalo’s ass. Clearly, 4 days in the jungle haven’t really gotten rid of my city slicker ignorance.

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Yes. He IS the Lion from those Shampoo commercials…

As we drove toward Central Serengeti, the grass got yellower and shorter. Everyone was concerned that no animal would show up in plain sight in these plains when suddenly we spotted a pair of lions by a signboard in plain view! We were thrilled to get such a good view of the lions, without realizing that we were going to see way more by the end of the day. Our grand total when we headed to the Wild Frontiers Central Serengeti camp was 34, including a 19 strong pride of lions that were taking an afternoon nap on the side of the road. In addition to the predators, we also saw all the usual suspects, none of whom seemed particularly concerned by the predators in the vicinity. There were more lazy wildebeest still lazing around, even though the yellow grass offered them slim pickings.

That night, V finally managed to get some African food. Our dinner included Ugali, a rice like preparation made with maize. No signs of any weird meats – looks like we will have to go back to South East Asia later this year, to update his chart. Meanwhile, for all the vegetarians reading this, I can assure you that you will get enough and more food to eat on a safari trip.

Lesson 6: While looking for a head, make sure you’re looking in the right direction.

***

As we began driving from Central Serengeti toward the North, the grass got taller and greener. This didn’t stop us from seeing lions – we saw the same pride of 19 having breakfast that morning, as well as some others. We also managed to see a pair of cheetahs (likely a parent-child pair) that crossed the road in front of our jeep so they could go catch some gazelle. Unfortunately, the cheetah gave up chase early on so we didn’t get to see the complete hunt.

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Striking a pose before it’s time to chase the gazelle.

Our disappointment was soon forgotten, however, as we were able to spot a Leopard on a tree, and this time we were able to drive up to it. The Serengeti truly lived up to its reputation of allowing you to see all predators during the dry season!

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Nap time!

As we drove by the Mara river, we  saw crocodiles, and spotted wildebeest that appeared to be interested in crossing over from Kenya to Tanzania. However, on that particular day they didn’t summon the courage to cross because one wildebeest had died in its attempt. Not to mention, that there were quite a few crocs who appeared to be awaiting the crossing as eagerly as  we were! This is when the guide decided to finally tell me that wildebeest cross over back and forth multiple times in this area, so we could still see the migration, so to speak. Given that the plains looked similar on both sides, this was clearly a case of wildebeest believing that the grass was greener on the other side!

***

On that last day, we truly believed that we’d seen all there was to see, especially since our personal bar had been raised every day. We were no longer impressed by the zebras, warthogs, giraffes, or even the birds. They seemed like everyday creatures, as common as pigeons on my balcony in Bangalore.

The Serengeti had saved it’s best for our last day though! We started out by stalking the wildebeest by the river in the hopes that we’d see a crossing. Until lunchtime, all we saw was one very brave wildebeest that tried really hard to escape the jaws of death as a giant crocodile attempted to drag it under. The animal put up a really good fight, and I was rooting for it. Until the guide informed us that even if it escaped it would likely bleed to death on land, at which point I decided that Nature was willing the crocodile to have a good meal that day.

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The video is better than the photo.

Post lunch though, we spotted about 3000 wildebeest all set to cross the river. Once the first animal jumped in, the hordes followed and we watched them cross the river in full force. However, there were quite a few wildebeest who went back and forth in confusion, owing to which some friends were left on the opposite side. The friends and family looked for each other on the opposite bank and even went as far as the edge of the banks to cross over and bring their friends with them. However, they seemed to wary of being the first to jump. All it takes is one brave wildebeest to set off the move, otherwise they wave a sad goodbye at the bank and abandon their friends – until the next crossing. It’s interesting to watch how these disoriented and confused group of animals suddenly rally and go forth in a single direction.

Lesson 7: There’s a very real reason why the collective noun for wildebeest is ‘confusion’ (I did not make this up!)

***

On our last day, we took a bush flight back from the Serengeti to Arusha. The bush flight was an interesting experience, and offered us some nice aerial views over the Serengeti. I quite liked it, until NK told us how many risks the pilot took, and how many errors he made. Thankfully, he chose to tell us these after we were in Bombay, and not while we were on our way back.

Lesson 8: (For all pilots) The guy sitting behind you on that bush flight may just be another pilot who trains pilots.

***

I went to Tanzania expecting to see wildlife. What I didn’t expect was just how beautiful and varied the Tanzanian landscapes would be. I went to Serengeti to see the animals, but instead I felt the silences of the forest at night, I saw the blues of the daytime sky, and the silvers of the stars in the night sky. I’ve always been a total city girl, but something about these forests brought this city girl a few steps closer to being one of those “nature types”. And that’s probably the biggest lesson I learnt on this trip.

Until next time, Africa!

Tip: If you’re planning a Safari, I highly recommend BaseCamp Tanzania. And ask for Josef – he plans to retire soon, so go while he’s still around!

“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality”

I don’t ever post my artwork here (except for some super old ones that I put up when I first switched over to WordPress), but today seems like one of those days when I should.

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When I think of why I love reading so much, these are a few names that pop into my head – Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Daphne duMaurier, Harper Lee (I dislike the damned lawyer that published that prequel). Right at the top of the list, is Lewis Carroll, the man who told you you could believe six impossible things before breakfast (it’s no coincidence that I also love the number 6). The man who told you that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. And most importantly, the man who told you that it doesn’t matter if you’re bonkers, because the best people usually are.

If you thought he writes “children’s books”, well, you just grew up too soon (and you don’t realize that writing a good children’s book is infinitely harder than writing any adult book ever. Children will tell you if your work is crap, adults lie and often don’t have the imagination to know any better). If you thought he was high, you’re reality is just very different from mine. If you think that nonsense words do not “teach” right, then may the Jabberwock get you by those slithy toves.

I’ve always believed that one must never do something unless one is good at it, and this is someone who reminds me over and over that the bar for what I want to do is pretty darned high. Thank you Mr. Carroll, for setting such a high bar (and maybe someday I’ll make it somewhere close to it). Until then, thank you for also always, always reminding me to keep my muchness alive.