Thriftygal’s Book Reviews – February 2017

More book reviews! I’m sorry if you don’t care about the book reviews.

I read a bunch of Chetan Bhagat’s books while in Kuwait because that’s what my cousin had on her bookshelf. He’s a popular modern author in India. I get why people like him. His books are easy and quick reads populated with characters that feel real. Maybe some of the characters are real. I can’t tell.

Half Girlfriend by Chetan Bhagat

Guy from a lower class meets and falls in love with a rich girl. She loves him too, but after he pushes her too hard to sleep with him, she flees and marries a rich guy she’s known since childhood. They meet years later and she’s divorced and sick.

The author is a character in the book. That’s why I can’t tell if this story is real or not.

One Indian Girl by Chetan Bhagat

A beautiful and brilliant girl from New Delhi gets a job at an investment bank in New York. She meets a boy and falls in love. He’s insecure with her success and dumps her. It’s her first love so she’s understandably devastated. She copes by transferring to the Hong Kong office where she begins an affair with a married man. Realizing that it will never lead anywhere, she breaks it off and transfers to the London office.

Her mom has been badgering her for basically the entire book to get married, so she agrees to an arranged marriage. At the wedding both her exes show up and try to win her back. She chooses nobody (including the guy she’s supposed to marry) and I cheered. It was kind of like that episode of 90210 where Kelly chooses “herself” over Brandon and Dylan.

Cute, but unrealistic.

Revolution 2020 by Chetan Bhagat

Boy tries to make something of himself navigating the typical system of corruption in India. He also loves a girl. Girl loves (and is with) boy’s best friend who is smart and honest and trying to fight the corruption in India. Girl cheats on honest boy with our protagonist. I won’t tell you the ending.

Five point someone by Chetan Bhagat

A boy and his two college friends and their adventures in the most prestigious college in India. Five point someone refers to their grade point average. It’s out of ten, so it’s rubbish. Adventures abound.

The Old Man and his God by Sudha Murty

Short snapshots of different people the author has met throughout life. Some are wonderful people. Some are crap people. Tis life.

Why we get fat and what to do about it by Gary Taubes

Carbs basically.

Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe

The author was a live-in nanny in the early 80s in London. This book is a collection of her letters that she sent back home to her sister. I love the stories she recounts and the mundane details she brings alive. Here’s an example.

(MK is the mother of the kids she nannied.)

MK: (on phone) Have you nicked the Halliwell’s?
Me: No.
MK: The video card?
Me: No.
MK: What about the big stripey towel?
Me: No
MK: The one with the green, blue, and red stripes.
Me: No.
MK: I can see it, in your room, right now, hanging on a chair.
Me: (pause) OK, I’ve got the towel but not the rest.

Fast and fun read. Loved it.
On Writing by Stephen King

Oh man. I haven’t read much of Stephen King to be honest. But this book! This book! I just want to take it to bed and learn all its secrets. I’ll tell it all mine too. It’s a fabulous treatise on writing and I wish I had read it years ago. My only sadness came when he told me not to watch television and mentioned Judge Judy by name! Sniffle.

Best of all, he basically gave me permission to read as much as my heart desires and write everyday for the fun of it. Not that I needed his permission, but I appreciate it.

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

I read this in the dentist’s office. Super short book, but kind of a painful one to read. He gives spacey, new agey, vague advice….that I found myself thinking about after I read it. The only thing that matters is NOW. This moment. Keep reminding yourself of that.

“Knowing that what is cannot be undone — because it already is — you say yes to what is or accept what isn’t. Then you do what you have to do, whatever the situation requires.”

And

“…a stoic philosopher in Greece who, when he was told that his son had died in an accident, replied ‘I knew that he was not immortal.'”

Love those stoics!

$2.00 a day by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer

Great book on the realities of poverty through stories of real people. The working poor are trying. They want to work. The problem is it’s really hard to get a full time job making minimum wage and it’s impossible to live on part-time minimum wages. Most people try working two part-time jobs, but logistically that’s hard to coordinate with two demanding employers requiring flexible schedules. They’re also not getting benefits or overtime, even though they’re constantly working.

Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.—How the Working Poor Became Big Business by Gary Rivlin

Industries the poor utilize often lead them into financial ruin because of their predatory practices. Payday loans, car title loans, subprime mortgages, check cashers, pawn shops and their exorbitant interest rates suck whatever they can out of those in poverty. The prepayment penalties made me shudder.

It’s also a story of the organizations trying to help the poor by loaning them money at reasonable rates and trying to get the legislative branch to care and regulate.

The problem is a combination of financial illiteracy and outright fraud against people who can least afford it. Kind of a bummer of a read. Books about poverty are almost always bummers to read. I can’t think of any that I’ve read that weren’t.

The enemy of happiness is entitlement

Don’t go around thinking the world owes you anything. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.

That’s a badly mangled version of a quote often incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain that I mutter to myself at least three times a day.

Entitlement is the single worst trait in a human being. Expecting a certain behavior or a certain outcome or a certain situation doesn’t increase your happiness level any. In fact, entitlement will only bring you grief when the Universe decides to take back whatever it lent you.

Everything you have is only on loan to you. Your house, your car, your money and all your worldly possessions. Your hair, your cells, your time, your burrito. Everything. The Universe is letting you borrow it all.

That’s nice of the Universe, eh?

The trick is finding happiness and appreciation with what you have instead of lusting over what you want. Focus on the good.

When I was working as a lawyer, I had a list to remind myself to try to enjoy the freaking journey and not just countdown to retirement.

Things I’m going to miss when I’m retired, so appreciate it now, you idiot

  1. Payday twice a month is REALLY fun.
  2. It’s nice having my own office.
  3. And a secretary. I like asking her to scan and fax stuff.
  4. I get to wear nice dresses everyday.
  5. Oh, the occasional free tickets to professional games are nice.
  6. There are a lot of really smart people here to interact with.
  7. I’m not a bum. I’m working. A real job.

Unfortunately and fortunately, we acclimate. We get used to everything. It’s wonderful because you can get used to a lot of bad stuff and still keep living. It’s kind of sucky because you get used to the good stuff too and start to get bored.

thepowerofthrift.com

I made this.

Gratitude is the answer. Feel grateful for everything you have while you have it. It’s how you hop off the hedonistic treadmill and inhale the scent of the roses.

A sense of entitlement is the opposite of grit. When life gets bumpy, an entitled person feels shocked and angry, dwelling on the unfairness of it all. A gritty person gets back up and tries something else.

Think about what you can control and what you can’t.

Axis of control

Category one include anything I possess exactly zero control over. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west each day. No matter what I do, that won’t change. And that’s okay! Because the world is too full of things. I’d go mad if I had control over everything. Or I’d grow madder anyway.

I try not to waste my precious time and energy worrying about anything that falls into this category.

Category two includes things I have complete control over. My attitude. How I spend cash. Trying to find an activity that delights me.

Category three includes things I have some control over. How much I succeed at the activity that delights me. How much money I make. The way I position myself for the inevitable bad.

Life is going to suck occasionally. I don’t have control over what or when the suckiness comes, but I can give myself cushion. Having money gives you options and slightly more control than not having money. Work on the things you can control so you’re not flattened by the things you can’t control.

And when you do get what you want? Practice something called negative visualizations. Picture the loss of the thing while you still have it.

When you’re done picturing the loss and realize you still have it, you can celebrate. It’s like the relief you feel when you wake up from a bad dream. Phew! I don’t really have a big exam in a class I forgot to attend. Phew! I still have [whatever you pretended you lost for a moment.]

Do this and when you do eventually lose that thing, you’ll be slightly more prepared for it.

Theoretically.

Entitlement breeds unhappiness. Gratitude breeds happiness.

Ideas stolen from stoicism

The first rule about fight club is not to talk about fight club. But everyone talks about fight club. I picked up this jabbering wisdom from a book on stoicism. It’s a life philosophy based on tranquility. One of the basic tenets urges you not to talk about your conversion to stoicism; just live a stoic life.

But everyone talks about fight club.

I dig it. It perfectly encapsulates what I personally mean when I say that I’m striving for joy. My version of happy.

“We will, out of the blue, feel delighted to be the person we are, living the life we are living, in the universe we happen to inhabit.”

Yes! The happiness that surprises me. I didn’t know how to phrase it.

Lots of good ideas in this philosophy.

More gems from stoicism

  1. “Not needing wealth is more valuable than wealth itself.”
  2. “Stoics value their freedom, and they are therefore reluctant to do anything that will give others power over them. But if we seek social status, we give other people power over us: We have to do things calculated to make them admire us.”
  3. “A stoic who disparages wealth might become wealthier than those individuals whose principal goals is its acquisition.” Because a stoic has single-mindedness and self-discipline (grit!).
  4. “For most people, experiencing delight requires a change in circumstances; they might, for example, have to acquire a new consumer gadget. Stoics, in contrast, can experience delight without any such change; because they practice negative visualization.”
  5. “Seek friends who share our values and learn from how they live their life.” I’m really starting to think that good friends are the point of life.

How to get to 10,000 steps

I bought a fitbit recently. For those of you who don’t know me, that’s kind of a big deal. I don’t really buy things. It’s a watch that encourages you to walk 10,000 steps each day and then celebrates with you when you do it.

I love it. I’m in love with it. And no, Fitbit isn’t giving me money to tell you this. He doesn’t even know I exist. Just telling you this as a prelude for my next list.

How to walk 10,000 steps in a day

  1. Put away laundry one garment at a time.
  2. Walk during commercials of Judge Judy (or whatever you’re watching).
  3. Put away the dishes from the dishwasher one dish at a time.
  4. Set a timer for 45 minutes. Do whatever you’re doing for 45 minutes. When the timer beeps, go do 1500 or 1000 or whatever number of steps you decide beforehand. Repeat.
  5. Go out into the world and interact with it. That’s really the easiest way.
  6. Wear the pedometer. Give it a chance. This should probably be higher.
  7. Pace while waiting in line.
  8. Walk while talking on the phone.
  9. Go to the mall and play stupid games.*
  10. Challenge yourself to get as close as possible to a designated number of steps without going under. E.g. you already have 3,000 steps, don’t check it again until you’re SURE you have 4,000 steps. If you check it at 3,999 (or under) you automatically lose. The closer you are to 4,000 (like 4,001), well, the prouder of yourself you can be.
  11. Walk to your destination.
  12. Go hiking. Nature alters your brain in a good way.

Examples of stupid games to play in the mall while you’re trying to get in 10,000 steps with your buddy who is also trying to get in 10,000 steps.

  1. Spell your first name using only the first letters of the store as you see them walking by. The first one to spell their name wins.
  2. Take a look at each and every single option for a sweet treat in the mall. Analyze all of them. Decide which one you would pick. Question the sanity of the person who would choose hard candy from the gumball machines.
  3. Guess the number of places in the mall where one could get their ears pierced. Walk around and count. Whoever’s guess was closest, wins.
  4. Prognosticate over which stores will soon go out of business.
  5. Decide which kiosk sees the most traffic in the mall.
  6. Come up with a business idea for the kiosk.
  7. Don’t buy junk. That’s not a game, just me reminding you in case you’re tempted by going to the mall.

Chivda recipe

I’m learning to cook my mom’s specialities. This particular dish (pronounced “chew-da”) is a good afternoon snack. I ate it everyday after school. For years and years. To this day, Ma puts a bag or two in my suitcase when I visit. It screams “childhood.” My childhood. Probably not yours.

Every family in India will have a different recipe for this. Here’s my family’s version.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup peanuts
  • 5 cups of rice crispies type of cereal
  • 2 cups of cornflakes type of cereal
  • 1 cup of cheerios type of cereal
  • 15-20 dried curry leaves
  • One large dehydrated onion. This is what makes the chivda. You cut up the onion, put it in a food dehydrator for however long it tells you and then it comes out the other side looking like this.
www.thepoewrofthrift.com

Dehydrated Onions

Spices

  • 1/2 tsp each:
    • cumin seeds
    • mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp each:
    • coriander powder
    • salt
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp of garam masala
  • 2 tbspn sesame seeds

 

Directions

1. Pour oil in a pot on the stove.

2. Add in the mustard, cumin seeds and peanuts.

3. Let cook until it looks done. Kind of like this.

www.thepoewrofthrift.com

Peanuts. Cooked in oil for a few minutes.

4. In a large bowl, mix the cereals together well.

5. Scoop out the peanuts you just cooked and add it to the cereal. Don’t add in the oil or the seeds yet.

www.thepoewrofthrift.com

Peanuts and cereal, unmixed.

6. Put the oil back on the stove.

7. Add in the cumin leaves, the sesame seeds and the dehydrated onions.

8. Cook for like, a minute. The onions will puff up. They’re ready super fast. Don’t let them burn.

www.thepoewrofthrift.com

Fried previously dried onions

9. Add in the powder spices.

10. Shut the stove off and mix well.

11. Pour the mixture over the cereal and peanuts.

12. Mix well.

www.thepoewrofthrift.com

Chivda!

My favorite way to enjoy chivda is with yogurt. You can also eat with lime juice. Or use it as a substitute for bhel mix in this recipe. I have been known to put it in my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I get a weird look from family members when I do, but I just ignore them.

Acceptable Deviations

1. You can use fresh curry leaves if you don’t have dried ones.

2. You can add raisins.

3. Don’t buy a food dehydrator just for the onions. Although, it really does make it pretty delicious.

My Middle East Bucket List

I recently spent about a month in the Middle East. Not nearly as scary a place as I envisioned. In fact, it was just the opposite. Clean and modern and safe.

My Middle East Bucket List

1. Visit two new countries. 

I’m making my success explosion noises here pretty loudly. I visited four countries in total; three new ones. The United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman for the first time and another visit to Kuwait.

2. Do something in the desert.

I went dune bashing in the United Arab Emirates. You sit in a giant beast and drive erratically over the sand dunes, holding on tight and squealing in delight as the car tips precariously. Hopefully your driver knows what he’s doing and you don’t die.

Still alive.

3. Go inside a mosque.

I’ve seen a lot of old churches in Europe and older temples in Asia, but this was my first mosque. It was stunningly beautiful and I don’t say that lightly. Chicas had to wear scarves to cover their heads and long sleeves, so I felt slightly put off by that, but it was all part of the experience.

4. Get used to the call for prayer.

The first call for prayer starts early in the morning, at a time when sensible retired people are sleeping. It’s a voice over the loudspeaker reminding you that it’s time to show gratitude. Get your lazy butt up and give some thanks. It only took about four days before I could sleep through the nudging.

Found in a mall bathroom in Oman.

5. See an animal. Preferably wild.

This one was harder than I thought it would be. I saw camels and falcons in the desert, but they weren’t wild. I went to an aquarium in Kuwait and saw a bunch of creatures, but they weren’t wild. Oh, I got to hug a penguin in a mall in Dubai. That was really cool, but again, not wild. You can go skiing there too. Malls in Dubai are insane.

While walking along the Corniche in Doha, I did see a guy catch a fish. That fish was probably wild.

6. Do something with cars. The Middle East is big on cars.

I went go cart racing in Kuwait. It’s just driving around a little track in a little car, so you’d think it would be just like driving. But it’s better than regular driving. I think maybe it’s because the tiny cars make you feel like a giant.

I made a list of some other fun facts about cars in this area.

  1. Everyone has giant beasts for transportation.
  2. Gas is very cheap.
  3. Uber works in Qatar.
  4. If you go above the speed limit in Kuwait, your car beeps at you until you slow down.
  5. Tailgating is pretty much mandatory.
  6. Muscat is the most car centric city I’ve ever encountered. Public transportation was virtually nonexistent and areas of interest were so sprawled out that walking or biking was impossible. Rent a car if you go there.
  7. Parts of Fast and Furious 7 were filmed in Abu Dhabi.

7. Inspect an alternate life.

My first cousin lives in Kuwait with her husband and her daughter and I stayed with them for a bit. If my parents had remained in India and not ventured to the United States, I think I could have my cousin’s life. She got her degree in chemical engineering in India, entered into a love marriage (that’s the term for a non-arranged marriage in India), made a kid, and moved to Kuwait. She’s been there for a few years now and her life seems idyllic.

A maid and a cook come twice a day, a man comes to iron clothes once a week, a lady comes to thread eyebrows whenever she needed it. Of course I availed myself of that service. She did a fabulous job of it too.

Admittedly, this was a bit extreme as she’s currently pregnant and on bed rest. If it had been “normal” times, the maid and the cook would have only come once a day.

I envied her life not because of these luxuries though. Her apartment building is filled with other Indian expats who are constantly coming and going, chattering, bringing food, throwing parties and chilling.

Every day felt festive and fun. She had a community of close friends that rivaled anything I’ve ever seen. Her smart and happy 9-year-old daughter raced downstairs each night to play with her friends in the lobby. Her kind and generous husband seemingly knew everyone, joking with whoever happened to be in the elevator.

There was so much joy in the air.

8. Question life choices in Qatar.

Okay, of course that wasn’t actually on the Middle East Bucket List initially, but I added it after the fact so I could cross it off angrily. Angry explosion noises.

It’s a tiny country, so you need a magnifying glass.

Qatar was my third country on this trip. The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait preceded it and I could not have designed a more fabulous time at that point. My sister and her significant other accompanied me to the UAE and there was so much to do there. I stayed with my cousin in Kuwait as mentioned above and loved it, constantly laughing and exclaiming.

But in Qatar, I lost my way. I fell into a despair hole. Loneliness swallowed me whole. Usually when traveling solo, I schedule something with a blog reader or a friend of a friend or meet people along the way. But I couldn’t connect with anyone in Qatar. It sucked.

Doha is a very modern city, but with little to do there. The souks (old timey markets) and the walking path along the water (the Corniche) were daily haunts of mine.

But after a few hours and 10,000 steps of sadness, I’d retreat to my hotel room and watch the Fast and the Furious movies on television. There I moped and felt crummy, questioning my life choices, trying to pinpoint the exact wrong turn I made.

The place was cool enough. Perfect weather. Walkable areas. What it didn’t have was someone I could point stuff out to. Like the guy wearing traditional Arab garb, smoking shisha and hanging out with a falcon. Only the man smoked the shisha. I think. I didn’t want to stare.

Souk police.

9. Get your shit together in Oman

To alleviate my depression, I yelled at myself, then reached out to souls on couchsurfing.org. I hung out with some fabulous fellas in Muscat, smoking shisha and gazing at the beach.

It’s people that make the places. Friends and healthy relationships make life worthwhile and enjoyable. Other people.

Drinking a beer in one of the few places where you can in Muscat.

The good news is that most people are mostly good and there are good people everywhere. Even in a scary place like the Middle East.

Shit people are everywhere too, but they’re not magically identifiable by something like nationality. As nice a fantasy as that is to believe. How easy life would be then, huh? No need to work on the hard stuff. :-/