Friday, December 28, 2007

Odds and Ends

Walking back to my car after a venture into the maws of the After-Christmas sale mania, two elderly ladies were pointing at my license plate (which bears my name, a puzzling but endearing gift from my husband when we bought the car) and vigorously engaged in a discussion about it.
Here's what I imagine they must have been saying:

"What kind of name is that ? How does he pronounce it? "
"I wonder if the JA is pronounced 'HA' or 'YA'"
"Do you think it sounds Middle-Eastern? Perhaps we should be careful about this..."

By which time, I opened the doors with a flick of the remote and they looked up to see me approaching, shopping bag in hand.

Elderly lady 1: " Oh, is this your car? I was saying to X here that it looked exactly like hers"
Elderly lady 2: " I had a Camry too."
Me: "Really? You had a green Camry exactly like mine ?"
Elderly lady 2: "Yes, had it for 15 years."
Me: "Well, mine's a 10 year old car." Getting in the car, "Bye now and have a good day."
Ladies walk off with an expression of guilty relief
"That was a close one- do you think she suspects what we were actually discussing?"

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cleaning Quandaries

Of late, I have been assiduously adopting a laissez-faire attitude to the dust bunnies breeding in the corners, ceiling cobwebs, pasta sauce and chocolate stains on the floor.
What is life, but a giant round of cleanup, followed within minutes by dirt from the muddy outdoors, spilt milk and cookie crumbs? Cleanliness may be next to godliness, as my mother likes to say, but it also is even more ephemeral than a passing cloud.
The law of Household Entropy states that
"Anything that was just cleaned will get dirty in a time duration in inverse proportion to the effort required to clean it" Copyright- Sujatha 2007

(if that hasn't yet been trademarked, I claim first dibs on it!)

I'm sure that the law of Housecleaning Entropy will prevail, no matter how much we try to order things by tidying up. Dirt and Chaos Reign Supreme!

I tried getting out of the apathy to cleaning by signing up with FlyLady, the internet group that will even hound you by email to get up and do your cleaning chores ("Shine your sink", "Get ready for the 10 minute clutter buster") if you have been too long at the keyboard. The constant e-reminders were annoying, so I switched to a daily digest. A few days later, I unsubscribed from the list.

I've found one method that works is to "Invite friends over to dinner". This ensures that at least some basic cleaning gets done, at least to assure them of the 'good hygiene' in the house where they eat. But with all the activities that I juggle, it doesn't always work as a device to encourage frequent cleaning.

Another is to harangue my teenager about his room and threaten to go in with a trash bag, unless he cleans up by himself. But he always manages to do literally what I tell him and no more, taking the definition of 'literally' to new heights. For instance, I instruct him to pick up the clothes tossed on his floor and take them to the basement for washing. He will promptly take the clothes downstairs, where they will remain in the laundry basket, unwashed for 3 days till I happen to see them and ask him about whether they were washed. " You told me to take them down, and that's exactly what I did!"

As for my younger one, the less said the better. She is showing all the aversion to cleaning up her toy messes that I used to display at her age. I would shriek for hours if my mother happened to disturb a carefully elaborate setup of toys and have been repaid by heredity and genetics with the same blessing in my daughter. As to getting her to 'clean up' after play, that's a task best left to swearing mommies at late bedtimes with a crankily sleepy little one nodding off on the side of the bed, of little help.

I used to wistfully collect the junk mail that arrived promising "Clean houses at affordable prices", "The WRONG person is cleaning your house- it shouldn't be YOU", until I discreetly enquired about them from a few friends who had the cleaning services come in once in a few weeks. Apparently, the secret to all the cleanliness in their dazzling homes, lies in the frantic precleaning that goes on before the cleaners get there, because we are too ashamed to show what lousy housekeepers we are by leaving the house in shambles before the outsiders arrived.
In all, the same effect as inviting friends over, but with more regularity, plus you pay them to spray your house with all kinds of cleaners and stuff and can live in an asthmatic haze till the fumes clear out a few days later.

The key to surviving all of this is what I describe as a New Zen approach to cleaning. Not to be confused with experiencing the cleaning moment by moment, as described by other avid practitioners, this method borrows from the Just-in-Time management mode and uses the following basic tenets.
1. Never clean until you find your actual work surface covered with dust.
It will not get covered with dust if it is a well-used surface.

2. Never clean anything that is out of sight.
You can get professional cleaners to deal with that when you are moving out, anyway.

3. Never clean anything when other people are around.
See Law of Household Entropy for reason.

4. Develop an extreme reverence for all life forms (a la Jainism).
This will give you the perfect excuse not to destroy poor Charlotte the spider's web in the corner, or kill Thomasina the dustmite's home, or even Millicent mildew's habitat in the bathtub grout.

5. Leave the burnt on mess on your stove burners for long enough, and they will become an industrial grade teflon burner replacement, without the carcinogenic properties.

6. When the weather is good, spend all time gardening outside, so you don't have to see the dust in the house.

7. When the weather is bad, take up a hobby that will precede cleaning in priority.

8. In other words, don't lift a finger until you have to.
You will be much happier for it!

This is the new Eightfold Path towards a happy if very occasionally clean house.

There, I've now managed to almost talk myself out of the 'cleaning attack' that was threatening for the last two days, but need to get up and clean. Visitors are expected for dinner on Saturday, so ciao!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bodies- the Exhibit

We finally took a trip to the science center to see the ongoing Bodies exhibit. I've posted a more detailed entry on this at Accidental Blogger.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Public Service Announcement - How to do Victorian style ringlets

Judging from the number of hits I keep getting on keyword searches for 'ringlets', 'curls' and 'nutcracker', there are several moms(dads?) out there looking for methods to curl their little darlings' hair into the appropriate look for this year's Nutcracker performances. Here's a brief primer of the various methods.

(1) Eco-friendly method : Use an old lint-free rag torn into strips. Condition hair with a teaspoon or two of warm olive oil. Wet hair lightly with water.Twine a bunch of wet hair strands around each strip. Knot the strip ends together in an easily removable bow/ simple knot. Wear a shower cap around all the twined strands and sleep in it. This generates beautiful curls, but takes several hours to set.

(2) Foam rollers method: Similar to above, but uses a foam wrap lotion and foam rollers( again, easily found in most dollar and drugstores). This requires overnight setting and sleeping in rollers. I used a product by (available in most beauty supply shops) called an Extra Firm Hold Foam wrapping lotion to prep the hair by applying it to each lock before rolling it around the rollers.

(3)Quick method : Takes about an hour, uses a hairsetting kit similar to (but more old-fashioned than) the current models. Basically, you apply the wrapping lotion to each set of hair strands and curl it round the individual rollers to get the curls. Wait till the roller has lost the heat before removing, and you will have a reasonable bouncy ringlet. Caveat: The curls may not last for longer than a few hours and you will need to repeat this whenever ringlets are desired.

To read more of my experiences with Nutcracker hair, check out my post from last year on
Nuts about the Nutcracker (Part 2).

Thanks for reading and I hope this was helpful.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Diwali Dilemma

Ah Diwali...the Festival of Lights. The time of the year when we gleefully purchase and wear new finery (or riffle in our closets for new unworn outfits purchased on clearance from Sears or Macy's the month before). When mom scrambles to make a sweet , in between trying to finish preparing dinner early, since S has to go to his swim practice.

Next, the anticipation of going to the temple on the nearest weekend day convenient, kids excited over the round of sparklers handed out for them to hold, to be followed by a mini-fireworks in the sky display, dinner and a good Carnatic music concert by an ex-leading light performer.

Dilemma I:
Current Time : 5:34 pm
Location : Stuck in traffic on the parkway, with two lane closures ahead for the next 3 miles, approximately 1 hour away from getting to the temple. M was growing unhappier by the minute in her car seat, watching the minutes tick away on the clock. "Will we miss the sparklers?"
"Probably, though they might have delayed handing those out if the puja ran late" (The sparkler distribution was set for 5:00 to 5:30 pm.)
10 minutes later, we had moved approximately 200 yards. Still no hope of making it to the temple even in time for the big fireworks display (6:30 - 7:00) at this glacial pace.
"Why don't we just take the next exit and head back home?"
Sighing as my hopes for a festive evening out evaporated, I conceded that it made better sense to get off this highway to hell. The concert wasn't going to cut it as an evening's sole entertainment for anyone in the family but myself.

So it was, that another half an hour later, we all trooped in our Diwali finery (silk skirt and blouse for M, a favorite Kanjeevaram sari for me) into our local Pizza Hut for dinner. M happily divested herself of her jacket, unconscious of any stares, while I kept mine on, not wanting to reveal the bright yellow and green silk underneath. Not that munching on pizza and garlic toast compensated for missing the Diwali dinner at the temple, but at least the kids had a good time despite the outing gone bad.

Dilemma II:

A brief chat with an acquaintance at our local Sunday school, while the kids were busy with their lessons revealed a shocking piece of news. A police officer had stopped by a house in our township and threatened to cite them for arranging some sparkler fun during a Diwali party on their own property.

My first instinct was to question why we hadn't been censured when we did the same around the fourth of July- surely they could tolerate this minor fun, instead of ruining the holiday celebration. "We tried to explain about the festival, but the officer said it was illegal in Pennsylvania", said the lady.

Hmmm... so fireworks are illegal in Pennsylvania NOT !
According to a recent amendment to the Pennsylvania code, small hand-held novelties don't fall under the draconian codes restricting the possession and display of larger fireworks.
The term does not include devices as ground and hand-held sparkling devices, novelties and toy caps in APA Standard 87-1, the sale, possession and use of which shall be permitted at all times throughout this Commonwealth. we now have local police officers who are not very well acquainted with the latest Pennsylvania law.

On the other hand, our township does have restrictive codes that demand 15 days advance application for permit to use even ground and hand-held sparkling devices, novelties and toy caps.

Next year, whether on 4th of July or Diwali, we'll be taking no chances. We'll make sure that we have our piece of paper to wave at any passing police officer, should some neighbor decide to complain.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Basement Refinishing Redux (Part II)

Finally the decision was made : Dri-core base with a hard plastic underlay 1/2 inch off the floor, to be followed by a floating floor of engineered hardwood, suitable for use in mildly moist conditions.
The order was placed and free delivery haggled over, finally arriving a day after the purchase on a long bed truck. We spent a good 45 minutes helping the delivery guy move all the pieces into the basement.

My husband slit open a container of the engineered hardwood planks and marvelled at its construction - a 1/8 inch hardwood veneer bonded with adhesive to plywood layers and then his face broke out in a frown. "This could be a problem. The instructions say that we have to glue these to the underlay. We can't do a floating floor with this type after all."

I had visions of myself being commandeered into carrying all those cases back to the minivan, as a prelude to the 'return and exchange' routine we go through quite frequently with home improvement purchases.

Not so easy, this time. My husband is still back at his laptop tapping away to find other alternatives and this time seems convinced that vinyl may be a better option, even though not quite as realistic in appearance as the purchased planks.

So, off he's gone again to look for more vinyl patterns to choose from. And I can anticipate a trip to Lowes or Home Depot next week for the mandatory second opinion before anything happens in the basement.

Basement Refinishing Redux

My husband had successfully finished the basement with drywall, ceiling tile and painted the concrete floor a pale blue a few years ago. But he still kept scratching his chin and gazing thoughtfully at the arctic acres of painted concrete, every time he went down to use the treadmill or exercycle.

For me, it was enough that the area was brightly lit and welcoming enough for the kids to rough-house when they got too boisterous upstairs. So long as the passage to the washer-dryer closet remained clear, I was a happy camper with the State-of-the-Basement.

Every now and then, he would insist that I accompany him on trips to Home Depot or Lowes to check out better flooring options for the basement. The kids would try miscellaneous antics while I stood in fear of M getting knocked over or some unfortunate customer to be torpedoed by S or M whizzing on the empty shopping cart. My husband would muse over the choices of vinyl tile and grab a sheet of every available brochure, while occasionally barking "We won't go to Subway/Burger King/Dairy Queen for your lunch treat if you continue to play around like this" by way of bringing the kids to heel.

I split my attention between trying to control the kids and composing appropriate responses to queries of "Will this tile look better than the other? " or "Should we go with vinyl or engineered hardwood- they say that either is fine for a basement, even with moisture issues as we have had in the past."

(To be continued...)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Comet-hunting we will go...

..Finally, successful we will be.

After earlier bad experiences with cloudy skies while trying to view Comet McNaught, we finally got to see Comet 17P/Holmes last night in a clear sky, prominent to the naked eye in the constellation of Perseus.

It's time to brush the dust off my camera manual and see if there's a way of photographing something that's in broad view in the night sky, clearly visible from our front windows. I had little success yesterday and want to get my pictures before the dreaded clouds strike again.

Friday, October 19, 2007

I Always Knew that...

Cold medicines were worse than useless.

Whenever my kids had horrid colds and hacking coughs that kept them awake and retching in the sink, oh the late night phone calls to the triage nurse, who surely had better things to do (genuine emergencies such as anaphylactic shock, poison ingestion and the like)! To her credit, she never hesitated to call back and after listening to the symptoms, give us useful hints like "Run the hot water for about 5 minutes and try standing in the steam with the baby". My husband would insist later that I should have asked her what cough syrup would help with the cough, and I always looked at him as though he had dropped in from outer space.

"Why do you think I called the triage nurse? The spoonful of XYZ Cough Formula didn't keep M (or S) from waking up coughing, did it?"

I nevertheless dutifully inquired about the doctor's recommendations for a suitable syrup to soothe the cough, and religiously dosed my kid with a teaspoonful of the stuff at bedtime.

When I grew older, and wiser, I took to treating sore throats and coughs with soothing mixes of honey in warm water, with the occasional dash of squeezed lime juice, or milk with a pinch of spice and sugar (My mother prefers pepper, my mother-in-law, turmeric).

Now, a few years past my patently unscientific conclusion of the inadequacy of cough syrups, the experts in the world of medicine have seen the light! Namely, that the multitudes of brightly colored boxes of soothing syrups don't really work for the under 6's and could even be dangerous, given that so many parents misuse these and overdose them with drugs formulated and tested on adults. All they are good for is filling the pockets of corporations that manufacture and sell millions of bottles worldwide as a panacea.

Never underestimate the perspicacity of Dr.Mom!

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Great Pumpkini

The piece of pumpkin that I picked up at the local Indian grocery on a whim was a tasteful shade of pastel orange, filled with seeds that I scooped out and was about to discard, when inspiration struck. I took a couple of them, rinsed them out and plopped them into a hole between the lavender and the zucchini in my late spring vegetable garden.

Within a week I had one strong little seedling which started to put out humongous variegated (green with silver patches) leaves, some spreading out like mini-umbrellas 10 inches across over the neighboring lavender. The enterprising tendrils started grasping and choking the lavender and invading a rhododendron right next to it.

The plant grew and grew, with nary a sign of any flower, though the zucchini nearby bloomed prodigiously, as did the green peppers, the beans on a trellis, the tomatoes and cucumbers. I kept peeling away the tendrils of the pumpkin from just about every plant in the garden, trying to prevent it from overgrowing everything in that corner of the garden. I mused on whether it was time to pull the blasted thing, since it wasn't showing any signs of flowering."Patience", counselled my favorite gardening website "Pumpkins usually bloom only after 10 weeks in the ground".

So it was that I left the garden for 4 weeks while we went on a long vacation to India, having asked a neighbor to water the plants in my absence.

Back from our trip, I took a bleary-eyed peek at the garden and saw that the tomatoes, peppers and just about everything else had keeled over, and the pumpkin had triumphantly invaded everything.

Still jet-lagged,I stumbled outside armed with a pair of scissors and started hacking away at the pumpkin, pulling it back upon itself. Pumpkini-Houdini was under control again!

It had dozens of large yellow flowers and one solitary pumpkin, a variegated dark and pale green blob, that grew and grew over the next few weeks, as I grudgingly watered it, preferring to concentrate on the tomatoes and the peppers which were still going full swing.

The solitary pumpkin(round zucchini?) is still a mystery, as of writing. I found something similar called a 'green striped cushaw' on a search but an unable to get an exact match to this one.
Now I feel like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin every Halloween, only I got a Great Pumpkini instead of the hoped for pumpkin!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Coined and Purloined Words

I didn't give the title of the piece "Plumbophobia" too much thought, thinking to create a clever combination of plumbum, the Latin word for the element lead, and the current fear or phobia of lead in toys which has been receiving much prominence of late in the US media.

On a whim, I googled the word and discovered precisely 3 links to it. One was my post on Accidental Blogger, the next was a link to somebody's blog post about a plumbing nightmare overcome despite the poster's 'plumbophobia', and the third an obscure reference to a page in an 1874 published book along with other mysterious words that are hardly used these days 'rancomania' and 'siderophobia'(fear of stars).

The Wiktionary suggested that since there was no reference to it, I should enter it as a protologism. But my usage ( closer to convention than the other reference in the plumbing post), I feel, is a neologism.

And so, I give you, a contemporary definition for 'Plumbophobia'- [LL. plumbum - lead, Gr. phobos- fear](1874) - 1. fear of lead. 2. aversion to plumbing

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Paper, not Plastic

The cashier looked daggers at me and the motley pile of bags of lentils, jam and other assorted groceries piled in front of her.
"Don't you have a shopping bag? We can't provide you with a plastic one, you know. Plastic bags have been banned."
"Couldn't you wrap these up in old newspaper?"
Mumbling to herself, she proceeded to inexpertly wrap up my purchases in three parcels, fumbling in a drawer for rubber bands to secure them.
It brought back memories of my childhood forays to the neighborhood store, shopkeepers dexterously wrapping large newspaper cones of measured out lentils and tying the parcel with a quick twist of jute twine that hung in a large spool from a hook off the rafter.

The triumphant return of newspaper parcels wasn't the first thing that I planned to blog about on my return from a 4-week trip to India, but I thought it bears mentioning, in face of the tons of plastic I just discarded yesterday from various purchases at the supermarket. (No longer. After this trip, I promise to use the reusable shopping bags available for 99 cents each at the checkout counter. Or the lovely bags from my rice purchases that I hesitate to throw away, seeing how neatly the rows of double reinforced stitches run along the sides of the heavy-duty canvas).

Come to think of it, a lot of practices which are now being trumpeted as the latest 'green' innovation are just plain old common sense/ancient cultural practice and frugality thrown in, along with a marketing program, vision/mission statement, catchphrases and sloganeering, elaborate launch programs and what-have-you. Here's a couple that I observed.

Banana leaves instead of disposable (and landfill clogging) styrofoam plates.
Of course, leave it to the locals to come up with their own twist on the combination between the practicality of plates and the messiness but eco-friendliness of banana leaves : I observed at least once, stainless steel plates lined with banana leaves, to cut down on the messiness of gathering used leaves. Plus, a perfunctory dunk in not too clean water for the plates wasn't going to offend anyone's sense of hygiene, since they get a brand new leaf surface to eat from anyway. I don't know how many restaurants use the same technique, but it may not be an isolated instance.

Ecotourism : Tourism with a green tinge, or the same-old, same-old seen through green-colored glasses to rival those of the denizens of Oz. (Dorothy, we're not in Kansas any more!). All blurbs extol the use of renewable natural materials in the construction of the luxury 'kettuvalloms' or riverboats (see photo) in which the tourist can relax as the boatman guides it on a relaxing cruise on the backwaters, lulled by the gentle waves and replete with a lunch with the local fish specialty and rice.
(We may even have enough time to try this on our next visit, assuming that we don't have insane travel schedules as we did on this last trip.)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Of Bugs and Bags of Lettuce

This lady 'bugged' out when a dead beetle dropped out of the bag of lettuce she had just eaten from. From the story:
Kim Gillingham says she found the 3-inch long insect when she emptied the rest of the bag of Dole lettuce.

She had already eaten from the bag and feels lucky she didn’t become ill. But her concern then turned to her loved ones.

"I had served to friends, family members my niece. It just shocked me disgusted me that this came out," Gillingham tells KDKA.

(Link to video)
Note to self: Do not go into the kitchen garden to pick vegetables, there could (shudder) be beetles, bugs, flies, butterflies, bees and wasps around. Do not touch the dirt, there could be horrid germs in it, beyond the reach of sanitizing using any anti-bacterial cleaner, since there is so much of it all around.

Perhaps we should stay away from bagged produce, since we might never know what species of insect might be tempted to hide in it and terrorize the unsuspecting consumer who merely wants to create the perfect Wolfgang Puckian chicken caesar salad (Eeek...I see dead chickens!!)

Also, remember to recalibrate measuring tapes and rulers- 3 centimeters is the new '3 inches'.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It's raining Mummies!

Trying to avert a screaming match between M and S yesterday, I suggested that they finally tackle, as a joint project, the 'Dig out your mummy' kit that we had purchased months ago on our foray into the King Tut exhibit at Philly.

Having settled back to work comfortably, I was again startled by another screaming match over the 'dug-up' mummy, this time because the silly plastic pieces refused to fit correctly together. S railed at the 'dollar store' quality of the plastic mold, M was in hysterics because she tried to fit the pieces together, roaring "Anna (elder brother), you're DISTRACTING me. I CAN'T CONCENTRATE..."

Thoroughly exhausted by the drama, I banished both to their bedrooms for a few minutes of peace and quiet.

This morning, the newspaper brought the latest discovery of Queen Hatshepsut's mummy having been ID'ed from that of an obese mummy discovered in the queen's nurse's tomb with a missing tooth matching a tooth found in the queen's canopic jar.
What a curious coincidence!

Mummy 1 was an apple mummy created in the wake of our Philly trip, provided with the cutest mini-apple funerary mask by S and lovingly mummified in toilet tissue by M. We got as far as supplying it with a mini-milk carton sarcophagus, but didn't decorate the sarcophagus, which still bears the inscription of Chocolate Milk and the picture of a kicking cow.

Mummy 2, of course, was our ill-fitting plasti-mummy, resting in a genuine sandstone mold.

Mummy 3, thought to be perhaps a wet-nurse named Sitre-in, turned out to be one of the most powerful queens in Egyptian history-Queen Hatshepsut.

It's raining mummies, indeed!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Vacation, Shmacation! - Part 2

Back from the rafting outing, our friends arrived right in time for lunch. I was attempting to use up all the potatoes from our Walmart foray, while the rice cooked slowly in a stock pot. Our friends' daughter had milk allergies, so we were careful to provide her with either non-lactose alternatives or cooked without dairy.

Why, oh why, do we persist in trying to set up housekeeping away from home, instead of relaxing in a hotel, leaving the cleaning and bed-making to the maids and dining everyday at restaurants?

It didn't help that the rental came with instructions on how to leave the place in near pristine condition when leaving, as a 'courtesy to the next guests/home owners'. So bad was this 'homesickness', that rather than reading the plentiful supply of light reading or vegetating in front of the TV, I spent a lot of time in the house loading the dishwasher a zillion times a day, planning meals/picnic lunches/cooking/watering and re-watering the pitiful pansies till they drowned, making beds that would have remained unmade at home.

The first day, we went hiking at the gorgeous Muddy Creek waterfall in the Swallow Falls State Park. Much to my astonishment, not having seen this the last time we visited, there were intrepid hikers intent on hopping a few slippery rocks across the creek to get to stand behind the rushing water. (Just imagine, if this had been India, they would have provided a platform with access to bathe in the rushing waters, along with a whole cottage industry of towel/shampoo/oil suppliers, just as in Courtallam)

My husband couldn't resist the siren lure of the falling water and insisted on taking M with me as they tried to hop, skip and jump their way across the creek to go behind the falls. They eventually reached the curtain of water, though M fussed midway and insisted on being carried by her dad.

Coming back another way, M came to a rather too long hop across the stones, at one point. My friend S, who was right nearby, moved to help pull her to the rock, and promptly fell into the creek, losing her footing on the slippery rocks below. We had a few anxious moments until she managed to scramble up to the rocks with assistance from a nearby man.She was drenched in the chilly water, but luckily not much worse for the dowsing, barring a bruise on her knee. I had caught M in the meantime and pulled her to a safer non-slippery location.

The hike completed without further adventures,we got back to the cabin with a biking/hiking trip planned again for the next day.Swallow Fall Park had a 'biking' trail which ran for about 5 miles to another park with a small beach, called Herrington Manor. We moms, would drop the fathers and kids off at Park 1, drive on to Park 2 and do a bit of hiking, while waiting for the fathers and kids to bike there.

The morning's plan went off like clockwork. S and I took a nice long hike through the woods, braving the occasional mud pit as we followed a marked snowmobile trail through summer woods. After about an hour of this, we headed back, hoping to hear from the bikers on their progress. After a fruitless wait in the no-cell-reception forest, I finally got through near an artificial beach squealing with kids, kayakers and rafters launching from a small dock further from the beach.
"How close are you now? Will you be here in another half an hour?"
No way, they were still half-way, D's bike had lost its handlebar, the rest of the kids were too tired to bike, the ranger who assured them that it was a good biketrail was an ignoramus who didn't have a clue (it was horribly difficult, unpaved, uneven, rocky, rooty, etc.)... It was going to take at least another couple of hours for them to reach the park.
My friend and I munched on a couple of cucumber-and-chutney sandwiches, as we waited. Within minutes, my husband, daughter (in seat behind), and son arrived, having biked ahead to get help for the others. My husband now drove off to collect our friends from the location where they had stopped.
Luckily, they all arrived not much worse for the morning's adventure, in fine shape for a round of fun in the water.
Driving back, we took a wrong turn and had to double back, using a farm's driveway to turn around. A horse which had been grazing peacefully on the far end of the field made a quick gallop to the end near the driveway and gazed expectantly at us. Unfortunately, we had no apples in hand for a treat, but I did manage to take a quick snapshot of the horse before we sped away.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Vacation, Shmacation! - Part I

Now that we're back from our Memorial Day weekend, I need a vacation to recover from this vacation!

First, the exhaustion of having to pack everything in sight (including my precious 'Anjaraipetti' spice box) , rice, oil, dal, and choice veggies from the fridge. Next, rushing to finish five loads of laundry, which had been piling up until before the trip, just so that we could have clean underwear to pack.Then, trying to bundle all potentially rotting veggies to my compost sack before my husband dumped them in the trash bin("Vegetable scraps and coffee grounds in compost, are you sure that it's allowed? The township may have rules against composting vegetables"). And of course, the gazillion trips to the supermarket to stock up on yet another missing snack/drink for the vacation

I sat typing frantically on my computer, trying to finish up some last minute work and emails, when my husband walked in, fresh from his shower. "Are we ready to leave?" "Maybe in another four hours", I replied, not missing a beat on my keyboard. "I haven't started packing yet, other than getting the kitchen items ready, M needs a bath, S needs to take a shower, the last load of laundry needs to go into the dryer, I need to have sent this email out yesterday... "

Four hours later, all puffed up with our suitcases and essential sport accessories like bikes and helmets, inflatable raft and paddles, PFDs, and food and drink for a small army, our van finally pulled out of the driveway. The children cheered "We're on our way, at last!"
"Are we there yet?", M piped up after about 5 minutes on the highway.I sighed and settled back comfortably, trying to catch a short nap after the helter-skelter morning.

The vacation rental was a quiet rustic looking cabin with a wraparound porch, tucked away in the woods, among about just another 500 houses like it on one acre wooded lots. Appearances are deceptive, for going up the stairs from a stuck-in-the-70s basement to the main level brings us to a house with all the comforts of home, except for the 'Cell phones don't work here' post-it note next to the phone, along with an apologetic promise of free long-distance calls contradicting the 'long distance call charges will apply' in the thick 3 ring binder that instructs any renter on how to keep the house spic and span. Hmmm....maybe we are paying a small premium for the lack of cell phone service. Imagine a place where my husband can't spend hours dealing with technical issues over his cell phone!

The bedrooms were well appointed, with country-style quilts, botanical prints on the wall, clearly framed at considerable expense. The owners had good taste, I decided, not wanting to think of my cluttered household which could probably look the same if I decided to get rid of stuff accumulated over the years. The ambiance was country living meets get-away-from-it-all in the woods, near a lake front, all only a 10 minute drive away from the nearest Walmart. Another plus was a generously stocked small front bedroom with the latest romance novels, JK Rowlings and of course, the latest DVDs ("A Night at the Museum" screamed M in ecstasy,- "There goes my chance to view an old-but-gold Kamalahasan classic like 'Michael Madana Kama Rajan, the DVD painstakingly chased down on the internets).

We made ourselves comfortable, loading up on about a hundred-dollars-worth of groceries at the aforementioned Walmart ,which even had a salesperson pop up at the right moment to answer our question of "Where are the charcoal bags?". Never mind that the charcoal bag, purchased after about 1/2 hour of discussion, was never used and still sits in our garage 3 weeks after the trip was over. Then it was back to the cabin for a good night's sleep.

The next morning, my husband and kids took off with the inflatable raft across the road, traipsing across a dozen lakeside properties to get to a small dock. I followed with camera in hand, ready to record this for posterity. Just after about 25 minutes of photo-chronicling, I got tired of the lake, switched my attention to assorted wildflowers and fungus covered tree stumps, then walked back to the cabin to wait for our friends who were reaching there that morning. My family followed, rather too quickly (i.e. before I could get to page 12 of the romance novel I decided to try reading).

"The owner of the dock we took off from came by to tell us we couldn't use it, and we happened to be done with rafting any way, so we made his day by complying with his 'request' quickly and getting out of the water", said my husband.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Madness of Magazines

The latest issue of Better Homes and Gardens was popped into my mailbox this morning. I pulled off the covering and riffled through the contents.
SUV ads, teeth whiteners, antiperspirants to inhibit at least one natural excretion mechanism, followed by an ad on how to 'Treat your chronic constipation' followed by 3 pages of fine print that ought to confer on you a Ph.D. in pharmacology, ads for cat chow ( not melamine-laced, we hope!), picture perfect Jambalaya rice (Was that real veggies and sausage, or plastic imitations designed to stay put until the 5 hours of food photos were done?), sleep aid pills which apparently come with eye-shades to guarantee a good night's sleep, five reminder cards for extending your 50-cent a month subscription, $25 dollar discount off clothing purchase at the retailer with overpriced clothes likely made with 'slave' labor (Brings back warm and fuzzy memories of the time I walked into the store with some (equally brown)friends, and was tagged by the employees till we walked out, visible looks of relief on their faces when we left!)...every item I looked at, just flipping through, set off this string of curmudgeonly thoughts, compressed into a total of 5 minutes.
Shut the magazine, and try again, this time with a decently brewed strong cup of Masala chai in hand. Remember to breathe deeply, start from the last page, for it lends itself to glancing at the left hand pages where the actual articles are positioned. Shiny, impossibly clean and uncluttered homes, tasteful pastels, dramatic red accents, smiling blow-dried home-owners and their adorable kids, with faces tastefully blurred for anonymity.
Ooh, pretty lilies and tulips (collection sold for $69.95 + shipping and handling and sales tax). No thanks, I can get equally gorgeous results from my dollar store gladioli and discount bulb bags at the local big box Home store.
'Living Green' is the Next Big Thing, according to the magazine gurus. So along with exhortations to 'sustain natural resources, reduce waste, minimize toxins and save energy', we get the 'wink-wink' attitude of 'We don't really expect you to sacrifice or make big changes, just baby steps... like buying our mesh tote bags to replace the wasteful shopping plastic bags, replacing your old fridge with a brand new Energy saver version, replace your window panes with the latest glitzy triple-pane innovations which cost about $400 each, switch to low flow toilets despite adding a brand new bathroom with a jacuzzi...Ok, I guess those weren't baby steps after all. Plus, as an added concession to living up your greenness, you can splurge without a twinge of conscience on the 'White cotton cardigan by Silly, $219, select Fifth Ave stores', made of 'ecologically sustainable organic cultivation techniques that help decrease global warming'- Alright, I admit that I made that last line up, but it's the kind of drivel that has become increasingly popular in the last year or so. Al Gore, you know not what you hath wrought!
For my part, I will do my best to help, by discontinuing my subscriptions to these mindless merchandising catalogs with thin veneers of infotainment. Perchance to save a tree or two...

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Hair-raising Tales

Nothing can be more terrifying than the first discovery of a white hair in a full head of dark hairs. Or the discovery that the once luxuriant head of hair is losing large clumps to the drain at bath time. But as some wag put it, “Hair today and gone tomorrow”.
I was born with a full head of lovely curly hair which lasted until the age of 1, when it is traditional practice in most of India to shave off the baby hair. Through my early years, my mother took assiduous care of it, oiling and shampooing, combing and braiding within an inch of my life. It grew and grew, becoming my crowning glory, a la Rapunzel.
Unfortunately, the glory started to wane when I hit the high school years. My mother bewailed the start of the loss with “It seems to happen to all good students- the head heats up with increased brain activity.” Consolation theory, at least for me, for I could delight in the fact that my examination marks increased in proportion for every strand of hair lost. Had I thought about it, I could have qualified for an early Ph.D, based on studies turning the formula :
H = kG/ Iⁿcf
Where H = Total current amount of hair
k = Median hair strands at birth for your ethnicity
I = IQ level measured at start of school years
n = Number of years of education
f = age in years
G = genetic factor
into a widely accepted law of Hairology.
Dandruff and scales hit as well, and we anxiously tried out every remedy to banish the pesky flakes from coal tar based shampoos to scary-sounding Ayurvedic potions like ‘Shivacharachooranam’ to white vinegar applications which left me smelling like a salad-All to no avail. I remember with incredulity a question from a kid about my hair when it was thicker "Do you use rabbit's blood on it to make it thick and shiny?" ( I should have taken that hint and tried that as well, except that rabbits were in rather thin supply where we lived!)
Now, with my much reduced rat's tail of a braid, I still resist all advice to restyle my hair to cover the thinning top. I've given up shampoos and hair dyes for fear of shortening my life from all those petrochemical based concoctions, endocrine disruptors and whatnots, thanks to assiduous googling and scaremongering articles on the internet. Nothing but plain old shikakai, vinegar and cooking oil for me!
As time goes by, I may even resort to the final solution: Cutting it all off for a short hair style, just my grandmother did when she was in her 70's and ended up looking remarkably stylish and contemporary, except for her old fashioned sari.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Spring Fever

After an unseasonal slide back into winter, followed by days and days of cloudy drizzle (we were spared the worst of the recent Nor'easter that blasted much of the Eastern seaboard), bright blue skies were back in vogue. Too bright, too blue, in fact, with very few condensed contrails from the airplanes that criss-cross our skies.
My daffodils and crocuses survived the cold temperatures for a last couple of days of glory (and photo-shoots, of course) before wilting away to deadhead heaven. But I still have several pink, white and blue hyacinths and late crocuses just starting to bloom. (Thank goodness for early winter garden clearance sales and great 'global warmed' weather to plant them in!)
M and I spent a good part of yesterday morning starting off the heirloom seeds that I hope to plant in my vegetable patch this year. Brandywine and Golden Pear tomatoes, muskmelon, snow peas, 'Triomphe de Farcy' beans, 'Chinese Giant' sweet peppers. Let's see how they fare germinating, or whether I'll cave in and replace them with the usual $1.50 half-dozen flats of Better Boy/Early Girl tomatoes/Generic peppers from Kmart.
We were serenaded by a big fat bumblebee who seems to have mistaken M's bright orange and pink outfit for a flower. I was able to persuade M to enlist Mr.Bumblebee as a good friend, who, unlike the bees, doesn't sting and just hovers around flowers for their nectar, even though her first instinct (and mine, too) was to run screaming into the house for cover.
My spinach and radishes are coming along nicely, having survived the cold snap without much fuss, protected by dollar store basins from the unseasonable snow and frost. My sole concern is whether the chipmunks are going to get them before I do.
The lawn looks thin, in comparison with our neighbors' lush green carpets. It has more moss and thatch than it should, but I dread the prospect of my husband walking around with Roundup can and sprayer/Moss control in hand. If the plan to add chemical treatments goes through,I don't think we will be treated to the sight of grackles and robins digging in our yard for worms or foraging for the 'best quality' dried grass, or squirrels and chipmunks playing 'get out of my territory, you illegal alien'. I'm hoping that sheer laziness will help at least delay, if not totally remove the threat of massive chemical infusion to 'green' our lawn.
About the inside of our residence, the less said the better. I know that I ought to get off my butt ( and an alarmingly big butt it has become, in the recent months of inactivity and working at the computer) and start the spring cleaning round. Maybe I'll have something to say about that in my next post. Till then, toodles!

Friday, April 6, 2007

High(low)light of Philadelphia trip

I have just posted this account of our visit to the King Tut and Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibit of Egyptian artifacts on Accidental Blogger, and figure that a link to that should provide some reading till my next more detailed post of other things we saw and did on the trip to Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Parrot Saga Part III by Subha

Just two days ago, Sankaran, our pet parrot decided to make me exercise a bit as I was putting on weight!
It was 7.00 AM. My husband had left for our house in the village in the early hours and so I was somewhat free. I took my time reading the newspaper and switching on the rice grinder for making the batter for Idli. I left the kitchen so that I could freshen up a bit before making breakfast. While near the wash basin which was across from the kitchen,I saw some bird flying inside. I was wondering how could a crow enter the kitchen as the back door was tightly shut. Then I thought probably one must have entered through the kitchen window which was open. Anyway, I wanted to have a closer look and chase the crow out.
Ah, my heart stopped beating for a second! It was Sankaran the parrot who was flying in and around the kitchen and above the whining grinder! I didn’t faint, that’s all.
The cage was shut properly which I had checked after feeding him earlier. Somehow he managed to escape and was having a gala time. Anyway,- I had to do something about it. If only Sankaran managed to fly out, that would be the end of him as the cats and dogs were on the prowl most of the time, and in addition, crows might also try to chase him. I rushed to close all the three windows in the kitchen and the Puja room and the door leading to the dining room.
In the meantime, Sankaran had realized his folly and coolly went and sat on the gas tube of the kitchen stove. Fortunately, the stove was not on. He was staring at me and was looking happy and amused at my predicament.
As Sankaran would not allow anyone to touch him, he had to be caught with a towel and then put back inside the cage, a job which could be managed only by Ammini, our servant maid who lived behind our house. I went out closing the work area door and shouted ”Ammini, Ammini, Come at once! Sankaran has escaped from the cage. Before he is lost, we have to put him back in the cage” She immediately started to come to my house. I knew that it would take at least 5 minutes for her arrival.
I was worried that if only he went closer to the grinder, he would be ground with dhal and we would end up having a parrot dosa special for our breakfast the next day! I wanted to give a try in catching him. I dislodged the big cage from its hook and tied the door in the open position with a wire. I took it and went gingerly near Sankaran . He immediately started flying once again and when I was looking at him pathetically, he decided to sit on the window rod. I just rushed and jammed him between the window pane and the cage and holding it in that position, just commanded” Sankara, Ulle po, hmm, udane po! ( Get in Sankara, right now!) . Like a tamed bird, he bent his neck in a cute angle and entered the cage with a “Kyuin” and was jumping with joy that he had found his usual perch in the house.
I heaved a big sigh ! O K, back to the work area and hooked the cage. Ammini who just entered the house was happy that she didn't have to risk getting pecked by his beak while catching him. She cleaned his cage and Sankaran was fed with the cucumber which he relished sitting comfortably on his own perch.
As for me, I just hope that I had lost at least a pound in running around and from the tension I experienced!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Luck O' the Irish

M is enthralled by St.Patrick's day, leprechauns and Pots o' gold in a big way this year. The idiot box has been contributing its share to this fad as well, pushing images of shamrocks, leering leprechauns and fake Irish accents for the last week. M fell for all this hype and pestered us with questions about shamrocks, leprechauns and the like. To top it all, she came home crying from school because the Leprechaun bypassed her classroom for a visit.(Very likely triggered by a brag from a schoolmate with a teacher creating a treasure hunt for her class!)

She grabbed a sheet from the printer tray and industriously wrote a letter to the leprechaun.
"Dear Leprachan, please leave a treasure hunt in my house. Write your name in the blank ___________ Love, M".

"Amma, are leprechauns real?"
"Do you think they are?"
"I think so. They leave pots of gold at the end of rainbows too. Can you put this letter outside the door for the leprechaun?"
"Honey, it's cold and snowy outside, how about placing it between the storm door and the main door?" - not wanting to open the storm door to a blast of icy cold air.
"No, no,no- it has to be outside!! Otherwise the leprechaun won't get it" -Start of tantrum in sight. I crack open the storm door and place the sheet of paper between the doorpost and the door, hoping that it wouldn't fly off into the snow. It stayed in place.

The next morning, she flew to the door and peeked. The sheet dangled, its end wet in the snow. Disappointed but unfazed, she ran off. "Maybe the leprechaun will come later!". After a good breakfast, I took her to the local Balavihar class for an hour or so.

When we got back, S announced excitedly to his sister "The leprechaun's been here and left you some clues for a treasure hunt". M started following the trail of handwritten notes around the house, leading finally to her favorite 'warm spot' next to the sofa, where she found a cache of candy that she instantly recognised.
"Anna..." ( Elder brother)- she roared in dismay.Peering closer at the notes, "This is Anna's handwriting- You tricked me! This isn't the leprechaun's treasure hunt."

Oops! Red faces and hilarity all around, except for M who was extremely miffed that S had tried to fool her.
"Never mind, perhaps the real leprechaun will only come in the night", he soothed. Still a little annoyed, she nevertheless chose to believe that and ran off to play.

Another window of opportunity came in the afternoon, when I had to take M to a birthday party. I dropped her off at the party and after a leisurely round at the local Kmart, entered the dollar store next door. I called my husband on the cell phone."Is there anything I can get for the leprechaun's treasure hunt?"
"How about a pot? I've got some candies for the hunt"
I managed to find a suitably rustic pot and a handful of golden mardi gras beads, and sneaked them into S's hand as soon as we got back "Don't let M see this till it's ready!"

The next morning, again a mysterious trail of clues. M followed them eagerly to her 'pot o' gold' in the dining room, festooned with the gold beads and a cute little green bunny. "Oooh the leprechaun did come after all! And his name is Figgle!. Here's his picture on the last clue. I think he must have typed these on the computer though- it looks like a computer printout."

I sneaked a peek at the clue sheet- "Go to the room of dining, and ye shall find ye treasure that ye desire...Figgle"

She was floating around in a haze of glory the whole day. At night, while putting her to bed, she said "Amma, can I take Lepra to school tomorrow and tell my friends about the leprechaun's treasure hunt?"
"Take who??"
"Lepra- that's what I named the bunny Figgle left me. "
"Mm..I don't think that it would be a nice name for a bunny. Can you think of another name? How about Shammy?"
"Why isn't Lepra a good name?"
"Because it sounds like 'leper', which is a word for someone who has an illness called leprosy."
"I think I like Shammy. It sounds better than Rocky too, for this is a girl bunny and Rocky sounds like a boy's name."

And so, Shammy it was, as M drifted off to sleep, perchance to dream of smiling leprechauns with pots of gold at the ends of rainbows. Irish blood may not run in our veins, but S did a great job of capturing and distilling the luck o' the Irish for his sister.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Shopping While Brown

Shopping While Brown: a sister syndrome of Driving While Black and Flying While Arab.

The newspaper ads screamed in 150-point fonts about the GRAND OPENING of a new department store Boscov's to replace an old flagship store that had closed. While I'm not exactly a shopping maven, I decided to set aside time to visit the store, especially after a pair of tickets to the 'exclusive preview' arrived in the mail. These promised an extra 'free gift' of a nice-looking(in the ad at least) Lenox cookie jar.

The grand opening day arrived. I was all set to go out on my own to Boscov's when some good friends of ours stopped by for a chat. I coaxed P into accompanying me, waving the extra ticket and the promise of the freebie.

We happily wandered around from floor to floor, looking at the offerings, much the same as any usual big departmental store. A refreshing change of salespeople, I thought, as I caught more glimpses of other skin colors than exclusively white behind the cash registers. We were politely directed to the location where we could pick up our free cookie jars and wandered near the suitcase area. One red 3-piece luggage set caught my eye. Advertised as a special at $14.99, I had seen shoppers wheeling their prizes all around the store.

I saw one propped up at the empty register and pounced on it. No sign of any employee to ring it up. P wanted one too, but decided to check back later after we looked around the children's department. So we went up the escalator there, and I helped pay for her purchase, along with my suitcase set, since she hadn't brought her purse.

We went down the escalator again, this time seeing an employee at the suitcase department register. He took one look at our clothes ( I was in full salwar-kameez, bindi regalia) and did a double take as he saw me holding the luggage set- "Was that placed here on the register ma'am?" he asked.
"Yes, it was. I couldn't find anybody to ring it up here, so I paid for it upstairs", waving my bill to show him.
"Sorry, ma'am. You have to pick this up at the door. I can't give it to you right now. It's my last piece"
What a curious procedure, I thought,. "Why?" I asked. "Store policy, ma'am" he replied.
"Alright". I walked to the door, while P browsed another display in the home electrics section. I waited for about 5 minutes with no sign of the employee showing up with my suitcase. I walked back to the suitcase area register to see him ripping off the product wrapper ( and with it the barcode that matched what was on my receipt) as he handed it over to another gentleman at the register.

I lost my temper then.

I marched up to the counter, grabbed the suitcase and wrapper from the startled employee and demanded to speak with a manager. The employee spluttered "This isn't yours, ma'am". I said"Yes, it is. I can prove I paid for it. Why did you try to remove the wrapper and barcode? Are you trying to tell me that I haven't purchased this, when I showed you my receipt? I couldn't care less about these silly suitcases, but I want my money back, if you are going to discriminate and offer the products only to people of a certain appearance."

The store manager reached the bottom of the escalator at this opportune moment. The employee "Let me try to explain..." I interrupted " No, you listen to me first", and I laid out the whole story to the store manager before he could get a word in edgewise. She was apologetic, promising to get an extra suitcase set from the stockroom for P, and falling over herself assuring me that I was indeed entitled to walk away wheeling the luggage set that I had purchased. The employee rang up the new purchases, apologetic yet whining about how he had been misunderstood and that he had thought that I was trying to take the suitcase without paying for it.

Well, that ended my expedition to the new store on the block.While I always keep out the usual sharp eye for good deals in the local department stores, my shopping trips have not taken me back to Boscov's back again.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Cloudy Skies

It happened again! The never-fail situation of eager anticipation of a major astronomical event, clouded by errr... cloudy skies!

The day of March 3 dawned bright enough, with the usual light cloud cover normally giving way to brilliant blue skies. I scanned through the weather websites only to find a white blot on the radar map headed straight for my area. My neighbor had kindly promised me a walkout on her balcony to view/photograph the eclipse without too many trees impeding the view, but the clear skies didn't hold up.

The moon rose in totality, under heavy cloud cover. We had been to a friend's house for dinner and amid snide comments on the zillion taboos we were breaking ( Munching on pakoras during a lunar eclipse, no less, sin compounded by watching Mallika Sherawat slinking sinuously on the large screen TV), we still stampeded onto the chilly deck to catch a fleeting glimpse of a 2/3rd moon, just as the shadow was moving away at the end of the eclipse.

I had zero luck viewing the recently spectacular Comet McNaught, captured here in the early stages of its glory by another resident of the same township, a photo that had me turning green with envy the day he posted it on I dragged my son out in freezing weather one evening at sunset, and we stood frozen-fingered with binoculars, trying in vain to locate the comet near the western horizon. The ever-present clouds blocked our view. We gave up and returned home after half an hour of numbing wind chills.

Now, if M can draw me a 'Clear Skies' Krishna, maybe tacking that on my office wall will do the trick...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Conversation with M

M (busily applying glue on the back of a newspaper scrap): I'm making a scrapbook for funny pictures from the newspaper.
Me: Let me see what you have there. Oh, it's a moose with a chair over its head. How weird!
M: Can I look at the pictures in yesterday's newspaper?
Me: Sure. You can check out all the papers from last week.
M: I want to see if I can find that picture of the funny lady who shaved her head. I want that picture for the scrapbook
Me: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Back Again!

I'm back to blogging after a break for the last 3 weeks.
With myriads of rhinoviruses floating around, my family had these unwelcome visitors mowing us down like rhinos charging at safaris.
To make things worse, my PC's hard disk crashed shortly after I installed a game that I had gotten my son for his birthday. So between Tylenol-fueled tech support calls, and trying to recover my lost data, and the coughing/zombie like feeling that lasts for days after not-quite-the-flu, I had my cup of misfortune overflowing.
The last couple of weeks were not fun weather, both inside the house and out. Temperatures dropped precariously low. School was even canceled on two days because the low temperatures wouldn't let the school buses start, outfitted as they were with a new low-emission formulation of diesel that clogs the pipes when temperatures drop below 10 degrees F. So my stir-crazy kids ran wild around the house, while I tried to get my work done amidst battling hooligans.
This week was the turn for another round of snow cancellations two days in a row. The day before was the grand prizewinner- we lost power for 7 hours in the morning.
The thermometer dropped steadily from 70 degrees to 60 degrees and we started layering up with socks and sweaters as we waited for the power to return.
My husband took it all as a grand adventure, lighting up a fire in our seldom-use fireplace (Never did really understand our real estate agent's rapture over the size of ours-but now I concede that it did finally come in useful as a wood burning operational fireplace, worth its size in utility rather than ambiance!)
The kids jostled around the fireplace, trying to toast marshmallows. My husband shoveled a path to our grill, languishing under a vinyl cover on our deck, and initiated boiling a kettle on its propane burner, just for the morning cuppa and hot cocoa. That, along with cereal and leftover sourdough bread from yesterday was our breakfast.
I walked across to our neighbors, unable to reach them by phone, since we have VOIP service which conks out whenever the power to the cable modem goes out. As usual, my cell phone was out of charge and suitably useless in this emergency. They were doing alright, but we did take a few minutes to discuss leaving the house for another friend's place where the power and heat was still on, just in case the power outage lasted too long.
I came back in a tizzy, worrying about frozen pipes if the power wasn't restored and temperatures dropped below freezing in the house (though that wouldn't happen for at least another 12 hours, given the 10 degree drop in 6 hours!). My husband laughed and said,"Watch the kids and the fun we are having. It's like camping indoors, with the fire and marshmallows and camp stove version of coffee and cocoa! And you worry about frozen pipes! "
Sure enough, 5 minutes later the power was back, and it was time to get back to working on my PC, all thoughts of emergency and disaster gone in a blink!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Parrot Saga Part II by Subha

Sankaran, our pet bird is neither a talking bird nor a friendly one for that matter. I was amazed to see a TV clipping about a parrot in Ernakulam, which learnt to speak Malayalam just by hearing TV show dialogues! I told Sankaran,“ Silly Sankara,see how one of your species is talking! Except for ‘Kyun, kyun & Tha' you don’t seem to say much!”

Sankaran has made me look around for other birds and watch their behaviour. Our neighbourhood, particularly, our mango trees, jackfruit trees and other shady trees attract many a bird, which are mostly unidentifiable to me. Am I becoming a bird watcher? What is the definition of a bird watcher? Should I read about birds? Should I take a tour to the forests? Should I attend workshops on bird watching? Anyway, I know my Sankaran- the green parrot with a red ring round his neck and his daily friends, the crows, and his enemies the tomcats and the garden snakes!

During our recent visit to Singapore, we planned a visit to the Jurong Bird park to fulfill one of my criteria for becoming a bird watcher. I expected to see the usual and unusual birds in cages. To my surprise the very first birds that we encountered were parrots- multicolored, green and red ones put in a spacious ground cage with a wire mesh canopy. One could walk in to be with the birds. No claustrophobia! I was mentally comparing them with Sankaran. There were at least 50 to 60 birds.

We were allowed to feed the parrots with honey and water mix. Of course we had to pay 2 S$ for a quarter cup. As Sankaran, my pet parrot, did not allow me to hold him or pat him; I wanted to at least feed these unknown birds. I held the cup in my left hand keeping it stretched for the parrots to come and drink. Two multicolored parrots came and drank from the cup. Wow, what a nice feeling, - the parrots were perching on my wrist and they did not hurt me at all. Being very small birds I did not feel them heavy too. I had a broad smile on my face. (I made up my mind to tell Sankaran about it).

One minute later, two red parrots came and started quarrelling with the earlier two birds for space. They wanted their share of the drink too. I was a bit scared, but held on to the cup and the four birds. Finally the red ones drove away the multicolored ones and were having a jolly time. I smiled once again. Ah, another photo with the red ones on my arm! (Hoped my husband did not miss to capture it in his camera!).

While I was enjoying every moment of this feeding, suddenly I felt so heavy with 8 to 10 birds landing on my head, shoulders and all over my left arm and hand trying to take a sip from the cup. (Were they really starved or just that they loved honey so much, which was offered as a treat by the visitors? Or was it their feeding time?).
I got terrified and closed my eyes fearing that they might poke my eyes. I thought,-“Are they going to shit on me? – Oh, no, I have to march to the wash room straight away.” All the while, my husband was trying to focus his camera to click a photo of me engulfed with a crowd of parrots. The parrots were too quick and flew away and only one was left on my head when he did click the camera. Still it was fun! Till the cup became empty, the parrots were with me. Fifteen minutes of bliss!

Back home, I showed the photo to Sankaran to make him friendlier. He replied,
“Kyun, Kyun (BIG DEAL!!)”.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Parrot Saga Part I by Subha (Sujatha's Mom)

It was in August 1987. My younger daughter N, the 4-year old, demanded a puppy for a pet. The reason she gave me was quite funny and somewhat logical: - “ You have given me to akka (her older sister) to play with, but you have not given me a younger sister. So I need at least a puppy to play with”. She loved to boss others around and she thought that she could do it with a doggie.

But I put my foot down and declared that I wouldn’t have a dog in the house, as there was no one to take care of an animal, leave alone training it. She cried and cried and left it at that. A week passed and one afternoon she came home from her nursery school carrying a parrot in a small cage.

Her face was glowing with triumph.“ Amma, see what I have! Ammini chechi and her family have gifted me this nice bird! They have one for themselves. This is going to be my pet, a real living parrot! What do you think? It is not an animal, it is a bird!”

I looked at the teeny weenie bird with its feathers trimmed off so that it could not fly. It was trembling a bit and wouldn’t allow us to touch it. Though my heart was inclined to keeping it, I wanted to play it safe in case some untoward things happened to it. So I told her,- “Look, parrots are likely to live only for a short period as there are a lot of predators around and they don’t like living in a cage. We have a number of stray cats in our neighbourhood. You should not feel bad if it dies.”

She screamed “ How dare you call my parrot dead? See Amma, it is moving and flapping its wings”.

I said, “Ok, we will bring it up and you have to help us to take care of it”. She jumped for joy and promptly named it “SANKARAN”, a male name, even though we didn’t know the bird’s gender.

We also presumed the parrot to be a male considering the ring around its neck to be its sex indicator. (By the way, how does one determine the sex of a bird?). Anyway, till today we consider him a ‘he’. Sankaran’s feathers grew in due course and we got him a bigger cage. It was an ordeal making him move to the new cage! The cage was hung from the ceiling in the work area where the walls were just made of wire-mesh so that he could see the outside world and feel more comfortable.

Sankaran loved to eat paddy grains, apples, guavas, mangoes, jackfruit, country beans, ladies finger and sweets. He hated cooked rice and bananas. N was happy to visit the parrot morning and evening. It was a sort of ritual for her. All of us tried to teach Sankaran to utter a few words, but in vain. Slowly he developed his own way of communicating with us. We, as in the case of a newborn baby, decipher his unique types of noise! With his distinctive noises, he attracted other parrots to our enclosure that was constantly closed for fear of cats.

Seven years after Sankaran joined our family, N wrote a short story based on Sankaran and it was published in a children’s magazine, Gokulam with lovely illustrations. She was proud to receive 50 rupees for her contribution. Sankaran made her a budding writer indeed!

The year was 2000 and our Sankaran survived and was happy to be with us. N left our home for college while Sankaran remained with us.

Sankaran is now 19 years old keeping company to my husband and me. He had my elder daughter to take care of him till she got married and then, the younger one left home to take up a job in another city.

The parrot, which I thought would not survive for more than a year or two, is still with us (Touch wood!). We got him a bigger cage in which he could fly a bit or flap his wings at ease. He still refuses to come out of the cage and does not allow us to touch him. The only concession we get is to put our hands inside the cage for cleaning and placing his food and water. He recognizes our daughters whenever they visit us. Our grand children love to talk to him and feed him during their visits.

Sankaran is a good watchman. Any new comer to our backyard will be announced by his screeches. We in fact got rid of some intruders at night on two occasions by his screeches. Sankaran is surely an asset, though he is not an accomplished bird with other talents.

(Note from Sujatha: I found out that Sankaran is actually a Rose-ringed parakeet (see here for a photo of this type of bird) a widespread species found all over South Asia, parts of Africa and even in feral populations in the United States and Europe. More information on this species at this link.)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Kitchen Adventures- Conclusion

The children jumped up and down in anticipation. "Hurray, today's ice-cream day!", as my husband wrote down a shopping list for ingredients. My kids happily went with him to the grocery store, while I cleared the counters for the inaugural ceremony of the ice-cream maker.

I opened the box and picked up the instruction manual to glance through it, and froze on page 2.
"Place the outer bowl in the fridge for at least 2 hours to ensure that it is thoroughly chilled".
That didn't sound very high-tech to me. What happened to the all-in-one claims of 'Perfect ice-
cream in 20 minutes' plastered on the box? Was there any mention at all of having to pre-chill the bowl? That would make it a '2 and 1/2 hour ice-cream', not a 20-minute wonder.

The kids trooped upstairs, babbling in excitement, and my husband dumped the supplies for the goodies on the counter. I waved the manual before him and said "Looks like you need to chill the bowl for this one, just as we do for our low-tech icecream maker."

"What??!!??" He gaped at me.

"The instruction manual says so".

"But that isn't the impression that I got from the details on the box."

"You've been deceived. I thought it sounded too good to be true," I said as I sauntered to another counter to start preparing lunch.

"Hey, kids, we'll just use the old bowl to prepare the ice-cream today. This new one is no good.
I'm going to return it". Out came the trusty old rotating handle version with its frozen bowl that always had a reserved space in our freezer.

Moral: When modern technology doesn't really turn out to be modern, stick with the Stone Age implements!

The next day was the food-processor's turn. This time, I offered to go to the supermarket for supplies (and a break) while my husband parsed every sentence in the instruction booklet, to make sure there were no nasty surprises.

I returned with cans of chickpeas, tahini paste, parsley, garlic, kosher salt and lemons and the first experiment was on. One by one, the ingredients went in and out came the freshest,yummiest, creamiest hummus that we had all tasted in a long while. The only problem was that we had enough to feed the entire neighborhood, so my husband packed off generous helpings to friends, while the kids ( not hummus-fans) still looked askance at the capabilities of the new machine on the block.

"I'll make you salsa", my husband promised, as my kids rattled the large Tostito corn chips bag from the supermarket. Tomatoes, onion chunks, cilantro, jalapeno, lemon juice- some preparation was required to make sure the vegetable pieces were small enough to fit in the mouth of the feed tube. Was this extra work really necessary, I wondered, as he set to chopping the vegetables.

Once the 'prep' was done, it took all of two pulses to get the perfect salsa consistency. The kids gobbled up a goodly portion of the fresh salsa, without a fuss. But for the next week or so, the remaining salsa languished in the refrigerator. "Should have used the Spanish sweet onions", my husband muttered. "This salsa tastes a bit bitter with those yellow onions that we used."

Next came the 'slicing capabilities' test, with my husband trying out cucumbers, onions,potatoes, green peppers, just about every vegetable in the fridge, trying to see how well the slicing worked, while I struggled to use up the sliced vegetables as well as I could in recipes for which I would usually dice them.

The verdict was a mixed one. He concluded that the slicing would be thinner if we could adjust the size of the slicing blade opening, but discovered that purchasing a separate blade to match the thinnest slices we wanted would set us back another $50/-. So that put an end to that idea.

The final test was the pizza dough. He tried out the basic recipe in the instruction booklet, and added the usual toppings for a very nice, if rather low-calorie pizza. "Tastes a bit too much like bread" was the general consensus.

"That's because you need to use more than the two tablespoons of olive oil in the recipe. The more generous you are with the oil, the more crispy golden the crust" - Mom, the veteran of a few dozen home-made, hand-mixed pizza dough and pizzas.

I still failed to see why the pizza dough had to be mixed in the food processor,but enthusiastically applauded the idea of retaining the appliance, given the fun that my family had joining the cooking process. I put aside my prejudices and gave it a worthy welcome by wiping down my appliance counter and letting it usurp the space earlier occupied by my cookbook collection.

P.S. And, I finally gave in to a long-time wish and ordered a slow cooker for a new round of experimentation in the kitchen- My turn, this time!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Kitchen Adventures- Part I

After about 14 years of life in the States, we finally took the momentous plunge into the world of haute cuisine technology by purchasing a food processor. That's not to say that I didn't pull out every possible Luddite argument against it, but my husband was insistent. He snorted at my brand new sharp-as-a-sword but not as fearsome 'Santoku' knife, my trusty pair of ancient "Laser" brand vegetable knives from a decade ago, and our Antiques Road Show candidate of an Osterizer. "Time to enter the 21st century in this kitchen", he declared grandly.

He pored over the Consumer Reports Online, and customer reviews for at least a dozen different brands. Every time we visited a store, we made a beeline for the home electrics department to check out the latest Food Processor offerings and religiously tabulated their prices and features.

In the meantime, I continued to soldier on in the kitchen with my knives and cutting board, kneading chapati and pizza dough by hand, grinding chutneys in my leaky- at- the- bottom Osterizer.

'I'm going off to check out Macy's and Sears, want to come along?', he announced one evening, as I was preparing dinner. Exhausted by having to opine on practically every possible type of food processor and free-standing mixer, I sighed "Just go ahead and check on your own. You know what I want." ( I really meant to say "You know YOU want!")

An hour and a half later, the door from the basement opened, and he staggered in with two large boxes.
" I got the Cuisinart 11-Cup food processor, and also found this Ice-cream Maker that automates the whole process of ice-cream making!" ( He had always found fault with the ten-buck handle-rotated cheap version that I had nabbed at a clearance sale last year- 'How prehistoric! Icecream makers should be able to cool the cream as well as stir it with the push of a button- None of that silly pre-freezing of the bowl nor the turning of the churning spatula by hand should be needed!').

So now, we were in for many treats. The kids were jubilant, I was ambivalent, swinging between enthusiasm at his efforts to try cooking and scorn at the 'modern equipment' needed for the simplest results. Plus, I needed to figure out how to clear out enough counter space to host these clunkers.

He rubbed his hands in glee, and diligently started studying the recipes for fresh salsa, hummus, pizza dough, ice cream recipes collected over the months before. Our mouths started watering at the mention of dizzying array of gourmet (and not-so gourmet) food that he planned to concoct with our (rather, his) newest toys.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Nuts about The Nutcracker- Conclusion

The first stage performance sailed through without a hitch. I did manage to get a couple of audience- heads-and- blurry M-onstage photos, and some bootleg video ( ‘No videotaping or flash photography, please’) of the times M came to centre stage.

There was confusion aplenty when it was time for the Little Sisters and a host of other Party Girls to rush onstage and take their positions .“Don’t trample the babies!”, the director warned the dancers stampeding into place, more like wildebeest than gazelles.

The footwork and leaps of the principals were impeccable, unlike in a previous year’s performance when the Sugar Plum Fairy ignominously landed on her bottom from a complicated set of pirouettes and sautes. This year,every dancer did his/her part with grace and verve. The Little Sisters looked charming, complementing Clara's moves and mimicking her gentle ministration of the Nutcracker doll with their baby dolls. The baby mice were adorable, as were the youngest dancers of all, the Bonbons scampering on stage from under Mother Ginger's voluminous skirts.

M’s ringlets held through performances 1 and 2, but on day 3, I made the mistake of attempting to wash out the industrial strength hairspray out, and the ringlets wilted. Her hair started to straighten out minutes before the performance started. Oh well, at least her ringlets were perfect for 2 out of 3 attempts.

A final almost-disaster came in the form of home-baked cookies for another fundraiser sale of snacks for the last performance. I forgot to pick up 2 dozen cookies from the local supermarket, and was reduced to riffling through the pages of an unopened Maida Heatter’s Cookies in hope of finding a recipe that would work with the meager ingredients I had, having run out of eggs, butter and chocolate chips.

I found one that seemed healthful as well as unappetizing enough to scare away most buyers- a honey raisin oatmeal cookie needing vegetable oil rather than butter. Perfect, I thought. It would have been perfect, except that the cookies got a little black on the bottom, since I forgot to adjust the baking time allowing for my black cookie tray.

As it turned out, even slightly blackened cookies had their takers, especially when labeled in a pretty script and packed 3 to a Christmas themed bag tied with ribbon. I only hope the buyers didn’t get ill- I certainly didn’t from the couple of sample ones I tasted!

M had a prodigiously good time fulfilling her dream of dancing in the Nutcracker, and just as well. This will be her last year in ballet school. Scared of the physical demands if she continues long enough in ballet to go ‘en pointe’ ( tippy-toe dancing)- which places prodigious demands on the foot as I saw from a photo of a leading ballerina’s unshod and distorted feet, I will be switching her to Bharatanatyam this September.

That will be a story for another day.