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.