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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tour de France - III

The language immersion lessons at school were definitely helping. After school, Suji now plopped down in front of the TV, which Amma made sure to turn on in the half-hour before she returned from school, at the risk of dealing with a fit of sulks. She would toss her satchel and jacket in the hallway, rip off her shoes and dump them in an unceremonious pile, wash her hands at the kitchen sink and grab a tray of snacks with dazzling efficiency in her rush to get to the TV before the start of L’Île-aux-Enfants (Island of Children). It was her favorite show, starring a benevolent yellow orange dinosaur named Casimir, along with a host of friendly humans and his cousin Hippolyte. His favorite food was Gloubi-boulga ,a mouthwateringly disgusting concoction of mashed bananas, whipped chocolate, strawberry jam, strong mustard and sausages (anchovies and crème Chantilly optional). She was lost in an enchanted world till it was time to switch off the TV.

Children’s programming was extended through the afternoon specially on Wednesdays, when the lycées and écoles let out early. Suji would mournfully come home to the dregs of the afternoon’s Visiteurs du Mercredi ( Wednesday’s Visitors) telethon, lamenting her school’s schedule that gave her Saturday mornings off instead of Wednesday afternoons. Sometimes, she was lucky enough to catch the tail end of Barbapapa and Prince Noir. On a few occasions, she tried feigning sickness to be able to stay home to watch the whole show, always caught out by Amma’s eagle eye. There were a few times when she was genuinely indisposed, and finally got the chance to watch the complete Visiteurs du Mercredi between sniffles and sneezing bouts.

The obsession with television was getting out of hand, to the extent that Suji preferred to sit and watch the umpteenth rerun of Marschallin trilling her soprano in Der Rosenkavalier (“Unholy screeching”, Amma called it). She was fascinated by the trappings of a bygone world and time, the beehive wigs and powdered curls, grand costumes, covered with acres of lace, organza and satin. This was her preferred window on the world, making her unwilling to be dragged out into the sunlight to visit the Louvre museum, or Versailles or Chartres or the Eiffel tower. Wild horses (or dire threats of trashing the TV) were needed to pull her out into the sunlight to enjoy the real culture and architectural glories of Paris and her suburbs. Once out in the bright sunlight, her resistance evaporated and she threw herself into enjoying the outings, having forgotten her mini-tantrum at the exile from Couch-potato Land.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Baby Cardinal

A few mornings back, I noticed a flurry of activity near the pine tree when I set out to water my garden. A red cardinal and his mate chooked near me incessantly as I walked, careful not to trip on the shallow tree roots. That's when I saw a fluttering ball of moving feathers on the ground, blending into it. A tiny scraggly bundle of cheeping hatchling tried its level best to get away from a large and scary interloper. I was only thankful that I hadn't stepped on it in my hurry to get to the garden hose.
The anxious chooks continued as I showered the plants with their daily dose. I wasn't sure whether I should move away and let the cardinals get their little one, so I finished up as rapidly as I could manage and went inside.
Half an hour later, I couldn't resist stepping outside. Now the cardinals were fluttering around the base of the cherry tree, a good 50 feet away. They flew away, scolding as I approached it. At first, I could see nothing, but then I saw something that looked like a rock at the grass near the roots. It was the hatchling, camouflaged almost perfectly by its unremarkable grey. Only its beady eyes and pale beak were give-aways. I hoped that the parents had not abandoned it because it fell out of the nest, but was reassured by this article that I had done the right thing in not attempting to take the bird home. Apparently, baby cardinals are ground bound for about 10 days and fed by their parents till they develop enough strength to learn flying.
The next morning, I noticed a fluttering in my vegetable garden. Little Hatchling was skipping merrily around my beans and okra, with Mom and Dad scolding and chooking the moment I made my morning rounds near the garden. Shortly, it perched precariously on a rhododendron stalk, utterly still as I brought out my camera. Preternaturally calm as I shot my photos, it stayed in place without budging for 5 minutes.
The cardinals have since moved their baby to another location. I still see them at my feeder every morning, peering to see if it has been filled, calling accusingly if I am tardy in replenishing the feeder. Some day soon, I expect that I will see the cardinal with their newly-flighted chick perched on the deck railing, feeding it the last mouthfuls of regurgitated baby food, before it is old enough to fend for itself.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Tour de France - II

The school was modern, well-lit, classrooms decorated with charts, maps and children’s artwork and projects. Miss Lithwick smiled at her newest pupil as she peered tentatively at the group of children working at their desks. Suji’s gaze alighted on Sally, and she gawked in amazement at the incredibly golden ringlets that drew to them all the sunlight filtering through the blinds. “She looks just like the princess in that story I read last night!” she thought.
“Girls and boys, we have a new friend who is joining our class today. Let’s all say hi to Sujatha, who comes from India.” The children chorused “Hi”, no enthusiasm for the stranger interrupting their day. The moment of enchantment with ‘Goldilocks’ vanished. Spell broken, Suji was shown to an empty desk and handed stationery supplies. Back to school in earnest, she had very little difficulty with school work. What she did have trouble with was making friends.
Suji constantly followed Sally around like a determined little puppy, convinced that Sally was the embodiment of the sweet-natured golden princess in her fairytale books. She tried to get in line behind her, sit at the same table with her at the cafeteria, only to be shoved aside by more favored courtiers. She pestered her with questions and requests to play games. Sally grew sourer day by day as this obtrusive affection showed no signs of waning until Miss Lithwick intervened. She spoke gently to Suji :“You are going to be my special helper for the next week. I would like you to sit with me when we have lunch in the cafeteria.”. Suji understood obliquely that she was to leave Sally alone. She consoled herself by thinking that even though Sally had such lovely hair and skin, she did have bunny teeth and was not really that pretty a princess after all.
The children had put on their coats and formed a line to go out to the playground. Suji was a proud first-in-line. “Can I touch your fur coat please, Miss Lithwick”, she asked, hand reaching out in anticipation. “Of course,” smiled Miss Lithwick, eyes gentling as she watched Suji carefully stroke the soft brownish red fur that matched the exact shade of Miss Lithwick’s hair. Bear, fox, fake, who knew?
So the fascination with ‘Goldilocks’ dwindled to nothing. Over time Suji got caught up in other activities and no longer batted an eyelid when she ran into Sally at school.
The soothing strains of guitar sounded in the French teacher’s room “Voyez-vous la pluie qui tombe…” ( Do you see the rain falling?). Mlle.Hachette had called Suji and a few other new students to the class for an instruction session in beginning French. They were to speak in French during the class, unlike the other classes and homerooms where English was the lingua franca. Some more weeks of this immersion in language and culture and the fog started to dissolve- the voices in the classroom, the speakers on the television all were now uttering actual words and sentences, not just garbled noises.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Million Dollar Wii Baby


Now we've got Wii-fever in the house. Specifically, boxing rage.

While on vacation, we happened to visit an acquaintance at whose house M was given the chance to try out a round of boxing on their Wii. "Watch out, it is a tough game to master", she was warned, to no avail. She kept punching with the rapidity and lightness of a Mini-Mohammed Ali and breezed through 3 rounds with immediate KOs in no less than 5 of the fights. We watched, jaws dropping, as she waved her arms in triumph, screaming "I won, I won!!!" in her high-pitched voice.

Today, we walked into the local Sears for a 'casual' window shopping trip, and walked out about $330 poorer, Wii and accessories in precious plastic bag- Indulgent Dad had been ground to dust by the pleadings of the Mini-M and the Macro-S.

I went out for a walk after we got home, feeling rather uneasy after the greasy Chinese takeout, followed by a largish mint chocolate chip sundae that had precisely 3 tiny mouthfuls taken out of it. The Wii-ers were glued to the installation and instruction manual. I half anticipated that a boxing match would start before my return.

Dulcet strains of Muzak were still emanating from the family room when I got back. That's hardly like the roar of boxing spectators, I thought. But the whole room exploded in laughter and raucous giggles, as I peeked inside to see them creating their Mii characters to represent them onscreen. M had already picked out a pigtailed look for hers. S was struggling with the appropriate shape and position of his glasses- finally going in for the tip-of-the-nose (yes, there's a button for that!) position, and a thin budding moustache that he isn't averse to depicting, even as he gets ragged about it by his friends.

The Mii creation completed, M and S faced off in their first boxing match. "Ee-ee-ee-ya-ee-ee-ee!!!". Pint-sized as M was, she still managed to KO S twice in three rounds. This kid is lethal, I tell ya!

Now if only we could have a Million dollar Wii boxing match, she might make the kind of prize money we can only dream of!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pizza Delivery

The kids were screaming for pizza- not the homemade kind. "We want delivery!" they chanted, descending upon me in pestilential droves as I attempted to get some work done. I didn't have the heart to deny them, and placed the pizza order online, in an attempt to get the 'First Time on Internet orders' discount. I set out the money for payment, including a four dollar tip to cover the typical 15% of the bill amount.
"Delivery time would be 75 minutes." stated the website. Hmm, a slightly long wait, but not really a problem. Dinnertime would still be at a reasonable 7 o'clock. Till the clock kept ticking and tocking, with no signs of the delivery. At 7:05 pm I roused myself to call up the pizza place. "What order? Oh, that one. It's still here and hasn't gone out yet."
Sigh. Why can't I get lucky with such a simple thing as an internet order for pizza delivery?
"Do I have to come and pick it up or will you still deliver?"
Mumblings in the background. "OK, we're sending somebody out right now." I went back and removed one dollar from the tip money pile.
"It will be at least half an hour", I gloomily predicted to the kids and my parents. But barely ten minutes later,at 7:20 pm, the phone rang.
Pizza delivery guy: "I'll be there soon. The pizza store manager had placed a hold on your delivery for some reason, but forgot to inform you about it."
"What time do you expect to be here?"
"7:23."
This wasn't bad at all, just about 15 minutes off from the actual estimated delivery time. The driver must have driven hell for leather (or maybe that should be hell for tires) from the pizza place to reach our home so soon. I fished out the one dollar note from my purse and placed it on the tip pile again.
Sure enough, three minutes later, I noticed the driver slowing near our mailbox, and opened the door. He backed up onto our driveway and mournfully trudged up the path to our house.
"Really sorry about that. I wish the manager wouldn't do this to me. It makes me look bad, as though this late delivery was my fault. The manager put a hold on your order for some reason, but didn't call to let you know. So I get pulled out the kitchen while doing the dishes till I'm asked to deliver pizzas, and end up delivering late."
I collected the change for the pizza order from him and handed him the four dollar tip. "Thank you very much, and sorry again about the late delivery", he said as he walked away looking less disconsolate.
Just a kid, barely a few years older than my son, probably a high schooler working for cash during the summer. My tip likely meant another gallon of gasoline for his car to compensate for the fuel burned racing to our house to deliver pizza.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Tour de France - I


(This will be the first of a series of little vignettes about a couple of years that I spent in France with my parents. It's too sketchy to be a full-blown memoir, so I thought of publishing it on the blog as an ongoing series. Do let me know if you like it and would like to see more.)
***********************

Those were thistles splayed all over the dingy wallpaper, though she did not know their name. This was the first bedroom she had all to herself. A tiny space with faded carpet, beige painted steel wardrobe dotted with rust, single bed with a thin mattress and sagging pillows, room radiator giving out much-needed warmth for her shivering body despite the pair of woolen blankets. Light poured in from a single window with nondescript drapes, overlooking a spacious concrete courtyard behind the apartment building. Beyond was nothing but dreary high-rises, roofs and more roofs in the distance.

A far cry from what she had left behind in India – shared cozy bedroom with her parents, where she could always reach across the gap separating her bed from her parents’, searching for the warmth of her mother’s hand when night wakefulness struck, evening sea breezes rustling the coconut palms, fans whirring through day and night to keep the heat at bay, morning birdsong and raucous litanies from crows competing with the “Kausalya supraja” blasting from the tape recorder, dazzling teeth in polished brown face of the boy delivering the milk bottles, maid servants rushing to work with clean white towels draped over their colorful lungis and blouses.

No more familiar faces, familiar sounds. Here, the windows were closed to fend off the cold, shutting out birdsong and vehicular noises. The only background noise was sporadic gabbing in an unintelligible tongue on an ancient black and white TV, which displayed the picture only after a half-hour warm-up. Strange figures in period costume filled the screen, with sad tweets of flutes and lutes playing softly as they spoke. Suji groggily stumbled away from the living room and entered the small galley kitchen.

“You slept through the morning, it’s lunchtime now,” said Amma as she struggled to create a substitute for sambar, sprinkling precious spoons of sambar powder into the mix of sauteed onions, tomatoes and canned split peas simmering on the stove. Cooking done, she set it out on the kitchen table in freshly unpacked and scoured stainless steel vessels. Suji refused it, her stomach still queasy from the greasy airplane fare of the day before. She clutched a china plate, afraid of its fragility, as she transferred it from the kitchen shelf to the dining table, and piled it with what was to be her staple food in Paris - yogurt rice and a handful of potato chips. Appa started to slurp his meal appreciatively - so much better than the pommes frites (French fries), vegetable salad and croissant diet that he had been subsisting on for the last two months as he waited for his family to join him. At last a decent lunch of almost-sambar, rice , vegetable curry, yogurt and pickle.

"We'll be taking you to the American School for admission tomorrow." He spoke between mouthfuls. "Sleep well tonight and you'll be over your jetlag in no time."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My Mommy's Lost!

"Have you seen my mother?", a frantic child asked at the museum information counter. "She was dressed in green and cream."
"No, I don't think we've seen her."
The person at the counter didn't bat an eyelid. Instead of declaring an immediate Amber alert, shutting down the museum doors, turning on the flashing lights and sirens etc. , she offered to make an announcement on the public announcement system. "Will Subha please come to the central lobby? Your party is waiting for you there."

I was the frantic child, dragging my daughter in tow as I hunted high and low for my mother. She had vanished inexplicably while we visited the naval museum Nauticus in Norfolk VA.
I had taken M for a restroom break on the lobby floor, since I couldn't locate the ones on the exhibit floor that a volunteer had assured me were just around the corner. My father and my son were deeply immersed in a workshop on submarine design, when my mother got bored and wandered off.
Maybe she went to the unfindable restroom, now right before my eyes (why couldn't I have found this earlier?). But only the cleaning staff were there. I checked the adjoining exhibit halls, but after about 4 twists and turns , I was in serious danger of losing the rest of the party. I went down the elevator to the lobby, in hope of seeing if she might be there. My husband chose that moment to enter the building.
"See if she comes here after the announcement, while I go up and check again." He was grinning broadly- "I've heard of missing children and frantic parents, but this takes the prize!"
Dragging M, and muttering to myself, I took the nearest elevator to what I imagined was the top floor exhibit, only to land in an alien world. This was a mezzanine level, not the floor that I wanted. So it was, back down the elevator and up the moving ramp to the top floor, again.
Just as I took a despairing look at the entrance of the labyrinthine exhibit, my mother's voice hailed us from behind, as she huffed and puffed her way up the moving ramp. "Where did you all go? I finished looking at all the exhibits and was getting ready to enter the movie theater for the 3 p.m. show, when I caught sight of you. I tried waving to you, but you didn't see me, so I came down to the lobby where I saw S. He told me you were looking for me. I didn't even hear any announcement!"
And so it was that I spent the museum trip making an intimate acquaintance with the restroom locations and elevators, and very little time to spare for the actual exhibits. Next time you lose a parent in a public place, you know what NOT to do!

Monday, July 14, 2008

War on Thistles

Remember my resolution when newly refurbishing this blog page, to mercilessly root out and destroy the host of Canada thistles that had popped up unsightly, all over my flower beds and landscaped shrub area?

I have a confession to make. The great thistle war has so far failed. I won the First Battle of the Weed Whacker, followed by the Battle of Weed-Hound and the Third Battle of Handpulling. But the thistles are back and spreading worse than ever. I wish that I had googled the following earlier:
"Cultivation is not generally recommended unless it is carried out with care and persistence, because it often increases the problem by spreading root fragments to new locations."
It might have saved me some trouble, had I known that I was spreading the noxiousness further. So my next grand battle strategy is to look for a potential use for the pesky plant. For instance, I have noticed less dandelions popping up ever since I decided to try and get their roots for dandelion tea. Perhaps the same technique will work for the thistles. Sure enough, there is a use for the thistle roots, as per Wikipedia:
"Like other Cirsium species, the roots are edible, though rarely used, not least due to their propensity to induce flatulence in some people. (Hmm, not a very tantalizing option, but all's fair in love and war!) The taproot is considered the most nutritious. The leaves are also edible, though the spines make their preparation for food too tedious to be worth eating."
That may be just the thing that I need to run into a sudden shortage of Canada thistle in my lot. I will report on this experiment if I succeed, otherwise, fuggedaboutit!

'Panda'monium

We finally worshipped at the shrine of the Panda. Last week our first stop in Washington DC was not the usual haunt of desi visitors, the Smithsonian Air&Space museum, but the National Zoo.

M was more agog about seeing a pygmy marmoset, but sadly disappointed when unable to find one in the house of small mammals. The closest she could find was the Geoffrey marmoset, and she spent the rest of the zoo trip in high dudgeon, grumbling (in Tinker Bell tones) 'It was a ripoff!". (Apparently, the Honolulu zoo has one, so I ought to offer that as prime justification for a visit to Waikiki for our next vacation.)

We dragged her along to the Panda habitat, where she started her mantra of 'It's a ripoff!' as we peered in vain at the outdoor setting, trying to discern the distinctive black and white. No luck. The whole family started joining in chorus on M's chant, until we reached the doors marked 'Indoor Habitat'. Instant silence, followed by a frenzied unholstering of cameras for a bout of shooting. We charged in, cameras at the ready, to find that only about another gazillion visitors were ahead of us. With all the prime spots for photography taken, we had little choice but to wait a little till the throng moved on, leaving gaps for us to occupy.
A zoo docent's voice boomed over the crowd clicking away in a frenzy "Today is Tai Shan's 3rd birthday, so he's getting extra bamboo as a treat. His mother Mei Xiang is asleep in another room on a rock somewhere, so you may not be able to see her."
Tai Shan munched and munched. And munched. And munched.
And (drumroll!) MUNCHED...
In fact, that's the only thing all the three pandas we saw did. Whatever happened to the cute panda stuff of rolling over others in rolypoly glory that we saw on Youtube?
That's why Hollywood can only make animated panda movies- forget about getting a real one to do any emoting for the cameras.
I'll update this post with a mini movie of Pandas! Eating! as soon as I cadge the video off my husband (shot using his newest toy, a Lumix camera).

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fireworks Nebula

It was a gorgeous 4th of July fireworks display.

Despite the threat of rain and the heavily foggy atmosphere, yesterday's fireworks were an unusually beautiful sight. The air was still and the smoke from the fireworks hung around heavily, obscuring some of them. But when the smoke clouds lit up, they looked cosmically ethereal, like the gauzy gaudiness of the best Hubble spacecraft photos.

Also, nothing like watching a fireworks display to the chorus of car alarms and squeals of excited children. The kids played with sparklers as we waited for the exhaustive queue of cars and SUVs to clear the parking lot from where we watched the fireworks display.No fear of being told to stop or produce fireworks permits, as the few patrol cars and police around were busy regulating the lines of gruntled citizenry at a bottleneck traffic signal.

Note: Photos from the nasa.gov and wikimedia sites

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Cleaning Out the Spam Folder

Every once in a while, I randomly open up my Spam Folder to check for possible real missed emails.

Today's sampler:
Police jobs : Police needed in your area
Hmm... that would earn me serious brownie points with my kids. Maybe I should apply.

Real Visa: Get a real VISA right away
As opposed to a fake visa, I suppose. Who would be interested in a fake one, inquiring minds want to know.

PANDA RESEARCH : Get paid for your opinon- with participation
Perfect, we're obsessed with pandas in this household, and may even spend some serious face time with Tai Shan and Mei Xiang at the National Zoo soon.

Wu-Yi Tea/My Slim Tea : Rachel Ray endorses Wu Yi Tea
Poor Rachel Ray, from terrorist keffiyeh scarves to slimming teas, the whole world wants to take advantage of her bright face and not-so-slim body to sell stuff.

Laptop Giveaway: The new hot Dell laptop is yours
Exploding batteries, eh? No, I'll take a pass on this one.

Culinary Art School: Interested in Culinary Art
What is culinary art? Is it how to create a Joan Miroesque arrangement of food on a plate? No thank you, I can get my 7 year old to do that for free.

YourFreeDollarStore: Get started, it's easy and free
Shouldn't this cost, ummm, at least a dollar? How is it free?

Control your appetite: Phentremine no prescription
Bah, I've already lost mine at the thought of ingesting phentremine instead of food. Hah, maybe that's how diet pills work!

Cars Cars Cars: New vehicles for anyone, no matter what your payment history
Can I have a Prius, pretty please, with sugar on top?


Magic Grass: Grow grass in shady or shade areas.
And I was thinking this was something else.

Notice, no V1agra or C1al1s ads clog my Spam Box. At least not yet. What's more, I will let you in on the secret of how I stay free of them when I figure it out. Though I still haven't figured out how to keep Abdel Qadir Guanou from cluttering up my regular inbox with offers to deposit $5 million in my bank account.