Wednesday, June 30, 2021


 It started late this spring, with the big fat groundhog waddling out from under the deck, industriously munching on tender dandelion shoots and creeping Charlie that borders the grassy part of the lawn.

A few weeks later, the big groundhog was joined by the tiny nose of another groundhog, this time near the oak tree next to the deck. Baby 1 had evidently arrived.

Then there were two, and three, and four....

Eek, so much for our plans for vegetable garden! Or so I thought. But the groundhog babies never strayed from the patches of dandelions, grass and other weeds. I breathed a sigh of relief, no worries about any planning for the kitchen garden patch. It would likely grow unmolested by the groundhog population explosion.

As the days went by, the babies grew bolder, venturing onto the deck, sniffing at my potted plants and sundry, but not attempting to munch on them. I would rush onto the deck, now sticky with oak sap and pollen, trying to dissuade them from making that their own space. I industriously sprayed all the entry points to their burrow with mint oil, to little effect.

The groundhogs came and went pretty much as they pleased. Till one fine day, Mother Groundhog brought out three of the larger babies and walked them across to the neighbors' lots. Time for nearly grown groundhogs to spread out and move out of the old burrow.

Now,  only the smallest groundhog remains, and we have taken to calling it Groundhoggy, the youngest of the lot who appears to have inherited the ancestral home. It comes out every day, spending time on the lawn or the deck (till we go out to drive it back under the deck).

Next year will probably bring a fresh litter of Groundhogs, and the cycle of life continues...

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

But where are you from?

 I often get asked where I am from, and routinely state 'Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania', until the question becomes 'Where are you originally from?', when I state "India". Yet the conversation with the 'Where are you from' that sticks in my memory is the following one at the local Indian grocery from some years ago.

Cashier: "Where are you from?"

Me: "Pittsburgh, of course"

Cashier: "No, no, where are you from in India?"

Me: "Why don't you try guessing?"

Cashier: " Punjab? U.P?"

Me: "No"

Cashier: " Maharashtra?"

Me: "No"

Cashier, looking at my name on the credit card to ring up the sale : "Aha, you must be from Bangalore, with a name like that"

Me: Sails out with a mysterious smile that could mean "Yes, you are right", or "No, you really have no idea."

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Not So Rare Bird

 I have always wanted to catch sight of a rare bird, but as it turns out, the 'rara avis' that I find, invariably have turned out to be listed as species of LC (Least Concern) when I look them up on the usual birding websites.

The rarity is in the state of mind that I reach, I guess.

Near the deck, a week ago, I was able to capture video  of the bright red cap of a large pileated woodpecker, which usually hangs out in more forested areas than the suburban backyards here. The bird is pretty large, about 16" or so. It flew about the deck, inspected a pine stump in the neighbor's yard, and flew off. These woodpeckers apparently like to drum on old tree stumps, to carve out their nests, but the stump didn't meet the exacting qualifications, I suppose.

A few days ago, the flash of blue wings. Not a blue jay, insisted my husband, as we walked away from the main trail in the park. It was definitely smaller. Luckily, it flew to the branch of a spruce tree, and I was able to take a blurred photo of a small bird with a blue head and orangish breast. Eastern bluebirds, as I learnt later, are not uncommon in wooded settings. It was a bit of thrill to have spotted one, though.

Yesterday, walking around the neighborhood, past the sour cherry tree in our yard, there it was, a tiny nest, nestled in the fork of a branch, with a low-key robin's head. I stood some distance away, and took a quick photo. Maybe it is still there, must go and check later

The robin is still there, flew off with an indignant chirp when I moved a little too close for a photo, and decided to grab a worm snack while it was ‘off duty’ for a bit. All that egg warming in the still-cold early morning must have been tiring!

Robin nest


Thursday, April 22, 2021

Mathematics of Equity

 A long time ago, when I was a schoolgirl, I walked up to the teacher after a class test in Mathematics (or Maths, as they call it in India). I had a question about the marks awarded for a test paper for an incorrect answer, for which I noticed that my neighbor had been awarded marks. So, it was my natural assumption that the teacher had marked my answer incorrectly. The conversation between us went like this.

Sr. N: I can't give you marks for that problem. You did it incorrectly, and that's the wrong answer.

Me: Alright. But if that is the wrong answer, why did S get the marks for that same incorrect answer? If she got that, I should have gotten the marks too. 

Sr.N (looking at me with curious pity): You need to understand. You are good at Maths, so if you made a mistake, you have to handle the loss of the marks. But S is a bit weaker than you in Maths, so I gave her the marks to encourage her.

Me : !!!!! (as I walked away muttering to myself, but in Maths, how can this kind of 'encouragement' be helpful. It isn't a subject like say English, or somewhere there can be a subjective interpretation of an incorrect answer.)

Many years later, I finally understand. It's the strange Mathematics of Equity that was applied.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Wildlife Spring 2021 Newsletter

 Grackles: A flock of grackles has taken up residence in assorted evergreens near our house. They haunt our lawn though, evidently liking the bugs and worms that they find there. For the last several years, we have asked our landscape guy to use organic landscapes and no pesticides, so while the grass is not regulation lawn, it is a mix interesting enough to the bees, bugs and worms, probably making for healthier birds.

It's mating season as well, and I have seen a male grackle fanning out its tail feathers and ruffling its neck feathers in a courtly dance to impress a female or two. Who will the Grackle Bachelor pick?

The remainder of the tribe haunt the water saucer, stopping by for their daily drinks and ablutions (in that order, for the most part).


The other day, near the deck, a tiny little bunny, so young that it still had a white spot on its forehead (signifier of the Eastern cottontail), nipping at little bits and pieces. I saw it outside for a good half hour, then it headed back under the deck for some rest and recuperation. Bunnies this small are usually about 3 or 4 weeks old, and unfortunately, only about 1 in 6 will grow to be adults ( in around 4 months). I hope this one survived and is just resting cozy inside because of the recent cold snap, as I haven't seen it outside since. I did see an older rabbit running on the other side of the lawn, maybe Mom chasing a recalcitrant baby?


A bit thinner after the winter hibernation, but fattening up rapidly on the young green grass and miscellaneous wildflower greens in our lawn. Today, it has moved over to our side, forgoing the neighbor's patch as one of them are busy weeding their lot in preparation for some new landscaping.

 I anticipate we will have a few battles with it this summer as our kitchen garden gets under way. Welcome back, old frenemy!

 Red-tailed hawk:

This one swooped down past the van,  just as it was returning from somewhere. A few minutes later, the hawk sat with its prey dangling, on the branch of the maple tree. It sat there for a good 15 minutes before life ebbed out of the squirrel that it had caught, then flew away to deliver dinner to its mate somewhere. Dinner to go, indeed!


Usually, they don't hang around the bird bath too long, but this one decided to sit there and give a small concert on a warm day when I had left the sliding door open, screen in place. It was a couple of minutes of pure joy, listening to it sing its song.

Other birds:

Of course the cardinal comes and goes, so do the robins, the tufted titmouse, the blue jays and the woodpecker and the mourning doves. Most are surely nesting somewhere nearby, so I expect to see a gaggle of little ones as their eggs hatch.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Inanity of Headlines

 Every morning, I click on the News app, and am instantly confronted with a thousand, truly awfully- written, canned headlines. What to do? Writing itself is becoming a lost art, let alone headline writing. These days, all it takes is attending some online course or reading influencer blogs on how to generate the best click-bait 'content' possible, and you're transformed into the newest Guru Grab-the-Eyeballs!

'What to Know about how the Colorado shooter purchased his gun'

'The 10 Best Ways to Get Stuck in a Cage at the US Border'

'We Need to Talk about Why You are Not Interested in getting a Covid Vaccine'

'Eleven Reasons Why The Suez Canal is Blocked'

'Here's how to Panic at the Carcinogens in your hand sanitizer'

' Major Biden has major psychotic attack!- It's not as Scary as it sounds'

 "How Often Should you Breathe in order to live your best life?"

Said no headlines ever. 

That said, when even regular news headlines ('House caught on fire on Treewood Dr' get morphed into the clickbait-y 'Why is 43 Fire Company out with all their Alarm Bells ringing, it's because-'), and the same idea starts to get applied to the national news instead of just the lifestyle columns, it becomes too much to tolerate.

Somewhere, I suspect, creeps a semi-sentient AI, collating all the headlines into a giant data pile, from which it will pull-out and generate endless fake news items to feed the public's addiction to the internet. 

One Headlinator to Rule Them All!

Saturday, February 6, 2021


Kolam in DC, credits Ed Wondoloski
 Well, it's not really a mania, I guess. In order 'to honor Vice President Kamala Harris' Indian heritage', a group of Indian-American ladies decided to come up with a 'kolam' based art installation to be placed on the Mall in Washington D.C. 

Placing 1800 cardboard colored tiles is probably a lot easier in the winter cold, than it would have been for all these ladies to have indulged in the real 'kolam' making thing. In addition, it has the advantage of getting a large group of youngsters involved in the project, albeit from a distance, pulling together the strands of many other art forms and newer artistic crazes such as Zentangle as though they were individual pieces of a quilt to be sewn together.

Madurai Meenakshi temple kolam
It has been quite the thing in India for many years for large groups of ladies to do kolams at temples, such as in the Madurai Meenakshi temple. I'm sure that many other similar large temples have similar activities planned for auspicious times, such as during the Navaratri festival. But the logistics have changed, even if the basic patterns haven't. The ladies at the Meenakshi temple use paint, in order to give the huge kolam a semi-permanency of sorts, even as thousands of worshippers walk over it over the next several months, before the old one is painted over and a new one put in place.

The recent warmer autumn prompted me to try using colored sands to create a kolam outside my doorstep for the first time in many years. I just felt like doing it on Karthigai last November, and added numerous little LED tealights that looked really pretty in the deepening dusk. The kolam was less of a kolam and more of a kolam-rangoli hybrid, given that I didn't have the traditional white-stone kolam powder, which I would have much preferred. The colored sand didn't flow as smoothly between the fingers, and led to a coarser finish. Neither did the rough concrete near the entryway cooperate with achieving a thick line and quick fill in of color. Add aching joints in colder weather and the amount of bending and squatting required, and you can easily see why this is not about to be repeated by me anytime soon. But it was still worth the try, for the good old memories.

During Pongal, at my grandmother's house in the village, I recall waking up early to help my mother and grandmother, as they set up clay stoves to be fed with dried palm leaves and cow dung patties, while the rice simmered in huge pots for the pongal. Before all this could start, there was the incessant cleaning of the courtyard, when my mother and a few other ladies would begin the work of drawing the kolams. I might have helped with a few tiny ones that I could manage in a few spots. It was a huge time-consuming undertaking, all supervised with the eagle eye and sharp tongue of my grandmother.

Back home in the city, with a mosaic floor outside our flat, there was no suitable space for a kolam. In later years, once we moved to our own house, there was  the cement pad in front of the doorsteps, always with a fresh kolam, simple ones for every day, and more elaborate ones on festivals and special occasions.

Now, in the US, I do them on paper, or electronic slate or tablet.It may be creatively satisfying, but there is still not the fulfilment brought by the full-body work out of bending over, moving in a circular line around the floor, feeling the powder run between the fingers, controlling the line of the kolam,  drawing segment after segment joining into one long harmonious infinity.

My favorites are the 'sikku kolams', which start off with a framework of dots, and are encased in single strands that twirl around them in intersecting patterns, till the line finally rejoins its starting point. These days, I can recall only a handful of designs that I can draw from memory. The larger ones never established themselves in my brain, since I never tried to draw them on the ground, only on paper.

Kolam is simply, as one of the many meanings of the word in Tamil, Beauty itself, worn out everyday in the humdrum of daily life, and renewed afresh every morning.