Tag Archives: children

Lunch Dabba Debacle

No this is not yet another ode to Maggi noodles, so you can stop groaning. Maggi was in my black list for a while now after I heard about the wax coating on the noodles and that it is difficult to digest. Anyhow over the past several years I have been slowly weaning my family from processed foods, school lunches and fast food. But the backlash triggered by the whole Maggi episode removed an entire food group from my weekly menu – pasta. It cooks in 10 minutes and can be dressed in various sauces to make a quick lunch. With pasta gone and bread largely a breakfast item (in India!) my options kept dwindling. One day I packed some left-over chapattis from dinner with some scrambled eggs for my kids. In the evening the kids announced that the school had a strict vegetarian policy. No meat, poultry, fish or eggs. I mentally scratched out egg fried rice, parathas with eggs and egg salad sandwiches from my lunch dabba list.

Back in the U.S. I had to keep aromatic curries out of the lunch dabba, to spare the sensitive olfactory senses of kids of non-Indian origin. Occasionally, rajma (kidney beans) rice, lemon rice, semiya or idli made it to the lunch box. Naan pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches were easy to whip up in the morning. Sometimes dosa with jam or peanut butter was a quick option.

Now with limited options, I rolled back to my school days. The taste of fried rice, parathas, salad, lemon rice, tomato and cheese sandwiches flooded my brain. How my mom and grandma whipped up all those delicious lunches in such a short time is beyond me. I’m up by 5.30 a.m. and just about manage to pack lunch and get breakfast ready for the kids. It’s funny because I did almost the same thing in the U.S. and yet it never took me this long. Does time go by faster in India? I think so!

For now it is lemon rice, tomato rice, idli, semiya or chapatti with potatoes for the kids. They don’t seem to mind as long as they have something to eat. So I’m trying to stop obsessing about my lack of options. Hopefully, I’ll come up with more options as time goes by and I have a better understanding of how things roll in India.

A dear friend of mine in the U.S. said the other day – If you need anything from here let me know and I will send it across. I told her that we get everything here and that I don’t need anything. Maybe I should ask her to send me a year’s supply of pasta and peanut butter. That way the kids won’t miss out on their weekly Italian lunch and you know how peanut butter goes with everything!

Sometimes I fantasize about having a cook and completely escaping the kitchen which is hotter than hell in the summer. I love to cook, but the heat makes you want to take cool showers, laze around under the fan or eat ice cream and take siestas. I get to do all of those things occasionally (except for the showers which happen twice a day) so I shouldn’t be complaining. Wonder if cooks show up at 5 a.m. to pack lunch dabbas…maybe not.

Food-wise I never dreamed I would miss anything in India. There’s so much variety out here, that it could take a lifetime to explore the different cuisines. And yet I miss things like pasta, something I really never cared for in the U.S. because we had it almost every week. Or is it just human nature to always look for the one thing that is missing and crib about it despite myriad other options. I don’t know about human nature but that pretty much sums up me!

What do you pack for lunch for your kids or for yourself if you work and don’t have a cook? Do share…

The Forgotten Art of Simplicity

I remember a time when I hated sitting around doing nothing. My days had to be packed with things to do, places to go, people to meet or I felt like I would go crazy. And somewhere along the way I had to make peace with having too much time and too little to do. I think it happened because I left the craziness of India for the eerie quiet of an American town. Uprooted from everything familiar, I had no one to meet and not much to do as I waited for my husband to come back home from work. I slept the hot afternoons away and watched mindless TV. I imagined that my brain was slowly turning into mush. Then came motherhood with its flurry of activity. I went from super bored to super busy. My brain benefitted from the constant repetition of nursery rhymes and games.

I stayed home and took care of my kids. I did not attempt to juggle a job, kids and the home. Many thought I was incapable, dumb, just a housewife and even felt sorry for my kids who had to stay home all day with boring mama instead of getting structured instruction from a group of teachers and learning social skills which can only be taught in schools! Anyways, long story short, one day I woke up and realized doing too much is not the answer to a fulfilling life. I always had time for the kids, time to cook a delicious meal, time to chat with friends on the phone. Time to care about stuff other than deadlines, meetings, shopping, athletics and social events. Simple is how I like it and I can’t for the life of me understand why people have to do a hundred things at once and then get all stressed out. Everyone wants to squeeze as much as they can from every single minute, every single day.

Even kids have to do extracurricular activities everyday of the week so they don’t end up watching TV or playing videogames all day. My kids do stuff outside of school but I only do stuff they like and enjoy and I keep it to one or two activities. More than that and I feel like I’m spending most of my time at practices or in the car driving them to performances and games.

Around the holidays you can just feel it in the air, the hustle, the bustle, the need to get things done, to follow traditions even if you don’t feel like it. It is so much pressure to cook, decorate, buy the best gifts and entertain that many miss the joy of the season – family, togetherness, love and giving from a full heart. Most holidays started off simple but over the years we have added so many layers of fluff to it. Underneath all the fluff is the real reason to celebrate and we each have to get to the bottom of it.

Simplifying my life meant changing my career goals, working from home so I can be there when the kids get home or doing part-time jobs. My priorities made it easy for me to choose what was important for me. My husband simplified his life by avoiding commute and working from home. My friend got her mom to come help her out as she transitioned from a full-time mom to a consultant.

Simplify your life, simplify everything you do. Being is more important than doing. So be there for your loved ones this holiday season. Spend quality time with them. Say no to events you really don’t care much about but feel obliged to go to. The end of the year is a good time to review your life and see what works and what doesn’t and pruning and simplifying things so you start off the new year refreshed and happy. Let your mantra be less is more and invite peace and stillness instead of activity and busyness into your life.

A Ray of Hope for Racial Tensions

Ferguson. The very word conjures up images of racial discrimination, violence and segregation. Images of black and white. Cops and innocents. Right and wrong. How about Los Angeles some 1800 miles to the west of Ferguson? Same story. Different names but the same drama unfolded in LA. Incidents between police officers and the public have blown out of proportion in the past. The black community does not trust the police and they are looked upon as the ‘bad guys’. Much like in the game – Grand Theft Auto.

Now what this adds up to, is a community plagued by gangs, drugs and sky-high homicide rates. Do the homicides cases get solved? No. The people refuse to co-operate with the police even if they know the truth, leaving the killer at large, smug with the knowledge that the cops can never get to him.

At some point the police force in Watts, LA decided enough is enough and came up with a unique plan to regain the trust of this community. They started a youth football team coached by LA police officers. Now don’t even for a second think that all the parents lined up to register their kids for the team. The officers had to go door to door asking if they would allow their kids to join the team. Many turned down the offer. Some reluctantly agreed but refused to leave the kids alone with the officers. Painstakingly and one by one, the parents slowly began to open up to the officers. They no longer demonized them, ignored them or stared daggers at them. Now the Watts Bears accepts players between the ages of 9 and 11. The program is free, the kids get a uniform and they are picked up in a police van. The boys have to get good grades and model good behavior at school. Using sports to reinforce good character traits and having contact with a good role model keeps this boys out of gangs. Most of the boys do not have fathers and this negatively impacts their ability to become responsible citizens.

One of the officers reminisces about finding an abandoned baby in a parking lot on a rainy night. He rescued the baby and put him up for adoption. A decade later he is coaching the very same boy who just happened to join the Watts Bears football team. Three years later the homicide rates have dropped in this neighborhood. Citizens are co-operating with the cops to solve crimes. Kids from rival gangs actually play on the same team – something that was impossible in the past.

The officers who support this program are a couple – one a black woman who grew up in Watts and the other a white man who started his career as a cop in the same neighborhood. So police cameras, guns and protests did not resolve the situation here. Interaction between the cops and community – not just when violence erupts but in a more stable environment to slowly build trust and co-operation, until both sides could see beyond the differences and see how human they were.

If this can happen in LA, the very place that was burning with fires of racial hatred and dissension in the 90s, then this can happen in Ferguson as well. We are a ‘Race of Hope’ – for every 10 people who breed hate and terror there is one person shining the light of love and compassion to bridge gulfs of separation and differences. And the number is growing and growing. I believe that one day we will look at a person and not see the color of their skin but the light of their soul in their eyes and know deep in our hearts that we are one.

Fall in Paradise

MtRainierPic (3) Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees – John Muir

A long weekend in the middle of October is a great time to do all things fall. Like a trip to the pumpkin patch and a drive up to the Cascade mountains to catch some fall colors. We headed to the pumpkin patch on a cloudy day interspersed with rain. The pumpkin patch had pumpkins in all shapes and sizes. The kids picked three pumpkins – a large, a medium and a small (for N’s pumpkinology school project). We loaded them up in a wheel barrow which N had a swell time pushing around. The farm also offered hay rides in a wagon pulled by an old tractor. We took a bumpy ride around the farm with its apple trees, pumpkin patches and dried up sunflowers from the summer. The farm also had lavender plants from which they bottled lavender oil, available for purchase at the store. There were some old-fashioned water pumps in the farm that were set up for rubber duck races. N enjoyed pumping water at the pump, with the water gushing down little horizontal chutes. Goes without saying that my kids felt they were too old for rubber duck races! Too old to stick their heads through wooden pumpkins for pictures. We were all cold and wet and hungry after our trip to the farm. So we headed off to Bamboo Garden for some Hot and Sour soup, fried rice, Mongolian chicken, Szechuan veggies and Manchurian. The warm meal lulled us into a torpor and we all dozed off when we got home. The next day was our big trip to Mount Rainier. P was to buy some snacks and veggie burgers for the trip but I was in an unusually good mood and wanted to make everything – including the snacks. I made veggie cutlets, crispy murukku, apple pie and mixed nuts for the trip. MtRainierPic (1) The next day we rose early and headed out by 7.00 a.m. The roads were free and we made it in good time. We saw a rainbow as we were driving through perfectly straight rows of evergreens that fringed the roads. The Cascade mountains showed up in the horizon – black and austere. As we neared the park entrance, Mount Rainier appeared – aloof, majestic and snowcapped. Our first stop was at Christine falls, right by the side of the road. We then drove to the Jackson visitor center in Paradise, which offered a really stunning view of Mount Rainier. The summit was seldom free of cloud cover but we did manage to get some pictures of the cloud-free peak. Armed with trail maps, we headed off to see Myrtle falls, which was a short hike through the meadows  in Paradise. The wildflowers were long gone but the meadows were dressed in different hues of red and yellow. MtRainierPic (4) Near the 72-foot Myrtle falls, is a little bridge over the Paradise River and we went under the bridge to touch the ice-cold water. The last waterfall we saw in the park was the spectacular Narada falls, named after the Hindu sage Narada. The early settlers thought the falls had a spiritual connection. It connected the earth and the heavens much like sage Narada did. MtRainierPic (8) We drove to the Reflections Lake and hiked around its perimeter with Mount Rainier in the background. The lake was surrounded by trees that were changing color. Parts of the lake were still and reflected the trees and the clouds above. Some of the pictures we took here look like picture postcards. All that walking got us hungry and we went to the Paradise Picnic area to eat veggie burgers and chips with juice and coffee – with a perfect view of the ever changing Mount Rainier. Later while watching the film on Mount Rainier at the visitor center, we realized that the engineers had built the roads and the buildings to offer the best views of the mountain. MtRainierPic (10) After lunch we headed off to see Nisqually Glacier which was a short 1.2 mile hike (or so we thought). We ended up on the wrong trail and kept going for more than an hour until my legs burned. But the trail kept going on and on. We reached the Deadhorse (believe me I felt like one!) Creek trail before we realized we were not on the right trail. It was too late to turn back so we kept going until we reached Glacier Vista (elevation 6340 feet) which offered an amazing view of the glacier, falls and the valley below. At this point I was freezing – hat, gloves, double jacket and all! N and P wanted to continue up the trail to see Mount Rainier up and close. I was dreading the walk back downhill so I stayed put with A. There was some snow off to the side of the road so A played with it. She found a tiny snowman that fell apart when she touched it. She put it back together as best she could. Meanwhile, N and P reached a snow-covered road and took some great pictures with the magnificent Mount Rainier in the background. The hike back down was steep and painful and I doubted I’d make it before my legs collapsed under me. But I made it and we enjoyed some apple pie before catching the 20-minute film at the visitor center. Boy was I surprised to hear that Mount Rainier was an active volcano with steam vents at the summit. I had told my kids it was dormant, given its snow-white and innocent demeanor. The park boasted numerous glaciers and I was glad we were able to see one of these ice rivers. There was obviously more to the park than we explored (235,625 acres to be precise). The Great Patriarch Forest with its huge ancient trees was worth exploring but considering the plight of my muscles hip-down, we put off all further exploration for later. The kids got their first-ever junior ranger badges from the park ranger. It was a big deal, with oaths and all. Almost like being knighted! Almost. We picked up some souvenirs from the gift shop and headed home. The drive home was quiet, with the kids sleeping, but the traffic we missed in the morning came back to bite us. All in all, it was a day well-spent, in the mountains, breathing in the fresh air, drinking glacial water and away from it all. When we got lost while hiking, or it started raining and we had no where to go, I knew we had to give up all control and just submit to Nature. Because up here in the mountains She was in charge. If I had collapsed during the hike downhill we didn’t even have cellphone coverage to call for help. I had to simply trust and go down one step at a time.

Where will you go this fall? Make a trip away from it all and witness the magic of wilderness.

The Sparkling City of Seattle

On Friday the 4th of July we packed a picnic lunch and headed to the nearest park and ride. The Sound Transit Express bus took us to Downtown Seattle in 30 minutes. From there we headed to the famous Pike Place Market to see fish being tossed across the P P Fish Market. We wandered through shops filled with fragrant fresh flowers, local berries (including Boysenberries) and fresh produce for a while before we realized that the fish market was closed for the holiday. I had to stop and take pictures of some exotic mushrooms that are hard to find in regular supermarkets or grocery stores. We also stopped by the first Starbucks that opened its doors in 1971. Today the state of Washington alone has 559 stores.

We then boarded a bus to the Seattle Center to see the Space Needle. All that walking made us so hungry that we sat down on some concrete steps in front of the EMP museum and ate vegetable masala burgers and cherries (both from Trader Joes). The monorail zoomed over our heads every few minutes. After lunch we took a bus to the waterfront and a short 3o minute ferry ride to Bainbridge island. The sea breeze was chilly and I abandoned the deck and my search for otters and sea lions, for the heated lounge. When we got to the island we heard drum beats in the distance. As we turned a corner we discovered an entire collection of drums arranged in a clearing. Children and adults alike were playing bongos and other kinds of drums (please excuse my limited ‘drum’ vocabulary). Tambourines and other jingly instruments (apologies again) lay in a basket on the floor. My kids and I went for it. We drummed to our hearts content for a long time. It was fun and exhilarating. Others joined us and then left. This was community drumming at its best and left everyone smiling in the end. We thanked the man who had so generously offered us this fun opportunity and left.

We then headed to the art museum with paper sculptures, old coins, antique dolls and playing cards. All that walking and drumming made us ravenous. We headed to the nearby café for hot chocolate, cinnamon buns and coffee. It was getting late so we headed back to the mainland. P wanted to eat fish and chips (something he fancied after a short stay in England). So we got off our boat and headed to Ivar’s fish and chips. It was the kids first time eating fish and chips (or French Fries as they call it in the U.S.). The pacific cod that they use must be really good and really fresh because the sea gulls were surrounding the modest shop that sits right on the pier. The kids and husband loved it and had it been warmer we might have eaten at the waterfront and fed some sea gulls Ivar style. There is a statue of Ivar feeding gulls in front of the fish shop. He also came up with the motto “Keep Clam”. We’ll be sure to order some of that Clam Chowder on our next visit.

We took the bus back home and ate a quick dinner so we could watch the fireworks in Bellevue, supposedly the best show in the area. We had seen the 4th of July fireworks at the Boston Esplanade and at the Cocoa Beach pier in Florida. Now we were seeing it for the first time in the Pacific North West. My daughter remembers the one in Boston because that year they had a firecracker that made a smiley face. Guess who all went to sleep with smiley faces that night? All of us! A fun day trip with the family in a sparkling city doesn’t get better than this!

How did you celebrate this 4th of July? I’d love to hear it all…