Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Book Club for Two

I don't read a lot of blogs, but when I do I invariably stumble upon that blog entry apologizing for not having posted in awhile. I dislike those kind of blog entries. They are entirely too self-aware of one's audience and I find their authors incredibly self-absorbed to truly believe that anyone even noticed that they weren't posting regular to their blog.

I can't believe it's been almost two months since we've returned from the States, and I know it has been several weeks since I have had the time or inclination to write. I am sure the blogosphere does not miss me, and a lot has happened in these two months, though I don't know how much of it is worth writing home about, so to speak.

Of course, there are the daily goings-ons that reads like a form letter sent inside a Christmas card that updates the family on the year's news. Sam started first grade. Peter started pre-school (then got head lice two days later). I got tenured. The audience for Elise's photography doubled in less than twenty-four hours. Then, doubled again. But sometimes life isn't all that interesting, even when you live in India.

Except when it is.

I misplaced my phone the other day. I searched the house high and low with Clementine following me around with her pacey in her mouth.

Finally, I asked her, "Clementine, have you seen my phone?"

She nodded emphatically, as if to say, Why hadn't you asked me sooner? Then, around her pacey she said, "I thinking about it is in Brazil."


"Yeah, I think it's in Brazil."

Umm...okay...thanks, Clem.

Last week, Elise and I attended Sam's student-led evaluation at school. Sam receives rave reviews from all his teachers. His reading and writing are fantastic, and his math is coming along, too.

Sundar drove, and as we got closer to the house, his cell phone rang. He never answers it when he is driving. He keeps it wrapped up in a plastic zip-loc bag in this front shirt pocket and when it rings, he pulls it out to look and see who it is. I joked that it was his wife calling to check up on him as he was working late that evening.

He may have laughed or even smiled, but he replied seriously, "No doubt, sir. In arranged marriage, no doubt. In love marriage, lots of doubt."

He went on to say--and I am paraphrasing here--that because his is an arranged marriage, his wife never questions where he is. He is always making money. Elise concluded that in love marriages, if one were capable of loving once, they were capable of loving again, and, hence, doubt.

Then he went on to say that he only eats mutton once a month which made even less sense than him saying there is no doubt in arranged marriages.

Tonight, Peter wore a shell necklace over his shoulder like Chewbacca's bandolier and pretended he was a wookie on our evening stroll around the neighborhood. Earlier in the day, he was streaking across the living room like the Flash. Yesterday, he picked out a green t-shirt and green shorts to wear to school and announced he was a "T Ninja Turtle", his parlance for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

At one point, Sam and Peter had come to a draw when they tried to bowl each over using the Force.

Elise and I have gone on two photowalks for two since we've been back thanks to Rita, and we have started a book club. Total membership = 2.

She started Donna Tartt's Pulitzer-Prize winning "The Goldfinch" and found it so rivetting, I had to start it, too. We have his and hers Kindles now, so I didn't even have to buy the book, just download it from the 'cloud'. Modern technology is both wonderous and baffling. Elise maintains a 200 page edge over me. I am not a fast reader. I tend to relish every word, fearing to miss something. Morever, her turns of phrase of captivating. A word itself can be turned over and inspected from all sides, but out of context may mean less than when paired with either the word that immediately precedes it, the word that immediately follows, or both, and all, together, are sopped up like one using the butt end of a loaf of French bread to mop spaghetti sauce from an empty plate of pasta.

And here comes the part where I promise not to let two more months go by without writing--

Monday, September 29, 2014

Royal Enfield Motor Cycle Tour

Last Saturday morning, Sam and I drove an hour outside of Chennai to tour a motorcycle factory. Before the tour began me, Sam and about 20 other people going on the tour had to introduce themselves and say why they had come to go on the tour. Responses ranged from, "I'm really passionate about motorcycles," to "I am an Royal Enfield enthusiast." None of which were true of me.

When it came to our tour, I said, "My name is Paul and this is my son, Sam. We're from the U.S. And Sam got really good grades at school so his reward was to go on this tour." He may have blushed.

I hope this is the closest he ever gets to a motorcycle, but the same part of me that can imagine Sam and Peter has two tan, long-legged boys loping into the surf on Ipanema Beach as teenagers can see Peter's skinny arms wrapped tight around Sam's waist as they dart through Bangkok or Bucharest traffic on a scooter.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Month in Photos

The boys are back to school (ish), by that I mean Sam is back to school and Peter contracted head-lice (our fifth, sixth, seventhOMG time since we moved to India) in his first three days back at a new school, so he is back out of school until it rains bleach and men set up nit combing stations on the sidewalk in each and every place they would typically piss on it. 

But, to be honest, this month has been really wonderful. Upon our return, we hired the most wonderful and loving nanny/cook and she takes care of us like my own mother. (I love you mom!).

I've had the opportunity to take Paul out on several photo walks and we've regained our "weekly date night without worry" They may actually be in better hands with Mrs. Rita. 

Clem is thinking about using the potty. No she is not. She is however insisting on wearing underwear and not using the potty. So that has been fun. Because she is a woman with a will of steel and we are the exhausted parents of three children in India, we are allowing her to wear underwear over her diaper and everyone is happy. I realize that is like wearing your rain coat under your white silk blouse, but we are keeping it crazy here, so this just seems fitting.

Mrs. Rita is teaching me to cook South Indian food (and eat it) and I am working out and trying to lose the eight pounds I gained here in the stress and insanity of the first seven months while still eating with the passion that I maintain for all food South Indian food. And naan. And vada. And Sambar. Oh my.

I am not stressed out like I was in the first six months here. My daily headaches have gone far away with my new "Total body transformation!" exercise plan and let's be honets, Mrs. Rita.

We planted our garden, as promised, and just two days ago, just seven days shy of the ten days the seed packet promised, we have lettuce! Go monsoon season! If the mosquitos, crows, chipmunks, mongoose and assorted farm-like parade of animals we have through our yard daily, don't eat it we'll be living our dreams and eating fresh salads here in no time! We also calmed the heck down and found a place that sells lettuce. So there is that.

The boys have become expert lizard catchers and I don't have to call Paul to come home from work anymore to exterminate. It seems a "tickle-stick" (read: flag pole from a bike trailer) and an empty tennis ball container are just the trick. And I'd been trapping them under high-ball glasses all these years.

We discovered an amazing by Indian standards train museum and have been experimenting with a thousand kids of fruit juice popsicles in our free time.

And now for the photos... 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hyde Park

Some may think our life is adventurous. Most of the time, it doesn’t feel very adventurous. Most of the time my job feels just like any other 9 to 5 job. Sometimes, I feel more like a bureaucrat than anything else, the person weaving webs of red tape ensnaring the unsuspecting instead of slicing through it. As for home life, we have many of the same worries we would have in the States. We wonder what we will make for dinner, how to get homework done, and finding a babysitter for Saturday night. Of course, too, we have other worries, some that we wouldn’t have if we lived in the good ole U.S. of A.

The things we see and hear that once fascinated us so can, over time, become routine. There is a man who pushes a wooden cart full of bright red tomatoes through the neighborhood next to ours. This is his sole vocation, a peddler of tomatoes. He walks through the street shouting, and women come to the second and third story windows of their flats and shout back down to him. They lower a bucket on a rope to the street with money in it and he sends the tomatoes up. Elise had described the transaction to me after having seen it on one of her photo walks, but it was one thing to hear the story and another to see it with my own eyes.

Nowadays, I see the man every day. I am no less impressed with his business acumen as I was that first day, but I admit I don’t feel the same sense of wonder and excitement I did when I first watched him sell tomatoes to women in high places.

I don’t want to become desensitized to India. This morning on my way to work I saw not one but two platinum plated horse-drawn carriages clopping down the middle of the road. Sundar pulled up behind it and started honking the horn, but the road was narrow and there was nowhere for the horses to trot to. I asked him what they were, and he told me they were wedding carriages. Later this evening they would carry brides and grooms.

No adventure is typical or always wholly expected. It is often the unplanned adventures that can be the most fun.

When we planned our travel to India, both when we first arrived, last November and our most recent trip from the States earlier this month, we planned an overnight stop in Europe, the unofficial halfway point.

In November, we spent less than 24 hours in Frankfurt, Germany, but in that short time we braved the German rails and ended up in a gothic city center near dusk. Church spires were silhouetted against the indigo sky, the black forms of pigeons flapped in flocks overhead. As we made our way over the cobblestones, we tucked our hands deep into our pockets against the unexpected chill. We were looking for a traditional German meal, maybe bratwurst and a stein of beer, but ended up at McDonalds instead.

Clementine fell asleep in my arms, and we fed the boys french fries and took the train back to the hotel near the airport. Elise and I ordered brats and beer from room service.

This time, we stopped in London. I had never been to London before, but Elise and the kids had when they flew out from Chennai to Washington. After checking into the hotel, we took a quick nap, then headed out the front door of the lobby to see what we could find.

Elise and I had already toyed with the idea of taking the kids to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground in Hyde Park so we took the bus back to the airport and hopped on the Underground to take us into town. The train ride alone—as it was in Frankfurt—would have been enough to tickle the kids.

The playground was truly impressive, but what I know was more memorable for me was the ice cream afterwards.

We bought soft serve ice cream cones and sat on the grass near the carousel. The boys finished their ice cream and started pretending they had bows and arrows. They ran through the grass with a sense of abandonment I hadn’t witnessed in a long time. They drifted further and further from where Elise and I sat with Clementine in the grass, perhaps pretending to be two Hawkeyes from the Avengers, but never out of sight. The park was crowded, but they were never unsafe, and we let them run. I was comforted by the security they must have felt there, knowing that we would always keep an eye on them (despite the fact that we did almost loose Petey in the Underground). We let them go. They were having their own adventure.

One of the things I love most about my life is not infrequently I find myself in situations I never could have imagined being in only a short time ago. I never in my life thought I would get to see my sons run happily through a field in a London park. It made me happy to give them that small freedom as fleeting as it was.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


It is ironic that it took us leaving India for it to feel like home, but everyone, Elise and the kids included, agree that it is good to be home.

The jetlag was worse than I remembered it, even though the trip from the U.S.—as a whole—didn’t seem as long. No one slept on the ten hour flight from London to Chennai, but everyone held it together pretty well until the last 20 minutes. We landed a little after four in the morning and collected our bags. I put three gargantuan duffels and three car seats on a cart with a wobbly, uncooperative wheel, and struggled to make it out of the baggage claim.

As we stepped out into the muggy South Indian night, there was Sundar waiting for us. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had been standing there for the last month…or at the very least for that last three hours, eagerly anticipating our return.

Though the jet lag seemed more acute, it didn’t seem to last as long for everyone. Except Elise.

Having been up all night, we got home around six in the morning. I left for work an hour later…just as everyone was going to bed. The next night I would sleep four hours and two hours the night after that, staying up with the kids. Pete was the next to kick, then Sam and finally Clem. Elise wouldn’t get quite over it until a full two weeks after our return. One night I sat up in bed and patted the empty space next to me. I snuck out between the slit in the mosquito net and found her typing away with her thumbs on her iPhone, her face framed by the neon blue gloaming coming off her screen. She glanced up at me and said, “Can’t sleep.”

We only gave Sam a week off before sending him to his first day of 1st grade. He made it all five days only because Friday is “Fun Friday” at his school. On Saturday, I asked Sam, "Do you want to take a nap?”

He shook his head.


"Do you need the rest?"

"Do I need the rest of what?"

Pete is swimming stronger than ever. He dives in just as if he were starting from blocks, pulls with one arm right into a freestyle stroke, and swims the full length of the pool. The other morning, I was giving him a submarine ride while the Doctor was swimming laps next to us. We raced the Doctor, me doing a spastic doggie-paddle with Pete on my back. We still beat the Doctor, though, and Pete took off for the other end of the pool.

I didn’t think anything of it, until I noticed Pete launching himself from the wall at the same time the Doctor started another lap. Me, Sam and Clementine all burst out laughing once we realized what Pete was doing. He was RACING the Doctor. AND HE WON!!

After swimming at the pool, I made leftover chicken noodle soup for the kids yesterday after swimming at the pool. Clementine came up to me in the kitchen and tells me, "I all soaking wet."

"What happened?"

"I got noodle water on my shirt."

"You mean the broth?"

"No! Noodle water!"

The boys have made a vocation of coveting new Legos. Instead of caving to their pleas, they have been given chores, one each for every year they have been on planet Earth, and an allowance of exactly 100 Indian rupees each week paid on Pay Day, Fridays. I've also told them we don't need to buy anymore legos when we have 15 models that are completely disassembled and need to be put back together. 

This is harder than it sounds, because every single lego brick we own has been combined into one large pile. So, we are painstakingly rebuilding all of our legos, made phenomenally difficult by the fact that we have to literally search for needles in haystacks in order to find the right piece to complete any one step. 

To make it easier we have dumped all the legos on the floor and started separating them into color-coded piles. Our new babysitter/cook, Rita, has even gotten into the spirit of things, by helping with the sorting.

It is nice to be home.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

Summer Part One // A Study in Black and White

The full post of film images can be found here:

Monday, August 18, 2014

Thoughts from 35,000 Feet

* The following post was penned on our 10 hour flight home from London to Chennai just a week ago. 

The truth is I feel more at home on a plane than I do at home in Washington. Or even in Florida. It's a place in between places which happens to be right where I've always lived in some place or another. A place without a place that I thrive. 

Even though nothing about Chennai felt familiar in the beginning, or even in the first seven months, coming back here feels a lot more like coming home than leaving home. Like the last time.

I boarded the plane reluctantly, almost getting caught up in passengers boarding flights to Paris and Dublin. I may have threatened to stay in London, too. 

We almost lost Peter, about five times. Once in the turnstiles of The Tube in London, once on the train to Terminal C and once down an escalator in Heathrow, but he was instinctively caught up in a sea of saris as we boarded our plane to Chennai. As if he'd finally been found. 

It wasn't the swooshing saris for me or the raven black braids of my seat-mates, but instead the first taste of our mediocre Indian airplane food that brought me back. Curdling excitement in my belly for our return to India with spice, flavor memories that had been dampened in the USA. 

We're all better for having travelled home. No matter where you are the grass is always greener somewhere else. Some people just believe that, we move. We pick up our fence posts and haul them to those greener pastures. But the thing about greener pastures is that there is always a catch: wind, storms, predators, heavy rains or year long droughts. Or maybe you're just allergic to the grass. This doesn't make it any less green, just difficult in a different way.

Pete stopped biting his nails this summer, my cuticles have healed and so has my head, Sam's hair is poofier, Clementine knows the names of so many family members that love her that she's forgotten all our names, "Whats a name?" And Paul is always Paul, something that never waivers, like the chirping of birds in the morning. No matter where we go or what language they chirp in, they're always there providing comfort. 

I've got thousands of notes scribbled on the backs of magazines, in my planner and on Post It notes throughout my bags. I've got plans for the ideas that have been desperately and uncontrollably pinging around my head since we arrived in Chennai. This place creates a fire in my creative soul, but seethes the energy it takes to make them come to life.

All things get better with time, even airplane food. Nine hours into my ten hour flight I'm devouring my South Indian breakfast like I would a crispy bacon, egg and cheddar breakfast sandwich. I have hope that the things I initially found so amazing about Chennai, will remain amazing, and the things that held me back from achieving my goals and blowing the roof off of this two year tour have been beaten by a few months to regroup and get my thoughts in order. 

My plans include finally beginning my garden and feeding our bodies it's greens with the fruits of our labors. Watching impossible seeds become possible tufts of lettuce. They include joining a gym and building muscle to support my heart and my mind. To run more and run confidently outside because I am only here and now. To pour more into myself to be a good example to my children about what a strong, healthy woman looks like and to all the women around me that are on the verge of setting themselves free. To love myself more for all I do instead of beat myself down for all I don't. To realize the places I can make a difference and learn to let go of the ones that I can't. 

If this so starting to sound a little like the serenity prayer, well, so be it. India requires serenity, but even yoga isn't enough sometimes.

I want to drive more and listen to more music. I want to take more chances with my work and believe that other people will believe in the images that I am passionately creating in this place.

I've been more reluctant to lay down roots here than ever before because I know how quickly two years passes and how hard it is to dig them up. But having returned home to my old neighborhoods this summer and having seen how tall the trees have become, I'm thankful we planted them when we did. They now protect our home from the wind, provide shade and stability to the clay earth in the spring and the neighbor's homes who's owners have changed several times in the passing years.

I want to be more patient with my children because seeing them
through our families eyes I see their perfection, their growth and they're potential more clearly. I'm thankful for my village, albeit far away, I learn more from watching you with your children and with mine than I do from any books. 

I'm raising a big glass to the next year and five months. It's got a hell
of a lot of potential and thanks to our family and friends and they're generosity, for filling up our cups this summer until they overflowed.