Sunday, January 26, 2014

Submarine Tow Truck

This is an older drawing of Sam's from when we lived in Falls Church, but am just sharing it now. It is still one of my favorite's

When he showed it to me he told me it was a submarine tow truck. When submarines break down on the side of the sea bed, they need tow trucks, too. 

Happy Anniversary

Last Wednesday, our anniversary, our second shipment of stuff arrived. We're expecting four such shipments. The first, and smallest, came by airplane from DC. If you ask each member of our family which shipment you are most looking forward to, you will get a different answer. The first shipment had most of Sam and Pete's legos in it.

The second shipment came by sea, also from DC. This shipment had our new treadmill in it. Guess who was most looking forward to this shipment?

Answers in?


It wasn't me. It was Peter.

To be fair, I should have also told you that I made a monumental error when the movers were packing our air shipment, because I included Sam's bike that he got for Christmas, but not Peter's. Oops. The picture below was taken as they were unloading his bike from the truck.

This is what I call customer service. I think Elise counted eleven movers. I believe we had three in Washington.

My favorite was this old guy in the background of this photo. I think I saw him carry one box. 

Here comes the bike!

Now, we have just two more shipments to go. Our consumables, which will include all the cookies and crackers and treats we were allowed to ship to India with us, and our stuff from Brazil which we haven't seen in over a year...since we left December, 2012.  

Friday, January 24, 2014

Good Thoughts

I don't know at what age kids start to think that monsters live under their bed or lurk in their wardrobes. We have, thankfully, yet to experience this phase.

I think we've done a mostly pretty good job of potentially nightmare-inducing imagery from them. Sam is his own best filter. He would cover his eyes during Sesame Street.

Occasionally, after I put him to bed, turn out the lights, and am about to leave the room, he will tell me, "I'm not having good thoughts."

I'm not entirely sure if he is really having bad thoughts, or if he is just trying to squeeze from me the last drop of my attention before he goes to sleep for the night. Either way, it works. I stop, turn around, and say to him through the mosquito netting something to the effect of, "Think about all the fun you had with your friends at sport day today and about going to the zoo tomorrow."

Rarely, does he come into our room in the middle of the night and tell me he is not having good thoughts, but it does happen. Depending on how tired I am I will tell him, "Think about swimming in the pool tomorrow and eating pancakes for breakfast." then roll over and go back to sleep as he pads, ameliorated, back to his bed, or I will walk him back to his bed, pull back the mosquito netting, and crawl under it with him, until he falls back to sleep.

Like I said, I don't really know if he is really having bad thoughts or not, but I don't think that's really the point, either. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Toothfairy Came!

Yesterday was mine and Elise’s eighth wedding anniversary. Despite the rest of our shipment from DC arriving at 5:00, Elise and I were able to ignore the stack of cardboard boxes and clean ourselves up sufficiently to enjoy a wonderful dinner at the Raintree in the Taj Connemara hotel, one of the nicest in Chennai.

I had a couple of Kingfishers, and Elise treated herself to an aromatic curry leaf martini. It also had lime and sugar, but when you brought the drink to your lips (and Elise was generous enough to let me have a sip), you were greeted first by the wonderfully sweet scent of the curry leaf floating on top the neon green liquid.

We also had tiger prawns, coconut rice, and a curry masala with paneer and green peas. We took an auto there and back, weaving and darting through rush hour traffic.

When we got home, Shanti, the babysitter, gave us some exciting news. The tooth that had been wiggling in Sam’s mouth for the past week or so had finally popped out while he was eating a piece of pizza.

Elise and I slipped our shoes off and snuck into Sam’s room. I reached my hand under his pillow but couldn’t find the tooth. It’s surprising how hard it is to find a tooth in the dark through mosquito netting. Elise procured a tiny flashlight and found it on the floor. It seemed so small in her hand, truly like something that belonged to a baby and not to our oldest budding boy.

We weren’t sure what the going rate for a tooth was in India, but we settled on 100 rupees, enough to sound to a six-year old like a small fortune, while at the same time only setting us back a buck or two.

The next morning, Sam sprung from his room clutching the crisp bill in his hands, wondering what he could buy with 100 rupees. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the Chima lego he has his heart set on is like 5,000 rupees, but managed to convince him that he might be better served saving the 100 rupees to buy something he really wants rather than spending it right away.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t have fifty teeth, but he is now eager to do things around the house that are “above and beyond” that which we request of him on a daily basis in order to earn an allowance that he is to receive on Sundays, but that I invariably forget to give him. 

I’m fairly certain that now that he has his first 100 rupee note in hand, he won’t let me forget again.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

South Indian Cooking 101

On Monday I had my first foray into South Indian cooking. A local tour company Storytrails does a class they call "Spice Trail" and it is just a few blocks away. Paul had the day off so I took the opportunity to go learn a little about how to get started cooking this amazing food that we have been eating, the intense flavors of which remain largely a mystery to me. The aisles of the local markets are stocked with rows and rows of spices, tinctures and vegetables the likes of which I have never seen or heard of, but that have been collecting in my empty cabinets and waiting for the perfect recipe to try.

We started by wandering down the street to the neighborhood market to pick up the fresh vegetables we'd need for our meal. We only bought a few tomatoes, a few large, mild peppers and a few small ones that pack a little more heat. We bought bell peppers, onions and of course curry leaves, which are typically thrown in for free with your vegetable purchase. We scoped out a local coffee spot and I verified, what I already knew, but aim to change, that even though we are living here in Chennai alongside one another and surviving in the very same spaces we are living and cooking very differently.

The mantra of the day: "We believe what we see."

If Indians don't buy rice fresh from the "rice guy" (and there is one, there is someone for everything) and see it ground to flour, feeling the warmth from the grinder between their thumb and forefinger, they claim don't know where it came from and therefore don't believe it is fresh and won't buy it.

The processes of most conveniences that we take for granted like ready to use flour, pre-ground coffee and premixed spices are just plain religion to the Indian people. They are the ultimate DIYers, in the best of ways and for the very best cause, health.

Nearly every ingredient, with the exception of spices, is purchased fresh daily, so all the banter about India's lack of modern refrigeration, is simply not a factor here. Most homes, including some that you'd take for quite modern and wealthy are using very little refrigeration and cooking in this amazing traditional and market-to-table way. Things that aren't used for that days cooking are purchased with a motive, aged to perfection and used to create something in the following days meal, for instance sour milk for paneer, the Indian version of cottage cheese. Each and every ingredient is added thoughtfully and never without purpose. Each element of a meal has a very precise and sometimes individualized medicinal purpose. Otherwise known as an Ayurvedic diet, something I currently know very little about, but am very eager to learn.

We began by learning to make our own filter coffee (there is a whole post for this) and a refreshing "Buttermilk" drink, made with "Curd" or plain yogurt, water and spices sputtered in a hot pan of sesame oil.  This drink is said to be "cooling" and is essential in maintaining balance within the body.

We made our own paneer, straining it through muslin purchased at a local cotton market and sliced it fresh for our meal. The next recipe was Bhajii, a batter which, when deep fried, provides a delicious and spicy blanket for anything from paneer, mild chili peppers, plantains, onions and even a stalk of mint or curry leaves. From what I gather you could batter nearly anything in this and it would be delicious. 

To accompany we cracked and grated our own coconut, Brahman-style, respecting the "three eyes" and the "ponytail" of the coconut. Seriously. There seems to be nothing here that is done thoughtlessly, with the exception of throwing garbage from ones car window, and perhaps I just haven't learned the religious ritual behind that yet or I at least I'm hoping, for natures-sake, there is one. 

Next, we ground our own chutney on what looks-to-be-but-is-very-much-not ancient stone duo, much like a mortar and pestle, using water, roasted chana dal, fresh chili and a little muscle. 

Even though I am told that bread is not native to South India, it has become a staple in the Tamil Nadu diet, so we learned to make several simple variations of bread, including chapati, paratha and poori. 

For our main dish we prepared the vegetables we'd procured from the market hours earlier and turned them into a beautiful Paneer Butter Masala and Biryani rice.

Paul opted to spend a sweet morning with Clementine while the boys were at school (yes they had school on our American holiday and we were heartless enough to send them. Perks of third world living!), but he put her down for a nap, went for a quick run and picked me up just in time to join us for another cup of filter coffee and the feast we had prepared all morning. The icing on the cake, or the curry leaves on the biryani as the case may be.

I'll be toiling away perfecting some of these in my own kitchen with recipes and photographs to follow.

I am impressed and amazed each and every day at the simple ingredients and tools that are used to create meals, architecture and decorative objects fit for a kings. I'm recalibrating my senses to appreciate the possibility of more from less and reaping the rewards of welcoming another culture into our kitchen and our hearts.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Mylapore Street Festival: Portrait of an Artist

Saturday afternoon, Elise and I went to the Mylapore neighborhood for a street festival. She showed me some of the sights from one of her recent photowalks, and we even made our first cautious foray into Indian street food, tentatively trying some kind of fried cake and coconut chutney for ten rupees (16 cents!).

Moreover, I got to see the photographer in action!

We found the kolam drawing contest. A kolam is a drawing made from rice powder sprinkled in an intricate design usually found in front of homes to bring prosperity. Most mornings on my way to work, I see Hindu woman bent at the waist creating the intricate drawings. This contest was a lot like the street painting festival in Lake Worth my brother and his girlfriend do every year!

Of course Elise's photos will be much better than these snapshots taken with my iPhone camera. Wait for them! But as she was angling for the best shot, we noticed a group of photographers on a rooftop. We knew right away we had to get up there, too, so we walked up the block, and a nice man in a dhoti waved us into his home, pointing us through the small living room.

We dove into the dark apartment and hooked a right when we saw the steep, concrete steps. Each apartment in the building was small and dark and without doors. One families home bled into their neighbor's or was stacked right on top of, and there was no pretense of privacy. On the roof, underwear, t-shirts, and socks hung on clotheslines.

The sun was starting to set and we glimpsed a unique perspective of the city before deciding it was time to eat and rest of peds.

But, of course, not before stopping at Baskin and Robbins on the way home. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Lost and Found

You always hear it said that people come to India to find themselves. I wasn’t lost when we left the United States for Chennai, but like Paul said- visions of “the shooter” stuck with him, fading into the distance, being trampled by careless travelers on the jet way - I can’t imagine that the shooter didn’t represent just a little bit more than the power of the Lego Chima that day.

Every time I look to be found, I head straight for the ocean for a quiet open space and for the rhythm of the sea. I certainly, in search of answers, would have never headed directly into the heat of the action. 

Nothing is particularly easy to find here, but with eight million people - a thousand villages spread end to end - nothing is impossible. Least of all something you didn't even know you were looking for.

I don’t really recall feeling lost since: I began art school, met Paul, first picked up a camera and stopped time, since I became a mom and again when I rediscovered film. I’ve been found a few times in between and don’t doubt that I will be found again. I am certainly not the lost soul I was for so long before these grand events, though; trying on lifestyles, like a teenage girl trying on clothes for school. Seattle, Palm Beach, Small town USA.

I spent my early years trying to be the round peg when I was really always the square one, but I’ve learned to be me and in that I’ve found comfort in my own skin and confidence in my own path. I’ve traded youth for wisdom again and again. I’ve chosen the path less traveled, a jet-way to a long flight to a place somewhere most people only dream of.

I don’t believe that it is possible to get on that plane from your home, leaving everyone and everything you find familiar and comfortable behind and not lose at least a little bit of yourself in the jet-streams.

Stripped of familiarity immediately upon landing and ultimately the comfort of anonymity afforded by melting into the pot that is the United States, I have not only become lost in a neighborhood of this city and in a country of millions, I have also been found in the very same insanity. I may as well be naked standing on the sidewalk at times, even with all my forbidden bits covered from shoulder to knee-cap. I can strip myself of everything I feel is quintessentially American about me and I still can’t seem to regain that comfortable anonymity that America afforded me. I don’t always want to, I never wanted it when I had it, but being naked in a city of eight million isn’t an easy feeling to process. Instead of feeling vulnerable, though I feel very welcome. I am invited to tea in people’s homes and I am greeted warmly from all directions and people are eager to share their homes, their tea and their history.

I jumped right in like I promised I would. It has made the incredible differences between life at home and life in Chennai dissolve into something my brain has begun to read as normal. I’m grasping to the initial shocking differences that my senses registered in those first weeks and am holding on to them by fraying strings. I continue to document the differences that I want so desperately to share, but cows in the streets have begun to feel commonplace, the smells of local foods, smell almost familiar like home and the colors of the seas of saris have begun to fade together like a melted box of crayons.

I attended my first yoga class this past week. A familiar setting: A clean and modern studio, plastic yoga mats laid end-to-end, men and women sitting comfortably cross legged awaiting instruction. The only thing visibly different here is the lack of ego and name brands and revealing clothing that we think is required in yoga in the States. I’ve begun to rethink yoga, as I’ve always known it and to replace the sameness of brand names and comparison of bodies with a sameness of souls; as a way to suppress everything that makes you an individual and express everything that makes you one.  

 I leave for class before the sun comes up. My head is naturally clear of chaos at that hour so focusing inward is not too hard. We begin class in an incense and candle lit room by chanting Omkar together, voices reaching, wavering, reaching again, and finally coming together in one incredible vibration, which can be felt even when I am the only one who seems to channel the moaning cow portion of all of creation, but someone has to represent.

I’ve been spending one morning a week with a group of 20 plus Indian “Gentlemen” photographers from local photography clubs I've learned about online. They accepted me warily yet warmly and, was it not for my persistence, my focus and my dedication to the sheer insanity of shooting film in this place, I might have been left behind in a vegetable stall by now.

I wake up at 5:30 and pick up a friend down the street; a 60 something retired photojournalist - turned retired Foreign Service Officer - turned spouse, who reminds me, so of my Uncle Robert. In fact, our driver, Sundar, calls him my uncle after I tried to tell him how much they looked alike. He may not know that he really isn’t my uncle, but his passion for Indian history and politics and his appetite for exploring the city, has earned him high standings with our often-partial driver and he does well to fill the large shoes of my very adventurous, mustached and much loved Uncle Robert.

We join up with a group of photographers, mostly hobbyists, from the city in a new neighborhood each week and we explore the labyrinth-like streets and markets of Chennai. I’ve run out of batteries and film on occasion and have been left with only iPhone photos, which turned out to be a delightful blessing. I’ve played with the children of the city, taken their photos and delighted them with the images on the screen of my phone. Naked babies on the hips of older siblings and cousins, proud moms, dads, shop-keepers and the elderly are eager to have their photos taken. Owners will return to their shops to retrieve their prized baby cow, will offer to pose with baskets of fruit or to engage in just the labor that you desire to capture, until you’ve captured it just right. It’s all too easy, too beautiful and sometimes too overwhelming for a daydreamer like myself.

I’ve fallen in love with the kids. No clothes, no shoes, but with more joy eeping out of them and into me that I am afraid I might burst into tears or into song. They ride their bikes in circles around us and they gather all their siblings from surrounding blocks in seconds to join together for a portrait. I can’t seem to break away from them and always end up back in the middle of them again. I show young moms pictures of Sam, Peter and Clementine on my phone and somehow - so very different - we are all one.

Photograph by me of a photograph, gifted to Paul by Ed Malcik.

I step in poop, I step over sleeping people in the streets and pass people digging for leftover garbage in piles on the street. It isn’t all-beautiful. It is not. But that story has been told a million times before.

I am collecting so many beautiful images and am foraging for the perfect way to tell the story of my time here. Perhaps this will be I am meant to find in India.

I fret that I might run out of time each day to capture every bit of beauty that I see, that I might not capture it all in a year or even two.

In one moment I wonder how I’ll stay here another second and in the very next I wonder how I’ll ever leave.

I take solace in the fact that when it’s tomorrow here, its still yesterday back at home and a few extra hours can somehow magically, be regained. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Lost Shooter

We have been in India for almost two months now, but one of my strongest memories is from our trip from the U.S.

We stopped in Frankfurt and spent the night at the hotel connected to the airport. Everyone relaxed, spread out, and gave each other space (or as much space as a one and a half-year old is willing to give).

We had bought Sam a small, new Chima lego for the trip. For anyone who has flown, you can only imagine how difficult it would be to put together 100 tiny pieces on a seat-back tray through light turbulence. So, Sam had waited until we had checked into our room to put it together. It was a raven glider...kind of like a black jet ski with raven wings. Pretty awesome.

He played with it all night, and carried it as we walked the short stroll the next morning from the hotel to the airport and our gate, through check-in and security.

I tend to travel very conservatively. Elise makes fun of me, because I like to arrive at the airport three hours early. I figure travel is stressful enough--especially with three small children--without rushing through security or worrying if we will miss our flight. But the morning we were to fly from Germany to India we were running a little late, even have spent the night in a hotel connected to the airport. Everyone was already suffering from jet lag that would be mild in comparison for what was to come the following day. Nevertheless, it was difficult to rouse them at 9:00 a.m. to catch our morning flight.

We had to rush, and Sam was being super helpful, pushing our one carry-on with our overnight clothes through the airport with one hand while holding the raven glider in the other. Elise and I were pushing strollers and carrying cameras and, most likely, Clementine and Peter, as well.

We hurried to our gate and up the jetway. Sam was struggling to keep up, his lips pursed with determination.

Then, I heard him cry out, literally as I was putting one foot onto the plane. He had dropped the raven pilot's special blue crystal Lego shooter. His face was panicked. I looked up the jetway and saw a surge of passengers rushing toward us. The shooter could have been anywhere on that jetway, a tiny black lego piece lost on meter after meter of black rubber mat.

For a split second, I was going to go back for it. I didn't know where it was or if I was going to find it, but I wanted to try. But logic took hold. The shooter was lost. Sam cried, and I tried to console him. My heart went out to him. I felt like I lost something, too, like I had left something behind, because I know how much the shooter meant to him and I appreciated that he had lost it helping his parents when they needed him most.

I think about that moment on the jetway all the time. I can't get over the sense of loss even though I am sure Sam never thinks about that shooter anymore. Mostly because he got four new Chima legos for Christmas and now has a whole armory of lego shooters. I try to tell myself it is only a shooter and that it wasn't like I had left Clementine in Germany, but the memory plays over and over in my head though I am not sure why. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Snacks at School

I recently (this evening) received the following in an email from Pete's pre-school:

Fruit Schedule for the month of January 2014
Dear Parent,
As you know we give the children fresh fruit every day for snack. Please find below the tentative schedule for the fruits that we will be serving this month.
Sweet lime
Sweet lime
Sweet lime

I am not exactly sure what Chiku or Sweet Lime is without Google-ing them (when I Googled chiku the website told me it was sapodilla which didn't do me any good. The only sapodilla I know is a street name in West Palm Beach).

Honestly, I can only assume that the pre-school cafeteria manager has some kind of special relationship with the chiku vendor because we have no problem finding wonderful apples, pears, grapes and pineapples, that I can only imagine would be much more appealing to a four-year old than chiku...or sapodilla...or sweet lime...or whatever.

I secretly can't wait for Pete to take to chiku the same way he took to abacaxi (Portuguese for pineapple. One of the warmest/heart-wrenching memories I have of the time right after we returned from Brazil was when we were in a giant American supermarket (either Publix, Safeway, or Harris Teeter) and Pete pointed at a large pile of pineapples and squealed "Abacaxi!" He honestly had never known them by any other name!)

Into the Night

 It is better to be proactive then reactive. This is a good motto to have in any endeavor, especially parenting, and, as a father, I constantly strive to anticipate my children’s needs. But this isn’t always possible, and many times I am reactive parenting instead of proactive parenting.

Most recently, I came home from work and was greeted by the news that Sam couldn’t participate in recess that day because he didn’t have any tennis shoes. He had outgrown all of his other sneakers, and we were still waiting on a new pair of shoes Elise had ordered from the States; Sam had been wearing flip flops to school.

Sam and Peter’s days are much longer and much more exhausting now that they are back in school. The school bus picks up Sam at 7:30, and he isn’t home until 4:30. That would be a long day for me, and I am not six. The past couple evenings, he is already bathed and in his pajamas by the time I get home, shortly after five, with only dinner and brushing teeth between Sam and bed.

But the night I was informed he missed recess, despite the fact that he was all ready for bed, he and I went on a mission to find him a new pair of shoes.

So, Sam changed out of his pajamas, and we left the house in search of an auto. In the States, it would be easy to just run to the mall or Target. That option, too, is available in Chennai, but we don’t yet have a car, and the mall is far. Fortunately, Google had pointed me to both an Adidas and a Nike store in our neighborhood.

In Chennai, unlike in the States, many brands have their own stores. Whereas in the States, you would find a Foot Locker in the mall with all different brands of sneakers, in the mall in Chennai, there is an Adidas store, a Nike store, a Reebok store, and a New Balance store.

I called both the Adidas store and the Nike store before we left the house to make sure they sold children’s shoes. Nike did not, but Adidas did.

We quickly found an auto and went sputtering off into the night, car and scooter horns bleating all around us. We zoomed down T.T.K. Road, past the Nike store, but never saw the Adidas store. After we had puttered about a mile in the wrong direction, I pulled my iPhone out of my pocket and checked Google. We had past the Adidas store. I wasn’t sure how that was possible, but I asked the tuk-tuk driver to turn around, nonetheless.

He pulled a 180 into a tidal wave of oncoming headlights—and I saw Sam’s head as a poofy-topped silhouette in a blinding light like I was looking at an oncoming train—and we were soon zipping back down T.T.K. Road, only now in the opposite direction. I kept one eye on Sam to ensure that he didn’t go tumbling out of the auto and one eye on my iPhone map and watched the pulsating blue dot that indicated our position sneak up on our destination.

I looked up, but there was no Adidas store. I did see a Reebok store and asked the auto driver to swing around. He kindly did so, and Sam and I piled out.

Four eager, mustached, young attendants in tight t-shirts and blue jeans measured Sam’s foot and put socks on his flip-flopped feet. He tried on a pair that he liked and did a couple of test laps around the store in between the cricket bats. We bought them, and left the store, climbing back into our waiting auto, mission accomplished.

The drive home was short. Sam was tired. He yawned mightily, and leaned his head on my shoulder.

“What do you think?” I asked him. “Do you like India?”

He nodded.

“What’s your favorite part?”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“Do you like school?”

He nodded emphatically.

“We have a nice house, huh?” I suggested. “It’s nice being so close to the playground and swimming pool.”

I took his silence to be assent.

On New Year’s Day, Elise and I walked a mile with the kids to Sangeetha Fastfoods for a brunch of idlis and vada. We hailed a tuk-tuk to take us home. The five of us were piled into the back of the auto and we blew through the streets, the dirt and grime and wind dusting our smiles. Everyone’s hair blew and everyone laughed, and it struck me that after India, there was nothing these children would not be able to do, and, if we continue to live overseas, there is nothing that they will be afraid to do…except maybe stay still.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Yes, someonegot a scooter for Christmas...!

drawing by Sam

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Gardener Named Babu

Shortly after we moved into our new house, an Indian man came by and asked if we needed a gardener. I knew we would, but I just wasn’t there yet. I don’t think we had been in India for twenty-four hours and I had a lot more pressing things on my mind then finding a gardener.

Our yard is covered by a thick tree canopy. Many of the trees flower, and within a few days, our driveway was covered in a leaf fall nearly an inch thick. Beneath the flowering trees it looked as if it had snowed. Within a week or two, it quickly became apparent that finding a gardener would have to move higher up on my to-do list.

Fortunately, the man who had come to our house in those first bleary-eyed hours returned. Though he spoke no English, I was able to ascertain that he had been the gardener for the previous occupants of the residence and was also the gardener for our neighbors on either side of us. His name was Babu.

Not that I couldn’t sweep my own leaves from the driveway, but it is a big driveway and there are a lot of leaves. Anywhere else, myself or the gardener would be using a gas-powered leaf-blower. Here, he uses two stubby brooms fashioned from palm fronds, and Babu quickly sweeps the drive way by taking one in each hand and rapidly swishing one and then the other alternatively like the Karate Kid doing “wax on…wax off”.  

Babu is ageless; there is no way to tell how old he is. Though I later found out that he is old enough to have a son who owns a flower shop in Poe’s Garden. I bought flowers from him for Elise for Christmas. He wears a short dhoti, the Indian equivalent of a kilt. In his pocket, he carries a small AM/FM radio and listen to Bollywood music as he works. He has a carbuncle-covered nose and dark skin. He presses his palms together, prayer-like, when he greets me, and makes me feel a little like Rudyard Kipling circa 1889 and as though I am not deserving of the kindness and respect he shows me.

He plays with the children when they play outside, and now they want to wear dhotis, too. Both Peter and Clementine brought me their blankets this morning and asked me to tie them around their waists so they could wear them like dhotis. Clementine holds her blanket out and says, “Babu…Babu.” The next thing you know she’ll be carrying around a transistor radio in her pocket, too. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

One Story

Elise had convinced Sam and Peter to take naps on New Year’s Eve by promising that they could stay up late and watch fireworks from our rooftop. See, there is a random spiral staircase on the side of our house that accesses the roof. Even though everyone napped and they held up their end of the bargain, I squashed their plans by saying I wasn’t comfortable taking my three small children on the roof of our house in the dark. 

Instead, they spread their sleeping bags on the floor of the sunroom, a glass-enclosed balcony off of their bedroom that currently serves as the playroom, but will soon become Elise’s photography/yoga studio much to the kids’ dismay. They peered through the thick tree canopy surrounding our house, combing the heavens for a sign of a single spark.

Throughout the day, the neighboring Madras Club, the most affluent country club in Chennai, was putting their sound system through its paces. Sporadically, the rumble of bass would carry over the trees to our ears. I swear at one point I unmistakably heard a Men at Work cover.

The evening wore on without even the pop of a firecracker, and I finally had to send the little ones to bed, promising I would wake them up when the fireworks spectacle began.

I never woke them up.

Elise and I were in bed ourselves by ten or so, knowing that everyone would start stirring by six. We soon fell asleep. The fireworks and firecrackers, when they did come, were mild compared to Brazil with the exception of three to four resounding booms that shook our house and sounded like artillery shells going off overhead. They very well may have been. I was told later that the Hindu celebration of Diwali, the “festival of lights”, is when the big guns will roll out. We had just missed it.

The next morning, as predicted, everyone was up by 6:15, clamoring for breakfast. I groggily obliged, flicking the switch on the coffee maker I had the foresight to prepare the night before as I walked into the kitchen.

About mid-morning, we decided to walk a mile to Sangeetha Fastfoods, a restaurant Elise had previously visited after one of her Sunday morning photowalks. When we arrived, the sidewalk was crowded with Indian men in white shirts and khakis, drinking tea. We pierced the crowd, and I followed Elise to the back. Under no less than a dozen ceilings fans spinning furiously like the blades of a helicopter preparing to take flight, we ordered vada, spiced urad dal batter and fried in donut shape dumplings, idlis, steamed rice cakes, and dhosa, a crepe-like pastry made from rice flour, all served on banana leaves with coconut, mango and tomato chutnies for dipping. Elise and I ordered tea.

Sam, who somehow was already versed in the South Indian breakfast, ate like a native Tamilian, using only his right hand (according to Elise the left hand is considered your “bathroom hand” and is strictly not used for eating).

Hot and now full, we decided to take an auto rickshaw (just “auto” for short) home, a three-wheeled tuk-tuk powered by a lawnmower motor. It careened around corners, and the wind blew through the kids’ air. Everyone squealed in delight, Clementine included. 

More naps soon followed (which Sam and Peter skipped), and the cooler afternoon afforded Elise her first opportunity to go for a two-mile run around the Boat Club neighborhood.

For dinner, she prepared her new no-fail recipe, a Thai soup made with coconut milk, fresh lemongrass and cilantro, and chicken. Every one of the kids (and adults) gobbled it. We would have known it was a slam dunk just by seeing how little of it was spilt on the table. But if we hadn’t noticed the cleanliness around their plates, Pete emphatically raved about the soup through the entire meal. I am paraphrasing now, but it was something to the effect of, “This is actually super yummy, Mom.” (He’s been using the word ‘actually’ for emphasis actually quite frequently. Not sure where he picked it up.)

And so that is how 2014 began. Not too shabby. I would have to say we are off to a pretty good start, actually.