Friday, May 29, 2009

Hello, carnation

What do you do when you come home from work, on a day when the sun is behind clouds and it has just rained and little droplets cling to blades of grass and pose prettily on the flowers and the light is all soft and gray and mellow and twilight is just beginning and there is no cooking to be done because its leftovers day and Chip is happily playing in his bath and BigGeek is taking a catnap on the couch? What do you do indeed? Thank the powers-that-be for a golden opportunity and then sneak out barefooted with your camera.

Spinach and Dill

Squash blossom

Carnations in our front yard

Carnations on my bookshelf

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Parenting from a child's perspective

When Chip was around 2, we started to play a game. Role reversal. He would be Aie and I would be Chip. I would whine and ask silly questions and make demands and he would, well, imitate my reponses. What started as a way to pass time on long car rides and hot summer afternoons, soon turned to be much more than a game. It became a tool of insight for my parenting skills. Through his accurate portrayal of Aie on all occasions – everyday demands for candy and juice and other junk food, excuses for not going to a certain place/doing certain things, explanation for beyond-his-age questions, it all became an appraisal of sorts. How was I doing as a mother? We played the game every week and Chip’s imitation stayed true to my parenting in that week. Harried weeks were more of a “do-as-I say” while the relaxed ones were full of explanations and consolations.

This little game of role reversal came to my mind when I read this book recently. Called “Out of the mouth of babes” it is written by Dyan Eybergen – a pediatric psych nurse, a therapist and a parent educator and a mother to three sons. In one of the chapters, she advocates playing a role-reversal game to gain insight. I was thrilled to see it.

Chip is a spirited child, and sometimes he challenges me to rise above my comfort level and seek solutions that will work for me and for him. This book offers an approach that is tailored to each child’s unique personality. It shows us how to understand our children. There are no formulas here in this book – because there really can’t be any formulas for raising children. It puts us in our children’s shoes and shows us the world from their side. Through anecdotes of 3 and 4 years olds while their parents tried to get them to sleep in their own beds, to fussy eating habits to toilet training to sibling rivalry and discipline it reminds us of how perceptive and sensitive these little boys and girls can be.

The book was a pleasant surprise. If you believe in attachment parenting like I do and are wondering how exactly to fit those values with your toddlers and pre-schoolers, this book will be valuable. My only problem with the book was that it was too short (124 pages). There is enough material in this book for a 100 more pages easily. I do hope Eybergen continues to write more and give us her insights into parenting. Parenting can feel like such a daunting task at times, books like these help in keeping those worries at bay.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A little corner Zen



Thursday, May 21, 2009

How to bake an icecream cake

Did I get you? Now, did I? Did I? Ha! You can’t bake an ice-cream cake (and please refrain from pointing me in the direction of Baked Alaskas, I am trying to make a joke here). So, yeah. You can’t bake an ice-cream cake. You can only make one. Geddit? Geddit? No laughs? None at all? Dang. Entonces, creo que, tus estan muy inteligente por este blog. And before someone shouts foul, hey, we live in the Americas. We don’t do ‘estais’.
Making an ice-cream cake es muy facil. Anyone can do it. Let’s make a..umm…let’see. How about a chocolate-french vanilla-strawberry triple layer cake with oreo and fudge?
For the hardware, you will need
1 spatula, preferable silicone
1-2 large and deep vessels.
Like cake tins.
1 hair dryer
Zip-top bag
Rolling pin
Plenty of room in your freezer
Icing comb or a painters plastic spatula (you can buy in hardware stores)
Offset spatula
– this will make your life easier. You can always use a butter knife instead.
Medium star-tip for decorating
Icing bag or zip-top bag
Lazy susan
– again, not needed, but you will be glad you have it
A plate/platter/fancy board to turn the cake onto. Make sure it goes into your freezer.
I used 2 9” round regular cake pans. Select pans with straight edges for a professional -out-of-a-fancy-cookbook-look. Wilton brand professional aluminum pans are not expensive and are good quality. Make sure the pans/other vessels you choose to make the cake fit into your freezer. You don’t want to assemble the cake, only to find you have to eat it right now, all by yourself, before it melts, with nothing but small dessert spoons. No, m’am. That’s not fun.

Now for the ingredients
12-15 chocolate cookies like oreos
2 tbsp melted butter
1 jar off-the-shelf chocolate fudge sauce
1 ½ cups mini marshmallows
Sweetened flaked coconut

1 pint each of strawberry, vanilla and chocolate ice-cream – get full-fat version
Don’t try to be healthy here. This is not the time. If you choose the low-fat or fat-free versions, you are going to get bits of ice in your ice-cream cake. They are very annoying. And can have disastrous effects. Say, you eat a low-fat version of the ice-cream cake, get annoyed by the ice-crystals and in that state sit in your car and back out of your drive way only to hit the neighbor’s car. That’s far unhealthier than eating a slice of a full-fat ice-cream cake, verdad?
5 cups whipped icing – you can buy an instant powder by Wilton’s or making your own is easy. A pint of Whipping/Heavy cream,1-2 egg whites or meringue powder and a bit of confectioner’s sugar. Whip until stiff peaks form. I bought Wilton’s because it’s egg-free knowing Chip’s allergies.
Gel food color of your choice – I made a lovely pale blue by combining royal blue and moss green.

Set the ice-cream on the counter to soften a bit. For how long? Well.. that depends on your geographical location. Tropical climates 2-3 minutes, subtropical – 3-4 minutes.. you get the drift. You should not be left with a puddle, obviously, but the ice cream should be soft enough to spread.

While the ice-cream softens, put the Oreos in a zip-top bag, add the melted butter and crush with a rolling pin until they resemble crumbs. Pat down those crumbs firmly into the base of cake tin #1. Add a layer of softened vanilla ice-cream. Cover with a layer of marshmallows. Heat the jar of fudge sauce in a microwave until soft. Scoop the fudge sauce and spread it over the marshmallows. Add a layer of strawberry ice-cream. In the second cake tin, add strawberry icecream at the bottom, layer with fudge sauce and then a layer of coconut and a layer of chocolate ice-cream. Pat down very firmly. If you have parchment paper, you can use that to level the top edges. Cover and freeze for at least 8 hours. Make sure your freezer is set at its coldest setting.

The next day, armed with your hair-free hair dryer set to warm; blow air on the sides and the bottom of the cake pans. The ice cream will soften. Turn the cake onto a plate and turn it right side up on your serving platter. Repease with cake tin #2. Make sure the layers align properly. Freeze again for 8 hours.

To decorate

Make the whipped icing and ice the cake. Work fast because the ice cream will melt. You may have to keep it in the freezer a few times before you can ice it fully. The turntable, the painters spatula will make your life easier. If your ice-cream cake is all chocolate, I will suggest to cover it with a coating of vanilla ice-cream before you frost the cake. Freeze the frosted cake for a couple of hours before you enjoy. Here is a picture of the ice-cream cake I made for Chip’s birthday.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How to turn 4

Very, very fast. Before you can say blimpety-blimp. On the 14th, Chip turned four. And on the 15th, I turned… ummmm 26. Yeah. Chip had been planning his birthday party like a bride plans her wedding. Cake. Snacks. Juice. Goodie bags. For two parties.

Everything was planned in minute details and was checked upon and double checked to make sure that bumbling Aie got it right. For his school party, he had planned a Wall-E cake, popcorn - the bagged ones. NOT the ones you make in a microwave. And pretzels shaped like airplanes. Brand battles were fought with his old Aie. Many a gray cells were employed in making a decision over V-8 and “lemolade”. Aie was unsure how many kids would actually drink V-8, so after she agreed to buy V-8 for Chip’s consumption, “lemolade” passed muster.

Goody bags were selected based on a careful study of current goody-bag trends in under-4 age category. A close eye was kept on the Aie, in case she tried to hoodwink the birthday boy by placing Hershey’s kisses instead of Starbursts in them. Much debate was had on the advantages of choosing silly glasses over noise makers. Many a night kept him awake over play-doh should be included at all or whether coloring books and water colors would be the way to go. Bubble bottles which his mother thought every 4-yr old would enjoy were looked at with utter skepticism but were finally approved. Much to his mother’s relief. Demands for a Wall-E cake did not stop at just the theme. He wanted to make sure that the bakery made cake with “special eggs that he was not allergic to, but everyone else was.” How would such a cake be enjoyed by everyone was a moot question.

When I went to tell his teachers a week before the hallowed event, she told me she knew. That’s what His Chipness had been telling everyone for the past month. There was nothing else on his mind.

When Party time arrived at school, BigGeek and I went in with cake and snacks. Earlier in the morning, Chip had helped me load the plates and cups and snacks and drinks in the car. He is totally helpful that way. Every time we go grocery shopping, he helps load the bags in the car and helps them unload. And its not just token one or two bags. He carries a good amount of bags – the heavy ones too. He is a son that would make his Aie and Baba proud. (anti-JINX). Ofcourse his Aie enables him by complimenting on how “big and strong” he is and how she is totally incapable of managing such heavy bags by herself.

But, back to the party. Chip handed out the plates and cups – asking in a very loud voice if everyone got one and generally running underfoot until his teacher had to order him to sit down and eat. He was too excited to eat. Even his favorite food. The cake was cut and while many kids in his class asked for seconds, Chip did not touch a crumb. Then he spun into high gear giving goody bags to everyone (and also one for himself).

On the way home, I tried to explain what goody bags are for. “They are to say thank you for sharing my special day with me, you know Chip.” But Chip shook his head.

Two days later, he prepared for party, part dos. At the fire station. The menu was decided by me, this time. As were the take away gifts. We got books for all kids and Chip made sure while I was wrapping them that I had not forgotten his friend from school. When this friend arrived at the party, Chip ran to him and said – “Dude, I am so glad you are here.” Talk about being all growed-up! At the party, the kids got to meet firemen, got to know what it is they do and got to climb on firetrucks and turn on the siren. All very exciting. I had made a two-tier ice-cream cake. With a fire engine on top and a fire hydrant and hose. And baked some kachoris. The kids ate watermelon and veggie crisps and chips and drank milk and juice. It was fun and Chipin the end had a meltdown from all the excitement. But he got a ton of totally lovely gifts from his friends. Now I have to find a way for him to sign the thank you notes!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

For the love of reading

I remember when I used to trawl the baby stores late at nights when I was pregnant with Chip. Set next to the baby bibs and developmental toys that promised to turn wee babies into geniuses, there were shelves upon shelves of CDs. Baby Mozart, Baby Bach and Baby any-composer-you-can-think-of. I must admit I was tempted to pick one of those CDs, only to be admonished by a little voice inside that said, “Stop! What, are you doing, you utter idiot? Did Bach sit into wee hours of morning to compose music for teensy babies?” Of course he didn’t. The Bach and Mozart (and Pink Floyd and Deep Purple) CDs at home would do just fine, right? And they did. But, I think, what worked more, was that our love of music rubbed off on Chip. Music surrounds us and surrounds Chip too and he has learnt to work the iphone to play the songs he likes and on many idle Saturday afternoons, he lies on the sofa in the gentle sun and hums his favorites.

I have often wondered of music-less parents who invest their dollars in buying baby music. Do they end up with music loving children? Unless the children listen and learn to appreciate good music not just into their toddler years but way, I mean way beyond, I don’t think music listened to as babies would help much.

What does this have to do with reading, you ask? Well, plenty.

In the United States at least, there is a cultish drive to get kids to read. As early as possible. In baby hood, if you can. A child who does not read in Kindergarten is well, someone who will grow up shunning books. Four years of parenting and I laugh at this. As a child, I learnt to read late. Sure, I could read words and simple sentences by the time I was five or six, but I did not read independently until I was eight. I remember the first book I read. It was an abridged version of the Three Musketeers. The story was intriguing, as was D’Artgnan’s yellow horse and Lady DeWinter. It was the first time, I remember the power of books – how they could take me to another time and place and I was enchanted. Of course, I was only eight and could not articulate my feelings then, but yes, it was totally what I did not expect a bunch of words to do to me. It was a slow start and I don’t think I became a voracious reader until I was eleven or twelve. By then, there was no looking back. I devoured books. I would want to come home from school, just because I could read in peace.

When I look at what the experts tell me – you know read to your child every night and all that, I take it with a grain of salt. My parents never read to me or my brother. They helped us read when we were older – I would go ask my father for meanings of words or to explain a paragraph, but that was that. We were pretty much left to read alone. We would discuss books and many a battle followed between my father, my brother and me (my mother would keep out of these fiery debates) and many a tear were shed (by me of course) over the debates.
Books were fun, reading was fun. My father took us to the annual book exhibitions in our little town. He would buy books for himself and us. We had memberships to the library and we would bring and read books from there. We were surrounded by books. We were intrigued by my father’s and uncle’s bookshelves. On boring summer days, when it was too hot to play outside, I would look at our book shelf and find an old tattered book and begin browse through it, only to find when I looked out the window the sun had set and that I had finished reading it in one sitting. My father, I think inculcated a deep love of reading in us without ever reading a single book to us.

So, when I see parents read to their young children with a missionary fervor, every night, I want to ask, do you do it as a chore? Something that “needs” to be done for your child’s development – whatever that might mean. Do you “run though” the books not taking time to talk about it with your child? Do you know if your child comprehends the story? Such reading is futile, I think.

Reading is more than decoding words, you know. It’s about nuances of words and their meaning. It’s about predicting how the sentence might end and then be pleasantly surprised when the author chooses to end it differently. It’s about learning how to guess a meaning of the word from the sentence that wraps it. It’s about cadence. It’s about how some sentences transform meanings of words. It’s about how some words become the soul of a sentence. Reading is much more than stringing words together. Knowing how to string words together will not make you a book lover. Knowing that rest of the stuff will.

I read to Chip, sometimes. Not on a regular basis. Some nights we read half a dozen books and then don’t read for a week. But he is surrounded by books and parents who love to read: albeit different things. Many nights, find, Chip and I reading. He, his own book and me, mine. His with colorful pictures and a sentence or two in big, bold letters on each page, mine covered in small print. Chip reads aloud – no, he can’t really read, but he knows the stories in those books and he tells it aloud to himself while adding detail that is only limited by his imagination. Every once in a while, he peers at my book and asks me what it is about. I tell him. He looks eagerly at the pages that lack color and pictures and I can see the fascination in his eyes. He spells out a few words and finds the pattern here and there on the page and is satisfied. He returns to his book and me to mine. Side by side. Both, book lovers, in their own way.

Edited: Trawl, not Troll, as pointed out by Sue :)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Joys of Motherhood

This has prolly been around the world several times over and then some and I am finally getting around to doing it. JLT and M4 tagged me to write 5 things I love about being a mom. This post is going to be a good reminder for me. When I am angry with Chip for behaving a certain way or not behaving a certain way, that yes, the joys of motherhood (and not to exclude the BigGeek, joys of parenthood) trump every other joy there is in this world. So here goes.

1. Watching a life evolve.
From finding their “fingers and toes” as babies to their speech to their attitudes - it’s a fantastic journey these little creatures take us on. You marvel at the miracle of the human body. Of what it is capable of doing and how it develops and changes. You are in presence of a miracle.

2. Watching yourself evolve.
On a different plane altogether. From being a confident, assured 20-something to being a not-so-self-assured 30-something. Being a mother (and a parent) is like doing the sarvang-asaan 24-7. No facet of your life remains untouched by your child and you are surprised that you ended up this way than what you thought you would. My child develops and shapes me, perhaps more than what I develop and shape him.

3. Finding joys in the little things.
Like the squirrel that runs up the tree. Or the happiness in finding a really, I mean really, big stick and being allowed to stash it under your bed. Or the little treasure of shells and stones.

4.Chip is the emotional barometer of our family.
It amazes me how early he could tune into my feelings. Ever so often he comes up to me and says “Smile. I hadn’t realized I frown that much. He says “Smile” an awful lot of times. So, in a very literal sense, my child has taught me to smile more.

5. Letting go.
No, this is not a joy, but an important lesson I am being taught every day. The importance of letting go. The importance of treating Chip as a separate person – with his own set of feelings and hopes and fears – very different from mine. Even if he sees me as his extension – you know – he has two eyes, two hands, two feet, one nose and one mother. Of not overwhelming him with my hopes and fears and aspirations. To allow him to be himself.

This has been doing the grand tour of the blogworld (mommy blog world at any rate). So, if you haven’t done this already, now’s your chance!