Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gecko... Gecko... Gecko

I really like the little geckos who live around our house. There are a few who live right by the lights in the porch, they love when the lights are on and they can hunt the bugs who flock around. And we always seem to have a few small ones zooming around inside the house. Some people don't like them, but we love friendly creatures who eat bugs. The kids are always happy when one is in their bedrooms.

I was talking to Dara about them a couple of days ago, and was surprised that she insisted gecko doesn't start with a G - she thought it started with an E, and was insistent that it sounds like "echo". Fair enough, I thought. The next day I mentioned this to Emma - she said "Aha, that explains it!" Emma and Dara had been reading a story book "Little Beaver and the Echo" and Dara had asked why there were no pictures of the echo. Emma told her that you can't actually see echos, but Dara was convinced that she could see the echos on the front of our house. I imagine it must have been a very confusing conversation.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Our sea shipment arrived yesterday! When we left Minneapolis the stuff we were going to ship was split into two shipments (plus whatever we could take on the plane) - one 1000 pound shipment travelling by air, and one large container which went by sea. The air shipment arrived on the same day that we got into the house, and as I said the sea shipment just arrived, right on the two month anniversary of our arrival in India.

There are a lot of things we put in each shipment which we had been told is hard to find here, but have actually not been so difficult. Things in this category include kids' art supplies, peanut butter, clothes (we have waaaay too many clothes) and boxed mac and cheese. On the other hand there are a few things we were surprised that we couldn't find - non-spray deodorant and the Gillette razors I use, plus fitted bedsheets - so we've been relying on my work friends who are travelling back and forth to bring these essentials for us. But on the whole it feels like we balanced things pretty well - we have the right amount of furniture, we have lots of kitchen and bathroom paper towels, and we now have a barbecue! Stella, our cook, was really excited to see the new kitchen gadgets and things, and we're hoping Suma isn't too overwhelmed with the extra cleaning and dusting she'll have to do with the extra furniture. We had two beds in the shipment - Emma's and mine, and Toby's. After two months of the kids sharing a room, Toby was able to sleep in his own bed in his own room last night, and I think both he and Dara were fine with that. Emma and I were very happy to sleep on a decent mattress at last - Indian mattresses tend to be very firm indeed, so having a nice plush American mattress to sink into was wonderful.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


We feel like partying a bit this weekend. On Friday we found out that our sea shipment will be delivered to our house on Monday morning, and we are very excited about having more of our things here, like our own bed, storage, and other comforts. Although we're a bit nervous that we have far too much stuff, and secretly proud that we've lived with relatively minimal possessions for the last couple of months.

Secondly, Emma and I have been invited to a party at our neighbors' house tonight - a really nice Indian couple. There are quite a few Indian families in our street who have lived here for many years, so we're quite flattered to be invited to a "local" gathering. Only problems: we're not sure what the dress code is, or whether it's dinner or just drinks. Suma is going to babysit for the first time, which hopefully will go OK.

Thirdly it was Dara's birthday party today. She turned four on Monday, and one of her favorite presents is the Indian flower bowl her relations got her. Lots of hotels and homes get big brass bowls to fill with water and float flowers in, so we got a mini one for her:

The stand is three elephants - it's a bit Discworld:

She has been excited for her birthday, and specifically her party, for ages, and we're pleased that she already has enough good friends to invite. Emma was preparing for the party since before we left Minneapolis, and had brought lots of goods including little toys for party bags, and candles for a cake. Dara had written the invitations and hand made the party bags, and she helped to make the chocolate and banana cake, which turned out delicious:

Dara's cake, having been given the glam treatment by Suma
She was at her friend Tilly's house earlier in the afternoon, and put on a little eyeshadow:

Even so, it's very hard to wait for friends to arrive for a party:

Once the friends arrived, they did some coloring on the upstairs balcony, then came downstairs for a fairy hunt - we had hidden some of Dara's Disney fairies in the garden. It was a beautiful day:

They did some other crafts, had snacks, got balloons and did some dancing to Abba and Disney songs, and then it was time to sing Happy Birthday:

A great day to be four.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Adventures in Homemaking 4

Time for a household update.

It has been an interesting couple of weeks on the home front. Stella, our cook, is here part time and she, and Suma have been gently acknowledging the hierarchy... Stella is older, and the cook, therefore officially #1, Suma, I think feels that as she was in the house first and was doing some cooking that she should not be nudged down. I'm keeping clear, and enjoying it. For my part, Stella's experience shows: she comes on time, does the work, shows initiative and gently guides Suma.

This week I had to have a bit of a chat about what it takes to be my maid. I was starting to feel like every day Suma would come and tell me what work she would do tomorrow... there was always some reason why it would not get done. We have heard from many of our Indian friends that you have to get over being nice and understanding and just play the heavy a little: one woman told me that after years of being away she found it so hard that she ended up getting rid of a staff team because they had taken over and she had lost control. The trick seems to be that you have to accept that your maid expects to be treated a certain way, and if you don't, then it gets confusing for her. So... I asked Suma if she wanted to work in my house - was the work too hard, is the house too big? She got a little upset at the thought  would get someone new, but I told her that I pay her to do the work, not tell me she will, and that if she does not want this job I will find someone who does. That did the trick. I also told her to focus on cleaning and laundry and that Stella would take over the lunches. This did not go down well, until I asked her to babysit this Saturday. Madam giveth and taketh away. The result is that I have seen a huge improvement in the last couple of days. I had been concerned that when our shipment finally comes, the house would be too much for her, but I hope she'll be fine.

Stella is interesting. She clearly knows her way around a kitchen - as I type I can smell the cinnamon rolls for tomorrow's breakfast. That said, I'm asking her to do a few things she has not done before. On Wednesday we had the pleasure of entertaining a couple who are about to relocate here, and Stella made a great effort at a chicken and chorizo paella. Initially she had some concerns about mixing the chicken with pork, but I told her it would be delicious, and indeed it was, if a little off on the rice to non-rice ratio. Yesterday afternoon, I taught her to make gnocchi. There is only so much rice and bread a family can eat in a week. We had been eating so well that I abandoned the plan for her to follow a recipe for bell pepper and pork with gnocchi and instead asked her to make a simple sauce using up some bacon, veggies and tomato. As we were discussing the meal I noticed her say, and I make a salad madam. I did not follow this comment up as I should have. When it came time to reheat the meal I noticed that my sauce was indeed a salad... nothing was cooked... a raw bacon salad. I managed to get it all cooked, but I think something was lost in the texture.

My turn in the kitchen later when I attempt to make a cake with local ingredients. Dara has requested a chocolate banana cake with chocolate frosting in the shape of a 4 for her party tomorrow. Wish me luck. I have found what I hope to be a fairly foolproof recipe and only time will tell. I guess the worst that happens is we get Baskin Robbins to deliver ice cream and serve cake crumb and ice cream sundaes with candles.

... and I managed a fantastic fail today completely unrelated to the house team. I went up to our balcony to sit with a book. I noticed that the anti-mosquito candle we keep out there was filled with water, I assumed from the rain. Hmm, apparently the lid does not work so well. I cursed the fact that the expensive candle had dissolved in said water and was now much smaller. As I dutifully poured the water into a plant pot I watched it recongeal and now there is a wax coating on the soil. Note to self, wax melts in hot weather...

Monday, September 19, 2011


I'm here in India because I work for Target (as a reminder, this is a purely personal blog, none of the opinions here are those of my employer...) and it's a great company to work for. However I hadn't realized how much I appreciate our products (the stores) until now, when I have lost access to them.

I mentioned in my previous post the standard thing about Target, that no matter what you go to the store to buy, you always end up finding more cool stuff, so it's almost impossible to get out without spending under $100, but that in many mass merchandise stores or supermarkets here it's impossible to spend less than an hour. Not necessarily because it's fun to browse, but because the layout is so perplexing and the checkout process is mind-numbing. Target is incredibly focused on making the shopping experience pleasurable; that mentality hasn't quite made it here yet (although I think local stores are trying hard).

Our local big supermarket is HyperCity, which does a pretty good job on the whole. Their fresh produce and grocery selection is pretty good, but a lot of their household goods are very KMart-ish, or worse. They also have a weird way of putting things on the shelves so that there's never quite enough of what you're after so you spend ages trying to find the right thing. The image of the store to customers is different too - I think on the whole they try pretty hard, but when that extends to a team lead loudly berating his team in the middle of the store it's a tad misguided. And the checkouts are soooooooooo sllllllllooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwww. Not to mention the amost non-stop Kenny G-type music piped through most of the store, only drowned out in the electronics department where the TVs are all on FULL BLAST ALL THE TIME.

Speaking of canned music, most places seem to like to play Kenny G or some other bland version of muzak. Until you have the experience Toby and I had yesterday at Mega Mart (which we call Crap Mart). We were looking for new swimming shorts for Toby, as he'd left his swim bag at the bus stop last week. Crap Mart is kind of like the local version of Kohl's - tons of stuff, including American brands like Cherokee, but none of it necessarily what you're after, and the store is so crowded that it's not very inviting. Anyway, Toby found a small toy jet fighter which he wanted to use his allowance on, so he stood in the checkout line. It took forever to get to the front, and several times he asked me why it was taking so long, but while he was there the music switched abruptly from Kenny G to some rap I think even Jay-Z would blush if he were asked to sing it. Totally uncensored, blasting out to all the nice families in the store. It was something about the miseries of someone's ex forcing him to pay child support - please don't try to imagine how unpleasant it was.

To add further (less profane) insult to this, the stores all insist that you leave any bags outside in a storage locker, and the security guards insist on checking your receipt for purchases, even if you're an 8 year old boy who just spent Rs149 on a toy plane. Sheesh.

So anyway, I miss and hugely appreciate Target. Oh, and we didn't manage to get Toby swim shorts in Crap Mart, we had to go to a sports store, and the only thing they had in his size was small red shorts. He seems to like them, and apparently some of his friends at school wear them. I'm reasonably sure that I'd have gotten a rough time if I wore something similar for school swimming, but he seems a lot more confident.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Wild West Saloon

Our new cook, Stella, made a delicious daal (lentil) dish for tonight, and Emma told me via Facebook that I should pick up some beer on the way home to go with it. Smart plan. There's a small boozery in the local hypermarket, but I couldn't be bothered to have Mahesh park and all the hassle of getting through the market - in the same way that you can't go into a Target store without spending under $100, you can't go to Hypercity without spending less than an hour.

There aren't many nice liquor stores around, so I thought I'd be adventurous and go to one of the hole-in-the-wall places on the way home. These are generally hut-type open-fronted buildings with a wall of different kinds of booze. One is right next to a busy bus stop so I reckoned it would probably be OK. As soon as I got inside I was hit by a wall of booze fumes, and there were loads of guys standing around just chugging down hard liquor. It really felt kind of wild west - one old geezer was standing at the counter slapping down coins or bills while the guy behind the counter was refilling his glass, all this done wordlessly. It was also really dark, but strangely with the general air of lawlessness it didn't feel threatening or anything, kind of like the rest of India.

I was sure I wouldn't be intimidated - I did go to university in Glasgow after all - and I went confidently to the counter and sign languaged to get four cold Kingfisher beers. No probs - the guy understood just fine and it was pretty cheap. Then I had to walk a block through the crowds to get to where Mahesh had the car waiting, jumped in, got home, and had my hard-earned beer with the deliciously warm and spicy lentils.

That's Our Boy!

A couple of weeks ago, Toby started to go through a dip on the adjustment curve - school was hard, and he did not know enough boys to play with and he kept saying he didn't belong here. I diagnosed some of it as genuine sadness for the familiar, but also some as "3rd Grade is hard wherever you are, so do your homework...".

Well, what a difference. The school has a great system of sending a full week of assignments home for each subject on a Tuesday and then they have to hand in the following Monday. So, we sit down with Toby when it comes home, read it through and then come up with a plan for how he will get it all done as well as go to Tae Kwon Do and have time to play with friends. After a couple of weeks of this, Toby was recognised in class for consistently handing in all the assignments (including the optional 'risk-taker' work) on time and well done. He was asked to explain how he organized himself to the rest of the group.

I appreciate that we maybe do more hand-holding then some parents, but he is already starting to take more ownership of the work as he does it and so I feel like it is a justified approach for his personality. Andrew and I are first to admit that we're both... what's the positive term?.. not procrastinators... ah yes, deadline driven, and we're determined to help Toby overcome this genetic disorder.

Toby attends the Indus International School, Bangalore. Like his school in Minneapolis, they teach the International Baccalaureate curriculum and in terms of the work and culture we're amazed at how seamless the transition has been for him, and us. You can imagine the difference between a Minneapolis Public School where about 65% are free/reduced lunch eligible, and a fairly high end fee school for Indians and expats. In the classroom I'd say that the number of students who come from a non-English 1st language speaking home is about the same (if not higher in Minneapolis), and diversity of heritage is also very rich in both schools. The difference is in economic diversity and parent education levels.

This month, Indus received some great accolades from Education World when they shone in the League Tables for International Schools in India. They are only 10 years old, and while there have been International Schools here for a long time, the introduction of IB is recent. Indian Schools are very good at academics, but less focused on developing the whole child, which is one thing IB does so well, and why we have chosen that system for Toby & Dara. If you are interested, check out the article about Indus.

This year the whole school has a focus on goal setting - every class is incorporating it into student learning. Last week I had a short 3-way conference with Toby and his teachers to set goals. He had already identified what he was good at and how his strengths could help him get better in his areas for improvement. The teachers and I (on behalf of me and Andrew) all committed to an action to support his development, and he created goals and actions for himself based on his skills/needs and the support we had offered. This week he was told that his teachers were so impressed with his finished goals (I assume my work is also included here...) that he was going off to share them with the Head of Primary School. You should have seen him beaming as he told us, he looked so proud of himself. That meeting was yesterday, and the outcome was that she has taken a copy of his work to keep in her office, and she is hoping he can also go to share with the Head of School and the Founder, General Ray. No word on dates, but he must have done a good job presenting to her. [and how great is it that the culture at school supports this kind of thing as being valuable recognition?]

If you looked at the article, you'll see that one place Indus topped the chart was in Community Service. Among other things, they started a free IB school for kids in the local community and support it with volunteers and supplies. Today, Toby is representing 3rd Grade in assembly and giving a speech about the service project they have picked and doing 'the ask' for the rest of the school to support their stationery drive. He was chosen because he always gives interesting answers in class, and they thought he'd be able to use that skill in public speaking. Bless his heart, he has been practicing at home, and we told him that giving a speech is a lot like talking to his Grandparents: louder, clearer and slower than the way you speak to everyone else. He even wore long trousers today instead of shorts, and he did his hair. Can't wait to hear how it went.


One major difference in my life compared with being in Minneapolis is commuting. Back home we live close to the center of town, and it's only a half hour walk to the office, or about ten minutes in the car. Now we're living in Whitefield, an eastern suburb of Bangalore, and my drive to work is at least 45 minutes each way. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I work at our Embassy Golf Links office in central Bangalore:

View Larger Map

You can see on the map that we take a detour round the back of the old airport, which means going down village streets and seeing some interesting sights, more of which in a moment. Tuesdays and Thursdays I work at the Manyata Business Park in the north of the city:

View Larger Map

This can sometimes take a lot longer, but in theory because we're taking the Outer Ring Road it should be about as fast as going into town. The ORR is a work in progress - there are some parts which are almost like American freeways but there are a lot more under construction so you need to go along rough side streets. On a good day this trip also takes about 45 minutes but a few weeks ago we were driving during heavy rain, and because the road drainage isn't great it took two hours.

The driver we had for the first few weeks was a bit of a liability (very limited English, unreliable and not the smoothest driving ever) so we now have a great new driver, Mahesh, who is working out really well. He's great with the family, speaks pretty good English, has a good sense of humor, and keeps himself and the car very neat - the car gets washed every morning inside and out. We really trust him, which is hugely important when you have to rely on your driver so much.

Some of my friends use their commute time to work on their laptops, but I get too motion sick if I try that. So most of my drive I either listen to podcasts, or Mahesh and I listen to the local Bollywood/pop radio station or chat. Now we've been here a few weeks I'm pretty used to the drive - the bumpy roads, the stop-start of the traffic, and the sights. But I wanted to let you know some of the interesting things I've seen in the last few days.

First, the many, many stores along the side of every road. Loads of little corner shops, grocery stores and food stalls. Because the weather is so mild there is tons of living out on the street, so lots of food stalls are thronged with people having breakfast or dinner. There are meat stalls too, and because there isn't reliable refrigeration outside of supermarkets the meat is very fresh. Chickens are kept in cages, and when someone wants a chicken the hapless beast is grabbed by the neck and dispached. I've sometimes seen guys on scooters with a (feathered) chicken hanging by the feet from each handlebar, but yesterday I saw someone on his two-wheeler with a brace of what must have been 30 birds poking out from the sides of his bike.

Speaking of overloaded vehicles, you often see whole families on one bike. Dad is taking his wife, and two or three kids to work and school. The lady sits side-saddle, and there's a kid on the back, another between the parents, and one determined-faced toddler sitting at the front holding onto the handlebars. There are often trucks with multiple people on the back:

That kind of thing is happening right in the center of town. There's not much evidence of traffic police, although I did see someone get stopped for speeding yesterday (how you can find the space to go over the speed limit I'm not sure). It feels like I see a million traffic violations every day (lack of lane discipline being the main thing), and speeding is the least of the worries here.

I'm trying to get more photos for you from the car, but unfortunately the camera on my phone is really sucky. I'll try to remember to take the camera with me more often and will report back with more snaps.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A trip to the Doctor

Toby has had a rather annoying cough for about three weeks. Given the lack of other symptoms, we have been happily ignoring it and waiting for it to get better on its own. Yesterday, Andrew and Toby had plans with friends, but when they arrived it was all change. It turns out that this cough is going round the school and it can get worse. As they were heading out to the local clinic, I decided to take Toby along.

I registered there a few weeks ago, and so I was armed with all relevant materials and Toby's patient number. This is all remarkably easy - the clinic is a 24 hour multi-discipline place, and while you can make appointments, much of their business seems to be walk-ins. Registration consists of name, phone number, age (not date of birth, just age) and Rs100. When you contrast that with the internet guy requiring passport photos to get you on-line, you have one of those

So we get to the reception desk, tell them Toby has a cough and needs to see the Dr. Rs200 ($4-5) later we're in the line... along with at least three other Palm Meadows families... so, we wait; but actually not for long. I would say there were maybe 4 folks ahead of us and were in within the half hour. Dr. was very nice, asked what was up, had a look and a listen. Easy. Toby does indeed have 'the cough' and also very mild ear/throat infection - as he'd had no fever I had put his infrequently referenced ear ache down to cough strain. Guess we caught it early.

I took the opportunity to ask about medicine names for when I run out of the pediatric analgesics and liquid antihistamine I came over with, and then we were out. All done in about 5 minutes. None of this US Obsession with weight/blood pressure every time you go in. Off to the pharmacy for cough syrup (smells just like the stuff we had as kids) and amoxycillin. 5 day supply of each for about $6. They give you powdered antibiotics that you make up when you get home; saves on refrigeration, which makes a lot of sense. Plenty of room for user error if you're not paying attention, but I like to think Andrew and I are smarter than the average bear.

Some of the other kids had been 'prescribed' steam inhalation. The mothers were in front of me in the line, both Scandinavian. They had not come across karvol capsules before, so I explained what they were, and they seemed really happy. Must remember to go back and buy some myself - so much more soothing to me than Vicks.

Toby seems a lot perkier. I think it is partly knowing that there is actually something wrong, it always makes you feel better to know that someone believes you. Looking back, he really hadn't been himself the last few days... well I'm just back from picking Toby up at school... he ended up with the nurse to have a bit of a sleep and some pain meds. I think that by the time I had made the trek down there he was brighter, but he maybe needs more rest than we thought. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An afternoon with India Post

Not long after we moved, Dara selected her very own, 'India dress'. It was a foregone conclusion that we would be sending one to her friend Ella [with all the curly hair] as a 4th birthday gift. The dress and Dara made card have been in my possession for a couple of weeks and it was time to get them to the Post Office... belatedly...  Ella turned four this last week. I also needed to get some postcard/letter stamps.

Mahesh seemed confident that we could get a packing envelope at the Post Office so off we went. The closest office is just slightly out of walking range when you have school buses to meet, but it is not that far from Palm Meadows. We found a sandy verge to park the car and made our way along the street to a happily not too busy post office. There was an incredibly complex sign about which services were offered during which hours, but it seems that posting things is always just fine.

What they don't have is a kiosk or post shop where you can buy supplies. Mahesh showed them my parcel and asked if they had anything. No luck, so we trekked back to the main road and went envelope hunting in various shops. Success on about shop 3. I figured that seeing as I was there I would buy three. This is easier said than done...

quick sidenote: This is a cash society - and while you can find yourself ripping through RS500 notes some days (like today when I had to pay the gardener for the month), you also need a supply of small notes and coins for buying bits and bobs - nobody ever has change. I'm at a loss as to how we actually get these and hold onto enough. ATMs always give you RS500 unless you want them when they mysteriously kick out wads of RS100 instead.

... my three largish brown envelopes came to Rs12. I thought I'd try my luck and see if he could change a 100... nope. I saw Mahesh reaching for his pocket, so I quickly produced two 10s. Not bad, but then he wanted Rs2 - I'd have given it to him if I had it. I made a good faith effort at rummaging in my bag to find some, but no joy. I ended having to part with my only 5.

As we left the shop I noticed that the envelopes weren't gummed. Mahesh confirmed I don't need tape, the Post Office will have something... and they did! Glue. A solitary, ancient looking pot on the communal table. It had a lot in common with a heavily used, but never cleaned, candlestick. So I stuffed my envelope and then took the brush out of the glue pot - except it was not a brush, it was a stick. I guess each morning someone has the job of fetching the glue stick from the yard.

With Mahesh to speed things up we quickly got the attention of the counter guy. He looked at my parcel and announced it wouldn't make it to the US without tape. He was so kind, he gave me a customs form - actually two photocopies of a UK customs form, one to tape on the parcel and one to give him - no idea how they track the numbers on those, and he showed me a properly packaged item, so that I would know.

As we'd got as far with that as we could for today, I asked for my stamps. My counter guy doesn't do stamps, only parcels, so I had to get in line for the lady next to him. I told her I needed 20 stamps for  the UK and US (now, dear readers, before you all get excited that you are one of the 20, let me assure you these are as yet unassigned). We had some back and forth about postcards versus letters. I said I needed both. From what I can tell they are no different: Rs 25 per item. They are, of course, ungummed, and so it is a good job I packed my trusty 21st century glue stick.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Adventures in Homemaking 3


First, some updates.

Our permanent beds have arrived and been set up. This means that Dara & Toby are currently sharing what will be her bedroom while we wait for our sea shipment (and Toby's bed) to arrive. After much searching, Dara finally solved the bedding trauma by selecting some pink/purple/red floral sheets. I think they look a touch on the senior side, but she loves them. I toned them down with a tie-dyed green cotton quilt that is inoffensive and soft enough that it will have many uses in the future. I had to go to two different locations to get two, but that's all done now. We got her fairy decals up on the wall and she is very happy with the way her room is coming together.

... and just because we never did post a photo of Toby's...

The kids share the ground level bathroom. Before we left Minneapolis, Toby got to choose the theme for fixtures. He went with fish/underwater. I had no idea what colours it would need to mix with, but the bathroom here has a hint of orange which goes quite well.

Things are progressing with Suma, although she got laid off from one of her jobs this week. I feel bad, as I know the family, and I'm wondering what I'm missing if they were unhappy with her cleaning... still, as long as she is doing what I need her to do, and she appears to be, then all is well. I think she wants to switch her hours here to be a little earlier as she'd like to pick up another job after she is done here. I think she was looking for permission to do that - I told her that as long as the work here was complete and a high standard, then I was happy for her to find another job also. It might put me in the market for some afternoon cover/childcare, but we'll see.

As for other house staff, I had my first day out with Mahesh yesterday. He was under instruction from Andrew to come with me to the store when I went to get Dara's quilt, and then help me out looking for a bookcase for Dara's room. OK There is a reason that IKEA's Billy Bookcase is ubiquitous. It is a great bookcase. Simple, cheap and in every size you could ever need. Well, Toby's Billy is on its way here. Dara never had one, just a very cheap white one covered in Toby's old stickers and we decided to leave it behind. What I needed was a bookcase to double as a bedside table between the twin beds in Dara's room. Did not care if it matched, it just needed to be nightlight/CD player height and have space for books - and be affordable. I had  no luck in the department store kind of places and Mahesh took me to what appeared to be 'furniture shop alley'. Lots of shoe cupboards and computer desks, but no basic bookcases, until!!! one. I snapped it up and got it home. It is too wide to be ideal for the spot, but it will be great either elsewhere in her room or on the upper balcony to hold her art supplies.
Every morning I wake up to the sound of our (as yet to be named) gardener sweeping the garden. He came with the house, and as we have no issues with the garden, we see no reason to stop him showing up. Apparently some day his boss will show up and ask for payment. I like that he comes early, there is something very soothing about the way he tackles his work. That said, when the tidying is done early, there is too much time for the garden to get messed up by nightfall. At the Palm Meadows Club the ladies spend all day quietly sweeping the grass and picking rocks out the flower beds.
In the last week some other folks have moved in to our house. Cockroaches. They are most unwelcome, but a fact of living in Bangalore. Local wisdom is see one, get the place treated. We got some home treatment, and seemed to have beaten them, especially the ones in our bathroom, but in the last three days the kitchen has been worse, and today I caught 5 of the little monsters in the dining room unit. Rentokil came to take a look yesterday, and the guy arrived at 9:40 today, not bad when he said 10. Here he is treating the outside.

Inside, I had to move everything out of the kitchen, and so last night I put it in the dining room unit... which after my find this morning, was no longer suitable as it too had to be treated. So, here is my dining room.

With any luck, the spraying, along with a gel treatment set for next Monday will help stop them spreading. I never thought I'd look forward to seeing this in the morning, but there you go.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Custard Apples

We have a few fruit trees in our back garden - papaya, pomegranate and custard apple. Most of us have heard of the first two, or have seen them in stores in America or the UK, but I'm not sure if I'd even heard of custard apple before I came here.

Looking out to the back garden
For the Ganesha festival on Thursday our maid, Suma, bought loads of fruit - bananas, grapes, apples, pomegranate and some custard apples (even though I'd picked one of each of the latter two from the garden) to put in the shrine for Ganesha - apparently he loves fruit and sweets. After a day you can take the fruits away from the shrine to eat them. Suma peeled and prepared the pomegranate for us, but we were left with four custard apples.

Fruit on the custard apple tree
I'd never tried one before and had no idea how to tell if they were ripe. The ones on the tree are quite large and firm (although not as large as a pinks mammoth variety which can apparently reach 3kg); the ones from the store were smaller but really soft. However as soon as I squeezed one of these it popped in half, revealing lovely sweet-smelling flesh:

Opened custard apple
To eat it you scoop out the flesh, pop the spoonful in your mouth and separate out the hard seeds. The flavor is lovely - kind of sweet, and fragrant, and the texture is soft. It's a little bit lychee-ish, and very tasty. It went surprisingly well with a mug of tea:

Discarded seeds
Seems like it has quite a bit of good vitamin action along with all the sugars. Here are some custard apple recipes I might try in the future.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Tale of Two Festivals

Double celebrations this week with Eid and Ganesh Chaturthi falling on consecutive days. Kids and Andrew all at home and so we had a chance to unwind and continue to get to know the house. Our driver and maid are both Hindu and so we were full service on Wednesday, but gave them Thursday off.

There aren't many important religious celebrations where those from outside the faith are actively welcome to join in, but Ganesh Chaturthi is one of them - as befits a happy looking God, Ganesha is apparently thrilled that you want him in your house and to be part of his birthday party. After some informal chat with our relocation consultant and dusting off knowledge from career number 1, I was determined that the Mogendorffs would add their voices to the birthday offerings and prayers - Malini called them wishes.

The children started early on Wednesday by singing the Happy Birthday song for Ganesha at breakfast. I had to burst their bubble by reminding them that Thursday was Ganesha, Wednesday was Eid. Given that Eid is, and should be, reserved for those who actually did fast during Ramadan, we spent the day shopping and enjoying bacon sandwiches for supper...

The last leg of our shopping was to ask Mahesh, our driver, to help us locate a Ganesha statue for the house. You can buy ornamental ones everywhere, but for the festival you need a pottery one as they need to be submerged and dissolved at the end. He took us to a roadside stall and came to help us pick one out (and not get overcharged). We went on the small end of the spectrum for two reasons: not to be ostentatious, and more practically, to fit in our bucket for dissolving. I have not seen a sign saying that Palm Meadows residents are all going for a mass statue dunking in the pool so we'll assume that is not OK. I suspect most locals will go to the lake. Of course, Dara needed her own Ganesha. He is shiny and happy and very pink, what is not to like? He will not get dissolved.

Our big Ganesha

Dara's pink mini-Ganesha

When we arrived home our maid, Suma, was still here. She greeted us and Ganesha very warmly. Then, I got in trouble again as I went to put him in the Shrine. She had not cleaned it, and he couldn't possibly go in. We had given her the day off today, but she insisted that as she was working next door in the morning, she would come, clean the shrine and then help us do pooja properly; and she did.

Our pooja room/shrine is in the kitchen

Freshly cleaned pooja room

We had most of what we needed, flowers, fruit, candy, incense - just not enough, and while I suspect Ganesha would be OK with us just doing our best, Suma got us right with some fairy lights, camphor, nuts, oil lamps and dye. Dara wore her best new dress and I donned my new silk khurti for the ceremony.

Dara's first ever bindi

Be-bindi'd kids

Lots of fruits for Ganesha

Untangling the purple string lights

The children worked with Suma to arrange everything. I got to light the lamps and incense and then she led us through the Sanskrit invocation before we censed the offerings and ourselves. The final part was individual prayer. Then you get to eat the candy, and you're done.

Andrew really likes that it all takes place at home - family oriented in your place. The children loved that we set stuff on fire. Dara liked helping to set things out, and Toby liked the chanting in Sanskrit. I was happy that we all did it together and took the time to do it right - other then substituting Bounty Bars for actual coconut...

Finally a run

So far here I've done very little physical activity. Maybe a little swimming at the Palm Meadows club, lots of packing and unpacking, and schlepping the kids around. But when you are driven from your front door to the front door of your office, you're not really exerting yourself. Plus with the food being so good, and the fact that I never have to drive home from a bar or restaurant I've been eating and drinking tons, and packing on the pounds. Clearly this situation is not sustainable.
So this morning I got myself together to have my first run round Palm Meadows (Here's the map at Garmin Connect). It's not a huge place but I did a decent couple of miles, and should be able to stretch it to further in the future. It's nowhere near as nice as running round the lakes in Minneapolis, but it is a beautiful community, and the roads are safe for running. Sadly I'm so out of shape that even two miles was a lot of work (this time last year I was doing 10-12 miles no problem) but you have to start somewhere.

I have the day off work today for the Ganesha Chaturthi festival, so after the run and some breakfast Toby and I had time to play Frisbee for a while on the front lawn and now I'm helping him with some homework. Our maid, Suma, came over this morning to clean out the puja room in the kitchen, because it was "too dirty and Ganesha is a very clean god" (our driver helped us get a Ganesha statue from a roadside stall yesterday so that we could do a little festival in the house). After cleaning, Suma asked where our fruits were for Ganesha - apparently we don't have enough fruits for offerings, or chalk for bindis, so she's nipped out to the store to get supplies so that we can do it all correctly.