Happy Deepavali

A very belated happy Deepavali to all you friends out there. I hope all of you had a happy and safe Deepavali. It was on a weekend this year, which certainly was very helpful in making it a happy festival. As far as safe is concerned, we had no access to all those 100-walas and 1000-walas.. or for that matter to the bijli vedis, and hence was all very safe. Of course, we were’nt being very safe with our health. Like every other festival with the exception of Vaikunta Ekadesi, we ate an unimaginable amount of unhealthy food that I am pretty sure is the reason I feel heavier this week, and the same reason my daughter is sick with an upset stomach at home.

In preparation for Deepavali this year, I took the Friday off and spent most of the day putting my stove to work. My mother-in-law had already made a 5-cup cake and Manankombu @ Mul-murukku. On Friday, I started off making the badam cake using a recipe I got off the internet. I have to admit that it really was much easier than expected, and turned out very well. Right after, I attempted making the Kaajalu. My mother made it long ago, when we lived in Hyderabad, and we relished it a lot. Of course it appeared pretty complicated to make, and the end product looked very interesting. I asked my mother for the recipe and added a few things I picked up from the internet and the end product turned out really well.

We had bought our usual new clothes, sweater and jeans for me, t-shirt and jeans for my daughter and a shirt and trousers for my husband. I ended up wearing a silk saree though that my m-i-l got me for the Grihapravesam. It was late in the night before I was done cleaning up and setting everything to be ready for Deepavali the next day. My m-i-l made the Deepavali marundhu which a strong concotion of different herbs etc that are useful to act as an antidote for all the junk you consume during Deepavali. She also made the oil for the “yennai sasthram” – basically heated some Sesame Oil with an unbroken red chilli and anise seeds (omam). The night before Deepavali, the custom in my husband’s family is to make bajjis. Of course nobody wants to change such an interesting tradition, so bajji was consumed. That night, thanks to my co-sister V, we ended up putting on some mehendi and slept with our hands tied in plastic bags all night.

In spite of wanting to wake up early in the morning, it was 7 when I woke up with a jolt. My m-i-l did the “yennai sasthram” for all of us and we did our “ganga snanam” and wore our new clothes. That was followed by calls back and forth to India and other friends and relatives living in the US. It seems there wasn’t all that much of a fuss about Deepavali crackers this year. Kids these days think about pollution and their eco-footprints. We had our friends P, Fa and their daughter S over and ate a very heavy lunch. 

In the night, we had some sparklers saved from last year’s July 4 purchases. My daughter thoroughly enjoyed it. At the end of the long day, she told me she liked Deepavali – that made all the trouble so worthwhile!

And now for some pictures..

Navarathri 2009

One more Navarathri all done with and my first one with proper steps too! Yes, this time I bulldozed my husband into making the steps so that we didn’t have to rely on our assortment of tables, books and boxes.

So I started off searching for instructions online on how to make the steps. I know a lot of people have managed to buy the required stuff and somehow make steps that can be assembled and disassembled, but nobody unfortunately has put up proper instructions on how to do it.

So ladeej and gentleman who struggle every year with dabbas and such to make your golu steps..  idho choodungo.. the idiot’s guide to golu padikkatu..

Side view 1
Side view 1
Front View
Front View
Golu steps completed
Golu steps completed

Decide on the number of steps – Remember you cannot randomly change that once you buy this stuff.

  1. Go to the nearest Menards, Home Depot or Lowe’s and take yourself there in a mini-van or SUV.
  2. Ask for stair risers – you have different ones available depending on the number of steps you need. Those would make the 2 sides. Ours was wide enough to need a third one in the middle.
  3. For the steps themselves, you could buy stair stingers (which are expensive) or you could just buy similar planks in any other kind of cheaper wood. We ended up buying 2x4x8 planks for the steps.
  4. Your top step needs support – so buy it some legs – I am not sure about the dimensions but we picked some up from the clearance section and then after assembling the steps, measured and cut it to the right length.
  5. Also get some deck screws – they have many options for this, but the cheapest deck screw would do.
  6. Assemble as shown below – we screwed only every alternative step, the other just rested fine without any screws required.
  7. Unscrew to disassemble.

During my trip to India last December, I bought a whole bunch of new dolls for the golu. I added a Lakshmi Hayagreevar statue, a couple doing the Dandia, a set of musicians playing different instruments, a wedding set, and a set of fairies (Tinker bell and friends).

Golu 2009
Golu 2009

The placement of dolls was quite challenging. I am the kind of person, that likes things to be simple and clean. Once the five steps were built and the cloth wrapped on it, we unwrapped all the dolls – and I realized over the past few years when I had not done my golu shopping in India, I had accumulated quite a few boring and non-essential dolls. I decided I would only put up the ones that I could compartmentalize and organize with my nice ones. I am not at all a random person – and I would never be able to get myself to put a bunch of unrelated dolls together. So, my logic was let’s put all the Gods together (like they are going to give each other company or something) on the two steps, and then let’s put all the nice ones in the middle step and the miscellaneous ones in the 4th step. The last step was reserved for small items that need precision in placement and my daughter’s toys. We recently bought her a Tinker bell set of fairies and I decided to use those rather than the stuffed toys I had put up last year. For the Tinker Bell set, I had grandoise plans to repliacte Pixie Hollow, but somehow couldn’t find the time to get all of it done. We tried to grow some vegetation, but as usual we were too late to see any green before the golu started, so I had to make do with some artificial vegetation. Next year, I am definitely going to make something more creative, like a forest or a zoo or park or a carnival – we’ll see if I can keep my promise.

We also did celebarate Saraswati Pooja and Ayudha Pooja with full enthusiasm. Pictures below…

Saraswathi Pooja
Saraswathi Pooja
Ayudha Pooja
Ayudha Pooja
Belated Navarathri wishes everybody and looking forward to Deepavali now!

Pandigai 2009 – Round 1

Ok.. so the serious attempt I made at blogging a few months ago in April certainly became what can be at best termed a mega-flop. I seriously do intend to be here more often, but so many things have been happening, and kept me so busy that this blog had to go down closer to the bottom of my list of priorities. But today, since I am up early and my daughter isn’t, I figured I would put this off no further and get it done.

So how have things been in blogosphere? I have to admit, that I have barely even been reading comments these past few months, barely reading my favorites on your blogs, and almost never commented on anybody’s blog either. A lot of things happened.. we cleaned up, re-painted our old house, and then started showing it to prospective renters (which I admit is more stressful than being seen at ponnu-paarthal). We eventually found one and then moved to a home closer to where I work, and got about getting it furnished. So you can imagine, control freak that I am, how crazy things must have been.

Before we moved to our new home, we did have a very traditional grihapravesam this time round and I was very satisfied with how well it went. Right after, the season began – week after week of festivals – pullayar chathurthi co-inciding with avani avittam, followed by krishna jayanthi, followed by navarathri – to the point that I am now almost relieved that there is a weekend where I can laze around a bit and not feel on Monday like the weekend hasn’t yet begun. Also, this year since there are no planned India trips, and we rarely do long holidays, I decided I would use up all my vacation on and around festivals and prepare for them at leisure.

So, starting with Pillayar chathurthi – this was literally a week after we moved in but I wanted to do something and we did a basic pooja and offered sundal and modhakam (or sweet kozhakattai). It did turn out really well. We then went over to b-i-l’s house where m-i-l and f-i-l were also staying and did an elaborate celebration of both pillayar chathurthi as well as avani avittam. My co-sis V made a really beautiful pillayar with rice flour (since clay ganesha’s are not available for sale). 

Avani avittam and Pillayar Chathurthi were quickly followed by Krishna Jayanthi. M-i-l and F-i-l were with us for this – so it was all the more fun. M-i-l prepared Seedai, Vella Seedai, Appam and Sooyam. Once again ate a lot of food. We also dressed up my daughter as Krishnar this time. After all the build-up I gave her about wearing “Umaachi” dress, I had put on a bunch of jewellery and taken off her shirt. She was disappointed to say the least. The Krishnar kaals (footprints) were a delight to do this time round – because we had hardwood and stone all the way to the pooja room. I didn’t have to make Krishnar magically fly past carpet etc.. like I’ve had to in the past.

That ended Round 1 and to spare you the effort of keeping your attention on this post any longer.. Navarathri will have to be a separate post.. coming up soon.. hopefully.

Happy Pongal!

Happy Pongal everybody! I had a fairly satisfying Pongal this year. For one, I steered clear of making any kind of Pongal for almost 2 weeks before the festival, just so I would not get lazy and bored of eating Pongal. My husband is still in India, so this year it was just my daughter and me.
Bhogi was a working day, yet in the evening, I decided to treat my daughter (and myself) to some Poli. I made about 6 or 7 polis in all, and we ate most of it without too much trouble.
On Pongal day, it was snowing outside so much that I decided to work from home. I put on her new cotton embroidered pavadai and boy! was she excited! Managed to find at least one “Ponga paanai” shaped vessel in which I boiled milk while my daughter made the ceremonial Pongal “a” Pongal (she somehow couldn’t get pongal o pongal) noises. Soon after, we had some delicious Ven Pongal and Chakkarai pongal ready to be offered to God and then eaten.
Yesterday morning, was the coldest day I’ve ever seen in my whole life. Yet, I decided we would do a quick Kanu tradition in the garage (like last year). So, it was Kanu on aluminium foil. We were both fully dressed in boots, sweater, jacket, hat and gloves. Quickly tossed all the colored rice balls I had made yesterday night, and we were good to go. My daughter asked me, if these were for the crows, where the rice for the pigeons were, to which I replied, the crows would take the food to the pigeons.

So Happy Pongal to all of you. Hope all of you got your share of Chakkarai pongal!

India trip

Happy New Year everybody! I promise to improve the quality and quantity of posts that I make this year.

Last year ended with a visit back home to India, where needless to say I had a ton of fun, did loads of shopping and ate an unimaginable quantity of yummy food thus adding to my already heavy weight.

If I started writing about all the stuff I did, I could go on and on and so to spare everyone the misery of a mile-long post, I will aim to make is short and sweet thus:

  • Visited Bangalore, Chennai and Ahmedabad (first time).
  • Took a few minutes to get accustomed to the number of people who looked like me once I got off at the Bengaluru international airport.
  • Weather was just perfect!
  • Traffic in Bangalore was horrible horrible and more horrible!
  • Cornered several times by my non-existent Kannada skills.
  • Enjoyed pre-wedding get-togethers with my cousins and wedding celebrations of my cousin to the maximum possible extent.
  • Loved mehendi, pattu podavais, malli poo and dressing up my daughter for all three sessions.
  • Watched (and almost relished, I dare say) my husband get a typical madras bashai dose from a taxi driver as he tried his hand driving in nungambakkam after 4 years.
  • My daughter loved the attention from the thathas, patis, kollu thatha-patis and innumerable uncles, aunts and cousins.
  • Suprised that I enjoyed my Saravana stores shopping experience – I had a personal shopper and all that. Apparently there is a group of folks there who watch out for NRIs and the like and assign shopping assistants. Wondered how they identified me as an NRI when I was in a salwar and had malli poo in my hair. May be too much English to a 3 year old.
  • Scared by the utter lack of time to enjoy life by my IT counterparts in India.
  • Bought a small baby oil bottle, one mysore sandal soap and a bottle of shringar “chaandhu” at a Naadar kadai for Rs.97 and felt stupid for pulling out Rs.50 note.
  • Celebrated a very traditional Karthikai at my in-laws in Madisar and everything. Ate a lot of kadalai urundais – don’t really care for the pori urundais.
  • Went bonkers shopping for handicrafts in Ahmedabad.
  • Ahmedabad is a nice city – no crowds, bearable traffic and easy parking.
  • Shamelessly bought a lovely hand-embroidered diwan set for Rs. 500, then bought cushions, and now hunting for a diwan on the Ikea website. All “thalai keezhai”.. ya I know.
  • Provided daily menus (not healthy ones, only tasty ones) and made my mother dish out everything I wanted to eat, thus adding several pounds 😦
  • Changed an unbearable number of yucky diapers because my daughter got a Rotavirus infection.
  • Found a new hobby – playdough!
  • Made sure I packed all 4 bags to the maximum possible extent and now struggling with trying to find a place for everything I bought.
  • Bid reluctant bye-byes to everyone back home.
  • Successfully answered the question – “I see a lot of H1Bs adjusting their status to Green card. Why do you think they do that?” asked by the immigration officer by saying “Everyone has their own reasons!”
  • Happy to be back home and still have a job!
  • Damn it’s cold!

Here are a few pics..

Update:

And how did I forget this??  I spoke to Maami quite a few times and felt like I had known her all my life!

Deepavali – better late than never!

Happy Deepavali everyone. I know it’s really late, all of you feel like deepavali was long ago, like me you’ve finished consuming all the sweets and bakshanams that were made or bought, but hey.. I am still earlier than the fireworks at the local temple.

Unlike last year, when the TV had been screaming Deepavali for more than a month, and made me feel like an unfortunate soul – this year the lack of publicity on TV and elsewhere made me feel a lot less dejected.

We bought our new clothes – all three of us bought pants and shirts. The weekend just ahead of Deepavali was really convenient because I could make some bakshanams without having to lose too much sleep.

Our new Friday ritual has been having dinner at New Chola Indian restaurant not far away from here. They are the only guys in the neighbourhood that consider South Indian cuisine part of Indian cuisine. Their buffet has two sweets, and one of them is invariably either Gaajar halwa or Beetroot halwa. So, I was inspired to try the same. So, I called amma and asked her, and she said – “romba simple!”. I should have known that if she said that, I should probably re-think my plan after the year before last year’s Coconut burfi fiasco. But anyway she asked me to grate the carrot and boil it in milk “onga oor lae thaan full fat milk kadaekumae.. adhula panina innum easy” she said. Take just enough milk to cover the carrots she said. I did all of that, and somehow expected that when I opened the cooker, I would see something quite close to halwa and that all I needed to do was toss it around a bit with ghee to have some yummy halwa. But duh! When I opened the cooker, I saw what was pretty much carrot kheer. So, my plan of starting at 9 and finishing at 10 vanished in thin air. For the next four hours, I watched “The rise of the Taj” on TV (review of that cannot be public please) while my kheer became halwa. Of course it tasted great, what with the loss of sleep and all that. The next day I started early. I made Jilebis with the Swad Jilebi mix that was available at the local Indian store. It was pretty good when fresh. Later it became kind of soggy. I however felt that it was lacking that sour taste that jilebis usually have. I then made the usual Thenkuzhal and Ribbon Pakoda.

Bakshanam
Bakshanam

On the morning of Deepavali, we managed to wake up in time, did our ‘yennai sasthram’, ‘ganga snanam’, wore our new clothes and left for work. My daughter was a darl all through it. The plan was to have dinner with P, Fa and S that night and then light up some sparklers, but boy was it cold, we decided it was not a good idea to stand out in the cold for sparklers. We had a heavy dinner, slept late and got to work late the next day. We did eventually fire up some sparklers the next day when it was a lot less colder.

 

Nalangu
Nalangu
Sparklers
Sparklers

In all Deepavali was good. I hope my daughter has some recollection of what she did this year, so that next year I can see her get excited a month ahead. Long shot may be.

  This year Deepavali is specially important. There are a lot of stories associated with it, but to me it always has been the time to celebrate. As a child I looked forward to the new clothes, the fireworks, the bakshanams, the holiday. As an NRI maami, I look forward to the new clothes, the bakshanams, the excitement on my daughter’s face when she holds the sparklers, and the welcome distraction it offers from the fact that winter is slipping in silently and coldly. This year, with the economy drawing to a virtual halt, there are people Indians and otherwise who are probably facing the brunt of a lost job or foreclosed home. I hope Deepavali for them brought back memories of happiness and cheer and filled them with the hope that things will be good again.

Hope you all had a happy Deepavali.

Navarathri 2008

For all of you folks who have been asking me for the past week or so about my Navarathri Kolu – Thank you for the encouragement.

This year my Kolu grew by 2 steps, we had 5 steps in all. One was allocated to my daughter for her to keep her toys. That way she got a little involved in it, and did’nt really care about interfering with the remaining 4 steps that had the official kolu.

I didn’t send an evite this time. Instead I sent this word document as an attachment.

Invitation
Invitation

Then we got down to building the steps. We used up our dining table, coffee table, and every book of reasonable size to build it. It is interesting to see how creative we get when we are forced to make 5 steps out of nothing. I also used up one saree and four of my f-i-l’s dhothis. In hindsight, I would have ironed them before putting them on. Step 1 was Dasavatharam, with a MahaVishu in between. The Mahavishnu was our new addition of the year, bought at the Aurora temple for $40. Step 2 was an assortment of all Gods that I had. Step 3 was miscellaneous dolls + my african animals. I tried to grow some vegetation for them, but I guess I overestimated the rate at which they actually sprout. So, they had to make do without any. Step 4 was Winter. I had a christmas town, and an assortment of snowglobes and other winter specific stuff. Step 5 was my daughter’s and she had a bunch of stuffed toys on them.

Kolu
Kolu

Yesterday, we had about 35 people over for Kolu (the 10 others either dropped out or re-scheduled). In usual Indian style, almost everyone who was supposed to come between 4 and 8 arrived at 7:30 p.m. So, the house was full with no place to even sit down for some.

I made the usual Channa sundal and Somasi (which is a semi-circular samosa) served with Ketchup. I decided not to spend too much time and effort on Gulab Jamun – instead I took Maami‘s idea and made Badam milk. All of them turned out very well. The Somasis were worth the effort because everyone was very appreciative of it.

Navarathri Snacks
Navarathri Snacks

Goody bags consisted of a jewellery box, bangalore style decorative manjal kumkumam, paaku and an apple. No vethalai here – way too expensive and no use.

Goody Bags
Goody Bags

In all, though Navarathri is not yet done, for all practical purposes it is, because almost everyone who was supposed to visit has already visited. In the process, I discovered the joy of being a mother of a daughter. For the first time, yesterday she was so excited about getting dressed up. She wore her pattu pavadai and all her jewellery and called it her “ballerina” dress, and was showing it off to everyone. That was fun. Made me wonder for the nth time, how boring it must be to have a son.

So to all you folks out there – Happy Navarathri, Dussera and Durga Puja!