Thursday, December 24, 2009
I think I started to panic (a little) in November when it seemed too warm to be almost Christmas. Then there was the tree situation and so few decorations. No homes lit up with lights and Christmas displays. No stockings, no turkey, no...you get the point!
On December 1st I brought out a few Christmas things I'd packed from home: our special advent calendar, Christmas piano music and three Christmas books (Rudolph, The Christmas Story, Twas the Night Before Christmas). The kids were ecstatic. Soon the advent calendar was up and the first little box opened. The sound of Christmas carols and singing - tradition.
I bought the Christmas tree and put the lights on. Some Danish friends showed Alanna how to make some pretty decorations. She set to work and filled the tree. Still a bit too much space between the branches so we bought white feather boas to wrap around it to look like snow. It's reminds me of a "Grinch" Christmas tree - full of fun and color!
I thought it was the turkey that made Christmas and I've done my research. We went out for American Thanksgiving to the Taj Vivante - it was horrible. Then I went out for the OWC Christmas lunch at the Taj Residency - it was disappointing. Next Michael and I went to a wine dinner at the Ista. The company is always good at these events but the turkey - two thumbs down - no stuffing, no gravy!
So I've given up on the turkey...almost. Tonight, one more shot at Toscano's for their Christmas Eve dinner. But expectations have been lowered. On Christmas day I won't fight it, I'll try not to crave it - we will have steak!
So what is it really? There are things that we miss but we'll have them again soon enough. I think it is pretty obvious - we can't replace family, we'll miss them alot. But, we have the four of us and our own traditions. We'll go to mass tonight and try to remember the true meaning of Christmas. And we will enjoy the excitement waking up in the morning and hoping that Santa remembers us on the other side of the world.
We will enjoy our coffee in the warmth on the patio and be thankful for what we have.
Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night!
Sunday, December 20, 2009
So when Michael went to Boston one week and Singapore the next, there was one strange list of items to get. But success! He found the candy canes in Boston and smarties at the airport in London. In Singapore he picked up the white chocolate, brown sugar and mollases.
The kids finished school on Thursday and we started baking on Friday. I don't have my usual gingerbread recipe so I chose one off the internet. The dough turned out bland and crumbly so then I went to another recipe and added eggs, more butter and spices. Left it in the fridge to harden overnight.
I also didn't bring my cookie cutters so Craig made some paper cutouts of gingerbread men, a candy cane and a christmas tree. I roled out half the dough and tried cutting out some festive shapes. Far too time comsuming so switched to simple round cookie cutters.
The cookies came out of my "easy bake oven" looking sad and bland. Added more spices to the rest of the dough and continued on, rather frustrated. Meanwhile Alanna made the shortbread which turned out pretty good. Then we made the candy which you can't really go wrong with unless you burn the chocolate while trying to melt it, "Mom is it supposed to turn brown?" Luckily we had enough chocolate to make a second batch.
We figured we could salvage the gingerbread cookies by decorating them with lots of icing and smarties. The icing was pretty liquidy even after all the icing sugar was used up. So I just kind of drizzled it over the cookies and Alanna applied the smarties. It looked like a couple of three years olds had made the cookies.
I got the kitchen cleaned up just in time as we were having two couples and their children over for dinner. Even though I wasn't thrilled with how the baking turned out I served them anyway. The candy was a hit - neither the Danes, nor the Americans had tried that before. And to my surprise none of them new what smarties were. Apparently in the States, smarties are sour candies. Everyone liked the shortbread (Mom's recipe) and in fact, everything was eaten.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
To have a banana tree outside ones bedroom window is an extraordinary thing...for a Canadian. Each time I walk by the window or sit on the patio I admire the banana tree with its tall stalk and long, bright green leaves.
I often think about the many uses for the banana leaves. The small ones make great placemats or even plates. The large ones can take the place of a tablecloth. During monsoon a giant leaf can substitute for an umbrella in a pinch. The leaves are abundant and the Indian people customarily use banana leaves to decorate their homes, temples and vehicles during festivals and ceremonies.
One day, as I marvelled at my tree, I noticed a strange thing. A large alien mass drooped down from one of the leaves. I jumped out of my chair and ran over to see what it was. A purple pod had appeared and behind it – several miniature bananas.
I took pictures every few days as if it some miracle had happened. A banana tree that actually produces bananas! But then I got to thinking about the tree and after a bit of research discovered some curious information. The most curious of all is that the banana tree is not a tree at all. It is a perennial herb! A tree has woody tissue, whereas the banana stalk is made up of tightly wrapped leaves.
The banana stem itself, grows underground, horizontally providing many shoots. The true stem shoots up through the wrapped leaves. The pod appears with tiny flowers behind it, and they quickly open into rows and rows of bananas.
No wonder the Indian people wrap food in a banana leaf. The aromatic leaves of the herb add to the flavour of many dishes. Fish, chicken, vegetables and even curries can be steamed, baked or grilled in a leaf. Food cooked and served in a banana leaf is not only convenient (less dishes to wash), but smells and looks exotic.
In the Hindu culture the banana plant (banana herb just doesn’t sound right) is a symbol of fertility and prosperity, due to its continuous reproduction. The leaves and bananas are left on doorsteps of houses where marriages are taking place.
Of course, bananas are full of nutritional value, being high in potassium, iron, carbohydrates and vitamins. They give us energy, great for eating right before exercising or playing a sport. They make us more alert for school or work, and fill us up, so we are less likely to crave unhealthy snacks.
As well, the high potassium, low sodium combination of the banana helps reduce blood pressure and cut the risk of strokes. It has an antacid effect and is beneficial in reducing heartburn and protecting against and treating stomach ulcers.
Nowadays, when I pass by my banana plant, I see the fruit ripening before my eyes. I think about all the ways to eat those tasty bananas. Simply peel and eat, as the monkeys do; that’s the healthy and easy way. I am looking forward to banana smoothies, banana pancakes, and banana bread. But, top of my list is banana flambé with coconut ice cream - chocolate sauce optional, of course!
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Click here for the most recent post Nrityagram Dance Village
Two weeks ago we were spell bound by their dance performance in Bangalore. This weekend we took a day trip to their village to watch them practice and see where they live. The Nrityagram village is two hours from Whitefield, less-so from west Bangalore.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Click here for the most recent post Christmas Decorations
Went shopping for Christmas decorations today. Heard through the OWC grapevine that Safina Plaza, near Commercial Street, is the place to go. Apparently we were too early - "next month." We found one shop selling a few Kashmir baubles, bells and balls to hang from the tree.
Monday, November 23, 2009
A good friend of mine posted these lyrics on Facebook:
"There are some things in this world that you just can't change. There are some things that you don't see until it's to late."
A couple minutes later Michael sent me a link "Mia Farrow inspires and moves 16,000 youth in Vancouver's GM Place."
When you move to a country like India you might think that you are going to show people "the right way" to do things. When you get here you realize there are things you just can't change.
When you live far away from human suffering - the holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, the slums of India - you may think you can't change it or you may not see it until it is too late.
Mia Farrow, the Dalai Lama and many others, spoke to 16,000 youth for WE day in Vancouver, Canada, organized by Free the Children. Free The Children "empowers children in North America to take action to improve the lives of fellow children overseas."
Can we make a change? Of course we can, we know we can. We just have to make an effort. To quote Mia: "The world is a dangerous place, not only because of those who would do evil things, but because of those who look on and do nothing. I think our own feelings of helplessness are our own worst enemy. We are not helpless."
I love her analogy of the "ripple within us...you (the audience)became a wave...keep shouting and this mighty wave will become the tide that can shape the course of history."
Craig Kielburger started Free the Children when he was 12 years old. I think at 12 one does not feel helpless, they feel like they can do anything. That is why his organization targets children - educating children to help other children - to change the world. At 12 he felt a ripple. Today children around the world benefit from the wave.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
It's hard to believe we've been here five months. I think I am actually starting to feel settled. We had a good period lately. The electricity is working - we have to remember that 40% of the people in India do not even have electricity and those that do, experience major outages. We are lucky that our backup system kicks in almost immediately when there is an outage.
We switched from cable to satellite and now when I turn the tv on, it actually works and there is a clear picture. The internet works. The fridge and dishwasher have both been serviced since we've been here and they work now. In other words I have not had to sit around waiting for people to come and fix things or deliver things lately.
Someone said to me recently, "When people ask me what I'm doing in Bangalore, I say, 'I'm waiting!' "
How true! So much time in the first few months was spent waiting for the delivery of furniture or for people to fix things. The best thing I did was stop waiting. I would give them my cell number and say, "call me when you get to the house."
There are some things we've given up on. The bank, for instance is unbelievable. Michael opened up an account as soon as we got here. A guy came to his office and had him sign a bunch of forms. That night Michael got a text saying the manager rejected his signature because they didn't match - even though someone from the bank witnessed him signing.
A few weeks later I signed forms to make it a joint account and Michael signed forms to get a credit card. I was told a bank card would be couriered with in a week. Three months later still no bank card for me and Michael receives his credit card - with the wrong name on it! The guy tells him he should write a letter requesting a name change. He cannot seem to understand that this is not a name change - it is their mistake.
I write a cheque which is rejected...because the joint account was never put through. The guy comes to the house and has me sign a bunch of forms again as though I'd never signed them before.
Four months later, still no credit card and no bank card. Thank goodness the only thing they are efficient at is transferring money. We transfer money to our Canadian account and use our Canadian credit cards.
Are we used to the traffic? Not completely, but you learn to time things and learn what to expect. The biggest problem is that Bangalore has grown at such a fast rate that they are playing catch-up with the infrastructure. Everywhere you go the streets and sidewalks are being torn up and construction is going on. At the same time they are building a skytrain so that adds to traffic slowdowns and detours.
Grocery shopping is hit and miss. Don't get me wrong - you can get almost anything here in Bangalore. There are a couple of big supermarkets like Spar where I go once or twice a month and load up on cheese, nice breads, cleaning products, biscotti, etc.
Around the area we live I have four different small grocery stores - Namdhari's is best for fruit and veggies, Food Zone or Food World for canned goods and staples, 'Sorbet, the Gourmet' store for tortilla wraps and tortilla chips (finally found them but had to stop buying/eating them), salsa and much more. Once in a while there's always a little shock when you walk into a store and they are out of a staple like butter - for weeks. Once they were completely out of toilet paper and last week - no milk. So, off you go to another store.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the lack of seasons. But what do you know - a week later the rains came and it actually got chilly. Even though today I'm sitting outside in a sleeveless dress, we've had some long sleeve weather and I even wore socks once.
It's been overcast and although it is certainly not as cold as it is in Vancouver, the rains have put me into "fall going on winter" mode and I've been thinking about Christmas. I've heard there is a store near Commercial St. that sells decorations so I'll have to check it out next week. Not sure what to do about a tree. Michael says "bring in a palm tree" but I don't think that is going to work for me.
The kids are doing well at school. Craig is always in a good mood and is really enjoying field hockey and socializing with all his friends. Alanna is still determined not to like anything about India (except for the mall and the chocolate shop). However I know she has made friends at school and my spies tell me she is "friends" with all the teachers, chatting away to them.
Michael seems to be making some progress at work. He went on a team building weekend to one of the National Parks. He enjoyed getting back to nature (except for the mosquitos), camping and doing all sorts of survivor style "challenges" with his co-workers.
For me, the OWC has been a great way to meet people and get involved in different events whether it is charities, cooking classes, lunches, or wine dinners. I've been writing an article every month for the OWC Rangoli magazine and entered a photo contest. Keeping busy is the key.
The upside to all the socializing is getting to try lots of different restaurants, eating great food and meeting and learning from some of the cities top chefs. The downside is that it really is possible to gain weight in India. Now I have to fit the gym into my busy schedule!
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
We decided against Pushkar (famous for it's camel fair) as the beautiful lake has completely dried up and thus is just a big hole in the ground. Apparently the governments attempt to clean up the lake and make it deeper went awry.
We are looking forward to travelling and seeing a different part of India: palaces and forts, camels and desert, and the brilliant colors of the nothern sarees and turbans.
Of course we had the initial problem with IndiGo airlines cancelling our tickets because Michael's name on his passport and visa are different (Michael/Mike). Then yesterday we noticed that their prices for the same flight had gone down by 8000Rp/$200Can. (for the four of us).
So, Michael got back on the phone with the airline and this time we gladly paid the cancellation fee ($15), then rebooked at the lower price. Saving $200 feels good!
Sunday, November 8, 2009
...Travel Woes Continued from earlier.8:00pm
Managed to get through to the airlines about the return trip from Udaipur. For some unbeknownst reason that booking never went through either. So neither bookings were made and now we start from scratch.
We were going to rebook and fly into Jodhpur but all the trains are booked from there. Now we have gone back to the original booking, flying into Jaipur and out of Udaipur. We used my credit card as it has the same name as my passport. So far it looks like the bookings have gone through. No rogue texts as of yet.
Immediately went to "Make My Trip" website to book train tickets but the website is not connecting...
Resolved to hire a taxi from Jodhpur to Udaipur at the end of the trip. Still not sure about the road but apparently it is scenic and we will be able to see the Jain Temples at Ranakpur on the way. It will be a full days drive.
Had a difficult time with the trains as I really wanted to be in the desert at Jaisalmer for New Year's Eve - but apparently so does everyone else. Long waitlists for the trains prior to New Year's. So we ended up finding seats available on the 2nd and returning to Jodhpur on the 5th.
Still haven't decided the first leg of the trip - Jaipur to Pushkar or straight to Jodhpur? Looks like lots of availability so we'll look into it tomorrow. Next...hotels.
Want to book airplane tickets? Go online, find the flight you want, give credit card info and click "buy now." Simple right? Apparently not.
Last night we decided to book our flight to Rajasthan for the two weeks following Christmas. We had it in our minds that we would fly into Jaipur and fly out of Udaipur, taking trains to all the cities inbetween. So, that's what we did - we booked IndiGo Airline to Jaipur. And booked through "Make My Trip" home from Udaipur.
Then we started looking into train travel and noticed a bit of an error - there is no train from Jodphur to Udaipur which meant that we would have to back-track alot to get a train to Udaipur or hire a taxi. But we have no idea how the road is on this part of the trip. It would have been better to fly into Jodphur and start from there.
Then Michael gets a text from IndiGo Airline saying they have cancelled our Bangalore to Jaipur tickets because his passport and credit card have different names - one has Michael, one has Mike. He phones and explains that both are one and the same. He's booked flights through other airlines in India with no problem.
Sorry, but they aren't going to budge, they have to cancel the tickets. Oh, and by the way they've already charged our Visa, and now there will be a 720 rupee cancellation fee - per person (four of us). What?!! That's about $65 total, PLUS whatever we loose out on with the exchange rate.
Michael kept saying "this is unacceptable, put me through to your manager," and the guy was like a recording, "sorry sir but my manager will tell you the same thing." Finally the guy put Michael on hold and came back on within ten seconds, "OK sir, we will not charge you any cancellation fee."
So, now we have the trip home booked and we think maybe this will turn out ok because now we can rebook (with my Visa) and fly into Jodhpur. Checked the flights, looked good. Then checked the trains - everything is booked with 20 or more on the wait list. Not so good.
Now it looks like the flight home from Udaipur may not be booked as we thought either. Stuck on the phone trying to get it sorted out; on hold, listening to Kenny G...
Friday, November 6, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
I've attended two meetings and I am impressed with the professionalism of the group of ten women. The OWC currently helps fund 22 charities. Right now we are revising the list, bringing on some new charities and letting go of some that do not need our assistance anymore.
We are looking at six new charities and have gone out in groups of two or three to visit each one. The two I visited were interesting. The first, a home for mentally ill homeless women. There is one room for 35 women to eat and sleep, and a tiny kitchen. I was shocked to learn that the women sleep on the floor but my co-workers explained this is quite common. So many people in India sleep on the floor in their homes. That is what they are used to and that is what they will go home to.
The second charity I visited is a home for children who used to be sex workers or are children of sex workers, ages 5 - 20. Some of them are HIV+. There are 70 children living in three houses. They are given all the basics, medical care, counselling and are sent to school or home schooled - depending on their state-of-being.
Three of us visited each house and met the children. They were so happy to see us and each one stood and said their name and what grade they were in. Given their circumstance, I was surprised at the confidence in their voices. Some of the older children are going to college and proudly showed us their uniforms and blazers. A few of the other older children are learning a skill such as weaving or tailoring so they will be able to support themselves.
Those of us on the charity committee will meet and present our findings. Once we decide which charities meet our requirements we will have their financial statements looked at by professionals. As I said, the committee takes their responsibility seriously. We go to great lengths to make sure the charities use funds appropriately and make a difference in the community.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Here in Bangalore I open the curtains and walk outside to blue skies and sun. The monsoons have gone - what little there was of them - and the skies have cleared. The temperature has not changed. It's a steady 28-30 degrees and not much cooler at night.
It is strange to think it is Halloween in less than a week and Christmas just a couple months away. I didn't realize how little the calendar links me to these events - moreso, the seasons. The calendar says it is October but it doesn't register.
Warm weather indicates summer to me. Here, flowers and trees continue to bloom and I sit outside and have my coffee each morning - bliss. How can Christmas be just around the corner without the potential for snow and scarves and mittens? It doesn't make sense. For me, without seasons, time stands still.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Friday, October 9, 2009
At home Lynn has taken to making fresh papaya/yogurt smoothies and I add a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds to make them look as spectacular as they taste. Taras is eating his way through town and is determined to be the only person to come to India and gain weight.
Lynn and I had to get the top for our sarees and the petticoat made and we found a tailor in the Commercial area to make them – inexpensive.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Saturday, October 3, 2009
We wandered from group to group always greeted with big smiles. We were wowed with the costumes and creativity. Full body paint was used to turn one group into an amazing array of tigers and wild cats.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Click for the most recent post Magic or Mayhem?
Here's an article that I wrote for the Rangoli magazine (Nov. 2009):
My sister and brother-in-law flew in from Canada Friday at midnight, and Sunday afternoon we were on the Tippu Express to Mysore. That evening we joined throngs of people in front of Mysore Palace to watch traditional Indian dancing. The palace, lit with thousands of lights, made a wonderful backdrop.
Monday morning we were off to look for a good spot to watch the grand procession. By chance we came upon many of the troupes assembled in a courtyard, readying themselves for the big event. It was like being backstage at the biggest festival of the year – and I guess we were. It was a riot of sights, sounds and colors.
Drummers and dancers worked themselves into a frenzy perfecting their acts. Others added last minute touches to their makeup and costumes. Stilt walkers leaned against trucks and those dressed as Indian Gods and Goddesses transformed into their characters.
We wandered from group to group and everyone greeted us with a big smile. Men in bright yellow turbans painted each other’s foreheads with three horizontal white lines: the sign of Shiva. Before we knew it they pulled us over and painted the same on us.
Head-to-toe body paint turned another set of performers into wild tigers and cats. The costumes and creativity wowed us. Many of the performers posed for us. We took their photo and they took ours as well. It was an all around good time.
As with all things in India it seems there must be a balance. If the morning was magic, the afternoon could only be mayhem. The procession started in the early afternoon. We tried to get through the crowd but it soon turned into a mob, pushing in all directions. We held hands and retreated to a safe spot.
Oddly enough a small truck pulled up. The driver let us climb onto the open back where we could see the procession route. Some other guys tried to pile onto the truck but the weight was too much and the truck tipped backwards. They jumped off and the truck righted, but we’d had enough. We jumped down, out of harms way.
We felt defeated. Three of us caught a rickshaw to the hotel and went straight to the restaurant for a good stiff drink. The others stayed and the only one who ended up seeing anything was ten-year-old Craig who sat on his Dad’s shoulders. After a few floats and four mighty elephants, they too left, worried about getting caught up in the mob at the end.
Magic or mayhem? Well, that’s obvious. For us the procession was mayhem. Next time I would see about buying tickets to view the procession from the stands within the palace grounds.
However, the magic of the morning clearly balanced out the mayhem of the afternoon. Spending the morning “backstage” with the performers was an unexpected and joyous experience – an experience we will never forget.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Eventually they stopped and the rickshaw and the tractor started to move down the street. The villagers followed and we waved goodbye. But they went no more than 100 meters and they stopped and started the music and dancing all over again. We have no idea what this was all about. Perhaps we'll go back next week and try to find out.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
First, our spare bedroom mattress arrived and it was even the right size! Our guests can rest easy and so can we - we won't have to share beds with them!
Last Thursday I went to a lunch organized by the OWC (Overseas Women's Club) at Khansama Restaurant in UB City Mall. We were greeted with the traditional bindi on the forehead, sandlewood paste rubbed on the hand and flowers. Ambiance was great with big copper plates and goblets, and large Indian paintings on the walls. We were able to taste an array of Indian food and came away stuffed. A mehndi artist came around and "painted" designs on our hands - it only took ten minutes each. A nice way to meet some people and sample some great food.
Friday was very busy. I dropped Michael off at work at 8:00am and an hour later was at a Charity function at the Windsor Hotel. Most of the 25 charities that the OWC helps fund were there and had set up information booths. It was an excellent way for me to talk to a lot of people from different charities and see what kind of work they do. They are all passionate and dedicated.
Right after that I had to go out to the school for the primary Parent/Teacher day. It was more of a "fun" day with games and booths set up. Craig and I did the 3-legged race and tug-of-war and then we were so hot and sweaty we decided to duck out early.
Saturday night Michael and I went to a Wine Dinner at Paul Hotel. It was a five course Kerala Indian style dinner paired with wines from Big Banyan Winery. We had no expectations as far as the wine went which was lucky because it wasn't very good. The food was good though, and again we were able to taste many different dishes.
Sat with an interesting couple from UK who have been here 4 1/2 yrs. They told lots of "India" stories. Told us about an ashram they went to - getting up at 5:00am everyday and mandatory laughing sessions for 1/2 hr. They were at the Maldives when the tsunami hit (spoiler- they lived).
Tuesday was Michael's birthday and unfortunately it didn't start off too well. I noticed a black mark on one of our pictures in the living room and when I went to wipe it off, realized that mold was growing on the inside of the glass. Don't worry, it gets worse. I took the picture off the wall, thinking I could clean it but the whole back of the picture and the wall had become one heck of a science experiment. It was alive and growing! The picture is gone, the mold is cleaned up but we're waiting to see if it's really gone before fixing the wall. The owners and the management company would have just painted over it if we had let them - uhg!
The day got better as I got to go to a cooking class at Caperberry Restaurant which was fun and got some good tips and recipes...and lunch. In the evening the kids and I took Michael out for dinner to Toscana's. This restaurant is in the Forum Value Mall and is within walking distance. It has excellent non-Indian food: thin crust pizza's just like Italy, excellent caesar salad, bruschetta, steak, grilled fish and more.
Another week of ups and downs...but mostly ups.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Here we are at the start of another ten day festival - Navrati - which means the nine divine nights. It's all a little complicated as it's also called Dasara which means ten days. Here's the "Coles's notes" version: three goddesses are worshipped over the first nine days (for three days each): Goddess Durga, Goddess Lakhsmi and Goddess Saraswati. The tenth day, Dasara, is a big celebration marking the victory of Lord Rama over Ravina.