October 2007


Dolls on StairwayDolls and Stairway

I thought off a few names for the Navaratri/golu/kolu and settled on the above. Could have gone with Nine-day Sundal Fest, or Dolls, Trolls, and the Fall (i.e. Navaratri and Halloween in Fall).

If there was a contest for the weakest staircase framework for Golu, I will win it every time. It is just a bunch of empty (similar sized) cardboard boxes turned upside down. Next year, I think we will go for a proper one. But then we have been saying that for 10 years now.

This year, as usual, I waited till the last moment to get things going. It was the evening before the nine days began. I was dead tired, and so was my wife. We were tempted to postpone the setup to the next day morning. But we had a very insistent, energetic trooper in the house, who just refused to accept that. I told mu daughter – “Okay, we will just setup the staircase (paDi in Tamil), may be put a few dolls, and finish the rest tomorrow – ok?”. Uh-uh. No way. She just went into top gear – she wanted the whole thing – the staircase, the dolls and the park (which she and her mom do every year) all done that night.

I groaned “Ma….n! My bones are aching, my eyes are burning. It is getting late”. But somehow I ignored it, and willed myself to get started at least on the framework. I was thinking that by the time I am done with the framework, my daughter would be tired and she would be ok for completing the setup the next day morning. But what do you know! Once I got into it, I was somehow re-energized. We got the framework done, and started putting up the dolls. Seeing my daughter’s enthusiasm in bringing the dolls, and playing with them, and listening to her constant excited chattering about where they should go on the staircase, and insisting on putting them up herself – they were the greatest “picker-upper” in the world! Before we knew it, all the dolls were on display. We did have to postpone the park etc. for the next day, as it was a bit late by that time, and my daughter was satisfied that she got to see the dolls, play with them and put them up – something she was really looking forward to.

I am glad we got it done in time. I am glad that “I did the right thing”, glad and thankful that I found my energy from seeing my child’s energy. I love Golu for that. And for the sundal, snacks in all the houses I visited 🙂

Here are some photos:

Scene from Ramayana Story of Andal  
golu_1.jpg golu_2.jpg  
 
The Gingerbread house The Park The Snacks
The Gingerbreak House The Park The Snacks
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Update: After I posted this, the trees around my house started changing colors the next day. It was not very cold, but it was chilly with a very brisk wind, and it was very cloudy. So I had to take a photo and do an update as it fits with the theme 🙂

Impending Doom

October is here. This year, it is still unseasonably warm in my neck of the woods – but “warm” here is relative. The October chills are here although sort of half-heartedly this year. Fall is coming – signs of impending doom for a body genetically engineered for the seering Chennai heat. There are things to enjoy in fall and even in winter. But let’s face it. Those joys can be fleeting for a South Indian, and are soon overwhelmed by the overall gloom and doom of the Midwestern winter.

The first time you notice the signs of this impending doom is in early October. The perfect (warm but not hot), beautiful weather in September is replaced by a fickle one in October with wide swings in temperature: between the perfect 70s-80s, down to cool and a bit chilly low 60s or high 50s. That is if Ol’ Man Winter does not have a good game plan for that year. Else it is down to nasty (for October) 40s and 30s. Of course that is his top game for fall. His top game for winter here can get down to -10 to -20 (yep – Fahrenheit that is).

You also notice that the days have gotten considerably shorter. This will soon be made worse by the daylight savings adjustment. We, in Chicago get a raw deal due to this as we are in the eastern end of our time-zone. This means lesser daylight as winter takes over. It also means way more daylight than you probably need in summer – but hey I am not complaining. I do want to have the cake and eat it! But yes in winter, here you get to see the Sun set at freaking 3:30 PM! Although I do understand its purpose, I hate daylight savings adjustment!

Once winter arrives, for a few weeks (till the winter solstice), when you leave for work it will be dark, and when you leave work in the evening, it will be dark. Most days it will be cloudy and seeing the Sun would become as rare as seeing an eclipse. What a thrill – eh? There was this winter in the 90’s where we went I believe 3 full weeks without seeing the Sun. There was another winter where we went the same period without the temperature crossing zero degrees (yep – Fahrenheit). Now, do you get my point about impending doom?

Many years, Octobers are fine and you think “hey this isn’t bad!”. But come Halloween, and whoala – it is freaking cold, freaking blustery – with even some lousy snow flakes! And you groan loudly as this is the day you cannot huddle at home in some warmth. This is the day that you must get out and walk the neighborhood as your kid’s escort as she goes out trick or treating. You huddle in your coat shivering. But you see kids in much flimsier clothes having so much fun getting candies and treats!

Can we go home – you ask.
No! Few more houses – says your kid.

Can we go home now? – you plead later.
No! Couple of more houses – says your kid

Can we please go home now? – you beg.
No! Not yet – how about that street? – your kid jumps excitedly.

You groan resignedly. Somewhere an some old dude with a frosty beard, crusted with ice, and a maniacal smile, giggles silly at this charade.

(Fortunately – this is not my kid. She does not like cold all that much. But still about 15 houses is a minimum, and I start shivering after 5 houses)

They say it is going to be a warm winter. They have been wrong before.

Indian CofeeCoffee house CoffeeExpresso Cup

Sometimes I wonder how come South Indians, particularly Tamilians, get hooked on to coffee so bad. We love coffee, and love to yap about coffee (like I am about to). We are in general very finicky about the taste of our coffee, and very stingy with our coffee ratings. These characteristics seem magnified among South Indians in the US, i.e. my kind. This is mostly about that kind.

Before I begin I must note this: I see a disturbing trend among youngsters from Tamil Nadu. They are not drinking coffee because (gasp!) they don’t like it . Some of them prefer (gasp! gasp!) Tea, and some prefer just milk (what the ?). Parents – please respect our traditions! Raise your kids the proper South Indian way so that they don’t end up like these!

I think I can say that most South Indians are in general stingy with money too. However, you see pretty much all of them hooked on to the trendy coffee shops i.e. Starbucks Coffee and its brethren – the modern success story on “How to repackage and market an age-old product and rip-off everyone”. When it comes to coffee all the South Indian stinginess is gone. We readily shell out $2.75 or so for a Cappuccino or Latte. For those in US, you know that means slightly more expensive than a decent lunch at Taco Bell!

So you pay $2.75 for a drink that comes in a cup that looks fairly large. But the first time you hold the cup, you know something is wrong – it is feather light. You soon realize that of course this is because 75% of the cup is foam and there is only 25% of coffee (albeit strong). But it’s dressed up in a cool sounding foreign name, sold in a classy joint, and we Indians (mua included of course) can’t seem to see through the charade. At least in Europe, they play it straight – teeny weeny amount of coffee comes in a teeny-weeny cup with a teeny-weeny handle. I suspect that Europeans raise their kids the “right way”- since the handles on the coffee cups seem appropriate for a five year old.

Anyway, I don’t get the point of this foam business. It is fluff and only for look. To generate more of it, Starbucks etc. use cold milk – which of course brings the temperature of the coffee down. That is a big no-no for the South Indian coffee palette. Worse – the foam takes up most of the cup, and so end up with mostly looks and little substance. But the looks apply only if you are drinking the coffee at the store itself out of a regular cup where at least you can see the foam. But most people take it “to go”, and the fluff is completely hidden by the cup. So unless you plan to practice for an audition for those “Got Milk?” commercials, you are getting ripped off badly. You are paying a lot for fluff which has little to no taste, is not even visible, and has the potential of making you look silly if you are not careful. But it is indeed marketing genius at work as even the smart, thrifty Indian continues to get fooled.

The South Indian home brew:
The South Indian in US is usually proud of his coffee at home. When you make a new acquaintance with an Indian friend, it is not uncommon for him to brag about how strong the coffee he makes at his home is, and how close to authentic Indian it is etc. He usually offers his coffee with the proud statement You cannot get real coffee like this anywhere else. Most of us Indian coffoholics are constantly looking to come with a US brew that is closest to what we have in India. I have searched high and low and finally settled on this: Melitta Classic Brand only. This is 100% Arabica – this is important for me. Three scoops for just 1 cup and only brewed in a small coffee maker (i.e. 4-cup capacity). This makes a super strong “decoction” an absolute necessity for South Indian style coffee.

It is strong, smells divine and is quite good. One puzzler though is that it tastes divine at 7 AM, the exact same brew tastes quite ordinary at 3 PM. Somehow my taste buds seem to behave differently between mornings and afternoons.
I brag about my home coffee brew. I serve it to my friends. They all seem to like it – but I wonder if they are just being polite, and are really thinking This sucks. This guy doesn’t have a clue about strong Indian style coffee. He should come to my home!

Of course, the fall back to reality is when I visit Chennai and take that very first cup of coffee made by mom (as soon as I arrive of course). I take the first sip and I go – Now. This is coffee. I have been drinking crap in the US.

A few weeks ago, I had the rare (for me) and unique opportunity of attending two baseball games on two successive weekends at the two ballparks of the two Chicago teams – The Chicago Cubs and The Chicago White Sox.

Now, I am not exactly a big fan of baseball – but that does not mean I don’t watch it. I am really a shameless, opportunistic sports fan – more so when it comes to baseball. I do watch some playoff baseball as for some reason many aspects that I find boring in that sport all of a sudden become actually interesting. This is actually the remarkable thing about baseball. When the game is on the line and your team is rallying or even trying to put the final nail in the coffin you feel like screaming and cheering for so many things that in other situations would be quite “mundane”. You then go “YAAAA” for every strike, every ball, every out, every hit, every walk that favors your team. I did a lot of that in both games as both the Cubs and the Sox won their respective games.

Our (extended) family in Chicago has more enthusiastic White Sox fans than Cubs fans. We attend one White Sox game as a family outing every year. This year though, one of my old family friends visited us from Houston and he was nice enough to treat us to a Cubs game, a game in which they were playing the Houston Astros. Hence, my very first Cubs game outing.

First Weekend: Chicago Cubs vs. Houston Astros at Wrigley Field, Chicago

Cubs vs Astros

While usually both Chicago teams generally suck every year, this year the Cubs are doing well, while the Sox are down in the cellar. So the game at the Cubs was bound to be important and potentially interesting. For the first 5 innnings are so, the Cubs were down – and so it was a bit dull. But I had bigger concerns – I was afraid, afraid that I was going to seriously hurt before the game was over. I guess I did not know that my friend and his son were going to quite vociferous in their support for the Houston Astros. When Craig Biggio came on, they were two lone voices leading a B G O, B G O cheer. A huge guy in front us turned and gave us dirty looks many times. But to no avail as our guys either pretended to not notice or did not really notice. I cowered in my seat with my mind racing about possible excuses to use at the right time I don’t really know them – they just happened to sell us tickets at this Indian party (Or) They are Indians from Texas you know? (Or) They just now got off the plane from India and don’t know which team is which. They have never been to a baseball game

But then I counted my lucky stars as I realized that the T-Shirt I was wearing just happened to have the Cubs colors of blue and red, albeit a bit reversed i.e. more red and less blue rather than more blue and less red. The blue tone was even the right one! And it was not even a conscious choice! I knew that I will be safe and I could smile.

But anyway, soon the Cubs rallied and won. It turned out to be quite a good game. Some highlights/lowlights of the whole ballgame experience:

  • Very interesting game for the last 4 innings. I really got into the rally.
  • The houses/buildings around the ballpark which were tall enough that their owners have built proper stands in their terraces looking down into the stadium. Sort of like “mini galleries” all around.
  • Urinals at Wrigley field. Reminded me of the urinals at my high school in India. I usually think that if I handled that, I can handle anything. That resolve was tested well here.
  • 7 freaking bucks for a lousy beer! They know how to rip people off! I skipped the beer but went for slightly less expensive, watered-down, fake tropical fare.  Yeah – I still got screwed, but I chose how and I sure wasn’t going to get screwed on taste too 😉 Getting ripped off on drinks at a baseball game – ain’t that an American tradition?
  • Trying to eat “soft serve” ice-cream super-fast before it became like runny milk shake (hot day). This was in the middle of a cubs rally with everybody around us were standing up and screaming. My friend’s young son was so distraught that his Astros were losing their lead that he had two quick spoonfuls and decided he had enough ice cream (!?!). But I didn’t let him off – told him he had to finish enough that the rest will not “overflow”. He must have thought – what a strange dilemma!
  • Saw a guy whose T-Shirt read “White Sox” in the Sox black and white colors. I thought Is this guy dumb? Is he asking to get killed? But then I saw that that I missed one more word on the T-Shirt – a very bold SUCK. So of course he was quite safe, and also quite at home. BTW, if you are not familiar with the sports dynamics of US cities with more than one team playing the same sport – the simple concise rule is that the fans of each team loathe the fans of the other team. And actually the word loathe here is an understatement. I think there is no word in the English dictionary that can represent the level of hatred here.

Second Weekend: Chicago White Sox vs. Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago

Sox vs Twins

This game was a general yawner even though the Sox won. This is mainly because the game meant nothing – the Sox were dead in terms of contention for playoffs by that time. There was quite a bit of excitement in the form of home runs along with fireworks display after every Sox home run. One reason why the game felt like it lacked life in spite of all this could be because we were like 30,000 feet up on the upper-deck on a not-too-crowded stadium. You do get nice views from the upper deck, but you feel very detached from the game. But that did not mean all was lost as you could concentrate on Nachos, French Fries, Funnel Cakes and drinks, and other sights. After all even for baseball fans, these are as important if not more important than the game itself.

Highlights/Lowlights:

  • Like I said – the game was not that gripping. But I still yelled loudly as the Sox took the lead and closed it out. It is so easy to get into it when everyone else is into it. Something about the electricity of the crowd.
  • Listening to my daughter and her younger cousin sing “Take me out to the ball game” at least fifteen times during our ride to the park. I loved it every time.
  • Cool breeze (thanks to Lake Michigan) at the very top of the upper-deck on a hot day – it was heaven I tell ya!
  • Very good curly french fries and funnel cake.
  • $6.50 (i think) for a lousy beer! I again skipped it and went for equally expensive , watered-down, fake tropical fare.
  • Also once again saw what must the most favorite T-shirt of Sox fans. The White Sox won the US Major League Baseball Championship (“World” Series) couple of years ago and that means each player gets a ring – a big deal. In sports talk in the US “getting a ring” means winning it all. So anyway, this T-Shirt calls out “Hey Cubs Fan!” on one side. The other side has a hand “showing the finger” with the World Series ring on it – nice touch 😉

A few photos of the ballparks that I took are here on flickr.