Been lazy again. So this is just a quick post in a hope to “get back into the groove” again. I realize that most of my interests wax and wane. For the last few weeks, I was consciously aware that I was not actively blogging (even during those carnatic cryptic puzzle weeks) and also remember feeling “just not interested” to do so. But now today all of a sudden the interest spiked up – for no particular reason.  But dont have anything interesting to say. So what has been happening at my end the last few weeks?

  • A trip to Far-East: Went on a rare official trip to South Korea. I almost never travel officially, and so to go to South Korea of all places  is an extremely rare situation indeed. Went to Suwon near Seoul. I was impressed by the efficiency of the country, and the achievements its people have made. Managed by with some decent vegetarian food choices for the few days I was there. There were Indian restaurants near where I was, but then my colleague wasnt interested in them 🙂 !  The pizza I had there was actually pretty good (spicy). I tried “kimchi”. Well, I can see I tried kimchi.  I guess since I was used to some western vegetarian choices, I was able to get by better (pizza, pasta, and many cakes). Breakfast was awesome – but again a western breakfast which I always like.
  • A “Cookie” for my daughter: We have a new member in the family – albeit not boy or a girl. We have pet Cinnamon Green-Cheeked Conure (a member of the parrot family). More about “Cookie”  perhaps in a later post.  “He” is adorable (we dont know the sex, you cant tell until a DNA test, but we are presuming him) in a later post. He was “hand-raised” by a breeder, and so will step on your hand/finger when you ask him to.  He is even potty trained. He is my daughter’s and by now he thinks so too. When she is around, he is itching to get to her. We (my wife and I) never thought we were “pet people” – but we certainly have warmed up to it well.
  • Super Daddy: Managed the fort with my daughter for a couple of weeks on our own when Mom was out of town. We suffered a few casualities – all in the botanical area, both inside the house and outside. My question “Oh, so that was a real plant?” did not go well when Mom returned.  Someone joked “Hey, it was either water the plants, or water the kid. I think you made the right choice”. Anyway, I think in spite of that, I have like a million brownie points in my account. This may be connected to the “droolarama” point below.
  • Amateur Singer: Sang as part of a group at the local carnatic music festival. I call this festival my “Annual Embarrassment Conference”, but this time we actually did well. Like animals at the bottom of the food-chain, we amateurs do feel “strength in numbers” and I think that could have been the reason (besides our teacher training us well). I am glad that I got to learn many beautiful songs – many in my favorite ragas. With rItigauLa, bhairavi, husEni, nIlAmbari, sahAnA, Ahiri – who can complain?
  • Mergers and Acquistions: The company I work for got acquired. They say it wont affect anything. Ha, Ha :-)! Now, where have I heard that before?  But I think I should be ok.
  • Droolarama: Have been drooling over electronic gadgets again. This time, my credit card points were exchangeable for electronics gift cards. Planning to buy a real good camera (panasonic fz28) + something else that I am still deciding.  So little money (after the camera), and so much more to buy:
    • An LCD TV for upstairs (this is the only one that is atleast somewhat need based)
    • Apple TV
    • Mac OS Leopard (yes, I am still on Tiger)
    • A 1 TB hard drive that will work with Leopard’s Time Machine.  The Apple’s Time Capsule looks like it is a big rip-off.
    • I also bought the Creative’s Vado HD video player – outside of points at Amazon (since I drooled, and since Amazon gave $50 credit on top). But I will return it now, since its low-light (actually medium-low light itself) is bad, and the camera I will be able to get via points should have HD video recording as well.  Both are not going to be like a HD camcorder – but atleast my pocket will not become too light.
    • Of course, the mother of all drools – an MacPro Notebook. I see that the 13 inch one would be $1200 come September ….

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

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.

Last week was a special one for me. My kid and I got to spend a few days at home by ourselves (i.e. mom not around), and I had to drop her at school in the morning, pick her back up when she was done. This is rare for me since I am usually at work when she goes to school.

She started first grade that Monday, and so those were the first few days of full day school for her, a big step from just three hours of school in Kindergarten. She now gets to spend the whole day there, be responsible for eating her lunch etc. Like most parents, I feel a bit ambivalent about this step in my kid’s life. The little duckling that you felt needed “24-hour protection” (disguised as love) must now explore the world beyond your shadow. Of course you know you have to let it be so, but a part of you now wants to be like the young one’s shadow – always there, ever-ready to protect it from any danger, any worries, any discomfort.

The first day, I dropped her off by car even though the school is less than a mile away. The next day, I asked her if we should walk instead. She flipped back and forth a few times. She then said Can I ride my bike and go by myself? I guess this duckling wants to shoot out of the shadow! I smiled at her and said no. She said Oh, So you and Mom don’t think I can go by myself? But there are “walkers” in school – they walk by themselves. I answered carefully, but truthfully I am not yet sure if I should let you do this by yourself. Maybe after some time you can walk with other kids and go by yourself. But for now, I want to take to you school. I really like taking you to school. She agreed to that and she said Ok. Let’s walk.

As we walk, I see so many folks in the neighborhood all heading towards the school. Moms and Dads taking little kids sometimes accompanied by babies/toddlers in their strollers and wagons. In some cases, the family dog trots along wagging its tail. There are also many kids small and big walking by themselves. A wonderful scene indeed on a warm, bright, sunny day, with so many people out in the streets, kid-voices filling the air! There was a huge playground next to the school that we had to cross – it was lush and green, freshly mowed grass with a little morning dampness and all. It all somehow felt very lively. I listen to my kid chatter about her school. She asks whether I am going to pick her back up by car or not. I reply that I do not know yet. She then tells me If you are going to walk, can you bring me a snack so that I can eat while we walk back? How could I refuse?

As we reach the school, we notice that we are a few minutes early and so wait outside one of the doors. I remind my kid about her lunch – but she is already in a hurry to talk with a couple of other kids she recognized. As I stood next to her, and she turns and says Dad, I am supposed to stand with the other kids here. You can stand next to me or you can stand over there with the other parents. A mom advises a 1st grade sister that she should make sure that her little brother who is in Kindergarten finds his classroom. A little toddler is suddenly upset that he couldn’t get to hug his “big” brother and sister before they go to school. His mom says he can still do it as they have not gone in. He goes over and gives a hug to both of them, and walks back sullenly still holding a long face. Don’t worry – you will see them in the afternoon reassures his mom.

The doors open. I wait with my eyes permanently fixed on my daughter. This is so that in case she turns to look back at me to say bye, I want to make sure she is not left searching. She walks through the doors chatting excitedly with another kid without looking back, and soon disappears. I think to myself – You sentimental fool! You are as bad as that toddler!

I walk back home thinking what a beautiful, pleasurable 15 minutes that was! You don’t get to experience this if you drop your kid by car. You have to wait in a line of cars, imprisoned in a shiny, metal box, temperature controlled with the radio/CD-player playing your favorite music or news. You probably are talking on the phone to someone else. You are still in your own shell, your own world – disconnected with so much life happening outside. Then a helper at the school opens the car door, your kid gets down, says good-bye and leaves. You head back to whatever you were doing. Interruption over – back to your world. It’s just not the same …

I love walking my kid to school although I don’t get it to do that often. And soon, she will probably forbid it 🙂

PS: Regarding warm, bright, sunny school days. Here in my neck of the woods, this doesn’t last long. If the opportunity arose, will I be walking my kid in the middle of January? Hmm… we’ll see.

They kick your butt! said my neighbour shaking his head and I smiled inside broadly.

If you see my neighbour you would understand. He is a huge guy, a (US) football coach and Dean of his school. He probably played Offensive Tackle in his younger age as he has got that build – 250 lbs or more. Now, his kids – they are growing but still small. And he was talking about them. They are the “they” in They kick your butt. He wasn’t talking about a pickup game of basketball or flag football where he lost to them. No, he was talking about how kids get their way when they want to, and in process kick his butt regularly. It was funny watching him say it as I sort of pictured a man of his size getting his butt kicked by a couple of small kids. But it was funnier because I could relate to it too. I am not big, in fact I am typical South Indian – wiry thin. I have one small kid and I also get my butt kicked all the time.

Now, if you are an unmarried man but for whom marriage is even remotely on the horizon, I am sure your married friends would have filled you in that after marriage your wife kicks you butt. All your fantasies of freedom like you know “Man of the house”, “King of the castle”, “Independent man” etc. etc. are just that – fantasies, as you will soon find that they evaporate quickly into thin air. They evaporate because they are your creations to begin with. So if you still hold on to them – then you find that she kicks your butt everytime and usually with your consent.

However, that butt-kicking is nothing compared to the butt-kicking you will get from your child – pretty much right after he/she enters the world, crying heartily. Now you probably would never have seen something so tiny, but with all human emotions already shown in that tiny face (e.g. Watch the face of a even a few days old baby when you put a few drops of bitter medicine into its mouth. The face contorts showing the bitterness exactly like you do!). You think – how cute, how angelic! And there … It is over for you! You may not know but you have already signed up for lifelong butt-kicking. The only consolation in this case is that your wife will get her butt kicked too.

It seems that there is no defense against a kid wanting to get something (which you don’t want to give) that will work consistently. They are like an extremely adaptable, adept super-organism mutating to changing environment and coming up with new effective tricks: Dad doesn’t want to give this. Let’s ask Mom. What’s her mood? Ah! nice! Let us complain about Dad! Oh no! Both are upset! Let us turn it up a notch and cry – Waaah! You guys don’t love me! Hmm… they seem sorry now. Let us put up a sad puppy face! Hey, they have calmed down! We should ask if we can have icecream/candy again!.

At times, you think you have won. You feel somewhat satisfied to have successfuly bent their will to your way that left them crying or scared or angry, yet compliant. But an hour later it is you who feels lousy. Next day morning, it is you who looks at them and says How could I have gotten upset with this angelic face?. They see it too, and think Now is a good time to ask for something. This time you of course give in. Show butt. Get Kicked.

Some men have the dumb notion that they simply can delegate these parenting nuisances to the mother, and relax with the guys. Confucious probably would have said – That only means you end up getting kicked on both sides of your butt by two people.