I grew up in a small town in upstate NY which had a surprising number of Indian families given the population and diversity of the town. My family was friends with all the other Indian families and we got together often. As a community our biggest celebration was for Diwali. We would rent out a church basement or town hall somewhere and throw a big bash with lots of food and fun and all the kids could just run around like crazy way past our bedtime. Someone would always make a trip across the border into Canada and buy a mountain of sparklers to add to the festivities. Since fireworks were out of the questions we had to make do with sparklers.

Some families were more religious than others, but there was always a Pooja at some point during the night. I didn’t really understand it (we were one of the non-religious families) but I did love to gather around the deity and hear the singing and feel the reverence of the moment and bask in the tradition of it.

Sometimes the kids did a talent show or put on a play. We weren’t terribly organized but one year we rehearsed and rehearsed a play about Akbar and Birbal. I don’t recall now which story we were acting out, but I do remember that my part was that of a very strict palace guard. My older brother was Birbal and was to try to gain access to the palace I was guarding. I mentioned that we weren’t terribly organized. My brother only told my mom a few minutes before we were leaving that he needed a beard for the play. The best my mom could do was to cut up a piece of fake fur she had used for doll hair and tie a rubber band around it to keep it on. Considering the time and materials she had available,  she did a pretty amazing job. However when my brother came around the corner with this piece of fake fur on his face I just about wet my pants. I forgot all of my lines and just stood there laughing hysterically.

Needless to say, those Diwali celebrations of decades ago had a big influence on me. I try to celebrate Diwali with my family in whatever small way we can. Sometimes we just cook an Indian meal and light a few candles, sometimes we have friends over, and sometimes it just goes by unnoticed. This year I wanted to do something special but Diwali was so close to Ulka’s birthday and I just couldn’t do it all. So on Diwali itself we didn’t do anything, but when we went to my parents for Thanksgiving we celebrated with my parents and my sister-in-law and my nephews. Unfortunately my brother (aka bearded Birbal) had to go back home for work.

I have always loved the idea of doing a Rangoli for Diwali. I had never done one before but they are so beautiful and I have always thought it would be fun to try. It is an interesting idea- spending so much time creating a lovely piece of art work that will just blow away or wash away in the next rain. Rangoli is made with powdered chalk and I was able to buy it in wonderful colors in the Indian grocery store near us.


When I told my dad about it he seemed very excited. He had never done it before either, but as a boy people would come to his house in India and make beautiful Rangoli designs outside the door.

We started in the afternoon and by the time we finished up it was just getting dark. Andy and I looked at hundreds of patterns and examples on-line and Andy sketched out something similar to what we had seen online.


The outside lines are all done in white chalk and then filled in with color. It was pretty amazing watching Andy let the chalk dust slip through his fingers making an incredible pattern as if he had been doing it all his life.



Once he had outlined the whole pattern in white we all filled in with color. We decided which colors would go where before we started. All the kids helped and everyone had a great time.




We finished up just as it got dark. It was right outside the dining room window so we could see the candles flickering all through the amazing meal we all helped to prepare.



After dinner we lit sparklers which the kids thought were pretty amazing, especially the little ones. All in all it was a wonderful Diwali celebration- one that will be remembered for a long time.


Local Geography and History Block

I wrote a little bit about my mid-summer homeschooling breakdown and about how I came really close to sending the kids to school. I however decided to soldier on in the homeschooling journey and am so glad I did. This year is off to a great start.

I spent more time than I ever have planning out the year. I now know that when I have good solid plans laid out our school days go so much better. In the past I have just sort of figured out what blocks we are doing and when we are doing them and left things pretty much open from there. This year I planned out which stories we would do, wrote out spelling lists, and came up with all of the activities for each block so I entered the school year feeling prepared and excited. Of course all my planning may change depending on how the kids respond and how things play out in real life. Plans on paper can look so lovely and tidy but our daily life is so different!

Ishaan started off the year with Maps and Mapping and Local Geography and History. The block is only 4 weeks long so we had a lot of material to fit into a short time. I found some really great books at our library. We started off the year learning about the history of map making and looking at ancient and old maps. I think I learned as much as Ishaan. He learned that the oldest map of the world was a clay tablet made in 500BC in Babylonia. It basically depicts Babylon, the Euphrates River, a mountain range, Babylonia’s nearest neighbors, and some islands in the ocean. Ishaan made a replica of this map from clay. It came out great and it was a fun project to start the year.

He learned about different kinds of maps and a bit about reading maps. He drew a few simple maps of our yard and the route from our house the town center. Since he was learning local geography and history I also had him free hand draw a map of New York State with. He major rivers, cities, and mountain ranges.

Ishaan has a hard time writing on unlined paper so traditional main lesson books can be a source of great frustration for him and I often end up drawing lines for him which is silly. I found these great small format main lesson books at here at Paper Scissors Stone which is a great Waldorf homeschooling supply store. The pages are lined on one side and blank on the other. A great way for Ishaan to write out what he needs to and still have a place for illustrations and diagrams.

We spend a week studying the Erie Canal. I don’t really remember learning about it so I learned a lot too. Ishaan read Desperate Journey by Jim Murphy. It is a novel but gives a fairly accurate account of what life was like during the early days of the Erie Canal. At the end of the block we were lucky enough to be able to take a wonderful two-day bike trip along the Erie Canal which I will post about separately.

We are having a wonderfully unusual warm November Day and it is going to be 70 degrees today so I am off to get some yard work done and do something fun with the kids. Have a great Monday!

Autumn Crafts

This is going to be just a quick post, hopefully getting me back into posting.  It’s been a busy fall and looks like it might even be getting busier as we start big new projects, but more on that another time. We are off to a good school year and have started the fall yard clean up and garden bedding-down.  There is always time for crafting though, and we have made some fun things.

Last winter I made a heart garland for some Valentine’s Day fun which got me all excited about seasonal garlands and I made a flower one in the spring. I planned on doing a sweet butterfly garland for summer but that didn’t happen. There’s always next summer though.  I found several nice patterns for autumn leaves and set out to make a leaf garland using yarn leftovers.  I settled on this pattern for oak leaves. As I have mentioned before I am not much of a crochet-er so it took a little while to get the hang of this pattern but once I did I could whip them off fairly quickly. They are great when you just have a few minutes here are there. I decided to felt my leaves to make them a bit more solid feeling (and to hide my mistakes!).

Once I had a nice pile of autumn leaves for my garland, I decided not to make a garland. On Andy’s excellent suggestion we went out and found a branch and I hung all the leaves from the branch. Then Andy helped me hang the whole thing from the ceiling. I love it!

The girls have been working on a sweet little fall craft also. Last year my friend Sarah shared a lovely idea for a children’s seasonal craft. You can check it out here on her blog. Unfortunately, as crafts sometimes go, my girls didn’t finish them properly so we never got to display our cute jack-o-lanterns.  I decided to do that project again this year, but instead of jack-o-lanterns I made acorn and leaf templates and they are making fall decorations. Ila finished hers the day we started and Ulka is still working on them.

Ila of course got a lot more help. I cut out the shapes for her and I made little dots on the felt to help her know where to poke her needle, but I think she did a great job.

Ila’s acorn

Ila’s leaf.

Ulka was left on her own to cut out the leaves and sew them on. Her’s are coming out great too!

Ulka’s leaves

Happy Autumn Everyone! I would love to know what projects you all are working on too!

The trouble with reading

It is the middle of August. That means it is time for me to freak out about school planning and get all anxious and crazy. The anxiety and craziness came way early this year.  At the beginning of July I had a complete and total homeschooling mom breakdown. From time to time I do second guess my homeschooling decision and wonder if the kids would be happier in school and then I remember why we are doing this and go back to being really happy with our choices. This time my melt down was far worse. Within 2 days I went from my typical second guessing to actually calling the school district to find out how to enroll my kids in school and calling the department of special ed to get Ulka evaluated. I was a mess and spent most of those two days in tears. Andy calmly looked on and let me go through my craziness without saying much. He knew that I would come around back to where my heart really lies.

The forms came from the school and I sat down to fill them out and got completely overwhelmed by that process. SO MANY FORMS. Wow. Who knew it was so complicated to enroll your child in school? Then, I saw my more sane and stable friend Sarah who so patiently listened and nodded and agreed. When I saw her two days later, she talked me off the ledge and reminded me of all the benefits and pluses of homeschooling and offered encouragement and support and suggestions.

So, the back story. Ulka has really been “struggling” with reading. By this I mean that she isn’t reading where she “should be” if she were in traditional school. As a homeschooling mom it is sometimes hard to gauge the children’s progress and I fall prey to all the school standards that I am so desperately trying to avoid. I looked up reading  by grade level, researched how to determine fluency, measured her reading in words per minute and basically made myself and Ulka crazy. I convinced myself that if there is a problem it would be best to find out sooner than later so I decided to have her evaluated by the board of ed. Every single homeschooler that I talked to said clearly “DO NOT DO THAT”.

I know that every child learns at her own pace and I knew that in my heart I was not convinced that Ulka had a “problem”, but that she is just taking her own time. I didn’t get her evaluated and am so thankful that I didn’t.  She has been practicing a lot recently and has made some good progress. I know that schools have to have standards to measure students progress. There are certainly kids who really have a need for intervention and it is great that those resources are available to them. But some kids are just ‘late bloomers’.

Some kids potty train at 2 and some at 4 . Everyone tells the frustrated mother not to worry, that she will do it when she is ready and that she won’t be in diapers when she goes to school. Some kids learn to ride without training wheels when they are 3 and some not until they are 8. If a child is still riding with training  wheels at 7 nobody freaks out and says that there must be some sort of problem and that the kid should be evaluated for a physical problem. It is similar with reading. Ishaan read Tom Sawyer in the summer between 2nd and 3rd grade and Ulka is still sounding out words. But she will get there, I know she will.

So now onto the fun of planning the school year. I have lots of fun ideas, trips and projects in the works and am looking forward to this year. More on school planning later. Now I have to go and do it!

Blackberry Jam

I can finally cross ‘making jam’ off my summer bucket list. Every summer I swear that it will be the year I make jam. We go berry picking, I look up recipes, I’m all ready, and then I get cold feet. I don’t know what it is about making jam that intimidates me, but whatever it is, I overcame it this year and made blackberry jam.

We went strawberry picking early in the summer but the picking was slim and we didn’t get enough to make jam so instead we had a huge strawberry shortcake for dinner. Yes, once a summer we allow ourselves to have strawberry shortcake and nothing else for dinner.

Then later we went raspberry picking and came home with plenty of berries for jam, but they all ended up in little bellies by the handful and in cereal and yogurt.

So, onto blackberries.

There is a huge blackberry patch over at Andy’s parents house. Rather it is a huge patch of stinging nettle, but if you trample down and make paths through the nettle you can discover a bounty of blackberries.

We went early in the morning on four different mornings and harvest blackberries before it got too hot and until we’d had it with the stinging nettle. (If only Ishaan had been around to tell me which plant soothes nettle- I think it might be Jewel Weed but I’m not sure. ) We finally had enough berries for jam.

On advice from my experienced jam making friend Sarah, I used Pomona’s Pectin.

It is a low-sugar pectin, which I found out allows you to make jam using less sugar than a no-pectin jam. There was a simple and straight forward recipe in the pectin packet and I just used that for the first batch. I borrowed a food mill to mash up the berries because wild blackberries have that hard center bit that I didn’t want in the jam. However I didn’t want the jam to be a uniform texture, so I added a few spoonfuls of the seed/pulp mixture that was left in the mill.

mashed berry goodness

left over seeds and middle bits

It’s a messy process

For the second batch I made a Blackberry Mint with Bourbon jam. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly because this recipe didn’t call for pectin. I had to just guess at the amount of sugar to use. Wow, I think this just might be my favorite jam ever!

Well it was jam fever at our house for a few days. The kids and I went blueberry picking at the nearby orchard and farm and came home with many pounds of blueberries. We played around with two kinds of jam. First we made a blueberry lemon with lots of fresh lemon juice and zest. Super yummy! Then I had an idea to make blueberry with ginger and vanilla. I used a good amount of ginger and when I tasted it I thought it was right so added vanilla. I guess I added too much vanilla and it sort of overpowers the nice ginger quality. It is not bad but not as delicious as I was hoping.

So now I have many lovely jars of jam sitting prettily on a shelf. We have opened two jars already but it is hard not to ration it and think of it as being totally precious and to be used sparingly. After all it is just jam and I made it so we could enjoy it!

Deerfoot Dropoff

All packed up- not much stuff for 2 weeks (they don’t do laundry)

My sweet boys

I thought that dropping Ishaan off at camp this year would be easier for me than it was last year. I guess in some ways it was since I knew what to expect in terms of registration, meeting the Chiefs, and other administrative details. It was easier because it is Ishaan’s second year and I don’t have to worry about whether or not he will have a great time.

Quick stop on the way to camp

It was easier for a lot of reasons, but then why do I have a horrible sad anxious feeling deep inside. Why am I pacing around wondering what to do with myself? I guess dropping him off for two weeks of wilderness camp will never be easy, but hopefully each year will be just a little bit easier.

Ishaan already meeting people and making friends

An amazing thing happened at drop off- we ran into two old friends from New York. Both of their boys were going to the same session and none of us knew it. One of them still lives in NYC and the other moved away shortly after we did so it was pretty neat for the boys to all see each other, completely unexpectedly, again.

I know from last year that I shouldn’t expect much in the way of letter writing and since there is no phone communication, once again I will have to wait unit he gets back to hear about it. Two weeks without talking to my boy seems like forever!

Andy took the girls on a father-daughter camping trip with some others dads and daughters from our church so he wasn’t around to take Ishaan. He was disappointed  that he would miss out on going to Deerfoot but it was important to have that special time with Ulka and Ila. They were so excited about the weekend- it was so sweet to watch them pack up their backpacks and giggle excitedly about how much fun it was going to be.

So yesterday we dropped Andy and the girls off to meet the van and everyone said their goodbyes there.

Andy’s mom babysit Kairav for a couple of hours so that I could take Ish out on a date to pick up the few things he needed for camp and go out for dinner . It was such a sweet time with my amazing boy.  Now the count down begins until we have him home again!

Summer Daze

Well, there is no doubt about it. Summer is in full swing here in the northeast. Temperatures consistently in the high 80s and low 90s and no rain.

I’m still here and I’m still not blogging regularly, but I am flossing so that’s a good thing. Our summer days are just as they should be- hazy, lazy, and full of fun. Sometimes I feel like we need to have more of a routine and rhythm to our summer days but then I think of the planning and scheduling I have to do during the school year and I quickly abandon that idea. Perhaps our days would be a little better if I planned more, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I try to do one fun activity everyday and anything more than that is a bonus.

I have been trying to remember what my summers were like as a kid. I know they were tons of fun but I can’t really remember what exactly I did. I swam a lot in my friend’s pool, went to the beach, biked to the playground, and just did a whole of nothing. I think that is probably why they were so much fun. The lack of structure and the permission to laze around is part of what summer is all about. Andy sometimes has to remind me of this when I say to the kids “come on, do SOMETHING!”  He’s right, it’s summer and it’s ok if they do nothing sometimes.

I’ve certainly relaxed this summer. I find myself sitting during the day! Actually sitting down, relaxing, and not doing much of anything. That can be a hard thing for me. I have trouble sitting still and not being productive. I do have to interrupt my idleness with spates of weeding here and there, hanging out some laundry, trying to stay on top of the house work, and attempting to throw together some meals, but I’ve slowed down a whole lot, and I have to admit- It feels great.

So what have we been up to? We started the summer with a surprise trip to Boston. We don’t go away often and it was a real treat for everyone. I love to surprise the kids, so we didn’t tell them anything until the morning we were leaving. The night before we left,  we packed their bags and backpacks and brought them downstairs. We had put together a sort of scavenger hunt of places and landmarks they had to find in Boston and put them, along with $10 each for spending money, in envelopes next to their breakfast plates.

They were wonderfully excited and it was such fun to watch their little faces light up as they figured it out. Kairav was just excited about the new water bottle with a straw at his place.

Through the kindness and connections of someone else, we got a great deal on a hotel right off the Commons! It was a super nice place and we had a suite, so we were completely spoiled. We haven’t stayed in a hotel since my brother’s wedding 4 years ago so it was new and exciting and the kids thought it was pretty much the best thing ever. Even though the hotel was nice enough to just lounge in all day, we did lots of other stuff too.

On the Ferry to the USS Constitution

On Old Ironsides

Boston Commons. Make way for the Jerabeks!

I lived in Boston when I was in graduate school, but I was so busy that I hardly left my little corner where my apartment and campus were so I had a lot to see too.

We also took a short trip to Plattsburgh while my aunt was visiting from England. I love Plattsburgh in the summer and we spent one day at Rouses Point Beach.

My (not so little anymore) brother and his wife and sweet baby came back East from California to visit and stayed with us for a night on their way between Plattsburgh and PA.

It was Lulu’s birthday and we had the honor of celebrating with her!

Little Star that Ulka made and embroidered for Lulu’s birthday

I miss them terribly and don’t get to see them nearly as much as I would like to.

I went ahead and invested in the season pass for our local town park pool.  It really is a wonderful place and the kids love it. I can take the kids in the early afternoon before naps and then we can go back in the evening with Andy- I feel pretty spoiled really.

There is a great big kiddie pool perfect for Kairav and Ila, an Olympic pool that sectioned off for laps and free swim where Ishaan and Ulka are safe to play, and a diving pool, plus super cool fountains for the little ones. Sometimes I wish we could just spend our days at a creek or a lake but this is five minutes away and very easy and honestly with 4 kids under 10 close and easy are big pluses.

Other than that our days have been mellow. A bit of hiking,

some berry picking,

track meets,

spending time with friends, gardening,

and a lot of biking riding up and down the street since Ila learned to ride without training wheels!

What have you been up to this summer?

Blogging is like Flossing

It has been a really really long time since I last posted an entry here.  Not because I haven’t had anything to share as a lot has happened here in the last several weeks. At first I was just busy with school wrap up and gardening and all kinds of other projects, and then honestly I just fell out of the habit and it seemed so overwhelming to get back into it. It’s like flossing. You know you should do it but if you are not in the habit of flossing everyday it is easy to put it off for later when you feel more like it.  Once you are in the habit of flossing everyday you realize how easy it is you can’t imagine going to bed without doing it. My record for flossing every single day is 9 months, then we ran out of floss and just like that I was out of the habit it about 3 days.  It’s possible that you don’t really care what my flossing habits are. My record for blogging every day is 7 days and that was when I was doing my “week in the life” project. I never intended to blog everyday, but at least once a week is a realistic goal.

I do intend to few a few “catch up” posts in the next couple of weeks. We ended the school year really well and the summer is off to a great start. Lots of swimming, cooking out, gardening, ice cream eating, running, bike riding, and general fun and relaxing.  How is your summer shaping up?


Healing Lessons

The title of this post might be very similar to my last post, Healing Herb Garden, but this is a  different sort of post. It is not about school or gardening or anything else that you might find useful. It is a mini revelation of sorts. We all have them from time to time and these days mine usually involve some sort of wake up call, reminding me about who I want to be as a mother.

A few days ago Ila, our five-year old, fell off a little exercise  trampoline at our neighbor’s house. We were busy getting ready for a yard sale and frankly didn’t have the time or energy to console an over-reacting child. There were a whole lot of tears and a good bit of screaming, but that is just kind of what Ila does when she is hurt. And besides, it was not a serious fall.  But the crying didn’t stop so I took her inside. When I sat her on the table and gave her my full attention I could tell immediately that this was not just Ila over reacting. Her cry was different and something wasn’t right. She said that her shoulder hurt and when I looked it was clearly not ok- even I could tell that her bones on one side didn’t look the same as the other side. The on-call pediatrician could tell just by looking that she had fractured her collar-bone.

It was a low point for me. Not because she broke her collar-bone, but because of how I reacted to her. Lately I’ve been snapping at the kids and yelling too much. I am out of energy and patience most days and just generally feeling unmotivated as a homeschooling mom. The school year is wearing on me and I am yearning for beautiful weather when we can just be outside all day.

Over the last few days Ila has needed, and deserved, extra help kindness patience and love and I give it readily. My sweetness with Ila has overflowed to the other kids too and our days are just more gentle. I am trying to be the kind of mom I want to and strive to be.  Don’t get me wrong, we are not living in some sort of dreamy existence. There is still yelling and fighting and frustration but Ila’s injury, though not terribly serious, helped to put things back into perspective for me. It reminded me of how resilient kids are but also of how fragile their spirits can be and that I need to take care of them and be gentle with them all the time, not just when they are hurt.

Healing Herb Garden

Ishaan is, at the moment, very interested in learning about medicinal and edible herbs and plants. The other day he went out into the small woods behind our house and came back with a bag of what looked to me like grass, weeds, and dirt. He told me he had collected edible plants and asked if he could cook them up for his breakfast. Now, I must admit that I was a little bit distracted and just said sure. I realize that I probably should have investigated a little bit more, but really what do I know about edible plants. He has learned a lot in his wilderness class so I trusted him. He sautéed them in butter and sat down to a plate of who knows what for breakfast.

One of the things I love about homeschooling is that we can take these interests and ideas that the kids have and totally run with them.  It also works out very nicely because we are currently in the middle of his Farming and Gardening Block. I love it when things work out like that!

In our back yard we had a row of huge peonies. I love peonies, but we have them in the front of the house too and I’ve been wanting to do something else with that space in the back so we decided to turn it into a healing herb garden. I checked out a few books from the library and we did a little bit of research. The book I ended up liking most and getting the bulk of our information is called The Medicinal Herb Garden: How to Grow and Use your Own Medicinal Herbs by Anne McIntyre.  We looked through it for ideas and then decided to narrow it down to about 6 types of plants. We thought about what ailments we wanted to make remedies for and chose plants based on that. We are going to grow Echinacea, Feverfew, Marshmallow, Lemon Balm, Stinging Nettle, Calendula and a whole bunch of cooking herbs. We’ve got plenty of Plantain growing in the grass in the summer.

I had Ishaan look up each plant and write down what it is used for and draw a picture of it in his garden journal. We dug out the peonies and gave them away to several different friends. We certainly didn’t want to throw them out, so it is nice to know that they will be making other people’s gardens beautiful.

We weeded that area and sectioned it off using bricks from our chimney that were removed when it was rebuilt after the trees landed on the house. Now we have to spread some compost and natural fertilizer on it and it will be ready for planting.We ordered seeds from Bountiful Gardens and High Mowing.

The Bountiful Garden seeds came a couple of days ago and today we will plant them in small pots inside and them transplant them once they are a couple of inches tall.  Some of them we can sow directly in the ground, but I don’t like doing that because when they first come up they all look the same to me and look just like the weeds, so I’m afraid I will pull them out while on one of my weeding rampages.

While they are starting to grow we will research how to use them properly. Some, like plantain and nettle, you just mash up and apply directly to the skin. Some, like lemon balm are used to make tea, and others require more of a process to extract the good stuff so I’ve got a lot of learning to do.